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Hostile Intent : U.S. Covert Operations in Chile, 1964-1974

Intelligence in Recent Public Literature

Gustafson. Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2007. 317 pages, notes, bibliography,
and index.

by David Robarge

operation to attempt to affect a national election in Chile in 1970 and its
consequences have engendered more persistent controversy, and more polemic and
scholarship, than any of the more than one dozen covert actions with which the
Agency has acknowledged involvement. Although some cost more and lasted longer
(Tibet, Laos), entailed intervening in the domestic affairs of European allies
(France, Italy), had greater long-term geopolitical impact (Iran, Afghanistan
1979–87), or were more acutely embarrassing in their execution and outcome (the
Bay of Pigs), CIA’s presidentially mandated effort to prevent Salvadore Allende
de Gossens from becoming the first elected socialist president of a Western
Hemispheric nation soon cast a shadow on the Agency’s reputation that lingers
nearly four decades later. A few years ago, then-Secretary of State Colin
Powell spoke for many critics of US policy toward Chile when he said “It is not
a part of American history that we’re proud of.”[i]

stigma on CIA has endured largely because of the interplay of ideological
romanticism, political disillusionment, and institutional energy on the part of
detractors of the anti-Allende covert action, who have dominated the
historiography on the subject. According to Peter Kornbluh, director of the
Chile declassification project at the National Security Archive,

The Via Chilena—peaceful road to socialist reform—captured the
imagination of progressive forces around the globe…. The sharp contrast between
the peaceful nature of Allende’s program for change, and the violent coup that
left him dead and Chile’s long-standing democratic institutions destroyed,
truly shocked the world…. In the United States, Chile joined Vietnam on the
front line of the national conflict over the corruption of American values in
the making and exercise of US foreign policy.

it has remained, principally because of to the efforts of a community of human
rights activists, left-wing scholars and intellectuals, and antisecrecy
advocates that emerged in the early 1970s while the Cold War consensus inside
the United States was fracturing. The members of this subculture—the boundaries
between them are often porous—are dedicated to uncovering evidence about the
police-state tactics of Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, who succeeded Allende
after a military coup in 1973, and to seeking justice for the victims of his
often brutal 17-year dictatorship. The National Security Archive, for example,
is up front about its motive for aggressively using the Freedom of Information
Act and civil lawsuits to extract thousands of pages of documents from CIA and
other US government agencies to “force more of the still-buried record into the
public domain—providing evidence for future judicial and historical

Chilean operation galvanized CIA’s congressional critics at the same time. In
1973, a Senate subcommittee on multinational corporations, led by Sen. Frank
Church, investigated contacts between the Agency and the International
Telephone and Telegraph Company, a prime target for nationalization under
Allende. It was the first public hearing ever held on covert action and resulted
in a critical report that provided the first official account of one aspect of
the coup. Two years later, Church’s select investigatory committee conducted
more public hearings and produced another (unfavorable) survey of CIA’s
operations in Chile.[iv]

in 1976, Chilean intelligence operatives murdered Allende’s foreign minister,
Orlando Letelier, and an associate in Washington, DC. To Pinochet’s opponents,
that brazen action demonstrated the bankruptcy of US policy toward Chile that
CIA had helped implement. How could the United States support a regime so
ruthless that it would commit terrorism in its largest patron’s capital? More
than ever in the minds of writers on this subject, the Agency became identified
with the regime’s origins and hence charged with some responsibility for its
actions, including the deaths or “disappearances” of thousands of people in
Chile and, through the notorious Condor program, in other Latin American
countries.[v]  The
notion that CIA was at least partly to blame for whatever happened after its
failed attempt to keep Allende out of power became a leitmotif of most
historical treatments of US intelligence activities in the region.

Reagan administration—partly because of the influence of UN Ambassador Jeanne
Kirkpatrick’s arguments about the reformability of authoritarian states—took a
more benign view of the Pinochet regime and further inspired its critics to
seek a full accounting of Agency involvement in Chile. They received a huge
boon from the Clinton administration, which, having already authorized sizable
releases of secret material on Central America and under pressure from Congress
and the anti-Pinochet lobby, undertook the Chile Declassification Project that
eventually yielded around 24,000 never-before-seen documents from CIA, the
White House and National Security Council, the Defense and State Departments,
and the FBI.[vi] 
In response to a congressional requirement in the Intelligence Authorization
Act of 1999, CIA issued a white paper in September 2000 entitled CIA Activities in Chile.[vii]
report concluded that the Agency was not involved in Allende’s death during the
1973 coup, that it supported the military junta afterward but did not help
Pinochet assume the presidency, and that it reported information about human
rights abuses and admonished its Chilean assets against such behavior according
to the guidance in effect at the time.

scarcely settled the matter. The issue of US-Chilean relations and the legacy
of CIA’s intervention stayed prominent during the next several years through a
succession of events that included the Chilean government’s efforts to get
Pinochet (then living in Europe) extradited and put on trial; the uncovering of
his secret multi-million-dollar accounts in a Washington, DC, bank; a Chilean
legislature investigation of CIA’s role in the coup; huge lawsuits filed by
Chilean citizens against Henry Kissinger (national security adviser and later
secretary of state during 1969-77) and the US government for damages in
connection with deaths and human rights abuses by the Pinochet regime; and a
contretemps over Kissinger allegedly pressuring the Council on Foreign
Relations to squelch a CFR fellow who wrote a favorable review of Kornbluh’s
book The Pinochet File in
Foreign Affairs.[viii]

death in December 2006 brought no closure to the long debate over CIA
intervention in Chile and its legacy. The discussion essentially remains
polarized between left and right,[ix]  and for
some time an objective narrative of the facts and a fair-minded analysis of the
critical and apologetic perspectives have been sorely missed. Such is the
landmark contribution of Kristian Gustafson’s Hostile Intent: U.S. Covert Operations in Chile,
, which must be considered the indispensable study in the
large bibliography on that seemingly intractable subject. A former student of
Professor Christopher Andrew’s at Cambridge University and now a lecturer at
Brunel University in England, Gustafson previewed some of his findings in this
journal in 2003.[x]  In Hostile Intent, he demonstrates in an
orderly and comprehensive way, with a good grasp of Chilean politics and full
facility with the now substantial documentary record, how US administrations
carried out their Chilean policy founded on the concern stated as early as 1958
by the senior State Department official responsible for Latin America that
“were Allende to win we would be faced with a pro-Soviet, anti-U.S.
administration in one of the most important countries in the hemisphere.”[xi]

One of
the strengths of Gustafson’s book is that in the course of recounting the
often-told story of how Washington tried to prevent that from happening, he
takes on prevailing misconceptions and provides details that add meaning to
familiar material.

  • Instead of reflexively supporting the right wing
    as it had elsewhere in Latin America during the latter 1960s and well into
    1970, Washington had CIA channel assistance to an increasingly
    marginalized group of centrists at a time when Chilean politics was
    growing more polarized—a development that US analysts missed.
  • Notwithstanding recurrent rhetoric about Chile
    being a cornerstone of US policy in the region, White House oversight of
    covert action planning was strikingly haphazard, and CIA and the State
    Department went about their business operating under inconsistent
    premises, sometimes supporting the same parties and politicians, sometimes
    not, for different reasons.
  • Besides State having previously opposed
    intervening in the 1970 election, another important reason why Richard
    Nixon kept the US ambassador, Edward M. Korry, out of the loop on the coup
    plotting in September and October 1970 (also known as Track II) was that
    he distrusted Korry’s politics. The ambassador was a Kennedy Democrat and
    supporter of Chilean politicians who had benefited from the Kennedy
    administration’s Alliance for Progress.
  • Despite Kissinger’s ominous admonition to Nixon
    in November 1970 that “your decision as to what to do about it [Allende’s
    election] may be the most historic and difficult foreign affairs decision
    you will have to make this year,” and the enunciation by the National
    Security Council of a “publicly cool and correct posture toward Chile,”[xii] 
    the administration’s guidance on both covert and overt activities was slow
    and erratic during the next two years even as the Allende government fell
    deeper into economic and political trouble and became increasingly
  • After the September 1973 coup that ousted
    Allende—in which CIA had no role and about which it knew little
    beforehand—Washington let the Agency continue supporting the center-left
    Christian Democratic Party, and the Agency’s head of Latin American
    operations argued against the cutoff that went into effect at the end of
    the year. He and other CIA officers contended that the subsidy was needed
    to counter the left if the junta relinquished power and to “maintain our
    capability for influencing the junta and molding public opinion” if it did

study makes a crucial point about covert action that policymakers and
intelligence practitioners would do well to learn: for political operations to
succeed, they must have time to work and must be coordinated with the overt
aspects of policy and all elements of the country team. Those conditions
existed in the 1960s, and the Agency helped accomplish Washington’s objective
of keeping Chile in what it perceived as safe, center-right hands. In contrast,
throughout most of 1970 “the United States was perpetually one move behind the
political evolutions in Santiago.”[xiv] 
By the time the Nixon administration suddenly took notice of events in Chile
after the first round of elections in September and then went into panic mode,
CIA had few resources and less time to stem the tide moving in the socialists’
favor. Nixon and Kissinger ordered it to undertake a back-channel coup plot
that failed disastrously and assured Allende’s victory. As Gustafson concludes:

Rather than operating on their own, covert
actions in 1964 were used to bolster overt plans such as the Alliance for
Progress. Thus they acted as a force multiplier for U.S. foreign policy goals.
In October 1970, covert action was separated from any strategic thinking and
uselessly sent charging into the brick wall of immovable Chilean public opinion.

another lesson from the Chilean covert action is that political operations will
most likely work when they reinforce trends and do not try to create them or
shift them in other directions.

Hostile Intent is marred
by some minor errors of style and fact. Occasionally Gustafson’s prose takes on
a slightly turgid, dissertationesque quality; he misuses some words
(disinterested for uninterested, reticent for reluctant); credits Rep. Otis
Pike with the “rogue elephant” charge instead of Senator Church; mentions the
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence several years before it was created;
overlooks the fact that the 1980 Intelligence Oversight Act superseded the 1974
Hughes-Ryan Amendment’s requirements for reporting covert actions to Congress;
and misidentifies the State Department official in the first photograph of the
insert section. More substantively, Gustafson uses material acquired from the
KGB archives in the early 1990s in a way that suggests it was available to US
officials at the time. But these small problems should not distract readers
from realizing Gustafson’s achievement after entering such a politically and
emotionally charged environment. If it is true, as Kornbluh claims, that “after
so many years, Chile remains the ultimate case study of morality—the lack of
it—in the making of US foreign policy,”[xvi] 
then a scholarly and dispassionate contribution to the literature such as Hostile Intent is all the
more to be valued.


[i]“Chile Cheers Powell Remarks on 1973 Coup,” Reuters, a1147, 22 February 2003.

[ii]Peter Kornbluh, The
Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability

(New York: The New Press, 2003), xiii, xiv.

[iii]Kornbluh, National Security Archive Electronic
Briefing Book No. 8, “Chile and the United States: Declassified Documents
Relating to the Military Coup, September 11, 1973,” on National Security
Archive Web site at

[iv]L. Britt Snider, The
Agency and the Hill: CIA’s Relationship with Congress, 1946-2004
DC: CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence, 2008), 271–73; US Senate
Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on Multinational Corporations, 93rd
Congress, 1st Session, The
International Telephone and Telegraph Company and Chile, 1970–1971

(Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1973); Hearings before the Select Committee to Study
Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities of the United
States Senate, 94th Congress, 1st Session, Volume 7,
Covert Action
(Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1976).

[v]On Condor—a Pinochet-initiated collaboration with
neighboring governments’ intelligence services to quell radical subversion
throughout the region, often through violent means and occasionally abroad—see
John Dinges, The Condor
Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents
York: The New Press, 2004).

[vi]Pinochet File, xvi–xvii.

[vii]Available on the Agency’s public Web site at

[viii]“Pinochet Indicted on Human Rights
Charges,” <>,
13 December 2004; Terence O’Hara, “The General and His Banker,” Washington Post, 21 March
2005: E1, 9; “CIA Activities in Chile to Be Investigated,” Associated Press
story on <>, 7 October 2004; Kenneth Maxwell, “The
Other 9/11: The United States and Chile, 1973,” Foreign Affairs 82:6 (Nov.–Dec. 2003): 147;
Lynne Duke, “A Plot Thickens,” Washington
, 27 February 2005: D1, 6–7.

[ix]At the other end of the spectrum from Kornbluh’s Pinochet File are Mark
Falcoff, Modern Chile,
1970–1989: A Critical History
(London: Transaction Publishers,
1989) and idem, “Kissinger & Chile: The Myth That Will Not Die,” Commentary 116:4 (Nov.
2003): 41–49.

[x]“CIA Machinations in Chile in 1970,” Studies in Intelligence 47
no. 3 (2002): 35–49. The article received the Walter L. Pforzheimer Award given
for the best undergraduate or graduate paper on an intelligence-related subject
submitted to Studies
during 2002.

[xi]Roy Richard Rubottum, assistant secretary of state for
inter-American affairs, quoted in Hostile
on page 19. Prof. Andrew (with Vasily Mitrokhin) has
described the KGB’s relationship with Allende and its involvement in Chile
during the 1960s and 1970s in The
World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World

(New York: Basic Books, 2005), 69–88.

[xii]Kissinger memorandum to Nixon, 6 November 1970, and
National Security Decision Memorandum 93, 9 November 1970, quoted in Hostile Intent, 139, 145.

[xiii]Ibid., 233.

[xiv]Ibid., 111.

[xv]Ibid., 133–34.

[xvi]Pinochet File, xv.

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