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Operation Condor

By Dr George Venturini

Heinz Alfred ‘Henry’ Kissinger obtained a Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1954. His interest was on Castelreagh and Metternich – two empire builders. He devoted his life to sublimate them.

In an incendiary, studiedly defamatory book the late Christopher Hitchens described him as “a mediocre and opportunist academic [intent on] becoming an international potentate. The signature qualities were there from the inaugural moment: the sycophancy and the duplicity; the power worship and the absence of scruple; the empty trading of old non-friends for new non-friends. And the distinctive effects were also present: the uncounted and expendable corpses; the official and unofficial lying about the cost; the heavy and pompous pseudo-indignation when unwelcome questions were asked. Kissinger’s global career started as it meant to go on. It debauched the American republic and American democracy, and it levied a hideous toll of casualties on weaker and more vulnerable societies.”

The story is all here: from the martyrdom of Indochina to becoming the real backchannel to Moscow on behalf of his new client: Donald Trump.

Editor’s note: This outstanding series by Dr Venturini is published bi-weekly (Wednesdays and Saturdays). Today we publish Part Seven. Here is the link to Part Six; War criminal?

During the 1950s and 1960s, the United States put forward a variety of programmes and strategies ranging from funding political campaigns to funding propaganda aimed at laying down the necessary conditions to prevent Allende’s accession to the presidency. Throughout this time the United States successfully impeded the Left-wing parties from gaining power. In 1958 Jorge Alessandri, a nominally independent with support from the Rightist Liberal and Conservative Parties, defeated Allende by nearly 33,500 votes to claim the presidency. His laissez-faire policies, highly endorsed by the United States, were regarded as the solution to the country’s inflation problems. Under recommendations from the United States, Alessandri steadily reduced tariffs from 1959, a policy which caused the Chilean market to be overwhelmed by American products. The government’s policies angered the working class who asked for higher wages, and the repercussions of this massive discontent were felt in the 1961 congressional elections. President Alessandri suffered terrible blows which sent the message that laissez-faire policies were not the desired way. As the grand total of US$ 130 million from the U.S. banking industry, the U.S. Treasury Department, the International Monetary Fund and other international organisations accepted by Alessandri illustrates, laissez-faire policies only made Chile more dependent on the United States.

When Allende appeared as a top contender in the 1964 election, the C.I.A. spent three million dollars campaigning against him, in an effort to influence the outcome of the election, mostly through radio and print advertising. The American Administration viewed electing the contender, Eduardo Frei, as a must since they feared that because of Alessandri’s failures the electorate would turn to Allende as the solution. Allende had long been feared by the American Administration because of his warm relation with Cuba and his open criticism of the invasion of the Bay of Pigs. Furthermore, more clandestine aid to Frei was put forward through President Kennedy’s ‘Alliance for Progress’ programme which promised “20 billion in public and private assistance in the country for the next decade.” In direct terms the United States contributed to the campaign with 20 million dollars but they also sent in about 100 people with assigned tasks to prevent Allende’s victory. In order to influence public opinion the C.I.A. also made use of massive propaganda in the radio, television, posters, wall paintings, pamphlets with the goal of connecting ‘Communist atrocities’ with Allende. In the end the mobilisation of the American business sector in Chile, the aid of the C.I.A. and that of the American Government helped Frei’s campaign win with a clear majority over Allende.

Condor was one of the fruits of this continuing effort. The targets were officially armed groups – such as the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria – Revolutionary Left Movement, M.I.R. a Chilean political party and former Left-wing guerrilla organisation founded on 12 October 1965, the Movimiento Peronista Montonero – Montoneros, an Argentine Peronist urban guerrilla group, active during the 1960s and 1970s, the Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo – People’s Revolutionary Army, E.R.P. which operated across the borders in several of South American states, the Movimiento de Liberación Nacional – National Liberation Movement, also known as the Tupamaros, an urban guerrilla organisation in Uruguay in the 1960s and 1970s – but in fact included all kinds of political opponents, their families and others. The Argentine ‘dirty war’, for example, which resulted in approximately 30,000 victims according to most estimates, targeted many trade-unionists, relatives of activists, and others.

Within the Operation Condor the Chilean-destabilisation strategy, presided over in detail by Kissinger, developed into a series of programmes called ‘Track 1’ and ‘Track 2’. They represented two approaches of the U.S. Administration to fighting Allende. ‘Track 1’ was a State Department initiative designed to thwart Allende by subverting Chilean elected officials within the bounds of the Chilean Constitution and excluded the C.I.A. ‘Track 1’ expanded to encompass a number of policies, the ultimate goal of which was to create the conditions which would encourage a coup. ‘Track 2’ was the C.I.A. operation overseen by Kissinger and C.I.A.’s Deputy Director of Plans, Thomas Karamessines. ‘Track 2’ excluded the State Department and Department of Defence. The goal of ‘Track 2’ was to find and support Chilean military officers who would support a coup.

Along the lines of ‘Track 2’, Kissinger prepared ‘Memorandum 93’, dated 9 November 1970, which summarises the presidential decisions regarding changes in U.S. policy towards Chile following Allende’s election. Kissinger sent it to the Secretaries of State and Defense, and to the Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness and the Director of Central Intelligence. The memorandum directs U.S. agencies to adopt a “cool” posture towards Allende’s government, in order to prevent his consolidation of power and “limit [his] ability to implement policies contrary to U.S. and hemisphere interests.” The memorandum states that existing U.S. assistance and investments in Chile should be reduced, and no new commitments undertaken. Furthermore – according to Kissinger’s memorandum – “close relations” should be established and maintained with military leaders throughout Latin America to facilitate coordination of pressure and other opposition efforts.

By 18 November 1970 the C.I.A. was able to present a summary of its efforts between 15 September and 3 November 1970 to prevent Allende’s ratification as president and to foment a coup in Chile – according to both ‘Track 1’ and ‘Track 2’. The summary details the composition of the Task Force, headed by David Atlee Phillips, the team of covert operatives “inserted individually into Chile,” and their contacts with Colonel Paul Winert, the U.S. Army Attaché detailed to the C.I.A. for the operation. It reviews the propaganda operations designed to press President Frei to support “a military coup which would prevent Allende from taking office on 3 November.”

After all manoeuvres failed, and Allende was confirmed, as a declassified memorandum dated 4 December 1970 revealed, in response to a 27 November directive from Kissinger, an inter-agency Ad Hoc Working Group on Chile prepared a set of strategy papers covering a range of possible sanctions and pressures against the new Allende Government. These included a possible diplomatic effort to force Chile to withdraw – and if necessary to be expelled – from the Organisation of American States as well as consultations with other Latin American countries “to promote their sharing of our concern over Chile.” The documents show that the Nixon Administration did engage in an invisible economic blockade against Allende, intervening at the World Bank, at the Inter-American Development Bank, and at the Export-Import Bank to curtail or terminate credits and loans to Chile before Allende had been in office for a month.

The evidence of such ‘policy’ and much criminal activity only came to light with the work and subsequent publication in 1975-1976 of the many-volume Report of the The Church Committee – the common term referring to the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, presided by Senator Frank Church. According to the Report, covert United States involvement in Chile in the decade between 1963 and 1973 was extensive and continuous. The C.I.A. spent eight million dollars in the three years between 1970 and the military coup in September 1973, with over three million in 1972 alone. Covert C.I.A.’s activity was present in almost every major election in Chile in the decade between 1963 and 1973, but its actual effect on electoral outcomes is not altogether clear. Chile, more than any of its South American neighbours, had an extensive democratic tradition dating back to the early 1930s, and even before. Because of this, it is difficult to gauge how successful C.I.A. tactics were in swaying voters.

Through Freedom of Information Act requests, and other avenues of declassification, the National Security Archive has been able to compile a collection of declassified records which shed light on events in Chile between 1970 and 1976. These documents include:

1) Cables written by U.S. Ambassador Korry after Allende’s election, detailing conversations with President Frei on how to block the president-elect from being inaugurated. The cables contain detailed descriptions and opinions on the various political forces in Chile, including the Chilean military, the Christian Democrat Party, and the U.S. business community.

2) C.I.A. memoranda and reports on ‘Project Fubelt’ – the codename for covert operations to promote a military coup and undermine Allende’s Government. The documents, including minutes of meetings between Kissinger and C.I.A. officials, C.I.A. cables to its Santiago station, and summaries of covert action in 1970, provide a clear paper trail to the decisions and operations against Allende’s Government.

3) National Security Council strategy papers which record efforts ‘to destabilise’ Chile economically, and isolate Allende’s Government diplomatically, between 1970 and 1973.

4) State Department and N.S.C. memoranda and cables after the coup, providing evidence of human rights atrocities under the military regime led by General Pinochet.

5) F.B.I. documents on Operation Condor – the state-sponsored terrorism of the Chilean secret police, D.I.N.A. The documents, including summaries of prison letters written by D.I.N.A. agent Michael Townley, provide evidence on the car-bombing assassination of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt in Washington D.C., and on the murder of Chilean General Carlos Prats and his wife in Buenos Aires, amongst other operations.

These documents, and many thousands of other C.I.A., National Security Council and Defense Department records which are still classified secret, remain relevant to ongoing human rights investigations in Chile, Spain and other countries, and unresolved acts of international terrorism conducted by the Chilean secret police. Eventually, international pressure, and concerted use of the U.S. laws on declassification may force more of the still-buried record into the public domain – providing evidence for future judicial, and historical accountability.

All the documents are, expectedly, heavily redacted, including one which was prepared in August-September 1973 by the U.S. Defence Intelligence Agency with biographical data on Pinochet. The heavy deletions are likely to conceal Chilean sources providing information on Pinochet, his own contacts with U.S. officials, and commentary on his character, reputation, political orientation and actions during his career.

Within nine months of his confirmation Allende nationalised the copper industry, the banks and other large industries, at the same time beginning land distribution. ‘Social spending’ – for health, education, housing and family assistance – almost doubled immediately. The Allende Government introduced ‘administrative prices’ and increased industrial wages. External boycotts and other adverse measures brought an increase in trade deficit. Exports fell and import grew to almost double. Wage increase and increased spending brought about a serious inflation, and called for protests of the usual malcontent among the people.

Against an attempt to set up a national transportation industry, a group of truckers went on strike, and this in itself caused other strikes. The year after his election Allende was battling a large inflation and a growing black market. By this time the Nixon ‘policy’ was beginning to work. Soon, small-scale businessmen, some professional unions, and student groups joined the strike. Then strikes started to spread. Industrialists sabotaged production. No one could explain how Chilean credit was suddenly cut off in international markets. Loans were suspended. The C.I.A. financed strategic strikes – doctors, bank clerks, a very long truck drivers’ strike. Conservative newspapers conducted a non-stop vicious disinformation campaign.

To appease the rich and the powerful, behind whom the C.I.A. was continuously working, Allende called into the cabinet a Right-wing military: General Carlos Prats, who had succeeded Schneider. Prats was a Right-winger but refused to join a military conspiracy against the President.

At the March 1973 parliamentary elections, Allende’s Popular Unity coalition increased its vote to 43.2 per cent, but by then the informal alliance with the Christian Democrats – the centrists – had ended, and they joined the opposition with the Right-wing National Party. Parliamentary conflict between the legislative and the executive branches paralysed the functions of government. At this point the C.I.A. intervened more determinately with large financial support for the opposition parties, thus succeeding in generating pressures, exploiting weaknesses, and magnifying obstacles. There were coup rehearsals. A coup failed at the end of June 1973, and was followed by a general strike in July and an even more ominous one at the copper mines.

Much more seriously, on 26 May 1973 the Supreme Court had unanimously denounced the Allende Government disruption of the legality of the nation in its failure to uphold judicial decisions, and in August 1973 the Court publicly complained that the Government was unable to enforce the law of the land, and on 22 August the opposition in the Chamber of Deputies accused the Government of unconstitutional acts and called upon the military to enforce constitutional order.

On 24 August 1973 General Prats was involved in a puny but public incident whereupon he felt it necessary to hand in his resignation. Allende at first refused to accept it. Prats was forced by huge adverse publicity to insist, and Allende to accept. His resignation as Army Commander-in-Chief removed the last obstacle for the Chilean coup of 1973. General Augusto Pinochet replaced him as Army Commander-in-Chief the same day. In late August 1973, 100,000 Chilean women congregated at Plaza de la Constitución to vent their rage against the rising cost and increasing shortages of food, but they were dispersed with tear gas.

Early in the morning of 11 September 1973 the Chilean Navy occupied Valparaiso, seized the port and closed down the radio and television stations. The President went immediately to La Moneda, the presidential palace, but by 8.00 a.m. the Army had revolted and closed most radio and television stations in Santiago. The Air Force bombed the other stations.

The President had received incomplete information, and was convinced that only a sector of the Navy conspired against him and his government. President Allende and Defence Minister Orlando Letelier became unable to communicate with military leaders. The heads of the three Forces refused to return the calls from the President. When Letelier arrived at the Ministry of Defence he was arrested – the first prisoner of the coup d’état.

Despite evidence that all branches of the Chilean Armed Forces were involved in the coup, President Allende was so convinced of General Pinochet’s loyalty that, only at 8:30 a.m., when the Armed Forces proclaimed their control of Chile, and that President Allende was deposed, did he appreciate the extent of the coup. Allende refused to resign. He also refused to surrender, even under the threat by the military that they would bomb La Moneda if he resisted.

By 9.00 a.m. the Armed Forces controlled Chile, except for the centre of the capital, Santiago. Colleagues in the Socialist Party offered to Allende refuge in the San Joaquín industrial zone in southern Santiago, from which he could have led a counter-coup. But Allende refused. He refused to entertain advances from some of the military, and in one last potent farewell speech from a remaining free station explained to the nation why he would not resign but keep his oath of loyalty to the Constitution and Chile.

Pinochet ordered an assault on La Moneda, and the Air Force Commander called in a strike by planes. The President’s personal guard met the assault with armed resistance, and four aircraft bombed La Moneda all but destroying it. Resistance lasted until mid-afternoon and Allende suicided. Incidentally, at exactly the same time Kissinger was going through his own Senate confirmation process as Secretary of State. He falsely assured the Foreign Relations Committee that the United States government had played no part in the coup.

About sixty persons lost their life in the initial battle. Thousands would die during the seventeen years of the Pinochet regime.

The worst of the military’s violent purging from society of thousands of Chilean Leftists, both real and suspected – by killing or forced ‘disappearance’ – occurred in the first months after the coup. The military imprisoned 40,000 of their political enemies in the National Stadium of Chile; among the tortured and killed ‘desaparecidos’ were two U.S. citizens: Charles Horman, and Frank Teruggi.

Some 130,000 people were arrested in a three-year period; the dead and ‘disappeared’ numbered thousands in the first months of the military Junta. They included persons from several countries – and many from Spain. Political prisoners were held in stadiums, navy ships, military bases, police stations and remote buildings. They all served as detention and many as torture centres – altogether more than 1,130. Now, some of these former secret detention and torture centres are being transformed into memorials and museums, so Chileans can remember the horrors of military dictatorship – of Nixon, and Kissinger, from 11 September 1973 to 11 March 1990. In that time up to 2,700 persons were ‘disappeared’.

After Pinochet lost the ‘election’ in the 1988 plebiscite, the Rettig Commission – officially ‘The National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation’, named after a former Ambassador of President Allende – in February 1991 submitted its Report on human rights abuses. The Report ascertained that 2,279 persons were killed for political reasons. In 641 cases the Commission could not conclusively determine that the person was killed for political reasons. It found that 508 cases were beyond its mandate, and that in 449 cases no information beyond the name of a ‘disappeared’ person could be determined.

Later the Valech Commission – officially ‘The National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture Commission’ – submitted two Reports: one in November 2004 and another in June 2005. They confirmed the number as less than 3,000 killed and reduced the number of cases of forced disappearance; some 28,000 people were arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. Testimony gathered by the Commission from almost 36,000 people – some 27,000 relied upon – were to be kept secret for the next fifty years. Therefore, it cannot be used in trials concerning human rights violations, in contrast to the ‘Archives of terror’ found in Paraguay and those concerning Operation Condor.

A document written on 1 October 1973, shortly after the coup, by the U.S. Naval Attaché based in Valparaiso reports positively on events in Chile during the coup. He characterises “September 11” as “our D-Day” and states that “Chile’s coup de etat [sic] was close to perfect.” The report provides details on Chilean military operations during and after the coup, as well as glowing commentary on the character of the new regime.

U.S. Ambassador Davidow was a political adviser at the U.S. Embassy in Chile from 1971 to 1974. In Santiago he was an Embassy insider when the C.I.A. and the D.I.N.A. were organising the assassination gang which later murdered leading Chilean opposition figures, Carlos Prats in Buenos Aires and Orlando Letelier in Washington.

A memorandum dated 16 November 1973, sent by the Assistant Secretary of State for InterAmerican Affairs to Secretary of State Kissinger, reports that summary executions in the nineteen days following the coup totalled 320 – more than three times the publicly acknowledged figure. The report also contained information on new economic assistance just authorised by the Nixon Administration. The memorandum also provided a ‘fact sheet on human rights in Chile’, with extensive details on the number of persons arrested between 11.09.1973 and 15.11.1973: 13,500, with the breakdown of persons originally arrested, detained in the National Stadium in Santiago, released, detained, killed while attempting to escape, provided with safe-conducts, departed from Chile and dead.

Two American citizens had been listed as “dead since the coup” by the previous report. They were Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, and they had been executed by the military after the coup. The murders were the subject matter of a telegramme 11 February 1974, written by Ambassador to Chile David Popper in Santiago and directed to Secretary of State Kissinger. The telegramme reported on a meeting between the Assistant Secretary and the Junta Foreign Minister, General Huerta. The Assistant Secretary had raised the matter “in the context of the need to be careful to keep relatively small issues in our relationship from making our cooperation more difficult.”

A heavily excised 15 April 1975 Intelligence Report from the Defense Attaché in Santiago describes the growth of D.I.N.A., “the sole responsible agency for internal subversive matters.” It is possible to surmise that many of the excised portions provide details about the strained relations between D.I.N.A. and the Chilean Armed Forces because of D.I.N.A.’s exclusive power. The report states that the head of D.I.N.A., Colonel Manuel Contreras, “has reported exclusively to, and received orders only from, President Pinochet.”

The U.S. Government sponsored and collaborated with D.I.N.A. and with the other ‘intelligence’ organisations forming the nucleus of Condor, despite the fact that the military dictatorships were killing and torturing tens of thousands of people. C.I.A. documents show that the C.I.A. had close contact with members of D.I.N.A., and its chief Manuel Contreras. Contreras was retained as a paid C.I.A. contact until 1977, even as his involvement in the Letelier-Moffit assassination was being revealed.

A declassified letter dated 6 June 1975, over the signature of the Legal Affairs Attaché to the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, and directed to General Baeza, Director General of Investigations in Santiago provides intelligence obtained through the interrogation of a captured Chilean leftist, Jorge Isaac Fuentes. The document records U.S. collaboration with Chile’s security forces, including the promise of surveillance of subjects inside the United States. Fuentes was detained through Operation Condor. It has been established that the F.B.I. aided Pinochet in capturing Fuentes, who was detained and tortured in Paraguay, then turned over to the Chilean secret police and ‘disappeared.’ Astonishingly, the surveillance of Latin American dissident refugees in the United States was promised to Condor figures by American ‘intelligence’.

A 1 July 1975 memorandum is among the declassified documents. It was written by a senior member of the National Security Council to President Ford’s National Security Advisor, General Brent Scowcroft, and conveys concern about wavering U.S. policy towards Chile in light of reports of human rights violations. The memorandum reveals a division within the U.S. Embassy over dealing with Chile, with a number of officials believing that all U.S. military and economic assistance should be terminated until the regime’s human rights record improved. According to the sender, by reducing aid and sending “mixed signals” to the Chileans, the United States could risk precipitating a crisis situation in Chile. The sender concludes his memorandum by recommending that Scowcroft schedule a special meeting in which U.S. agencies can “clarify guidelines for future policy.”

A subsequent memorandum 8 August 1975, by the same senior officer of the National Security Council, calls Scowcroft’s attention to Pinochet’s plans to visit the United States, and his requested meeting with President Ford. The memorandum states that the N.S.C. asked the U.S. Ambassador to Chile, David Popper, to discourage the meeting by telling the Chileans that President Ford’s schedule is full. Fearing that such a visit would “stimulate criticism” and foster embarrassment, the writer suggests an “informal talk” with Chile’s Ambassador Trucco.

Operation Condor was at its peak in 1976. Chilean exiles in Argentina were threatened again, and again had to go underground or into exile. Chilean General Carlos Prats had already been assassinated by the Chilean D.I.N.A. in Buenos Aires in 1974, with the help of former C.I.A. agent Michael Townley. President Gerald Ford publicly admitted in 1974 that the C.I.A. had covertly operated in Chile.

A declassified cable, dated 28 September 1976, and originating from the Legal Affairs Attaché in Buenos Aires, summarises intelligence information provided by a “confidential source abroad” about Operation Condor. The cable reports that Chile is the centre of Operation Condor, and provides information about “special teams” which travel “anywhere in the world … to carry out sanctions up to assassination against terrorists or supporters of terrorist organizations.” Several sections relating to these special teams have been excised. The cable suggests that the assassination of the Chilean Ambassador to the United States, Orlando Letelier, may have been carried out as an action of Operation Condor.

A long document dated 21 January 1982 provides a summary of information concerning D.I.N.A., which in late 1977 had been renamed Centro Nacional de Informaciones – National Information Centre, C.N.I. This report includes information not directly provided to the F.B.I. by Michael Townley, the D.I.N.A. agent responsible for the assassination of Letelier, but drawn from analysis of his correspondence with his D.I.N.A. ‘handler’; details about meetings between Pinochet and neo-Fascist Italian terrorists and spies, codenames and activities of D.I.N.A. personnel, collaboration between D.I.N.A. and anti-Castro Cubans; the creation of a fake terrorist organisation to take the blame for a D.I.N.A. kidnapping in Argentina; D.I.N.A. involvement in relations between Great Britain and Northern Ireland; and Townley’s fear that information about kidnappings and assassinations of prominent critics of Pinochet would somehow be traced back to him.

From 1976 onwards, D.I.N.A. and its Argentine counterpart, Secretaría de Inteligencia de Estado (S.I.D.E.), were Condor’s frontline troops. The infamous ‘death flights’, theorised in Argentina by Luis María Mendía – which had already been used during the Algerian war of 1954–1962 by French forces – were widely employed, in order to make the corpses, and therefore evidence, disappear.

Next installment Saturday: The Bank of Crooks.

Dr. Venturino Giorgio (George) Venturini, formerly an avvocato at the Court of Appeal of Bologna, devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents.




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