A sober, unsensational "inside" account of the Orlando Letelier case, co-authored by the federal prosecutor who handled it from the day when the Chilean ex-diplomat and an assistant were killed by a car bomb in the middle of Washington, D.C. The title is apt. Sorting out the facts and running down leads (many of them bogus) took prosecutor Propper and a few determined FBI agents into a murky network of espionage and international terrorism, involving several bands of anti-Castro Cubans and the fight-wing Chile government's notorious secret police (DINA). Almost from the start, suspicion of involvement in the mechanics of the killing fell on members of a New Jersey-based Cuban exile group, and the guiding hand seemed to have been DINA's. But tying it all together took a year and a half. The key to the puzzle: a mysterious "blond Chilean"—named Juan Williams, or Kenneth Enyart, or Andres Wilson—who kept popping up at significant times. "Williams" turned out to be Michael Townley, an American-born high-level DINA assassin who specialized in state-of-the-art bombs and dabbled in biological weapons. Though the Chileans stonewalled and the international-relations bureaucracy cranked slowly, Propper Finally extradited Townley to the US where (reluctantly) the feds traded a ten-year sentence for his testimony against two Cuban exile defendants. Unfortunate footnotes: the Cuban defendants were ultimately acquitted at a second trial, two other implicated Cubans vanished, and the government imposed only wrist-slap sanctions on Chile. While Dinges and Landau's Assassination on Embassy Row (1980) covers the facts of the case ably and is stronger on the intricacies of Chilean politics, Propper and Branch provide more background on Townley (from interviews), and answer Dinges and Landau's lingering question (why did it take so long to crack the case?) with an unsettling, behind-the-scenes look at the lack of cooperation among U.S. government agencies that slowed the investigation and threatened at times to stymie it. Exhaustively researched, well-written, and spooky.
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