WASHINGTON — As secretary of state, Henry Kissinger canceled a U.S. warning against carrying out international political assassinations that was to have gone to Chile and two neighboring nations just days before a former ambassador was killed by Chilean agents on Washington’s Embassy Row in 1976, a newly released State Department cable shows.
Whether Kissinger played a role in blocking the delivery of the warning against assassination to the governments of Chile, Argentina and Uruguay has long been a topic of controversy.
Discovered in recent weeks by the National Security Archive, a non-profit research organization, the Sept. 16, 1976 cable is among tens of thousands of declassified State Department documents recently made available to the public.
In 1976, the South American nations of Chile, Argentina and Uruguay were engaged in a program of repression code-named Operation Condor that targeted those governments’ political opponents throughout Latin America, Europe and even the United States.
Based on information from the CIA, the U.S. State Department became concerned that Condor included plans for political assassination around the world. The State Department drafted a plan to deliver a stern message to the three governments not to engage in such murders.
In the Sept. 16, 1976 cable, the topic of one paragraph is listed as “Operation Condor,” preceded by the words “(KISSINGER, HENRY A.) SUBJECT: ACTIONS TAKEN.” The cable states that “secretary declined to approve message to Montevideo” Uruguay “and has instructed that no further action be taken on this matter.”
“The Sept. 16 cable is the missing piece of the historical puzzle on Kissinger’s role in the action, and inaction, of the U.S. government after learning of Condor assassination plots,” Peter Kornbluh, the National Security Archive’s senior analyst on Chile, said Saturday. Kornbluh is the author of “The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability.”
Jessica LePorin, a spokeswoman for Kissinger, says that the former secretary of state dealt many years ago with questions concerning the cancellation of the warnings to the South American governments and had no further comment on the matter.
Kissinger has dealt with the issue indirectly. Writing in defense of Kissinger in 2004 when the issue arose, William D. Rogers, Kissinger’s former assistant secretary of state, said Kissinger “had nothing to do with” a Sept. 20, 1976 cable instructing that the warnings to Chile, Argentina and Uruguay be canceled. Rogers died in 2007.
“You can instruct” the U.S. ambassadors “to take no further action” on the subject of Operation Condor, said the Sept. 20 cable by Harry Shlaudeman, assistant secretary of state for Inter-American affairs, to Shlaudeman’s deputy.
The next day, on Sept. 21, 1976, agents of Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet planted a car bomb and exploded it on a Washington, D.C., street, killing both former Ambassador Orlando Letelier, and an American colleague, Ronni Karpen Moffitt. Letelier was one of the most outspoken critics of the Pinochet government.
Nearly a month before the blast, the State Department seemed intent on delivering a strong message to the governments engaged in Operation Condor.
An Aug. 23, 1976 State Department cable instructs the U.S. embassies in the capitals of Chile, Argentina and Uruguay to “seek appointment as soon as possible with highest appropriate official, preferably the chief of state.”
The message that was to be conveyed: the U.S. government knows that Operation Condor may “include plans for the assassination of subversives, politicians and prominent figures both within the national borders of certain … countries and abroad.”
“What we are trying to head off is a series of international murders that could do serious damage to the international status and reputation of the countries involved,” Shlaudeman wrote in a memo to Kissinger dated Aug. 30, 1976. That memo is referenced in the newly disclosed Sept. 16, 1976 cable containing Kissinger’s name.
Concerns among the ambassadors may have led to cancellation of the planned warning.
In the Aug. 30, 1976 memo, Shlaudeman discussed a possibility that the U.S. ambassador in Uruguay might be endangered by delivering a warning against assassination. The U.S. ambassador to Chile said that Pinochet might take as an insult any inference that he was connected with assassination plots.
By PETE YOST
April 10, 2010