Washington D.C., September 23, 2016 – A CIA special intelligence assessment in 1987 concluded that Chilean General Augusto Pinochet ordered an “act of state terrorism” on the streets of Washington, D.C., that took the lives of former Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier, and his 25-year-old colleague, Ronni Moffitt, forty years ago this week. “A review of our files on the Letelier assassination,” the CIA reported, “has provided what we regard as convincing evidence that President Pinochet personally ordered his intelligence chief to carry out the murder.” The assessment added that Pinochet later “decided to stonewall on the case to hide his involvement and, ultimately, to protect his hold on the presidency.”
The CIA report, along with other documents, were handed over to Chilean President Michelle Bachelet by Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom during a somber 40th anniversary commemoration today at Sheridan Circle – site of the car bomb assassinations in 1976 – and are being posted here by the National Security Archive.
Two top U.S officials shared the CIA’s assessment with President Ronald Reagan as part of an effort to lobby him to terminate support for the Pinochet regime. Among the formerly secret records revealed today was a previously unknown October 1987 White House briefing paper for Reagan prepared by his NSC adviser, Frank Carlucci, in which Carlucci advises the president: “The situation in regard to Chile is as complicated as we face anywhere.”
“This CIA evaluation has come to be considered the Holy Grail of the Letelier-Moffitt case,” according to Peter Kornbluh who directs the Archive’s Chile Documentation Project. “Since direct evidence from Pinochet’s secret police files disappeared long ago, like so many of his victims, the CIA’s detailed assessment is the most compelling evidence we are ever likely to have.” Kornbluh added, “With this gesture of declassification diplomacy, the Obama administration has finally provided the missing link in the paper trail of evidence that leads to Pinochet’ s doorstep.”
The release of the documents completes a two-phase diplomatic effort by the Obama administration to locate and release still-secret records on General Pinochet’s role in the car bombing. The Justice Department had identified the intelligence records as evidence during a formal FBI investigation into Pinochet’s guilt 16 years ago, after the former dictator was arrested in London for human rights crimes. In January 2015, the Bachelet government requested that the documents be turned over to Chile.
Last October, Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to the Chilean capital, Santiago, and personally provided to Bachelet a computer disk of 282 documents on Pinochet and the Letelier-Moffitt assassinations. Among them was a dramatic October 6, 1987, memorandum to Reagan from Secretary of State George Shultz citing the CIA’s conclusions as part of his effort to convince the president to cut U.S. ties to Pinochet and press for the return of democracy in Chile.
“The CIA has never before drawn and presented its conclusion that such strong evidence exists of his [Pinochet’s] leadership role in this act of terrorism,” Shultz informed the president. “It is not clear whether we can or would want to consider indicting Pinochet,” the secretary of state wrote to Reagan. “Nevertheless, this is a blatant example of a chief of state's direct involvement in an act of state terrorism, one that is particularly disturbing both because it occurred in our capital and since his government is generally considered to be friendly.”
The National Security Archive today applauded the release of the documentation as “a triumph for declassified diplomacy.” Kornbluh characterized the CIA report, along with the Shultz and Carlucci memos to Reagan, as “fundamental evidence for the verdict of history on Pinochet and his regime.”
But the Archive said it would continue to pursue the declassification of the full investigative file compiled by the Justice Department and the FBI during its investigation into Pinochet in April and May 2000. The FBI reportedly concluded that there was enough circumstantial evidence to indict Pinochet as the mastermind of the car bombing, but the incoming administration of George W. Bush failed to pursue the case. Kornbluh called on the FBI “to release their investigative record on Augusto Pinochet to complete the Obama administration’s special declassification project on Chile.”
Letelier, a former minister in the Allende government and ambassador to Washington, along with his associate at the Institute for Policy Studies, Ronni Moffitt, were killed as they drove to work down Massachusetts Avenue in Washington D.C. Moffitt’s husband, Michael, was the sole survivor of the bombing.
The Archive today posted the CIA assessment, and the Carlucci memo to Reagan; and reposted the Shultz memo (see Electronic Briefing Book No. 532). In an essay (below) Kornbluh explains the background of the Letelier-Moffitt case documents, and the lengthy behind-the-scenes effort to obtain their declassification and release.