Coastal Post Online


October 2001

Getting Away With CIA Sponsored Terrorism

By Jim Scanlon

"For your Honor in this day of terroristic attacks, it is important that it be known that if committed in the Nation's capital whether by individuals, organizations or by Governments, this office and other agencies will, as we have done in this case, do everything within our power to bring those responsible to the bar of justice."

The above words were spoken by Earl Silbert, US District Attorney on August 15, 1979 in US District Court in Washington DC at a hearing at which the judge accepted, but did not sign, an agreement which effectively guaranteed Michael V Townley-a serial assassin, and a terrorist if there ever was one-a maximum of three years confinement in exchange for his cooperation and testimony in convicting five Cuban exile terrorists that he himself recruited.

An examination of the few meager documents available to the public in the Washington National Records Center lead inescapably to the conclusion that an enormous miscarriage of justice occurred in covering up an unprecedented terroristic crime in the nation's capital by secret agents of a foreign military dictatorship which was then quietly disposed of by the US Department of Justice to benefit the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Coastal Post recently obtained the entire US Court record, of Michael Townley (73 pages) who was convicted of "Conspiracy to Murder a Foreign Official, [in violation of]18 USC 1117," a crime for which he was sentenced to a little over three years in federal prison. Townley, a US citizen, was a clandestine agent for the Chilean Central Intelligence Agency (DINA) who traveled with false identification to the US, recruited Cuban terrorists in New Jersey, built a remotely controlled bomb and placed the bomb himself in an automobile belonging to Orlando Letelier, a former Chilean diplomat who was active in opposing the military government ruling Chile at that time. The car bomb was detonated by one of the six Cuban exiles and it exploded on Embassy Row in downtown Washington DC, killing Letelier and a co worker Ronni Moffett, a US citizen. Moffett's traumatized husband survived the blast. No one was ever charged with Moffett's murder. (See June Coastal Post, "A Protected Terrorist").

The government of General Pinochet came to power on September 11, 1973 with the assistance of the CIA, the Nixon-Kissenger White House and US business interests, all fearful that the Socialist President of Chile, Salvador Allende, would evolve into another Fidel Castro.

Until Arab suicide terrorists deliberately crashed a commercial jet airplane filled with hostages, into the Pentagon, the Letelier and Moffitt murders were the worst terrorist attack in the history of Washington. At present President George W. Bush has the country on a war footing preparing some form of extreme military intervention to kill or capture those suspected of terrorist activities on US soil. He has threatened all those individuals and counties that might harbor terrorists.

This contrasts with how the terrorist attack on Ambassador Letelier was handled. The government of Jimmy Carter initiated the extradition and trial of Townley but failed in attempts to extradite the three Chilean military officers indicted in the US. Under Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr, the government did little or nothing to punish the military government of General Pinochet which continued in power for another 12 years.

While the scale of the conspiracy and number of US citizens killed in the September 2001 attacks are vastly greater than those killed in September 1976, the well organized and supported conspiracy by an ideologically motivated foreign organization to kill and thereby terrorize, is the same or worse if one considers the involvement of the CIA. The Chilean military's goal was to terrorize its opponents abroad and, it was quite successful in doing so.

What makes this case so horrifying is that the US officials involved in the Townley case knew, or should have known, that in September 1974 Townley murdered Carlos Prats, General Pinochet's former Commander in Chief, who was living in exile in Buenos Aires. Townley placed a bomb he had constructed in Prats' car and detonated it remotely, killing Prats and his wife. Townley was also involved in another conspiracy to murder an exiled former Christian Democratic leader living in Rome Italy. The elderly politician was shot in the head but recovered. His wife was shot in the neck and paralyzed.

The official court record contains scant information although it does refer to the two year Grand Jury and FBI investigation which, "...has gathered an enormous amount of pertinent factual information [of] a tight knit conspiracy..." (One longs to see that information but the public gets 73 pages). One does learns that Federal Prosecutor Silbert and Townley's defense attorney worked "at the same side of the table" in the investigation of the Watergate conspiracy. From the record available to the public they got along so well they seem to still be on the same side of the table.

At one point Mr. Silbert, arguing that the admission of guilt to a lesser crime in exchange for a lenient sentence and testimony that will convict co conspirators says, "He [Townley] is an indispensable witness, not only with respect to those who placed or helped to place the bomb that blue (sic) up Mr. Letelier's car, but even more important, with respect to the higher ups, those who directed or ordered the assassination, the Chilean connections..."

Sadly, Townley never testified against anyone in authority over him to implicate "more serious offenders," but only the Cuban underlings he sought out to help him kill Letelier. This was not, however, Townley's fault, but a succession of US governments.

Perhaps the most bizarre testimony in the record comes from Townley's attorney, Seymour Glanzer who said, in explaining to the judge and speaking to the record:

"Mr. Townley instructed me to negotiate the best plea agreement I could get and I did.

And he consulted with his parents and his wife, who visited him, to cooperate, he also consulted with high Chilean military officials who flew here and consulted with him at a government installation, United States Government installation, and they released him from his legal obligation to remain silent so that he could cooperate and indeed instructed him to cooperate in accordance with the wishes of the Chilean officials."

This is extraordinary, and very strange behavior in our adversarial legal system. How strange to allow military officials from the government of Chile controlled by the Army to speak to a potential witness against Colonel Manuel Contrerras, an army officer, and the head of the secret police. Calling it "Gestapo" would not be an exaggeration. Contreras answered to General Pinochet. Everyone knew that the secret police were killing and torturing Chileans . Contreras and two of his subordinates were indicted by a US Federal Grand Jury.

What happened to the Chilean terrorists? Nothing really. They were not extradited to the US. Contreras was eventually tried in Chile and punished with approximately 3 years confinement in a special prison seven years after General Pinochet officially was replaced by an elected president. It is cruelly ironic that Contreras was punished for the Letelier murder even though his other crimes in Chile and other South American countries far outweigh that one.

Contrerras' Deputy at DINA, Pedro Espinosa is reportedly in confinement in Chile awaiting trial for crimes relating to the so called "Caravan of Death," in which DINA operatives went from city to city in the early months of the 1973 coup interrogating, torturing and killing trade unionists, socialists, communists and sometimes ordinary people without affiliation.

Armando Fernandez Larios, Townley's partner in the mission to kill Letelier is living and working legally in the US, reportedly in Florida. He arranged a plea bargain with US Justice Department Officials, the details of which are not known at present. It is also not known if he served any time in prison or, if he was, or is, a federally protected witness. A lawsuit has been brought against him by a Chilean woman relating to her brother's death by members of the Caravan of Death.

Townley's alleged wife Mariana Ines Callejas was never prosecuted for her DINA activities in the US or for her active participation in the murders of General Prats and his wife in Buenos Aires.

It is difficult to think of any compelling reason why Townley was given such an attractive plea bargain arraignment. It is difficult to understand why Townley's father who allegedly transferred money to his son when he was working for DINA was not prosecuted for money laundering. It is difficult to understand why all these people were entered into the Federal Witness Protection Program. It defies the imagination to understand what would induce the US government ot allow a foreign terrorist like Fernandez Larios to live in this country! Could it not be said that the US is a country that harbors terrorist?

The government gained nothing, but the prosecution of the low life, low level Cubans. It could just as easily have cut deals with the Cubans to convict Townley. As a matter of fact, the judge who sentenced Townley told him in court, "...that your involvement was far more culpable than theirs [the Cubans] and that you indeed took a the leading role in the criminal venture".

What the government-in the larger sense-did gain was keeping the anti communist, University of Chicago-free market, conservative government of General Pinochet in power for years longer at a terrible cost to ordinary Chileans.

These deals which protect and harbor ruthless ideological killers make sense only if they are connected to protecting the Central Intelligence Agency.


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