Washington D.C., April 27, 2017 – The infamous Southern Cone collaboration known as “Operation Condor” considered establishing “field offices” in the United States and Europe, and Condor members Argentina, Uruguay and Chile were “known to have followed through on plans for West European operations,” according to a declassified report from the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), posted today by the National Security Archive. The report describes Operation Condor as a trans-border, multinational effort by Southern Cone secret police services to track down and “liquidate” opponents of their regimes in the 1970s.
The highly classified “Secret/Exdis” report is among 931 Department of State records released today by the Trump administration and handed over to Argentine President Mauricio Macri during his visit to Washington today. The release marks the third “tranche” of declassified records provided to Argentina as part of a commitment made by President Obama to release intelligence documents on human rights abuses under the Argentine military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s.
During a trip to Buenos Aires that coincided with the 40th anniversary of the military coup on 24 March 2016, President Obama announced that the U.S. would begin an 18-month project to review and declassify pertinent intelligence records on the coup and repression that followed. In August and December 2016, the Obama administration turned over hundreds of documents to the Macri government.
The release today by the Trump administration includes a re-review of 857 documents previously withheld in part or in full from a release carried out by the Department of State in 2002, and 119 high-level documents selected for inclusion from two chapters of a forthcoming Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS)volume on South America, 1977‒1980. (FRUS is the official State Department documentary record of U.S. foreign policy.) The two previous releases were posted at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence “IC on The Record” site. The National Security Archive has reproduced the August 2016 release here, and the December 2016 release here.
“This release is another positive act of declassified diplomacy that began with Obama and is continuing under the Trump administration,” said Carlos Osorio, who directs the Southern Cone documentation project at the National Security Archive and has actively assisted the special Argentina declassification project. Osorio also applauded the ongoing efforts by the U.S. officials in charge of the declassification effort to release as much detailed information as possible. “Historical accountability continues to play an important role in current US foreign relations.”
The numerous records in today’s release provide a trove of information for human rights advocates and foreign policy historians. They include files on the Carter Administration’s effort to prop up dictator Rafael Videla in 1977 against a more hard-line Navy chief, Emilio Massera, because Videla was supposedly open to the nuclear “Treaty of Tlatelolco and human rights.” The documents also cover the efforts of the U.S. Buenos Aires embassy human rights officer, Tex Harris, to break the censorship by Embassy superiors of his rich and unfiltered reporting to Washington; and describe how Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Patricia Derian fought to include graphic descriptions of torture in the State Department’s first annual human rights report on Argentina in 1980.
The dramatic revelations in this release include new information on the fate of disappeared militants from that era of repression in the Southern Cone, including the execution of the head of the Montoneros, Ruben De Gregorio, an Argentine citizen. One 1978 cable states that “After interrogation by GOU authorities at the Fusileros Navales facility in Montevideo, De Gregorio was quietly turned over to Argentine authorities in keeping with close cooperation between GOU and GOA security forces.” De Gregorio was handed to the Argentine Navy Mechanics School ESMA clandestine detention center operatives and never seen again.
The final and largest tranche of declassified documents from the Argentina Project is expected to include records of 14 intelligence agencies, among them the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). The final release is expected to take place before the end of 2017.
The National Security Archive today posted a sampling of seven documents from the latest release that provide further U.S. intelligence on human rights violations in Argentina and descriptions of U.S. policy decisions as the issue of human rights became a more substantive priority in U.S. foreign relations with Latin America and the world.