Pinochet considered killing own spy chief to hide role in US bombing

Orlando LetelierThe president of Chile in the 1970s considered killing his own spy chief in order to conceal his government’s involvement in a terrorist attack in Washington DC, which killed two people, according to declassified memos from the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The target of the attack was Orlando Letelier, a Chilean economist who in the early 1970s served as a senior cabinet minister in the leftwing government of Salvador Allende. But he sought refuge in the US after Allende’s government was deposed in a bloody coup on September 11, 1973, in which Allende was murdered. He taught in several American universities and became a researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington. At the same time, he publicly pressured the US to break off diplomatic and military ties with the Chilean dictatorship.

On September 21, 1976, Letelier died along with American IPS campaigner Ronni Moffitt, when the car they were in suddenly exploded in front of the embassy of Ireland in downtown Washington DC. It is believed that DINA, the Chilean secret police, carried out the bombing. In a private memorandum in 1987, the then-US Secretary of State George Schultz described the bombing as “the only clear case of state-supported terrorism that has occurred in Washington DC”. But the Chilean government, which at the time had friendly relations with the White House, refused to cooperate with the US investigation into the incident.

But declassified US government documents now show that the CIA had concluded that the Chilean government was indeed behind Letelier’s murder. Additionally, the bombing had been directly authorized by the country’s dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, who had led the coup against Allende in 1973. Copies of the documents were personally delivered to Chilean President Michelle Bachelet last week by US Secretary of State John Kerry, as Santiago is seeking to reopen the investigation into the murders. They reveal that Manuel Contreras, head of DINA at the time of the bombing, told an American source that he had supervised the operation to murder Letelier’s under direct orders by General Pinochet. Additionally, according to the CIA documents, the Chilean dictator tried to sabotage the US investigation in to the bombing, and even contemplated killing Contreras in order to hide his personal involvement.

As intelNews has reported before, the US investigation led to the arrest of Michael Townley, an American professional assassin who had previously worked for the CIA. Townley was hired by DINA to help assassinate Letelier’s. He was extradited to the US by the Chilean government in 1978 after strong US pressure. He served just 62 months in prison, in return for agreeing to collaborate with US government investigators. Townley is currently said to be living under the US Witness Protection Program.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 12 October 2015 | Permalink

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