Full text of Joe Trento's 1980 article on the Smit murders
Joe Trento |
07 June 2010
As published in the Sunday News Journal, Delaware, February 24 1980
Joe Trento, "CIA helped Chile recruit Cuban killers", Sunday News Journal, Wilmington, Delaware, United States of America, February 24 2010
WASHINGTON - A hit team of Cuban terrorists, involved in at least a dozen murders since 1974, was recruited with Central Intelligence Agency help for the secret police of South African and Chile, a Sunday News Journal investigation has discovered.
The victims include Chilean exile leader Orlando Letelier and a high-ranking South African official who uncovered a major government scandal.
South Africa's Bureau for State Security (BOSS) and its Chilean counterpart, called DINA, began hiring CIA-trained anti-Castro fanatics in 1973 to carry out contract killings.
Sunday News Journal reporters followed a chain of evidence that included weapons, gold coins and passports and other documents that linked the contract hit team with South Africa 's and Chile 's secret police.
The News Journal investigation included interviews with secret government witnesses now in hiding under false identities, with current and former South African and Chilean intelligence agents and with present and former officials of the CIA, the Justice and State Departments.
These sources say the CIA helped form the hit team by arranging introductions for operatives of BOSS and DINA to leaders of the Cuban nationalist movement in Miami and Union City , N.J. In return, DINA killed at least 17 agents of the Cuban Intelligence Service and BOSS provided information about Communist activities in Africa .
FBI and Justice Department officials say the CIA did not inform them that Cuban Nationalist were receiving arms, money or false passports even after the hit team killed Chilean exile leader Letelier and an American in a 1976 Washington D.C. car bombing.
The FBI has been hunting two Cuban Nationalists for the Washington assassinations and is looking into how their flight was financed and how they are linked to Omega 7 and ZERO, two Cuban Nationalist Movement groups claiming credit for a number of terrorist acts, including one of the assassination attempts.
Justice Department and FBI officials say privately they are incensed by the lack of cooperation from the CIA in the continuing probe of terrorism an in the search for the missing Letelier murder suspects.
"We have professional killers, trained by one of our own government agencies, on the loose," said one FBI agent familiar with the case.
The known victims of the hit team include: Former Chilean Gen. Carlos Prats and his wife, Cora, killed in an October 1974 bombing in Buenos Aires; Chilean Minister of Defense Oscar Bonilio, blown up with five other people in a helicopter in Chile in March 1975; Ronni Kapen Moffit and Orlando Letelier, who died in the September 1976 Washington car bombing; and South African economist and his wife, who were shot to death in their South Africa home in November 1977.
Another couple, Chilean exile leader Bernardo Leighton and his wife Ana, were seriously injured in an unsuccessful assassination attempt in Rome in October 1975.
The South African government that controlled BOSS is no longer in power, and the new government is trying to solve the Smits' murder. The new government's spokesman in New York , Michael Spencer, said, "it is politically imperative for our country to solve this case."
Louis Le Gerange [sic], South African minister of police, said the Smits investigation has expanded overseas because it "may involve an international plot." Le Gerange said last week that he has two investigators in London exploring the "international connection."
Spencer told the Sunday News Journal that BOSS "had a reciprocal relationship with DINA and would exchange favours." Spencer said BOSS was disbanded last year and reorganised as a less powerful National Intelligence Service.
"I can only tell you that many of the former BOSS officials have gone underground. The murder of the Smits has not been solved. Our government has no idea of who did it," Spencer said.
CIA spokesman Dale Peterson said that he could not discuss details of the relationship between the CIA and other governments. "Sources and methods are something we just can't talk about, and that's what you are getting into."
Juan Prado, press attaché at the Chilean embassy in Washington , said he had no information about any links and would not discuss the matter further on the telephone.
Informed by the Sunday News Journal of the hit team's operations a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, charged with CIA oversight, said last week, "This may have been an attempt by the CIA to get around the prohibition on assassinations. The idea that they turned in intelligence sources who had been on their payroll is outrageous."
The prohibition on assassinations came in a presidential executive order after a 1975 Senate probe revealed CIA involvement in attempts on the lives of foreign leaders.
... The Sunday News Journal investigation shows that the Smits killings were carried out by members of the Cuban Nationalist Movement under orders of elements of South Africa's Bureau of State Security (BOSS). These BOSS officials did not want Smit releasing details of whom the South African Information Ministry had paid off abroad.
In 1977, Smit was South Africa's representative to the International Monetary Fund and was lobbying the World Bank to loan money to his government. His longtime friends and associates asked Smit why a loan was needed since more than $70 million was already deposited in U.S. accounts in the name of South Africa.
Smit, who had the reputation of being impeccably honest, had discovered an unprecedented scandal.
According to CIA and State Department sources, Smit discovered the names of more than 20 American politicians, including U.S. senators, rightwing-journalists, and publishers who had received payoffs and bribes. Some of these people were known to be supporters of the Pinochet regime in Chile, which is said to have close ties with South Africa.
Both governments had a strong interest in keeping their names secret.
In November 1977, Smit was in the midst of a parliamentary campaign which he was expected to win. He was expected to be the next finance minister of the ruling National Party.
On the night of Nov 23, intruders broke into Smit's home in Springs, 25 miles southeast of Johannesburg. Mrs. Smit was shot and was stabbed 14 times with a butcher knife.
When Smit came home a little later, bullets hit him three times, in the head, chest and shoulder, killing him.
U.S. Department of Justice sources believe the killer was Paz. The slugs recovered from Mrs. Smit match those recovered in the attempted assassination of Bernardo Leighton and his wife.
The Smit killings are still classified as unsolved by the South African government....
The Letelier case became a Pandora's box, exposing the links between the Cuban nationalists, the CIA and the Chilean and South African secret police, leading to the disclosure that there had been an assassination team.
Convicted in the killing of the Letelier and Mrs Moffit were Michael Vernon Townley, who became a government witness, and three members of the Cuban Nationalist Movement. Two other Cuban Nationalists were indicted but are still at large. The U.S. government has also been seeking the return of three DINA officials still in Chile.
Government and defence lawyers in the Letelier case said they could not prod the agency into revealing details of its long and continuing ‘contractual' CIA relationship with the Cuban nationals.
These lawyers say that the CIA was not required to give them any information not directly related to the Letelier bombing.
Ricardo Canete, a protected witness in the Letelier bombing, told the Sunday News Journal that Virgilio Pablo Paz and Dionisio Suarez, the fugitives wanted in the Letelier killing, had been using CIA-supplied counterfeit money and South African gold Krugerrands to live on while at large.
Testifying under the name of Carlos Casado, Canete gave that information in secret to a grand jury in March 1978, but did not repeat it at the public trial.
The convicted Cubans defended themselves by claiming that the Letelier-Moffit killings were a CIA operation from the beginning. The Justice Department has insisted the murders were plotted by agents of the Chilean government.
The CIA started working closely in 1959? With anti-Castro Cubans, training them in Miami and Guatemala before the Bay of Pigs invasion. The CIA also played a large role in the overthrow of the Marxist Allende government in Chile in 1973.
FBI and Justice Department sources said the relationship between CIA, DINA and the Cubans explain why the CIA was reluctant to track down Paz and Suarez, the two Cubans who remain at large.
Some FBI investigators believe Paz was the trigger man in the Leighton attempt and in the murder of the Smits.
"The fact of the matter is we have gotten no cooperation from the CIA on tracking these guys down. They have been at large for more than a year and a half. They have been spotted coming in and out of the country and when the bureau gets tipped off it is always too late," one angry FBI agent told the Sunday News Journal.
The agent contends, "If we arrest these two, they are going to reveal how the CIA was responsible for the Letelier hit and others. I have got to think that the CIA has a real interest in keeping this from coming out."
Canete was interviewed on the condition his present identity or whereabouts not be disclosed. He joined the Cuban Nationalist Movement as a teenager in 1959, dropped out in 1965?, and then returned to infiltrate it under Justice Department instructions in 1978. His testimony is credited with helping to link the Cuban Nationalists to the Letelier bombing. There has been a price on his head since then, government authorities say.
Canete believes that if the two fugitives are brought to trial, they could unravel and embarrassing relationship between the CIA, the Chileans and South African Bureau of State Security.
"I worked for the CIA," Canete says, "and there are things that the agency has reason to hide."
One of the things Canete says the CIA wants to hide is the financing of the Cubans' escape from the authorities with CIA-counterfeit money and with Krugerrands from South Africa.
According to Canete, members of the team planning the Letelier assassination were paid with money from the account of Gen. Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, head of DINA. Deposits in that account, the witness said, were made in the form of Krugerrands.
The account was in a branch of the Riggs National Bank in Washington. The CIA is also a large customer at the same branch.
Canete said, "Last year I brought Krugerrands to the FBI that the two Letelier killers still at large had been using as currency in Manhattan.
"I was told at the time that the boys [Paz and Suarez] were bragging that the coins had been given to them by BOSS."
Lawrence Barcella Jr., the assistant U.S. attorney in Washington in charge of the Letelier case, said of the missing Cubans. "These people are capable of the most extreme forms of terrorism. Killing is just a method to them."
Barcella called Canete "absolutely essential to any further prosecution of the case." Canete agreed to become a secret witness in March 1978, after he was offered a plea-bargain deal in an unrelated arrest in New York City.
Canete said he had told Justice Department officials that Paz, one of the men being hunted in the Letelier case, had been given a Barreta Brigadier handgun by Chilean secret police official in Miami in 1975.
That is the same weapon that South African sources say was used in the Smit killing and FBI sources say was used in the Leighton attempt.
The bullets recovered from the surviving couple in the Rome assassination attempt matched bullets recovered from the body of Mrs. Smit, according to a report on the incident filed from the Rome CIA Station.
Prosecutor Barcella says only, "It is a gun the boys would have access to."
CIA, State Department and Justice Department sources told the Sunday News Journal that the bulk of the hit team was made up of members of the Cuban Nationalist Movement based in Union City, N.J.
The investigators aren't sure how many people are on the hit team but it is believed to be fairly small. Two members are now in jail and two implicated in the Letelier bombing are being sought. How many others are at large is not certain.
Investigators link them to Omega 7 and Zero, Cuban Nationalist Movement groups that have taken credit for hundreds of bombings and other terrorist attacks. Two brothers convicted in the Letelier bombing allegedly tried to a bazooka attack from Brooklyn on the U.N. Secretariat Building in 1964. The FBI has warned that the group is "willing to go to any lengths to promote the anti-Castro cause, regardless of how many lives may be lost."
Sources in the New York office of the FBI said in recent interviews that there is evidence that attacks by Cuban exiles on various Soviet bloc legations in New York, most recently the Russian Mission building last December, may have been carried out with CIA encouragement.
Some FBI agents believe that the CIA has been using the Cuban fanatics to keep the Soviet diplomats on edge and thus keep Soviet KGB activity to a minimum.
These sources say the members of the international hit team came from the same group of Cuban terrorist exiles, who include many former CIA-contract agents.
The hit team was recruited from the Cuban fanatics by Antal Liptay [Antal Lipthay], a Hungarian expatriate living in Chile.
Between 1974 and 1976 Liptay visited the United States on a forged passport, posing as a Chilean journalist opposed to the military junta that assumed power in 1973. He was actually working for the junta at the time, according to CIA sources and associates of Liptay interviewed by the Sunday News Journal.
Liptay was also a colleague of Townley, who also worked for the junta as a terrorist. Some sources claim Townley was working for the CIA at the time as an undercover agent.
CIA spokesman Peterson denied any CIA link to the Letelier killing and denied that Townley ever worked for the CIA. Peterson did say Townley sought out the agency several times to offer information.
After Townley turned government witness in the Letelier case, he was given a plea-bargained sentence of 10 years in prison, with parole possible after 40 months.
His testimony implicated top officials in the Chilean government who have been indicted but the U.S. government has not been able to get them extradited to stand trial.
Justice Department sources say Townley has refused to discuss the nature of the hit team or the travels he made with its members to Rome, South Africa and elsewhere.
The right wing junta of Chile and its leader, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, collaborated with the South Africans in exploiting CIA help to recruit Cuban refugees to terrorise and murder political opponents, the Sunday News Journal Investigation has shown.
The two governments had strong ties because of their outspoken anti-Communism. The junta received continued backing from the CIA, under President Nixon's direct orders. It was an outgrowth of this relationship that caused the CIA to allow BOSS agents and Chilean intelligence officials to operate freely in the United States.
For Pinochet this help was a continuation of assistance that began with the CIA-assisted September 1973 coup d'état that overthrew the Marxist government of Salvadore Allende Gossens and gave Pinochet's junta control of Chile.
South Africa assisted Pinochet by allowing CIA weapons and money to be funnelled through BOSS operatives, in Buenos Aires and later in Brazilia, into Chile before the 1973 coup, CIA sources said.
The Chilean and South African intelligence agencies were helpful to their American counterpart
DINA systematically killed 17 operatives of the Cuban Intelligence Service at CIA request between 1974 and 1976 throughout Latin America, according to sources at the highest level of the CIA.
South Africa provided information on the activities of Soviet and Chinese intelligence operatives and military forces in Zaire and Angola on an continuous basis; in exchange for their freedom to operate in the United States.
According to Justice Department sources, in 1973 Pinochet ordered Contreras, head of his secret police, to recruit an assassination squad to eliminate the last vestiges of the exiled Allende government.
Canete says recruiting the hit team from members of the movement began in late 1973. FBI sources confirm that.
Angry Justice Department officials say that despite CIA knowledge of DINA's terrorist activities, Deputy CIA Director Vernon Walters welcomed Contreras to to a series of secret meetings in 1975 at CIA headquarters in McLean, Va.
Walters' office referred all requests for comment to the CIA, which would not comment on the meeting.
Angry congressmen and senators, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who learned about the Contreras visit from an anti-junta group, asked the Ford White House and the CIA why Contreras was here. They were told the visit was a national security matter. Spokesman Peterson said, "It is still the policy of the agency not to comment on that visit."
According to CIA sources, the agency gave Contreras a list of enemies of the Pinochet regime who had been on the CIA payroll and how much they had been paid. In return DINA provided such information as evidence that Allende's daughter Beatrix was sending money from Moscow to exiled Allende government officials. Beatrix Allende, who committed suicide in Havana in 1977, was married to the head of Cuban intelligence.
Pinochet used Liptay and DINA Col. Eduardo Sepulveda to locate and attempt to blackmail these officials into muting their criticism of the junta or face exposure, these sources said.
Those on Contreras list who would not cooperate were marked for death by the junta, according to Justice Department investigators and witnesses.
The names included Bernard Leighton, the former Christian Democratic Minister of the Interior in the U.S.-backed Frei administration. Leighton and his wife Ana had moved to Rome. Leighton, despite a series of threats, remained a vocal critic of the Pinochet regime.
Townley and Letelier fugitive Paz toured Europe in September 1975? With Antal Liptay and other DINA officials to contact neo-Fascist groups in Europe.
On October 6, 1975, Paz shot Leighton and his wife Ana, CIA sources say. Both were wounded but survived.
Four days after that shooting, a Cuban paper in Miami, Diario de La Americas, received a letter from the Cuban Nationalist group called Zero taking credit for the shooting. Because the letter lacked detail CIA sources say it was not taken seriously.
These sources now say they believe the communication was prepared in advance of the Leighton shooting by Paz and Townley and transmitted by BOSS agents to Alfredo di Stefano, a leader in the Italian Fascist Party.
After the failed attempt, BOSS agents sent a second communication to the Associated Press office in Rome, in which Zero again took credit for the shooting. This message detailed facts about the assassination attempt that only the gunman could know.
Paz was given a West German passport by BOSS agents and South African Ministry of Information officials provided Paz and Townley transportation out of Rome through the South African airline, investigators have recently learned. Townley apparently travelled under an American passport; using the name Kenneth W. Eynhart.
According to CIA officials working in Rome at the time a report was sent back to CIA headquarters in Washington detailing Chilean, Cuban nationalist and South African involvement in the murder attempt.
In the summer of 1975 the relationship between the well-organised Cuban Nationalist Movement, DINA and BOSS was solidified at meetings in the Dominican Republic and in a later meeting in Coral Gables, Fla.
From investigators familiar with the planning, the Sunday News Journal has learned these details of the meetings.
At the first, in June, at Bonao in the Dominican Republic, two assignments were handed out by DINA to the hit team. Cuban Nationalist terrorist Orlando Bosch was given the explosives to blow up a Cuban airliner. This was a reward for his help in planning the murder of Gen. Prats and his wife.
And Jose Dionisio Suarez received the first instructions for assassinating Letelier. He would later be convicted of planting the bomb that killed Mrs. Moffit and Letelier.
Before the Dominican meeting, Bosch was arrested in Costa Rica and deported. The Justice Department learned that Bosch had been there to assassinate Andes Pascal Allende, another Chilean exile and no relation to the dead former president. Costa Rican immigration officials found that the former CIA-trained bomb expert was travelling on a Chilean diplomatic passport.
Within two weeks of the Letelier killing, on October 6 1976, Bosch planted a bomb on the Cuban jetliner which exploded over Barbados, killing all 73 on board. Bosch is serving a prison term in Venezuela, where he was convicted of the bombing.
On June 29 1976(?) at the Lobster House Restaurant in Coral Gables, Fla., the CIA and Miami Police infiltrated a meeting between Cuban Nationalist leaders and DINA officials, including Contreras.
He had slipped into the country on a phony passport, checked in with the CIA and attended the meeting. Here Contreras promised the Cuban nationalists money, weapons and refuge in exchange for continuing to carry out contract killings for DINA and other friends of the Cuban Nationalist Movement.
Paz and Suarez have been seen in New York City area and are suspects in the recent bombings.
An FBI agent involved in the hunt for them told the Sunday News Journal that the State Department, at the request of the CIA, routinely allows ‘friendly' foreign intelligence agents to come and go from the U.S. on false passports.
CIA spokesman Paterson said that he could not comment on the passport policy because "doing so would reveal sources and methods of the agency."
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