Chilean General in Bombing Was Informer

CIA Reveals 1976 Attack in Washington Came After He Was Paid
19 September 2000
Article

The former chief of the Chilean secret police, convicted of masterminding a lethal car bombing in Washington in 1976, was an informer for the CIA when the bombing occurred.

TNI and the Pinochet precedent

The former chief of the Chilean secret police, convicted of masterminding a lethal car bombing here in 1976, was an informer for the Central Intelligence Agency when the bombing occurred, a year after he received a one-time payment for his cooperation, newly released documents show. The official, General Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, who headed the secret police during the 17-year military dictatorship in Chile, was enlisted by the CIA in 1974, a year after General Augusto Pinochet led a coup that toppled the government of President Salvador Allende Gossens, the documents show. The CIA maintained its contacts with General Contreras until 1977, a year after he and his deputy, Brigadier General Pedro Espinoza Bravo organized the attack on Embassy Row in Washington. The bombing killed Orlando Letelier, Mr. Allende's former ambassador to the United States, and his 25-year-old American associate, Ronni Moffitt, according to the documents, released Monday by the agency in a declassified report to Congress. The agency's relationship with General Contreras continued even though "almost immediately after the assassination, rumors began circulating that the Chilean government was responsible", and "at that time, Contreras' possible role in the Letelier assassination became an issue", the report said.

The report says that the agency later received "specific detailed intelligence reporting concerning Contreras' involvement in ordering the Letelier assassination" but does not make clear when that information was obtained. In 1993, General Contreras was sentenced in Chile for the killing to seven years; General Espinoza got six years. "During a period between 1974 and 1977, CIA maintained contact with Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, who later became notorious for his involvement in human rights abuses", said the CIA report. The relationship with Contreras was viewed as "necessary to accomplish the CIA's mission, in spite of concerns that this relationship might lay the CIA open to charges of aiding internal political repression", the report said. Although the agency said it had warned General Contreras that it would not support any of his repressive activities, it ultimately issued a one-time payment to him, even after it had found that "Contreras was the principal obstacle to reasonable human rights policy" in the military government. The payment, an unspecified amount in 1975, was made in error, the report said, after CIA officials had overruled their agents' recommendations to establish a paid relationship with General Contreras, "citing the US government policy on clandestine relations with the head of an intelligence service notorious for human rights abuses."

Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, a non-governmental clearinghouse for declassified documents, said the report shed light on the contacts with forces that toppled a democratic government and killed more than 3,000 people. "This is in fact the unraveling of a cover-up of US ties to repression during the Pinochet dictatorship", Mr. Kornbluh said. "This is the first step toward a candid disclosure of the truth about that dark era." CIA officials could not be reached for comment. The agency acknowledged in the report that its behavior in Chile would not meet more rigorous standards now in place.

Copyright 2000 The New York Times