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Peru Intelligence Scandal Continues

The CIA Does It Again

By Louis Lingg
25 September 2000

In these shallow times, when the term 'investigative journalism' refers to the paparazzi's attempts to disclose the color of Madonna's underwear, it is indeed not surprising that recent developments in Peru have been almost completely ignored by the Western mainstream media. It seems that Peru is too far away and its political culture is too complicated for our well-paid hacks to bother with it.

Most news reports that did bother with it mentioned that Alberto Fujimori, Peru's President since 1990, has stepped down and declared national elections after a videotape was leaked to the media. The videotape showed Vladimiro Montesinos, head of Peru's National Intelligence Service (NIS), bribing a Congressman of the opposition so that he would abandon his party and join Fujimori's gang of parliamentarians. Fujimori was so shocked by the corruptive methods of his NIS chief, the argument goes, that he decided to quit and refused to stand for elections ever again. At the same time, Montesinos panicked and abandoned the country.

This is a very unconvincing explanation, to say the least. First of all, Fujimori and Montesinos have survived scandals that make the present bribery allegations seem like a picnic in the park. The former led a military coup against his own government in 1992, threw his ministers in jail, installed his own hand-picked Congress and Judiciary, and instituted his own Constitution. During his presidency he has acquired notoriety around the world for countless 'disappearances' of activists, journalists and other critics of his regime, mass arrests of thousands of people, mistrials by hooded judges, State-sponsored death squads, and the imprisonment of lawyers who attempted to defend political prisoners. Amnesty International's latest Word Report notes that, during 1999, "[h]undreds of Peruvian prisoners falsely charged with terrorism-related offences remained incarcerated. Journalists, opposition leaders and human rights defenders received threats in what appears to be a pattern of systematic intimidation against those critical of the authorities. Torture and ill-treatment remained widespread. Civilians continued to be tried by military courts for the terrorism-related offences of 'treason' and 'aggravated terrorism'" (1).

In 1997, when three constitutional judges ruled that, according to the Constitution, Fujimori could not run again for President, the latter had them dismissed. Later on that year, when the three judges submitted their case before the Inter-American Court, Fujimori simply withdrew Peru from the Court's jurisdiction.
Montesinos, who organized and led Fujimori's 1992 military coup, has been the President's iron glove. Widely believed to have directed the notorious 'la Canuta' murders where hundreds of activists and their families were murdered by masked paramilitaries, Montesinos has been the leader of the Colina death squads, the armed wing of the National Intelligence Service. The Colina squads have been known to perform summary executions of left-wing activists. In 1992 he boasted that he himself had tortured four generals who were arrested after they staged a failed coup against Fujimori's regime. In 1997, when a national television station revealed gross human rights violations by the country's intelligence services, Montesinos had the station closed down and its Israeli-born owner stripped of his Peruvian nationality and sent to Israel.

Considering all the above, it seems that Fujimori and Montesinos would be acting out of character by choosing to simply abandon power due to the disclosure of a minor bribery allegation.
What really happened?

Montesinos' career in intelligence did not begin with Fujimori's rise to power. The young Montesinos entered the Peruvian military and, in 1965, graduated as a Cadet of the U.S.-based and sponsored School of the Americas. He returned to Peru and, in 1973, became personal advisor to General Mercado, who was, among other things, Prime Minister, Minister of the Armed Forces, and Commander-in-Chief of the Peruvian military under the Velasco regime.

In 1974, Velasco, annoyed by repeated attempts on the part of the U.S. to interfere in the internal Peruvian affairs, expelled the U.S. military representation in Lima and cancelled all military cooperation with the Pentagon. He instead bought arms from the Soviet Union.

It was then that Montesinos made his move and approached officials of the U.S. Embassy in Lima. He offered to subvert the Velasco regime and try to win Peru back for the U.S. The initial U.S. response is not known. What is known is that, by 1976, Montesinos was indeed suspected by Velasco of passing Peruvian classified documents to the C.I.A. For that he was removed from the Ministry of Armed Forces and transferred to a remote military post, close to the Ecuadorian border.

Soon after the transfer, Montesinos received an official invitation from the U.S. embassy to visit Washington D.C. While there, he met with C.I.A. operatives and attended the Inter-American Defense College for many months.

But Peruvian authorities traced his dealings in the U.S. and, upon his return to Peru, Montesinos was arrested and tried for treason. He was discharged from the military and received a five-year jail sentence for passing over secrets to the U.S.

Upon being released from prison, Montesino went into self-exile in Argentina and then Equador, from where he assisted drug barons through his governmental connections, especially with the Attorney General. After his return to Peru, he even publicly defended some of them in the Peruvian courts.
By the time Fujimori staged his coup in 1992, Montesinos had become a valuable NIS operative by providing the Service with classified documents from the Attorney General's office. He co-conspired with Fujimori and his generals and, after the coup, was appointed as head of the NIS.

Ever since his initial visit to Washington D.C. in 1976, the C.I.A. has viewed Montesinos as a valuable operative in Fujimori's government, and in South America at large. This was primarily due to his role in exterminating a series of armed leftist organizations, such as the once powerful Shining Path and the FMLN.
Throughout the early 1990s, in numerous interagency reviews, the C.I.A. repeatedly stressed Montesinos' importance as a U.S. intelligence ally, while at the same time dismissing as "unfounded" and "besides the issue" allegations that he was behind serious human rights violations against civilians and groups. In fact, Montesinos' promotion of U.S. interests in Peru and neighboring countries was so successful that many C.I.A. officials referred to him as "the Doctor", or "Mr Fix It" (2).

Even in September 1996, when the Human Rights Watch and the Washington Office on Latin America wrote to Clinton's National Security Adviser, Anthony Lake, requesting that he the U.S. government immediately sever its relationship with Montesinos, the C.I.A.'s Director, John Deutch, warned Lake not to take action. The same occurred later that year when two U.S. Senators decided to write to Deutch himself, stressing to him that the Agency guidelines prohibited any intelligence relationship with a human rights violator, such as Montesinos. Deutch replied that that was nobody's business but the C.I.A.'s.

But things started to change in January of the following year. It was then that a confessed drug lord, who was arrested in a cooperative effort between American and Peruvian police, told the authorities that he had paid Montesinos a total sum of $1,800,000 over three years in return for freely shipping cocaine from Peru to Colombia. U.S. officials started to suspect that Montesinos was deeply involved in drug trafficking. The heads of the C.I.A.'s South American Offices started to get flashbacks of Manuel Noriega, another of the Agency's allies who used the Agency as a shield for global drug trafficking.

The Agency's fears were confirmed when, early last spring, it emerged that Montesinos had played a major role in an arms deal in which 50,000 Russian-made assault rifles were bought from Jordan by the Peruvian government and then sold to Colombian leftist rebels. As soon as the news reached the State Department, C.I.A. Chief George Tenet received a frantic phone call from Madeleine Albright, demanding explanations. A few days later, Albright and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger issued a directive to sharply reduce U.S. intelligence ties with Montesinos and to ensure that his narcotics links were effectively and permanently hampered.

It was a few months later that the videotape in question was leaked to the media. Soon after the leak, the NIS did interrogate Peruvian navy officers, who were in charge of guarding Montesinos' office. But Montesinos wasted no time. He suspected that the Americans were behind the taping of his bribe discourse and the leak of the footage to the media. Fearing for his life, he left the country and is still on the run.
From then on, there are two things that could have caused Fujimori's resignation: what is more probable is that the Americans asked him to arrest Montesinos on drug and weapons trafficking charges. But Fujimori, being aware of the fact that the true rulers of Peru, the NIS and the military, would not allow for such a development, he found himself before a cul-de-sac and chose to step down. The other possibility is that he himself tasted the fruits of Montesinos' illegal activities and was pressured by the Americans to abandon office or face arrest, Noriega-style. Being a logical man, he declared his resignation.

Undoubtedly, the details of the Fujimori/Montesinos saga will emerge in the following months. In the meanwhile those gazing toward the direction of Lima in search of answers, are missing the action. Washington would be a much safer bet.

© The News Insider 2000Louis Lingg is a News Insider analyst.
(1) Amnesty International World Book 2000.
(2) De Young, C. (2000) CIA Defended Peru Spy Chief Whenever Doubts Were Raised, The San Francisco Chronicle, 22 September.

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