COINTELPRO & the Letelier Case

Reading about COINTELPRO on Wikipedia reminded me of Pinochet’s government in Chile from 1973 to 1998. The similarities between the FBI’s illegal projects and Pinochet’s military projects are uncanny. This got me thinking about the specific Letelier Case in 1976. A car bomb killed former Chilean ambassador Letelier and the U.S. activist Moffit in Washington, D.C. in September 1976. Wikipedia claims cover operations under COINTELPRO took place between 1956 and 1971 but that the FBI has used covert operations against domestic political groups since its inception. This statement made me believe that COINTELPRO had some sort of hand in the Letelier car bombing. Pinochet was a U.S backed dictator in Chile who used more extreme COINTELPRO-like measurements to produce fear and squash communist and socialists groups in Chile. According to the Letelier case Wikipedia article, documents released in 1999 and 2000 establish that the CIA had inside intelligence about the assassination alliance at least two months before Letelier was killed but failed to act to stop the plans. This allegation of U.S knowledge makes me wonder if COINTELPRO really did stop their international cover operations in 1971. There is no way for me to prove that COINTELPRO was involved with Pinochet’s order to assassinate Letelier but I am suspicious that there was some connection.

Pinochet’s Carvan of Death was a Chilean Army death squad that personally carried out the execution of detainees. The squad’s aims were to instill terror on opponents, similar to COINTELPRO’s efforts of psychological warfare and harrasement. The comparison is a little extreme considering Pinochet’s military government led to a total number of 40,000 disappearances and around 3,000 killed. COINTELPRO also resulted in the arrest and assassination of protesting individuals but nowhere did the Wikipedia article say torture was used to instill fear into the country. The extent of Chile’s torture was far wider and greater than the U.S.

 Why was Chile’s torture more widespread than the U.S when both programs are similar in wanting to “expose, disrupt, misdirect or otherwise neutralize” groups that they saw to be “subversive” or “opposing”? The red scare was just as great in the U.S as it was in Chile. Chile was an economically and intelligent country before Pinochet’s regime and of course, the U.S was/is considered the most powerful country. The U.S could never establish this centralized power as Pinochet did in Chile because the military and police force is not nationalized. Pinochet gained his power from being a military government and using the military to his advantage.

McPhail, Schweingruber, and McCarthy’s chapter “Policing Protest in the United States: 1960-1995” states in the Political and Legal environment section – “In the United States, there is a very sharp distinction enforced by the possee comitatus act, which prevents the military from policing civilian public order unless or until civilian authorities determine that they are no longer capable of maintaining order and formally request from the president of the United States the authorization of military assistance to their community.” Chile’s nation state has nationalized and centralized police forces but police agencies in the United States are decentralized and responsible to municipal civilian authorities. The police have demobilized movements and negotiated with protestors but because of our decentralized system and our government’s system of checks and balances, the government can never fully oppress a system. COINTELPRO is the Government’s attempt to instill fear like many North American backed South American dictators did.

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