Orlando Letelier, a former Chilean ambassador to the United States, and U.S. citizen Ronni Moffitt were both killed in a car bombing in Washington on Sept. 21, 1976. (AP)

The CIA concluded that former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet personally ordered the 1976 murder of a top dissident, according to newly released government documents that show U.S. confidence about a key ally’s responsibility for a shocking attack in Washington.

The latest revelations about the Cold War-era case come on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Orlando Letelier, a leading opponent of the Pinochet regime and onetime Chilean foreign minister, and his think-tank colleague, Ronni Moffitt, in a car bomb on D.C.’s Embassy Row.

The case set off a complex international investigation that concluded with the conviction of several key suspects but did not touch the most senior level of Chile’s U.S.-backed government.

The CIA assessment released Friday is part of a suite of documents presented in 1987 to President Ronald Reagan by his national security adviser, Frank Carlucci, regarding U.S. government policy on Chile.

In the document, the CIA states that “a review of our files on the Letelier assassination has provided what we regard as convincing evidence that President Pinochet personally ordered his intelligence chief to carry out the murder.”


A 1987 CIA assessment is part of documents the Obama administration released Friday.

Peter Kornbluh, who directs the Chile Documentation Project at George Washington University’s National Security Archive, said the newly released documents support the CIA’s conclusion by showing the attempts by Pinochet’s former intelligence chief to blackmail Pinochet over the case, and by highlighting the lengths to which Pinochet went to stymie efforts to bring those responsible to justice.

“We’re talking micromanaging a coverup of an act of terrorism in Washington, D.C. to save his own skin,” Kornbluh said.

The State Department said the release concludes the Obama administration’s initiative to make public information and internal information about the events surrounding Letelier’s murder.

Speaking at a memorial event on Sheridan Circle on Friday, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet thanked the Obama administration for providing the previously classified information about the case. Bachelet, who along with her mother was tortured by the Chilean government after the U.S.-backed coup of 1973, said that it was “sobering to be here after four decades since evil and horror came to this place to cut short the lives” of Letelier and Moffitt.

“If Orlando Letelier was a symbol of struggle during his life, his image has become a symbol of the search for truth, reparation and justice,” Bachelet said.

Letelier’s son Juan Pablo, who is a member of the Chilean Senate, said the new documents would assist in the pursuit of justice for the death of Moffitt, a U.S. citizen.

In 1993, two Chilean officials, including the former intelligence chief, were convicted in Letelier’s death. When Pinochet died in 2006, after being stripped of his immunity, he left behind unresolved court cases related to alleged crimes committed under his leadership.

“The declassified documents are providing a verdict of history where a legal verdict is no longer possible,” Kornbluh said. Additional documents can be found on the National Security Archive website.

Karen DeYoung contributed to this report from New York. Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed from Washington.

Read more:

Why the Obama administration is giving old state secrets to Latin American allies

A car bomb killed Orlando Letelier on Embassy Row 40 years ago. A mural by his son marks the tragedy and the progress it inspired.

U.S.-allied dictator carried out targeted assassination in Washington