Skip to main content

Center for Human Rights - Celebrating 15 Years! Students • Partners • Research

Newly Declassified Documents Point to El Salvador Intelligence Cache

Cover page of a 1984 "Special Working Aid" authored by the Central America Joint Intelligence Team (CAJIT)

May 19, 2020

[Leer este artículo en español]

A new set of 94 declassified U.S. government documents have been added to the UW Center for Human Rights’ El Salvador FOIA Collection maintained by UW Libraries. The documents were released to the UWCHR during 2018-2019 pursuant to Freedom of Information Act requests and in support of human rights organizations and survivors of historic war crimes in El Salvador, as part of the Center’s Unfinished Sentences project. Seven of the documents were released in late 2019 via a lawsuit against the Department of Defense. The UW Center for Human Rights believes that some of these documents are newly declassified and have not previously been released to the public.

The documents in the new tranche cover a wide range of topics, shedding light on the depth of the U.S.’s role in Salvadoran military operations and revealing a previously unknown cache of intelligence records, of which the UWCHR is now seeking declassification. They include reports on the career of former Minister of Defense José Guillermo García, currently under indictment for the 1981 El Mozote massacre, and diplomatic cables relating to historic human rights violations including the 1982 killing of four Dutch journalists by Salvadoran special forces and the 1989 FENASTRAS union bombing. These documents, some of which have previously been declassified, are now freely available via the UW Libraries collection.

The most intriguing documents in the new collection originate from the Central America Joint Intelligence Team (CAJIT), a “fusion center” established by the Defense Intelligence Agency in 1982 to facilitate the exchange of military intelligence between the U.S. Army’s Southern Command and allies, including the Salvadoran military. Human rights experts have long considered that records from CAJIT could prove to be a treasure trove of information relating to historic human rights violations.

In 2019, UWCHR researchers discovered a 1993 form called an SF-115, requesting to transfer 90 cubic feet of records from the Defense Intelligence Agency to the National Archives and Records Administration. The form describes the records as “Central America Joint Intelligence Team (CAJIT) Records Pertaining to the Communist Insurgency in El Salvador, early 1980s-1990,” and explains that they contain, among other things, “Salvadoran Army interrogation reports, reports of atrocities, a history of the FMLN and each of its five factions, biographical data on insurgent leaders, and a tactical intelligence support package (including aerial reconnaissance photographs).” In litigation against the DIA, the UWCHR used the existence of this form to call into doubt the extensiveness of the DIA’s search for documents responsive to a previous FOIA request; in response, the DIA searched the CAJIT collection and released the documents included here.

Pages from a “Records Transmittal and Receipt” form list an inventory of 50 boxes of CAJIT records including “El Salvador interrogation records”.

Pages from a “Records Transmittal and Receipt” form list an inventory of 50 boxes of CAJIT records including “El Salvador interrogation records”.

One of the newly declassified documents, an SF-135 “Records Transmittal and Receipt” form from the Washington National Records Center, gives further detail on the contents of a CAJIT archive of 50 boxes of records dating from 1982-1993, many indexed with cryptic serial numbers giving no information on their contents, and others apparently consisting of captured FMLN documents and “El Salvador interrogation records”. The UWCHR is now seeking the declassification of the entire CAJIT archive described in these documents.

Pages from a 1984 "Special Working Aid" authored by CAJIT summarize details of an infamous 1982 Salvadoran military operation titled "Azenon Palma".

Pages from a 1984 “Special Working Aid” authored by CAJIT summarize details of an infamous 1982 Salvadoran military operation titled “Azenon Palma”.

Additional CAJIT documents released to UWCHR include heavily-redacted “Special Working Aid” reports summarizing of military campaigns, including Azenon Palma, an operation in which well-known atrocities occurred, including the 1982 Calabozo Massacre, which killed over 200 civilians; and Rescate, associated with massacre of more than 900 civilians in El Mozote and surrounding villages in December 1981. While the “Special Working Aid” referencing Rescate refers to a later stage of the operation in summer 1982, its existence confirms the belief of Salvadoran human rights experts, survivors, and UWCHR researchers that U.S. government and military archives continue to hold yet-to-be-declassified documents containing detailed intelligence on Salvadoran military operations during the country’s internal armed conflict.

Browse the newly declassified records here, and read more reports and updates from the Unfinished Sentences project.