Did The CIA Pull A “Black Bag” Job On The University of Washington?

October 26, 2015


The Center for Human Rights (CHR) at The University of Washington is caught up in a complex case involving war crimes in El Salvador, a pending lawsuit against the CIA, a break-in of an office and theft of a computer and hard drive containing information on the case. Here is a summary of the lawsuit from the CHR website:


“On Friday, October 2, 2015, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights (UW CHR) filed a lawsuit against the CIA in the U.S. District Court in Seattle, alleging that the agency has failed to meet its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The UW CHR is seeking the release of U.S. government documents relating to the 1981 Santa Cruz massacre in El Salvador, as part of its mission to conduct research in support of front-line human rights organizations around the world. Earlier this year, the UW CHR released the first comprehensive report on the massacre, as well as an 18-minute documentary featuring survivors and human rights advocates.
“We believe that the CIA is unlawfully withholding documents regarding a commander of the military operation that resulted in the Santa Cruz massacre, as well as files on a U.S. citizen caught up in the operation,” said Angelina Snodgrass Godoy, Director of the UW CHR.”

“Since 2013, the UW CHR has filed over two hundred FOIA requests relating to the Salvadoran conflict. One such request sought CIA files on retired Salvadoran military officer Sigifredo Ochoa Pérez, commander of a 1981 counterinsurgency operation in which witnesses reported the slaughter of dozens of civilians at Santa Cruz, in the state of Cabañas, El Salvador. The CIA responded that it could “neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of records,” due to national security concerns.
“The CIA’s denial of our request is not credible,” said Mina Manuchehri, a third year student at the UW School of Law, and the UW CHR’s lead FOIA researcher. “The CIA has previously declassified 20 documents relating to Ochoa. Why didn’t they at least give us copies of those same documents?”, she asked. “There can be no national security concerns about documents that have already been made public.” Ms. Manuchehri is a co-plaintiff on the UW CHR’s lawsuit.”

The CHR has compiled details of a massacre at Santa Cruz that resulted in the shooting, burning and hacking to death of scores of unarmed civilians. Here are a few excerpts, for complete details go to the link below:


“In the municipality of Victoria, Cabañas, the community of Santa Marta and others nearby experienced mounting repression throughout the 1970s. This corresponded to a pattern experienced elsewhere as well: as growing numbers of residents began to participate in peasant unions, Catholic base communities, and other activities associated with social and political awareness-raising, acts of selective repression accelerated, targeting those active in such groups for harassment, torture, and execution. As early as 1977, a confidential US State Department telegram noted that, “Security and police forces have apparently been given free rein to harass, intimidate, and otherwise neutralize all potential ‘enemies’ of the regime… There is no doubt that a selective purge is in progress and that the government is involved at a high level.”[1] In the rural communities of northern Cabañas, brutalized corpses were sometimes left in public, apparently to send a message of intimidation to others. Survivors attributed responsibility for this violence to members of the paramilitary group ORDEN, to the National Guard, and occasionally to troops from the Military Detachment Number Two (Destacamento Militar Número Dos, or DM-2) in Sensuntepeque. These forces would often reportedly arrive in communities with lists of suspected “subversives,” looking for specific individuals based on their real or imputed political activities or those of their family members.”
“In this climate of increasing tension, the first major military sweep of the area began on March 15, 1981, providing residents their first exposure to the Army’s “scorched earth” tactics. Up until this point, the communities had experienced acts of vicious but selective repression, involving brief incursions into the villages by troops and/or members of the security or paramilitary forces. Scorched earth, however, was different: it involved the mobilization of thousands of troops for operations that lasted much longer, aiming to destroy the base of civilian support for guerrilla activity by forcing all residents of the region to flee or be eliminated. Such operations reportedly featured the indiscriminate killings of all those encountered by the military, with rare exceptions, and also the deliberate demolishing of homes, livestock, and crops that fleeing peasants left behind.
Forced from their homes by the initial attacks on March 15, residents sought refuge from the invading Army by hiding in the surrounding hillsides. On what Salvadorans call a “guinda” – a collective flight from military invasion – families spent days concealing themselves in caves or under trees, moving from location to location to elude capture. On March 17 and 18, when hundreds attempted to escape by crossing the Lempa River into Honduras, they were surprised by a combined assault by Salvadoran and Honduran troops who fired upon them from helicopters and planes as they swam across. An untold number perished trying to cross, some of gunshot or shrapnel wounds, and others by drowning in the strong current. The UN Truth Commission for El Salvador reported between 20 and 30 people killed, and 189 disappeared, in this incident[3].”

The details of this massacre are horrifying, and are representative of many, many CIA-backed operations in Latin America during the Reagan administration. But here is where things get really strange; at the very time CIA director Brennan is giving a speech at the University of Washington, The CHR had its office broken in to and information relevant to the lawsuit against the CIA stolen:


Sometime between October 15-18, the office of Dr. Angelina Godoy, Director of the University of Washington Center for Human Rights, was broken into by unknown parties. Her desktop computer was stolen, as well as a hard drive containing about 90% of the information relating to our research in El Salvador. While we have backups of this information, what worries us most is not what we have lost but what someone else may have gained: the files include sensitive details of personal testimonies and pending investigations.
This could, of course, be an act of common crime. But we are concerned because it is also possible this was an act of retaliation for our work. There are a few elements that make this an unusual incident. First, there was no sign of forcible entry; the office was searched but its contents were treated carefully and the door was locked upon exit, characteristics which do not fit the pattern of opportunistic campus theft. Prof. Godoy’s office was the only one targeted, although it is located midway down a hallway of offices, all containing computers. The hard drive has no real resale value, so there seems no reason to take it unless the intention was to extract information. Lastly, the timing of this incident—in the wake of the recent publicity around our freedom of information lawsuit against the CIA regarding information on a suspected perpetrator of grave human rights violations in El Salvador—invites doubt as to potential motives.
We have contacted colleagues in El Salvador, many of whom have emphasized parallels between this incident and attacks Salvadoran human rights organizations have experienced in recent years. While we cannot rule out the possibility of this having been an incident of common crime, we are deeply concerned that this breach of information security may increase the vulnerability of Salvadoran human rights defenders with whom we work.
We are gratified by the response of the University of Washington authorities, who are investigating this as a potentially serious security issue and advising our Center on the adoption of new security measures in the future. We are also grateful for the messages we have received from supportive colleagues near and far. We resolve to redouble our commitment to promoting hands-on human rights education across the University of Washington, and to strengthen our partnerships with Salvadoran human rights defenders seeking truth, justice, and reparations for survivors of crimes against humanity.
The Seattle Times adds this little bit of information :


“The break-in coincided with a campus visit by CIA Director John Brennan, who spoke Friday at a symposium at the UW law school. However, Norm Arkans, the UW’s associate vice president for media relations and communications, cautioned against “connecting those dots.”
As Professor Godoy notes, the CHR has back-ups of all the information, but who ever stole the information now has clear insight into the direction of the lawsuit. What could be so significant that someone needs to steal information from operations in the 1980’s?
One clue can be found in one of the declassified documents obtained by the CHR, excerpted here:


Document 2
Date: March 2, 1983
Agency: CIA
Source: Library of Congress Volume 2
Title: El Salvador: D’Aubuisson’s Terrorist Activities
This CIA memo “requested by Vice-President Bush” relating terrorist activities associated with Roberto D’Aubuisson and the ARENA political party. Lists a military officer named “Ochoa” as a “notorious past associate” of D’Aubuisson, among a group of officers who were “mentors of a new generation of junior officers [redacted] to have been involved in death squad and other illegal activities”. This document is notable as evidence of high-level U.S. government awareness of D’Aubuisson, ARENA, and military involvement in illegal activities, including killings of U.S. citizens and the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. A final note in the document notes the CIA’s internal “variance in interpreting the death squad issue”.

It appears that the CHR has provided linkage from the Santa Cruz Massacre and Ochoa to the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero, straight to the desk of George Bush senior, the former CIA director.
Updates to follow

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