U.S. intelligence activities in Chile

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For more information, see: CIA activities in the Americas.

Given the intense effort that the CIA, following direct orders of Richard Nixon, regarded Marxist Salvador Allende, regardless of intelligence analysis suggesting Allende was not consolidating power, as a second Castro, it is not surprising that CIA World Factbook failed to mention the elected Frei government that preceded Allende. After colonial days, the first political mention is of "a three-year-old Marxist government of Salvador Allende was overthrown in 1973 by a military coup led by Augusto Pinochet" Pinochet ruled with increasing autocracy until a freely elected president was installed in 1990.[1]

The CIA, led by the National Intelligence Council, filed an informative report in response to requirements of Section 311 of the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000 (Hinchey Amendment). Reviewed were relevant CIA records of the period predominantly from recent document searches; Congressional reports about US activities in Chile in the 1960s and 1970s; memoirs of key figures, including Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger; CIA’s oral history collection at the Center for the Study of Intelligence; and consulted with retired intelligence officers who were directly involved. From this information, a retrospective report about CIA activities in Chile was written. [2]

Some general observations of the report pertained to the historical context. "Efforts by the United States to support anti-Communist forces in Chile date back to the late 1950s and reflect the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union for influence throughout the Third World. The growing strength of the Chilean left, along with continuing fragmentation by conservative and moderate political forces, became increasing concerns ... which wanted to avoid the emergence of “another Cuba” in the Western Hemisphere. "


In 1962, the 5412 Panel Special Group, responsible for covert action oversight, gave the CIA authority to carry out covert action projects in support of the Chilean Radical Party and the Christian Democratic Party (PDC). ... A secondary purpose of these programs was to support efforts to split the Socialist Party. At the request of the US Ambassador in Chile, with the support of the Department of State, [2]

Chile 1963

A one-time covert payment to the Democratic Front, a coalition of three moderate to conservative parties, was authorized, in December, by the 5412 Group. This payment would help the Front in the upcoming 1964 Presidential election.[2] The document has conflicting information if this happened in in 1963 or 1964.

Chile 1964

A propaganda and political action program for the upcoming September 1964 Presidential election was approved by the 5412 group in April. In May, the "303 Committee", named for its meetings in Room 303 of the Executive Office Building, reacted to the dissolution of the Democratic Front by approving covert funding to the Radical Party.

The Christian Democrat Party of Chile candidate Eduardo Frei Montalva won the election, and Salvador Allende lost.

Chile 1965

On 5 February 1965, the 303 Committee approved a new covert action campaign intended to support selected candidates for Congressional elections on 7 March. The Ambassador was aware of the program and cooperated with it; it was considered a success and was terminated on 30 June.

Chile 1966

In 1965-66, previous propaganda efforts were merged, and the CIA established a covert action project to support the placement of propaganda in Chilean mass media. This project was to influence public opinion against leftist parties and candidates. [2]

Chile 1967

The scope of CIA’s propaganda activities in Chile was further expanded in 1967, to promote “anti-Communist” themes, specifically against the Soviet Bloc presence in the country.[2] The Chilean left, however, continued to make gains during the Frei Administration.

Chile 1968

In July 1968, the 303 Committee approved a political action program to support individual moderate candidates running in the 1969 Congressional elections. [2]

Chile 1969

"As a result of 1968 propaganda activities, in 1969 the “40 Committee” (successor to the 303 Committee) approved the establishment of a propaganda workshop, and directed CIA to carry out “spoiling operations” to prevent an Allende victory."[2]

Chile 1970

On September 4, 1970 Salvador Allende gained presidency of Chile after four elections and became the first socialist to be elected in the Western Hemisphere in the 20th century.

Intelligence analysis

The Intelligence Community’s analytic assessment of the prospects for a coup in 1970, for example, was that “military action is impossible” because the Army was too deeply committed to the Constitution and unwilling to oust the civilian government. The DCI stated that the Agency was being asked to do the impossible. A senior CIA officer said the idea of undermining an Allende victory was “unrealistic.” National Intelligence Estimates produced between 1969 and 1973 reflected declining confidence over time that Allende would be able to subvert Chile’s constitutional order. In addition, in the period preceding the successful coup against Allende, CIA officers were concerned about the blurring of lines between monitoring coup-plotting—collecting intelligence on such activities but not directing or influencing them—and supporting a coup at least implicitly.[2]

According to the Church Committee, "A July 1970 NIE," which is not clearly the 1970 mentioned above, "raised the question of what an Allende victory would mean to Chile and the United States. The NIE occasioned considerable disagreement within the Washington community. The disagreement reflected a division between the Department of State on one side and the U.S. Ambassador and the CIA Station on the other. The latter position was that an Allende victory would mean the gradual imposition of a classic Marxist-Leninist regime in Chile. [3]

Again with some lack of clarity about whether there were one or more 1970 NIEs, the Church Committee said that one NIE predicted "that an Allende administration would proceed as rapidly as possible toward the establishment of a Marxist-Socialist state. It would be a Chilean version of a Soviet-style East European Communist state. The intelligence community predicted that although democracy was likely to survive in Chile over the next two or three years, Allende could take Chile a long way down the Marxist-Socialist road during the six years of his administration. To do this, however, he would have to surmount some very important obstacles, such as Chile's security forces, the Christian Democratic Party, some elements of organized labor, the Congress, and the Catholic Church. The NIE noted that Allende undoubtedly expected progress on basic bread and butter issues which would afford him an apportunity to secure control of the Congress in the 1973 election and thereby enable him to impose a socialist state of the Marxist variety by the vía pacífica ("peaceful road")."

Covert action

Soon after, President Richard Nixon personally ordered a covert operation, Project FUBELT, to undermine Allende's government and promote a military coup in Chile.[4] $10,000,000 was authorized of which $8,000,000 was spent. The CIA developed a two-track plan for Chile. "Track I" was meant to prevent Allende from qualifying for office, under a Chilean requirement for a Congressional runoff election for a candidate, such as Allende, who did not win an absolute majority. One approach in Track I, for example, was to persuade Congress pick the runner-up, Jorge Alessandri, "who would renounce the presidency and thus provoke new elections in which [outgoing president Eduardo] Frei would run."[5]

"Track II" involved instigating a coup preventing him from taking office. After Allende won the runoff, Track I was revised into an anti-Allende propaganda operation. After Allende took office, Track II planning shifted to a coup to remove him from office.

The principals in the plan, of which Nixon and Kissinger were actively aware, included:

  • Thomas Karamessines, head of the CIA Clandestine Service, who received the orders from Kissinger
  • David Atlee Phillips (CIA program head)
  • Henry Hecksher (CIA station chief, Santiago, Chile)
  • Col. Paul Winert, the U.S. Army Attache in the Embassy, detailed to the CIA. Winert was the main contact from the Agency to the Chilean military. [6]
  • Ambassador Korry, who was not made aware of Track II

In an October 16, 1970 cable, Karamessines told Hecksher "It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup." The "operating guidance" makes it clear that these operations are to be conducted so as to hide the "American hand," and that the CIA is to ignore any orders to the contrary from Ambassador Korry.

It reviews the propaganda operations designed to push Chilean president Eduardo Frei to support "a military coup which would prevent Allende from taking office on 3 November."[7]

=Track I redirection

After he was in office, the 40 Committee approved the redirection of “Track I” operations that—combined with a renewed effort to support the PDC in 1971 and a project to provide support to the National Party and Democratic Radical Party in 1972—funneled millions of dollars to strengthen opposition political parties. CIA also provided assistance to militant right-wing groups to undermine the President and create a tense environment.

Track II actions

After the Chilean Congress confirmed Allende as President, CIA worked with three groups of coup plotters, all of whom believed that of Army Commander Rene Schneider, who felt deeply that the Constitution required that the Army allow Allende to assume power, would have to be kidnapped--killing, according to the investigators, was not planned by the CIA or any plotters. CIA dropped support for one group as extremists.

The second group, led by Army General Roberto Viaux, had support from non-commissioned and junior officers, and right-wing civilian groups. Viaux was contacted by the Station on 9 October, after CIA was directed to explore coup possibilities. Viaux requested weapons and other support, but CIA Headquarters decided his group could not succeed; Viaux was so informed on 17-18 October. Nevertheless, the Viaux group said they would attempt to kidnap Schneider, which the CIA doubted. As promised, however, Viaux's group tried to kidnap Schneider, resulting in Schneider's mortal wounds when he drew a gun and was shot. Schneider died two days later.

A third group, led by General Camilo Valenzuela, was considered credible by the station, which provided a few weapons that were returned unused. Valenzuela's group denied any connection with Viaux's operation. Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tagC

=Covert action

One month later the 40 Committee voted $700,000 to keep El Mercurio afloat. And CIA documents in 1973 acknowledge that El Mercurio and, to a 1esser extent, the papers belonging to opposition political parties, were the only publications under pressure from the government.[3]


A June 1972 NIE, according to the Church Committee, saw prospects for the continuation of democracy in Chile as better than at any time since Allende's inauguration. The NIE stated that the traditional political system in Chile continued to demonstrate remarkable resiliency. Nevertheless, coup planning continued.


Even though the last NIE before the coup said that Allende had not consolidated Marxist power, but was building a coalition. It did observe that societal polarization was getting worse, and while compromise was a Chilean tradition, it was becoming more difficult. Still, the NIE held it unlikely that the military would force Allende from office.

Sources available so far do not make it clear whether the assumption about there not being a military coup was predicated on an assumption that the Army would follow the late General Schneider's principles, or if the analysts were unaware of the active coup support being given by the CIA and the Embassy. The Embassy and the State Department seemed at odds.

Intelligence analysis

The NIE said, according to the Church Committee, that low-income Chileans believed that Allende had improved their conditions and represented their interests; and the growth in support for his coalition reflected his political ability as well as the popularity of his measures. The NIE did warn, however, that the growing polarization of the Chilean society was wearing away the Chilean predilection for political compromise. Nevertheless, the analysts predicted only a small possibility that the military would move to force Allende from office.[3]

Covert action

According to the Church Committee, "The CIA spent $1.5 million in support of El Mercurio, the country's largest newspaper and the most important channel for anti-Allende propaganda. According to CIA documents, these efforts played a significant role in setting the stage for the military coup..." [3]

On September 11, 1973, General Augusto Pinochet, who had commanded the Chilean Army for 19 days, executed a coup d'etat that overthrew Allende. While the U.S. investigation did not show that CIA instigated that coup, it did establish that the CIA field personnel were aware of the plotting and did not discourage it. [2] It is difficult to reconcile this conclusion with the firm Washington guidance about coup policy, going back to the November 1970 CIA status report, Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag CIA officers were aware of and reported to Washington, in 1973. that General Pinochet and the forces that overthrew the Allende Government were conducting a severe campaign against leftists and perceived political enemies in the early months after the coup. Activities of some security services portended a long-term effort to suppress opponents. [2]


In January 1974, CIA officers and assets were tasked to report on human rights violations by the Chilean government.[2]


Intelligence analysis

A 1975 National Intelligence Estimate stated that the Chilean armed forces were determined to oversee a prolonged political moratorium and to revamp the Chilean political system. The NIE stated that the Junta had established tight, authoritarian controls over political life in Chile which generally continued in effect. It had outlawed Marxist parties in Chile as well as other parties which had comprised Allende's coalition. In addition, the Christian Democratic and National parties had been placed in involuntary recess. These two parties were forbidden from engaging in political activity and restricted to purely housekeeping functions.[3]

Intelligence collection

Within a year after the coup, the CIA and other US Government agencies were aware of bilateral cooperation among regional intelligence services to track the activities of and, in at least a few cases, kill political opponents. This was the precursor to Operation Condor, an intelligence-sharing arrangement among Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay established in 1975. [2]


U.S. assistance also goes to programs that deter weapons of mass destruction, improve civilian control over the military, and upgrade military equipment. The United States provides support to the Chilean government for anti-narcotics programs focused on police intelligence capabilities, interagency cooperation, anti-money laundering efforts, and maritime security.[8]


  1. The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 National Intelligence Council (September 18, 2000), CIA Activities in Chile
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Staff, Select Committee To Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence (December 18, 1975), Covert Action in Chile 1963-1973 [Church Committee Report]]
  4. Chile and the United States: Declassified Documents relating to the Military Coup, 1970-1976. National Security Archives Online.
  5. Kornbluh, Peter (November/December 1998), "The Chile Coup: The U.S. Hand", iF magazine
  6. "Inside the Department of Dirty Tricks", Atlantic Monthly, August 1979
  7. Report of CIA Chilean Task Force Activities, 15 September to 3 November 1970 (November 18, 1970).
  8. Peter J. Meyer (10 December 2009), Chile: Political and Economic Conditions and U.S. Relations, Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress