This submission to Deep Dives is closely connected to the numerous coups and regime change operations that occurred across the continent during the 1970s. Here, we examine a top secret international operation conducted by multiple intelligence agencies dubbed: Operation Condor.
In April of 2019, US archives declassified a gigantic trove of government documents predominantly relating to Argentina in the period under military dictatorship from 1973-1984. This period is commonly referred to as the "Dirty War".
The Dirty War (Spanish: guerra sucia) is the name used by the military junta or civic-military dictatorship of Argentina for the period of United States-backed state terrorism in Argentinavfrom 1974 to 1983 as a part of Operation Condor, during which military and security forces and right-wing death squads in the form of the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance hunted down any political dissidents and anyone believed to be associated with socialism, left-wing Peronism or the Montoneros movement.
On April 12th, under the order of former US president Barrack Obama, the USG finally released a massive 47,000 document trove from a wide range of government agencies including: the FBI, the CIA, the DOJ, the State Department, and the US Defense Department among others.
Despite the release of tens of thousands of documents large portions of the archive remain censored. In particular, the CIA has heavily redacted communications that point to the involvement the agency or at the very least the CIA's knowledge of the crimes against humanity carried out in Operation Condor.
- Joint Intel Operation from 1975-1985 btw military dictatorships of:
- Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil
- Purpose was to counter terrorism and subversion
- Stated targets were Marxist guerrillas in Latin America
- An estimated 480,000 people either murdered, tortured or disappeared
- Vast majority of victims were innocent civilians with leftist views
Calculating the exact numbers of those that suffered under Operation Condor are difficult to measure. Even so, according to the Centre for Justice and Accountability;
researchers have estimated Operation Condor’s toll at 50,000 murdered, 30,000 disappeared (and presumed dead) and 400,000 incarcerated.
These are genocidal numbers levelled against innocent civilians throughout South America.
CONDOR: A COOPERATIVE PROGRAM OF THE INTELLIGENCE SERVICES OF CHILE, ARGENTINA, BOLIVIA, PARAGUAY, URUGUAY AND BRAZIL TO COUNTER TERRORISM AND SUBVERSION.
-CIA SECRET REPORT July 21, 1976
We were not suppose to ever hear about Operation Condor
A top secret multi-agency CIA linked operation that unleashed unfathomable misery throughout the South American continent had been put into motion in the mid-70s. Spearheaded by Chile's dreaded DINA secret police under the dictator Augusto Pinochet, and with the covert blessing of Washington, the objective was clear. Eradicate all political dissent in opposition to authoritative military rule by the dictatorships that had seized power in the region.
Several of the Condor countries had seen their military dictatorships installed with U.S. government involvement, as was the case in Chile and Brazil, with the U.S. government suspected in other coups that preceded Operation Condor by only a few years, such as the 1971 coup in Bolivia and the 1973 coup in Uruguay. After the 1976 coup in Argentina — Argentina’s sixth and final coup of the 20th century — it too joined Operation Condor.
In 1973 General Alfredo Stroessner took control of Paraguay in 1954; the Brazilian military overthrew the democratic and popular government of Joao Goulart in 1964; General Hugo Banzer took power in Bolivia in 1971 through a series of coups; a military junta headed by General Jorge Rafael Videla seized power in Argentina in 1976. …. Military dictatorships in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay worked together to track down, kidnap and kill people they labelled as subversives.
Just as clandestine factions of the US government supported the overthrow and assassination of Chile's democratically elected president Salvador Allende in 1973, they continued to support their installed dictator Pinochet in his quest to quash all political opposition in his country. This extended well beyond Chile's national territory as the military junta played a leading role in the creation and implementation of Operation Condor among their authoritarian counterparts.
Effectively, Washington's tacit approval gave the green light to Condor and its web of intelligence agencies in the region to track, monitor and share information on subversive activities with their cross-border intelligence partners. Congruently, it led to the capture, imprisonment, torture, disappearance and assassination of untold souls who dared to express opposing political views at the time.
It is all too common for government officials to attempt to sanitize our collective history by downplaying the widespread state-sponsored terrorism and enormous loss of life during this period.
Legacy media institutions commonly engage in this type of historical whitewashing even in the face of overwhelming evidence by referring to the deceased as 'guerillas' and 'terrorists' when the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of victims were innocent civilians.
the majority — of those killed, tortured and imprisoned were not members of guerilla groups, as there are thousands of documented cases of college students, musicians, writers, journalists, priests and nuns, pregnant women, teachers, indigenous leaders, union members and others who were subject to the extreme prejudice of Operation Condor despite not being combatants in any capacity.
mint press news
Documents show that the intelligencia cartel was not content to limit their program to the South American continent but went so far as to send assassination teams (death squads) to several European countries to hunt down their political rivals. Furthermore, operatives succeeded in assassinating former Chilean minister, Orlando Letelier, in broad daylight in Washington DC. Letelier was the former Defense Minister in the Allende government before the coup and was leaving in exile in Washington.
RE: European Assassination Targets
THE BASIC MISSION OF CONDOR... IS TO LIQUIDATE TOP-LEVEL TERRORIST LEADERS
SOME LEADERS OF AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL MIGHT BE SELECTED FOR THE TARGET LIST
As shocking as it is to learn of assassin teams crossing the Atlantic on missions to eliminate targets within the borders of sovereign European democracies without their consent or foreknowledge, it's even more disturbing to read that many of these same democracies were interested in developing their own versions of Operation Condor.
Representatives of West German, French and British intelligence services had visited the Condor organization secretariat in Buenos Aires during the month of September 1977 in order to discuss methods for establishment of an anti-subversion organization similar to Condor” due to their view that “the terrorist/subversive threat had reached such dangerous levels in Europe.
Orlando Letelier Assassination in US Capitol
On September 21st 1976, a car bomb exploded at Sheridan Circle in Washington DC killing former Chilean minister Orlando Letelier and his young American assistant Ronni Moffitt. Letelier was a leading voice in opposition to the despotic rule of Augusto Pinochet and many believe his assassination was part of Operation Condor.
Letelier had been the Defense Minister in Allende's democratically elected government at the time of the 1973 coup. Following the coup he was imprisoned by Pinochet and tortured for over a year, finally being released due to mounting international pressure. Most Americans are probably blissfully unaware of Letelier's Mafia-esque assassination on US soil in broad daylight. This is in part thanks to then CIA Director George H. W. Bush who released a false report to Newsweek to disseminate the notion that Pinochet had no ties to Letelier's execution.
The CIA disseminated the exonerating report despite later admissions that the CIA was aware in 1976 that Chile was participating in Operation Condor, a cross-border campaign targeting political dissidents, and despite the CIA’s own suspicions that the Chilean junta was behind Letelier’s murder, the first terrorist bombing of its type in Washington D.C.’s history.
Letelier had come to Washington after his imprisonment and torture at the hands of the military junta. He worked at a DC think tank and remained in Washington where he believed that he was safely out of the reach of the Chilean military junta.
Head of Operations: Juan Manuel Contreras
Juan Manuel Contreras is a notorious figure in Chilean history being the head of the DINA aka the Chilean secret police. Contreras has been identified as the mastermind behind operation Condor and the driving force spreading the violent initiative throughout Latin America.
Legendary American investigative journalist Robert Parry reported on the CIA's knowledge of Operation Condor in 2011 stating that:
In a report to Congress in September 2000, the CIA officially admitted for the first time that the mastermind of the terrorist attack, Chilean intelligence chief Manuel Contreras, was a paid asset of the CIA. The CIA also acknowledged publicly that it consulted Contreras in October 1976 about the Letelier assassination.
This is a stunning admission by the Central Intelligence Agency: Contreras was a paid CIA asset. This strongly suggests that the CIA and USG were well aware of Operation Condor and also the agency's indifference to the wide ranging human rights abuses during the time period.
Internal documents clearly indicate CIA knowledge of Contreras instrumental role in establishing Operation Condor but it also plainly names both Contreras and Pinochet as directing target lists.
Contreras, paid CIA Asset and Mastermind of Operation Condor
Not Quite Justice
It took nearly two decades for any justice to be served in the assassination of Letelier and Moffitt when Chile finally began the transition towards democracy in the 1990s. Eventually, DINA spy chief Juan Manuel Contreras, was extradited to the US and indicted, later serving 7 years for the death of Letelier. Nevertheless, Contreras always maintained his innocence in the assassination of Letelier and instead blamed the CIA.
Letelier's killing was only one of many charges laid against Contreras,
He was also convicted in the 1974 bomb killing of Gen. Carlos Prats, Pinochet's predecessor as army commander, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but hundreds of other cases were still pending against him.
As charges began to pile up against Contreras and Pinochet the two leaders began to point the finger at one another. Pinochet claimed that Contreras acted in defiance of his orders to commit the atrocities while Contreras accused Pinochet of amassing a fortune trafficking drugs to Europe, even using an army chemical plant for his operations.
At the time of his death in 2005, Contreras was serving a 500 year sentence for crimes against humanity in a military hospital. High ranking officials from the Military-era, such as Contreras, who were convicted of cries against humanity ended up serving time in a luxury prison complex complete with tennis courts, barbecues and swimming pools for its inmates.
Attempts to bring Pinochet to justice were obstructed for many years as laws passed by Pinochet in 1978 and a special law protecting "ex-presidents" in 2000 gave special immunity to former heads-of-state under Chilean law.
Even after being arrested in London in 1998 on an international arrest warrant issued by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, the British authorities kept the former dictator under house arrest for several years before determining that he was unfit to stand trial due to ailing health and an alleged case of 'dementia'. Chile's brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet never faced justice for his crimes against humanity. Pinochet was implicated in over 300 criminal charges for his role in a profusion of human rights violations. He died on December 10th 2006.
EIGHTEEN YEARS LATER, PINOCHET-ERA HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES STILL WEND THEIR WAY THROUGH CHILE'S COURTS
DEATH OF ORLANDO LETELIER
LETELIER/MOFFITT ASSASSINATION INVESTIGATION: PARAGUAYAN INVOLVEMENT