In yesterday’s blog post, I provided four possible reasons why President Obama is likely to refuse to open up U.S. files on the 1973 Pinochet coup, in response to a probable request from Chilean officials when Obama visits Chile next month.
There’s actually another possible reason: The files might reveal CIA complicity in the murder of former Chilean official Orlando Letelier and his 25-year-old American assistant Ronni Moffitt in 1976. Here are pictures of them in case you would like to see what they looked like: Letelier and Moffitt.
Letelier and Moffitt were killed on the streets of Washington, D.C., by a bomb that had been planted under Letelier’s car. The bomb exploded, killing Letelier and Moffitt and seriously injuring Moffitt’s husband. Here’s a picture of their bombed-out car.
The man who orchestrated the bombing was a CIA operative in Chile named Michael Townley. Of course, the CIA denies that Townley was working for the CIA when he set off the bomb that killed Letelier and Moffitt, but we can safely assume that the CIA would deny complicity in the murder even if it were true. After all, don’t forget that the CIA denied any role in the murder of young American journalist Charles Horman for some 25 years, when a released State Department document showed that the CIA had been lying the whole time and that it had in fact played a still-undefined role in Horman’s murder.
Townley was ultimately extradited from Chile to the United States to stand trial. Townley confessed that he orchestrated the bombing by hiring a group of anti-Castro Cuban immigrants living here in the United States. As part of what has to be one of the sweetest plea bargains for murder in history, he only had to spend a few years in jail. He also got immunity from further prosecution, which gave the feds an excuse not to send him to Argentina to stand trial for an assassination attempt on former Chilean General Carlos Prats and his wife and to Italy to stand trial for the murder attempt in Rome on another Chilean opponent of the Pinochet regime living in exile, a man named Bernard Leighton.
Best of all, as part of the plea bargain, Townley got released into the Federal Witness Protection Program, where the feds helped him to change his identity and live out his life in peace, bliss, and obscurity.
Hey, don’t ever say that the CIA doesn’t look after its own!
Could the CIA have been involved in the Letelier-Moffitt murder?
Townley was working for Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet’s secret paramilitary-intelligence force known as DINA, whose mission included international assassination of suspected communists who threatened “national security” when he orchestrated the murder of Letelier.
Sharing the same concerns about the “communist threat” to “national security,” the CIA worked closely with DINA. In fact, the head of DINA, the much feared Manuel Contreras, was also serving as a CIA contact within Chile. Owing to the Chilean people’s courage in facing their dark past under the Pinochet military dictatorship, Contreras is now serving a sentence of 289 years in jail.
Letelier had served as ambassador to the United States under the Salvador Allende regime, a democratically elected communist-socialist regime that Pinochet had ousted with his military coup. Before Allende was elected, the CIA was doing everything it could to prevent him from coming to power. After he was elected, the CIA was doing everything it could to destabilize Chile in the hopes of removing him from power.
After the coup, Pinochet’s military goons took Letelier into custody and incarcerated him for about year, during which time they brutally tortured him. He was eventually released, and he came to Washington to lobby for the return of democracy to his country. Needless to say, Pinochet and DINA considered him a threat to “national security” that needed to be eliminated. Townley was assigned the task of assassinating Letelier.
Of course, simply because Townley was a CIA liaison to DINA, and simply because the CIA supported the Pinochet coup, and simply because the head of DINA was a CIA point man, and simply because the CIA shared DINA’s concerns about threats to “national security” from communists, and simply because the CIA participated in the murder of a young American journalist during the coup despite 25 years of false denials, and simply because Townley got a sweetheart deal in his criminal case, and simply because the CIA is currently engaged in the same type of international assassination program in which DINA was involved during the Letelier-Moffit murder, doesn’t automatically mean that the CIA was involved in the cold-blooded murder of an innocent Chilean man and an innocent young American woman on the streets of Washington, D.C.
But if the CIA was involved in the Letelier-Moffitt murder, one could easily understand why it might put a bit of quiet pressure on President Obama to continue keeping its files on the Pinochet coup under wraps despite the passage of some 40 years.