The CIA, with the cooperation of the Agency for International Development and the State Department, secretly funneled up to $20 million into Chile to aid Eduardo Frei in his successful attempt to defeat Marxist Salvador Allende for the Presidency of the country. Richard Helms, as chief of the Clandestine Services (Directorate of Plans), was actively involved in the planning of the secret efforts by the CIA to defeat Allende. Cord Meyer, Jr. was also one of the CIA's key directors of the operation.
Under CIA direction over $8 million was channeled into Chile from 1970 to 1973 to "destabilize" the government of President Salvadore Allende. The money was used to support various groups within Chile who were opposed to Allende. CIA agents infiltrated the Socialist Party in Chile, and organized street demonstrations against the regime. Ultimately a coup was produced in September 1973. Allende died within hours after its start.
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.
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.
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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.
In the spring of 1970, the Nixon administration, concerned that Salvador Allende, an avowed Marxist and founder of the Chilean Socialist Party, could well be elected president in the country's upcoming elections, directed the Agency to undertake a covert propaganda campaign against Allende, principally to convey the message that a vote for Allende would be bad for Chilean democracy. There is no indication in Agency records that anyone in Congress was briefed on the operation, but DCI Helms later recalled that soon after the decision was made to undertake the program, he was summoned to the office of SFRC Chairman Fulbright, who appeared to know (and disapprove) of it. "Dick, if I catch you trying to upset the Chilean election," Fulbright reportedly warned Helms, "I will get up on the Senate floor and blow the operation."
Unaware of the administration's covert initiative, certain US companies with business interests in Chile - International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) among them - had the same concern and approached Helms a few weeks later to help them channel funds to anti-Allende forces with Chile. Ultimately, CIA representatives provided advice to ITT on making contacts within Chile but left it to the company to arrange for any donations on its own.
When the election occurred on 4 September 1970, Allende won a small plurality, and under Chilean law, the Chilean National Congress would choose between the top two vote-getters when it reconvened on 24 October. When this had happened in the past, the legislature had chosen the candidate who had garnered the most votes in the popular election. At this point Nixon directed the Agency to intensify its covert efforts to keep Allende from being chosen. In one series of actions that came to be known as Track I, additional funds were authorized for anti-Allende propaganda and political support to his principal challenger. Agency representatives also actively sought to persuade influential groups and individuals, both within and outside Chile, to oppose or undermine Allende's election. These included some of the US companies that had earlier been concerned with Allende's election, but at this juncture none was interested in active intervention.
In a separate action that came to be known as Track II, which came about as a result of a personal meeting between Nixon and Helms, the Agency was directed to arrange a military coup before Allende could be chosen president. Again, there is no indication in Agency records that it advised any of its congressional subcommittees of either Track I or Track II. Helms also confirms this in his memoir.
Ultimately the Agency's efforts failed. Although CIA did establish contact with, and provide assistance to, certain Chilean military officers prepared to undertake a coup, it never materialized because of the lack of support from the incumbent Chilean president as well as the Chilean military. Two days before the Chilean legislature was to vote, a group of the coup plotters (without the Agency's direct support) unsuccessfully attempted to abduct the Chilean chief of staff, BG Rene Schneider - regarded as the most formidable obstacle totheir plans - mortally wounding him in the process. As a result, whatever impetus remained for a coup quickly evaporated.
According to notes taken by CIA director Richard Helms at a 1970 meeting in the Oval Office, his orders were to "make the economy scream." It was widely reported that at the covert level the United States worked to destabilize Allende's Chile by funding opposition political groups and media and by encouraging a military coup d'état. The agency trained members of the fascist organization Patria y Libertad (PyL) in guerrilla warfare and bombing, and they were soon waging a campaign of arson. CIA also sponsored demonstrations and strikes, funded by ITT and other US corporations with Chilean holdings. CIA-linked media, including the country's largest newspaper, fanned the flames of crisis. While these United States actions contributed to the downfall of Allende, no one has established direct United States participation in the coup d'état and few would assign the United States the primary role in the destruction of that government.
The government of President Richard M. Nixon launched an economic blockade conjunction with U.S. multinationals (ITT, Kennecott, Anaconda) and banks (Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank). The US squeezed the Chilean economy by terminating financial assistance and blocking loans from multilateral organizations. But during 1972 and 1973 the US increased aid to the military, a sector unenthusiastic toward the Allende government. The United States also increased training Chilean military personnel in the United States and Panama.
Twice in early 1973, Helms appeared before "non-CIA committees" where the issue of the Agency's involvement in the 1970 Chilean elections wasposed. The first came in February before the SFRC, which was considering Helms's nomination as US ambassador to Iran. In closed session, in response to questions from Senator Symington, Helms denied that the Agency had tried to "overthrow the government of Chile" or "passed money to the opponents of Allende." A few weeks later, at an open hearing of an SFRC subcommittee investigating the role of multinational corporations in Latin America, Helms denied having contacts with the Chilean military during his tenure as DCI. He later maintained he had not intended to mislead these committees, noting, in particular, that Symington had previously been briefed on the Track I activities in Chile (though not Track II). In other words, as Helms wrote, the senator "knew the answers" to the questions he was asking. Helms went on to assert that since these committees had no authority over the Agency's affairs, he was not obliged to divulge highly classified information in contravention of an order he received from the president.
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.
On 11 September 1973, Allende was overthrown and committed suicide duringa military coup. The story that Dr. Allende was killed by the army as it captured the presidential palace was invented and spread by the Moscow radio and President Fidel Castro of Cuba within days of the coup. The claim of either assassination or death in battle took on a political significance that was useful in opposing the 16-year military regime that followed the fall of Dr. Allende.
The major media in the United States ignored the issue of CIA involvement until 1974. Allegations appeared in the US press that CIA had been involved. At the urging of the principal source of these allegations, Congressman Michael Harrington (D-MA), a subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a closed hearing to obtain the response of new DCI William Colby to the allegations, but Colby demurred, asserting that such testimony could only be provided to the CIA subcommittees. This testimony did not come about until April 1974, when Colby appeared in closed session before the CIA subcommittee of the HASC, which had been recently renamed the Special Subcommittee on Intelligence, chaired by Lucien Nedzi (D-MI). Colby denied that the Agency had been involved in the 1973 coup that had led to Allende's death but revealed the Agency's earlier activities in 1970 which had been part of Track I. With regard to Track II, however, he chose to reveal CIA's effort to mount a military coup only to Nedzi.
What had occurred under Track I, however, would prove controversial enough. Citing House rules entitling him to read hearing transcripts, Congressman Harrington was allowed by Nedzi to read Colby's classified testimony. In turn, Harrington went to the press with the substance of what Colby had said, asserting that CIA had admitted having tried to "destabilize" the Allende candidacy in 1970. In other words, the Agency had covertly intervened in the electoral process of another democratic country. Coming as it did in the final stages of the Watergate scandal, this disclosure provoked a firestorm of criticism.
In Congress, a number of bills were introduced to drastically curtail, or eliminate altogether, covert action in the future. A more modest proposal, offered by Senator Harold Hughes (D-IA) as an amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act, called for a significant change to the congressional oversight arrangements where covert action was concerned. This proposal, which became known as the Hughes-Ryan Amendment, was signed into law in December 1974. From that point on, the president would have to personally approve such operations by signing a written "finding" that the operation was important to the national security and provide "timely notice" of such operations to the "appropriate committees" of the Congress. This was interpreted to include not only the armed services and appropriations committees but also the foreign affairs committees on each side.
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