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CIA reveals 1970s role with Chilean intelligence chief

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With the release on Wednesday of a report mandated by Congress on the CIA's 1970s-era covert operations in Chile, the agency revealed a relationship with a top Chilean intelligence official it knew to be one of the country's worst human rights abusers.

The U.S. spy agency's relationship with Gen. Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, then head of Gen. Augusto Pinochet's intelligence service, was "not cordial and smooth," the report said.

Contreras' feared secret police force has been implicated in the disappearances, torture and murder of hundreds of suspected opponents of the Pinochet regime and of conspiring with other South American intelligence agencies in the notorious Operation Condor, in which spy agencies are reputed to have assassinated leftists on behalf of each other.

Despite misgivings, the report said, the CIA made a one-time cash payment to Contreras -- currently in a Chilean jail for the 1976 killing of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier -- in 1975. Letelier and an American colleague, Ronni Moffitt, were killed in a car bomb explosion on Washington's Embassy Row.

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Read the CIA Report on its Activities in Chile
 

At the time of the payment, the report said, the CIA considered Contreras the "principle obstacle" to a better human rights record in Chile. Nevertheless, the report said, the CIA maintained ties with Contreras from 1974 to 1977.

The report noted that under current rules, the CIA would not accept a known human-rights abuser as an informant.

The report blamed the payment on a "miscommunication" between CIA officials in Washington and field officers in Chile who had recommended a paid relationship with the general because of his access to Pinochet. CIA headquarters had rejected the proposal, the report said.

Pinochet assumed power in Chile after a bloody 1973 coup toppled democratically elected socialist President Salvador Allende. The report said that the CIA, which has long denied any involvement in the coup, had been aware of plans to bring Allende's government down.

"We were aware of the coup plotting in 1973, but we did not instigate it," said a CIA spokesman.

The report also said that "a review of CIA files has uncovered no evidence that CIA officers and employees were engaged in human rights abuses or in covering up any human rights abuses in Chile."

Hundreds more CIA documents on the agency's role in Chile in the 1970s and 1980s are scheduled to be released next month.

CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor and CNN.com Senior Writer KC Wildmoon contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
U.S. expands probe of ex-CIA chief's handling of classified documents
May 6, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Central Intelligence Agency
  •  Activities in Chile
U.S. State Department
Augusto Pinochet Ugarte (in Spanish)
President Augusto Pinochet Ugarte Foundation (in Spanish)
Human Rights Watch
  • The Pinochet Prosecution
Amnesty International Online
  • Pinochet page
Derechos Chile (in English)
Presidencia de la Republica de Chile
Spotlight on Chile


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