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Lifting of Pinochet's Immunity Renews Focus on Operation Condor
Declassified Documents Fill in Censored Debate at Leading Journal Foreign Affairs
The Case of the Missing Letter in Foreign Affairs: Kissinger, Pinochet and Operation Condor (.pdf)
by Kenneth Maxwell, The David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Harvard University


14 December 2004
For more information contact:
Peter Kornbluh 202/994-7116
John Dinges 212/854-8774



Washington, D.C., December 14: With the decision by Chilean judge Juan Guzmán to indict Augusto Pinochet for ten crimes relating to Operation Condor, the National Security Archive reposted a series of declassified U.S. documents relating to Condor's acts of international terrorism--including the September 1976 carbombing assassination of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt in Washington D.C. The documents record the progression of U.S. intelligence gathering on Condor and U.S. foreign policy actions.

According to Peter Kornbluh, who directs the Archive's Chile Documentation Project and is the author of the book The Pinochet File, the judicial decision in Chile represents a strong statement on international terrorism. "With the new indictment of Pinochet, Chile has sent a message to the world that there is no statute of limitations on terrorist crimes."

Operation Condor is the subject of a book by Archive Advisory board member John Dinges, The Condor Years. Dinges commented to The New York Times, "If there were ever a case that shows that a head of state had to be involved in these atrocities, it is Condor. I have evidence that Pinochet was actually at the meeting when Condor was formed, and it is impossible to believe that subordinates would create something as elaborate as Condor without the explicit approval of the head of state."

Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
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Document 1: State 137156, June 4, 1976

This "immediate action" cable is the State Department reaction to a succession of violent deaths of major exile leaders in Argentina following the military coup on March 24, 1976. It instructs ambassadors to report any evidence that the governments of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil are making "international arrangements" to carry out assassinations of exile leaders. The assassination victims up to this point include: Edgardo Enriquez, leader of the Chilean MIR (Movement of the Revolutionary Left) and the leftist coalition, the Junta de Coordinacion Revolucionaria (JCR); Zelmar Michelini, Uruguayan senator; Hector Gutierrez, president of Uruguay's house of deputies; and Juan Jose Torres, former president of Bolivia.

Document 2: CIA "Weekly Summary" July 2, 1976

This is the first document, of those that have been declassified, to mention "Operation Condor." The CIA reports that the six governments (listed above) met in Santiago in June and agreed to coordinate operations in Argentina. It also mentions a joint operation involving security officers from Chile and Uruguay to raid a human rights office in Buenos Aires and steal records of refugees. The arrest of Edgardo Enriquez is mentioned, and the summary reports that the leftist leader was "subsequently turned over to the Chileans and is now dead."

Document 3: Montevideo 2702, July 20, 1976 [Obtained by John Dinges]

In a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Uruguay, Ambassador Ernest Siracusa argues that the military governments' "increasingly coordinated approach to terrorism" is understandable in light of the coordination of the leftist organizations in the JCR. He adds: "The U.S. has long urged these countries to increase their cooperation for security. Now that they are doing so our reaction should not be one of opprobrium. We must condemn abhorrent methods, but we cannot condemn their coordinated approach to common perceived threats or we could well be effectively alienated from this part of the world."

Document 4: ARA - CIA Weekly Meeting - 30 July 1976, "Operation Condor"

CIA officials meet with their counterparts at the State Department and inform them for what is believed to be the first time that Operation Condor is more than a mere exchange of intelligence: It is now involved in "locating and 'hitting' guerrilla leaders." Other documents specify that "hits" are being planned in Paris and London. This report, in its firm conclusion that Condor is an international assassination organization, goes considerably beyond previous speculations about a link between the countries and the series of assassinations carried out in Argentina.

Document 5: ARA Monthly Report (July) "The 'Third World War' and South America" August 3, 1976

This 14-page memo was written by Assistant Secretary for Latin America Harry Shlaudeman, who had been following the reporting on intelligence coordination in recent months and had several times solicited reports on the subject from the ambassadors. He combines the information on Condor and other disturbing trends in a report addressed directly to Secretary of State Kissinger. Shlaudeman states that the Southern Cone governments see themselves as engaged in a Third World War against terrorism and that they "have established Operation Condor to find and kill terrorists … in their own countries and in Europe." Their definition of terrorist, however, is so broad as to include "nearly anyone who opposes government policy."

Document 6: State 209192, "Operation Condor", drafted August 18, 1976 and sent August 23 to the embassies of all the countries known to be members of Condor

This is an action cable signed by Secretary of State Kissinger. It reflects a decision by the Latin American bureau in the State Department to try to stop the Condor plans known to be underway, especially those outside of Latin America. Kissinger instructs the ambassadors of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay to meet as soon as possible with the chief of state or the highest appropriate official of their respective countries and to convey a direct message, known in diplomatic language as a "demarche." The ambassadors are instructed to tell the officials the U.S. government has received information that Operation Condor goes beyond information exchange and may "include plans for the assassination of subversives, politicians and prominent figures both within the national borders of certain Southern Cone countries and abroad." Further, the ambassadors are to express the U.S. government's "deep concern," about the reports and to warn that, if true, they would "create a most serious moral and political problem."

Document 7: Santiago 8210, August 24, 1976, Ambassador David Popper to the State Department

U.S. ambassador to Chile David Popper answered the Kissinger Condor cable immediately. He has met with the CIA station chief Stewart Burton and deputy chief of mission Thomas Boyatt and they have decided that Pinochet would be "insulted" if the Ambassador raised the issue of assassinations with him. Popper offers an alternative: that Burton present the warning to DINA chief Manuel Contreras. Popper than writes: "Please advise." (The names of Burton and Contreras are blanked out in the cable, but have been confirmed in interviews with former officials.)

Document 8: ARA/CIA weekly Meeting, 27 August 1976, "Operation Condor"

This heavily redacted memo concerns the CIA-State Department meeting on Condor which followed Kissinger's cable instructing the ambassadors to take action. Most of the substance of this important discussion is redacted, but two points are clear: Shlaudeman reports on the concerns that led to the drafting of the Kissinger cable and the strategy of "making representations concerning Operation Condor" which, according to interviews, was a strategy originally advocated by Undersecretary of State Philip Habib. The second point is that Shlaudeman announces that "we are not making a representation to Pinochet as it would be futile to do so." There appears also to be discussion of alternatives to confronting Pinochet.

Document 9: San Jose 4526, September 20, 1976, "Operation Condor", addressed "For ARA-Luers from Shlaudeman" [Obtained by Carlos Osorio]

Writing to his deputy, William Luers, Shlaudeman orders him to "instruct the ambassadors to take no further action." The title and filing "tags" identifying Chile, Argentina and Uruguay as the countries of relevance make clear that the "action" Shlaudeman refers to is the August 23 demarche to those countries' heads of states that the United States knows about Condor assassination plans and opposes them. This key document was sent from San Jose, Costa Rica, where Assistant Secretary Shlaudeman was visiting at the time. The crucial cable to which Shlaudeman is responding, referenced as "State 231654," has been somehow "lost" from the State Department filing system.

Document 10: Buenos Aires, 6177, "My Call on President Videla," and
Document 11: Buenos Aires 6276, "Ambassador discusses US-Argentine Relations with President Videla"

These documents are the reports by Ambassador Robert Hill of his first meeting with military ruler, General Videla, on September 21, 1976. It would have been Hill's opportunity to present the demarche warning about Operation Condor, if that instruction had been still in force. But these cables provide no evidence that such a representation was made. The discussion on human rights is notable for another reason. In the second cable, Hill presents strong criticism of the recent murder of a priest and what appeared to be mass killings at a nearby town and reminds Videla that the US Congress is taking a strong stand against governments perceived to be human rights violators. Videla dismissed the criticism by pointing to the recent visit by his foreign minister to Washington: "President said he had been gratified when Fonmin Guzzetti reported to him that Secretary of State Kissinger understood their problem and had said he hoped they could get terrorism under control as quickly as possible. Videla said he had impression senior officers of USG understood situation his govt faces but junior bureaucrats do not."

Document 12: State 246107, October 4, 1976, "Operation Condor"

Dated 13 days after the Letelier assassination, this cable from Assistant Secretary Shlaudeman to ambassador Popper is the long belated reply to Popper's "Please advise" cable of August 24. Shlaudeman, over Kissinger's signature, approves Popper's proposed plan to bypass Pinochet with the Condor warning and go directly to DINA chief Contreras. The six week delay in replying to Popper is unexplained. And it is further mystifying that this cable, concerning a warning about Chile's reported plans to kill dissidents abroad, would make no reference to the actual assassination of Letelier only a few days before. (Other cables make clear that the two redactions refer to CIA station chief Stewart Burton.)

Two additional documents establish that there were other channels of intelligence indicating that Condor countries Chile and Uruguay may have been planning operations in the United States.

Document 13: "Condor One" cable to Paraguay, July 17, 1976 [Obtained by John Dinges]

Around the time the CIA was detecting the assassination plans of Operation Condor, Chile's chief of intelligence, Col. Manuel Contreras, made use of the new Condor system to prepare for the planned assassination of Orlando Letelier in Washington, DC. This document is an FBI transcript in English of a telex message sent by Contreras, identified as "Condor One," to his counterparts in Paraguay, seeking their assistance. The Paraguayans provided false passports to two Chilean agents who intended to use them to travel to the United States. The mission was leaked to the US ambassador, who reported the planned Chilean mission (whose actual purpose he did not know) to the CIA.

Document 14: CIA letter to Koch declassifying information about a death threat against Koch in late July 1976 [Obtained by John Dinges]

In late July 1976, amidst the other intelligence about Condor's assassination plans, the CIA station chief in Uruguay learns that two Uruguayan officers have threatened to kill U.S. Congressman Edward Koch, a prominent human rights critic. The information is reported to CIA headquarters but no action is taken because the treats were delivered while the men were drinking, and because the CIA did not believe the Southern Cone governments were capable of such a mission in the United States. Only after the Letelier assassination did the CIA reconsider and inform Koch of the threat made two months earlier.

Document 15: Oral History Interview with former deputy assistant secretary for Latin American Affairs Hewson Ryan, conducted by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, April 27, 1988

Ryan, one of Assistant Secretary Shlaudeman's deputies, participated in many of the meetings at which Operation Condor was discovered. In this interview several years before his death, he expresses regret that the warnings on Condor were never delivered to the heads of state of the Condor countries and raises the possibility that "we might have prevented this [the Letelier assassination]. There are some differences in his recollections of the events, compared to the cable record. He recalls that he tried unsuccessfully to get a cable cleared to warn the countries on Condor. In fact, the cable was drafted by another deputy assistant secretary (William Luers) and sent to the ambassadors. The end result was the same as Ryan recalled: the Condor demarche was never delivered to the three countries planning assassinations.

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