Tuesday, July 30, 2013

July 31: Dan Mitrione, CIA, Kidnapped

On this date in History ... July 31, 1970:
Dan Mitrione

Dan Mitrione, a CIA agent, was kidnapped in Uraguay by guerillas in Latin American affairs. 11 days later, Mitrione was found in the trunk of a car, shot twice in the head. 

Mitrione was Italian-born who made Richmond, Indiana his hometown, where he served as Richmond’s police chief before moving on to the State Department & later the CIA. He left a wife and 9 children.  His funeral was a big media event, attended by David Eisenhower, and the Secretary of State, William Rogers.  

Sinatra with the Mitrione Family
Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis came to Richmond to do a benefit concert that raised $20,000 (over $100K in 2010 dollars) for Mitrione’s children.  

However, there is a dark side to this "hero's" story......

Mitrione was hailed as a hero to his hometown of Richmond.  Growing up in Richmond, I was eleven years old at the time and I remember the adults explaining that he was like the guys on the TV show “Mission Impossible”: top secret and the “government will disavow any knowledge of your activity”. 

Mitrione joined the FBI in 1959 and became a counter-insurgency specialist while assigned to the Agency for International Development with the Office of Public Safety.

But the untold part of the story is that he was a torture expert, taking it to a “cold science”. He instructed police in Brazil and Uruguay in "advanced anti-subversion and torture techniques". He also directly participated in and oversaw information extraction from prisoners.

He personally oversaw the soundproofing of his Uruguay home basement, testing it multiple times to make sure no sound at all escaped.  He taught brutal torture techniques, using beggars off of the streets as subjects for his classes held in his basement.  Four of these beggars died during the demonstration. Those who lived were allegedly executed once they were no longer needed. 

A July 19, 1973 issue of “New Scientist” (Vol 59 No 8550), a London publication, ran an article entitled “Building a Better Thumbscrew” in which it reports that Mitrione “was believed to be responsible for what is widely called the Mitrione Vest. This device is an inflatable vest which can be used to increase pressure on the chest during interrogation, sometimes crushing the rib cage.”  It is said be as effective as waterboarding but without the mess of the water.

Mitrione is quoted as saying, "A premature death means a failure by the technician.  It's important to know in advance if we can permit ourselves the luxury of the subject's death."  It is said that during this conversation “his plastic eyes sparkled” for the only time in months.  "The precise pain, in the precise place, in the precise amount, for the desired effect."

This four-minute video clips tells some of the story:  

A few days after Mitrione’s funeral a senior officer from Uruguay charged that Mitrione was there to teach police torture techniques, a charge the U.S. government called “absolutely false”.  In 1978, a CIA agent named Manuel Hevia Cosculleula published a book about his years working with Mitrione (“Eight Years with the CIA”) in which he described the electrical torture techniques taught by Mitrione.  According to Cosculleula, Mitrione told him:
"Before all else, you must be efficient. You must cause only the damage that is strictly necessary, not a bit more. We must control our tempers in any case. You have to act with the efficiency and cleanness of a surgeon and with the perfection of an artist. This is a war to the death. Those people are my enemy. This is a hard job, and someone has to do it. It's necessary. Since it's my turn, I'm going to do it to perfection. If I were a boxer, I would try to be the world champion. But I'm not. But though I'm not, in this profession, my profession, I'm the best."  

According to the book “Killing Hope”, written by William Blum:

“Things got so bad in Mitrione's time that the Uruguayan Senate was compelled undertake an investigation. After a five-month study, the commission concluded unanimously that torture in Uruguay had become a "normal, frequent and habitual occurrence inflicted upon Tupamaros as well as others. Among the types of torture the commission's report made reference to were electric shocks to the genitals, electric needles under the fingernails, burning with cigarettes, the slow compression of the testicles, daily use of psychological torture ... "pregnant women were subjected to various brutalities and inhuman treatment" ... "certain women were imprisoned with their very young infants and subjected to the same treatment." 

White House spokesman, Ron Ziegler, solemnly stated that "Mr. Mitrione's devoted service to the cause of peaceful progress in an orderly world will remain as an example for free men everywhere.''

"A perfect man," his widow said.


"A great humanitarian," said his daughter Linda.”

A 1973 movie, "State of Siege", was made based on the Mitrione story.

Dan Mitrione Jr.
The Mitrione story continues to a second generation.  His son, Dan Jr., after graduating from college and serving two years in Vietnam, joined the FBI. The younger Mitrione believed his father had been killed, not by his kidnappers, but by the U.S. government.  He had joined the FBI for the sole purpose of finding those responsible and “terminating them.” 

Mitrione was assigned to Operation Airlift in Florida, the FBI’s first venture into the drug war. Operation Airlift was formed around Sandini, a drug smuggler and suspected murderer who offered his services to the FBI in exchange for avoiding drug smuggling charges. Mitrione soon fell on the other side of the line.  During the Operation, Mitrione and Sandini had been skimming cocaine and selling it themselves. 

In April 1983, the FBI ceased Operation Airlift but Mitrione resigned from the FBI to become a business partner with Sandini and kept the cocaine smuggling going.  Mitrione began buying real estate and taking his wife and family on extravagant vacations all over the world. 

In April 1984, when a bomb was found under Sandini’s car, Mitrione was the prime suspect.  Both partners were afraid the other was about to sell out to authorities and the motive behind the bomb was believed to be an attempt to prevent Sandini from talking.  Local prosecutors had problems putting a case together because the FBI refused to cooperate and turn over files.  It was not until August 1984 that the FBI actually begin to investigate their former agent and came to the same conclusion: Mitrione planted the bomb.

In 1985, Mitrione was arrested and convicted of illegal drug trafficking. It was found that during Operation Airlift Mitrione and his partner had been turning over confiscated cocaine shipments to the government but not before skimming 42 kilos, an amount that would earn the two partners over $1 million each. Since he confessed and agreed to turn over real estate and other assets worth $850,000, Mitrione was sentenced to ten years probation. Since then he has authored a number of true-crime books.

Sources for this article include, but not limited to:


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