Date: Sun, 24 Oct 1999 22:56:27 -0500 (CDT)
From: Michael Eisenscher <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Still Hidden: What the US Did in Chile
Still Hidden: A Full Record Of What the U.S. Did in Chile
By Peter Kornbluh, Washington Post
Sunday 24 October 1999; Page B01
As Augusto Pinochet continues to fight extradition from England to face
charges of crimes against humanity, the historical record of U.S.
support for the former Chilean dictator remains
desaparecido--disappeared--like so many victims of his violent regime.
Unless President Clinton ensures that the record is brought to light, a
singular opportunity to find answers to unresolved cases of atrocities
against Chileans and Americans, and to fully understand the role U.S.
government played in this Cold War tragedy, will be lost.
In the wake of Gen. Pinochet's stunning arrest in London one year ago,
the Clinton administration has been conducting a special "Chile
Declassification Project." On Feb. 1, U.S. national security agencies
were directed "on behalf of the president" to begin searching their
archives "and review for release . . . all documents that shed light on
human rights abuses, terrorism, and other acts of political violence
during and prior to the Pinochet era in Chile."
What began as a precedent-setting exercise in official openness,
however, has devolved into an example of government censors holding
history hostage. The "securocrats" of the national security bureaucracy
are blocking the release of virtually all documents that chronicle the
full extent of the U.S. role in Chile. The result, so far, is a public
record skewed by omission, open to charges of fraud and a coverup.
Chile holds a special place in the annals of American foreign policy.
During the mid-1970s, the country that poet Pablo Neruda described as
"a long petal of sea, wine, and snow" became the subject of
international scandal. News reports revealed that the CIA had conducted
massive clandestine operations to undermine the democratically elected
socialist government of Salvador Allende and help bring the military to
power in 1973. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's embrace of the
Pinochet regime, despite its ongoing atrocities, prompted Congress to
pass the very first laws establishing human rights as a criterion for
U.S. policy abroad.
The CIA's covert operations and the debate over U.S. policy toward
Pinochet generated a slew of secret documents. So, too, did the 1973
murder in Chile of two U.S. citizens, freelance writers Charles Horman
and Frank Teruggi, as well as the brazen 1976 car bombing in Washington
that killed former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier and his American
associate, Ronni Karpen Moffitt. The Clinton administration's special
review carried the promise of finally declassifying these records and
answering the outstanding questions that haunt this shameful era.
Such questions include:
What role did the United States play in the violent coup that brought
Pinochet to power?
Why was Horman, whose case was made famous in the Hollywood movie
"Missing," detained and executed? Did U.S. intelligence somehow finger
him, as recently declassified documents suggest, for the Chilean
What support did the CIA provide to Pinochet's notorious secret
police, the DINA?
Could the United States have prevented the assassination of Letelier
and Moffitt on American soil?
Since the White House ordered declassification, the agencies' review
has yielded almost 7,000 documents--a major feat given the usual
snail's pace of the national security bureaucracy. On June 30, the
administration released some 5,800 records, covering the most
repressive years of Pinochet's bloody rule, 1973 to 1978.
Significantly, however, 5,000 of those were from the State Department;
the CIA released only 500 documents--a fraction of its secret holdings
on that period.
On Oct. 8, approximately 1,100 documents were declassified in a second
phase that was supposed to cover the years of Allende's presidency,
1970 to 1973. Based on the accumulated evidence of U.S. involvement in
Chile during that period, that figure is a meager percentage of the
To be sure, some of the documents that were declassified contain
extremely detailed information on the Pinochet regime, and they
undoubtedly will prove useful to future efforts within Chile to hold
Pinochet's military officers accountable for human rights violations.
But while Chileans are learning about their dark history from the U.S.
documents, American citizens are learning almost nothing about their
own government's actions. Among more than 25,000 pages released to
date, there is not a single page of the thousands of CIA, National
Security Council (NSC) or National Security Agency (NSA) records on
U.S. policy and operations to bring down Allende and help Pinochet
consolidate his rule. This documentation includes the files of the
CIA's covert "Task Force on Chile," planning papers from the Nixon
White House, records of U.S. material support for the DINA, and
intelligence documents on the Horman and Letelier-Moffitt cases.
That such records exist is beyond dispute. As the subject of repeated
controversy over the years, the U.S. role in Chile has generated
congressional inquiries, murder investigations, criminal prosecutions
and civil lawsuits--not to mention hundreds of requests under the
Freedom of Information Act. These have yielded extensive information
(which I have spent almost 20 years compiling and analyzing) about what
still is hidden.
A close reading of two detailed Senate reports published in 1975, for
example, shows that the CIA station in Santiago sent a number of cables
about its "liaison relations" with the Chilean DINA after the coup.
Justice Department files on the prosecution of former CIA head Richard
Helms for lying to Congress about covert operations in Chile reveal
that the agency filed daily progress reports on "Track II"--the code
name for U.S. efforts to foment a coup against Allende. An aborted
lawsuit filed by the Horman family against Kissinger produced
references to classified records containing information about Charles
Horman's death. But while President Clinton clearly intended these
cables, files and records to be released, none of them have been.
The Horman case is a classic example of the cult of secrecy. As the
movie "Missing" suggests, his family has long suspected that the U.S.
intelligence community knew far more than it admitted about how and why
he was singled out by the Chilean military after the coup. But it took
26 years for the U.S. government to acknowledge that State Department
officials shared the family's suspicion. "U.S. intelligence may have
played a part in Horman's death. At best, it was limited to providing
or confirming information that helped motivate his murder . . . ."
according to a passage in an Aug. 25, 1976, State Department memorandum
released this month--a document that Horman's widow, Joyce, calls
"close to a smoking pistol." (When the same document was released to
the family in 1980, this critical paragraph was blacked out.) And
although Clinton's order explicitly directed agencies to declassify
documents on Horman, neither the CIA nor the NSA has released a single
record relating to his case.
Hundreds of documents have also been withheld on the Letelier and
Moffitt assassinations--albeit with the explanation, wholly
unsatisfactory to their families, that these records are material to an
"ongoing" investigation into Pinochet's possible role.
As coordinator of the Chile Declassification Project, the NSC bears
responsibility for failure to comply with the president's directive.
Under its watch, countless documents have been blocked from release.
The CIA, which has the most to offer history but also the most to hide,
has refused to conduct a full file search of its covert action branch,
the Directorate of Operations. After I sent a comprehensive list of
documents missing from the first release to the CIA's declassification
center--the address of which is classified--an official informed me
that the agency was "not legally obliged" to search such files because
it had never "officially acknowledged" covert operations in Chile.
(President Gerald Ford's public admission in 1974 that the CIA had
covertly intervened in Chile apparently doesn't count.) Moreover, with
the acquiescence of the NSC, the intelligence community has taken the
position that policy and planning documents are "not responsive" to the
president's directive. Under this narrow interpretation, the
deliberations of Nixon, Kissinger, Helms and others in plotting and
financing political violence in Chile will not be considered for
declassification--severely distorting the historical record.
Consider one example: The CIA has released one heavily blacked-out
cable reporting on the October 1970 kidnapping and murder of Chilean
Gen. Rene Schneider, who opposed a military move against Allende. But
the agency did not even submit for review the dozens of secret
"memcons" (memorandums of conversations), meeting minutes and briefing
papers showing that the White House and the CIA covertly orchestrated
this operation in an aborted attempt to instigate a coup in Chile.
To the surprise of the intelligence community, the National Archives
Records Administration (NARA) found such documents among Nixon's
In compliance with Clinton's order, these records were submitted to the
Chile Declassification Project, but CIA and NSA officials objected to
their release. Since the documents deal with the Allende era, they
should have been made public on Oct. 8. They weren't.
It is unclear how many, if any, will be included in the third and final
declassification, now scheduled for April. Under the media spotlight,
the CIA recently said it will review some records related to covert
action. But it is unlikely that the credibility of this important
project can be salvaged unless the president explicitly orders full
cooperation and maximum disclosure.
There are compelling reasons to do so:
Abroad, Washington's reputation as a standard-bearer on human rights is
at stake. It will prove far more difficult to encourage Chileans to
undergo a process of truth and reconciliation if Washington is
unwilling to admit its own involvement in their history. Indeed, the
credibility of U.S. diplomatic efforts to press other nations, from
Germany to Guatemala, to acknowledge and redress their mistakes of the
past will be undermined by this flagrant attempt to hide our own.
At home, the American public has the right to know the full story of
U.S. policy toward Chile and Pinochet's brutal regime. And his victims'
families deserve to be able to lay this painful history to rest.
Clinton's directive said the declassification project responded, in
part, "to the expressed wishes of the families of American victims."
But an incomplete review, as Joyce Horman wrote recently, would be
"little more than an exercise in hypocrisy."
At least rhetorically, Clinton appears to agree: "I think you're
entitled to know what happened back then and how it happened," he
recently told reporters. We are indeed. But only if he takes concrete
action to support his words will Americans finally learn what was done
in Chile--in our name, but without our knowledge.
Peter Kornbluh is a senior analyst at the National Security Archive.
His book "The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and
Accountability" will be published next year by the New Press.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company