Office of Public Safety

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The Office of Public Safety (OPS) was a U.S. government program established in August 1962 by president John F. Kennedy to provide police assistance to U.S. allies[1] OPS was a component of USAID (US Agency for International Development). During its 12 year existence it provided aid and training to police in 49 countries. The program was discontinued by Congress in 1974.

Creation and dissolution of the OPS[edit]

The United States has a long history of providing police aid to Latin American countries. In the 1960s the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) Office of Public Safety (OPS) provided Latin American police forces with millions of dollars' worth of weapons and trained thousands of Latin American police officers. In the late 1960s, such programs came under media and congressional scrutiny because the U.S.-provided equipment and personnel were linked to cases of torture, murder and "disappearances" in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay.[citation needed]

In Washington, D.C., the Office of Public Safety had remained immune to public embarrassment as it went about two of its chief functions: allowing the CIA to plant men with the local police in sensitive places around the world; and after careful observation on their home territory, bringing to the United States prime candidates for enrollment as CIA employees.[2] The OPS's director in Washington, Byron Engle, was close to the CIA.[3]

In 1966, US senator J. William Fulbright started criticizing the OPS's methods.[4] Then, informed by Brazilian opposition members, US senator James G. Abourezk set about to disclose the OPS's program.[4] John A. Hannah, head of the USAID and former president of Michigan State University, unsuccessfully tried to support the OPS by sending a letter to deputy Otto Passman.[4]

In 1974, Congress banned the provision by the U.S. of training or assistance to foreign police with a statute known as Section 660 of the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA).[5]

The OPS had formed a million policemen in the Third World.[3] Ten thousands of them had undertaken training courses in the US. $150 million worth in material had been sent to foreign police forces.[3]

Most of the OPS's missions were transferred to others agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, while the US Department of Defense continued to transfer equipment to security forces in foreign countries.[3] OPS officer Jack Goin went on to found a private security firm, Public Safety Services, Inc., in Washington.[4]


International Police Academy[edit]

Operated by the OPS, the International Police Academy was instituted in 1963, training police officers from various countries around the World in the United States. Its first class included sixty-eight police officers from seventeen different nations.[6] The officers were trained at the Georgetown Car Barn in Washington, D.C.[7] Until the early 1970s, selected candidates could also receive training from CIA officers at the U.S. Border Patrol academy in Los Fresnos, Texas, including the making of bombs and incendiary devices.[8]


The head of the OPS, Byron Engle, sent Los Angeles Police Department officers to Venezuela in 1962 to train local police officers and assist them in repression against the Armed Forces of National Liberation (AFNL).[2]


The OPS had operated in Uruguay since 1964, supplying the police with equipment, arms and training. Training involved courses on explosives, assassination, and riot control.[3][9] Between 1969 and 1973, at least 19 Uruguayan police officers were trained in CIA and OPS schools in Washington DC and in Los Fresnos, Texas to be taught the handling of explosives.[3] On several occasions, the pupils were not police officers, but individuals affiliated with the Uruguayan right-wing.[3] By 1970, the OPS had trained a thousand police officers in riot control.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rabe, Stephen G. (1999). The Most Dangerous Area in the World: John F. Kennedy Confronts Communist Revolution in Latin America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina press. p. 131. ISBN 080784764X.
  2. ^ a b A. J. Langguth's Hidden Terrors (Pantheon Books, 1978)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions since World War II, 2003 (chapter on Uruguay)
  4. ^ a b c d A. J. Langguth's Hidden Terrors (Pantheon Books, 1978)
  5. ^ "Human Rights Concerns Regarding the Proposed International Law Enforcement Academy in Costa Rica (ILEA-South)". Washington Office on Latin America. January 2003.
  6. ^ "International Police School Graduates 68". Washington Post. 1964-08-08.
  7. ^ Schoultz, Lars (2014). Human Rights and United States Policy Toward Latin America. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 179. ISBN 9781400854295. Archived from the original on January 3, 2019. Retrieved January 3, 2019 – via Google Books.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  8. ^ "Police Academy Under Fire for Aiding 'Foreign Dictatorships'". Washington Post. 1974-06-07.
  9. ^ s NIXON: "BRAZIL HELPED RIG THE URUGUAYAN ELECTIONS," 1971, National Security Archive

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