On September 11, 1973, US President Richard Nixon received his daily report from the CIA, which contained items about Laos, Vietnam, the Soviet Union and Chile.
More than four decades later, much of what the CIA had to say that day about General Augusto Pinochet’s military coup against the government of Salvador Allende remains a secret. This summer, the CIA declassified hundreds of such presidential reports from the Nixon era, but blacked out or deleted many paragraphs to conceal its role in ushering in one of the most brutal dictatorships in Latin America.
Kornbluh says the CIA has evidence that demonstrates what is already widely believed: Pinochet sanctioned Letelier’s assassination
“The CIA continues withholding information about what it told the president on the day of the coup, 43 years ago,” says Peter Kornbluh, a journalist who runs the Chile Documentation Project at the National Security Archive (NSA), a non-governmental research center and repository of declassified US documents.
Kornbluh has spent much of the last four decades investigating US involvement in the Pinochet regime, which ran Chile until 1990.
“The CIA is trying to cover up what Nixon knew about the coup plotters in Chile and since when, and it is also hiding its own connections to the coup organizers,” says the author of The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability.
On Sunday, the NSA posted a series of files relating to the coup that the CIA had released in August. Much of the information was already known, in large part due to Kornbluh’s own efforts, but large sections of some documents had been redacted.
“The CIA committed crimes in Chile, and it continues to try to distance itself from the coup by covering up the extent of its contact with the coup leaders,” Kornbluh told EL PAÍS.
US involvement in the coup is hardly a secret. Even so, says Kornbluh, reading through the documents it becomes clear just how much intelligence the CIA had gathered and how well-informed Nixon was, as evidenced by a presidential report dated September 8, 1973.
Other documents dated the same day collected by Kornbluh’s team show how the CIA initially thought the coup was planned for September 10, and how the Chilean armed forces were preparing for joint action.
Kornbluh, who has called on the Obama administration to order the declassification of all intelligence information about Chile, says the issue is a matter of principle.
“These documents are not going to change what we already know, but we have an enormous debt to Chile, because Pinochet would never have come to power without the support of the United States,” he says, adding: “And Pinochet would not have been able to send terrorists and murderers to the United States to kill two innocent people,” a reference to the deaths of former Allende foreign minister Orlando Letelier and his US assistant Ronni Moffit in a car bomb in Washington on September 21, 1976.
US Secretary of State John Kerry handed over dozens of documents to the Chilean government during a visit last year.This material suggests that the order to kill Letelier came from the highest levels within the Pinochet regime. But Kornbluh says that the CIA has other evidence that demonstrates unequivocally what is already widely believed: that it was Pinochet himself who sanctioned the assassination.
Chile’s Washington ambassador Juan Gabriel Valdés, who was Letelier’s assistant in the US capital 40 years ago, last week expressed his hope that the US government would take advantage of the 40th anniversary of the killings to release whatever information is still in the CIA’s archives.
English version by Nick Lyne.