The CIA is acknowledging for the first time the extent of its deep involvement in Chile, where it dealt with coup-plotters, false propagandists and assassins.
The agency planned to post a declassified report required by Congress on its Web site today that admits CIA support for the 1970 kidnapping of Chile’s top general for refusing to use the Army to prevent the country’s congress from confirming the election of socialist Salvador Allende as president. The kidnapping failed, but Gen. Rene Schneider was shot and died two days later, the day Allende’s election was confirmed.
The CIA admits prior knowledge of the plot that overthrew Allende three years later but denies direct involvement. The report says the agency had no idea that Allende would refuse safe passage with his palace under bombardment and apparently kill himself. He was found dead of gunshot wounds.
There is no evidence the CIA wanted Schneider killed for refusing to join the coup attempt in 1970, the report said, although the agency later paid $35,000 to the group that botched his capture.
CIA Payment to Secret Police Chief
The report also disclosed a CIA payment to Gen. Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, head of the Chilean secret police, whom it knew to be involved in post-Allende human rights abuses. In 1993, Contreras was sentenced to prison for a rare act of foreign-sponsored terrorism on American soil — the 1976 car-bomb killing of a Chilean diplomat and an American associate on Embassy Row in Washington.
The report does not reveal how much Contreras received in a one-time payment for his CIA services and says the payment was made by mistake after it had been overruled by high officials. The report says, however, that the CIA had contact with Contreras on several occasions before and after the bombing.
Payment to remnants of the group that kidnapped Schneider was made for “humanitarian reasons,” to maintain their good will and to avoid disclosure of prior CIA contacts, the report said. It said in those contacts the agency withheld support for the Schneider kidnapping, because agents believed the group could not pull it off.
The report also describes efforts to influence news media in Chile against Allende and to augment anti-leftist propaganda activities by the coup-maker who toppled and succeeded Allende, Augusto Pinochet.
It spoke of CIA activities “including support for news media committed to creating a positive image for the military junta,” which is now accused of an array of abuses during Pinochet’s 17-year rule including more than 3,000 killings.
Civilians collaborating with the CIA, but not acting on CIA direction, produced the “White Book” intended to justify Allende’s overthrow with allegations of plans to murder the high command in the months before the coup, the report said. It said the CIA knew at the time this was “probably disinformation.”
CIA Denies Human Rights Abuses
Despite the disclosures, the CIA report admits to no abuses or cover-ups by CIA agents.
“A review of CIA’s files has uncovered no evidence that CIA officers and employees were engaged in human rights abuses or in covering up any human rights abuses in Chile,” the report says.
But it chronicles clandestine contacts authorized by President Nixon and other top U.S. officials that it said would violate standards now followed by the agency.
The agency now carefully reviews all contacts for potential involvement with human rights abuses, the report said. It “makes a deliberate decision balancing the nature and severity of the human rights abuse against the potential intelligence value of continuing the relationship.”
Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., who sponsored the law that required the report, said he takes the CIA at its word on today’s standards. But he pushed for full disclosure of past acts to prevent U.S. support for such injustices in the future.
“I think the environment has changed, and I’m prepared to believe the agency has changed,” Hinchey said in an interview. “I think that in today’s atmosphere, this would not happen. That does not mean it would not happen in tomorrow’s atmosphere.”
Nixon Worried About Allende
The CIA report points to the worries of Nixon and other top U.S. officials about Allende’s leftist ties and their fears of rising Soviet influence in Latin America.
“This very sordid chapter in American history needs to be held up to the bright light so that everyone can see what went on under orders from the president of the United States, the secretary of state and the attorney general,” Hinchey said.
CIA spokeswoman Anya Guilsher said the report addresses key questions Congress has had concerning CIA activities in Chile in both the 1970 coup planning and the 1973 coup.
“We were aware of coup plotting in 1973, but we did not instigate it,” she said.
More CIA files and other documents on Chile are to be released in a few weeks.
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said last week that release of the documents on human rights abuse and terrorism during the regime of Allende successor Gen. Augusto Pinochet was delayed by Sandy Berger, president Clinton’s national security adviser, to review more documents.
“Basically, we want to make sure we get this done right, and we are as responsive as we are able to, as far as the fullest-possible disclosure of documents,” Lockhart said.