The CIA's Campaign
Against Salvador Allende
excerpted from the book
The Lawless State
The crimes of the U.S. Inteligence Agencies
by Morton Halperin, Jerry Berman, Robert Borosage,
Penguin Books, 1976
Since the early 1960s, American policy in Chile was directed at
one objective-to keep-Salvador Allende from coming to power. To
accomplish this, Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, with
the willing cooperation of the CIA, were prepared to destroy constitutional
government n Chile.
Who was this man who brought down upon himself the ire of
American presidents and the CIA? Allende was not a Soviet puppet,
plotting to bring Soviet troops to Chile to destroy democracy.
He was a committed democrat, considered a moderate by Chilean
socialists, leading a coalition of Marxist parties in the election
place. His program was the same each time he ran for president
from 1958 onward: he pledged to reshape the Chilean economy (beginning
with nationalization of major industries), to redistribute income
through tax and land reform; and to begin a policy of better relationships
with Cuba, the USSR, and other socialist states. Despite the warnings
of his personal friend Fidel Castro, and despite the vicious campaign
orchestrated by the CIA, Allende continued to respect the
democratic traditions in Chile after he was elected in 1970. The
intelligence community's own assessments showed that local, student,
and trade-union elections continued to be held regularly; the
press remained free, and continued to attack the government; the
military was not used to suppress other parties.
Allende's government also posed no strategic threats to the
United States. In 1970, a high-level interdepartmental group concluded
that the United States had no vital interests in Chile, and that
Allende posed no likely threat to the peace of the region. Allende
pursued a policy of nonalignment, entering into relations with
Cuba and the Soviet Union, and demonstrating independence from
the United States. United States intelligence estimates agreed
that - none of this was of strategic concern.
Yet to Henry Kissinger it might as well have been 1948, with
the Red Army looming just over the horizon. On September 16, 1970,
he told a group of editors in a "background" briefing
that an "Allende takeover" (i.e., victory in a democratic
election) was not in United States interest. "There is a
good chance that [Allende] will establish over a period of years
some sort of Communist government," warned Kissinger, and
that could pose "massive problems for us and for democratic
forces and for pro-US forces in Latin America." In a stretch
of his geopolitical imagination, Kissinger specified Argentina
Bolivia, and Peru as countries that would be adversely influenced
by an Allende victory. Moreover, Kissinger feared that the "contagious
example" of Chile would "infect" NATO allies in
Kissinger was worried about the question of dominoes "infection,"
and Western stability. Chile, like Vietnam before it and Angola
after, had become a test case for America's imperial will. Not
surprisingly, for the man who urged the carpet-bombing of Hanoi
in order to "punctuate" his negotiating position against
North Vietnam, Kissinger had little interest in either the condition
of the Chilean people or their fate. "I don't see why we
need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility
of its own people," said Kissinger in 1970 at a supersecret
meeting of the 40 Committee (the White House group chaired by
Kissinger, which was supposed to approve major projects to manipulate
other countries' internal affairs).
Kissinger set the CIA against Allende, not to preserve democracy
or to counter a Soviet puppet in Latin America, but to prevent
a charismatic socialist from providing a democratic alternative
to American policy. "Henry thought that Allende might lead
an anti-United States movement in Latin America more effectively
than Castro, just because it was the democratic path to power,"
commented an ex-staff aide. In fact, it was precisely because
Allende was widely regarded as a believer in democratic institutions
that there was so much shock connected to his overthrow, especially
in the Third World and southern Europe. What Kissinger was saying-and
backing up with covert American power-was that adherence to democracy
wasn't enough; that countries would not be allowed to switch over
to a socialist way of running their economies even democratically.
The message of Chile was: no matter how unjust or corrupt the
alternative, the United States would not allow meaningful economic
or social change, at least with a Marxist label, and a willingness
to have good relations with Cuba, China, and the Soviet Union.
Fidel Castro, on the other hand, received another message
from American subversion of the Allende regime. He saw Allende's
mistake as having allowed too much democracy. Castro told American
interviewers in July 1974:
Allende respected all these rights. The opposition press conspired.
There were newspapers conspiring for a coup d'etat every day,
and they finally delivered the coup. Everyone had the right to
conspire, and the results were that they overthrew the Allende
government and set up a fascist regime.
Castro believed-and Kissinger seemed to be confirming-that
there could be no socialism in Latin America with democratic freedoms
and without armed power to back it up. In the end, the very specter
that Kissinger raised for Chile if Allende stayed in power-abolition
of basic freedoms-was the final result of the secret American
foreign-policy goal of destablizing Chile.
The ClA's attempts to dislodge Allende from power in Chile
were the culmination of a long agency campaign against Allende.
Twice before-in 1958 and in 1964- Allende had run for the presidency,
and on both occasions the CIA worked clandestinely to block him.
To influence the outcome of the 1964 elections, the agency spent
$3 million. As part of this effort, the CIA organized a media
"scare campaign" (campana de terror) and secretly paid
over half the costs of the victorious Christian Democratic campaign.
Philip Agee, who was a CIA operative in Uruguay in 1964, has
described how some of this money was funneled into Chile through
the Montevideo branch of the First National City Bank, with the
help of the assistant manager, John M. Hennessy. Five years later,
Hennessy was the assistant secretary of the treasury for international
affairs and in that post helped to coordinate the economic aspect
of the Nixon administration's anti-Allende campaign.
Hennessy's dual role vividly illustrates the interlocking,
overlapping nature of American corporate and government involvement
in Chile-and, indeed, in all Latin America. United States corporations
dominated the key sectors of Chile's economy-including the vital
copper industry. By 1970, loans by financial institutions controlled
or dominated by the United States-AID, the Export-lmport Bank,
the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Monetary
Fund, and the World Bank-had given Chile the highest per-capita
foreign debt in the world. With the knowledge and encouragement
of the United States government, companies including Anaconda
Copper and ITT contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to
The Senate intelligence report indicates that in 1970 the
CIA approached ITT for contributions to an Allende foe Shortly
thereafter, in the summer of 1970, a member of the ITT board of
directors, John McCone, contacted the CIA in Washington to offer
$1 million in ITT corporate funds for the anti-Allende effort.
The CIA ostensibly rejected the offer but provided ITT with information
on two "secure" funding channels that could be used
to slip money to the National party and its candidate, Jorge Alessandri.
John McCone wore several hats in this affair. In addition
to being a director of ITT, he was the former head of the CIA
itself, and was still secretly on the agency rolls as a "consultant."
With his past CIA experience, McCone was fully aware that the
CIA had "penetrated" virtually every sector of Chilean
society. In intelligence parlance the CIA for years had been steadily
"building its assets" -placing and recruiting agents
in key jobs all over Chile. In cooperation with-and often under
cover supplied by- the AFL-CIO, the CIA had infiltrated the labor
movement. It recruited Chileans in the media and among the country's
most important politicians. CIA operators maintained regular "liaison"
with the Chilean military and police services. In fact, according
to a CIA source with direct personal knowledge, agency men in
Chile were actively working as early as 1969 to "politicize"
the armed forces and police in hopes of provoking a coup before
the 1970 elections.
The "asset-building" operations were part of the
workaday routine for the dozen or so full-time ClA operatives
assigned to the American embassy in Santiago and for the other
CIA men in Chile disguised as students or businessmen. This permanent
intervention in local politics had become a fact of life in Chile,
as it had throughout Latin America. Presidential elections brought
out spurts of CIA spending, but the "routine" level
of covert action was not insignificant. Between 1964 and 1969,
the agency spent close to $2 million on programs to train "anti-Communist
organizers" working among Chilean peasants and slum-dwellers.
It subsidized or owned wire services, magazines, and newspapers.
It directed projects to combat the left on Chile's campuses; supported
a politically active women's organization; and tried to win influence
in cultural and intellectual circles. The CIA even sponsored a
group that specialized in putting up wall posters and heckling
at public meetings.'
As the 1970 elections approached, the CIA and the United States
ambassador to Chile, Edward Korry, again sought additional funds
from the 40 Committee. In March of that year, the 40 Committee
decided not to back any single candidate but to wage a "spoiling"
campaign against Allende. (This policy was apparently circumvented
by the CIA when it advised ITT on how to use agency funding conduits
in feeding money to the National party candidate.) In all, the
CIA spent close to $1 million to influence the 1970 elections.
Some of the money went for "political action" and "black"
(false) propaganda to break up the leftist coalition that had
formed around Allende. The lion's share, however, went into another
shrill media scare campaign. An Allende victory was equated with
violence and Stalinist repression, and the message was sent out,
the Senate Committee reports, by an editorial support group that
provided political features, editorials, and news articles for
radio and press placement; and three different news services....
Sign-painting teams had instructions to paint the slogan 'su paredon"
(your wall) on 2000 walls, evoking an image of communist firing
squads.... Other assets, all employees of El Mercurio, enabled
the Station to generate more than one editorial per day based
on CIA guidance. Access to El Mercurio had a multiplier effect,
since its editorials were read throughout the country on various
national radio networks.
Despite the ClA's efforts, Allende won a narrow plurality
in elections on September 4, 1970. But since he did not win a
majority, formal selection of a president was left to the Chilean
Congress, which was to meet on October 24. Chilean tradition dictated
that, Allende, the candidate receiving the most votes, would be
elected by the Congress.
The Nixon administration entertained other hopes, as the Senate
Select Committee noted:
The reaction in Washington to Allende's plurality victory
was immediate. The 40 Committee ma on September 8 and 14 to discuss
what action should be taken-prior to the October 24 congressional
vote. On September 15, President Nixon informed CIA Director Richard
Helms that an Allende regime in Chile would not be acceptable
to the United States and instructed the CIA to play a direct role
in organizing a military coup d'etat in Chile to prevent Allende's
accession to the Presidency.
The Nixon administration policy to keep Allende out of power
proceeded on two tracks. Under Track I, which had 40 Committee
approval, the CIA used a variety of covert political, economic,
and propaganda tactics to manipulate the Chilean political scene.
One scheme to which the 40 Committee gave its assent was an allocation
of S25,000 to bribe members of the Chilean Congress. This money
was apparently never spent, but other CIA funds flowed into the
ever more shrill propaganda campaign. According to the Senate
Themes developed during the campaign were exploited even more
intensely during the weeks following September 4, in an effort
to cause enough financial and political panic and political instability
to goad President Frei or the Chilean-military into action.
The CIA moved quickly to create chaos on the Chilean scene.
Agency Director Helms left the September 15 meeting with President
Nixon with the following scribble among his notes: "Make
the economy scream.'' An interagency committee was set up (with
representatives from the CIA, State, Treasury, and the White House)
to coordinate the attack on Chile's economy. American multinationals,
including ITT, were approached to take such actions as cutting
off credit to Chile, stopping the shipment of spare parts, and
causing runs on financial institutions. "A major financial
panic ensued," noted the Senate Select Committee.
Track II involved direct efforts to foment a- military coup.
Neither the State Department nor the 40 Committee was informed
about these activities. The chain of command ran directly from
Nixon to Kissinger to Helms at the CIA. Helms was told that $10
million or more would be available to do the job. President Nixon
was so adamant that Allende be stopped that Helms noted later
about his orders: "If I ever carried a marshal's baton in
my knapsack out of the Oval Office, it was that day."
The CIA proceeded to make twenty-one contacts in two weeks
with key Chilean military personnel to assure them that the United
States would support a coup. At the time the primary obstacle
within the military to such a move was Chief of Staff General
Rene Schneider, a strong supporter of the Chilean military's tradition
of non-involvement in politics. The ClA's reaction was to propose
removing Schneider. American officials supported the coup plans,
which included kidnapping-General Schneider as a first step. After
two unsuccessful attempts by the plotters, the CIA passed three
submachine guns and ammunition to Chilean officers still planning
to kidnap Schneider. The Senate committee found:
In the third kidnap attempt on October 22, apparently conducted
by Chileans other than those to whom weapons had been supplied,
General Schneider was shot and subsequently die The guns used
in the abortive kidnapping were, in all probability, not those
supplied by the CIA to the conspirators. The Chilean military
court . . . determined that Schneider had been murdered by handguns,
although one machine gun was at the scene of the killing.
Schneider was murdered, his fatal error being a firm belief
in democracy and an apolitical military. His death was a shocking
event in Chile, which had almost no past experience with political
violence, but the armed forces still did not move, despite CIA
urging. On October 24, 1970, Salvador Allende was confirmed as
president of Chile.
After Allende's inauguration, the CIA funneled over $6 million
into its attempts to subvert his government.
... The CIA concentrated its efforts in four key areas: Adding
to its previous subsidies, the CIA spent another $1.5 million
in support of El Mercurio. Under the agency's guidance, the paper
was transformed from a publication resembling the Wall Street
Journal to one in the style of the New York Daily News, complete
with screaming headlines and pictures of Soviet tanks on the front
page. The CIA justified this heavy expenditure on El Mercurio
to the 40 Committee on the grounds that the Allende government
was trying to close the paper and, in general, threatening the
free press in Chile. On the contrary, according to the Senate
report, "the press remained free," and even the CIA's
own intelligence estimates stated that El Mercurio had been able
to maintain its independence. The supposed threat to the press
was the most important theme the CIA used in an international
propaganda campaign aimed against Allende. With the fabricated
charge, the CIA was able to convince newspapers around the world-including
most of the American media-that Allende posed such a threat. Additionally
the CIA circulated its propaganda throughout Chile by means of
a complex assortment of captive newspapers, magazines, and radio
and television outlets.
CIA operations were supplemented by clandestine aid from sympathetic
Brazilians and the secret services of other "allied"
countries. Brazilians, themselves trained by the CIA for their
own 1964 coup against a leftist president, seem to have played
a major part in the disruption of Chile The head of a Brazilian
"think tank," Dr. Glycon de Paiva, boasted in a post-coup
interview with the Washington Post: "The recipe exists and
you can bake the cake any time. We saw how it worked in Brazil
and now in Chile." In Chile as in Brazil, the CIA heavily
subsidized right-wing think tanks, which were used to coordinate
intelligence, distribute propaganda, and organize paramilitary
Some of the ClA's money flowed into paramilitary and terrorist
groups such as the notorious Patria y Libertad an extremist private
vigilante group. Other funds went through conduits, into support
of strikes that plagued the Allende regime One hundred and eight
leaders of the white-collar trade associations-some of which received
direct CIA subsidies-received free training in the United States
from the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD),
an AFL-CIO affiliate which, according to ex-agency operative Philip
Agee, was set up under the control of the CIA. While the 40 Committee
turned down specific CIA proposals for direct support to two truckers'
strikes that had a devastating effect in 1972 and 1973 on Chile's
economy, the CIA passed money on to private-sector groups, which
in turn, with the agency's knowledge, funded the truckers.
Although the Nixon administration cut off economic aid to
Allende's Chile, it continued to send in military assistance.
The administration wanted to remain on good terms with the Chilean
officer corps, with which there had always been considerable American
contact. Starting in 1969 and continuing through 1973, the CIA
established a special project to monitor coup plotting-which the
CIA was encouraging at least in 1969 and 1970. The Senate Select
In November , the Station suggested that the ultimate
objective of the military penetration program was a military coup
Headquarters responded by rejecting that formulation of the objective,
cautioning that the CIA did not have 40 Committee approval to
become involved in a coup. Headquarters acknowledged the difficulty
of drawing a firm link between monitoring coup plotting and becoming
involved in it. lt also realized that the U S. government's desire
to be in clandestine contact with military plotters, for whatever
purpose, might well imply to them United States support for their
On September 11, 1973, a group of military and policy officers-a
group that the CIA had penetrated- overthrew the Allende government.
The following month, CIA Director William Colby-using the surgical
language of the bureaucracy-told a House committee that the CIA
"had an overall appreciation" of the "deterioration"
of the economic and political situation, and with the Chilean
navy pushing for a coup, it had become "only a question of
time before it came." Henry Kissinger testified in 1973,
The CIA had nothing to do with the coup, to the best of my
knowledge, and I only put in that qualification in case some mad
man appears down there, who, without instructions, talked to somebody.
If Kissinger is telling the truth about the absence of direct
CIA involvement, it is at best disingenuous for him to claim that
the United States-and the CIA especially- had nothing to do with
the overthrow of a government it had worked for three years to
destabilize. The ClA's own internal documents, quoted by the Senate
Select Committee, credit the anti-Allende propaganda campaign
as having played a significant role in setting the stage for the
coup 29 The Chilean military had to have been influenced by the
propaganda themes the CIA was spreading all over Chile-themes
that promised firing squads for Allende's opponents and that falsely
indicated that Cubans were taking over the Chilean intelligence
services and gathering data on the Chilean high command. The CIA
had directly encouraged these same Chilean officers to pull off
a coup in 1970 and then stayed in intimate touch with them through
1973 while they plotted. As Clandestine Services chief Thomas
Karamessines testified: "I am sure that the seeds that were
laid in that effort in 1970 had their impact in 1973."
In 1974, President Ford defended the ClA's action in Chile
by stating, "I think this is in the best interests of the
people of Chile and certainly in our best interests." One
wonders what the president had in-mind. A brutal military dictatorship
has replaced a democratically elected government. All political
parties have been effectively banned; the Congress has been shut
down, the press censored; supporters of the last legal government
have been jailed and tortured; thousands have been killed, and
elections have been put off indefinitely.
And what American interests have been served? Our government
has once again aligned itself with a repressive junta. Our leaders
have once again been caught telling a series of lies to Congress
and the American people about their actions in a foreign country.
Once again the CIA has used the free press and free elections
to subvert a country's regime. The lawlessness and ruthlessness
of the ClA's operations have brought us opprobrium around the
world. The terrorism sanctioned and encouraged by the CIA will
surely only instruct others in its use.
Only American corporations seem to have profited by the ClA's
intervention, and even their interests were poorly served. If
corporate investment can be protected only by repressive regimes,
then surely those investments are a poor risk. No country can
long violate its own citizenry's sensibilities and principles
simply to preserve corporate investments abroad.
The ClA's operations in Chile are not merely of historical
interest. Congressman Michael Harrington, after reading secret
CIA testimony on Chile, wrote: "The Agency activities in
Chile were viewed as a prototype, or laboratory experiment, to
test the techniques of heavy financial investment in efforts to
discredit and bring down a government."
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