In 1970 — twenty years after the election of Jacobo Arbenz as president of Guatemala — the Chilean people did what the Guatemalan people had done. They democratically elected a self-proclaimed socialist and communist named Salvador Allende to be president of their country. Since Allende had received only a plurality of votes, the election was thrown into the Chilean congress. However, traditionally the congress had voted to confirm as president the candidate who had the highest vote total in the general election, which was Allende.
Alarm bells immediately went off in Washington, D.C., where the president and the State Department were located, and Virginia, where the Pentagon and the CIA were based. Allende was immediately viewed as a grave threat to national security, not only because of his socialist economic views but especially owing to his reaching out to the Soviet Union and communist Cuba in a spirit of peace and friendship, just as Arbenz had done.
The notion was that the United States and the rest of the noncommunist world were locked in an intractable war with the Soviet Union and the communist world, one in which the very survival of the United States was at stake. Given the unbridgeable ideological differences between the two countries, U.S. officials were convinced that there could never be peaceful coexistence between the two countries. It was going to be a war to the finish, one in which only one victor would be left standing at the end.
In this war to the death, neutrality of other countries was not considered an option. The U.S. mindset was: You’re either with us or you’re with the communists.
Immediately after Allende’s election in 1970, U.S. officials conspired to prevent him from assuming the Chilean presidency by coming up with a plan that operated on two tracks. One track involved the bribing of Chilean congressmen into voting not to confirm Allende as president. The other track involved persuading the Chilean national-security establishment to oust Allende in a coup and establish an unelected military dictatorship in his stead.
There were some serious problems with this two-track plan.
One problem was the U.S. Constitution, the document that called the federal government into existence and limited its powers to those enumerated in the Constitution. The Constitution did not contain any enumerated power authorizing U.S. officials to bribe foreign officials or to orchestrate a coup in a foreign country.
That didn’t stop U.S. officials, including those in the CIA, which was spearheading the regime-change operation. The position of U.S. officials was that the Constitution was not a suicide pact. That meant that if the nation was going to fall to the communists if U.S. officials didn’t break the law, then they had the authority to break the law to save the nation.
That mindset was reflected in a top-secret U.S. government report published in 1954, the same year the CIA-engineered a coup in Guatemala and the same year that the top-secret CIA assassination manual mentioned in Part 1 of this essay was published. The report, known as “The Doolittle Report,” was a comprehensive study of the operations of the CIA conducted by U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. James H. Doolittle.
In his report, Doolittle emphasized the dire threat that communism and the Soviet Union supposedly posed to the United States. He wrote, “It is now clear that we are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination by whatever means and at whatever cost. There are no rules in such a game…. If the United States is to survive, long standing concepts of ‘fair play’ must be reconsidered.”
This “break the rules” principle was demonstrated not only by the CIA’s bribery scheme in Chile but also by a scheme to violently kidnap the commanding general of Chile’s armed forces, a man named René Schneider.
A man of personal integrity, Schneider refused to go along with the U.S. plan to prevent Allende from assuming the presidency. His position was quite simple: He had taken an oath to support and defend the Chilean constitution, and he intended to honor that oath. The constitution of Chile, like the Constitution of the United States before the 25th Amendment was added, provided only two ways to remove a president from office: through the next election or through impeachment. The constitution of Chile, Schneider pointed out, did not authorize a coup as a third way to prevent a person from becoming president or removing a president once he assumed office.
Realizing that a coup to prevent Allende from assuming the presidency was impossible with Schneider as commander of the Chilean armed forces, U.S. officials in Washington and Virginia conspired to have him kidnapped and removed from the scene. The task was placed into the hands of the CIA.
There was obviously a big problem here. Kidnapping is a felony. So is conspiracy to kidnap. Even though the actual felony was to be carried out in Chile, there is no doubt that the conspiracy to kidnap originated in the United States.
Moreover, at the risk of belaboring the obvious, the Constitution did not delegate to U.S. officials the power to kidnap people. In fact, the Fifth Amendment specifically prohibited federal officials from depriving any person of his life or liberty without due process of law.
But this was the new Cold War way of thinking that was described in the top-secret 1954 Doolittle Report. To save the United States from an eventual communist takeover, it was considered permissible, even necessary, for the U.S. government, operating through the national-security establishment, to break the law, even by committing violent felonies against innocent people.
And it’s important to remember that Schneider was an entirely innocent person. He wasn’t even a communist. He was simply a military man who was doing his duty. But because he was doing his duty, he had to be eliminated: by preventing the coup from going forward, he had supposedly become a threat to U.S. national security.
Of course, it was never really made clear how Chile under Allende posed a threat to the United States. It wasn’t as if there was any danger that the Chilean army was going to start marching forward through South America, Central America, and Mexico and then cross the Rio Grande at Brownsville, take over Texas, and then start heading up to conquer Washington. Instead, it was that general sense, which psychiatrists might have labeled extreme paranoia, that communism and the communists were moving closer and closer to the United States, threatening to ultimately envelop the nation.
Pursuant to the CIA conspiracy to kidnap Schneider, the CIA secretly smuggled two high-powered weapons into the country in a diplomatic pouch, which would seem to make the State Department complicit in the felony. Rather than do the kidnapping themselves, CIA officials hired local thugs to do it for them. While the CIA has long claimed that it wasn’t the kidnapping team they had hired but rather another one that ended up doing the kidnapping, the denials are not credible, especially since the CIA has lied about almost everything else relating to the Chilean regime-change operation.
In fact, in sworn testimony to Congress, CIA Director Richard Helms stated unequivocally that the CIA had played no role in the events in Chile leading up to the eventual coup in 1973. It was a direct violation of perjury law. It was another example of the principle set forth in the Doolittle Report — that sometimes it’s necessary to break the law to save the country. Helms obviously thought he would never get caught or, if he was caught, that no one would do anything about it. And neither did any other CIA official, many of whom knew he had committed perjury and remained silent about it.
When it was later discovered that Helms had lied under oath to Congress about the CIA’s involvement in Chile, he was given a sweetheart deal that permitted him to plead guilty to a misdemeanor with no jail time and a nominal fine. When he returned to CIA headquarters after his sentencing, CIA personnel gave him a round of applause and passed a hat to collect the money for the fine. In their world, Helms’s lies to Congress under oath about the CIA’s actions in Chile made him a patriot and a hero.
Schneider was, of course, armed when his vehicle was ambushed by the kidnapping team. Undoubtedly believing that te kidnappers would ultimately kill him, he fought back by firing his sidearm at his attackers. They filled his vehicle with bullets, gravely wounding him. Schneider died a few days later, leaving a wife and two small sons.
Later, the CIA was caught having paid hush money to the kidnappers and purchasing back its high-powered weapons that had been secretly shipped into the country under cover of a diplomatic pouch.
The CIA has always denied that its kidnapping conspiracy included the assassination of Rene Schneider. But of course, the CIA would deny that anyway. After all, the top-secret CIA assassination manual published in 1954 showed that the agency was studying ways to assassinate people while keeping its own role in the assassination secret or, at the very least, difficult to prove. Moreover, as a practical matter, there was no way the CIA and the kidnappers could ever permit Schneider to return to Chilean society after a coup. Thus, it is a virtual certainty that the plan called for the kidnappers to kill Schneider, at which point the CIA, if caught, would feign shock and outrage and deny that murder was part of the plan.
In what U.S. law calls the felony-murder rule, the CIA and the rest of the U.S. government were criminally liable for Schneider’s murder even if they intended only to kidnap him. Under the felony-murder rule, conspirators and participants in felonies are criminally responsible for murders committed in the course of committing the felony.
No U.S. officials were prosecuted for the kidnapping and murder of René Schneider. The episode demonstrated the new order of things in the United States, one that was ultimately confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in a series of rulings in subsequent years, effectively immunized U.S. officials from civil liability for illegal actions committed in the name of national security. Operating through the Pentagon, the CIA, and, later, the NSA, U.S. officials were now authorized to do whatever was necessary, no matter how illegal, to protect national security, including kidnapping and assassinating officials of a foreign government, communist and noncommunist alike.
Schneider’s assassination boomeranged on the CIA. The anger generated by the assassination was so overwhelming that the Chilean congress confirmed Allende as president. The bribery scheme in track one of the Chilean regime-change operation had failed.
That didn’t stop U.S. officials, however. They became more determined than ever to remove Allende from office through a military coup, especially after he reached out to the Soviets and the Cubans, as Arbenz had done. It is not difficult to imagine the reaction of the Pentagon and the CIA when Allende hosted Cuba’s communist leader, Fidel Castro, as an official guest in Chile.
Richard Nixon ordered the CIA to pave the way for preventing Allende from coming to power or for a coup by creating as much economic misery and suffering as possible. His words to the CIA were “Make the economy scream.” And that’s precisely what the CIA did. Even after Allende’s socialist policies had begun sending the economy into a tailspin, the CIA knowingly and intentionally made things worse for the Chilean people. For example, in 1972 it secretly bribed truckers in the country to go on a nationwide strike to prevent food from reaching people all across the country.
Notwithstanding the removal of Schneider from the scene, there was still considerable resistance to a coup within the Chilean military. The U.S. national-security establishment was finally able to overcome that resistance with one of the most fascinating, important, and revealing arguments in the history of the United States.
What the Pentagon and the CIA told their military-intelligence counterparts in Chile was this: When the president of a country is threatening national security with his policies and actions, it is the solemn duty of the national-security establishment to save the country by removing him from office.
Now, think about that for a minute. It is a truly extraordinary position. The U.S. Constitution certainly does not provide for that type of removal action. Neither did the Chilean constitution. That didn’t matter. In the minds of the national-security establishment, a nation’s constitution is not a suicide pact. If a president is taking a nation down — if, for example, he is implementing measures that are leading to socialism and communism — or if he is embracing an avowed enemy of the United States — then it becomes the solemn duty of the military-intelligence forces to do what is necessary to save the nation by removing such a president from office. That’s the principle that the Pentagon and the CIA were imparting to their counterparts in the Chilean military and intelligence agencies.
The Chilean coup finally came on September 11, 1973. The national-security branch of the government initiated a military attack on the executive branch of the government. Since Allende refused to surrender, Chilean military officials tried to assassinate him with missiles fired by Chilean Air Force jets at his position in the presidential palace. At the same time, Chilean infantry and armor surrounded Allende’s position on the ground and initiated fire on him.
For a while, Allende and some of his aides fought back with guns but it soon became clear that the executive branch of the government was no match for the national-security branch of the government. Allende’s aides soon surrendered to the opposing forces and Allende, knowing what might lie in store for him if he were taken captive, apparently committed suicide.
One of the most revealing events that took place after the coup involved two American men, Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, both of whom were leftists or socialists. Teruggi had openly opposed U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, something that U.S. officials had noted about him in a secret file they were maintaining on him back in the United States. Horman had inadvertently discovered U.S. complicity in the coup, something that U.S. officials were steadfastly set on keeping secret. (Recall Helms’s testimony to Congress, in which he stated that the CIA had played no role in the events leading up to the coup.)
The new military dictatorship, headed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, immediately began rounding up socialists, leftists, Allende officials, Allende supporters, and people who had voted for Allende, some 50,000-60,000 people in all. Most of them were brutally tortured, raped, sexually assaulted in the most unbelievably horrific ways, executed, or “disappeared,” all with the support of U.S. officials, who immediately began opening up the floodgates of U.S. foreign aid and international credits.
It was during that time that Horman and Teruggi were executed by Pinochet’s national-security personnel. Yet, there is no reasonable possibility that Pinochet and his forces did that on their own. After all, the U.S. government was their partner in the coup. It was the U.S. government that had exhorted them to act to save their country from communism and, as Horman had discovered, was standing by on the day of the coup with offshore naval forces ready to provide support if necessary. The worst thing they would have done to any undesirable American is deport him. Chilean officials would never have killed Horman and Teruggi without receiving a green light from their partner and benefactor, the United States.
And it had to be more than just a green light. The only way that Horman and Teruggi would have been killed by Chilean personnel is if U.S. officials asked them to do the killing for them. Recall, once again, the 1954 top-secret CIA assassination manual, the one in which the CIA was studying how to kill people and how to keep its role in the murder secret.
Before anyone cries “Conspiracy theory,” a secret State Department investigative report later turned up that revealed that “U.S. intelligence” played an undefined role in the murders of Horman and Teruggi. The report recommended further investigation. It is no surprise that that recommendation went nowhere. The U.S. intelligence personnel who conspired to kill Horman and Teruggi got away scot-free. As the Doolittle Report had recommended, the CIA now wielded the omnipotent power to break the law, including laws against kidnapping and murdering American citizens, to save the United States from communism.
We should keep in mind the U.S. national-security’s state’s reason for violently removing Salvador Allende, Jacobo Arbenz, and Rene Schneider from office and for its willingness to kill American citizens, when we later examine the assassination of John F. Kennedy in the context of these Cold War, national-security state regime-change operations.
We have examined the CIA’s regime-change operation in Guatemala in 1954 and its regime-change operation in Chile in 1973. Let’s now go to a year between those two operations. Let’s go to 1960, to the CIA’s regime-change operation in Cuba.