U.S. intelligence activities in Argentina

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For more information, see: U.S. intelligence activities in the Americas.
See also: U.S. government training of foreign police

Intelligence and police issues need to be understood in the context of Argentina's political system. In the USA, the Executive Branch, and the Intelligence Community within it, are, at least in principle, subject to the oversight of Congress, and potentially to judicial review. There are barriers between intelligence and law enforcement, theoretically impervious in the case of the CIA and NSA, 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.

Security and intelligence services of Argentina

For more information, see: Argentina.

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.

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.

In Argentina, 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 twenty-first 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.[1].

Specific activities

Argentina 1975

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 Raul Alfonsín (UCR) as President of the country.[1]

The 1975-1983 period was the one most vulnerable to excesses, which may have involved foreign forces.

Argentina 1976

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.[2]

Argentina 1978

"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.""[3]

Argentina 1979

"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."[3]

Argentina 1981

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."[2]

Argentina 1983

In June 1983, the NGO Americas Watch visited Honduras and stated in its report that "The General Gustavo Alvarez 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]).[2]

Argentina 1987

In the landmark case of Forti v. Suárez Mason (1987),[4][5] 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."[2]

Martínez Baca v. Suárez Mason (1988) used the Filartiga precedent

Argentina 1989

In Amerada Hess Shipping Corp. v. Argentine Republic (1989),[6], 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.

Argentina, date uncertain

"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 out of ongoing cooperation between the CIA and the Argentine military, in which Suárez Mason was an important actor.

Argentina 1992

Siderman de Blake v. Republic of Argentina (1992) again used the precedent in Filartiga.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Fontan Balestra, Florencia, Towards a Democratic Control of Argentina's Intelligence Community.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 , XI. The Role of the United States, Argentina: Reluctant Partner. The Argentine Government's Failure to Back Trials of Human Rights Violators, December 2001
  3. 3.0 3.1 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, vol. National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 85, March 28, 2003
  4. Forti v. Suarez-Mason,  672 F. Supp 1531 (US Circuit Court for the Northern District of California 1987)
  5. Public Broadcasting System (WNET), Filartiga and Its Progeny: From Perpetrator to Commander
  6. Argentine Republic v. Amerada Hess Shipping Corp., et al.',  488 U.S. 428 (Supreme Court of the United States 30 June 1989)