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CIA acknowledges involvement in Allende's overthrow, Pinochet's rise
WASHINGTON (AP) -- 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 planned to post a declassified report required by the U.S. Congress on its Web site Wednesday that admits CIA support for a kidnapping attempt of Chile's army chief in October 1970, as part of a plot to prevent the congressional confirmation of Marxist leader Salvador Allende as president.
The kidnapping attempt failed, and Gen. Rene Schneider was shot. He died two days later, the same day the Chilean congress confirmed Allende as president.
The CIA admits prior knowledge of the plot that overthrew Allende three years later but denies any direct involvement. The agency says in the report that it had no way of knowing Allende would refuse safe passage with his palace under bombardment and kill himself.
The report said there is no evidence the agency wanted Schneider killed for refusing to join the 1970 plot to block Allende from becoming president, although it supported the idea of kidnapping him and later paid $35,000 to the group that botched his capture, resulting in his death.
It also disclosed for the first time a CIA payment to secret police head Gen. Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, the head of the military regime's feared secret police, whom the CIA knew to be involved in post-Allende human rights abuses.
In 1993, Contreras was sentenced to prison for a rare act of foreign-sponsored terrorism on American soil -- the 1976 car-bomb killing of Chilean socialist leader Orlando Letelier and an American associate on Embassy Row in Washington.
Contreras, now serving the final year of his prison term, has denied any connections with the CIA, and has said the CIA -- not his secret police force -- was behind the Letelier assassination.
The report does not reveal how much Contreras received in a one-time payment for his CIA services and says the payment was made by mistake after it had been overruled by high officials. The report, however, says the CIA had contact with Contreras on several occasions before and after the bombing.
The report says payment to remnants of the group that kidnapped Schneider was made for "humanitarian reasons," to maintain their good will and avoid disclosure of prior CIA contacts.
The report also describes efforts to influence news media in Chile against Allende and to continue anti-leftist propaganda efforts by successor Gen. Augusto Pinochet, "including support for news media committed to creating a positive image for the military Junta" now accused of an array of abuses during his 17-year rule, including more than 3,000 killings.
Civilians collaborating with the CIA, but not acting on CIA direction, produced the "White Book," intended to justify Allende's overthrow with allegations of plans to murder the high command in the months before the coup, the report said. It said the CIA knew at the time this was "probably disinformation."
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.
"I think the environment has changed, and I'm prepared to believe the agency has changed," Hinchey said in an interview. "I think that in today's atmosphere, this would not happen. That does not mean it would not happen in tomorrow's atmosphere."
"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.
CIA spokeswoman Anya Guilsher said the report addresses key questions Congress has had concerning CIA activities in Chile in both the 1970 coup planning and the 1973 coup.
"We were aware of coup plotting in 1973, but we did not instigate it," she said.
More CIA files and other documents on Chile are to be released in a few weeks.
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said last week that release of the documents on human rights abuse and terrorism during the Pinochet regime was delayed by National Security Adviser Sandy Berger in order to conduct review of more documents.
"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.
Copyright 2000 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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