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Michael Vernon Townley (born December 5, 1942 in Waterloo, Iowa) is an American professional assassin currently living under terms of the US federal witness protection program. An operative of the Chilean secret police, known as the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA), Townley confessed, was convicted, and served 62 months in prison in the United States for the 1976 Washington, D.C., assassination of Orlando Letelier, former Chilean ambassador to the United States.[1] As part of his plea bargain, Townley received immunity from further prosecution; he was not extradited to Argentina to stand trial for the 1974 assassination of Chilean general Carlos Prats and his wife.[1]

In 1993 Townley was also convicted, in absentia, by an Italian court for carrying out the 1975 Rome murder attempt on Bernardo Leighton.[2] Townley worked in producing chemical weapons for Chilean dictator General Pinochet’s use against political opponents along with Colonel Gerardo Huber[3] and the DINA biochemist Eugenio Berríos.According to head of DINA Manuel Contreras, Townley returned to Chile at the end of 1973, working for the CIA, with the intent of receiving from the “Highest National Authority, in agreement with what had already been planned by the CIA … the order to act in direct, personal and exclusive form, without intermediaries, against General Prats in Buenos Aires”.[5][page needed] Prats and his wife were killed with a car bomb in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1974. Contreras also said that Townley traveled with a false passport provided by the CIA under the name of Kenneth Enyart.[5][page needed] Contreras stated Townley was aided by CIA agents, as well as Argentine and Chilean agents, and paramilitary groups such as the Triple A and the Grupo Milicias. Contreras said he thought the CIA planned the assassination because it feared Prats would try to overthrow Pinochet’s dictatorship with the help of the Argentine Army, thus leading to a war between Chile and Argentina which would constitute “a difficult problem for the United States in the Cold War era”.[6]

1975 Bernardo Leighton assassination attempt[edit]
Main article: Attempted assassination of Bernardo Leighton
He was convicted and sentenced in absentia in Italy to 15 years of jail, due to his role as an intermediary between the Chilean DINA and Italian neo-fascists.[7]

Michael Townley also stated that Enrique Arancibia had traveled to California in the autumn of 1977 on banking business for ALFA, alias Stefano Delle Chiaie.[8] Enrique Arancibia is a former DINA agent who resided in unofficial exile in Buenos Aires after the assassination of Chilean Army Chief of Staff René Schneider on October 25, 1970. Arancibia was arrested by Argentine intelligence officers shortly after the extradition of Townley to the US and charged with espionage.[9]

Convicted for Orlando Letelier’s murder[edit]
Main article: Assassination of Orlando Letelier
Townley was convicted in the United States for the 1976 murder of Orlando Letelier in Washington, D.C. During his trial, he said that Augusto Pinochet was responsible for planning the murder. Head of DINA Manuel Contreras also stated that Pinochet planned the assassination of both Prats and Letelier.[6] Townley served 62 months in prison for the murder.[10]

Michael Townley confessed that he had hired five anti-Castrist Cuban exiles to booby-trap Letelier’s car. According to Jean-Guy Allard, after consultations with the leadership of the anti-Castro Cuban organization CORU, including Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, those elected to carry out the murder were Cuban-Americans José Dionisio Suárez, Virgilio Paz Romero, Alvin Ross Díaz, and brothers Guillermo and Ignacio Novo Sampoll.[11] According to the Miami Herald, Luis Posada Carriles was also at this meeting, which decided on Letelier’s death and also about the Cubana Flight 455 bombing.

Townley was the prosecution’s chief witness at the trial for Ross and the Novo brothers.[12]

In 1978, Chile agreed to extradite him to the USA, in order to reduce the tension resulting from Orlando Letelier’s murder. He made an agreement with the US government on April 17, 1978, which required that he only provide information relevant to violations of US law or offenses committed in US jurisdiction. Based on that argument, he refused to provide any information concerning DINA during the trial of the three Cuban defendants in Washington DC in early 1979 concerning Letelier’s assassination. Michael Townley was then freed under the federal Witness Protection Program. The United States is still waiting for Contreras and Pedro Espinoza Bravo to be extradited.

In an interview with authorities on October 20, 1981, Townley declared that Castro opponent Virgilio Paz Romero brought with him a Colt .45 caliber automatic pistol when he visited Chile in the spring of 1976. According to Townley, Romero said that the weapon had recently been used in a “hit” by the Cuban Nationalist Movement and that

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