WASHINGTON - Five days before the
assassination in downtown Washington of former Chilean Defence Minister
Orlando Letelier, then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger rescinded
instructions to U.S. ambassadors in Latin America's Southern Cone to
warn the region's military regimes against carrying out "a series of
international murders", according to documents released by the National
Security Archive (NSA) here.
instructed that no further action be taken on this matter", reads a
declassified Sep. 16, 1976 cable sent by Kissinger's office from
Zambia, where he was travelling at the time, to his assistant secretary
of state for inter-American affairs, Harry Shlaudeman.
"matter" in question concerned instructions sent under Kissinger's name
to U.S. ambassadors to Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay Aug. 23, 1976, to
make a formal demarche to the leaders of their host governments
regarding Washington's "deep concern" about reports it had received of
"plans for the assassination of subversives, politicians and prominent
figures both within the national borders of certain Southern Cone
countries and abroad".
The Aug. 23 cable ordered the ambassadors
to warn to the highest possible officials that such plans - part of a
secret, Chilean-led intelligence collaboration among the Southern
Cone's military regimes known as Operation Condor - would "create a
most serious moral and political problem".
ambassador in Montevideo, Ernest Siracusa, balked at the directive,
Shlaudeman explained to Kissinger in a memo one week later that the
instructions were designed "to head off ...a series of international
murders that could do serious damage to the international status and
reputation of the countries involved".
Kissinger's Sep. 16
cable, which, along with the others, are posted at the NSA's website,
fills in some key gaps in the chain of events leading up to the car
bomb assassination of Letelier and a colleague, Ronni Karpen Moffitt,
while they were driving to work at the Institute for Policy Studies
less than two kilometres from the White House Sep. 21, 1976.
the 9/11 al Qaeda attack on the Pentagon, the assassination, which was
carried out by agents of the regime of Chilean President Augusto
Pinochet, was the most serious act of international terrorism committed
in the U.S. capital.
In particular, it settles a controversy -
played out most dramatically in the 2004 resignation of the senior
Latin America specialist at the most influential U.S. foreign-policy
journal, Foreign Affairs - over a Sep. 20, 1976 directive by Shlaudeman
to his deputy, William Luers, to "instruct the (U.S.) ambassadors (in
the region) to take no further action" on the Aug. 16 instructions. The
cable noted that "there have been no reports in some weeks indicating
an intention to activate the Condor scheme".
Both the Sep. 20
and Aug. 16 cables were previously released by the NSA, a non-profit
group founded in 1985 and supported by private foundations.
Sep. 16 cable is the missing piece of the historical puzzle of
Kissinger's role in the action, and inaction, of the U.S. government
after learning of Condor assassination plots," said Peter Kornbluh, the
NSA's senior analyst on Chile.
"We know now what happened: the
State Department initiated a timely effort to thwart a 'Murder Inc.' in
the Southern Cone, and Kissinger, without explanation, aborted it," he
While Kissinger himself has not spoken about his role, his
defenders have insisted that he had nothing to do with Shlaudeman's
Sep. 20 cable that countermanded the Aug. 16 instructions. Kissinger's
Sep. 16 cable from Lusaka, however, makes it clear that Shlaudeman was
acting at his boss' behest.
"The Kissinger cancellation on
warning the Condor nations prevented the delivery of a diplomatic
protest that conceivably could have deterred an act of terrorism in
Washington, D.C.," noted Kornbluh, author of "The Pinochet File: A
Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability".
analysts, including Kornbluh, believe that a strong U.S. warning of the
kind pushed by Shlaudeman's bureau also could have discouraged hundreds
of disappearances and killings of dissidents carried out by the
intelligence services of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and
Brazil, among others, as part of Operation Condor.
the cables, Siracusa, the U.S. ambassador in Montevideo, resisted his
Aug. 16 instructions to deliver a demarche to Uruguay's military junta
because he feared that his life would be in danger.
recommended that Kissinger authorise a telegram to Siracusa "to talk to
both (Foreign Minister Juan Carlos) Blanco and General (Julio Cesar)
Vadora" while Shlaudeman would meet with the Uruguayan ambassador in
Washington. As an alternative, he suggested that a senior CIA official
meet with his Uruguayan counterpart in Montevideo.
ambassador to Chile at the time, David Popper, had also objected to the
Aug. 16 instructions, arguing that, "given Pinochet's sensitivities, he
might well take as an insult any inference that he was connected with
such assassination plots".
In his Sep. 16 cable, Kissinger
explicitly "declined to approve message to Montevideo and has
instructed that no further action be taken on this matter", effectively
reversing the instructions to Popper and the U.S. ambassador in
Argentina to make a demarche.
In early October - after the
Letelier assassination - a Santiago-based CIA officer met with the head
of the Chilean secret police (DINA), Col. Manuel Contreras Sepulveda,
to discuss the demarche, although declassified documents obtained by
the NSA offer no indication that the assassination came up in the
It was the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) which
first related Condor to the Letelier assassination. Shortly after the
car bombing, an Argentine general told an FBI agent that DINA was the
likely perpetrator, and the tip led to the prosecution and conviction
of several DINA agents here and eventually to a prison term for
Contreras, who called himself "Condor One".