What the files tell us
National Security Archive analyst Carlos Osorio on the documents that stand ouy
NGO National Security Archive analyst and director of the Southern Cone Documentation Project in George Washington University, Carlos Osorio, was excited about the latest batch of declassified US government files revealing detailed information referring to the last military dictatorship. When the Herald called him, he was still in the midst of reviewing the more than 500 pages of new documents, But he could already confirm that there were many more “gold nuggets” in comparison to the first declassification in August. In a phone call from Washington DC, the analyst gave a broad review over the documents and how this has expanded our understanding of what happened during that dark 1976-1983 period.
So, what is your opinion on the latest batch of declassified US government files?
There are fewer documents but they have much more meat. Because there are intelligence reports from the presidential libraries, whenever you get information from that area, they are being reviewed by the intelligence agencies. They did very good work on these reviews; an inter-agency team is working on these documents. I think it sets a good precedent.
How does it compare to the first release?
US Secretary of State John Kerry wanted to keep the declassifications going. The first batch was in the main policy documents from mainly the National Security Council. They were policy-oriented. There wasn’t anything strikingly new. While these documents are still from the presidential libraries, including policy documents, they also include CIA reports. Top-secret documents with exclusive distribution which is only given to high-level policy-makers with security clearance. That is interesting.
Is there any new information?
The presidential daily briefings are particularly very interesting. They have information about Operation Condor, and they have information from the Chileans and Uruguayans, and how they have a mission to liquidate people. In the past we only knew they were going to operate in Paris but we didn’t have the details. This gives us new information.
The CIA president’s daily brief, “Argentina: New Foreign Policy Directions,” from July 19, 1978 is completely declassified. It tells us many things we’ve known for years but weren’t able to really put completely together. It actually confirms that the military dictatorships were going to kill Uruguayan politician Wilson Ferreira, and were targeting Amnesty International leaders.
What does this say about the Operation Condor?
It is amazing how they were so daring and reckless but they were finally stopped. This was because of French intelligence agents. They informed the military leaders of a part of Operation Condor that they knew what they were doing. Otherwise, they would have carried out their assassinations.
Anything else that caught your eye?
There is another document that highlights the kidnapping and torture of Alfredo Bravo (former president of the Permanent Assembly on Human Rights). And the assistance he got from Robert Pastor, who was the nation Security Council advisor on Latin America, who writes to former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, where he attaches 14 pages of testimony given by Bravo about his experience. Bravo explains how he was tortured and waterboarded, as well as other methods used on him. He sees people hanging from hooks or ropes, in a Dantesque-like hell. But what is interesting, is that in these new documents you can see how policy-makers react to this. Brzezinski responds stating it’s a powerful and compelling report.
Do the edited documents also show something?
They could. For example, when they are describing intelligence operations in 1979, there is a paragraph describing how the DINA Chilean secret police was set up and how they travelled to Washington DC for assistance. Yet in the paragraph right after there are six lines that are classified, which you really want to see. What did the US do to support the creation of the DINA, or help in the origins of Operation Condor? Sometimes you can read something into it, and sometimes there is information pertaining to the source. The source itself could give you hints, over who participated in the human rights violations.
In one of the documents it refers to how the US knew that a representative of the Army was travelling to the US to inform the military attaché of the impending March 24 coup d‘état. Is it surprising that the US knew about this information beforehand?
Yes of course. They have the best intelligence agency in the world. They knew, just like they knew in Cambodia and other places over what was happening behind the scenes. This was given in several reports to the President, where he gets snippets of daily briefings. There are parts when he is told that it will happen within two or four days. The ambassador knows that the Coup is coming on March 24. However, there is no evidence provided that the US was involved in the coup d’état.
What about after the dictatorship?
For historians its interesting because of the Radical President Raúl Alfonsín’s period. This coincides with Ronald Reagan’s administration. They describe how Alfonsín is struggling to survive in the face of this very strong military, and how they discuss leaving the lower-ranking military officers alone and just prosecuting their leaders. Then he starts to purge the SIDE Intelligence agency. The CIA remarks that they aren’t good people and that they will eventually create problems for them — this is the group which eventually formed part of the carapintadas (a group of military servicemen who rebelled against the government).