267. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Panama1

166729. For Ambassador Moss From Assistant Secretary Bowdler Subject: Arms Shipments to El Salvador. Ref: San Salvador 4156.2

1. (S—Entire text)

2. Circumstances surrounding the crash of the Panamanian aircraft with a load of arms in El Salvador June 15 suggest that if high level [Page 627] GOP officials are not supporting the arming of leftist guerrillas in El Salvador they are at least tolerant of such activities. We think something should be said to Torrijos about Panamanian involvement and our deep concern that this type of activity only complicates and retards solutions toward which all of us should be working.

3. Request your thoughts on advisability and manner of approach to Torrijos.3

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 60, Panama, 5/80–1/81. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Sent for information Priority to Guatemala City, Managua, San Jose, San Salvador, and Tegucigalpa.
  2. In telegram 4156 from San Salvador, June 16, the Embassy reported that on June 15 a Panamanian aircraft containing weapons and ammunition crashed in El Salvador. White commented that Salvadoran authorities would conclude that the governments of Panama and Nicaragua were cooperating to assist the Salvadoran guerillas. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800292–1051) According to CIA intelligence information cable [text not declassified], June 18, [text not declassified] reported that the JRG had information determining Noriega was responsible for sending the aircraft and that four aircraft were involved in the incident. The JRG was uncertain whether or not Torrijos was aware of the air shipments, but was concerned about the amount of anti-JRG activity Torrijos was permitting in Panama. (Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Support Services (DI), Job 97S00360R: Intelligence Document Collection, Box 90 (3151160080–3151319980))
  3. In telegram 5374 from Panama City, June 25, Moss reported that while the Panamanian pilot in question had at times acted as a personal pilot for Noriega, no hard evidence existed demonstrating that Torrijos or Noriega knew the details of the operation before the crash, that Torrijos had not heard of the crash on the afternoon of June 15 and that Torrijos’s policy toward El Salvador had not changed: he continued to support the Junta. Moss recommended that the United States not make a strong representation to Torrijos “as if he were engaged in a pattern of providing arms to the Salvadoran left, which does not appear to be the case for now” but instead express hope that the matter not cause any difficulty in Torrijos’s efforts to search for a peaceful outcome in the Salvadoran situation. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 60, Panama, 5/80–1/81)