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December 15, 2016
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July 1, 2004
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May 21, 1978
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Approved For Release 2004/07/08 : CIA-RDP81 M00980R002000100029-8 ARTICLE APPEARED 21 May 1978 ON PAGE A-4 TheL~teli~r- Case: In M, - Diplomacy By Timothy S. Robinson WuhinztonPal stall Writs One of the-first police officers to ar- rive at ? the scene, of the explosion watched the ? debris still floating through the damp air to the ground like ash from a campfire. He looked- at his watch and noted the- time: 9:38 a.m. on Sept. 21, 1976. ? , Stately Sheridan Circle- on Embassy Row was soon filled with Investigators from the D.C. police, the FBI, the Ex= ecutive Protective Service, which guards diplomats and embassies here, and the U.S. Treasury's Alcohol, To-- bacco and Firearms unit, which Inves- tigates crimes involving explosives. As smoke continued- to rise from the mangled Chevelle on the roadway of 1 the circle, the investigators scurried to collect every possible bit of evi- dence from the debris around it. They shook "tiny particles down from tree leaves, drained a rain pud-1 die and strained Its contents, vacu- umed debris from the grass, and un- ceremoniously put ladders up against embassy walls to search rooftops. By the end of the gray, rainy day, thou- sands of tiny plastic bags had been filled with fragments that were taken to an FBI laboratory for analysis. Painstaking work in the laboratory produced the first 'clues to the nature of the crime. The bomb had been strapped with precision above the I- beam of the Chevelle's -flrame so the driver would be hit with. the full force of the blast. The high power of the ex- pertly constructed explosive was clearly, intended to kill: And the fact that it had apparently been detonated by remote control was further evi- dence of the sophistication of the crime. The next clue was the' Identity of the target of the crime: Orlando Lete- lier, a former ambassador to the United States from the Chilean gov- ernment of Marxist president Salva- dor Allende and, an outspoken oppo- nent in exile of the current Chilean president, Gen. Augusta Plnochet, who overthrew Allende in 1973. -Letelier had been working here at the Institute for Policy Studies, a lib- eral "think tank" that gave him a plat- form for speeches and writings Grit Two colleagues of Letelier's were in Cornick is an outgoing man de- his Chevelle when. it was blown;. apar scended from several generations of on Sheridan.. Circle.. One of them Virginians who is frequently given to Ronni Moffett, who was riding along humor-traits not often'-expected is side Leteller in the front .seat,- died the dry sterotype of FBr agents. quickly of a severed artery. Her hus- Propper and Cornick, who had band, Michael,' who was in the- back never met before, would- spend the seat, was thrown clear of the car and next 18 months on' the 'unusually, survived_ - painstaking and often frustrating in-, Leteller's. colleagues at IPS, which vestigation that only last month prod. itself had been infiltrated and spied uced arrests of a number of suspects upon by informants for the FBI dur- and word that federal prosecutors ing the anti-Vietnam war years, imme- here knew the details of the crime diately decided that. DINA had, mur- and had traced its origins to DINA dered Letelier to shut him up. And, and the Chilean government. ,:. because of disclosures of CIA involve- Unknown to 'the victims' friends ment against Allende in Chile, they) and colleagues at the Institute for doubted the U.S. government's deter policy Studies, the FBI Investigation urination to find and bring Letelier's already had turned toward Chile. killers to justice if it meant embar- Agents in the nation's Cuban exile rassing the Pinochet government. communities, aware of a. growing of Their suspicions and anger grew finity between some very militant' when they discovered that Investiga- anti-Castro Cubans and the rightist tors, checking out every possible mo- Pinochet government in Chile, began tive, were asking whether anything in checking Cuban informants. Letelier's and the Moffitts' private The FBI and the Justice Depart= lives might be connected to the kill- rniiht soon realized that this part of ing. the investigation necessarily would in Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene M. valve -intelligence information here Propper of the, major crimes division and abroad, so they began laying del{ was sitting in the cafeteria in the fed- 'cate groundwork, Propper. Assistant eral courthouse here that September Attorney General Stanley Pottincer morning when the investigation of the and CIA Director George Bush met to Letelier killing began. Propper had determine to what extent that agency, just told- friends at the table that two Gould help in theinvestigation. A police officers with whom he had an- carefully worded agreement placing appointment could not show up be- the Letelier case in a "national secu- cause "some ambassador" had, been rity" status allowed that cooperation. killed when one of Propper's supervi- , The, investigation quickly focused sors came by and asked him to work on thef? Cuban exile connection after on the Letelier case.. Venezuelan authorities informed' the His supervisors warned hint that United. States that Cuban exile leader such crimes are among the most diffi- Orlando Bosch-who was being held cult to solve and 'prosecute and that in that country for the bombing of a this one seemed particularly likely to Cuban commerical ;airliner -in which involve unpleasant political pressures. 73 persons died-had implicated "the But Propper, a nonestablishment pros- Novo brothers" in the Letelier case. ecutor who had already begun- think- By the end of October 1977, the Novas ing of leaving the U.S. Attorney's of-. and other Cuban. exiles were being fice for private practice, agreed to brought before a federal grand jury take the case anyway. here for questioning. A few blocks away in the Washing- The Novo brothers--Ignacio Novo ton field office of the FBI, agent Car- Sampol and Guillermo Novo Sampol ter Cornick had been waiting for his -were known in the U.S. Cuban tom- assignment here to take shape after munity and to federal agents as lead- his recent transfer from Puerto Rico.- ers of the Cuban Nationalist Move. When the Letelier bombing occurred, ment, a group that wants to regain its Cornick was selected by FBI agent-in homeland without help "from the charge Nick F. Starnes for the job be- United States.. . ical of Pinochet's government and the { cause of Cornick's availability, - his In 1964, they had fired a bazooka Chilean. secret police,A -8 Pdr FZ6le1lbd92(I4+L91 J 8 anQRgs i1 O1R9,8Q 9e a ward the DINA. gations of other bombings in Puerto Rico. wad speaking .there. They were ar- rested, but charges against them were, dropped no, bee properly informed ofi~s, Or Ignacio Novo also had been charged in the early 1970s in New Jersey with an explosives-related case, according to court records, And Guillermo Novo was on probation for a 1974 conviction in .New Jersey in connection with a plot to blow up a Cuban ship and -.other property in Montreal., The Cuban. exile movement headed by the Novos, who had been living in this country.for nearly two decades, was considered extreme even by some. other militant anti-Castro Cu- bans. They eventually were "adopted" in a sense by the rightists in the Pino- chet government. in Chile, according. to some sources, at a time when anti- Castro forces here felt betrayed by the U.S. government's effort at rap- prochement with the Fidel Castro gov- ernment.: :4 ` The government's Cuban exile ? In- formants were reluctant to appear before grand juries as witnesses. Po- lice officers and FBI agents who had: used them. for years. were reluctant to disclose even to. other. central investiga- tors the names of persons providing them, with information in the Letelier case. At the same time, in early 1977, U.S. investigators began checking the foreign travels of some, of the persons whom. they believed, based on infor- mation from the Cuban exile infor- mants, to be centrally involved in the murder conspiracy., They 'also were planning ways to put pressure on some of those persons so they might be forced to cooperate. In early March 1977, while most law enforcement people here were occu- pied with 12 Hanafi Muslims barri- caded in three Washington buildings, Propper, Carrick and Assistant U. S. Attorney, ? E. Lawrence Barceila Jr. were in Venezuela meeting with that country's secret police. There they learned that Guillermo Novo had traveled to . Chile and Ven- zuela In late 1974-, in. apparent viola- tion of his.-pyobation in the United States. They determined to use that information to try to put pressure on Guillermo Novo, . Then, in April 1977, they decided to grant Immunity from prosecution to two Cuban exiles,, Jose Dionisio Sua- rez Esquivel and Alvin Ross Diaz, if the k would cooperate with investiga- tors. Suarez refused to testify to the grand jury, and was sentenced to jail for an 11-month contempt of court sentence with the vow that he would never talk. At a press conference at the time, Ignacio Novo and Ross ac- cused the government of : harassing Cuban exiles. - In June 1977, prosecutors made their attempt to have Guillermo Novo's probation revoked. However, Novo failed to shoal up for that Tren- ton, N.J.,. hearing and became a fugi.- tive for the next 11 months Then prosecutors learned in the late. fall of. 1977. that~ two persons ele 'low gfte(g n`- ih 1 e United States on official Chilean pass- ports -and met with Cuban exiles shortly before Letelier's murder. Propper, Cornick and others de- cided to make one more attempt to shake loose information on the case in February 1978. The term of the-origi- nal grand jury in the case was expir- ing soon, and investigators felt it was time to 'go public with some of what they knew. The procedure took the form of "letter rogatory," a legal ma- neuver in which the court of one country asks the court of another country for help. The United States used .that. ap- proach to ask Chile to produce for questioning the two persons who had traveled here with the official Chilean passports and met with Cuban sus- pects -in the.,Letelier Investigation. That highly- irregular move left the clear implication that someone in the Chilean government was involved in the murder.,- Within a-week, photographs of the two men had been leaked to Washing- ton Star reporter Jeremiah .O'Leary and published here and in' Santiago. Almost Immediately, sources in Chile identified one of the men: as an Amer-, ?ican-born DINAlagent, Michael Ver- hon Townley. Townley, 35, is a soft-spoken and in- Iieved to be Involved in the Letelierl case: Guillermo Novo Sampol, who 11 980PH9tp(g_8klled to show up a is probation hearing, and Alvin Ross Diaz, once granted immunity but now considered a suspect in the mur- der. They had been caught with co- caine and weapons, apparently in the midst of a plot to sell drugs and._flee the country. Once Townley's cooperation became. known publicly, FBI and prosecutors worked swiftly to begin rounding up others whom they suspect partici- pated In the bombing. They had hoped to catch Ignacio Novo, Jose Dionisio Suarez Esquivel (freed from prison when the term of the first grand jury probing the.Letelier case expired) and Virgilio?Paz Romero, all in the same night. However, after a lengthy stake- out in northern New- Jersey, only Ig-. nacio Novo was apprehended. . In the hopes that Paz and Suarez will be caught and.a trial could be held by autumn, prosecutors have be- gun putting together a'case that fo- cuses on a Chilean-ordered Leteller , murder plot carried out by Cuban ex- , iles. Although details remain sketchy be- cause of the government's desire to withhold the amount of its knowledge from unareested suspects, the follow- ing outline of the government's case has emerged from various sources:. About a month before Letelier and Moffitt were killed, two Chilean se- cret police agents, Townley and Chi- lean Army Capt. Armando Fernandez Larios, were sent to the U n I t e d States to find someone to kill Orlando Letelier. Townley met with Cubans in tensely articulate man who has made Chile his home- for the past 20 years after his father headed a large Ameri 'can automotive operation there. As he Is described by people who know him,,Townley is an acknowl- edged electronic technician with the capability of building devices to deto- nate bombs by remote control. He had been active in commando raids against former President Allende. He had been charged with murder in a raid in which a night watchman was killed, but the charges were dropped when Pinochet came to power in late 1973 and Townley became a DINA Diplomatic sources reportedly-made It clear without making specific 'threats that Washington was ready to sever relations- with Chile if Townley were ' allowed to stay there. Evi- dently for that reason, Chile turned Townley over to the United States. Faced with possible prosecution for murder in the Letelier case and possi- ble assassination himself because of his knowledge of numerous other In- ternational terrorist activities, Town- ley made a deal with prosecutors here. He would enter a guilty plea to a less serious charge and cooperate with the Letelier investigation. But he would not-be asked to provide infor mation on anything else. While Townley was deciding to coo- perate, FBI agents in. Miami had also struck paydirt. In mid-April, they had discovered-with the help of Miami area polict--two .other; persons, be-. Miami with whom he had become ac---l quainted when he lived there in the early 1970s, and with Cubans in north ern New Tersey. _. . I'll 1. 1 r Over the neat 10 days the bomb- was planted in Letelier's car and plans were made to blow it up with him In it. The date of the blast hap- pened to coincide with ' a major 1865 event in Chilean military history, when a vice admiral named Juan Wil- liam t ::ohc through A. Spanish naval. blockade off the coast of Chile anal be-., came a Chilean Naval hero. Juan Wll-" liams also was the fake name under." which. Townley had.- entered _ -the United, States. a Approved For Release 2004/07/08 : CIA-RDP81 M00980R002000100029-8