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National Intelligence Directorate
(Dirección Nacional de Inteligencia--DINA)
National Information Center
(Centro Nacional de Información--CNI)

Note: DINA was replaced by the National Intelligence Agency
Agencia Nacional de Inteligencia (ANI), July 2004

The military authorities took power in a violent coup on 11 September 1973. The first phase of the dictatorship (1973-75) was mainly destructive, aimed at rapid demobilization, depoliticization, and stabilization. Immediately on seizing power, the military junta -- composed of the commanders in chief of the army, navy, air force, and national police -- issued a barrage of decrees to restore order on its own terms.

In the immediate aftermath of the 1973 coup, there was extensive repression, including summary executions of prisoners. During this period, the number of people who were detained so exceeded the capacities of the existing penal institutions that for a time stadiums, military grounds, and naval vessels were used as short-term prisons. Subsequently, at least five prison camps were established for political prisoners, mostly in the remote south and the far north.

In the immediate aftermath of the 1973 coup, a semiformal umbrella group, the National Intelligence Directorate (Dirección Nacional de Inteligencia--DINA), was formed, ostensibly to coordinate the activities of the intelligence services of the army, navy, air force, Carabineros, and Investigations Police. From the beginning, DINA functioned as a secret police and was engaged in the repression of dissidence within the state and the exaction of revenge on its enemies without. The National Intelligence Directorate kept secret detention centers where torture of prisoners was a routine practice [all of these places of detention had been closed down by the time of the return to civilian government in 1990]. The worst human rights abuses occurred in the first four years of the junta, when thousands of civilians were murdered, jailed, tortured, brutalized, or exiled, especially those linked with the Popular Unity parties. The DINA secret police, reporting to Pinochet), kept dissidents living in fear of arrest, torture, murder, or "disappearance." The armed forces treated the members of the UP as an enemy to be obliterated, not just as an errant political movement to be booted from office. The military commanders closed Congress, censored the media, purged the universities, burned books, declared political parties outlawed if Marxist or in recess otherwise, and banned union activities.

Col. Manuel Contreas was the organizational director of the Department of National Intelligence (DINA). During his tenure as security chief under the regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, Contreas organized "Operation Condor" in association with the Argentinean intelligence service (SIDE) and presided over the torture, kidnapping and "disappearance" of tens of thousands of Chilean leftists. Two DINA agents were responsible for assassinating General Carlos Prats González, who was defense minister under the Allende regime. Prats and his wife were killed by a car bomb in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The armed forces justified the coup as necessary to stamp out Marxism, avert class warfare, restore order, and salvage the economy. They enshrined the National Security Doctrine, which defined their primary task as the defeat of domestic enemies who had infiltrated national institutions, including schools, churches, political parties, unions, and the media. Although civilians filled prominent economic posts, military officers took most government positions at the national and local levels.

National Information Center
(Centro Nacional de Información--CNI)

During the four-and-one-half years following the 1973 coup, Chile was officially in a state of siege and functioned under martial law. The DINA secret police reporting to Pinochet was replaced in 1977 by the National Information Center (Centro Nacional de Información--CNI). The functions of the CNI combined those functions carried out by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), FBI, and Secret Service. The military tribunals expanded their jurisdictions to include all violations (including those perpetrated by civilians) of the much more encompassing security laws enacted by the government. At the end of this period, the state of siege was replaced by a state of emergency, which restored a larger degree of authority to the civilian courts, although military tribunals continued to deal with cases involving public security. Although human rights abuses abated significantly after the abolition of DINA, its successor continued to draw criticism and was disbanded upon the return of civilian government in 1990. Most of its approximately 2,000 operatives were absorbed either by army intelligence or by a new coordinating body for military intelligence, operating under the aegis of the National Defense Staff and known as the Directorate of National Defense Intelligence (Dirección de Inteligencia de la Defensa Nacional-- DIDN).

Throughout the second half of the 1970s, the Roman Catholic Church and international organizations concerned with human rights denounced the widespread violations of human rights in Chile. Although officially neutral, the Roman Catholic Church became the primary sanctuary for the persecuted in Chile from 1975 to 1985 and so came into increasing conflict with the junta.

The former members of Popular Unity went underground or into exile. In the early years of the dictatorship, their main goal was simply to survive. Although the Communists suffered brutal persecution, they managed to preserve their organization fairly intact. The Socialists splintered so badly that their party nearly disappeared by the end of the 1970s. Draconian repression left the Marxists with no capacity to resist or counterattack. They did, however, manage to rally world opinion against the regime and keep it diplomatically isolated. By the end of the 1970s, most Christian Democrats, after initially cooperating with the junta, had also joined the opposition, although not in any formal coalition with any coherent strategy for restoring democracy.

Pinochet soon emerged as the dominant figure and very shortly afterward as president. After a brief flirtation with corporatist ideas, the government evolved into a one-man dictatorship, with the rest of the junta acting as a sort of legislature. In 1977 Pinochet dashed the hopes of those Chileans still dreaming of an early return to democracy when he announced his intention to institutionalize an authoritarian regime to preside over a protracted return to civilian rule in a "protected" democracy.

Pinochet established iron control over the armed forces as well as the government, although insisting that they were separate entities. He made himself not only the chief executive of the state but also the commander in chief of the military. He shuffled commands to ensure that loyalists controlled all the key posts. He appointed many new generals and had others retire, so that by the 1980s all active-duty generals owed their rank to Pinochet. He also improved the pay and benefits of the services. The isolation of the armed forces from civil society had been a virtue under the democracy, inhibiting their involvement in political disputes; now that erstwhile virtue became an impediment to redemocratization, as the military remained loyal to Pinochet and resisted politicization by civilians.

Although aid and loans from the United States increased spectacularly during the first three years of the regime, while presidents Nixon and Gerald R. Ford were in office, relations soured after Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976 on a platform promising vigorous pursuit of human rights as a major component of his foreign policy.

The former military government wrote the 1980 Constitution and amended it slightly in 1989 after General Pinochet lost a referendum to stay in office. It provides for a strong presidency and a legislative branch with more limited powers. The President has the authority to designate the "urgency" of bills and to determine time limits for Congress to consider them. In addition, the Constitution includes provisions designed to protect the interests of the military and the political right and, according to its defenders (and even some critics), to provide stability in the political process and encourage the formation of large coalitions. The center-left coalition which governed Chile in 1993 accepted the legitimacy of the 1980 Constitution but sought to amend elements characterized as "authoritarian enclaves" left over from the previous regime. These included limitations on the President's right to remove chiefs of the armed forces, an electoral system that gives the political opposition a disproportionate representation in Congress, and the existence of nonelected "institutional senators" who deprive the governing coalition of an elected majority in the Senate.

The Aylwin Administration

The former military government enacted an amnesty law in 1978, the prime beneficiaries of which were those responsible for human rights abuses committed during the first 5 years of the military government's rule. The Aylwin administration interpreted the amnesty law to mean that the courts should first determine the authors of human rights abuses before applying the amnesty. Legal reforms in 1991 remanded most human rights cases from military to civilian jurisdiction. However, when the investigation showed that a crime was committed on a military base or military personnel were accused of the crime, military tribunals reclaimed jurisdiction, and the military courts applied the amnesty law to close the cases without determining the facts or criminal responsibility. These decisions led critics to charge that Chile's Supreme Court impeded justice for victims of human rights abuses committed by the military forces.

So notorious were DINA's activities that of 957 identified "disappearances" of enemies of the Pinochet regime, DINA was blamed by the Rettig Commission on human rights abuses for perpetrating 392.

In 1995 Italian courts convicted Contreras and Raul Iturriaga, another former DINA (National Intelligence Directorate) officer, in absentia for the attempted murder of former Chilean Vice President Bernardo Leighton and his wife Anita Fresno, and sentenced each man to 18 years in prison. The Italians have requested neither their extradition nor that they serve their sentences in Chile.

The January 1995 arrest in Argentina of former Chilean intelligence agent Enrique Arancibia Clavel once again drew attention to the 1974 assassination in Buenos Aires of former Chilean army chief Carlos Prats. Prats was the army commander under President Salvador Allende and was succeeded by General Pinochet in August 1973. He left Chile for Argentina several days after the coup against Allende. The case was reopened in 1992 as a result of a petition filed by the Prats family containing new evidence.

In June 1996 the Supreme Court invoked the Amnesty Law to end all action in the 1976 murder of Carmelo Soria, a Spanish citizen employed by the United Nations. Subsequent impeachment motions against four Supreme Court justices failed in the lower house of Congress. As a result, the authorities dismissed charges against two ex-agents of the National Intelligence Center (CNI) who were indicted in June 1995 as author and accomplice in this crime; any further official investigation was terminated. This decision provoked concern and condemnation from a broad spectrum, including the embassies of the European Union states, Chilean members of congress, and political parties. In January 1997 the family of Soria announced its intention to pursue a denial of justice claim before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Proceedings against General Augusto Pinochet continue to move forward in a Spanish court for his alleged responsibility in Soria's death as well as those of the priests Joan Alsina and Antonio Llido. In November 1997 President Frei decided not to approve the promotion to brigadier general of former intelligence officer Jaime Lepe Orellana, who was reportedly involved in the murder of Soria.

Also in 1995 a military judge dismissed the case of the June 1987 deaths from "Operation Albania", in which CNI agents killed 12 people connected to the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front (FPMR). This was in spite of a unanimous ruling in 1995 by the military tribunal--a higher court--that the deaths were homicides and that the cases should go to trial. At the time, the authorities claimed that all 12 died in shoot-outs with security officers, and therefore no crime was committed. The authorities implicated 28 former officers and enlisted men in this case.

Disappearance cases from before 1978 cannot be closed and the alleged perpetrator amnestied until a court determines that the victim is dead. Since the bodies of many of the disappeared have never been found, the cases were an ongoing irritant in civil-military (particularly civil-army) relations because judicial processes against officers--who would inevitably be covered by the amnesty--were both disruptive to army operations and embarrassing to the institution.

The National Reparation and Conciliation Corporation began operating in 1992 to compensate families of human rights victims. On September 30, 1993, it was paying pensions to 4,600 family members of victims who died of human rights violations committed before 1990. The Chilean State has paid $26.5 million to the victims' families, including college tuition for offspring up to the age of 35 who wish to study. Wives, children, and parents of victims are eligible for pensions, and the amount for each family member is more than double that paid under the old social security system. The Corporation also continued the work of the Rettig Commission, investigating reports of human rights abuses where victims died. In August 1995 it delivered its final report, which confirmed 899 cases in addition to those documented by the Rettig Commission, bringing the total number of victims of killings and disappearance cases to 3,197.

In September 1976, DINA agents assassinated the former Chilean ambassador to the United States Orlando Letelier and his colleague, Ronni Moffitt, in Washington DC. Letelier had been Minister of Defense in Chile in 1973, when President Salvador Allende was murdered during a CIA-supported coup. After a year in a military prison, Letelier was released and moved to the US. At the time of his assasination he was organizing against the military junta out of offices at the Institute for Policy Studies. As of 1991, the US was still seeking to extradite three suspects in the case, including former DINA head Gen. Manuel Contreras and his chief aide Col. Pedro Espinoza. Michael Townley, an American expatriate was extradited from Chile in 1978. He served a five year sentence before being released to the US witness protection program.

In April 1995 the body of former Chilean DINA agent and chemical weapons expert, Eugenio Berrios, was found on the El Pinar beach in Montevideo, Uruguay. The body had four bullet wounds in the chest and one in the back of the head, its face stripped off and its hands cut off in an attempt to prevent identification. With Michael Townley, Berrios reportedly built the bomb that killed Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier in 1976 in Washington DC. Berrios probably produced the sarin nerve gas used to kill three human-rights victims in Chile. Berrios avoided trial in Chile by fleeing to Uruguay in April 1992, and sought protection from the Uruguayan police on 15 November 1992, saying he had been kidnapped on orders from Pinochet. The police returned him to the house of Uruguayan intelligence agent Capt. Eduardo Ravelli from whence he had supposedly escaped. He was never seen alive again.

In an important step toward ending the impunity of military officers involved in the Letelier case, Adolfo Banados, a Supreme Court justice appointed by the current Aylwin Government, sentenced retired General Manuel Contreras and Colonel Pedro Espinoza to 7- and 6-year prison terms, respectively, as intellectual authors of the 1976 murder in Washington, DC, of former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and his American assistant Ronni Moffitt. The Supreme Court is expected to rule early in 1994 on appeals of the sentences by all parties. This is the only case involving the now dissolved DINA--the Pinochet-era secret police--that the 1978 amnesty law specifically excluded.

In August 1993 President Aylwin reignited the censorship controversy when he requested that the national television station delay the broadcast of an interview with Michael Townley in which the former DINA agent detailed how and why he put a bomb under the car of Orlando Letelier. The President asserted that showing the interview on the government-owned station at that time was needlessly inflammatory. The program aired 10 days later, but the program's director was dismissed for adding to the debate about presidential influence over the state-owned television station and for allegedly asserting excessive independence from the board of directors.

Efforts to redress the abuses of this period are shaped by often conflicting requirements for justice and national reconciliation. The Supreme Court has been reluctant to confront the military over human rights, and one justice was impeached by Congress and removed from office for "gross neglect of duties" for his handling of a human rights case. Disputes continue over the interpretation of the 1978 amnesty law and prosecution of military personnel and their collaborators for abuses not covered by the amnesty.

Sources and Resources

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Maintained by Steven Aftergood
Created by John Pike
Updated Friday, September 11, 1998 6:07:55 AM