09/21/2006 07:41 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Could Kissinger Have Prevented Letelier's Assassination 30 years Ago?

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the assassination of former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier and Ronnie Karpen Moffitt in Washington D.C.

A newly declassified document, which surfaced yesterday by the National Security Archive, indicates that Henry Kissinger -- then Secretary of State -- and his deputy were well aware of assassinations carried out as part of Operation Condor.

The document obtained by Peter Kornbluh under the Freedom of Information Act complements a series of recently declassified papers that shed light on what Kissinger knew about the terrorist activities of Operation Condor, a shadowy secret police network of death squads, whose members included the anticommunist militaries of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil. Condor's mission was to track down, abduct, torture, and murder liberal opponents in the late 1970s.

A few weeks before the Letelier Washington attack, on August 23 of that year, Kissinger's office sent a carefully worded message to U.S. ambassadors in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay to approach those governments and demand an end to assassinations carried out as part of Operation Condor (according to recently declassified documents). But the orders were not very strong and the very fact that they were issued at all indicates a level of complicity on Kissinger's part that has not been previously revealed.

At the time, the ambassadors had reservations. David Popper, U.S. ambassador in Chile, avoided bringing up the matter with Pinochet because he was worried the latter would be insulted. Instead, Popper asked permission to send the head of the CIA office there to speak with secret police chief Contreras.

The U.S. ambassador in Uruguay, Ernest Siracusa, also feared for his personal security by becoming a target of Operation Condor if he fulfilled the diplomatic mission.

The ambassadors' reluctance had some effect. The day before the Letelier bombing, Harry Schlaudeman, Kissinger's deputy, ordered U.S. ambassadors in South American countries "to take no further action" on pressuring the Condor nations to cease assassination plotting.

I interviewed three of the most famous Cuban exile terrorists with ties to Condor: Orlando Bosch, Guillermo Novo, and Luis Posada. Posada and Bosch confirmed that they were paid and trained agents of the US security forces during much of that period. They bragged about planting dozens of bombs and carrying out assassinations in Florida, Cuba, and throughout much of South America. Posada and Bosch (who is living in Miami with a presidential pardon from Ronald Reagan) admitted their roles in the terrorist bombing of a civilian Cuban airliner that killed 73 passengers two weeks after the Letelier assassination.

Luis Posada, after escaping from jail, was appointed to a high position in the Iran Contra Operation by then Vice President Bush (Sr.). Posada spoke openly about his close connections with Bush, who was probably recruited as a CIA agent while still at Yale. Bush went on to direct the Iran Contras (under Oliver North) after he couldn't get the CIA to do it because they said it was against the law.

Posada -- who has been called the Osama Bin Laden of South America -- is currently jailed in Texas while the State Department considers his status. Judge Norbet Garney recently recommended his release in less than 30 days. Last summer Posada's lawyer, Eduardo Soto, compared Posada to American soldiers fighting in Iraq. ''My client has been a soldier of the United States for 40 years, whether he is officially or unofficially today on the payroll, ...(he) absolutely loves the United States. My client is enamored of the principles of this country. My client put his life on the line on numerous occasions for the red, white and blue. A lot of the people out there look at him as being a simple terrorist; a bad guy and he should go to hell for it. But the bottom line is my client is a product of this country. He was trained at Fort Benning in 1963. He has served in the Central Intelligence Agency. He was in El Salvador in the mid-'80s."

"Our North American friends trained us in the use and handling of firearms, explosives and incendiary devices," Posada told me after I asked him about the plane crash years ago in Venezuela. "What was considered yesterday an act of value and patriotism, is now called terrorism and they put us in jail for things they trained us to do. The CIA trained us to infiltrate commandoes and saboteurs to carry out bombings in Cuba."