"Operation Condor" Was
No Mystery to Washington
by Ángel Páez
www.ipsnews.net/, January 12,
The intelligence services of Peru and
Argentina kept Washington informed in real time about a 1980 joint
clandestine operation in which four alleged members of Argentina's
Montoneros guerrilla movement were "disappeared," according
to documents declassified in the United States.
The incident forms part of the case opened
in December by Italian Judge Luisianna Figliola, who issued arrest
warrants for those responsible for this and other actions carried
out in the framework of Operation Condor, a coordinated plan among
the military governments that ruled Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil,
Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay in the 1970s and 1980s, aimed at tracking
down, capturing, torturing and eliminating left-wing opponents.
Townsend B. Friedman, political officer
at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, revealed in a secret Aug.
19, 1980 memo to Claus Ruser, the ambassador's number two man,
details about the operation involving the supposed Montoneros
in Lima, and the fatal outcome.
In that memo, which has now been declassified
thanks to the efforts of the National Security Archive, an independent
Washington-based non-governmental research institute, Friedman
told his superior that an Argentine intelligence official had
provided them with details of the Lima operation on Jun. 16, 1980.
The date is key: the joint action by the
Batallón 601, a special Argentine army intelligence unit,
and Peru's Army Intelligence Service (SIE) was recorded four days
earlier, and the purported Montoneros were turned over by Peruvian
agents on Jun. 17 to Bolivian military personnel, in the presence
of agents from Argentina.
The documents show that the U.S. government
was fully aware of what was happening, at the time it was occurring,
and that it knew ahead of time that the alleged Montoneros would
"A member of an Argentine intelligence
service who has been quite reliable in these matters told the
(U.S.) Embassy that the four individuals were apprehended in Peru,
that they were still being held there but that they would be expelled
to Bolivia from where they would be handed over to Argentina;
once in Argentina they would be interrogated and then disappeared,"
Friedman reported to Ruser.
The capture in Lima and forced disappearance
of Noemí Gianetti de Molfino, a member of the Mothers of
the Plaza de Mayo Argentine human rights group, María Inés
Raverta and Julio César Ramírez was planned by Batallón
601 after the seizure in Argentina of Federico Frías, who
was going to take part in Lima in a meeting with high-level members
of the Montoneros, the armed branch of the leftist wing of Argentina's
After he was brutally tortured, Frías
was taken by his captors to Peru, where he had agreed to tell
them the names and addresses of supposed guerrillas, according
to the testimony of a former Peruvian agent who took part in the
operation, which appears in the book "Muerte en el Pentagonito"
(Death in the Little Pentagon: The Secret Killing Fields of the
Peruvian Army) by journalist Ricardo Uceda.
According to the declassified Aug. 19,
1980 memo, the U.S. ambassador to Argentina at the time, Harry
W. Shlaudeman, spoke of the case of the supposed "Montoneros"
with General Pedro Richter, at the time prime minister, minister
of war and commander of the Peruvian army.
"Peruvian Prime Minister Richter
Prada told Ambassador Shlaudeman in July (1980, a month after
the kidnappings) that the Argentines had been expelled to Bolivia
and that he believed the Bolivians had probably handed them over
to the Argentines," Friedman told Ruser.
"In addition, (Richter) revealed
to Ambassador Shlaudeman that he had been in personal touch with
Argentine Army Commander (Leopoldo Fortunato) Galtieri on the
"Galtieri had informed Richter that
there could be 'an interesting development' in the case early
the week of July 14. Richter suggested to Ambassador Shlaudeman
that Galtieri's comment might foreshadow a live appearance of
the three Montoneros who the Peruvians claimed they handed over
to the Bolivians," the memo adds.
The "interesting development"
came to light on Jul. 21, 1980, when the murdered body of Gianetti
de Molfino, one of the women kidnapped in Lima, was found in a
hotel in Madrid. Nothing was ever heard of again about Raverta,
Ramírez or Frías. The general, who is now dead,
became the head of Argentina's military junta in November of the
Shlaudeman had close ties with the Peruvian
dictatorship of General Francisco Morales Bermúdez (1975-1980),
as confirmed by the declassified documents. When the alleged Montoneros
were abducted in Lima, he was already in Buenos Aires.
The path followed by Shlaudeman's career
is particularly interesting. He was U.S. State Department Deputy
Chief of Mission in Chile from 1969 to 1973, during which time
the coup d'etat that overthrew socialist president Salvador Allende
(1970-1973), ushering in a 17-year dictatorship, was being planned.
He then served as State Department Deputy
Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs, from 1973 to 1975,
under President Richard Nixon; in 1977 he was appointed ambassador
to Peru; and in 1980 he became ambassador to Argentina, a post
he held until 1983, when democracy was restored in that country.
In 1992, he received the Presidential
Medal of Freedom from George Bush, the current U.S. president's
The June 1980 operation in Lima was neither
the first nor the only one carried out as the result of coordination
between the de facto military regimes of Peru and Argentina --
something that Shlaudeman was clearly aware of.
According to another declassified secret
document, dated Jul. 11, 1977, Shlaudeman reported the Apr. 12,
1977 kidnapping of Argentine citizen Carlos Alberto Maguid, who
had been granted political asylum in Peru, to then U.S. Secretary
of State Cyrus Vance.
Shlaudeman told Vance that a United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) official, Lone Hogel, had
informed him that Maguid had been seized by members of the Peruvian
military in coordination with agents from Argentina.
The Peruvian government, "in the
persons of the minister of the Interior (General Luis Cisneros
Vizquerra) and the son of president Morales Bermúdez, has
denied that any agency of the (government) was responsible for
his disappearance," Shlaudeman wrote, before stating that
Hogel had accurate information on the case.
"Hogel said that it was her personal
opinion, based on anonymous but apparently well-documented letters,
that Maguid was arrested by the Servicio de Inteligencia Nacional
(SIN)," perhaps at the urging of the Argentine government,
and that he was being held somewhere in Peru, Shlaudeman wrote
The cases of Maguid, as well as those
of Gianetti de Molfino, Raverta, Ramírez and Frías,
were not isolated ones, but formed part of a coordinated strategy
by the military intelligence services of the South American dictatorships.
This is made clear by a joint Jun. 25, 1980 report by the U.S.
embassies in Argentina and Peru, drafted a week after the kidnapping
of Gianetti de Molfino and the others in Lima.
"This incident is not unique. In
recent years there have been several similar cases that attest
to a high degree of cooperation among the intelligence and security
agencies of the southern South American countries and to their
tendency to resort to illegal means in treating suspected subversives,"
says the document.
Nevertheless, U.S. authorities continue
to deny that they were aware of the coordinated criminal activities
committed under Operation Condor.
In 2005, J. Patrice McSherry, a political
science professor at Long Island University in New York, published
a revealing document in her book "Predatory States: Operation
Condor and Covert War in Latin America".
The document was a declassified memo by
James Blystone, a former regional security officer (RSO) in the
U.S. embassy in Argentina, in which he reported to his superiors
that an Argentine intelligence source had informed him of the
kidnapping of four "Montoneros" in Lima, and had told
him that they would be "disappeared."
"Clearly, the RSO (Blystone) had
been briefed on a top-secret Condor operation involving the intelligence
services of three separate countries (Argentina, Bolivia and Peru);
he was accepted as a trusted member of Condor's inner circle,"
Blystone wasted no time responding. In
January 2006, he published his version of the events in the "Foreign
Service Journal", in an article titled "The Domino Effect
of Improper Declassification".
"During the time that I was in Argentina
(1978-1980)I stumbled onto the fact that the Argentine security
services were carrying out some operations in neighbouring countries.
But I do not recall ever hearing the term 'Operation Condor' used,
either there (Buenos Aires) or in Santiago, by any of my contacts
or embassy colleagues," the former foreign service officer
But Blystone could have asked Shlaudeman,
who was perfectly well informed of Operation Condor, as shown,
for example, by an Aug. 30, 1976 report he sent from Chile to
then secretary of state Henry Kissinger on the characteristics
and scope of the coordination between intelligence and security
agencies in the Southern Cone region.
There is also the Oct. 8, 1976 declassified
briefing from Shlaudeman to Kissinger in which he reports on a
meeting with Colonel Manuel Contreras, the powerful chief of the
now dissolved National Directorate of Intelligence (DINA) -- the
Chilean dictatorship's secret police -- and the true head of Operation
"As expected, Contreras denied that
Operation Condor has any other purpose than the exchange of intelligence,"
says the cable.
But the U.S. government knew that Contreras
was lying. "Operation Condor" had already taken off
on its death flight. (END/2008)