The CIA is acknowledging for the first time the extent of its deep involvement in Chile, where it dealt with coup-plotters, false propagandists and assassins.
The agency posted a declassified report required by the U.S. Congress on its Web site Wednesday. It is one of several efforts to release information on the American role in the 1973 Chilean coup, the suicide of Marxist president Salvador Allende after the coup and the regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
Despite the disclosures, the CIA report admits to no abuses or cover-up by CIA agents.
"A review of CIA's files has uncovered no evidence that CIA officers and employees were engaged in human rights abuses or in covering up any human rights abuses in Chile," the report says.
But it chronicles clandestine contacts authorized by then-U.S. President Richard Nixon and other top U.S. officials which it said would violate standards now upheld by the agency.
The agency now carefully reviews all contacts for potential involvement with human rights abuses, the report said, and "makes a deliberate decision balancing the nature and severity of the human rights abuse against the potential intelligence value of continuing the relationship."
U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, who sponsored the law requiring the report, said he takes the CIA at its word on today's standards but pushed for full disclosure of past acts to prevent U.S. support for such injustices in the future.
"This very sordid chapter in American history needs to be held up to the bright light so that everyone can see what went on under orders from the president of the United States, the secretary of state and the attorney general," Hinchey said.
Among the disclosures:
- The CIA had prior knowledge of the plot that overthrew Allende three years later but denies any direct involvement. CIA spokeswoman Anya Guilsher said, "We were aware of coup plotting in 1973, but we did not instigate it."
- The CIA supported a kidnapping attempt of Chile's army chief in October 1970, as part of a plot to prevent the congressional confirmation of Allende as president. The kidnapping attempt failed, and Gen. Rene Schneider was shot and killed. The CIA later paid $35,000 to the kidnappers in what it termed "humanitarian" assistance.
- The CIA made a one-time payment to secret police head Gen. Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, the head of the military regime's feared secret police. He was sentenced in 1993 for killing Chilean socialist leader Orlando Letelier in Washington in 1976. Contreras has said the CIA was behind the assassination.
- The report also describes efforts to influence news media in Chile against Allende and to continue anti-leftist propaganda efforts by successor Pinochet, "including support for news media committed to creating a positive image for the military Junta" now accused of an array o abuses during his 17-year rule, including more than 3,000 killings.
"Basically, we want to make sure we get this done right and we are as responsive as we are able to, as far as the fullest-possible disclosure of documents," Lockhart said.
Some 7,500 documents have already been released under the project, which was launched by the White House in February 1999, but this latest round has proven especially contentious.
According to the private National Security Archive, the next release is to include documents on covert action in Chile from 1962 through 1975, a period that covers the coup against Allende and the first two years of Pinochet's rule.
CIA director George Tenet, in an Aug. 11 letter to Congress, announced that while he had approved 500 pages of documents for release, he would withhold some because they "present a pattern of activity that had the effect of revealing intelligence methods that have been employed worldwide."
But critics say there is no reason to hold anything back because the government's role was detailed in congressional probes 25 years ago.
A 1975 Senate report found that "Covert United States action in Chile in the decade between 1963 and 1973 was extensive and continuous," including the expenditure of $3 million to influence the 1964 Chilean elections.
Another report that year found that the CIA had received "a direct instruction from (Nixon) to attempt to foment a coup."