Ex-spy Chief says CIA helped him set up Pinochet's Secret Police
The CIA and the former head of the Chilean secret police are scrambling to blame each other for a series of murders at home and abroad, including a notorious 1976 car bombing in Washington.
The CIA and the former head of the Chilean secret police are scrambling to blame each other for a series of murders at home and abroad, including a notorious 1976 car bombing in Washington. In the rush to implicate one another, both sides are divulging an unprecedented number of previously secret internal documents, to the elation of historians and survivors of the Chilean military regime that ruled from 1973 to 1990.
The latest round of revelations began early this week when the CIA submitted a report to the US Congress that included secret papers from the early 1970s. These documents gave details of extensive bribery of Chilean politicians, efforts to "disorganise" the Chilean Socialist party and a $35,000 payment to Chilean military officials said to be involved in the murder of General Rene Schneider, who opposed US plans to overthrow the government of Salvador Allende in Chile at its birth in 1970. For Chileans, the most explosive item was evidence that the head of the secret police under the military regime, Manuel Contreras - a senior adviser to the regime's leader, Augusto Pinochet - was a double agent and briefly on the CIA's payroll.
Mr Contreras immediately denied the CIA accusations. They were in retaliation, he maintained, for his action in passing a stack of secret documents to US investigators in April. "The FBI is working to establish the truth [about CIA collaboration with Pinochet's secret police]... The CIA is quite worried that the judicial investigation will reach them," Mr Contreras said in an interview from his jail cell at Punta Peuco, a prison for military officials convicted of human rights violations during the military regime. Counter-attacking, Mr Contreras gave details of an alleged proposal by the then deputy director general of the CIA, Vernon Walters, to secure the help of five US senators in improving Chile's tarnished image under the dictatorship, in exchange for $2m a year. Mr Contreras also alleged that General Pinochet ordered him to ask the CIA to help organise the repressive secret police known as the Dina. "He told me that we needed their help because in reality we had never had a national intelligence operation," Mr Contreras said in a radio interview with CNN's Spanish language service. The CIA was actually too keen, he maintained. Referring to eight CIA agents who allegedly arrived in August 1974, Mr Contreras said: "They wanted to remain in Chile, in charge of the principal Dina posts, something that I didn't accept under instructions from the president."
The revelations - termed "worrisome and surprising" by the Chilean foreign minister, Soledad Alvear - are expected to stimulate congressional investigations in both countries and may also fuel court cases. Historians and civil rights groups pounced on the allegations for use in piecing together the role of each spy agency in the deaths of prominent democracy activists. The revelations have broken a CIA "wall of silence" on how the US supported the repressive Pinochet apparatus, said Peter Kornbluh, a Washington writer and historian who has long pressed for disclosure. Those whose murders are linked to the dictatorship include the Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier. Just blocks from the White House, the former defence minister, 44, was killed by a car bomb 24 years ago. His US assistant Ronni Moffitt, 24, died with him. Widely considered to be the most brazen act of international terrorism committed in the US capital, the Letelier bombing remains a study in cold war politics. While top Pinochet aides and anti-Castro Cuban terrorists have been convicted for the bombing, evidence directly linking Pinochet has yet to emerge.
But the flood of new information could force the United States to invigorate a long-dormant justice department extradition request for Gen Pinochet, if investigators believe they have grounds implicating him. "There has been a positive attitude [from Washington] to provide information to clear up the truth," said Fabiola Letelier, the slain diplomat's sister. "Don't forget that Janet Reno [the current US attorney general] supported the declassification" of documents that began with the 1998 judicial process against Gen Pinochet in Spain, she added. In the two years since the arrest of Gen Pinochet in a London clinic after Spain sought - unsuccessfully - to extradite him to face charges of abuses committed under his regime, US officials have seen their cold war actions exposed to new examination. This has covered not only the extensive clandestine support given to the Chilean dictatorship in the 1970s, but also, more recently, Washington's actions with the professed aim of protecting human rights in Latin America. Gen Pinochet, 84, is unlikely ever to be extradited to the US, but a formal request would be the ultimate indignity for him at his former allies' hands, and another CIA embarrassment.
Copyright 2000 The Guardian