U.S. Agent Killed on Latin American Mission

Dan A. Mitrione started his career as a police officer in Richmond, Indiana, in 1945. Ten years later, he became police chief, and, in 1957, joined the FBI. In 1960, Mitrione went to Brazil to train police in advanced counterinsurgency techniques, working under the auspices of the U.S. State Department’s International Cooperation Administration.

Though Mitrione’s position in Latin America was officially stated as that of a traffic safety adviser, it is believed that his real job was to give training and support to dictatorships allied with the U.S. government.

Religious groups

U.S. officials refused to confirm those suspicions, but documentation of Mitrione’s activities was compiled by investigators, including those of religious groups and Hollywood filmmakers. NARMIC, a branch of the American Friends Service Committee, reported that Mitrione trained foreign officers in the techniques of counter-guerrilla warfare in Washington, D.C., in 1967. They claimed that in July 1969, he returned to Uruguay, where he headed a team that trained 1,000 Uruguayan police officers.

Author-filmmaker Costa-Gavras and Franco Solinas wrote in State of Siege that Mitrione was responsible for: a network of spies in high schools and universities, hidden cameras in transportation terminals to photograph people traveling to socialist countries, an increase in the city militia from 600 to 1,000 men, new .45-caliber machine guns and an increase in the use of shotguns, inspection of all mail and publications coming from socialist countries, and the inauguration of police training courses in the recruitment of informers, interrogation techniques, and the use of explosives.

Standard practice

Various agencies and individuals noted that during Mitrione’s seven years of advising Latin American leaders, torture of government opponents became standard practice in police operations.

In August 1970, Mitrione was kidnapped by the Tupamaros (MLN), a Uruguayan revolutionary group. Five days later, the kidnappers released documents that spelled out his connection to the FBI. When the government of Uruguay refused the Tupamaros’ request for the release of a large number of political prisoners, Mitrione was killed.

A large part of the press coverage following Mitrione’s murder ignored his political and military mission in Latin America, instead casting him as an innocent bystander callously murdered by terrorists. Jerry Lewis and Frank Sinatra put on a show in Mitrione’s memory, and newspapers in the United States and South America praised his work on behalf of the United States.

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