- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2008

One of the more enduring bits of demonology about the CIA concerns the ouster of Presi

dent Salvador Allende of Chile in 1973, his death and the ascension to power of strongman Augusto Pinochet. That CIA bears total responsibility is a matter of ideological dogma for the political left. To be sure, the CIA was up to its elbows in the affair, by order of three U.S. presidents. But do cause and effect match up?

Refreshingly, we now have a dispassionate study of the period with Kristian Gustafson’s, Hostile Intent: US Covert Operations in Chile 1964-1974 (Potomac Books, $29.95, 316 pages). A former Canadian army officer, Mr. Gustafson lectures at Brunei University’s Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies in England.

Mr. Gustafson’s account, based on CIA and White House documents released in recent years, and interviews with some principals, tells a far more complex story than anti-CIA zealots would have us believe.

Presidents Kennedy and Johnson saw Allende as a budding Castro, and hence a man who should be stopped. CIA’s effort, on White House orders, began as a massive propaganda project, bolstered by hefty cash donations to opposition political parties. It initially worked. Allende lost two elections, then gained a plurality among three candidates in 1972, meaning the winner would be determined by the National Assembly.

Enter now President Nixon and Henry Kissinger, his national security adviser, who ordered the full resources of CIA to be unleashed. If Allende’s election could not be averted, CIA should organize a military coup. The director of central intelligence, Richard Helms, is famously quoted as saying after leaving a White House meeting where Nixon and Mr. Kissinger barked orders at him, “If I ever carried a marshal’s baton in my knapsack out of the Oval Office, it was that day. My heart sank … ”

As Helms wrote in his memoir, “President Nixon had ordered me to instigate a military coup in Chile, a heretofore democratic country.”

To the White House’s dismay, the Chilean military initially rebuffed CIA attempts to bring them into a coup. To their credit, the generals were firm about maintaining a constitutional government, regardless of their thoughts about Allende.

To be sure, some CIA officers overstepped in their dealings with the military. They provided arms to officers who wished to kidnap a recalcitrant general who refused to aid a coup. The attempt was bungled, and the general was shot to death. In the messy aftermath, Allende assumed office, and the CIA operation ceased.

What happened thereafter is the strength of Mr. Gustafson’s narrative. In the end, it was Chileans themselves who rid their country of Allende, not the CIA. Mr. Gustafson makes plain that despite his deliberately bland public pronouncements, Allende was a “devoted Marxist working … to convert Chile into a Marxist people’s republic, which even if pursued through the ballot box would ultimately spell the end to liberal democracy in that country.”

Further, in his three years in office, Allende so alienated and split his own people to the point that the country was driven “‘into a cauldron of hatreds and tensions,’ to the point where the staunchly republican Chilean army took up arms against the president with the support of both the political right and the political center.” Allende shot himself (with a pistol gifted by Castro) as troops stormed into the presidential offices.

What Mr. Gustafson calls the “most notable example” of heaping blame on the CIA came in Seymour Hersh’s book, “The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House,” “which propagates the common belief that the CIA aimed to assassinate Allende and was successful in overthrowing him.”

In an assertion that what Mr. Gustafson charges “tends towards conspiracy theory,” Mr. Hersh “alleges, based on the evidence of a clerk who handled some of the White House [cable] traffic on the matter, that ‘murder was one of the ways’ that the CIA was directed to use to overthrow Allende.”

Mr. Hersh further wrote that “a senior member of the intelligence community” — not named, of course — told him that the United States planned to assassinate Allende. Given Mr. Hersh’s reputation, at least in some quarters, “Hersh’s book has become a machine to sustain misperceptions of American action in Chile.” The documentary evidence Mr. Gustafson cites does not support Mr. Hersh’s assertions.

Why the current significance of events that occurred three decades ago? Persons such as Hugo Chavez of Venezuela harp upon Chile as a nasty example of American imperialism. As Mr. Gustafson writes, “There are enough mistakes and errors in the history of U.S. foreign politics that one does not need to invent them to make a point, and so with Chile there is no need to invent greater errors where great errors already exist.”

To paraphrase the late William Colby, it is dangerous to make the CIA a scapegoat for all the evils of the world. “Doing so deprives the American nation of a useful and necessary tool in the international arena,” that is, covert action.

Mr. Gustafson acknowledges that his book is unlikely to change deeply-ingrained feelings about Chile, either on the left or the right. But, if one cares to look beyond polemics, here is a good starting point. If you’d care to browse the documents that are his basic source material, send me an e-mail and I will guide you to the relevant web site.


A glance at the title of Simon Kitson’s new book made me blink: The Hunt For Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in Vichy France (University of Chicago Press, $25, 208 pages).

Now wait a moment: The French capitulated to German invaders in 1940 and set up a puppet government, based in Vichy, under Marshal Philippe Petain. Thus how and why was the French security service able to ferret out German spies and arrest them? Mr. Kitson, a British professor, put his hands on 1,400 boxes of Vichy counterespionage records that the Soviets seized and took back to Moscow at war’s end. What he found, in these three tons of papers, certainly bears out his claim to have unfolded “a previously unknown chapter of World War II.”

The story is at once confusing and fascinating. The Vichy regime tracked down left wing resistants and supporters of Charles de Gaulle’s Free French forces. It deported slave workers and Jews to Germany. Yet concurrently, it tracked down and arrested hundreds of German agents who sought to further undermine France militarily.

More than 100 of them were sentenced to death, and Mr. Kitson writes that he found “formal proof” that eight were actually executed. A ranking French counterintelligence officer, Paul Paillole, puts the number at 42, which to Mr. Kitson “seems credible.”

Other efforts were directed against British officers seeking to organize resistance groups preparing for the inevitable invasion. As the papers make plain, the French military harbored a keen sense that it was “betrayed” by England in the opening months of the war.

To understate, French internal politics of the era were devilishly confused. Curiosity directed me to a book remainder house, where I found a 2005 biography of Petain by Charles Williams, a former Labour member of the British House of Lords. As I frequently discover as I age, the “full story” is often more complex than we were taught in school. So be it with Petain’s Vichy government.

Mr. Kitson’s book is a highly-recommended read for anyone interested in the intricacies of counterintelligence.

Joseph C. Goulden is writing a book on Cold War intelligence. His e-mail is JosephG894@aol.com.

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