CIA Activities in Chile
September 18, 2000
To respond to Section 311 of the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000 (referred to hereafter as the Hinchey Amendment), the Intelligence Community (IC), led by the National Intelligence Council, reviewed relevant CIA records of the period predominantly from recent document searches; studied extensive Congressional reports regarding US activities in Chile in the 1960s and 1970s; read the memoirs of key figures, including Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger; reviewed CIA’s oral history collection at the Center for the Study of Intelligence; and consulted with retired intelligence officers who were directly involved.
This broad information base has given us high confidence in our responses to the three questions, which are answered directly below. The body of the report, however, provides much greater detail in an effort to tell the story of CIA involvement and put the answers into their proper historical context. The Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities—the Church Committee—conducted in 1975 a thorough document review and interviews, and produced a report that still stands as a comprehensive analysis of CIA actions in Chile during the period from 1963 to 1973.
CIA’s response to the Hinchey amendment should be viewed as a good-faith effort to respond in an unclassified format to the three questions, not as a definitive history of US activities in Chile over the past 30 years.
Q. All activities of officers, covert agents, and employees of all elements of the Intelligence Community with respect to the assassination of President Salvador Allende in September 1973.A. We find no information—nor did the Church Committee—that CIA or the Intelligence Community was involved in the death of Chilean President Salvador Allende. He is believed to have committed suicide as the coup leaders closed in on him. The major CIA effort against Allende came earlier in 1970 in the failed attempt to block his election and accession to the Presidency. Nonetheless, the US Administration’s long-standing hostility to Allende and its past encouragement of a military coup against him were well known among Chilean coup plotters who eventually took action on their own to oust him.
Q. All activities of officers, covert agents, and employees of all elements of the Intelligence Community with respect to the accession of General Augusto Pinochet to the Presidency of the Republic of Chile.A. CIA actively supported the military Junta after the overthrow of Allende but did not assist Pinochet to assume the Presidency. In fact, many CIA officers shared broader US reservations about Pinochet’s single-minded pursuit of power.
Q. All activities of officers, covert agents, and employees of all elements of the Intelligence Community with respect to violations of human rights committed by officers or agents of former President Pinochet.A. Many of Pinochet’s officers were involved in systematic and widespread human rights abuses following Allende’s ouster. Some of these were contacts or agents of the CIA or US military. The IC followed then-current guidance for reporting such abuses and admonished its Chilean agents against such behavior. Today’s much stricter reporting standards were not in force and, if they were, we suspect many agents would have been dropped.
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.
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.
The historical backdrop sheds important light on the policies, practices, and perceived urgency prevalent at that time. The Cuban revolution and emergence of Communist parties in Latin America had brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere. Thousands of Chilean military officers came to the United States for training, which included presentations on the impact of global communism on their own country. After Allende won a plurality in the Presidential election on 4 September 1970, the consensus at the highest levels of the US Government was that an Allende Presidency would seriously hurt US national interests.
Efforts by the United States to support anti-Communist forces in Chile date back to the late 1950s and reflect the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union for influence throughout the Third World. The growing strength of the Chilean left, along with continuing fragmentation by conservative and moderate political forces, became increasing concerns through the 1960 70s to the United States, which wanted to avoid the emergence of “another Cuba” in the Western Hemisphere.
According to the Church Committee report, in their meeting with CIA Director Richard Helms and Attorney General John Mitchell on 15 September 1970 President Nixon and his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, directed the CIA to prevent Allende from taking power. They were “not concerned [about the] risks involved,” according to Helms’ notes. In addition to political action, Nixon and Kissinger, according to Helms’s notes, ordered steps to “make the economy scream.”
These Cold War attitudes persisted into the Pinochet era. After Pinochet came to power, senior policymakers appeared reluctant to criticize human rights violations, taking to task US diplomats urging greater attention to the problem. US military assistance and sales grew significantly during the years of greatest human rights abuses. According to a previously released Memorandum of Conversation, Kissinger in June 1976 indicated to Pinochet that the US Government was sympathetic to his regime, although Kissinger advised some progress on human rights in order to improve Chile’s image in the US Congress.
In 1962 the CIA received authority to carry out covert action projects in support of the Chilean Radical Party and the Christian Democratic Party (PDC). These programs were designed primarily to assist the parties in attracting larger followings, improve their organization and effectiveness, and influence their political orientation to support US objectives in the region. A secondary purpose of these programs was to support efforts to split the Socialist Party. At the request of the US Ambassador in Chile, with the support of the Department of State, in 1963 the 5412 Group approved a one-time payment to the Democratic Front. Propaganda efforts to support public media consisted primarily of funding and guidance to recruited assets within selected Chilean radio stations and newspapers.
In preparation for the 1964 elections, a political action campaign was approved on 2 April 1964 by the 303 Committee. The goal of the campaign was to prevent Dr. Salvador Allende, the leftist candidate for President, from winning. Eduardo Frei of the Christian Democratic Party was the principal beneficiary of these efforts. The campaign built on the covert action previously approved in 1962, adding an element of support for a militant women’s group. In the same timeframe, the CIA was tasked to support continued unilateral placements of propaganda in the mass media to influence public opinion against leftist parties and candidates. By the time of the election, the 303 Committee had approved a total of $3 million to keep Allende from winning. Frei’s victory on 4 September 1964 was a milestone in the CIA’s Chilean election effort.
On 5 February 1965, the 303 Committee approved a new covert action campaign intended to support selected candidates for Congressional elections on 7 March. This campaign—drafted and carried out in cooperation with the US Ambassador in Chile—authorized the CIA, working through its established infrastructure, to support selected candidates for Congress. The operation was considered a success and was terminated on 30 June. In 1965-66, previous propaganda efforts were merged, and the CIA established a covert action project to support the placement of propaganda in Chilean mass media. This project was to influence public opinion against leftist parties and candidates. The scope of CIA’s propaganda activities in Chile was further expanded in 1967, to promote “anti-Communist” themes, specifically against the Soviet Bloc presence in the country.
Nonetheless, the Chilean left made political gains during the Frei Administration. As a result, CIA was given approval in 1968-69 to undertake additional propaganda operations intended to influence Chilean mass media. This included establishing a propaganda workshop and other mechanisms for press placements. Propaganda topics included the threat posed by the Soviet Bloc to Chile’s democratic tradition, the danger local leftist fronts posed to the country, and promoting pro-democratic leadership in Chile. In July 1968, the 303 Committee approved a modest covert action program, proposed by the US Ambassador, to influence the composition of the Chilean Congress by supporting moderate candidates in the March 1969 Congressional elections. While the results were considered an operational success, both the far right and far left gained seats, and the Chilean political scene was further polarized. Frei and his moderate PDC candidates were the losers. This CIA program was terminated at the conclusion of the Congressional elections.
As the 1970 Presidential election drew near, Allende emerged as a leading candidate; various leftist parties continued to strengthen the Popular Unity (UP) coalition. The Station used some of the covert actions mentioned above to carry out a variety of political action and propaganda operations aimed at discrediting the left. The 40 Committee told the CIA to confine itself to attacking the UP coalition and not support any particular Presidential candidate. The objective was to divide the left and create conditions for a non-Marxist candidate to win the election. On 27 June 1970 the Station was directed to focus the “spoiling operation” more directly against Allende’s candidacy. The plan was to alert the Chilean people to the dangers of a Marxist regime under Allende.
In spite of increased funding as directed by the 40 Committee, by August 1970 it was clear that the spoiling operation was not succeeding and that Allende and the UP had garnered such support that Allende was clearly the leading candidate. High-level concern in the Nixon Administration resulted in development of a more aggressive covert action initiative. This initiative considered both political action (Track I) and a military coup (Track II) to prevent an Allende presidency. Both Track I and Track II initiatives ran simultaneously until Congress elected Allende on 24 October.
The political action program under consideration called for the Embassy and Station to influence the Chilean Congress as it took up the matter. This involved encouraging Congress to vote for Alessandri for President in spite of the fact Allende received a slightly higher popular vote. (Allende won 36.3 percent of the vote on 4 September—a plurality, not the majority required by the Constitution to avoid Congressional reaffirmation of the victory.) The Station and the Embassy, working through intermediaries, urged Frei to use his influence with Congress to convince non-leftist forces to vote for Alessandri. The scenario was to have Congress elect Alessandri as President; he would then resign, thereby allowing Frei to run as a candidate against Allende in a new election.
The Track II initiative called upon CIA to plan for the possibility of arranging Chilean military intervention. On 9 September the Station received guidance from Headquarters directing it to establish direct contact with Chilean military officers to evaluate the possibilities of stimulating a military coup if a decision were to be made to do so.
On 15 September President Nixon informed the DCI that an Allende regime in Chile would not be acceptable to the United States. He instructed the CIA to prevent Allende from coming to power or unseat him and authorized $10 million for this purpose. The President specifically directed that this action be carried out by the CIA without advising the Departments of State or Defense or the U.S. Ambassador in Chile. In response to Nixon’s direction, CIA took a variety of actions, including making overtures to the military of a foreign government to request its insights, forwarding worldwide propaganda information for placement in local media, initiating efforts to promote public opposition to Allende among leading newspapers such as El Mercurio, and contacting a Catholic layman who was in touch with Church leaders in Chile to influence their attitudes toward Allende. Station officers increased contacts with Chilean military officers. Frei was also encouraged to use his influence with the military and encourage officers to consider forming a new government before Congress elected Allende President. By late September it was clear that Frei was unlikely to act in this manner.
Track II planning was intensified once it became clear that Frei would not act. Between 5-20 October the Station orchestrated numerous contacts with key Chilean military and Carabinero (national police) officers to convince them to carry out a coup. The U.S. Embassy’s Army Attaché was placed under operational control of the CIA Station and relayed similar messages to his military contacts. Four CIA officers were dispatched under non-official cover to meet with the most sensitive of these Chilean military officers, who were actively involved in coup plotting.
The Track II initiative failed, however, after the assassination of Army Commander-in-Chief Schneider, whose death provoked a strong reaction in Chile.
The Schneider Assassination
The US Government and the CIA were aware of and agreed with Chilean officers’ assessment that that the abduction of General Rene Schneider, the Chilean Army’s Commander in September 1970, was an essential step in any coup plan. We have found no information, however, that the coup plotters’ or CIA’s intention was that the general be killed in any abduction effort. Schneider was a strong supporter of the Chilean Constitution and a major stumbling block for military officers seeking to carry out a coup to prevent Allende from being inaugurated.
Retired Army General Roberto Viaux was a major coup plotter with support from non-commissioned and junior officers; he also headed several right-wing civilian groups. After CIA was directed to explore prospects for a coup to prevent Allende from taking office, a CIA officer established contact with Viaux on 9 October 1970. A second meeting with Viaux resulted in the Station forwarding a request to Washington from Viaux for weapons, tear gas and other supplies as well as a life insurance policy for himself. In reviewing Viaux’s proposal, CIA Headquarters determined that his group had no chance of carrying off a successful coup. Headquarters advised the Station, and during meetings on 17 18 October a CIA officer told a member of the Viaux group, that CIA would not entertain their request for support. The officer warned them that any coup action on their part would be premature. The Viaux representative said the coup was planned for 21-22 October, and the first step would be to kidnap General Schneider. The Station doubted the plan because CIA had no corroborative intelligence and Viaux’s group had a record of false starts.
On 22 October the Viaux group, acting independently of the CIA at that time, carried out an attempted abduction against General Schneider that resulted in his death. Schneider‘s death shocked the armed forces and civilian proponents of a coup, and plans for military action were shelved.
In addition to Viaux, CIA had established contact with other coup-plotters, including General Camilo Valenzuela. Valenzuela’s group was well known by the Station and was judged to have the capability to carry out a successful coup. CIA provided this group—which also saw the abduction of General Schneider as essential to any coup—three submachine guns, ammunition, and 8 to 10 tear gas grenades on 22 October. (These weapons were later returned unused to the Station.) Valenzuela’s representative insisted his group had nothing to do with Schneider’s killing and that Viaux acted on his own.
In November 1970 a member of the Viaux group who avoided capture recontacted the Agency and requested financial assistance on behalf of the group. Although the Agency had no obligation to the group because it acted on its own, in an effort to keep the prior contact secret, maintain the good will of the group, and for humanitarian reasons, $35,000 was passed.
Early Allende Presidency
The Congress approved Allende’s election victory by a wide margin—153 to 35—on 24 October. In the wake of Allende’s inauguration on 3 November 1970, the US Government’s long-term objective was to keep the opposition active in the hope that it could defeat Allende in the 1976 election. The CIA’s role in Chile was primarily to provide funds and influence opposition political parties. In 1971, a new covert action was approved to renew support to the PDC. In 1972, a new covert action project was authorized to provide support to the National Party and the Democratic Radical Party. CIA’s continuing financial support to the propaganda mechanisms described above was intended to continue media placements in support of opposition parties and against the Allende regime. The CIA was instructed to put the US Government in a position to take future advantage of either a political or military solution to the Chilean dilemma, depending on how developments unfolded.
The CIA continued to collect intelligence on Chilean military officers actively opposed to the Allende government, but no effort was made to assist them in any way. Some CIA assets and contacts were in direct contact with coup plotters; CIA guidance was that the purpose of these contacts was only to collect intelligence. As coup rumors and planning escalated by the end of 1972, CIA exercised extreme care in all dealings with Chilean military officers and continued to monitor their activities but under no circumstances attempted to influence them. By October 1972 the consensus within the US government was that the military intended to launch a coup at some point, that it did not need US support for a successful coup, and that US intervention or assistance in a coup should be avoided.
On 21 August 1973 the 40 Committee approved a $1 million supplemental budget to increase support for opposition political parties, bringing the total amount of covert funding spent during the Allende period to approximately $6.5 million. In late August the Station requested authorization to provide maximum support for the opposition’s efforts to encourage the entrance of the Chilean military into the Allende cabinet. The resignation of Army Commander General Carlos Prats (whose actions were strongly constitutionalist) and his replacement by General Augusto Pinochet (not a coup plotter, but apparently willing to concede to a coup) appeared to further unify the Armed Forces and strengthened the institution as a political pressure group. The UP Government appeared to fear a possible military coup and was unsure how to react to such a development.
The Station realized that the opposition’s objectives had evolved to a point inconsistent with current US policy and sought authorization from Washington to support such an aggressive approach. Although the US Ambassador in Chile agreed with the need for Washington to evaluate its current policy, he did not concur in the Station’s proposal, fearing that it could lead to a de facto US commitment to a coup. In response, CIA Headquarters reaffirmed to the Station that there was to be no involvement with the military in any covert action initiative; there was no support for instigating a military coup.
On 10 September 1973—the day before the coup that ended the Allende Government—a Chilean military officer reported to a CIA officer that a coup was being planned and asked for US Government assistance. He was told that the US Government would not provide any assistance because this was strictly an internal Chilean matter. The Station officer also told him that his request would be forwarded to Washington. CIA learned of the exact date of the coup shortly before it took place. During the attack on the Presidential Palace and its immediate aftermath, the Station’s activities were limited to providing intelligence and situation reports.
Allende’s death occurred after the President refused an offer from the military to take him and his family out of the country. Available evidence indicates that President Allende committed suicide as putchist troops entered his offices. A credible source on Allende’s death was Dr. Patricio Guijon, a physician who served on the President’s medical staff. Guijon was in the Presidential Palace, La Moneda, with Allende during the assault and claimed that he witnessed Allende shoot himself with a rifle. The Chilean National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation in 1991 also concluded that Allende took his own life. There is no information to indicate that the CIA was involved in Allende’s death.
US Business Involvement
As early as the 1964 Chilean Presidential election, American businessmen with interests in Chile had offered to provide the CIA with funds to prevent Allende from being elected. All of these early offers were rejected.
In early 1970 a Station officer was contacted by a United States businessman employed by International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) urging the US government to provide financial support to one of Allende’s opponents, Jorge Alessandri. The Station provided the businessman the name of an individual who could securely funnel ITT funds to Alessandri.
Several months later another ITT representative approached the CIA in Washington to probe whether CIA would accept funds from his company and channel them to the Alessandri campaign. He was told that CIA could not receive and transfer funds to Alessandri on behalf of a private firm. The CIA also told him that, although the US Government was most anxious about a possible Allende victory, it was not supporting any specific candidate in the election. As occurred several months earlier, however, the Station provided this businessman advice on how to funnel ITT funds securely to Alessandri.
After Allende’s election and before his inauguration, the CIA, under 40 Committee direction, made an effort—in coordination with the Embassy in Santiago—to encourage Chilean businesses to carry out a program of economic disruption.
Chile‘s new military Junta—Army General Augusto Pinochet, Air Force General Gustavo Leigh, Navy Admiral Jose Merino, and Carabinero Chief General Caesar Mendoza—was sworn in on the evening of 11 September 1973. The next day, the four drafted an official document constituting the Junta as Chile’s supreme power. Pinochet was designated as its first President, and the four verbally agreed to rotate the office. Shortly after, the Junta established an advisory committee, which Pinochet was successful in staffing with Army officers loyal to himself. One of their first recommendations was to discard the idea of a rotating Presidency, arguing it would create too many administrative problems and lead to confusion.
In March 1974, on the six-month anniversary of the Junta’s establishment, Pinochet verbally attacked the Christian Democratic Party and stated that there was no set timetable for the return to civilian rule. On 18 December 1974 Pinochet was declared Supreme Leader of the nation.
During this period, CIA, in coordination with the Department of State, determined that no new or expanded covert action activities were to be carried out until the 40 Committee provided new authorization. Although covert action spending was authorized for previously obligated expenditures and commitments in programs described above, no new initiatives were authorized. By June 1974 CIA covert action plans for Chile had been officially terminated, and payments ceased.
Although some of these residual propaganda operations may have benefited Pinochet and the putchists indirectly, officers of the CIA and the Intelligence Community were not involved in facilitating Pinochet’s accession to President nor the consolidation of his power as Supreme Leader. For most of the period, CIA had no covert action authority for Chile. While the CIA had liaison relationships with various security services over the years, there is no indication that any service asked for, or that the CIA offered, any assistance to promote Pinochet to the Presidency.
In January 1974 CIA issued a directive to all CIA staff to collect clandestine information on torture in Chile; this message directed CIA staff to work through all available agents and channels of influence to induce the Chilean Government to modify repressive measures, particularly to eliminate torture. CIA actively used its contacts, especially with members of services notorious for human rights abuses, to emphasize that human rights abuses were detrimental to the government’s credibility within their own country, damaging to their international reputation, and unacceptable to the US Government. In some cases, such contacts enabled the CIA to obtain intelligence on human rights abuses that would not have otherwise been available.
Given the wide variety and nature of CIA contacts in Chile, the issue of human rights was handled in various ways over the years. Some examples:
Before the 1973 coup, the issue of human rights was not addressed in liaison contacts and intelligence reporting.
One CIA contact was known to be involved in an abortive coup attempt on 29 June 1973, and another was involved in the successful 11 September 1973 coup.
In October 1973, the CIA had credible information that a high-level contact was involved in specific human rights abuses; contact was severed.
Although the CIA had information indicating that a high-level contact was a hard-liner and therefore more likely to commit abuses, contact with him was allowed to continue in the absence of concrete information about human rights abuses.
CIA maintained indirect contact with a source in close contact with human rights violators. There was no evidence that the source engaged in abuses, but he almost certainly knew about the practice. The intelligence value of the contact was sufficiently important that the contact was not dropped.
In the case of an individual about whom the CIA had information concerning a corruption issue that may have been related to human rights issues, a decision was made to seek contact given his position and potential intelligence value.
In more than one case, in light of the contacts’ service affiliation and position, it seemed likely that they were involved in, knew about or covered up human rights abuses. However, because such contacts allowed the CIA to accomplish its intelligence reporting mission and maintain a channel through which to voice concerns about human rights abuses, contact was continued.
In a few cases, although the CIA had knowledge that the contact represented a service with a known history of human rights abuses, contact was continued because refusing such contact would have had a negative impact on the CIA intelligence collection mission.
In some cases careful checks of contacts’ human rights records were not conducted, and a deliberate risk-versus-gain decision was not made. In such cases, if a contact was deemed to have intelligence value, continuing contact was authorized.
Information concerning human rights abuses of then current and former CIA contacts was disseminated to the intelligence and policy communities.
Relationship with Contreras
During a period between 1974 and 1977, CIA maintained contact with Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, who later became notorious for his involvement in human rights abuses. The US Government policy community approved CIA’s contact with Contreras, given his position as chief of the primary intelligence organization in Chile, as necessary to accomplish the CIA’s mission, in spite of concerns that this relationship might lay the CIA open to charges of aiding internal political repression. From the start, the CIA made it clear to Contreras was that it would not support any of his activities or activities of his service which might be construed as “internal political repression.” In its contacts with Contreras, the CIA urged him to adhere to a 17 January 1974 circular, issued by the Chilean Ministry of Defense, spelling out guidelines for handling prisoners in a manner consistent with the 1949 Geneva Convention.
The relationship, while correct, was not cordial and smooth, particularly as evidence of Contreras’ role in human rights abuses emerged. In December 1974, the CIA concluded that Contreras was not going to improve his human rights performance. However, Contreras’ assistance in the first quarter of 1975 in gaining the release of some PDC members who had been arrested and mistreated by another Chilean security service offered small hope that he would use his influence to end abuses. In retrospect, however, Contreras’ role in this effort probably reflected interservice rivalry and Contreras’ personal efforts to control the entire Chilean intelligence apparatus.
By April 1975, intelligence reporting showed that Contreras was the principal obstacle to a reasonable human rights policy within the Junta, but an interagency committee directed the CIA to continue its relationship with Contreras. The US Ambassador to Chile urged Deputy Director of Central Intelligence Walters to receive Contreras in Washington in the interest of maintaining good relations with Pinochet. In August 1975, with interagency approval, this meeting took place.
In May and June 1975, elements within the CIA recommended establishing a paid relationship with Contreras to obtain intelligence based on his unique position and access to Pinochet. This proposal was overruled, citing the US Government policy on clandestine relations with the head of an intelligence service notorious for human rights abuses. However, given miscommunications in the timing of this exchange, a one-time payment was given to Contreras.
In addition to information concerning external threats, CIA sought from Contreras information regarding evidence that emerged in 1975 of a formal Southern Cone cooperative intelligence effort—“Operation Condor”—building on informal cooperation in tracking and, in at least a few cases, killing political opponents. By October 1976 there was sufficient information that the CIA decided to approach Contreras on the matter. Contreras confirmed Condor’s existence as an intelligence-sharing network but denied that it had a role in extra-judicial killings.
Former Allende cabinet member and Ambassador to Washington Orlando Letelier and his American assistant, Ronni Moffit, were killed in a carbombing in Washington on 21 September, 1976. Almost immediately after the assassination, rumors began circulating that the Chilean government was responsible. CIA’s first intelligence report containing this allegation was dated 6 October 1976. During October 1976, the Department of Justice and the CIA worked out how the CIA would support the foreign intelligence (FI) aspects of the legal investigation. At that time, Contreras’ possible role in the Letelier assassination became an issue.
By the end of 1976, contacts with Contreras were very infrequent. During 1977, CIA met with Contreras about half a dozen times; three of those contacts were to request information on the Letelier assassination. On 3 November 1977, Contreras was transferred to a function unrelated to intelligence so CIA severed all contact with him.
Nonetheless, CIA intelligence reporting continued to follow Contreras’ activities closely. After a short struggle to retain power, Contreras resigned from the Army in 1978. In the interim, CIA gathered specific, detailed intelligence reporting concerning Contreras’ involvement in ordering the Letelier assassination. While some of this material has been released, some remains classified and another portion has been withheld at the request of the Department of Justice, which continues to pursue the investigation.
Throughout the post-coup period, the CIA collected and disseminated to the intelligence and policy communities extensive reporting concerning human rights issues in Chile. Some of this information came from contacts with mixed reputations. The intelligence included a wide variety of information, including:
Debates in 1973-88 within the Chilean military and security services about the appropriate level of force to be used in confronting what they viewed as the subversive threat posed by leftist political groups and splinter terrorist organizations;
The identities and activities of sub-units within the Chilean security forces charged with conducting special political activities or activities against the left, and whose association with extremist groups with violent tendencies made them most prone to systemic abuses;
Debates within leftist political groups and splinter terrorist organizations concerning the use of violence in confronting the government; and
Training, capabilities, readiness and deployment of the various “self-defense” groups within the Socialist and Communist Parties of Chile and splinter terrorist organizations of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left, the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front and the Lautaro Youth and Worker/Peasant factions of the United Popular Action Movement.
In the days and months immediately following the 1973 coup, the CIA provided extensive reporting on what the government characterized as activities necessary to restore order. There were widely varying reports on the numbers of persons killed and arrested. CIA reporting confirmed that the military was deliberately not disclosing accurate figures and detailed the differing opinions within the military Junta regarding whether to summarily execute extremists and subversives or allow them trials and sentencing. There was also extensive reporting on:
Application of “military justice” to civilian detainees and the types of punishment they were likely to face;
Prison camp locations and the names of specific persons being held in them, including the fact that some of these locations were secret;
Efforts of leftists to flee the country or gain asylum in foreign embassies; and
Assessments of the effect government repression was having on the left’s capabilities and efforts to regroup.
CIA also received information on “Plan Z”—purportedly drawn up by Allende’s Popular Unity coalition in the late period of the Allende Government to assassinate important political and military persons opposed to its leftist agenda. When allegations of the existence of “Plan Z” first surfaced, the CIA noted that it probably was disinformation manipulated by the Junta to improve its image and to provide justification for its activities. Allegations that reports about “Plan Z” were part of a joint CIA-Chilean operation are inaccurate, although military officers with whom the CIA had contact prior to the 1973 coup were involved in the drafting the “White Book,” in which allegations of “Plan Z” were a main feature.
The CIA first reported human rights abuses by the Junta on 15 September 1973, just days after the coup. CIA reported that the Chilean security interrogation units were dealing with suspected opponents in an extremely rigorous manner. A 22 September report noted that prisoners at the National Stadium were harshly treated in the first days after the coup. On 28 September, CIA reported that 27 cadavers, some showing signs of torture and mutilation, had been recovered from the Mapocho River. On 9 October, the CIA reported that Soviet non-diplomatic technicians in Chile had been repeatedly threatened and verbally abused; some of those later tried were beaten or injured. On 25 October, CIA reported that General Sergio Arellano Stark had given instructions resulting in the summary execution of 21 political prisoners. On 3 November, the CIA reported that, despite a government decree to end summary executions, 20 bodies were found shot in the San Carlos Canal. On 12 November, the CIA reported concerns within the PDC about human rights abuses. On 18 January 1974, CIA reported that Chilean politicians across the political spectrum were weighing the possibility of bringing the issue of government human rights abuses to the attention of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
It was apparent that the 17 January 1974 Chilean government circular prohibiting torture and providing instructions for the handling of prisoners was a public relations ruse. CIA reporting indicated that the Chilean security forces did not, and probably would not, observe the stated policy. Although the State Department and Embassy had the primary role in human rights reporting, the clandestine nature of Chilean security services’ human rights practices required CIA collection efforts. In late January 1974, the CIA directed that all appropriate CIA officers task their clandestine assets to report on torture in Chile.
Over the next 17 years, the CIA reported information available from its contacts concerning human rights abuses in Chile. As the left later regained strength, intelligence reporting included the plans, intentions, capabilities and terrorist acts of the left. During the transition from military to civilian rule, intelligence reporting followed the political issue of how human rights investigations and prosecutions would be handled.
A review of CIA’s files has uncovered no evidence that CIA officers and employees were engaged in human rights abuses or in covering up any human rights abuses in Chile.
Death/Disappearance of US Citizens
Allegations of CIA complicity in the death of American citizen Charles Horman, Jr.—an expatriate who supported Allende and was murdered in the aftermath of the coup in 1973—are unfounded. Similarly, CIA had no prior knowledge of the circumstances leading to the death in Chile of US citizen Frank Teruggi in 1973 or the disappearance of US citizen Boris Weisfeiler in 1985.
Nevertheless, some clandestine contacts of the CIA were involved in human rights abuses. The CIA, at the direction of and with the full concurrence of senior US policymakers, maintained official contacts with various security services. At the same time, the CIA maintained clandestine contacts with selected members of the Chilean military, intelligence and security forces, both to collect intelligence and carry out the covert actions described above. There is no doubt that some CIA contacts were actively engaged in committing and covering up serious human rights abuses.
As a result of lessons learned in Chile, Central America and elsewhere, the CIA now carefully reviews all contacts for potential involvement in human rights abuses and makes a deliberate decision balancing the nature and severity of the human rights abuse against the potential intelligence value of continuing the relationship. These standards, established in the mid-1990s, would likely have altered the amount of contact we had with perpetrators of human rights violators in Chile had they been in effect at that time.