Pinochet’s Secret Envoy to Kissinger: Contreras
On January 7, 1975, DINA chief Manuel Contreras traveled to Washington D.C. for a secret meeting with the deputy director of the CIA, Vernon Walters. His real purpose, however, was to courier a one-page message from Augusto Pinochet to Henry Kissinger. “He came as a special envoy from President Pinochet with a message for you to be delivered through me,” Walters reported to Secretary of State Kissinger after meeting with Contreras for 45 minutes. Pinochet’s typed memo requested that the U.S. provide Chile with economic credits, and assistance, as well as tanks, ships, submarines, and electronic surveillance support to protect Chile from a perceived military threat from Peru. In his conversation with Walters, Contreras reported that DINA had “infiltrated a member into the Central Committee of the Chilean Communist Party,” and the regime had “completely dismantled” the armed resistance. With Kissinger planning a visit to Chile, Walters reported, Pinochet wanted him to know that his regime was “willing to take a number of steps in the direction of human rights and let you have the credit for having persuaded him to do it.”
Only six months later, again “at Pinochet’s direction,” Contreras returned to Washington on July 5 for yet another secret meeting with Walters. This time he informed him that the regime had decided to cancel a trip by the UN Human Rights Commission to Santiago to investigate the fate of the disappeared, and asked that the U.S. government veto any attempt to expel Chile from the United Nations. Contreras provided details on the “excellent liaison relationships with both the Argentine and Brazilian [intelligence] services with broad exchange of information”—a regional collaboration that would soon evolve into Operation Condor. On Pinochet’s behalf, he also lobbied again for military aid to defend Chile against the pro-Soviet Peruvians, who, he claimed, were working with the Cubans to overthrow the Banzer regime in Bolivia. “President Pinochet would like to see if there is any way the US could arrange indirect military aid for Chile through a third country,” Walters reported to Kissinger.
In a meeting at the State Department two months later, Chile’s Ambassador Manuel Trucco complained bitterly that DINA “has a separate channel to Washington,” and that the foreign ministry “had not even known that Contreras was coming” to town.
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The revelations of Pinochet’s secret communications with Kissinger are contained in dozens of newly declassified documents—an early Christmas present to history from the U.S. State Department’s historical office. On December 18, the Office of the Historian released the latest compilation of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, containing 1000 pages of transcribed documents on U.S. relations with the Southern Cone nations between 1973 and 1976. Among those records are more than 115 documents on Chile, and the early years of U.S. policy toward the consolidation of Pinochet’s bloody dictatorship.
Some of the documents have been seen before—released some 15 years ago as part of the Clinton administration’s special declassification of 23,000 records on Chile after Pinochet’s arrest in London. For example, the new FRUS volume contains the transcript of Kissinger’s reaction, during an October 1, 1973 staff meeting, to reports on widespread repression and executions by the new military regime: “I think we should understand our policy—that however unpleasant they act, the Government is better for us than Allende was.” It contains the transcript of his famous June 1976 meeting with Pinochet in Santiago during which he told the dictator that “In the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here….We want to help, not undermine you.”
But the volume also contains many never-seen-before memoranda of conversations, CIA reports, cables and meeting notes that shed considerable light on Pinochet’s operations and U.S. policy toward the consolidation of his regime. And some documents which were previously released with heavy redaction—whole paragraphs blacked out by U.S. government censors—have now been released intact. Through the lenses of U.S. intelligence operatives and analysts, diplomats and high level policy makers, they tell the story of the first three years of Pinochet’s military dictatorship.
Indeed, among their many details, the documents shed light on some key, and controversial, operations between 1973 and the end of 1976:
Secret CIA Funding for Christian Democrats
The coup was widely condemned around the world. As part of an early covert propaganda effort to cast the new regime in a positive light, the CIA provided $9,000 to, according to the declassified documents, “cover travel costs for three Christian Democratic Party members to tour Latin America and Europe explaining their party’s decision to support the new Chilean government.” The CIA also requested additional funds to help the Chilean Society for Industrial Development purchase a network of radio stations to use in promoting the new regime, and sought $160,000 to assist the near-bankrupt PDC to pay its bills and continue to function as Chile’s leading political party.
The CIA’s effort to continue covert funding of the PDC after the coup set off a major debate inside the U.S. State Department, particularly between Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America, Jack Kubisch, and a top aide to Henry Kissinger, Harry Schlaudeman. They argued over the propriety of covert support, and the potential to offend Pinochet vs. the need to keep the PDC going in order to support the new regime.
During a meeting with CIA officials on November 23, 1973—an uncensored summary of the meeting is now available–Kubisch argued that covert support for the PDC was fine when Allende was President. But now that Pinochet was in power, he stood for the principle of non-intervention. “Just because we did not like a government was no reason to intervene in their countries,” he said. Shlaudeman, on the other hand, saw the sheer hypocrisy in that position. According to the memorandum of conversation, “he said that he was worried about the effects of a drastic, immediate cut off right now, especially since we had been saying ever since 1962 that our primary interest in Chile was the survival of democracy. Mr. Kubisch responded that Chilean democracy had taken the country close to disaster.”
Moreover, the U.S. didn’t want to offend Pinochet military rule by supporting a pro-democracy party. “Mr. Kubisch asked what would happen if in January or February the Junta found out that we had made money available to the PDC. They naturally would ask what the hell we were doing, were we still intervening in Chile; still meddling?”
In the end, the CIA did provide funds for the PDC through to June of 1974–not because they represented a potential return to Chilean democracy but because their support for the military takeover provided legitimacy and capabilities for new regime. “A PDC break with the Junta,” Shlaudeman argued, “could mean a breakdown in the effectiveness of the new government.”
The Horman Case
Among the hundreds of Chileans executed in the days and weeks following the coup were two U.S. citizens—Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi. Particularly the case of Horman, the subject of the Oscar-award winning film, MISSING, became a political headache for U.S. officials after the coup. His wife, Joyce, and father, Ed Horman, tenaciously pressured Embassy officials to find him after he was seized by the military at his home and disappeared on September 17, 1973.
Two of the Embassy officials they dealt with were, in fact, undercover CIA operatives posing as attaches in the U.S. Consulate. For the first time, the FRUS volume acknowledges their identities—John S. Hall and James Anderson. (To their credit, the historians in the State Department approached the CIA and requested still secret records from a file called “Chile Special Search Project”; and also asked the CIA to allow their names to be printed. The CIA agreed.) In November, the CIA station in Santiago sent a cable to Washington reporting on the contacts that Hall and Anderson had with the Horman family and the initial efforts they made to investigate Charles’ fate. The cable begins: “Embassy in general and Consulate in particular are being charged with inefficiency and negligence in handling of Frank R. Teruggi and Charles E. Horman cases. Following paragraphs contain background on more important aspects of involvement of [consular officers John Hall and James Anderson] [1 line not declassified].”
Anderson became a key actor in the saga of the search for Charles Horman; in the spring of 1974, he accompanied a Chilean intelligence officer, Rafael Gonzalez, to recover Horman’s body from an unmarked grave in the national cemetery. Soon thereafter, however, Gonzalez sought asylum in the Italian Embassy with his wife and young son and was forced to live there for several years while the Pinochet regime refused to provide him safe passage out of the country. In June 1976 he told two U.S. reporters that he had been present in General Alfredo Lutz’s office while Charles was being interrogated and that there had been an American in the room—a falsehood he says he made up to attract attention to his asylum case—and that Charles had been killed “because he knew too much.”
Gonzalez’s allegations created a major scandal in the United States where citizens, and leading members of Congress, were outraged about CIA covert operations to overthrow Allende. The new documents reveal that the outcry prompted Kissinger’s deputy, Harry Shlaudeman, to meet with Anderson in San Jose, Costa Rica, in September 1976 where he was posted in the Embassy undercover as a “political officer.”
According to a previously unknown “memorandum for the record” about that meeting, Anderson recorded all of his efforts to locate Charles Horman back in the fall of 1973, along with his meetings with Gonzalez. The memo reveals, for the first time after more than four decades, that the CIA compiled a set of investigative documents, based on interviews and reports by Anderson, of their efforts to locate Horman after his case became a cause célèbre. According to Anderson, he kept a set of memos and reports because “he prepared a draft cable for his supervisor because of the sensitivities of this case. Accompanying this draft telegram was background information for use by his supervisor in deciding whether or not to transmit the draft.”
None of these documents, however, were recovered by the State Department. But this document will allow the family and their lawyers to formally press the CIA to locate Andersen’s records and release them.
The new documents collection contains a number of declassified documents on the assassination of Orlando Letelier and the U.S. government’s knowledge of Operation Condor. They include previously released documents that show that Kissinger’s aides learned about Condor and its assassination missions in July 1976, and informed Kissinger in early August 1976. Kissinger authorized a demarche to all the military rulers in the Condor nations. But after his Ambassador in Santiago, David Popper, objected that “Pinochet might well take as an insult any inference that he was connected to such assassination plots,” Kissinger rescinded the demarche. The volume includes a description of a short cable Kissinger sent five days before the Letelier-Moffitt assassination that “instructed that no further action be taken” be taken to protest Condor operations—and a September 20, 1976 cable from his top aide, Harry Shlaudeman transmitting the order to “simply instruct the Ambassadors to take no further action, noting that there have been no reports in some weeks indicating an intention to activate the Condor.” Letelier and Moffitt were assassinated by a car-bomb planted by DINA operatives the next morning.
In the wake of a horrific act of international terrorism in the capital city of the United States, Kissinger’s office ordered the CIA station chief to meet with Contreras and effectively give him the demarche that had never been delivered to Pinochet. For the first time, a report on that meeting has been declassified in this volume.
The meeting took place on October 8, 1976. According to the report by the Station chief, whose identify is deleted from the documents, he shared his concerns about Condor with Contreras:
[The CIA] is very worried about reports it has received from various sources on the formation of Operation Condor by DINA and its counterparts in the Southern Cone and Brazil. [less than 1 line not declassified] that according to our reliable information, Operation Condor consists of two elements: the exchange of intelligence concerning extremists and the planning of executive actions—assassinations— against extremists in Europe and other foreign areas. [less than 1 line not declassified] is extremely concerned about the latter aspect. Contreras said that he was aware of our concern.
Predictably, the DINA chief lied about Condor operations: “Contreras said that our information is distorted. Operation Condor does exist, has its headquarters in Santiago, but its only purpose is the exchange of intelligence concerning the extremists within the participating countries, which include Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Brazil.” He revealed that the DINA maintained an official presence in both Argentina—previously known—and Brazil—previously unknown. “Contreras claimed that DINA has only two officials abroad, a liaison officer in Brazil and another in Argentina, and denied that there are any officials in Europe or Washington. According to Contreras, Colonel Mario Jahn, former deputy director of DINA, reverted back to the Air Force before leaving on his assignment to Washington.”
Incredibly, the CIA official failed to raise Letelier assassination; there is no mention of it in his report on the meeting. Perhaps more striking, U.S. officials in Washington seemed to believe that Contreras was now effectively warned not to engage in further assassinations. In a memo to Kissinger transmitting the CIA report on the meeting, Shlaudeman wrote that “The approach to Contreras seems to me sufficient action for the time being. The Chileans are the prime movers in Operation Condor. The other intelligence services are also aware of our concern [less than 1 line not declassified] and now, undoubtedly, by way of Contreras. We will continue to watch developments closely and recommend further action if that should be necessary.”
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With ongoing legal proceedings for the crimes of Condor in Argentina and Chile, and continuing legal efforts in the Horman and other human rights cases, these new documents continue to be relevant—even if they don’t fundamentally alter our knowledge of the history of Pinochet’s repression and U.S. policy and operations during the first three years of his regime. In effect, these documents provide a chronological roadmap to a particularly painful and dramatic history that, even four decades later, refuses to fully recede into history. The revelations of these records are sure to stimulate efforts to push for the declassification of more documentation—including Chilean documents because there are still secrets yet to be exposed.
Indeed, until the last page of the still-secret historical record is declassified, the history of the U.S. ties to the coup, and to the darkest days of the Pinochet regime, will remain ever in the present.
**Peter Kornbluh is a senior analyst and director of the Chile Documentation Project at the National Security Archive in Washington D.C. and author of The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability (Barcelona: Critica, 2013).