New Transcripts of Kissinger's
Role in Chilean Coup
by Peter Kornbluh, Huffington
September 13, 2008
When Henry Kissinger began secretly taping
all of his phone conversations in 1969, little did he know that
he was giving history the gift that keeps on giving. Now, on the
35th anniversary of the September 11, 1973, CIA-backed military
coup in Chile, phone transcripts that Kissinger made of his talks
with President Nixon and the CIA chief among other top government
officials reveal in the most candid of language the imperial mindset
of the Nixon administration as it began plotting to overthrow
President Salvador Allende, the world's first democratically elected
Socialist. "We will not let Chile go down the drain,"
Kissinger told CIA director Richard Helms in a phone call following
Allende's narrow election on September 4, 1970, according to a
recently declassified transcript. "I am with you," Helms
The "telcons"--telephone conversations
transcripts made by Kissinger's secretary from audio tapes that
were later destroyed--captured for posterity all of Kissinger's
outgoing and incoming phone calls during his tenure as national
security advisor and secretary of state. When Kissinger left office
in January 1977, he took more than 30,000 pages of the transcripts,
claiming they were "personal papers," and using them,
selectively, to write his memoirs. In 1999, my organization, the
National Security Archive, initiated legal proceedings to force
Kissinger to return these records to their rightful owner--the
government. At the request of Archive senior analyst William Burr,
telcons on foreign policy crises from the early 1970s, including
four previously unknown conversations on Chile, were recently
declassified by the Nixon Presidential library.
'The Big Problem Today Is Chile'
September 15, 1970, when Richard Nixon
ordered the CIA to ""prevent Allende from coming to
power or to unseat him," has been considered, the starting
point of the covert operations that eventually helped topple the
socialist government, until now. According to the transcripts,
however, Nixon and Kissinger set in motion plans to roll back
Allende's election three days earlier on September 12. At noon
on that day, Kissinger called Helms to schedule an urgent meeting
of the "40 Committee"--an elite group that oversaw covert
operations. And approximately 35 minutes later, in the middle
of briefing Nixon on a major terrorist hijacking/hostage crisis
in Amman, Jordan, Kissinger is recorded as telling the President:
"The big problem today is Chile."
The transcript of their conversation,
kept secret for 35 years, reveals just how focused the U.S. president
became on overseeing the effort to block Allende. In that call,
Nixon demanded to see all instructions being sent to U.S. ambassador
Edward Korry in Santiago; indeed, he ordered that the State Department
be alerted that "I want to see all cables to Chile."
"I want an appraisal of what the
options are," Nixon told Kissinger. When Kissinger told him
that the State Department's position was to "let Allende
come in and see what we can work out," Nixon immediately
vetoed the idea: "Like against Castro? Like in Czechoslovakia?
The same people said the same thing. Don't let them do that."
But Nixon cautioned: "We don't want
a big story leaking out that we are trying to overthrow the Govt."
Secretary of State William Rogers, who
Nixon and Kissinger largely excluded from deliberations over Chile,
was similarly sensitive to such a story leaking out. Indeed, the
transcript of his conversation with Kissinger two days later underscored
just how concerned the State Department was to the possibility
that Washington might get caught trying to undermine Chile's electoral
democracy. In their September 14th discussion, Rogers accurately
predicted that "no matter what we do it will probably end
up dismal." He also cautioned Kissinger to cover up any paper
trail on U.S. operations "to be sure the paper record doesn't
"My feeling--and I think it coincides
with the President's--is that we ought to encourage a different
result from the [censored reference]," Rogers conceded to
Kissinger, "but should do so discretely so that it doesn't
backfire." Their conversation continues:
Kissinger: The only question is how one
Rogers: Getting caught doing something.
After all we've said about elections, if the first time a Communist
wins the U.S. tries to prevent the constitutional process from
coming into play we will look very bad.
Kissinger: the President's view is to
do the maximum possible to prevent an Allende takeover, but through
Chilean sources and with a low posture."
The next day, during a 15 minute meeting
at the White House attended by Kissinger, Nixon instructed CIA
director Helms that Allende's election was "not acceptable"
and ordered the agency to "make the economy scream"
and "save Chile," as Helms recorded in his notes. The
CIA launched a massive set of covert operations--first to block
Allende's inauguration, and, when that failed, to undermine his
ability to successfully govern. "Our main concern in Chile
is the prospect that [Allende] can consolidate himself and the
picture projected to the world will be his success," Nixon
told his National Security Council on November 6, 1970, two days
after Allende took office.
'That Chilean Guy Might Have Some Problems'
So far, the declassification of Kissinger's
telcons has not yielded much evidence of phone discussion on Chile
as CIA operations to destabilize Allende evolved over the next
several years. But at 11am on July 4, 1973, Kissinger's clandestine
tape recorder captured another previously unknown conversation
with President Nixon. Two weeks after an aborted coup in Santiago,
Nixon phoned Kissinger from his summer home in San Clemente, California,
to chat about Allende and the prospects that he might be soon
Nixon: You know, I think that Chilean
guy might have some problems.
Kissinger: Oh, he has massive problems.
He has definitely massive problems.
Nixon: If only the Army would get a few
people behind them.
Kissinger: And that coup last week - we
had nothing to do with it but still it came off apparently prematurely.
Nixon: That's right and the fact that
he just set up a Cabinet without any military in it is, I think,
Kissinger:. It's very significant.
Nixon: Very significant because those
military guys are very proud down there and they just may - right?
Kissinger: Yes, I think he's definitely
Only ten weeks later, the military did
move to overthrow Allende in a bloody coup on September 11, 1973.
On September 15, Nixon called Kissinger again. They commiserated
about what Kissinger called "the bleeding [heart] newspapers"
and the "filthy hypocrisy" of the press for focusing
on the Chilean military's repression and the condemnations of
the U.S. role. In this telcon--which was declassified in May 2004--Nixon
noted that "our hand doesn't show on this, though."
"We didn't do it," Kissinger replied on the issue of
direct involvement in the coup. I mean we helped them. [Deleted]
created the conditions as great as possible."
As Kissinger told the President: "In
the Eisenhower period we would be heroes."
You can see all the new Kissinger documents
Henry Kissinger page