The Price of Power
Kissinger, Nixon, and Chile
Yeoman Charles E. Radford did not want to be reassigned to Washington, but it was the fall of 1970 and he was in the Navy and his country was at war. Radford, twenty-seven years old, had been hand-picked by Rear Admiral Rembrandt C. Robinson to serve as his confidential aide and secretary on the National Security Council staff in the White House. The bright and ambitious Radford was an obvious choice for the sensitive job: he was married and had young children; he was a devout Mormon who did not drink and would never consider using drugs; and he was fierce in his determination to earn a commission and become a Navy officer. Radford reported for duty on September 18, replacing a civilian secretary who was being transferred. There was obvious tension in the office, and Admiral Robinson, in one of their first meetings, demonstrated why, Radford recalls: “He made it clear that my loyalty was to him, and that he expected my loyalty, and that I wasn’t to speak outside of the office about what I did in the office.”
Admiral Robinson was the liaison officer between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the National Security Council, and his office was a sensitive one: the White House’s most highly classified documents, including intelligence materials, routinely flowed through it. By mid-1970, Henry A. Kissinger, President Richard Nixon’s national security adviser, had developed complete confidence in Robinson’s discretion and loyalty.
It was not surprising, therefore, that Robinson was deeply involved in the secret Kissinger and Nixon operations against Salvador Allende Gossens, of Chile, who had astounded the Central Intelligence Agency and the White House by winning the September 4 popular election for the Chilean presidency, although Allende received only 36.6 percent of the vote in a three-way race. Radford, who arrived at his new post a few weeks after the Chilean election, vividly recalls the sense of crisis: “This wasn’t supposed to happen. It was a real blow. All of a sudden, the pudding blew up on the stove.“ Admiral Robinson and his superiors were “wringing their hands” over Chile, Radford says, “almost as if they [the Chileans] were errant children. ” Over the next few weeks, Radford says, he saw many sensitive memoranda and options papers, as the bureaucracy sought to prevent Allende from assuming office. Among the options was a proposal to assassinate Allende.
One options paper “discussed various ways of doing it,“ Radford says. “Either we have somebody in the country do it, or we do it ourselves. I was stunned; I was aghast. It stuck in my mind so much because for the first time in my life, I realized that my government actively was involved in planning to kill people.”
The options papers had been prepared for Nixon in the weeks after Allende’s election. “They were exploring ways to get Allende out of there,“ Radford says, and murder was one of the ways. The thrust of the option was clear: “I don’t know if they used the word assassinate, but it was to get rid of him, to terminate him—he was to go.”
By the mid-1960s, Chile had become widely known inside the American intelligence community as one of the CIA’s outstanding success stories. The Agency had managed to penetrate all elements of Chilean government, politics, and society, and took credit for ensuring that Chile remained a progressive democratic nation that—not so incidentally—encouraged American multinational corporations to do business within its borders. The extent of American corporate involvement was a source of constant debate in Chile, however, and emerged by the end of the decade as a critical political issue, pitting the Chilean right, with its support for continued American profit-taking, against the left, which organized increasingly fractious labor strikes and public demonstrations against the American firms. Chile was a world leader in the mining of copper, but 80 percent of its production—60 percent of all exports from Chile—was in the hands of large corporations mostly controlled by U.S. firms, most prominently Anaconda and Kennecott Copper. Profits for the American firms were enormous: during the 1960s, for example, Anaconda earned $500 million on its investments—generously estimated by the company at $300 million—inside Chile, where it operated the largest open-pit copper mine in the world. The most significant political threat to Chilean democracy, in the view of American policy-makers, was Allende, a member of the Socialist Party, who had unsuccessfully run for president in 1958 and 1964 on a platform that advocated land reform, nationalization of major industries (especially copper), closer relations with socialist and communist countries, and redistribution of income. National concern over the disparity of income was especially critical to Allende’s campaigns: by 1968, studies showed that the 28.3 percent of the Chilean people at the bottom of the economic scale took in 4.8 percent of the national income, while the 2 percent of the population at the top received 45.9 percent of the income.
In 1958, Allende had lost the presidential election by less than 3 percent to Jorge Alessandri Rodriguez, an arch-conservative who was strongly pro-business and was heavily backed by American corporations. Neither Allende nor Alessandri received a majority vote, and under the Chilean constitution the election was resolved in a run-off election by the Chilean Congress, which voted Alessandri into office. Despite CIA aid, Alessandri and his National Party steadily lost popularity over the next six years, and the presidential elections of 1964 came down to a battle between Allende and his radical forces and Eduardo Frei Montalva, a liberal representing the Christian Democratic Party, which was pro-American and far more favorable to business than Allende’s coalition.
The United States’ influence on the 1964 election was,“more extensive than has been publicly reported. At least $20 million in support of the Frei candidacy—about $8 per voter—was funneled by the United States into Chile in 1963 and 1964, much of it through the Agency for International Development (AID). Millions of dollars in AID and CIA funds were allocated, with the full knowledge of the Chilean and United States governments, to Roman Catholic organizations throughout the country whose objective was to oppose Protestantism and communism. Frei won handily, with 56 percent of the vote. Frei, who was fully aware of the source of his funding, also received covert help from a group of American corporations known as the Business Group for Latin America. The Group had been organized in 1963 by David Rockefeller, president of the Chase Manhattan Bank, at the express request of President Kennedy, who was directing his administration’s fight against Castro and the spread of communism in Latin America. It included on its executive committee such prominent corporation executives as C. Jay Parkinson, board chairman of Anaconda; Harold S. Geneen, head of the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation, which owned and operated the telephone facilities in Chile; and Donald M. Kendall, chairman of PepsiCo, the softdrink company, which had extensive business activities in Latin America.
The principal contact in Chile for the CIA as well as for the American corporations was the organization of Agustín Edwards, a close friend of Kendall’s, who was the owner of the conservative El Mercurio newspaper chain in Chile and a focal point for the opposition to Allende and the left. The CIA and the Business Group, which by 1970 had been reorganized into the Council of the Americas, relied heavily on Edwards to use his organization and his contacts to channel their moneys into the 1964 political campaign. Many of the ties between the Business Group and the CIA in 1964 remained in place long after the election. For example, Enno Hobbing, a CIA official who had initially been assigned as liaison to the Business Group, eventually left the CIA and became the principal operations officer for the Council.
The most profound issue for the American corporations was the threat of possible nationalization of their profitable subsidiaries in Chile. Allende’s election would certainly lead to nationalization. Frei, although his Christian Democratic Party included factions that insisted on nationalization, offered more hope: one of his major campaign promises called for a compromise known as “Chileanization,” a procedure by which the state would be authorized to buy large blocks of the stock of the Chilean subsidiaries of the American copper companies. By 1967, the Frei regime had bought 51 percent of Kennecott’s Chilean corporation and 25 percent of Anaconda’s. The stock transfers took place after negotiations with the companies, which subsequently continued to generate high profits for their American owners. Frei’s reforms did not affect other industries, and there was an increase of American business activity in Chile throughout the 1960s. Political pressure from the left increased. The Frei regime reopened negotiations with Anaconda in 1969, and sought to begin a discussion of total nationalization—the only process that would enable the state to gain control of the huge profits being generated, as the more radical supporters of the Christian Democratic Party demanded.
During the Frei years, the CIA continued to operate at will throughout the country, primarily seeking to repress radical and left-leaning political activities. At least twenty operations were mounted inside Chile between 1964 and 1969, according to the published report of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which conducted an extensive investigation in 1975 into the CIA. Most of them were designed to support the election of moderate and conservative candidates in Chilean congressional elections. By the late 1960s, serious strain began to emerge in the CIA’s relationship with the Frei government. Most important, the chief of the CIA station in Santiago, Henry D. Hecksher, believed that Frei and his Christian Democratic Party had tilted dangerously to the left. Hecksher, a vigorous anti-communist, incessantly urged CIA headquarters to change American Policy and turn from Frei to Alessandri, who was planning to run again for president in the 1970 elections. Under Chilean law, Frei could not stay in office for consecutive terms. Hecksher and others feared—correctly, as it turned out—that the Christian Democrats, increasingly polarized by Frei’s politics, would choose an even more liberal candidate in 1970. If the CIA needed further evidence of the party’s leftward drift, Frei gave it: in 1969, he reestablished trade relations with Cuba.
Richard Nixon entered office with a profound dislike for Eduardo Frei. Frei’s movement to the left and his attempts, albeit feeble, to nationalize the American copper companies in the late 1960s were justification enough, but Nixon had another reason: Frei was a Kennedy man, a social liberal whose stature inside Chile was aided by the Kennedys and by the Georgetown set at the CIA. The American ambassador to Chile, Edward M. Korry, was also suspect: a former newspaperman with impeccable anti-communist credentials, Korry had been appointed as ambassador to Ethiopia by John F. Kennedy in 1963, and had served in Chile since 1967. In December of 1968, one month after Nixon’s election, the CIA issued a National Intelligence Estimate, known in the government as an NIE, on Chile. The report was critical of economic and social policies of the Frei government and, so Korry thought, played down the importance of democracy in Chile. Once in office, Nixon quickly made clear his distaste for the Frei regime, Korry recalls, by striking Frei’s name from a State Department list of foreign leaders who were being considered for future visits to Washington. Nixon also ordered a further cutback in American foreign aid to Chile, which totaled more than $1 billion between 1962 and 1969, by far the largest aid program per capita in Latin America. Whether intentionally or not, the White House moves served to weaken the moderates in Frei’s Christian Democratic Party while strengthening the CIA’s anti-Frei position in Santiago. Conservative and right-wing attacks in El Mercurio against the government grew more frequent and harsher in tone, adding to the polarization of the political forces inside Chile. The Frei government moved even further to the left. When Korry protested bitterly about the peremptory cutback of one $20 million aid program, which had been intensively negotiated over a five-month period, he was told that his resignation would be accepted by the new President—he was fired. After some special pleading by Charles A. Meyer, the newly appointed assistant secretary of state for Latin America, Korry says, he was permitted to stay on in Chile and was assigned the task of negotiating the future of the copper companies with the Frei government. Korry was cynical about Nixon’s motives in reinstating him: he suspected that if the Christian Democrats went ahead with their nationalization plans, Nixon would move quickly to mollify his corporate supporters by making Korry—as a Democratic holdover—a scapegoat.
The Frei government did little to increase its popularity with the White House. Early in 1969, Frei canceled a planned visit to Chile by Nelson Rockefeller. The visit, part of a highly publicized tour of Latin America that the New York governor took at the express wish (so the public was told) of President Nixon, was meant to be a public sign of amity of sorts between the Nixon and Rockefeller wings of the Republican Party. Frei’s cancellation—which was preordained by Nixon’s earlier aid cutback—was taken as further proof by the White House of his moving left. Even Korry had officially opposed the visit, however, since he was sure that Rockefeller’s appearance would spark large-scale anti-American demonstrations. Until mid-1970, Korry and Frei were forced to resort to duplicity to commnunicate with the White House. “Any idea put forward by Frei had to be transformed into my idea,“ Korry says. “Otherwise, we reckoned it would be automatically disregarded or turned against him.”
Any doubts in the Frei government about its standing vith the White House were removed after an unusual face-to-face confrontation between Nixon and Gabriel Valdés, Frei’s foreign minister. The occasion was a June, 1969, meeting of Latin American ambassadors in the White House at which Valdés, a member of an aristocratic Chilean family, chose to turn a formal ceremony into a seminar on North-South policy In his account of the Allende years. Armando Uribe, a diplomatic officer at the Chilean Embassy in Washington, writes that Valdés had been scheduled to present Nixon with a formal policy statement on commercial and financial matters. But then, Uribe says, “he spoke of the impossibility of dealing with the United States within the regular framework of inter-American relations; the differences in power were too great … Nixon was caught off guard…. Masking his irritation, Nixon heard Valdés out, and then pulled himself together, lowering his eyelids, becoming impenetrable, withdrawn. Kissinger frowned.”
Valdés recalls his impromptu talk as “the most difficult time in my life.“ He had come to the White House with the other Latin American officials knowing that the State Department had lobbied against his visit. At one point in his talk, Valdés says, he told Nixon that Latin America was sending back 3.8 dollars for every dollar in American aid. When Nixon interrupted to challenge the statistic, Valdés retorted that the number had come from a study prepared by a major American bank. “As I delivered my speech,“ Valdés says, “Kissinger was looking at me as if I were a strange animal.“ On the next afternoon, Kissinger asked for a private lunch with Valdés in the Chilean Embassy. The meeting was unpleasant. As Valdés describes it, Kissinger began by declaring: “Mr. Minister, you made a strange speech. You come here speaking of Latin America, but this is not important. Nothing important can come from the South. History has never been produced in the South. The axis of history starts in Moscow, goes to Bonn, crosses over to Washington, and then goes to Tokyo. What happens in the South is of no importance. You’re wasting your time.”
“I said,“ Valdés recalls, “Mr. Kissinger, you know nothing of the South.“ “No,“ Kissinger answered, “and I don’t care.“ At that point, Valdés, astonished and insulted, told Kissinger: “You are a German Wagnerian. You are a very arrogant man.“ Later, to his embarrassment, Valdés learned that Kissinger was a German Jew, and suspected that he had gravely insulted him. Although it would have been impossible for Valdés to fathom, one of Kissinger’s motives in arranging the lunch was clearly to avenge Nixon’s honor, to confront the foreign minister who had dared to tell the President something he did not wish to hear. Korry, still in Santiago, was informed that Nixon was “very angry” over Valdés’s “arrogant and insulting” lecture. “Valdés went beyond the limits agreed to,” Korry says.
The Valdés incident evinced much of the White House attitude toward Latin America: like a child, Latin America was to be seen and not heard. Those who defied Nixon, such as Valdés and Frei—and, later, Allende—were to be treated harshly. In his memoirs, Nixon devotes only seven paragraphs, a few hundred words, to Chile, and says nothing at all about Latin American policy during his presidency. Kissinger, in his memoirs, defends his role in an extended chapter on Chile but in no other way deals with the administration’s policies and problems in the South. Until 1970, Kissinger writes, when he became involved in the planning against Allende, “Latin America was an area in which I did not then have expertise of my own.” That may be so, but from the first months of the administration, he was an expert disciple of basic American policy: Latin America was to be permitted little independence.
By the time Kissinger joined the Nixon administration, he was far from a newcomer to covert intelligence operations. He had served in the Army Counter Intelligence Corps in occupied West Germany after World War II, and was eventually assigned to a unit whose functions included the recruitment of ex-Nazi intelligence officers for anti-Soviet operations inside the Soviet bloc. He retained his ties, as a reserve officer, to military intelligence after entering Harvard in 1947 at age twenty-four as an undergraduate. By 1950, after his graduation, he was working part time for the Defense Department (he was one of the first at Harvard to begin regular shuttles to Washington) as a consultant to its Operations Research Office, a unit under the direct control of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that conducted highly classified studies on such topics as the utilization in CIA activities of former German operatives and Nazi partisan supporters. In 1952, Kissinger was named a consultant to the director of the Psychological Strategy Board, an operating arm of the National Security Council for covert psychological and paramilitary operations. In 1954, President Eisenhower appointed Nelson Rockefeller as his special assistant in charge of Cold War planning, a position that involved monitoring and approval of covert CIA operations. These were the days of CIA successes in Iran, where the Shah was installed on the throne, and in Guatemala, where the government of Jacobo Arbenz, considered to be anti-American and anti-business, was overthrown. In 1955, Kissinger, already known to insiders for his closeness to Rockefeller and for Rockefeller’s reliance on him, was named a consultant to the Operations Coordinating Board, the highest policy-making board for implementing clandestine activity against foreign governments.
Kissinger has written and said little about his high-level exposure to clandestine operations in the early 1950s. Former intelligence officials, in interviews, recall that the young Harvard scholar had come to the attention of Allen Dulles, Eisenhower’s influential CIA director, even before the Rockefeller appointment. “He was highly regarded,“ one senior aide says. “Allen spoke of his meetings with him. He and Walt Rostow [Kissinger’s predecessor as national security adviser, and then a professor at MIT] were considered to be kind of a team.” One little-known fact is that Rockefeller was replaced as the presidential adviser on Cold War planning in late 1955 by Richard Nixon, then Vice President. There is no evidence that Nixon and Kissinger met in those days, although, many former intelligence aides say, it is highly likely that Nixon was aware of Kissinger’s intelligence work. By 1956, Kissinger was at work as director of the Special Studies Project for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Inc., in New York.
Kissinger was able to exert near-total control over the intelligence community shortly after joining the Nixon administration. His bureaucratic device was a high-level group known as the 40 Committee (named for the National Security Decision Memorandum establishing it), which he formally chaired. Its six members included Attorney General John Mitchell; Richard Helms, the director of central intelligence; Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; U. Alexis Johnson, representing the State Department; and David Packard, deputy to Melvin Laird, secretary of defense. The 40 Committee was responsible for approving—theoretically—all sensitive covert operations by the Central Intelligence Agency; it also supervised and monitored many intelligence-gathering activities by the armed forces. In practice, however, Kissinger and Nixon treated it as they did the whole bureaucracy—as another office to be utilized or ignored at will. The CIA, in what amounted to routine operating policy, was also circumspect. For example, the Agency’s extensive contacts with ITT officials throughout Latin America, and especially in Chile, were carefully shielded from the 40 Committee, whose members presumably did not “need to know”—as the CIA would put it—about them, although ITT eventually played a major role in Chile before the 1970 elections.
Complicating any account of the situation is the fact that most sensitive intelligence decisions are made without a paper trail. In the case of Chile in 1970, many of the documents that did exist, even those in government files, were withheld after the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Justice Department initiated full-scale inquiries in 1975 and 1976. At one point Justice Department attorneys came to believe, according to files later made public under the Freedom of Information Act, that Kissinger had kept his own minutes of 40 Committee meetings, which presumably were more detailed than the official minutes that were routinely distributed to the CIA and other involved agencies. (Kissinger’s attorney, William D. Rogers, subsequently denied on behalf of his client that such personal 40 Committee files were kept.) The files of the 40 Committee, at least those turned over by the CIA to the various investigating groups, show that the election in Chile was discussed on at least four occasions between April of 1969 and September of 1970. In April of 1969, the CIA warned that a major campaign to influence the 1970 election would not succeed unless the CIA station in Santiago could begin assembling operatives in various political parties. No direct action was taken, the records show, until a 40 Committee meeting on March 25, 1970, at which $135,000 for anti-Allende propaganda efforts was approved. On June 27, the 40 Committee approved an outlay of $300,000—recommended by Korry as well as by the CIA—for more anti-Allende electioneering. It was at this meeting that Kissinger signaled his support of the anti-Allende programs: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. ”
In these early meetings, however, the State Department generally took a position against more direct interference in the Chilean presidential elections. On June 27, for example, approval was sought for an additional $500,000 in contingency funds, initially proposed by Korry, to use for buying votes in the Chilean Congress in the anticipation that the September 4 election would result in a runoff between Allende, running for the Popular Unity coalition, and Alessandri, the candidate favored by the CIA, the corporations, and the White House. When some State Department officials objected, approval was deferred, pending the election. One official who attended the early meetings as a senior aide to Alexis Johnson recalls that he considered the operations against Allende to be a “stupid” effort. “It assumed too much reliability from people over whom we had no control. We were doing something culpable and immoral. Why take these risks?” His views prevailed that summer, but as the White House became more concerned, he soon found himself disinvited to the 40 Committee meetings.
What the 40 Commitee did approve in March and June was a series of anti-Allende “spoiling” operations—as they became known inside the intelligence community—that utilized the media and right-wing civic groups to plant alarming allegations against the Allende coalition. Newsletters were mailed, booklets were printed, posters were distributed, and wall signs were painted—under the aegis of the CIA and the Agustín Edwards empire—that equated Allende’s election with such events as the 1968 Soviet invasion of Prague and Castro’s purported use of firing squads. By 1970, according to data compiled by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the CIA was subsidizing two wire services in Chile and a right-wing weekly newspaper, whose views were so extreme as to “alienate responsible conservatives.”
Although he had recommended the propaganda programs, Korry says that he soon grew disenchanted with the crude results and antagonized the CIA by criticizing, in writing, its “spoiling” campaign as being counterproductive and, in effect, “making votes for Allende.”
Despite his complaints, there was no sense of panic about Chile in the Nixon administration that summer (it was winter, of course, in Chile). Until election day, the CIA confidently predicted a huge Alessandri victory, on the basis of polls being conducted by the organization of Agustín Edwards—polls based on outdated 1960 census data. Edwards had become more important than ever to the CIA in Chile. Hecksher recommended that the $300,000 approved on June 27 be floated into Chile via his organization: the CIA, Hecksher argued, had no other proven “asset” in Chile with Edwards’s skills and discretion. He owned three daily newspapers in Santiago, and his business interests seemed to be constantly expanding: he was affiliated with Lever Brothers and with Pepsi-Cola, and owned one of the nation’s most successful granaries and a large chicken farm. At some point early that summer, his polls showed Alessandri with 50 percent of the popular vote, obviating the necessity of a runoff election.
Such predictions did little to soothe the American business community, which had been rebuffed earlier in the year in its efforts to persuade the Nixon administration to join in with it, as the Johnson administration had in 1964, to make sure the right man won. In April, according to documents made available by Korry, members of the Council of the Americas approached the State Department and offered to give at least $500,000 to Alessandri’s campaign. A small delegation of Council members, including C. Jay Parkinson, of Anaconda, chose to relay the campaign pledge through Charles Meyer. Meyer was the logical choice; a former senior official of Sears, Roebuck, he had been involved in the firm’s operations in Latin America, and had been an active member of the Council. Korry recalls that Meyer, shortly after assuming the State Department position, in 1969, told a private Council luncheon that he had been “chosen” for the post “by David Rockefeller.“ The Council’s cash offer had a condition: the funds would be contributed only if, as in 1964, the CIA also invested a significant amount of money in the Alessandri campaign. Meyer forwarded the proposal to Korry, who objected strongly in a secret cable to Washington. Korry warned that such interference would be impossible to cloak, and would lead to serious problems for the United States if discovered. He also asserted that any overt opposition by American groups to the Christian Democrats, whose candidate, Radomiro Tomic Romero, was running third in the polls, “would doubtless produce a negative reaction that would do harm to immediate and longer term United States interests.” Korry’s opposition was instrumental, and the State Department rejected the Council’s offer.
By that spring, Korry was emerging more and more as a wild card for the CIA and the American corporations. He was fiercely anti-communist and fiercely anti-Allende; his inflammatory cables warning of the dangers that Allende posed to American national-security interests were legendary throughout the State Department for their sense of drama. One State Department official recalls Korry’s briefings on Chile as “really terrible. If you didn’t believe in Korry’s concept of free enterprise, you were a Commie.“ Nonetheless, Korry was adamant about maintaining control over the CIA in his embassy, and he had flatly ruled out any contact between the CIA and those members of the Chilean military who were known to be eager to stage a military coup d’état in the event of an Allende victory. Korry and Hecksher, who was bitterly opposed not only to Allende but also to the Frei regime, did not have a good working relationship—a fact that only Hecksher seemed to realize. One CIA operative who worked in Latin America at the time says that Korry “and the Agency were not on the same wavelength. He was a difficult ambassador.” Although Korry had agreed enthusiastically with the CIA that a major propaganda program was needed to counter the growing drift to the left in Chile, he insisted that the propaganda be anti-communist in nature—and not pro-Alessandri, as Hecksher and his superiors in Washington wanted.
ITT and its president, Harold Geneen, were still determined to give money to Alessandri’s campaign. But Geneen, obviously aware of Korry’s rejection of the Council’s proposal in April, avoided the American Embassy in Santiago and worked directly at the highest levels in Washington. Geneen’s go-between was his good friend John A. McCone, a CIA director under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, who in 1970 was a director of ITT; his wife was a major Anaconda stockholder. In May, June, and July, McCone repeatedly discussed the Chilean situation with Helms. At least two meetings took place at CIA headquarters (McCone was still a consultant to the Agency), and one was at McCone’s home in San Marino, California. McCone, in 1973 testimony before the Subcommittee on Multinational Corporations of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said that he learned from Helms that the 40 Committee and the White House had decided that no CIA programs in support of Alessandri were to be carried out in Chile—a decision obviously based on anticipated opposition from Korry as well as on the optimistic polls.
The Senate subcommittee subsequently concluded, in its final report, that it was McCone’s suggestion that led Helms to arrange for Geneen to meet in July with William V. Broe, then chief of the CIA’s clandestine operations in Latin America. During that meeting, Broe told the subcommittee, Geneen offered to make a “substantial” contribution to the Alessandri campaign if the CIA would handle the funds. The subcommittee never learned one essential fact, however: the Geneen-Broe meeting had been stimulated not by McCone but by Hecksher, who—working behind Korry’s back—had met in Santiago with ITT operatives and had provided them with the name of a Chilean who could be used as a secure conduit for ITT’s money. The information about Hecksher’s role eventually became known to the Senate Intelligence Committee, but was censored from its final published report. The inability of the Senate Multinational Subcommittee to learn about Hecksher’s role, and his close ties to ITT, indicated to what lengths senior officials such as Helms and Broe would go in order to protect Harold Geneen and his corporation—and, through Geneen, Nixon and Kissinger. Helms and Broe could rationalize their incomplete and misleading testimony by telling themselves that it was vital to national security and the protection of CIA “sources and methods,” a repeated catchall excuse for not talking about Agency misdeeds. The willingness of the Senate Intelligence Committee to permit the CIA to monitor and censor its reports prior to publication—and, in the process, to delete Hecksher’s role and the specific involvement of Agustín Edwards at key meetings is much harder to understand.
Hecksher’s main ITT contacts inside Chile were Harold V. Hendrix and Robert Berrellez, two senior company officials, who had a close and long-standing relationship with the Agency’s station in Santiago. The ITT men were considered to be “assets” of the CIA, and were even described by special code names in coded Agency communications. The Senate Multinational Subcommittee, after hearing sworn testimony from Geneen, Broe, McCone, and others, was unable to find evidence that ITT had in fact provided funds. Berrellez and another senior ITT vice president were later charged with obstruction of proceedings, false statements, and perjury in their testimony before the Multinational Subcommittee. Harold Geneen was also a subject of the federal grand jury investigation, but was not charged; the Justice Department eventually dismissed the charges against Berrellez and the other ITT official. Helms pled guilty in 1977 to misdemeanor charges stemming from his false testimony before the subcommittee.
In fact, Geneen did authorize at least one large contribution in the summer of 1970 from ITT to the Alessandri campaign—a payment of at least $350,000 that was not made public by the firm until 1976, after the Senate Intelligence Committee discovered it. Geneen had continued to deny any ITT involvement in Chilean politics.
The Geneen offer established a precedent for future anti-Allende activity that summer and fall: Hecksher and his colleagues in Santiago knowingly became involved in a policy of political support that had been specifically rejected by Korry and the 40 Committee. No evidence could be found directly linking Kissinger or Nixon to personal knowledge of the ITT support, but some senior officials in the White House surely had to know. It is inconceivable that the CIA, with its justifiable fear of crossing the White House, would have relayed Hecksher’s information on how to slip money into Chile to ITT without receiving authorization to do so. In August of 1970, Charles Colson ran into Harold Geneen in John Ehrlichman’s office. Colson recalls not being surprised at all when Geneen told him that ITT had “been funneling money to help us” in Chile. “Geneen was very happy to be in alliance with the CIA,“ Colson adds. “He was bragging about all the money he had given to the Agency”
ITT’s money did not help. The boom fell on September 4. Allende defied the public-opinion polls and won the Chilean election by 39,000 votes out of the 3 million cast, forcing a runoff election with Alessandri in the Congress on October 24—an election that, if history repeated itself, Allende, as the winner of the popular election, was destined to win. The reaction in Washington was more than just despair; there was rage at Allende for having defied the wishes of American policy-makers. At 6:30 on the morning of September 5, a Saturday, Richard Helms and a group of key CIA officials rushed into the Agency’s operations center to look at the election results. One official on duty at the time recalls the attitude that morning of Helms and his colleagues: “The CIA had had its nose rubbed in the dirt in Chile. We had staked our reputation on keeping Allende out. Alessandri’s loss hurt the CIA’s standing [in the White House] and its pride.“ The situation-room official, who monitored highly secret traffic from Santiago to Washington over the next few months, adds that Helms and his deputies “just couldn’t put up with Allende. He became part of a personal vendetta. They’d gone so far and got out on a limb.”
Korry was also upset. He filed a cable saying, allegorically, that he could “hear the tanks rumbling under my window” as Allende’s socialism began to take over Chile. “We have suffered a grievous defeat,“ he wrote. “The consequences will be domestic and international. In his memoirs, Kissinger describes that sentence as being among those underlined by Nixon as he read the Korry report. But in a sentence left unmarked by Nixon, the cable also said: “There is no reason to believe that the Chilean armed forces will unleash a civil war or that any intervening miracle will undo his victory” in the October 24 election.
That was not what Nixon and Kissinger wanted to hear. “Nixon was beside himself,“ Kissinger writes, adding that he blamed the State Department and Korry “for the existing state of affairs.“ In future planning in the Chilean crisis, Kissinger says, Nixon “sought as much as possible to circumvent the bureaucracy.” Kissinger neglects to note that he, too, was beside himself, and as eager as Nixon to circumvent the bureaucracy.
There is compelling evidence that Nixon’s tough stance against Allende in 1970 was predominantly shaped by his concern for the future of the American corporations whose assets, he believed, would be seized by the Allende government. His intelligence agencies, while quick to condemn the spread of Marxism in Latin America, reported that Allende posed no threat to national security. Three days after the election, the CIA told the White House in a formal Intelligence Memorandum that, as summarized by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the United States “had no vital interests within Chile, the world military balance of power would not be significantly altered by an Allende regime, and an Allende victory in Chile would not pose any likely threat to the peace of the region.”
Nixon’s anger at failing his corporate benefactors—Jay Parkinson, Harold Geneen, and Donald Kendall—was directly passed on to Kissinger. Kissinger, many on his staff recall, seemed to be less interested in corporate well-being than in pleasing Nixon. “While he was their servant ideologically,“ Roger Morris, who worked at the National Security Council until mid-1970, says, “Henry’s attitude toward the business community was contemptuous.“ But, Morris says, Kissinger also seemed to be truly concerned about Allende’s election: “I don’t think anybody in the government understood how ideological Kissinger was about Chile. I don’t think anybody ever fully grasped that Henry saw Allende as being a far more serious threat than Castro. If Latin America ever became unraveled, it never would happen with a Castro. Allende was a living example of democratic social reform in Latin America. All kinds of cataclysmic events rolled around, but Chile scared him. He talked about Eurocommunism [in later years] the same way he talked about Chile early on. Chile scared him.“ Another NSC aide recalls a Kissinger discussion of the Allende election in terms of Italy, where the Communist Party was growing in political strength. The fear was not only that Allende would be voted into office but that—after six years—the political process would work and he would be voted out in the next election. The notion that Communists could participate in the electoral process and peacefully accept the results was seen by Kissinger as the wrong message to send Italian voters. On September 16, Kissinger spoke privately with a group of reporters to discuss, among other issues, the Chilean election. He told the newsmen, with seeming conviction, “I have yet to meet somebody who firmly believes that if Allende wins there is likely to be another free election in Chile.” His real fear, of course, was precisely the opposite: that Allende would work within the democratic process.
His other fears about Allende were expressed more candidly. Convinced that the domino theory was alive and well in Latin America, he went on to say that “in a major Latin American country you would have a communist government, joining, for example, Argentina, which is already deeply divided, along a long frontier; joining Peru, which has already been heading in directions that have been difficult to deal with; and joining Bolivia, which has also gone in a more leftist, anti-U.S. direction…. So I do not think we should delude ourselves that an Allende takeover in Chile would not present massive problems for us, and for democratic forces and for pro-U.S. forces in Latin America, and indeed to the whole Western Hemisphere.”
The initial White House reaction to Allende’s election was muted, because so much else was going on. On September 6, two days after the Chilean election, PLO terrorists began hijacking commercial airliners in Europe and the Middle East, triggering what would become a brief war in Jordan within weeks. On September 8, Kissinger chaired a meeting of the 40 Committee at which he, Helms, and Mitchell agreed “that a military [coup] against Allende would have very little chance of success unless undertaken soon.“ According to a summary published later by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Korry was ordered by Kissinger to prepare a “cold-blooded assessment” of “the pros and cons and problems and prospects involved should a Chilean military coup be organized now with U S. assistance….“ Korry’s answer came back hot and anxious on September 12: the possibilities for such an event were “nonexistent.” On September 14, with the crisis in Jordan in temporary hiatus, Kissinger summoned another 40 Committee meeting.
The meeting was dominated by serious discussion of what became known in the intelligence community as the “Rube Goldberg” gambit. Alessandri had announced that if elected by the Chilean Congress on October 24, he would resign the presidency. If he waited until after his inauguration, on November 3, his resignation would force yet another election. Eduardo Frei, having been out of office—even briefly—would legally be able to run again. The men in Washington somehow considered the scheme to be a constitutional solution to the Allende problem, but it hinged, obviously, on cooperation from Frei, as well as on Frei’s ability to get renominated by the Christian Democratic Party.
The scheme had begun well before Allende’s surprise victory on September 4. Korry had been approached by some senior members of the Christian Democratic Party, who relayed Frei’s willingness to run again if Allende won the popular election and if a constitutional solution could be arranged. Korry reported the proposal to Washington, and after Allende’s surprise election, the Nixon administration—desperate for viable ideas—debated and approved it at the 40 Committee meeting on September 14. Korry was told, in a top-secret dispatch on the next day, that he was authorized to offer Frei and his supporters $250,000, and more, if necessary, for “covert support of projects which Frei or his trusted team deem important” to ensure Frei’s eventual election—such as buying votes the Chilean Congress. Korry rejected the money out hand, telling the State Department in essence that under no circumstances should the United States do “Chile’s dirty work for it. “ By that time, Korry says, he already knew what Washington did not: the “Rube Goldberg” scheme was unworkable. It was clear that Frei could not win the nomination of his own party—even if Alessandri won the runoff election and withdrew, as planned. “I also suspected Frei wasn’t going to try to win [his party’s nomination],“ Korry says, “so why should I go running around trying to buy up Chilean congressmen if Frei couldn’t control his own party?” The American Embassy had learned, Korry says, that Allende and Radomiro Tomic, the liberal Christian Democratic candidate, who finished third in the September 4 elections, had secretly agreed before the election to pool their forces in case of a runoff. That agreement made any chance for Alessandri’s election virtually impossible, Korry says, and Alessandri could not resign the presidency if he could not win it.
Korry remained hostile to Allende’s candidacy during this period, but he asserts that he repeatedly sought to prevent any direct United States intervention in the Chilean elections. “If Frei could win his party’s nomination in an open, democratic way,“ Korry explains, “and then use the system constitutionally in an open way to become president, that was his business.“ During those hectic weeks, Korry was enthusiastic in his support of a series of anti-Allende propaganda steps taken by some of Frei’s more ardent supporters. When some of those supporters came to him, Korry says, and reported that they planned to help disrupt the economy, “I endorsed this in a cable to Washington.“ Korry’s concern, he says, was to show Washington that he could be as tough as anyone else; his goal, he insists, was solely to prevent what he suspected was being considered—direct American support for a military coup. For a few weeks, then, in mid-September, if Korry’s account is accurate, his world became as devious as Henry Kissinger’s: he sent a stream of tough-sounding cables to Washington strenuously supporting a gambit that he knew had no chance of success. In one such cable, he told of a stern warning he had given to Frei’s defense minister about the problems Chile would face if Frei did not act: “Frei should know that not a nut or bolt, will be allowed to reach Chile under Allende. Once Allende comes to power we shall do all within our power to condemn Chile and the Chileans to utmost deprivation and poverty, a policy designed for a long time to come….“ Korry insisted later, in testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee and in interviews, that he had deliberately “overstated the message … in order to prevent and halt this damn pressure on me to go to the military.” He did not know at the time he wrote the cable, he said, that an economic boycott of Chile was, in fact, being advocated by Nixon and Kissinger.
The unworkable “Rube Goldberg” plan was not the only issue before the 40 Committee at the September 14 meeting. Approval was granted for a last-minute increase of the propaganda activities designed to convince the Chilean Congress that an Allende election would mean financial chaos. Within two weeks, twenty-three journalists from at least ten countries were brought into Chile by the CIA and combined with CIA propaganda “assets” already in place to produce more than 700 articles and broadcasts both in and out of Chile before the congressional election—a staggering total whose ultimate influence cannot be measured. By late September, a full-fledged bank panic had broken out in Santiago, and vast amounts of funds were being transferred abroad. Sales of durable goods, such as automobiles and household goods, fell precipitously; industrial production also dropped. Black-market activities soared as citizens sought to sell their valuables at discounted prices.
The pressure was on. The screws had started turning in earnest on September 14, when the 40 Committee signaled that the Nixon administration was willing to go to great lengths to keep Allende out of the presidency. Just how far the President would go was not yet fully clear. Ten days had passed since Allende’s election, and Nixon had managed to control his rage. There had been no outbursts. In a Nixon reaction familiar to Kissinger, the explosion came on the next day, the fifteenth, and the spark was alarm from Nixon’s friends and benefactors in the corporate world.
The corporate path to Nixon actually began in Santiago, on the day before Allende’s election, when Agustín Edwards made his first and only visit to Korry’s embassy. Edwards had been on friendly terms with Korry’s predecessor, Ralph A. Dungan, a Democrat who served in Chile from 1964 to 1967, but had not developed a similar relationship with Korry. Korry says that during their ten-minute talk he assured Edwards that the latest polls still predicted that Alessandri would win. “Edwards seemed pleased and left,“ Korry says. “[He told me] he had plowed all his profits for years into new industries and modernization, and would be ruined if Allende won.“ Three or four days after the election, Hecksher told Korry that Edwards wished to meet again with him, only this time at the home of one of his employees on the outskirts of Santiago. At the meeting, Korry says, he informed Edwards that he did not believe that Chilean armed forces would move to prevent Allende’s election by the Congress; he also acknowledged that the current CIA programs, primarily geared to propaganda, had little chance of accomplishing their goal. Edwards agreed that Allende’s election by the Congress seemed assured, and surprised Korry by announcing that he was leaving Chile immediately. He explained that he had been told by Allende’s associates that he would be “crushed” by the new regime. He flew within days to see Kendall in Washington, who immediately hired him as a PepsiCo vice president and invited him to be a houseguest. On September 14, according to Kissinger’s memoirs, Kendall met privately with Richard Nixon, a meeting that, like many others, did not appear in Nixon’s daily log as maintained by the Secret Service. On the next morning, John Mitchell and Kissinger, at Nixon’s direction, had breakfast with Kendall and Edwards; hours later, Kissinger asked Helms to meet Edwards for, as Kissinger writes, “whatever insight he might have.” Helms later told an interviewer that Kendall was with Edwards when they met in a Washington hotel. The two men appealed passionately for CIA help in blocking Allende—an argument, Helms realized, they must have made to Nixon. In the early afternoon, Nixon summoned Helms, Mitchell, and Kissinger to his office, and, in essence, gave Helms a blank check to move against Allende without informing anyone—even Korry—what he was doing.
The newspapers and networks would later, make much of the fact, as published in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on Chile, that Helms provided the committee with his handwritten notes of the September 15 meeting with Nixon. The notes included such remarks as “not concerned risks involved”; “full-time job—best men we have”; “make the economy scream”; “$10,000,000 available, more if necessary”; and “no involvement of Embassy.“ But those CIA men who served closely with Richard Helms knew that Helms had much more than mere notes to turn over, if he chose to do so. “You don’t take notes” in such meetings, one senior CIA man explained, “but as soon as you’re in your car, you dictate a memo for the record.” This official said that Helms was extremely careful about keeping in his private files such memoranda, which were never put into the official CIA record-keeping system.
In his testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Helms said he came away from the Oval Office meeting with the “impression … that the President came down very hard that he wanted something done, and he did’t much care how and that he was prepared to make money available…. This was a pretty all-inclusive order… If I ever carried a marshall’s baton in my knapsack out of the Oval Office, it was that day″ (emphasis added). Asked specifically whether assassination was included, Helms responded carefully: “Well, not in my mind … I had already made up my mind that we weren’t going to have any of that business when I was director.”
Helms’s response was nonsense. In a later conversation with a close associate, Helms provided a much more credible description of what took place on September 15: Nixon had specifically ordered the CIA to get rid of Allende. Helms told the associate that there was no doubt in his mind at the time what Nixon meant. In the weeks following the meeting, Helms added, he was pressured again on the subject at least one time by Kissinger. He further revealed that he had made and kept in his personal possession detailed memoranda of his talks with Nixon and Kissinger about Allende. It should be emphasized that the close associate cited above, who requested that his identity not be hinted at, was in a position to know the truth. The close associate also reported that Helms had provided his attorney, Edward Bennett Williams, with similar information after being charged by the Justice Department with perjury in connection with the Allende matter. Williams, contacted by me, refused to comment.
Helms was no innocent about CIA assassinations, having been one of the few high-level Agency officials to be fully aware of the efforts, beginning in 1960, to have Castro assassinated. Helms told the Senate Intelligence Committee in 1975, according to its published report on assassinations, that he fully believed that in those attempts—some involving Mafia leaders—the CIA, as the committee put it, was “acting within the scope of its authority and that Castro’s assassination came within the bounds of the Kennedy administration.“ Asked whether an explicit presidential order to assassinate Castro was necessary, Helms was quoted as responding: “I think that any of us would have found it very difficult to discuss assassinations with a President of the United States. I just think we all had the feeling that we’re hired out to keep those things out of the Oval Office.”
In a second appearance before the committee a month later, the issue arose again. Asked whether Robert F. Kennedy, the attorney general, had ever ordered him to kill Castro, Helms responded: “Not in those words, no.“ Were less direct phrases used to make the same points? “Sir,“ replied the obviously discomfited Helms, “the last time I was here, I did the best I could about what I believed to be the parameters under which we were working, and that was to get rid of Castro. I can’t imagine any Cabinet officer wanting to sign off on something like that. I can’t imagine anybody wanting something in writing saying I have just charged Mr. Jones to go out and shoot Mr. Smith.”
Another senior CIA official, who spent years dealing with Cuba and Latin America, explained the technique more directly in an interview: “All a President would have to say is something innocuous—“We wish he wasn’t there.“ That much of a message, even if it were to appear on the famous [Nixon White House] tapes, would get no one in trouble. But when it gets down to our shop, it means, to about six people, ‘Don’t ever come back and tell what happened.’”
Talking about assassination was not as traumatic inside the White House in 1969 and 1970 as it would become five years later, at the height of the domestic uproar over revelations of the CIA’s assassination attempts against Castro, Patrice Lumumba, of the Congo, and Rafael Trujillo, of the Dominican Republic. Roger Morris recalls at least two casual conversations with fellow Kissinger aides about the killing of Nguyen Van Thieu, South Vietnam’s president, who was seen as a key stumbling block to the success of the Paris peace talks. In one case, Morris says, he mentioned plaintively to a colleague that Thieu’s “assassination is one that the American government ought to look at with interest.“ To his amazement, his colleague, who worked in Kissinger’s personal office in the White House, responded seriously: “They have.“ Morris later wrote, with another aide, a top-secret memorandum on the Vietnam negotiations that specifically advocated “imposing [a] settlement over Saigon’s opposition. The stakes would warrant steps we have not contemplated since 1963.“ The memorandum was presented to Kissinger, who, Morris was told, had it retyped and presented to Nixon without change. Boasting about assassination took place. Alexander Haig, Kissinger’s chief deputy, once told John C. Court, an NSC staff aide, that, as Court recalls, “if we have to take care of somebody, we could do it.” There was talk in Chile, also, about assassination. Korry was directly approached by the ambassador of a West European nation and urged, in all seriousness, to arrange for the murder of Allende. Korry rebuffed the diplomat, he says, and carefully reported the thrust of their conversation to the State Department.
Out of Nixon’s meeting on September 15 emerged what the CIA would later call the “two-track” approach. Track I would include the anti-Allende propaganda and political programs voted by the 40 Committee and relayed to Korry and Hecksher for action. Korry was also to continue his support for a solution involving last-minute political chicanery by Frei or Alessandri. Track II was to be kept secret from Korry, the State Department, and even the 40 Committee. The goal of Track II was not only to encourage the Chilean military to initiate a coup but directly to assist the officers in getting one under way. It was in essence to be an American coup carried out by Chileans.
With Track II under way, the White House apparently decided to keep ITT, too, in the dark about the great lengths to which it was willing to go in Chile. One week after Allende’s election, John McCone met with Kissinger and Helms and relayed yet another ITT pledge, this one for $1 million, for the purpose of assisting any CIA plan to stop Allende. Viron P, Vaky, Kissinger’s aide for Latin American affairs, was separately informed of the $1 million offer by an ITT official in Washington, who added that Harold Geneen was available to fly to the White House to discuss the issue with Kissinger. ITT was taking no chances; its two top men were making pitches in the same week to the White House. The Senate Multinational Subcommittee could not learn whether a Geneen-Kissinger meeting on Chile took place. Nor could it find evidence that ITT passed funds for use in Chile—an inevitable failure, given the less-than-candid testimony in the hearings, enabled the company to slide past the subcommittee in 1973.
If there was apprehension in the White House over the enormity of what the administration was seeking to do to Chilean democracy, Richard Nixon did not share it. September 16, the day after his tumultuous meeting with Helms, he flew to Kansas State University to give a lecture honoring Alfred M. Landon, who was the losing presidential candidate in 1936 as a Republican.
Nixon praised Landon’s graceful acceptance of defeat and added: “There are those who protest that if the verdict of democracy goes against them, democracy itself is at fault, the system is at fault—who say that if they don’t get their own way the answer is to burn a bus or bomb a building. Yet we can maintain a free society only if we recognize that in a free society no one can win all the time.”
Especially Salvador Allende.
In the days that followed Richard Nixon’s emotional charge to Richard Helms, the CIA reached deep into its resources to perform what many of its senior officers believed was a real-life “Mission Impossible.” Without itself being exposed, and within six weeks of a closely watched runoff election in the Chilean Congress, the Agency had to increase its direct involvement with leading members of opposition groups and provide arms, money, and promises in support of a coup. The goal was to get rid of Allende, as the President demanded.
In his 1980 autobiography, Facing Reality, Cord Meyer, one of Richard Helms’s most trusted deputies, recalls attending a small meeting at the Agency on September 15, shortly after Helms’s visit with the President. “We were surprised by what we were being ordered to do,“ Meyer writes, “since, much as we feared an Allende presidency, the idea of a military overthrow had not occurred to us as a feasible solution.“ Despite the doubts, however, the men at the top of the CIA were determined faithfully to execute Nixon’s “aberrational and hysterical decision,“ Meyer adds. “The pride we might have felt at having been among the select few chosen by the President to execute a secret and important mission was more than counterbalanced by our doubts about the wisdom of this course.” Meyer does not say so, but surely there were also doubts about the legality of the President’s directive. That a group of mature government officials would enthusiastically carry out such a policy without question provided, in the eyes of many CIA critics, an excellent reason for abolishing the authority of the Agency to conduct covert operations.
Thomas H. Karamessines, the CIA’s senior official in charge of clandestine activities, met and spoke with Henry Kissinger six to ten times, by his count, in September and October. Samuel Halpern, a longtime CIA official who was a deputy to Karamessines, also reported to the White House, but his contact was usually Haig; if Haig was not available, Halpern spoke to Thomas K. Latimer, a CIA liaison officer who was assigned to the National Security Council staff. Senior officials of the intelligence agency, in interviews and in testimony in 1975 before the Senate Intelligence Committee, repeatedly described the White House pressure to prevent Allende’s election as intense, comparable only to the pressure early in the Kennedy administration to do something about Fidel Castro. It was perhaps inevitable, then, that Richard Helms, a veteran of the Cuban operations, would place responsibility for the operations against Allende in the hands of many of the same men who had worked against Castro.
As the various congressional investigations unfolded during the mid-1970s, the official lying and distortion about Chile reached a point equaled by only one other issue in the Nixon era: the June, 1972, Watergate break-in, with its subsequent cover-up. With Chile, as with Watergate, cover-up payments were sought for CIA contacts and associates who were caught in the act of crime. With Chile, as with Watergate, records were destroyed and documents distorted. With Chile, as with Watergate, much of the official testimony provided to congressional investigating committees was perjury. With Chile, as with Watergate, the White House was in league with unscrupulous and violent men who did not understand the difference between right and wrong.
By mid-September, Kissinger had wrested control of the Middle East from the State Department. In a few days, he would single-handedly run the response to what he perceived to be a Soviet attempt to build a submarine port in Cienfuegos, a Cuban harbor. It was a period in which Kissinger saw himself, and the Presidency, as facing grave challenges from the Soviet Union and rising to meet them head on. If he could mobilizze Army divisions and deploy Navy task forces with a thirty-second telephone call, surely he could change the election result in a not-very-important Latin American country and demonstrate anew to the communist world the authority of the Nixon White House. Kissinger was to be totally in control in Chile. Perhaps it was the totality of his command that prompted his bravado at the background briefing on September 16, at which Kissinger warned of Allende’s election, for he proceeded to tell the newsmen essentials of Track I. “According to the Chilean election law,“ Kissinger said, in a section of the briefing that he did not choose to reprint in his memoirs, “when nobody gets a majority, the two highest candidates go to the Congress. The Congress then votes in a secret ballot and elects the President…. In Chilean history, there is nothing to prevent it, and it would not be at all illogical for the Congress to say, ’Sixty-four percent of the people did not want a communist government. A communist government tends to be irreversible. Therefore, we are going to vote for the No. 2 man.’” Kissinger was describing the “Rube Goldberg” ploy without, of course, revealing that $250,000 had been authorized by the 40 Committee to bribe members of the Congress. The failure of that ploy—because of Eduardo Frei’s refusal to act—would not become clear to Washington for another week.
He said nothing, however, about the other half of the White House operation, Track II. In his memoirs, Kissinger goes to great lengths to minimize the importance of Track II—repeatedly suggesting, as he did in his 1975 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, that Tracks I and II had quietly merged. In Track II, Kissinger writes, despite Nixon’s promise to Helms of a fund totaling $10 million or more, “The expenditures, if any, could not have amounted to more than a few thousand dollars. It was never more than a probe and an exploration of possibilities, even in Helms’s perception.“ He adds, “There was always less to Track II than met the eye. As I have shown many times … Nixon was given to grandiloquent statements on which he did not insist once their implications became clear to him. The fear that unwary visitors would take the President literally was, indeed, one of the reasons why Haldeman controlled access to him so solicitously. “ It is not clear from his memoirs whether Kissinger considered Richard Helms to be one of those “unwary” visitors who took the President at his word.
Kissinger’s eagerness to diminish Track II is understandable, for the true extent of the Agency’s activities inside Chile has never been told, and may never be fully known. (It is worth noting that Kissinger’s most trusted biographers, Marvin and Bernard Kalb, did not mention either Chile or Salvador Allende in their book, published in 1974. Not even Allende’s downfall in 1973 was noted. The point is not that the Kalbs suppressed any information but that Kissinger did.) Helms certainly knew that it was more than an exploratory probe: within weeks, he approved the assignment of some of the Agency’s most experienced agents to Santiago. One such man, known in CIA dispatches only by his cover name, Henry J. Sloman, had by 1970 spent more than twenty years operating in disguise throughout Latin America, Europe, and Asia. His cover was impeccable: he was considered by his associates to be a professional gambler and a high-risk smuggler who was directly linked to the Mafia. When Sloman retired, in 1975, he had been inside CIA headquarters in Washington fewer than a dozen times in his career, occasionally meeting high-level officials there on Sunday to avoid the possibility of chance observation by other CIA operatives. He was a fabled figure inside the Agency: there was repeated talk of his participation in “wet ops”—those involving the shedding of blood. He was well known to Helms, who awarded him at least two CIA medals for his undercover exploits, which included other operations—mostly in Southeast Asia—that, Sloman says, were staged expressly on Kissinger’s orders.
He was not alone. At least three other senior CIA operatives who, like Sloman, could pass for Latin American natives were carefully rotated into Santiago before the October 24 election. The mission of the operatives—known inside the CIA as “false-flaggers,” a reference to their phony Latin American passports—was not to help facilitate a constitutional solution to the Allende problem but to pass money and instructions to those men inside Chile who wanted to stage a coup.
In their briefings to the Senate Intelligence Committee, senior CIA officials said the false-flaggers were necessary in order to maintain security and minimize the possible linkage of the United States government to the anti-Allende plotting. There was a much more important reason for their assignment, however: the false-flaggers were men who were trained to do what they were told, and who would not flinch, as many intelligence operatives inside Chile would, at having to deal with the men known throughout Chile as the most vitriolic haters of Allendean assortment of extreme right-wing terrorists led by General Roberto Viaux. To the American operatives stationed in Chile, Viaux and his associate, former captain Arturo Marshal, were unstable and impossible to control: their fanatic group was also believed to have been infiltrated by Allende’s forces. In 1969, Viaux was relieved of command and Marshal was cashiered from the Chilean army for leading an unsuccessful anti-Frei coup; ever since, they had been escalating their call for violence against the left. Marshal had gone so far as to tell supporters privately that he would assassinate Allende if given a chance—threats that prompted Allende’s advisers to urge him, unsuccessfully, to wear a bulletproof vest. Opposition to any dealings with Viaux and Marshal was rife inside the CIA station in Santiago. The Agency’s main contact with the Chilean military, Colonel Paul M. Wimert, Jr., the American Army attache in Santiago, who had served in military intelligence in Latin America since the 1950s, was adamant in his contempt for Viaux. “I always operated on the assumption that there’s no substitution for brains, and Viaux didn’t have any,” Wimert says. Wimert was as anxious as anyone in the embassy to provoke a military coup that fall, but not with Viaux.
The false-flaggers were ordered to have no contact with other Americans inside Chile. They were to get in, hide out in a hotel, pass money and instructions to Viaux, Marshal, and their men, and get out. Their only contact with the American Embassy and its CIA station was to be through Hecksher, who would relay their instructions and their cables to CIA headquarters in Washington. All scheming was routinely reported to the White House, as was anything of significance inside Chile after September 15. The heat was on, and the CIA was letting the White House know that it was doing its best.
Kissinger was out of Washington from September 26 to October 5, traveling with the President on his electioneering visit to Europe and the Mediterranean. There is evidence, however, that even before he left the White House he knew that the “Rube Goldberg” ploy was not going to work. On September 23, according to documents published by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Hecksher reported that there were “strong reasons” for thinking that Frei would not act. Hecksher urged that the CIA station in Santiago be authorized to begin approaching anti-Allende officers in the Chilean army and navy and inducing them to lead a military coup. The contact was to be Wimert, an expert horseman with many close friends among the senior-officer corps, many of whom shared his love for horses and competitive riding. Wimert had been granted the privilege of stabling his horses at the Chilean Military Academy in Santiago, and his access to and influence with the military in Chile were unmatched by those of any other CIA operative. But Wimert had also been ordered by Korry not to discuss politics with the Chilean officers—an order that, despite Wimert’s intense dislike for Korry, he had obeyed.
In late September, Wimert was quietly approached by Hecksher and told that he had been assigned by “high authority” to work directly with the CIA in contacting senior Chilean military men and urging them to lead a coup. Korry was not to be told of Wimert’s new mission. Wimert asked for, and received, a highly classified cable from his direct superiors in the Defense Intelligence Agency, in the Pentagon, confirming the arrangement. The cable was so sensitive, Wimert was told, that he could not keep it in his files. He was to report until further notice to Hecksher and the CIA and do what they said. Weeks later, when the danger of his mission became clear to him, Wimert was given a confidential assurance from Helms—in another cable that Wimert was shown but not permitted to keep—that his family and horses would be provided for in case he was killed while at work for the Agency. Over the next three months, Wimert filed his reports and his assessments—for the CIA and also, he thought, for his superiors in the Pentagon—through Hecksher. It was not until 1975, at the time of the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings, that he learned that not one of his reports had made its way to the Defense Intelligence Agency. Chile was to be his last assignment for the DIA; when he returned to Washington, he was treated coldly by his superiors, who, Wimert learned later, had been distressed by his failure to file from Santiago during the Allende election period. “Nothing I sent went to the DIA; it went to Haig and Kissinger directly,“ Wimert says. “I was filing for three months and I thought everything I sent over there was going to the DIA and it wasn’t—it was going over to the White House.“ While in Santiago, Wimert received a cable of congratulations signed by Admiral Moorer and General Donald V. Bennett, who was in charge of the Defense Intelligence Agency Often, Heeksher would present Wimert with orders that were signed by Bennett, and the CIA would relay Wimert’s responses, so Wimert thought, to the General. All of those cables had been created somewhere outside the Pentagon, Wimert learned later. The Senate Intelligence Committee was unable to decide who was to blame for Wimert’s duping; CIA officials testified that they had not tampered with Wimert’s cables. In an interview this year, however, a senior CIA official who was directly involved in the Chilean operation acknowledged that Wimert’s reports to the Pentagon had been derailed because officials there had no “need to know” of the intense plotting in Santiago. Such manipulation was routine, the official added, when an outsider such as Wimert was called upon to aid the intelligence agency in a clandestine operation. “There isn’t a military attache I know of who isn’t an amateur,” the official said, adding that Wimert’s participation was necessitated by the intense White House pressure. Wimert managed to obtain an appointment to the Inter-American Defense College, in Washington, in 1971, before retiring to a horse farm in Virginia in 1973.
When Kissinger returned to Washington on October 5, he could not have been surprised to learn that the “Rube Goldberg” plan was dead. A 40 Committee meeting was set up for October 6, and Kissinger once again was dominant. Minutes of that meeting, as published in part by the Senate Intelligence Committee, quote Kissinger as caustically criticizing those who “presumed total acceptance of a fait accompli”—that is, the election of Allende—and warning that “higher authority had no intention of conceding before the 24th; on the contrary, he wanted no stone left unturned.“ Karamessines later told the Senate committee that the pressure to prevent an Allende presidency was still intense, and Kissinger, in their meetings, “left no doubt in my mind that he was under the heaviest of pressure to get this accomplished, and he in turn was placing us under the heaviest of pressures to get it accomplished.”
By the second week in October, the CIA—with the aid of Wimert—had made contact with a military faction inside Chile that, along with the Viaux group, was considered to be the most likely to take the necessary violent steps. The group, headed by General Camilo Valenzuela, commander of the main army garrison in Santiago, was composed of moderate conservatives on active duty in the army and navy. CIA officials, in their testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, sought to make a distinction between the Valenzuela and Viaux factions; many senior officers on active duty in the Chilean army and navy were known to be opposed to Viaux’s extremism and his terrorist activities. The Senate Intelligence Committee concluded, however, that there was close contact and coordination between the two groups.
All the anti-Allende plotting throughout the pre-election period was made riskier by reports of clandestine CIA operations which repeatedly surged through Santiago; most of the rumors accurately linked Valenzuela and Viaux to coup plotting and to the CIA. Another source of tension inside the Agency was Hecksher’s view that Viaux was too much out of control to be trusted. One of Viaux’s first demands, rejected by the CIA, was for the Agency to deliver—via an airdrop—several hundred paralyzing gas grenades for use in a coup attempt. Hecksher warned headquarters not to convey the impression to the White House that he had a “surefire method of halting, let alone triggering, coup attempts.“ He was recalled to Washington and warned, as he later testified, that his superiors were “not too interested in continuously being told by me that certain proposals which had been made could not be executed, or would be counterproductive.” If Nixon and Kissinger wanted it to be done, it was to be done—even if the best intelligence minds in Chile reported that dealing with Viaux, in the longrun, would be inimical to the interests of the United States.
On October 13, the CIA station was authorized to pass $20,000 to Viaux—through a false-flagger—and to promise him a $250,000 life-insurance policy in support of his efforts to lead a coup. Such large sums of money were kept on hand inside the CIA station in the American Embassy, and disbursed with no receipts given or questions asked. Wimert, who was later authorized to pay out $100,000 to anti-Allende groups, says that the cash was too bulky to carry: “I kept it in my riding boots in the trunk of my car.”
The complaints about Viaux from Hecksher and others in Santiago were not the only sources of anxiety for Washington: Korry also posed problems. Nervous about the constant rumors of CIA involvement in Chile, he filed an eyes-only warning to Kissinger and Alexis Johnson, at the State Department, on September 25, the day before Kissinger left Washington on the Nixon European trip. “Aside from the merits of a coup and its implications for the United States,“ Korry reported, “I am convinced we cannot provoke one and that we should not run any risks simply to have another Bay of Pigs.“ Accordingly, Korry said, he had instructed the CIA station in Santiago “not to engage in … encouragement of any kind.“ What Korry did not report is that a few days earlier, he and Hecksher had engaged in a brief shouting match over Hecksher’s complaint that Korry was not doing all he could to urge Frei to involve himself in the Allende crisis. “Why the hell don’t you twist Frei’s arm?“ Korry recalls Hecksher shouting. “You’re telling Washington you’re doing it and you’re not.“ Korry followed the cable with a request that he be permitted to return to Washington to brief the administration and members of Congress about events in Chile. He was told to stay in Santiago because his presence there was “too valuable.”
By early October, Korry was suspicious that something was going on behind his back. There were few he could turn to. Interviews with former Korry associates and aides in the Santiago embassy revealed that he was widely disliked for his arrogance, and was therefore totally isolated from the corridor gossip in the embassy—a basic source of information. In a second private message to Kissinger and Johnson, dated October 9, he again warned: “I think any attempt on our part actively to encourage a coup could lead us to a Bay of Pigs failure. I am appalled to discover that there is liaison for terrorists and coup plotting…. I have never been consulted or informed of what, if any, role the United States may have….“ Korry told Kissinger that he and his senior Foreign Service aides in the embassy in Santiago had reason to suspect that an anti-Allende coup was being plotted by the CIA with the Patria y Libertad, an extreme right-wing civilian group—in contact with Viaux—that advocated violent action against Allende and his coalition. If this was true, Korry added, such efforts would not be successful and “would be an unrelieved disaster for the United States and for the President. Its consequences would be to strongly reinforce Allende now and in the future, and do the gravest harm to U.S. interests throughout Latin America, if not beyond.” (Once again, Korry’s insistence that he did not know that anything untoward was going on in his embassy seemingly defies belief. Yet he was able to establish beyond question the integrity of his October 9 cable, and even testified about it in his 1975 appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee without challenge.)
This time, there was an immediate reaction. Johnson filed an urgent cable ordering Korry to report for a meeting with Kissinger at the opening of business on Monday, October 12. Korry says that he arrived at Kissinger’s office at the appointed hour: “Henry greeted me and kept blaming ‘those idiots at the State Department’” for not providing earlier warning about the possibility of an Allende election. Korry realized that he was in the difficult position—as an ambitious Democrat working for the Nixon administration—of having to prove his loyalty while at the same time trying to persuade the White House to do nothing militarily in Chile. After a few moments of talk, Korry says, he told Kissinger that “only an insane person deal with a man like Viaux.“ Korry recalls describing Viaux as “a totally dangerous man” whose political faction had been penetrated by socialists close to Allende, which compounded the risk of American exposure. At this point, Kissinger asked Korry if he “would like to see the President”—an audience that had obviously been prearranged.
The two men marched to the Oval Office. “When the door opened,“ Korry says, “Nixon was standing right inside. He smacked his fist into his hand and said, ’That s.o.b., that s.o.b.,′ I looked surprised, and he said, ‘Not you, Mr. Ambassador. I know this isn’t your fault and you’ve always told it like it is. It’s that son-of-a-bitch Allende.’”
Nixon, obviously aware of how careful he had to be with Korry, who was not to know of the White House coup planning, began to explain lucidly how his administration would apply economic pressure to bring down the Allende government. When he concluded, Korry says, Nixon “turned to me, looking rather pleased—as if I were going to say, ’Yes, sir.’” But Korry saw no reason to be a yes-man. He had met Nixon in 1967, when he was ambassador to Ethiopia and Nixon was out of office and on one of his many worldwide trips; the two had spoken frankly. Korry, meeting Nixon for the first time since then, felt he could continue to speak his mind, and did so: “Mr. President, I know you won’t take it amiss if I tell you that you’re dead wrong.“ Not many people talked to Nixon that way. “I saw Henry’s eyes bulge,“ Korry says. The Ambassador proceeded to tell the President that he wanted authority to begin a wide-ranging series of discussions with Allende and his entourage as soon as his election was confirmed. “Which,“ he said, “is an absolutely foregone conclusion. Nothing on God’s green earth can stop it.“ At that point, Korry again brought up Viaux, warning the President that “of course, there are madmen running around dealing with Viaux.”
At the end of his monologue, Korry says, “the one who was steaming—quite obviously—was Henry. He looked daggers at me. When I left the office, Nixon was very nice. He got up and walked me to the door, asking about my children.” Kissinger stayed behind with the President, undoubtedly to join in the savaging of Korry that would take place.
What Korry did not realize was that Kissinger was merely reflecting Nixon’s real feelings, the rage that the President suppressed. In his memoirs, Kissinger tries to minimize the Nixon-Korry meeting, casually saying, “I gave Korry an opportunity to present his views to Nixon.” Kissinger also writes that the meeting took place three days later, on October 15, though Korry says that his cables and travel documents show that he was summoned to an early-morning meeting on October 12.
Korry, by his direct warning to Kissinger and Nixon, had thrown a monkey wrench into Track II; no longer could the President and his top adviser deny any knowledge of the CIA’s activities in case something went wrong. Track II’s secrecy cut two ways: not only would the White House be able to operate inside Chile without fear of exposure but only a few key CIA officials—whose loyalty was unquestioned—would know that the two top men in the government were personally involved.
In Korry’s view, some carefully orchestrated moves were made over the next few days to convince him and other senior administration officials that no secret CIA coup plotting was under way. On the thirteenth, if the White House logs for that day are correct, Karamessines was summoned to the White House for a late-morning meeting with Nixon, Kissinger, Alexis Johnson, and Laird. Laird had not been filled in on Track II; no coup plotting would be discussed in front of him—a fact Laird could testify to, if need be, in later inquiries. Karamessines, in his testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, recalled being taken aside by Nixon as the meeting ended and being told again (Nixon had made a similar statement during the meeting) that “it was absolutely essential that the election of Mr. Allende to the presidency be thwarted.” Karamessines understood the message, as he later told the Senate committee: the Track II pressure was still on.
On the next day, Wednesday, October 14, the 40 Committee met again. Also at the meeting were Korry and Charles Meyer, who were invited by Johnson, obviously with the prior approval of Kissinger, and Karamessines, filling in for Helms. Korry recalls that much of the session, held in the White House Situation Room, dealt with how to handle Chile in the post-Allende period. Characteristically, Korry was the first speaker to raise the subject of a military coup. Speaking after Karamessines provided a generally discouraging intelligence assessment, Korry referred to rumors about Viaux “only in passing,“ he says, and once again said, as he had done two days earlier with the President, that “there was no chance for a military uprising.“ Kissinger said little during the forty-five-minute meeting. Korry later concluded that Kissinger had staged the meeting and invited Korry because “he wanted me to take responsibility for saying there’s going to be no coup—so he wouldn’t be the one accused of getting cold feet.“ Two days earlier, at their brief meeting before Korry met with Nixon, Korry says, Kissinger had asked him to write an eyes-only memorandum documenting how the State Department had dragged its feet in the opposition to Allende. At the time, Kissinger claimed that it was Nixon who had wanted such a memo, but Korry knew better: Kissinger, afraid that Allende’s election could not be averted, was seeking ammunition to justify his actions to his President. Korry was later very bitter about Kissinger’s role: “His interest was not in Chile but in who was going to be blamed for what. He wanted me to be the one who took the heat. Henry didn’t want to be associated with a failure and he was setting up a record to blame the State Department. He brought me in to the President because he wanted me to say what I had to say about Viaux; he wanted me to be the soft man. He didn’t have the moral courage to say to the President—‘Look, we’re in over our heads. Let’s get out of there.’”
The official minutes of that October 14 meeting, provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee, quote Karamessines as naming Viaux “the only individual seemingly ready to attempt a coup and…. his chances of mounting a successful one were slight.“ Viaux was “unpredictable,“ Karamessines said. The official minutes also quote Kissinger as observing that “there presently appeared to be little the United States can do to influence the Chilean situation one way or another.”
The need for so much duplicity apparently did have some impact; the evidence is clear that Kissinger and Nixon suddenly began to have grave second thoughts. Any violent action by Viaux carried the considerable risk of exposing CIA involvement with the anti-Allende plotting; now there was a second, much more serious issue—the possible exposure of high-level White House involvement.
From all available evidence, the decision to turn primary efforts from Viaux to the Valenzuela group was made the next day, October 15, at a critical White House meeting on Chile. Wimert had been reporting for days that his contacts with Valenzuela and the other plotters were substantial, and he was convinced, as he reported to the Agency (and, he thought, to his superiors in the Pentagon), that they were ready to mount a coup—one that would have a far greater chance of success than any operation proposed by Viaux. On the fourteenth, Wimert had received a dramatic order, ostensibly signed by General Bennett: “High authority in Washington has authorized you to offer material support short of armed intervention to Chilean Armed Forces in any endeavors they may undertake to prevent the election of Allende on October 24.“ Karamessines later told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the “high authority” could only have been Kissinger or Nixon; Bennett had no authority to issue such orders. He also testified that the message must have been drafted in the White House—or at least cleared by Kissinger’s office—before being routed to Wimert.
On October 15, a Thursday, Karamessines again met with Kissinger and Haig at the White House. According to Karamessines’s memorandum of that meeting, as supplied to the Senate, the senior officials closely reviewed the possibility of a military coup, focusing on Viaux and Valenzuela. In a decision clearly linked to the orders provided to Wimert the day before, Kissinger ordered Karamessines to stall Viaux, to persuade him to stand down. But the other plotters—the more reliable group, headed by Valenzuela—were to be encouraged to proceed. Kissinger closed the meeting by urging the Agency to “continue keeping the pressure on every Allende weak spot in sight—now, after the 24th of October, after 3 November [when Allende was to be inaugurated], and into the future until such time as new marching orders are given.”
One day later, CIA headquarters cabled Hecksher its understanding of the new White House orders: “It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup…. We are to continue to generate maximum pressure toward this end utilizing every appropriate resource.“ Hecksher was told to warn Viaux not to move, since a “coup attempt carried out by him alone with the forces now at his disposal would fail.“ Hecksher further was to “continue to encourage” Viaux to join forces with other coup planners. “There is great and continuing interest in the activities of Valenzuela et al. and we wish them optimum good fortune.”
The White House decision to turn to Valenzuela was, without question, triggered by Korry’s meeting with Kissinger and Nixon on October 12 and his articulation of the dangers inherent in dealing with Viaux. But the basic American policy remained the same: a coup to prevent Allende’s presidency. Over the next eight days, the CIA continued to report to Kissinger and Haig about contacts with Valenzuela and other plotters, and they, in turn, continued to pressure the Agency to get something done.
And yet Kissinger and Haig insisted in their testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee in 1975 that they had “turned off” the CIA’s coup planning against Allende in the October 15 meeting with Karamessines. After the fifteenth, Kissinger testified, “There was no separate channel by the CIA to the White House and … all actions with respect to Chile were taken in the 40 Committee framework. There was no 40 Committee that authorized an approach to or contact with military people, no plots which I am familiar with … and if there was any further contact with military plotting, it was totally unauthorized and this is the first that I have heard of it.“ Haig corroborated the testimony: “The conclusions of that meeting [on October 15] were that we had better not do anything rather than something that was not going to succeed…. My general feeling was, I left that meeting with the impression that there was nothing authorized.“ Nixon, in a subsequent written response in 1976 to a series of interrogatories from the committee, went even further: he was not aware of any coup planning at all, not even Track II. “I do not presently recall being personally consulted with regard to CIA activities in Chile at any time during the period September 15, 1970, through October 24, 1970,“ he stated. One exception, Nixon added, came in mid-October, when Kissinger “informed me that the CIA had reported to him that their efforts to enlist the support of various factions in attempts by Mr. Allende’s opponents to prevent Allende from becoming president had not been successful and likely would not be.” Nixon then agreed, he said, with Kissinger’s recommendation that the CIA be ordered to abandon its efforts. Thus, the basic thrust of the Nixon, Kissinger, and Haig testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee was that the CIA had been operating on its own in continuing to move against Allende after October 15. The Senate committee made no effort to investigate the obvious contradiction between the Nixon-Kissinger and the CIA versions.
Kissinger was given very gingerly treatment by the Intelligence Committee members, who did not directly raise the possibility that he was not telling the truth in his testimony. “The senators rolled over and played dead,“ says one committee staffer who investigated the Chile incident. “It was his celebrity status. When Kissinger came to testify [in the closed hearings], all of a sudden we let in the press and all the senators stood up and had photographs taken with him.” Most of the staff members investigating Chile had no doubts about who was lying and who was not, but were unable to do more in the published reports than to note the various discrepancies—most of which pitted the CIA against the White House.
In his memoirs, Kissinger, freed from the burden of sworn testimony, takes the White House cover story a step further: “When I ordered coup plotting turned off on October 15, 1970, Nixon, Haig, and I considered it the end of both Track I and Track II. The CIA personnel in Chile apparently thought that the order applied only to Viaux: they felt they were free to continue with the second group of plotters [led by Valenzuela], of whom the White House was unaware.“ The Agency’s efforts in Chile were “amateurish, being improvised in panic and executed in confusion. ” What Kissinger could add, of course, is that much of the panic originated with Nixon on September 15, and much of the confusion with White House fears of exposure that grew out of Korry’s warnings. Blood was going to be shed in Santiago that October, and the White House wanted no part of the responsibility.
In later interviews, CIA officials were amused and almost philosophical about the subsequent Nixon and Kissinger lies: “We’re there as the whipping boy,“ said one senior operative who was directly involved in Track II. “Kissinger and Nixon left us holding the bag, but that’s what we’re in business for. And if you don’t like it, don’t join up.”
One of the problems in dealing with fanatics is their fanaticism. On October 17, the CIA station in Santiago informed headquarters that the White House’s words of caution had been passed to Viaux by one of the false-flaggers. Viaux couldn’t have cared less. He informed his contact that it did not matter what the CIA did, since he and his cohorts had decided to proceed with the coup with or without American support. During these last few days before the election, the CIA, desperately trying to induce Valenzuela to act—and thus ease the pressure from the White House—sweetened its offer to him. Late on October 17, Valenzuela was promised three machine guns stripped of all identifying markings, six tear-gas grenades, and 500 rounds of ammunition, in support of a plan to kidnap General René Schneider, commander in chief of the Chilean army and a strong constitutionalist, who was believed by the CIA and the Valenzuela plotters to stand between the armed forces and a military coup.
The plan was to grab Schneider as he left a military dinner on October 19, and fly him to Argentina. Frei would resign; one of Valenzuela’s aides would be placed in charge of a military government and would dissolve the Congress. Thus, Allende could not be elected. Without Schneider’s presence, it was argued, the chances of military backing for a take-over were significantly increased.
One constant goal of the CIA station that fall was to “create a coup climate” in Chile. A headquarters cable, dated October 19—only five days before the election—provided guidance: “It still appears that [the proposed] coup has no pretext or justification that it can offer to make it acceptable in Chile or Latin America. It therefore would seem necessary to create one to bolster what will probably be their claim to a coup to save Chile from Communism. ” The cable, reprinted in part in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, makes clear that the CIA was aware that the citizens of Chile were prepared to accept peaceably an Allende presidency.
On the afternoon of the nineteenth, Karamessines met with Haig in the White House and, as he testified to the Senate, reported the new Valenzuela plan “very promptly, if for no other reason than that we didn’t have all that much promising news to report to the White House.“ Haig, of course, denied hearing anything about the ambitious, last-minute scheming, and Kissinger continued to maintain that he “was informed of nothing after October 15.” Kissinger went so far as to tell the senators that according to his daily calendar—which he did not turn over to the committee—he held no conversation with Karamessines or Helms between October 15 and October 19, a statement that did not rule out the obvious possibility that Karamessines met with Haig, as Karamessines testified, and Haig filled in Kissinger later. Haig and Kissinger also specifically denied hearing anything about the kidnapping plot against General Schneider.
On the evening of the nineteenth, the Valenzuela group, bolstered by some of Viaux’s thugs as well as by the six tear-gas grenades delivered by Wimert, failed in an attempt to kidnap Schneider when the General left the dinner by private means instead of in his official car. With this overt act, the pressure from the White House became even more acute. Early on October 20, Hecksher received an urgent cable asking him to report anything he could, because, the cable said, “Headquarters must respond during morning 20 October to queries from high levels.” After the failure became known, Wimert was authorized to promise Valenzuela and his chief associate, an admiral, $50,000 each in CIA funds if the two men would try again. That second attempt, on the evening of the twentieth, also failed. More extreme steps were taken as the constant White House pressure and the failure of the Chilean conspirators induced what must have been near panic inside the CIA station in Santiago. On October 22, the sterile machine guns—shipped by diplomatic pouch—were delivered to Valenzuela. General Schneider was assassinated that day by a group of military officers and thugs, who did not use the American-supplied machine guns. Neither Valenzuela nor his senior associates were at the scene, but Chilean military courts later determined that the men who participated in the October 22 assassination, which was planned by Viaux, also participated in the Valenzuela kidnapping attempts on October 19 and 20. The military courts eventually convicted Viaux of kidnapping and conspiring to cause a military coup for his role in the Schneider slaying; Valenzuela was convicted of the single charge of conspiring to cause a coup.
Just who was respomsible for what in the Schneider assassination is impossible to determine; contradictions abound between the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the statements made by participants in later interviews with me. For example, the Senate Intelligence Committee reprinted numerous CIA cables stating that no actual funds were passed to Valenzuela in the days before the October 24 election. Yet Wimert stated in an interview that he did indeed pass Valenzuela and the admiral $50,000 each. After the failed kidnapping, Wimert recalls, he was determined to get back the $100,000 and thus shield, if possible, his direct role in the plotting. The admiral returned the funds without comment, but Valenzuela resisted, Wimert says. Wimert recalls that he felt compelled to pull out his revolver, which he always carried with him in Santiago, and to wave it in front of Valenzuela and say, “I’ll beat the shit out of you with this if you don’t get me the money.“ Valenzuela still hesitated, Wimert says, “and so I just hit him once and he went and got it.” The exchange took place in Valenzuela’s house. There is no apparent record in the CIA file of these transactions, which Wimert insists he reported to Hecksher.
Valenzuela’s role was minimized in all of the subsequent reporting, both in CIA cables and by the Senate Intelligence Committee. The underlying assumption was that Viaux and the other plotters failed in a kidnapping attempt and were compelled to shoot Schneider when he resisted. The slain general was said to have pulled out a handgun when first confronted. Yet the official report, on file in Santiago, of the military police officer who investigated the slaying depicts an execution; there is no mention of Schneider’s alleged resistance. The report notes that Schneider’s car was struck and stopped by a second vehicle. The car then “was surrounded by five individuals, one of whom, making use of a blunt instrument similar to a sledgehammer, broke the rear window and then fired at General Schneider, striking him in the region of the spleen, in the left shoulder, and in the left wrist. ”
The Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that since none of the machine guns supplied to Valenzuela had been used in the assassination, and since the CIA had withdrawn direct support to Viaux, there was “no evidence of a plan to kill Schneider or that United States officials specifically anticipated that Schneider would be shot during the abduction. ”
Some of the CIA agents inside Chile knew better. In the months following, at least one of those men who saw the most—the false-flaggers—feared that his action against Schneider would come to haunt him. The worried operative was Bruce MacMaster, a career CIA officer who had served throughout Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s under cover as a Foreign Service officer. MacMaster had a series of complaints about what he had seen and done in Chile and about the activities of Henry J. Sloman. On February 16, 1971, he walked into the office of John Charles Murray, the branch chief for Mexico, at Agency headquarters. in Washington. Murray was a career operations officer with a reputation for integrity—a straight shooter. MacMaster proceeded to unravel the story of his involvement in Chile, acknowledging that he, Sloman, and others were ordered into Santiago in an effort to mobilize a coup. As Murray reported in a “Secret-Eyes Only” memorandum to his superior two days later, MacMaster “stated [while in Chile] he ostensibly was representing American business interests such as the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and other unidentified business groups.” The Agency had agreed in 1967, after wide-spread scandals about the use of philanthropic and educational foundations as CIA conduits, not to utilize the credentials of the Ford, Rockefeller, and similar foundations to shield their agents on overseas assignments.
MacMaster, who was born of American parents in Columbia, told Murray that he had traveled on a falsified Colombian passport to Chile to meet with coup plotters, and had reassured them that, as Murray reported, “as a representative of American business interests he was most anxious to see the continuance of democratic institutions in Chile.“ MacMaster said that he and Sloman had also met with Viaux, and were involved in the plotting against Schneider. They learned that Viaux was also working closely with a group of right-wing students. It was the student group, MacMaster told Murray, that “was responsible for the machine-gun attack on General Schneider.”
The main goal of Murray’s memorandum, which was sent to Broe, the chief of Latin American clandestine operations, was to warn of MacMaster’s fear that some members of the Viaux group, many of whom were jailed following the Schneider assassination, “will possibly implicate CIA in the action taken against Schneider.“ MacMaster told Murray that he had privately met—outside of Chile—with one of Viaux’s associates and had been informed, as Murray wrote, that the men jailed were “seeking a large amount of money—somewhere in the neighborhood of $250,000—for the purpose of providing support for the families of the members of the group jailed…. Mr. MacMaster said that we could probably get away with paying around $10,000 for the support of each family”
MacMaster had another complaint—about Sloman’s black-market activities while in Santiago. He accused his colleague of smuggling clothing and jewelry out of Santiago for his personal profit, and reported that Sloman had been using diplomatic pouches to bring pornography into Mexico from the United States. The two men had been friends, but when MacMaster lost a bitter fistfight with him weeks before at a New Year’s Eve party in Mexico City, he retaliated by informing Mexican internal-security officials of Sloman’s status as a long-standing CIA operative.
All these seamy doings, as reported by Murray were hushed up by the Agency over the next few months and later kept from the Senate Intelligence Committee. Sloman, in a later interview, casually acknowledged that he was involved in smuggling while in Santiago, but described it as part of his CIA cover. “I’ve always been an outside man,“ he said. “I lived my cover in every place I’ve ever been. I was also known as a professional gambler—or as Mafia.“ Sloman confirmed that he had been reported to the police in Mexico City after a fistfight with MacMaster, but called his action justified. “He made a pass at my oldest daughter, and so I hit him in the mouth and knocked his teeth out.”
Senior officials of the CIA were kept aware of the MacMaster-Sloman dispute in a series of highly classified official reports and communiques, in early 1971. Somehow, the Mexican authorities were soothed, and Sloman was routinely promoted—despite the serious questions raised about his activities, and the fact that his feud with MacMaster led to the blowing of his cover in Mexico and, more important, compromised the security of the Agency’s plotting against Allende. In deciding not to reprimand or dismiss the two men, the CIA perhaps concluded that the character defects that got MacMaster and Sloman into hot water in Mexico City also made them good agents. The official memoranda detailing the incident reveal much, inadvertently, about the kind of men recruited to serve as undercover operatives. MacMaster was reported in official documents to be a heavy drinker; Sloman had been admonished for having violated Agency rules about the purchase of duty-free liquor from American Embassy commissaries and the use of diplomatic pouches for the shipment of personal—and obviously contraband—goods. Sloman also told a senior Agency official in Mexico City who queried him about some of the MacMaster charges that—as a subsequent internal report noted—“he knew a great deal about the people in the Station and threatened to blow the Station out of the water.”
Yet the only one to suffer was John Murray, who had forwarded official reports to his superiors. Murray, who died in 1979, began to investigate on his own, and was told by one senior CIA operative that there were at least a few members of the CIA station in Santiago who realized that Schneider would never escape from the kidnapping attempt with his life. Murray was told that there had been a “panic” inside the CIA station in Santiago after General Schneider rebuffed the suggestion that he lead a military coup to prevent Allende’s election. The fear was that Schneider might—as a patriotic gesture—tell Allende of the CIA-inspired plotting against him. For his efforts, Murray was stunned to find himself categorized as a “squealer,” and was subsequently dumped into the bottom 5 percent of his rank in terms of future promotions. He retired in 1976, without receiving another promotion and after refusing a transfer to a position in Haiti. By then he was fatally ill, bitter, and no longer willing or able to fight the bureaucracy.
Murray knew that his inquiries were bringing him to the brink of the most secret area of CIA activity: political assassinations. No document will ever be found, nor will there be an eyewitness, to describe CIA plans or White House directions to murder Allende. In interviews with me, nearly everybody involved, including the false-flaggers, denied knowledge of any such planning. A few CIA operatives did acknowledge hearing talk of assassination from Chilean officers hostile to Allende, but they said that was all they heard: loose talk. That the plans and pressures did exist was confirmed by a senior member of the intelligence community, whose information on other sensitive activities—provided to me when I worked for The New York Times in Washington—has been unfailingly accurate. This official, while on a visit to Chile in 1971, learned of intense pressure even then to update contingency plans for the assassination of Allende. In subsequent conversations, in Washington, he was flatly told by the men at the top of the CIA that such planning was initiated in the fall of 1970 because “Henry wanted it.”
The only involved American to state directly that CIA may have been under instructions to assassinate Allende in the fall of 1970 was Wimert, who, as an Army officer, was perhaps not as steeped in the ways of secrecy as his CIA associates. Wimert, in a conversation in 1980, said he did not know of the existence of the false-flaggers inside Santiago until 1975, when he testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He told me what he would never have said in 1975: that he had “figured” the false-flaggers were in Santiago to arrange for Allende’s death. “Why else would they be there?“ The assassination of Allende, Wimert said, “was always something everybody hoped would happen. It would have been the ideal thing.”
The key contact with the most extreme anti-Allende elements was made by a false-flagger we shall call Robert F. He was a career CIA operative who had retired by 1970 but was persuaded after appeals to his sense of patriotism to return for one last mission. The more he knew about Chile, the less he liked; he told some colleagues that it was corporate security and not national security that was involved in the anti-Allende operation. After testifying less than candidly before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Robert F. had second thoughts and later tried—without success—to warn a committee staff member that “you guys didn’t get the real story”
Robert F. was ordered to spend two weeks in Santiago, make contact with Viaux and his group, and pass them money. He met Marshal late one night in the National Cathedral, a few blocks from the presidential palace, in the center of Santiago. Marshal struck Robert F. as insane, but orders were orders. He gave him the money. A few days later, around October 19, Marshal was arrested by the Chilean police; he spent the next two years in jail. Sloman acknowledges that men such as Marshal were provided with funds, and talked about assassinations with him and the other false-flaggers. But Sloman insists that the Chileans were always told not to get involved in bloodshed: “Our answer to them was no—by no means.“ Yet, he says, “There is no way you can stop a Chilean from doing anything.”
After the Schneider killing, fear gripped the CIA station. Wimert recalls that he collected not only the $100,000 he had paid to Valenzuela but also the three sterile machine guns that had been provided to the would-be kidnappers. He and Hecksher then jumped into a car, drove seventy miles west to the resort town of Viña del Mar, and threw the weapons into the Pacific Ocean. “You can say we really deep-sixed them,” Wimert says, with a laugh.
Hecksher must have realized that in the likely event of a full-scale investigation, Viaux and the other conspirators would be able to testify that the concept of Schneider’s kidnapping had originated with the CIA. A little-noted exchange of CIA cables published by the Senate Intelligence Committee shows that on October 13, Hecksher was queried by CIA headquarters about possible plans to prevent Schneider from exerting his influence to disrupt a coup. The response, filed within hours, according to the committee report, was that the coup leaders—Viaux and Valenzuela—would first eliminate Schneider by kidnapping him, and then proceed with the coup.
The Schneider assassination, far from easing the way for a successful coup in the days before Allende’s election, made it impossible. The Chilean military and citizenry, angered at the attempt to disrupt the constitutional process, rallied around Allende; he easily won the congressional election on October 24, and was inaugurated on November 3 without incident.
Within a few days, Hecksher was summoned back to Washington and replaced—the first victim of the CIA’s failure to do what the President wanted. Nixon and Kissinger were also enraged with Helms, who had failed them. Korry was in his last ambassadorial post, although he would not learn as much for another year.
None of this is described by Kissinger in his memoirs. In his version, he and Nixon had sought to stop the CIA excesses on October 15, and were determined to adopt a “cool but correct” stance to the new Allende administration. But Allende, writes Kissinger, was not in the mood to accept the good wishes of the Nixon administration; in greeting a Nixon envoy at his inauguration, he “gave no evidence of a conciliatory approach.” The possibility that Allende might be aware of the White House’s planning against him is not even suggested by Kissinger.
After the failure to stop Allende’s election, the next step was economic: the administration would stop the flow of financial aid and loans from many sources as possible in an effort to cripple Chile’s economy and force Allende out of office. On November 9, the White House issued National Security Decision Memorandum 93, “Policy toward Chile,“ a top-secret paper, never published in full, that outlined what amounted to economic warfare. “Within the context of a publicly cool and correct posture toward Chile,“ it said, the administration woould undertake “vigorous efforts…. to assure that other governments in Latin America understand fully that United States opposes consolidation of a Communist state in Chile hostile to the interests of the United State and other hemisphere nations, and to the extent possible encourages them to adopt a similar posture.”
The President ordered steps taken to:
“A. Exclude, to the extent possible, further financing assistance or guarantees for United States private investments in Chile, including those related to the investment guarantee program or the operations of the Export-Import Bank;
“B. Determine the extent to which existing guarantees and financing arrangements can be terminated or reduced;
“C. Bring a maximum feasible influence to bear in international financial institutions to limit credit or other financing assistance to Chile;
“D. Assure that United States private business interests having investments or operations in Chile are made aware of the concern with which the United States Government views the Government of Chile and the restrictive nature of the policies which the United States Government intends to follow.”
The document also called for a review of possible steps that could be taken to affect adversely the world price of copper, and ordered a ban on all new bilateral economic-aid commitments. “Existing commitments will be fulfilled,“ NSDM 93 stated, “but ways in which, if the United States desires to do so, they could be reduced, delayed or terminated should be examined.”
In essence, Nixon had authorized an economic death knell for Chile. In the next few weeks, Kissinger took charge of a series of interagency meetings, mandated by NSDM 93, to work out the policy of economic retaliation. The goal was to make sure that the State Department bureaucracy carried out orders and cut Chile off without a dollar. “It stuck in my mind because Kissinger, in effect, became a Chilean desk officer,“ says one senior State Department official. “He made sure that policy was made in the way he and the President wanted it. Henry was showing the President that he was on top of it.” The cutoff was a success: no agency in the government and none of the multilateral lending banks dared cross Nixon or Kissinger. Prior to Allende’s election, for example, the World Bank had lent Chile more than $234 million; afterward, not one loan was approved. Severe shutdowns also took place at the Export-Import Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. American AID assistance to Chile, which averaged nearly $70 million annually during much of the 1960s, totaled just $3.3 million in the three years of the Allende presidency.
In his memoirs, Kissinger calls NSDM 93, which he does not reproduce, “stern but less drastic and decisive than it sounded.“ Whatever policy the United States pursued between 1970 and 1973, Kissinger argues, “the credit-worthiness of Chile would have dropped drastically….” The cutbacks were ordered, of course, before Chile’s credit rating began to fall.
The CIA believed after Allende’s inauguration that it still had a presidential mission to accomplish: the ouster of Allende. Track II was reduced in scope and in intensity over the next few years, but it continued—for there had been no cancellation. Karamessines was explicit about it in his Senate testimony: “As far as I was concerned, Track II was really never ended. What we were told to do … was to continue our efforts, stay alert, and to do what we could to contribute to the eventual achievement of the objectives and purposes of Track II. That being the case, I don’t think it is proper to say that Track II was ended.”
Within months, a new chief of station and a new network of agents were in place. By late 1971, there were almost daily contacts with the Chilean military and almost daily reports of coup plotting. By then, too, the station in Santiago was collecting the kind of information that would be essential for a military dictatorship in the days following a coup—lists of civilians to be arrested, those to be provided with protection, and government installations to be oecupied immediately. The CIA, aware that its men and activities were being closely monitored by the new Allende government, turned to its allies. Two operatives from the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) were stationed in Chile after a formal request; the Australians were told that outsiders were needed because of the government’s close surveillance. By 1972, the Australians had agreed to monitor and control three agents on behalf of the .CIA and to relay their information to Washington. The bare fact of such involvement became known after an internal inquiry by the Australian government in 1977; just what the ASIS operatives were doing in Chile on behalf of the United States was not made public.
In its published report on covert action in Chile, the Senate Intelligence Committee acceded to the Agency’s request to permit details of the post-1970 operations to be censored. The eliminated material included the fact that a major disinformation and propaganda program was initiated in 1971 by the CIA, in an effort “to stimulate the military coup groups into a strong unified move against the government.“ In addition, the censored material included information on a “long-term effort” to collect operational data that would be necessary for a military coup—such as illicitly obtaining the Allende government’s contingency plans to be put into effect in case of a military uprising. More than $3.5 million was authorized by Nixon and Kissinger for CIA activities in Chile in 1971; by September of 1973, when Allende was assassinated—or committed suicide—during a successful military coup, the CIA had spent $8 million, or at least had officially reported spending that much, on anti-Allende plotting. There is no evidence that the CIA played a direct role in the Allende coup, nor is there evidence that the Nixon administration was involved through third parties in Allende’s death. There were few in Chile, however, who did not understand what kind of regime would find favor in Washington.
Elsewhere on the Web
Links to related material on other Web sites. National security, in terms of a threat to the well-being of the United States and its citizens, played no significant role in Chile in 1970. And yet the election of Allende, with his open support for Cuba and other revolutionary countries, did pose a major problem for the National Security Agency, the elite group responsible for communications intelligence. There were at least two top-secret NSA facilities operating “in the black”—that is, under cover—in Chile. One facility, disguised as an Air Force atmospheric testing station on Easter Island, in the Pacific Ocean, was responsible for monitoring and tracking Soviet and French nuclear tests and ballistic-missile firings in the southern Pacific. Easter Island’s significance was in its location: any Soviet missile strike at the United States from submarines in the South Pacific would have to pass within its radar range. In addition, Chile—with its narrow coast and high mountain ranges—provided the perfect topography for the successful monitoring and interception of low-frequency Soviet submarine communications, and at least one NSA facility, under cover at an offshore island, was operating round-the-clock to help keep track of the Soviet submarine fleet. Both bases were evacuated overnight—and their equipment flown to a U.S. base in Panama—when Allende was elected by the Chilean Congress. The loss of such facilities, coming on the heels of the Cienfuegos crisis, in which Kissinger believed—or said he believed—that the Russians were seeking to expand their submarine operations in the Caribbean, could have helped explain or make more rational the White House’s hostility to Allende. And yet not one of the participants in the Chile crisis—including CIA men who attended meetings in the White House—can recall hearing any expressions of concern from Kissinger or Nixon about the bases. “The NSA played no part at all,“ says one senior official. “The bases were never mentioned in any meetings I heard or saw notes of. They weren’t a reason for Nixon’s and Kissinger’s concern about Allende. There was genuine concern over his policies.”
The White House collaborators had differing motives for their high-risk attempts to prevent Allende’s election. Richard Nixon was primarily protecting the interests of his corporate benefactors, Jay Parkinson, Donald Kendall, and Harold Geneen. For Henry Kissinger, the issue was more complicated, linked not only to his need to please the President and dominate the bureaucracy but also to his world view and his belief that no action to stop the spread of communism was immoral.
But Chile was also an interlude, an opportunity for the men who did not understand the limits of their power to make something happen, to get it done, to solve a problem with the appropriate blend of political, military, and economic force, applied in secrecy. It did not work that fall in Chile, just as it did not work in the most pressing issue before Nixon’s administration—the war in Vietnam.