On September 11, 1973, Chilean Air Force Hawker Hunter jets attacked the National Palace in the nation’s capital, Santiago. The planes fired missiles into the palace with the aim of assassinating the nation’s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, who, along with several of his supporters, was defending himself against the attacks on his life.
The attack on Allende has profound implications for the U.S. national-security establishment’s assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, some 10 years prior to the events in Chile.
In 1973, Chile had the same type of government that the United States had — a democratic political system and a national-security state form of governmental structure, one characterized by a massive, permanent military-intelligence establishment. In Chile the intelligence-gathering part of the national-security establishment fell under direct military control. In the United States, while the military had its own intelligence-gathering section, control over intelligence gathering fell to the CIA and the NSA and, to a certain extent, the FBI.
Americans have long been taught that the federal government is divided into three branches: the executive, legislative, and judiciary. What about the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA, the three principal components of the national-
security establishment? Americans have been taught that they are part of the executive branch of the federal government, falling under the control of the president in his role as commander in chief.
What Americans have not been taught, however, is that the United States was not always a national-security state. For the first 150 years or so of its existence, the federal government was a limited-government republic, which is the type of governmental structure that was called into existence by the Constitution.
During that initial 150 years, the federal government had a relatively small, basic army, sufficiently large to quell attacks or resistance by hostile Indian tribes, but certainly not large enough to intervene in European or Asian affairs. During that period of time, there was no Pentagon, CIA, or NSA.
In fact, if the Constitutional Convention had proposed a Constitution that was calling into existence a national-security state, there is no possibility that the American people would have ever approved it, in which case the nation would simply have continued operating under the Articles of Confederation. That’s because our American ancestors at the time of the nation’s founding bore a deep antipathy toward national-
security states and what was then known as “standing armies.”
Why the deep antipathy toward “standing armies”? Our ancestors were convinced that once a government has a massive, permanent military-intelligence force, it then becomes the most powerful part of the government. Even worse, they believed, on the basis of their knowledge of history, that that military-intelligence part of the government then becomes the biggest threat to the freedom and well-being of the citizenry, in large part because of its ability to impose a tyrannical system on the citizenry.
The concern that our American ancestors had regarding the possibility that the federal government could become tyrannical was reflected by their adoption of the Second Amendment, which protected the right of the people to keep and bear arms. Our ancestors understood, again on the basis of history as well as personal experience, that widespread gun ownership ensured that people would have at least a fighting chance against the military forces of their own government in the event the government became tyrannical.
After World War II, things changed dramatically for the United States. The federal government was converted from a limited-government republic to a national-security-state form of government-al structure. That’s how Americans ended up with a vast, permanent military-intelligence establishment consisting of the Pentagon (whose construction actually began during the war), the CIA, and the NSA.
The difference was profound. While the federal government’s powers had been few and limited during the time it was a limited-government republic, the powers wielded by the national-security establishment became omnipotent, so long as such powers related to some aspect of “national security,” a two-word term that grew to become the most important term in the American political lexicon, albeit one that no one has ever been able to define with any specificity.
Such omnipotent powers included assassination, which involved the ultimate power of killing people without first according them a trial. They also involved massive secret surveillance schemes, both on Americans and foreigners. They also entailed military invasions, coups, and other interventions into the affairs of other countries. They also involved the power of indefinite detention and torture without due process of law and trial by jury.
It goes without saying that the Constitution, which called the federal government into existence, did not delegate any of these extraordinary powers to the federal government. In fact, the Bill of Rights expressly prohibits some of them. But once a government becomes a national-security state, those omnipotent powers come with it.
To get a sense of the nature of a national-security state and its powers, think of North Korea, China, Egypt, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. They are all national-security states, just like post–World War II United States.
Under the federal system, the national-security establishment became, as a practical matter, the fourth branch of government. But there is something important to note: We are not dealing with four co-equal branches of government. Instead, we have an all-powerful national-security branch of government to which the other three
inevitably defer, given the overwhelming power of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA within the overall governmental structure.
Through the establishment of military projects and bases all over the nation, the Pentagon is able to control the actions of Congress. If any member of Congress balks at what the Pentagon wants, the Pentagon is able to threaten to close down military projects and bases within that congressman’s district, in which case the media will render him an “ineffective” congressman. At the same time, Congress is filled with military veterans and former CIA officials, whose loyalty can always be counted upon.
Practically since the inception of the U.S. national-security state, the Supreme Court has deferred to the overwhelming power of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA. For example, in most nations that have a “state secrets doctrine,” it has been enacted into law by the legislature. Not so in the United States. When the military asked the Supreme Court to establish such a doctrine within the context of a civil suit brought against the military, the Court dutifully agreed to do so. Even when it was discovered several years later that the military had intentionally defrauded the Court in that case, the Court continued preserving the state-secrets doctrine.
Consider the Korean and Vietnam wars. Neither one had a congressional declaration of war, as
required by the Constitution. Deferring to the power of the military and the CIA, the Court made it clear that it would not enforce the Constitution by declaring the wars illegal under our form of government.
Or consider the power of assassination, which is primarily wielded by the CIA. Despite the fact that the Constitution does not delegate to the federal government the power to assassinate people and despite the fact that the Fifth Amendment expressly prohibits the federal government from killing people without due process of law, the Supreme Court has made it clear that it will not interfere with the power of the CIA or the Pentagon to assassinate people, including American citizens.
Ordinarily, the executive branch, which is represented by the president, and the national-security branch are on the same page. When the president orders an invasion or an assassination or some secret surveillance, the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA are ordinarily going to follow his orders. That’s, in fact, one of the reasons why a national-security state is so dangerous to the liberty and well-being of the citizenry and why our ancestors were so fervently opposed to that type of governmental structure.
Consider, for example, what happened in Chile prior to 1973. Chile had one of the strongest democratic systems in Latin America. In the 1970 presidential election, a physician named Salvador Allende received a plurality of the votes. Under the Chilean constitution, that meant that the Chilean parliament would decide who would be the president.
At that point, President Richard Nixon and his national-security team went into action, determined to prevent Allende from assuming the presidency. That wasn’t the first time that the U.S. government opposed Allende’s ascension to the presidency. In the previous presidential race in 1964, Allende was running for president and the U.S. government became, in secret, an active participant in that election, spending millions of dollars in support of his opposition.
Nixon ordered the U.S. national-security establishment to come up with a plan to prevent Allende from becoming Chile’s president. The plan involved a two-part process. The first process involved the payment of bribes to the members of Chile’s parliament, with the aim that they would vote for the second-place finisher instead of Allende, the first-place finisher. The second part involved a coup in which the Chilean national-security branch of the government would go to war against the executive branch of the government, with the aim of ousting Allende from power and imposing military rule.
There was one big obstacle to a coup, however: The overall commander of the Chilean armed forces, a man named Gen. René Schneider, who was fiercely opposed to a military coup. Schneider’s position was that the Chilean constitution did not provide for ousting a democratically elected president through a coup. Like the U.S. Constitution at the time, there were only two ways to oust a president from office: through the next election or through impeachment. With Schneider in charge of the Chilean armed forces, there was no way that the CIA was going to succeed in achieving a coup.
The CIA adopted an extraordinary plan, one that entailed the violent kidnapping of Schneider by armed Chilean thugs. The CIA conspiracy to kidnap Schneider originated in Virginia and Washington, D.C. The CIA hired kidnappers and secretly smuggled high-powered guns into the country to deliver to the kidnappers.
The CIA has always denied that the conspiracy involved killing Schneider, but the denials have to be false. Schneider’s assassination had to have been built into the plan. After all, what else could they have done with him after he was kidnapped? The U.S. certainly couldn’t have returned him because then he would resume his office as overall commander of the Chilean armed forces. To achieve its goal of a coup, the CIA had to be certain that Schneider was removed from the scene permanently.
On the day of the attempted kidnapping, which took place on the streets of Santiago, Schneider was armed and attempted to defend himself. The kidnappers shot him dead. Later it was discovered that the CIA had paid hush money to its kidnappers to keep them quiet about its involvement in the affair.
The Justice Department never brought the matter up before a federal grand jury, notwithstanding the fact that a felony had clearly been committed in Virginia and Washington, i.e., conspiracy to kidnap and murder a foreign national. Also, under what is called the felony-murder rule, the CIA was criminally responsible for Schneider’s murder even if it had conspired only to kidnap him.
Even if the Justice Department had secured an indictment, however, it would have gone nowhere, as there is no doubt that the federal judiciary would have quickly dismissed it. In fact, when the Schneider family filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the wrongful death of Schneider, their suit was summarily dismissed. Nothing, including an attempt to recover damages for the murder of an innocent man, would be permitted to interfere with whatever the CIA or the rest of the U.S. national-security branch of the federal government needed to do to protect “national security.”
The Schneider murder demonstrated the overwhelming power of the national-security branch of the federal government. From almost the very beginning of the U.S. national-security state after World War II, the U.S. Supreme Court and the rest of the federal judiciary made it clear that the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA would effectively be immune from liability for anything done to protect “national security,” including assassinating anyone in order to protect “national security.”
It was a position that the Chilean courts took as well, once the Chilean national-security establishment had defeated Allende and assumed power in Chile. At that point, the courts went silent, passively deferring to the overwhelming power of the Chilean military regime.
Ironically, Schneider’s murder boomeranged for the CIA. The Chilean people and the Chilean parliament were so outraged over the crime that Allende was confirmed as president.
But U.S. officials did not stop. They continued doing everything they could to prevent Allende from serving out his term as president. And with Schneider now removed from the scene, the road was open to a military coup that would accomplish their goal.
Nixon and his national-security establishment spent the next three years doing everything they could to foment the coup against Allende, one that would finally leave him dead and that would bring the Chilean military to power. The CIA’s efforts included the instigation of economic chaos within the country, so that people would welcome a coup. As Nixon had secretly put it to the CIA, “Make the economy scream!” That’s precisely what the CIA did. Its efforts included orchestrating a nationwide truckers strike that was designed to prevent food from being delivered to the Chilean people.
Why were U.S. officials so opposed to Allende’s serving as president of Chile? What would cause them to go to such extraordinary lengths, including bribery and, even worse, the intentional kidnapping and murder of an innocent man, to prevent a foreigner from becoming president of his country or from serving out his term in office? The answer to these questions has a direct bearing on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
This article was originally published in the January 2021 edition of Future of Freedom.