For the Public Safety agency, see Department of Public Safety.

The Office of Public Safety (OPS) was a US government agency, established in 1957 by US President Dwight D. Eisenhower to train police forces of US allies.[1] It was officially part of USAID (US Agency for International Development), and was close to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).[2] Police-training teams were sent to South Vietnam, Iran, Taiwan, Brazil, Uruguay and Greece.[3] Courses were held in French, Spanish and English.[3] According to a 1973 document revealed in the Family jewels CIA documents, around 700 police officers were trained a year, including in handling of explosives.[4] It was dissolved in 1974.

Creation and dissolution of the OPS[edit | edit source]

The United States has a long history of providing police aid to Latin American countries. In the 1960s the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) Office of Public Safety (OPS) provided Latin American police forces with millions of dollars worth of weapons and trained thousands of Latin American police officers. In the late 1960s, such programs came under media and congressional scrutiny because the U.S.-provided equipment and personnel were linked to cases of torture, murder and "disappearances" in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay.[citation needed]

In Washington, D.C., the Office of Public Safety had remained immune to public embarrassment as it went about two of its chief functions: allowing the CIA to plant men with the local police in sensitive places around the world; and after careful observation on their home territory, bringing to the United States prime candidates for enrollment as CIA employees.[3] The OPS's director in Washington, Byron Engle, was close to the CIA.[2]

In 1966, US senator J. William Fulbright started criticizing the OPS's methods.[5] Then, informed by Brazilian opposition members, US senator James G. Abourezk set about to disclose the OPS's program.[5] John A. Hannah, head of the USAID and former president of Michigan State University, unsuccessfully tried to support the OPS by sending a letter to deputy Otto Passman.[5]

In 1974, Congress banned the provision by the U.S. of training or assistance to foreign police with a statute known as Section 660 of the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA).[6]

The OPS had formed a million policemen in the Third World.[2] Ten thousands of them had undertaken training courses in the US. $150 million worth in material had been sent to foreign police forces.[2]

Most of the OPS's missions were transferred to others agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, while the US Department of Defense continued to transfer equipment to security forces in foreign countries.[2] OPS officer Jack Goin went on to found a private security firm, Public Safety Services, Inc., in Washington.[5]

Divisions[edit | edit source]

International Police Academy[edit | edit source]

Operated by the OPS, the International Police Academy was instituted in 1963, training police officers from various countries around the World in the United States. Its first class included sixty-eight police officers from seventeen different nations.[7] Until the early 1970s, selected candidates could also receive training from CIA officers at the U.S. Border Patrol academy in Los Fresnos, Texas, including the making of bombs and incendiary devices.[8]

Operations[edit | edit source]

The head of the OPS, Byron Engle, sent Los Angeles Police Department officers to Venezuela in 1962 to train local police officers and assist them in repression against the Armed Forces of National Liberation (AFNL).[3]

Uruguay[edit | edit source]

The OPS had operated in Uruguay since 1964, supplying the police with equipment, arms and training. These operations involved courses on explosives, assassination, and riot control.[2][9] Between 1969 and 1973, at least 19 Uruguayan police officers were trained in CIA and OPS schools in Washington DC and in Los Fresnos, Texas to be taught the handling of explosives.[2] On several occasions, the pupils were not police officers, but individuals affiliated with the Uruguayan right-wing.[2] By 1970, the OPS had trained a thousand police officers in riot control.[2]

USAID agent, Dan Mitrione, who had previously trained the Brazilian police in interrogation and torture methods, arrived in Uruguay in 1969 to work for the OPS.[2] Torture was already in use by the Uruguayan police at this point, although it became systematic under Mitrione's direction. In an interview with a Brazilian newspaper in 1970, the former Uruguayan Chief of Police Intelligence, Alejandro Otero, declared that US officers, in particular Mitrione, had instituted torture as a systemic method.[2] According to A. J. Langguth's Hidden Terrors (Pantheon Books, 1978, p. 286), older police officers were replaced "when the CIA and the U.S. police advisers had turned to harsher measures and sterner men."

While having been previously been complicit in torture, Otero stopped supporting Mitrione after a friend and Tupamaros sympathizer had been tortured in Mitrione's presence.[2] Otero also claimed to oppose torture as he thought it led to the radicalization of the conflict.

In July 1970, the Tupamaros kidnapped Mitrione, questioning him "about his past and the intervention of the U.S. government in Latin American affairs. They also demanded the release of 150 political prisoners. The Uruguayan government, with U.S. backing, refused, and Mitrione was later found dead in a car".[10]

CIA officer William Cantrell was based in Montevideo as an OPS member. He assisted in the creation of the National Directorate of Information and Intelligence (Dirección Nacional de Información e Inteligencia - DNII), to which he supplied equipment, including devices that could be used in torture. After the 1971 elections during which the left-wing Frente Amplio was defeated, the Uruguayan government launched a DNII-led joint military and police force that was tasked with conducting counter-revolutionary operations against the Tupamaros. According to former police officers, death squads were run from the DNII.[9]

After being released from prison for crimes related to the Tupamaros insurgent activity, the leader of the Tupamaros, Raul Sendic, revealed that Mitrione had not been suspected of teaching torture techniques to the police. Rather, Mitrione was suspected to have trained police in riot control and was targeted for kidnapping as retaliation for the deaths of student protestors. Further, Sendic claimed "that a breakdown in communication led to the death of Mr. Mitrione", and that his murder was accidental mishandling of a negotiations deadline.[11]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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