CIA activities in Argentina
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In the United States, the Executive Branch, and the Intelligence Community within it, are, at least in principle, subject to the oversight of United States Congress, and potentially to judicial review. There are barriers between intelligence and law enforcement, theoretically impervious in the case of the CIA and National Security Agency, and carefully controlled with the FBI. Police are largely decentralized at the state and local level. While there will be differences, especially with a parliamentary system, most European countries, as well as Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, have a workable set of controls, with continuing improvement.
Argentina, however, historically has not had such controls and the security and intelligence services remain today entirely exempt from this principle. In fact, there is no law regulating the powers or providing for accountability and control over the activities of the intelligence agencies. For Argentina, the consolidation of democracy is still the main political challenge in the 21st century. And within this overdue task, one of the most problematic issues is the control of the intelligence apparatus. It is problematic not only because of its historical relationship with the military dictatorship, but also because it is a complicated issue in the most well established democracies.
There still needs to be external control, but a basic internal control mechanism is the separation of the intelligence community into different agencies. Although this might reduce effectiveness, it eliminates the dangers of domination and monopoly by a single agency. The separation must be accompanied by a clear delimitation of responsibilities by each agency, trying not to overlap functions in a single one. A common way to do this is by diving the faculties and jurisdiction into external and internal conflicts.
This type of control is only beginning to evolve in Argentina, where Argentina's intelligence community today must be understood within an historical context that includes a recent experience with state terrorism, in which the military intelligence forces were the principal practitioners of state terror. During the years of dictatorship, the main role of the Armed Forces in Argentina shifted form defending the state from external aggressions to defending it from its internal enemies.
With the return to democracy many steps were taken to dismantle the authoritarian legacy and the issue of the power and autonomy of the intelligence agencies came into public debate. The considerable autonomy it had from constitutional controls, either legislative or judicial, began to be questioned and gradually began to be reversed.
As soon as the civilian government assumed power, the members of the military Juntas were tried and convicted for the atrocities they committed during the years of dictatorship. However, lower ranks were granted immunity after the enactment by Congress of two laws: "Punto Final" (Final Point) and "Obediencia Debida" (Justification Defense). Some other initiatives included the appointment of a civilian as head of the State Intelligence Agency and the functional delimitation of the different components of the intelligence community by the National Defense Law [Law No. 23.554, April 13, 1988] and the Internal Security Law [Law No. 24.059, December 18, 1991.]
The intelligence agencies, moving forward, were not seen as effective or objective.
During the 1990s Argentina experienced two of the biggest terrorist attacks in its history: the AMIA (Israeli Association) and the Israeli Embassy bombings, that left a total of more than one hundred people dead. Till today, the authors of the bombings are still unknown. The inefficiency of the intelligence services is seen as the principal reason of this institutional failure. In August 2000, the head of the State Intelligence Agency, Fernando de Santibañes, was accused of paying bribes to opposition senators in Congress in order to enact a labor law. The scandal created an institutional crisis within Argentina. The head of the agency and several senators resigned in the last month. Additionally, the vice president Carlos Alvarez also resigned as an act of protest because he believed that the Executive Branch was not actively condemning the episode. A Federal Judge is still investigating the case
The Argentine system is, in some respects, more decentralized, and, in other respects, more decentralized than the US intelligence community. There is no equivalent to the US Director of National Intelligence, but there is a National Intelligence Center (CNI) that has a coordinating rather than management role. CNI, in principle, is responsible for medium and long-term analysis, while the State Intelligence Secretary (SIDE) is responsible for short-term strategic intelligence.
SIDE went through major changes in January 2000. First, the civilian head of the agency, Fernando de Santibañes, fired over 1000 employees. Many of the discharged agents were related to the military dictatorship of the 1970s, with histories of extortion, kidnapping, torture, disappearances and assassinations. A new set of priorities were established: rather than focus on a threat of internal and external subversion, the new focus is on "illicit trafficking, corruption, white-collar crime, terrorism, money laundering, organized crime, and the formulation of strategic policies in different areas for the President."
In the Argentine context, "security forces" are intermediate forces between police forces (provincial and federal) and the armed forces. They are coordinated, rather than commanded, by the National Direction of Internal Intelligence, located in the Interior Ministry. Still, they are national organizations, without decentralized police: the Naval Prefecture, National Gendarmerie, Federal Police Force, and Local Police Forces.
A military junta took control, and suspended the constitution, dissolved Congress, imposed strict censorship, and banned all political parties. In addition, it embarked on a campaign of terror against leftist elements in the country. Thousands of leftist opposition supporters were persecuted, illegally imprisoned, tortured and executed without trial. Many of them disappeared and were never again seen by their families. The military dictatorship lasted until 1983, when democratic elections designed Raúl Alfonsín (UCR) as President of the country.
The 1976-1983 period was the one most vulnerable to excesses, which may have involved foreign forces.
Human Rights Watch observed,
Until the 1976 coup, and for months afterwards, the United States relied to a large extent on the armed forces as its main interlocutors in Argentina's turbulent politics. Unlike in Chile and Uruguay, where the U.S had backed reformist parties (at least until the emergence of a serious left-wing challenge in the early 1970s), it was consistently hostile to the most popular political movement in Argentina, Peronism. In the face of Peron's populist rhetoric, economic nationalism, and fascist sympathies, the military seemed to provide a moderate alternative, favorable to American investment, and just as staunchly anti-communist.
"In September 1978, after Vice-President Walter Mondale met Videla in Rome U.S. Ambassador Raul Castro reported that "General Viola received me smiling broadly and immediately volunteered the observation that he believed the Rome meeting had gone very well... Viola clearly indicated he had received some positive signals from the USG [U.S. government] referring to the release of FMS [Foreign Military Sales] purchases.""
"A 1979 telegram reveals how U.S. policy placed U.S. officials in a moral and political predicament while dealing with those responsible for human rights atrocities. At a meeting with General Viola, then-U.S. Ambassador Raul Castro asked him to help clarify the fate of two recent disappeared Montonero insurgents, Mendizabal and Croatto. Viola responded without hesitation, "Mendizabal and Croatto were terrorists ... who were eliminated ... with my authorization."
HRW said that the climate for human rights changed radically with the election of President Ronald Reagan. In February 1981, the Administration ordered representatives to "international financial institutions to stop opposing loans on human rights grounds to Argentina and other Southern Cone countries. It began a long certification battle in Congress to resume military sales, loans, and training programs to Argentina, arguing that human rights conditions had dramatically improved. It was true that "disappearances" had declined, but more than a thousand political prisoners were still being held without charges, and temporary "disappearances," arbitrary arrests, and torture continued."
In June 1983, the NGO Americas Watch visited Honduras and stated in its report that "The General Gustavo Álvarez Martínez, head of the Hondurian military staff, has publicly defended the use of the Argentine method to confront the subversive threat in Latin America. As a matter of fact, Alvarez is responsible of having brought to Honduras the first Argentine military instructors, when he was commandant of the Fuerza de Seguridad Pública (Fusep [Public Security Force]).
In the landmark case of Forti v. Suárez Mason (1987), the Court held that torturers were hostis humani generis and thus subject to the jurisdiction of any country, even though the acts had not taken place in that country, and the parties were not citizens of that country.
Further, a commander could be held liable for tortures performed by subordinates, as in the doctrine of command responsibility. "The defendant in all but one of the cases was Gen. Carlos Guillermo Suárez Mason, whose clandestine presence in the U.S after fleeing prosecution in Argentina triggered lawsuits from several of his victims. As commander of the First Army Corps, Suárez Mason participated in the preparation of the 1976 coup, oversaw the operations of task forces, and was ultimately responsible for secret detention camps in the densely populated region comprising Buenos Aires and its suburbs, La Plata, Mar del Plata, and smaller cities."
Martínez Baca v. Suárez Mason (1988) used the Filartiga precedent
In Amerada Hess Shipping Corp. v. Argentine Republic (1989), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a ship that had been attacked by Argentine aircraft during the Falklands War. While this was not an explicit human rights case, it added to the body of law of jurisdiction over extraterritorial events.
Ouiros de Rapaport v. Suárez Mason, (1989), followed in the steps of Filartiga.
"The other face of U.S. policy toward Argentina at this time was shown by the sympathetic treatment Suárez Mason received from certain U.S. authorities. ...Oliver North", a National Security Council staff member who often acted independently of the CIA, although he arranged orders to be given to the agency, was :reported to have arranged a false visa for Suárez to enter the United States. North had reportedly been discussing with him the possible establishment of a Pan-American counterinsurgency force, a proposal that emerged from ongoing cooperation between the CIA and the Argentine military, in which Suárez Mason was an important actor.
Siderman de Blake v. Republic of Argentina (1992) again used the precedent in Filartiga.
- Fontan Balestra, Florencia, Towards a Democratic Control of Argentina's Intelligence Community.
- "XI. THE ROLE OF THE UNITED STATES", Argentina: Reluctant Partner. The Argentine Government's Failure to Back Trials of Human Rights Violators, December 2001
- The Pentagon and the CIA Sent Mixed Message to the Argentine Military: The Argentine Generals were "told by U.S. government officials" that Washington was "not serious and committed" to human rights, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 85, March 28, 2003
- Forti v. Suarez-Mason, 672 F. Supp 1531 (US Circuit Court for the Northern District of California 1987).
- Public Broadcasting System (WNET), Filartiga and Its Progeny: From Perpetrator to Commander
- Argentine Republic v. Amerada Hess Shipping Corp., et al.', 488 U.S. 428 (Supreme Court of the United States 30 June 1989).