The Miami Herald
Tue, Feb. 17, 2004
Spy: CIA absent in 'Missing' case

In the 1973 case of a U.S. citizen's disappearance and subsequent killing, a Chilean spy now says the CIA was not present at the American's interrogation.

Knight Ridder News Service

SANTIAGO, Chile - A Chilean spy who swore that a U.S. intelligence officer was present during the 1973 interrogation and disappearance of an American citizen after a U.S.-backed coup in Chile now says he made up the story.

Rafael Gonzalez Verdugo, 66, who was charged on Dec. 10 with being an accomplice in the death of American Charles Horman, said through his son that he falsely implicated the CIA to avoid being expelled from the Italian Embassy in Santiago, where he was seeking asylum at the time.

Horman disappeared from his Santiago apartment on Sept. 17, 1973, six days after Gen. Augusto Pinochet seized power in a U.S.-backed coup. Gonzalez made his accusations in a 1976 interview with reporters from CBS News and The Washington Post.

Missing, a 1982 movie about Horman's death, won actor Jack Lemmon an Oscar for his portrayal of Horman's determined and grieving father, Edmund. The movie helped lodge his son's case in the nation's memory and, in its scenes of his interrogation, includes the shadowy figure of an unidentified CIA agent.


Gonzalez's claim that an American was present at Horman's questioning -- and when Chilean authorities decided to kill him -- led to congressional hearings. The case energized demands for reform in the CIA and encouraged President Jimmy Carter's pledge to make human rights a central element of U.S. diplomacy. The Nixon administration had encouraged Pinochet's overthrow of elected Chilean leftist leader Salvador Allende.

Gonzalez, a career spy fluent in English, is a key figure in the mystery that still surrounds Horman's disappearance. He said in affidavits that he was called to Horman's interrogation at Chile's Ministry of Defense, although it's not clear whether he acted as an interpreter or as an interrogator.

Months later, Chilean officials ordered Gonzalez to fetch Horman's decomposing body from the cemetery wall in which it had been buried and together with a CIA officer deliver the corpse to U.S. Embassy personnel.

Gonzalez continues to say the CIA officer, James Anderson, helped him deliver Horman's body, and Anderson has never refuted that claim.

In June 1976, when Gonzalez met with reporters Frank Manitzas of CBS News and Joanne Omang of The Washington Post, Gonzalez was out of favor with the Pinochet government and feared he would be killed. He had slipped into the Italian Embassy, where, like several other regime foes, he had found sanctuary.

Gonzalez told Manitzas and Omang that he had recognized an American at Horman's questioning, because he cross-laced his shoes in the distinctive way that Americans do. He later signed before U.S. authorities a sworn affidavit that his tale to Manitzas and Omang was true -- meaning he's either lying now or committed perjury then.

Gonzalez's allegations ''sort of reopened everything [about Chile] . . . and the U.S. Congress got involved, there were investigations,'' Omang recalled recently. ``Before, it was just one missing American.''

In a recently declassified document dated Aug. 25, 1976, three mid-level State Department officials wrote this to the assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs in Washington about Gonzalez's allegations: ``U.S. intelligence may have played an unfortunate part in Horman's death. At best, it was limited to providing or confirming information that helped motivate his murder by the [government of Chile].''


Through his son, Sergio Daniel Gonzalez, Rafael Gonzalez said that he implicated U.S. intelligence because his hosts in the Italian Embassy demanded that he do so. On the streets of Santiago at the height of the military dictatorship, a spy who turned against Pinochet's regime would likely have disappeared as Horman did.

''He had to say that or they would kill him,'' Sergio Daniel Gonzalez said in a two-hour interview.

The son said his father couldn't recall the names of the embassy staff members who allegedly coerced him, nor did the father offer a motive for their doing so.

Gonzalez's son agreed to the interview while his father was held without bail in a military prison outside Santiago. The elder Gonzalez declined to be interviewed both before and after his release on bail on Feb. 6.