By Melvin Goodman / CounterPunch
“Chile is a dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica.”
– Henry A. Kissinger.
Our 240 years of history have not produced a more controversial secretary of state than Henry A. Kissinger. There are enormous achievements associated with Kissinger, including the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 1972; the step-by-step agreements in 1974 between Israel and Egypt as well as between Israel and Syria; and the opening of a substantive political dialogue with China that began with his secret diplomacy in 1971. Conversely, Kissinger will be remembered for the wiretapping of his senior aides; the secret bombing of Cambodia; the outrageous “tilt” toward Pakistan in 1971 in order to protect his opening toward China; the secret arms supplies to the Shah of Iran, who was supporting a Kurdish rebel faction in Iraq; the profound lies associated with the Vietnam War and the U.S. role in the bloody military coup in Chile fifty years ago. The evidence of his lies regarding Chile continue to mount.
In his memoirs (“White House Years” and “Years of Upheaval”), Kissinger claimed that “Latin America was an area in which I did not then have expertise of my own,” and that, as a result, he had paid little attention to Central and South America. However, as Seymour Hersh documented in his “The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House,” Kissinger intended that Latin America was to be “permitted little independence,” and that the region was to be “controlled and manipulated by American intelligence” (i.e., the Central Intelligence Agency). In fact, Kissinger began manipulating policy toward Chile’s socialist leader, Salvador Allende, as early as 1970. He remarked at the time that there was no reason for the United States to “stand by and let Chile go communist merely due to the stupidity of its own people.”
Kissinger was a master at manipulating the bureaucratic national security machinery. His bureaucratic device for orchestrating the CIA’s covert role in Latin America was the 40 Committee, which Nixon created in February 1970 to review and approve covert action progams. Kissinger chaired the Committee, whose work enabled Kissinger to say in his memoirs that “No further NSC meetings were held on the subject” of Chile. He added deceitfully that “I was not deeply engaged in Chilean matters.”
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The CIA’s covert action campaign against Allende began in 1970 after his unanticipated election victory in the first round of presidential voting in September and before his inauguration. In a memorandum to President Richard Nixon in November 1970, Kissinger argued fatuously that the “election of Allende as President of Chile poses for us one of the most serious challenges ever faced in this hemisphere.” (underlined in the memorandum marked “Secret/Sensitive”)
Kissinger devised a “two track” policy for Chile; Track I was the diplomatic one under Ambassador Edward Korry. Track II was unknown to Korry; it called for the destabilization of Chile with CIA director Richard Helms playing the lead role. Nixon wanted to make the Chilean “economy scream.”
Track II included kidnapping and assassination. Upon leaving the White House with Kissinger’s instructions, Helms conceded that “if I ever carried a marshal’s baton in my knapsack out of the Oval Office, that was that day.” While Kissinger has escaped accountability and responsibility for his machinations, Helms was indicted for perjury for denying that the CIA passed money to the opposition movement in Chile. He ultimately pleaded nolo contendere to lesser charges, and was fined “$2,000 and given a two-year suspended prison sentence. Helms went from the courthouse to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia where he was given a hero’s welcome and a gift of $2,000 collected from operations officers to cover the fine.
Having failed to prevent the election of Allende in 1970, Kissinger and Helms moved to subvert his government, including bribes to members of the Chilean congress; covert propaganda against the Allende government; and even money and weaponry to right-wing renegades to kidnap and kill General Rene Schneider, the commander-in-chief of the Chilean army, who opposed military meddling in the electoral process. Kissinger wanted the removal of Schneider by any means, and the CIA provided some of the military equipment that was used in the kidnapping of Schneider.
The military coup that took place in Chile in September 1973 was part of Operation Condor that involved secret collusion between Latin America’s military dictatorships, and included coordinating pressure against Chile. The Condor team had representatives from the secret police forces of Chile, Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. Its activities included planting a car bomb in downtown Washington, DC, that killed former Chilean foreign minister Orlando Letelier on Massachusetts Avenue. The U.S. intelligence community assisted the Condor group’s surveillance of Latin American dissident refugees in the United States.
Kissinger, who hid his machinations behind the cloak of plausible deniability, makes no mention of Letelier or Operation Condor in his 2600-page memoir, although Condor operated with U.S. knowledge and indulgence. There was no mention of General Schneider as well. Kissinger even concluded in his memoir that the “slide toward chaos [in Chile] owed nothing to American intervention,” pointing the finger at Allende’s “ideological zeal and that of his fanatical adherents.”
The latest pieces of evidence to document the roles of Nixon and Kissinger in arranging a military takeover in Chile became available last week, when the “U.S. government completed a declassification review in response to a request from the Government of Chile.” These CIA documents demonstrated support for Kissinger’s interest in a military coup, noting that Chilean military officers were “determined to restore political and economic order,” but “may still lack an effectively coordinated plan that would capitalize on the widespread civilian opposition.” The documents didn’t compromise U.S. national security, and there was no reason to withhold them from public view for half a century.
CIA’s deceit was more evident in a declassified document that erroneously informed Nixon that there was “no evidence of a coordinated tri-service coup plan” in Chile. An additional document reported that the members of the new military junta were “all respected and experienced leaders.” Nixon and Kissinger had been supporting a military takeover for three years when these documents were presented to the White House.
The documents from 1970s are particularly revealing regarding Kissinger’s mind set toward Chile, and particularly his reasons for promoting a military coup in that country. Kissinger informed Nixon that it was necessary to remove Allende from power “for what happens in Chile over the next six to twelve months will have ramifications that will go far beyond just US-Chilean relations.” According to Kissinger, these ramifications included “what happens in the rest of Latin America and the developing world; on what our future position will be in the hemisphere; and on the larger world picture, including our relations with the USSR.” Kissinger’s zero-sum approach to countries such as Chile provides ample evidence of his Cold War thinking and his contributions to the international tensions that dominated the Nixon and Ford presidencies.
Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA and National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. and A Whistleblower at the CIA. His most recent books are “American Carnage: The Wars of Donald Trump” (Opus Publishing, 2019) and “Containing the National Security State” (Opus Publishing, 2021). Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.