356. Paper Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1 2

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  • Information on Guatemalan Government Security Service

1. Since President Carlos Arana Osorio took office in July 1970, the Guatemalan Government Security Service has become basically punitive in nature. This trend accelerated over the past months as the service developed an operational philosophy of counter-terrorism characterized by “extra-legal” tactics. Convinced it is fighting an undeclared civil war, it offers no quarter to real or fancied enemies.

2. Security officials themselves show little interest in such fundamental techniques of collection as detailed interrogations, analysis, and exploitation of captured documents. Records keeping and the collation of gathered information are virtually unknown, and few of the captured terrorists can tell of their encounter with the “authorities” since most have been killed shortly after capture. Insurgents now know what to expect. When detained, they either refuse to talk or, under torture, furnish false information that implicates others who have no relation to the problem. The security officials act on this misinformation, jailing and often killing innocents to the detriment of solving the insurgency problem.

3. Equally unfortunate is a recent propensity of the security service to become involved in counter-terrorist activities which are politically motivated. “Irregular” anti-communist militant organizations such as “Orden” (“Order”) and “Ojo Por Ojo” (“Eye for an Eye”) have for all practical purposes now abandoned any pretense of hiding the fact that they are sponsored by the regime. The undisciplined nature of these “irregular” repressive organizations, whose members carry out some “missions” at the behest of the security chief, plus the fact that they now operate out of the Headquarters of the security service hampers efforts to instill discipline, order and legality in the service itself.

4. In March 1971, the security service entered into a period of intensive activity against the rebel armed forces (FAR) and the revolutionary armed forces of the Guatemalan Communist Party (PGT/FAR). There were some successes but the operations fell far short of what might have been accomplished because of the service’s inability to concentrate on sustained operations, its laxity in pursuing leads, and its lack of operational security and professionalism. For example, of a total of 17 leads on FAR personalities, meeting places, and safehouses, the security service exploited only five, all with negative results because of procrastination or haphazard methods in conducting investigations, In one case an official of the service through impatience and impulsiveness triggered a booby-trap during a search of a [Page 2] terrorist safe-haven, killing himself and destroying much of the evidence.

5. The policy-making level of the government regards political considerations of more consequence than the insurgency problem. For example, when investigations lead to the discovery of military personnel involved in subversive activities they are quickly shut off. There are instances where a captured terrorist, freely cooperating under interrogation, has been interrupted in the middle of his deposition and summarily shot.

6. Major Elias Osmundo Ramirez Cervantes, a 36 year-old professional army officer, was appointed head of the Guatemalan Government Security Service in July 1970, by President Arana. Ramirez is the first cousin of Arana’s wife and enjoys the full confidence of the President. [text not declassified] neither the Guatemalan President nor the army chief of staff wants to create a strong professional intelligence service. They fear that such a service could become independent or uncontrollable and thus a political problem or threat in the future. The lack of an official charter for the security entity makes it impossible to build a professional service. The security personnel not having a career status, regard their jobs as short-term, to be exploited while the opportunity exists.

7. The present mission of the service is to identify and eliminate guerrilla elements. It does not have arrest powers and is not supposed to intervene in criminal matters, but under the state of siege the security officials ignore judicial restraints and resort to “extra-legal” detentions. Also, to the chagrin of some police components, they have recently become involved in the investigation of criminal matters. In a recent case the security service jailed and tortured four rightist terrorists alleged to be extortionists. The service withdrew their bank deposits by a ruse and kept the proceeds, took at least one of their cars, and then killed the extortionists and disposed of the bodies. When the next of kin pursued the case the Guatemalan service made a gift of the stolen automobile to the police chief in neighboring El Salvador in an attempt to obscure the facts in the case.

8. The service maintains a close working relationship with the security services of El Salvador and Nicaragua, although its budding relationship with the Mexican security service may have suffered recent damage as a result of indiscreet handling of an anti-guerrilla operation when Guatemalan authorities shot FAR members deported to Guatemala from Mexico.

9. The official Guatemalan security service is a dependency of the Presidency and responsible to President Arana personally. [Page 3] Ample funds seem to be available to the service on a confidential basis from Arana. In one instance Ramirez kept the equivalent of $10,000 which President Arana passed to him for delivery to a penetration of the guerrilla forces. Despite considerable training in the intelligence field, the service chief displays a disregard for sound operations. Although on the surface the security chief is affable, cooperative, and basically U.S.-oriented, he is suspicious by nature. He is ambitious and has problems with other government officials because of his use of his close ties with President Arana. He has a tendency to be irresponsible and to become involved in unmeditated actions which border on the criminal. For example, he has said he never interrogated a prisoner without killing him. He has claimed, on his return from visits to Arana’s office, that the President personally prepared lists of persons for him to eliminate.

10. The Headquarters of the security service is in theory one of semi-restricted access, but in reality the public has easy access and it is visited by friends and acquaintances, language instructors, salesmen, collaborators, members of counter-terrorist groups and informants. There are inadequate facilities for storing classified material, although there is little in the way of files or dossiers kept to show or acknowledge evidence of a prisoner’s detention.

11. The above factors, compounded by poor pay and resentment of the arbitrary behavior of the chief toward his subordinates, make the intelligence service highly vulnerable to hostile penetrations, and there is reason to believe it is already penetrated by terrorist agents of the FAR. The service’s relations with the army chief of staff and the Army G-2 are excellent but professional jealousies and personality clashes, heightened by jurisdictional quarrels, adversely affect the service’s relations with the police and other agencies. While the security service depends on the police services and the army for operational support, it is autonomous and can act independently of any other government component. Since the intelligence service is not a career service, it is highly susceptible to politically-inspired personnel changes, but the function presently assigned to it is likely to continue.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 785, Country Files, Latin America, Guatemala, Vol. I. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The paper was attached to a August 18, 1971, covering memorandum from CIA to Packard, Meyer, and Nachmanoff. The memorandum is not published.
  2. The Central Intelligence Agency reported that the Guatemalan Government was increasingly utilizing “extra-legal” tactics in prosecuting its counterinsurgency operations against the FAR and PGT. According to the CIA, the Guatemalan Government regarded political considerations of more consequence than the insurgency problem and had targeted both insurgents and President Arana’s political opponents.