Cia activities in Chile

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CIA Activities in Chile

September 18, 2000


In the 1960s and the early 1970s, as part of the US Government policy to try to influence events in Chile, the CIA undertook specific covert action projects in Chile.  Those hereby acknowledged are described below.  The overwhelming objective—firmly rooted in the policy of the period—was to discredit Marxist-leaning political leaders, especially Dr. Salvador Allende, and to strengthen and encourage their civilian and military opponents to prevent them from assuming power.

Overview of Covert Actions.  At the direction of the White House and interagency policy coordination committees, CIA undertook the covert activities described below.  There were sustained propaganda efforts, including financial support for major news media, against Allende and other Marxists. Political action projects supported selected parties before and after the 1964 elections and after Allende’s 1970 election.

  • In April 1962, the “5412 Panel Special Group”—a sub-cabinet body charged with reviewing proposed covert actions—approved a proposal to carry out a program of covert financial assistance to the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) to support the 1964 Presidential candidacy of Eduardo Frei.

  • Also in 1962, the CIA began supporting a civic action group that undertook various propaganda activities, including distributing posters and  leaflets.

  • In December 1963, the 5412 Group agreed to provide a one-time payment to the Democratic Front, a coalition of three moderate to conservative parties, in support of the Front’s Presidential campaign.

  • In April 1964, the 5412 Group approved a propaganda and political action program for the upcoming September 1964 Presidential election.

  • In May 1964, following the dissolution of the Democratic Front, the “303 Committee,” successor to the 5412 Group, agreed to give the Radical Party additional covert assistance.

  • In February 1965, the 303 Committee approved a proposal to give covert assistance to selected candidates in upcoming Congressional elections.

  • In 1967, the CIA set up a propaganda mechanism for making placements in radio and news media.

  • In July 1968, the 303 Committee approved a political action program to support individual moderate candidates running in the 1969 Congressional elections.

  • As a result of 1968 propaganda activities, in 1969 the “40 Committee” (successor to the 303 Committee) approved the establishment of a propaganda workshop.

  • In the runup to the 1970 Presidential elections, the 40 Committee directed CIA to carry out “spoiling operations” to prevent an Allende victory.

  • As part of a “Track I” strategy to block Allende from taking office after the 4 September election, CIA sought to influence a Congressional run-off vote required by the Constitution because Allende did not win an absolute majority.

  • As part of a “Track II” strategy, CIA was directed to seek to instigate a coup to prevent Allende from taking office (see discussion below).

  • While Allende was in office, the 40 Committee approved the redirection of “Track I” operations that—combined with a renewed effort to support the PDC in 1971 and a project to provide support to the National Party and Democratic Radical Party in 1972—funneled millions of dollars to strengthen opposition political parties.  CIA also provided assistance to militant right-wing groups to undermine the President and create a tense environment.  

Support for Coup in 1970.  Under “Track II” of the strategy, CIA sought to instigate a coup to prevent Allende from taking office after he won a plurality in the 4 September election and before, as Constitutionally required because he did not win an absolute majority, the Chilean Congress reaffirmed his victory.  CIA was working with three different groups of plotters.  All three groups made it clear that any coup would require the kidnapping of Army Commander Rene Schneider, who felt deeply that the Constitution required that the Army allow Allende to assume power.  CIA agreed with that assessment.  Although CIA provided weapons to one of the groups, we have found no information that the plotters’ or CIA’s intention was for the general to be killed.  Contact with one group of plotters was dropped early on because of its extremist tendencies.  CIA provided tear gas, submachine-guns and ammunition to the second group.  The third group attempted to kidnap Schneider, mortally wounding him in the attack.  CIA had previously encouraged this group to launch a coup but withdrew support four days before the attack because, in CIA’s assessment, the group could not carry it out successfully.

Awareness of Coup Plotting in 1973.  Although CIA did not instigate the coup that ended Allende’s government on 11 September 1973, it was aware of coup-plotting by the military, had ongoing intelligence collection relationships with some plotters, and—because CIA did not discourage the takeover and had sought to instigate a coup in 1970—probably appeared to condone it.  There was no way that anyone, including CIA, could have known that Allende would refuse the putchists’ offer of safe passage out of the country and that instead—with La Monedam Palace under bombardment from tanks and airplanes and in flames—would take his own life.

Knowledge of Human Rights Violations.  CIA officers were aware of and reported to analysts and policymakers in 1973 that General Pinochet and the forces that overthrew the Allende Government were conducting a severe campaign against leftists and perceived political enemies in the early months after the coup.  Activities of some security services portended a long-term effort to suppress opponents.  In January 1974, CIA officers and assets were tasked to report on human rights violations by the Chilean government.

Liaison with Chilean Security Services.  The CIA had liaison relationships in Chile with the primary purpose of securing assistance in gathering intelligence on external targets.  The CIA offered these services assistance in internal organization and training to combat subversion and terrorism from abroad, not in combating internal opponents of the government.  The CIA also used these relationships to admonish these services concerning human rights abuses in Chile.  The policy community and CIA recognized that the relationships opened the CIA to possible identification with the liaison services’ internal operations involving human rights abuses but determined that the contact was necessary for CIA’s mission.

Propaganda in Support of Pinochet Regime.  After the coup in September 1973, CIA suspended new covert action funding but continued some ongoing propaganda projects, including support for news media committed to creating a positive image for the military Junta.  Chilean individuals who had collaborated with the CIA but were not acting at CIA direction assisted in the preparation of the “White Book,” a document intended to justify overthrowing Allende.  It contained an allegation that leftists had a secret “Plan Z” to murder the high command in the months before the coup, which CIA believed was probably disinformation by the Junta.

Knowledge of “Operation Condor.”  Within a year after the coup, the CIA and other US Government agencies were aware of bilateral cooperation among regional intelligence services to track the activities of and, in at least a few cases, kill political opponents.  This was the precursor to Operation Condor, an intelligence-sharing arrangement among Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay established in 1975. 

Internal Qualms

Some CIA officers expressed reservations about certain activities during this period.  The Intelligence Community’s analytic assessment of the prospects for a coup in 1970, for example, was that “military action is impossible” because the Army was too deeply committed to the Constitution and unwilling to oust the civilian government.  The DCI stated that the Agency was being asked to do the impossible.  A senior CIA officer said the idea of undermining an Allende victory was “unrealistic.”  National Intelligence Estimates produced between 1969 and 1973 reflected declining confidence over time that Allende would be able to subvert Chile’s constitutional order.  In addition, in the period preceding the successful coup against Allende, CIA officers were concerned about the blurring of lines between monitoring coup-plotting—collecting intelligence on such activities but not directing or influencing them—and supporting a coup at least implicitly.

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