Hornberger's Blog

Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
Here's the RSS feed or subscribe to our FFF Email Update to receive Hornberger’s Blog daily.

The CIA’s Murder of Rene Schneider


On October 25, 1970, seven years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the CIA murdered a man named Rene Schneider.

Now, before you cry, “Conspiracy theory, Jacob! Conspiracy theory!” please consider the facts in the case.

Who was Rene Schneider? He was a Chilean citizen who was serving as the commander-in-chief of the Chilean Army during the 1970 presidential election in Chile.

In that election, a man named Salvador Allende garnered a plurality of votes, which threw the election into the hands of the Chilean congress.

At that point, U.S. President Richard Nixon, who would soon become a principal in one of the most famous conspiracies in U.S. history, went into action. Along with his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, Nixon decided that he simply could not permit the Chilean people to elect Allende president of their country.

Why did Nixon take that position?

Because Allende believed in socialism and communism. As far as Nixon was concerned, Allende’s socialist and communist beliefs disqualified him from serving as president of Chile.

What about the fact that so many Chileans had voted for Allende in what everyone acknowledged was a fair election?

Well, as Kissinger put it, “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”

So, Nixon ordered his national-security establishment, specifically the CIA, to go into action to prevent Allende from becoming president of Chile.

Nixon’s plan?

To encourage a military coup on the part of the Chilean military, one in which the military would destroy Chile’s longtime democratic system and assume the reins of power with a military dictatorship, much like the U.S.-supported military dictatorship in Egypt today.

But there was one big obstacle facing Nixon and the CIA: Chilean Army Commander Rene Schneider. Although he himself opposed Marxism, he took the principled position that Allende was entitled to assume the presidency under the Chilean constitution. Schneider made it clear that as long he was the commander of the Chilean armed forces, there would be no military coup.

So, the CIA entered into a conspiracy with Chilean military officials to remove Schneider from the scene, thereby opening the way to an illegal and unconstitutional coup.

How did they plan to do that?

By kidnapping Schneider. Yes, by committing a felony offense, an offense that is usually associated with gangsters, the same type of kidnapping scheme, in fact, that CIA officials would be convicted of in Italy many years later during the much-vaunted “war on terrorism.”

The Schneider kidnapping plan called for blaming the kidnapping on communists, which was a standard tactic in CIA assassination plots during the Cold War.

Guess who furnished the Chilean co-conspirators with three submachine guns to be used in Schneider’s kidnapping.

You got it—the CIA.

On the day of the kidnapping, Chilean military personnel ambushed Schneider’s car in the middle of Santiago. Not surprisingly, Schneider drew a gun to defend himself and the kidnappers proceeded to put several bullets into him at point-blank range. Schneider died three days later.

The CIA denied any role in the kidnapping and murder of Rene Schneider. The denial was false. In fact, the CIA was the instigator of the kidnapping plot.

When evidence ultimately surfaced of CIA involvement in Schneider’s murder, the CIA took the position that it simply favored the kidnapping but not the killing of Schneider, as if that somehow absolves the CIA of Schneider’s murder.

It doesn’t. In fact, the CIA (and therefore the U.S. government) is as criminally liable for Schneider’s murder as the Chilean co-conspirators who actually shot Schneider dead.

The reason for that is what is known in the law as the felony-murder law. It holds that when a murder is committed in the course of a felony, all the participants to the felony are equally liable for the murder, even if they didn’t intend the murder to happen. Thus, if a murder is committed during a bank robbery, the driver of the get-away car is as criminally liable as the shooter.

Moreover, the CIA’s protestations that it didn’t want to see Schneider killed ring hollow. Let’s suppose that Schneider had been taken alive and the coup had succeeded. Does anyone really think that the coup leaders would have permitted Schneider to simply walk away a free man, free to tell the world what had happened to him? That’s ridiculous. They would have killed him immediately, just as the Chilean military, with the full support of the Pentagon and CIA, ended up killing some 3,000 innocent people (i.e., people who held socialist beliefs) when their coup did succeed three years later.

It also doesn’t help the CIA’s case that after Schneider’s murder, CIA agents retrieved the guns they had given to their co-conspirators and quickly disposed of them. That’s something guilty people do.

Even worse, it was later discovered that the CIA had quietly delivered the sum of $35,000 to one of the kidnappers who had escaped. The CIA said the payment was for “humanitarian purposes”—you know, like when the U.S. government sends foreign aid to help the “poor, needy, and disadvantaged.” The truth was that it was hush money, the same type of tactic that gangsters use all the time.

Let’s get one thing clear: Schneider was a totally innocent man, an innocent man who was murdered by the CIA. He had a wife and four children. His only “crime” was supporting and defending the constitution of his country.

Some of the CIA’s Chilean co-conspirators ultimately got prosecuted for kidnapping and assassination and convicted in Chile.

Not the CIA though.

Of course, there was never any possibility that the Justice Department would prosecute any CIA official for murder, assassination, or any other felony committed during  the course of a “national-security” operation.

Moreover, when two of Schneider’s children filed a civil suit in federal district court for the CIA’s wrongful killing of their father, the federal judiciary summarily threw the case out of court, without even permitting depositions to be taken. They held that since the matter involved a “political question”  and a “national security” operation, the judiciary would not second-guess the CIA or the president, not even with respect to felony criminal offenses carried out in the process, such as kidnapping and murder.

Believe it or not, the U.S. government continues to keep secret from the American people many of the records relating to U.S. involvement in the Schneider murder and the Chilean coup. A few days ago the website JFKfacts.org, a website related to the Kennedy assassination, posted a piece by JFK assassination researcher Rex Bradford stating that the U.S. government continues to keep secret the following depositions related to the Schneider murder that were taken by the Church Committee in the 1970s, which delved into CIA assassinations:

Richard Helms (CIA Director), 7/15/75 (p. 228)
Henry Kissinger (Secretary of State), 8/12/75 (p. 228)
William Colby (CIA Director), 7/14/75 (p. 229)
Thomas Karamessines (CIA Deputy Director for Plans), 8/6/75 (p. 232)
Chief, Chili Task Force, 7/31/75 (p. 233)
William Broe (CIA Division Chief), 8/4/75 (p. 235)
Philpott (DIA Deputy Director), 8/5/75 (p. 236)
Robert Roth (Army Colonel), 8/14/75 (p. 236)
Robert Roth, 10/7/75 (p. 236)
Donald Bennett (DIA Director), 8/5/75 (p. 237)
Daniel Graham (DIA Director), 8/5/75 (p. 237)
Chile Chief of Station (“Felix”), 8/1/75 (p. 239)
U.S. Military Attache, 8/4/75 (p. 240)
Sarno (CIA agent), 7/29/75 (p. 244

I suppose though that such decades-long secrecy shouldn’t surprise us. After all, the CIA is still doing the same thing with its records relating to the Kennedy assassination, notwithstanding the 1992 JFK Records Act, which mandated the release and disclosure of all JFK-assassination records.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.