211. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Chile1

64279. Subject: Letelier/Moffitt Assassination Investigation: Visit of Chilean Delegation to Washington. Reference: State 0566362

1. Summary: Chilean delegation led by Montero met March 9 with ARA, L, and Justice officials. Montero reaffirmed commitment to cooperate in Letelier investigation, and promised rapid action. Delegation reviewed at length legal steps so far taken in Chile, and expressed opinion of GOC that Chilean law would probably not permit direct participation in court sessions by Propper. However, final decisions on USG participation up to Chilean judge, and in any event GOC disposed to permit unofficial access to witnesses, etc. Montero and Cauas emphasized GOC concern over sensational publicity and leaks characterizing US reporting of case. We expressed appreciation for visit, for assurances of cooperation, and reiterated our grave concern over matter and our expectation that Chile would cooperate. Appointment arranged for March 10 with Deputy Secretary.3 End summary.

2. Chilean delegation of Montero, Schweitzer, and Pantoja, escorted by Ambassador Cauas, met at 11:00 am March 9 with ARA deputies Bushnell and McNeil, ARA/AND Director Barnebey, Chile Desk Officer Steven, L Attorney Willis, Assistant US Attorney Propper, FBI Agents Cornick and Scherrer, and State Department Interpreter Seidenman.

3. Montero stressed GOC cooperation, intention to proceed in search of justice, desire to punish guilty, but hoped that matter would “not go beyond” (apparent expression of hope that investigation will not have political overtones). He reported latest steps indicating GOC intentions: A) Termination of state of siege, which “permits witnesses to be free of any restraints and press to comment freely”; B) sending of delegation to consult on case; C) appointing of special judge on [Page 631] passport aspect. He noted that courts now proceeding with two separate actions, the letters rogatory and the passport matter.

4. At Montero’s request, Schweitzer reviewed fully and carefully all of the steps so far taken in Chile, reading texts of the opinion of Attorney General to Supreme Court and Court’s resolution of March 6. (Both texts transmitted to you in septel March 10.)4 Schweitzer also read FonMin Carvajal’s letter to Supreme Court conveying Pinochet’s request for appointment of special judge on passport matter. He stressed almost unprecedented nature of this presidential request, but stated he could not leave copy of text with US.

5. Texts read by Schweitzer, and his comments indicate that neither Propper nor Chilean attorney representing USG could, in opinion of attorney general, participate directly in taking of testimony as requested in letters rogatory. However, when pressed by Propper for clarification, Schweitzer supported by Montero allowed that final decision was up to judge in case, who might interpret law differently. In any event, GOC is prepared to work out arrangement for FBI and Propper himself, if so desired, to interview witnesses outside of formal court proceedings. Propper made clear US investigators had to see the witnesses.

6. Montero added that special judge’s investigation of passport aspect of case would also be conducted in secret in preliminary stages. He repeated yet again GOC good will and desire to cooperate, however. He insisted that GOC is innocent of guilt in this case.

7. Schweitzer resumed review of what has transpired in Chile, none of which was new to US. He confirmed that “Williams” and “Romeral” names not found in Chilean armed services, and that FonMin passport records show passports in question to have been issued to other (unnamed) persons.5

8. Montero suggested that collaboration could take the form of a “joint investigation”, presumably by FBI and CNI, without damage to legal aspects of matter. He invited Propper to come to Chile to see results of such investigation, to see Supreme Court justices, etc. He deplored press coverage and obvious leaks of information both in US and Chile, “which seem to be trying to create impression of GOC [Page 632] guilt”. He hoped that USG might tell press that GOC cooperating, and suggested “joint” press statement on his delegation’s visit.

9. Propper carried burden of response on all legal questions arising in meeting, per prior agreement with State. He assured Montero that Justice and FBI investigations also secret, and that leaks to press and inaccurate statements therein equally distasteful to US. Steps have been taken to establish even stricter controls in effort to prevent leaks, but noted we do not control American press. He said that State Department’s role is oversight of foreign policy aspects, and that State is not involved directly in the investigation. FBI Agent Scherrer will be present in Santiago whenever needed, and he should be GOC’s contact for investigatory aspects of case. He told Chileans that we were in process of retaining Chilean attorney. He stressed again reasons for wanting to be present when witnesses give testimony, and turned aside the Chilean notion of a joint investigation by indicating he and FBI expected Chileans would give them anything they learned.

10. In response to separate appeal from Cauas for control over leaks and some public statement by USG that GOC is cooperating, we noted that we have privately and in public given recognition of GOC cooperation at the same time we have stressed our expectation of cooperation. Bushnell agreed that after meeting March 10, we would be prepared to issue a statement to press on visit, and Chileans would issue parallel statement. Statements of each party would be made available to other before release for comments. (Text of US statement sent septel March 10.)6

11. Chileans asked if it would be useful for them to see an appropriate senior official of justice department to discuss case and offer assurances. Propper noted that most senior justice officials were involved in matters at congress at moment and noted he would be giving full report of meetings to Attorney General. Chileans did not press.

12. Propper and Montero reviewed and confirmed understanding that arrangements may be made to permit US investigators access to witnesses in Chile, outside formal court procedures.7

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780112-0218. Secret; Immediate; Stadis; Exdis. Drafted by Steven; cleared by Barnebey, Propper, and in S/S-O; approved by McNeil.
  2. Dated March 6. The Department informed the Embassy of the Chilean delegation’s request for an appointment with Department of State officials. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780101-0068)
  3. In telegram 64280 to Santiago, March 14, the Department reported on the Chilean delegation’s March 10 meeting with Habib, who met with them in Christopher’s place. Habib “stressed seriousness of matter to both governments and our expectation of rapid response,” and Montero “repeated assurances on GOC side.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780112-0215)
  4. Telegram 62081 to Santiago. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780108-0862)
  5. In telegram 1480 from Santiago, March 6, the Embassy reported that the Chilean press had identified Williams “as U.S. citizen Michael Vernon Townley. Townley, the son of a U.S. businessman, lived in Chile for many years and during the Allende period was reported as involved in anti-UP activity.” The Embassy also noted that it “had inconclusive information on Townley” and that new guidelines indicated that “information on American citizens could only be passed at the HQ level.” (Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, Roger Channel, Santiago 1963–79)
  6. Telegram 62917 to Santiago, March 11. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780108-1084)
  7. In a March 10 memorandum to Carter, Vance reported on the meetings with the Chilean delegation, noting that “they stoutly deny that the government had anything to do with the assassination, but we do not know how far the evidence will take this case.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 20, Evening Reports (State), 3/78)