Declassified Confessions of a Hitman Shed More Light on Brutal Pinochet Regime

( — The National Security Archive recently declassified documents that reveal facts about the American-born Michael Townley, the role he played in multiple assassinations, and the fatal 1976 Washington car bombing under Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s regime. The National Security Archive is an independent, non-profit investigative journalistic center at George Washington University whose mission is to declassify U.S. documents.

Augusto Pinochet came to power in Chile in 1973, when he and his military junta overthrew the elected socialist government. Pinochet’s government was committed to exterminating socialism and restoring free-market policies in Chile. His regime was well-known for its harsh suppression of dissent, although it did successfully lower inflation rates and resulted in an economic boom between 1976 and 1979.

The Townley documents include papers where he talks about being recruited in 1974 by powerful officers of Chile’s Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional, known as DINA. He was allocated a large home in Santiago by DINA and was instructed to build a laboratory in the basement for the express purpose of creating chemical weapons. In the documents, Townley also confesses to killing two Chileans using sarin nerve gas.

The documents also include passages where Townley is talking about DINA deputy director Pedro Espinoza ordering him to assassinate Orlando Letelier, Pinochet’s socialist opponent. He details how he enlisted a group of exiled Cuban terrorists to help him on the mission, and then eventually how he managed to assassinate Letelier and his associate, Ronni Moffitt, who was also in the car when the bomb went off.

In another batch of declassified documents, Townley worries that the Chilean government will simply kill him rather than turn him over to the FBI for his involvement in the car bombing. However, the Pinochet regime did turn Townley over to the FBI on April 8, 1978. He pleaded guilty and served 62 months. Previously released documents indicated that former President Richard Nixon was aware of the military coup as it unfolded, with evidence coming in the form of formerly classified memoranda, meeting summaries, and telephone transcripts that outline his national security advisor Henry Kissinger’s efforts to destabilize the previous Chilean regime. Declassified documents are an important part of understanding politics today and retroactively.

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