On October 2, the University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights filed a lawsuit against the US Central Intelligence Agency. The claim alleges that the agency withheld records that cast blame for 35-year-old Salvadoran war crimes on the CIA-backed government.
Those relate to the massacre of civilians by now-retired Salvadoran Army Col. Sigifredo Ochoa Perez, who allegedly killed hundreds of civilians when attacking the towns of El Calabozo and Santa Cruz in 1981. The incident "adhered closely to the United States’ suggested wartime strategy" of fighting the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, according to the suit.
But sometime between Thursday and Sunday, the Center for Human Rights’ office was burglarized, and whoever the thieves were, they made off with a bulk of the case files. While the university retains backups of the stolen data, the break-in is still alarming.
"What worries us most not what we have lost but what someone else may have gained," the center said in a statement. "The files include sensitive details of personal testimonies and pending investigations."
The robbery is currently under investigation by local police, but Angelina Godoy – whose office was the only one broken into – said there are "disturbing and suspicious elements to the burglary," according to the Seattle Times.
For one, Godoy says there was no sign of forced entry, and that her door appeared to have been relocked after the intruders left. She also said that her office had not been ransacked, but instead seemed to have been methodically searched.
These were "characteristics that do not fit the pattern of an opportunistic campus theft," Godoy’s press release reads.
Others have also pointed out that CIA Director John Brennan was on campus on Friday, speaking at a symposium for the university’s law students. But unless the suggestion is that the head of the CIA took time out to personally dust off his old lock picks and perform a break-in, it’s hard to know what to make of that detail.
Norm Arkans, UW’s associate vice president for media relations and communications, also warned against "connecting those dots," according to the Seattle Times.
Still,the timing of the burglary, mere weeks after the center filed suit, is hard to ignore. Arkans himself admitted that the incident is "suspicious" and that the school is taking it "very seriously."
The Center for Human Rights also indicated that they have contacted sources in El Salvador, "many of whom have emphasized parallels between this incident and attacks Salvadoran human-rights organizations have experienced in recent years."