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Nixon Vetoed Proposed Coexistence with an Allende Government
Kissinger to the CIA: “We will not let Chile go down the drain.”

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 255

Posted - September 10, 2008

For more information contact:
Peter Kornbluh- (202) 994-7116, peter.kornbluh@gmail.com


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Washington D.C., September 10, 2008 - On the eve of the thirty-fifth anniversary of the military coup in Chile, the National Security Archive today published for the first time formerly secret transcripts of Henry Kissinger’s telephone conversations that set in motion a massive U.S. effort to overthrow the newly-elected socialist government of Salvador Allende. “We will not let Chile go down the drain,” Kissinger told CIA director Richard Helms in one phone call. “I am with you,” the September 12, 1970 transcript records Helms responding.

The telephone call transcripts—known as ‘telcons’—include previously-unreported conversations between Kissinger and President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State William Rogers.  Just eight days after Allende's election, Kissinger informed the president that the State Department had recommended an approach to “see what we can work out [with Allende].”   Nixon responded by instructing Kissinger: “Don’t let them do it.” 

After Nixon spoke directly to Rogers, Kissinger recorded a conversation in which the Secretary of State agreed that “we ought, as you say, to cold-bloodedly decide what to do and then do it,” but warned it should be done “discreetly so that it doesn’t backfire.” Secretary Rogers predicted that “after all we have said about elections, if the first time a Communist wins the U.S. tries to prevent the constitutional process from coming into play we will look very bad.”

The telcons also reveal that just nine weeks before the Chilean military, led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet and supported by the CIA, overthrew the Allende government on September 11, 1973, Nixon called Kissinger on July 4 to say “I think that Chilean guy might have some problems.” “Yes, I think he’s definitely in difficulties,” Kissinger responded. Nixon then blamed CIA director Helms and former U.S. Ambassador Edward Korry for failing to block Allende’s inauguration three years earlier. “They screwed it up,” the President declared.

Although Kissinger never intended the public to know about these conversations, observed Peter Kornbluh, who directs the National Security Archive’s Chile Documentation Project, he “bestowed on history a gift that keeps on giving by secretly taping and transcribing his phone calls.”  The transcripts, Kornbluh noted, provide historians with the ability to “eavesdrop on the most candid conversations of the highest and most powerful U.S. officials as they plotted covert intervention against a democratically-elected government.”   

Kissinger began secretly taping all his incoming and outgoing phone conversations when he became national security advisor in 1969; his secretaries transcribed the calls from audio tapes that were later destroyed.  When Kissinger left office in January 1977, he took more than 30,000 pages of the transcripts, claiming they were “personal papers,” and used them, selectively, to write his memoirs.  In 1999, the National Security Archive initiated legal proceedings to force Kissinger to return these records to the U.S. government so they could be subject to the freedom of information act and declassification.  At the request of Archive senior analyst William Burr, telcons on foreign policy crises from the early 1970s, including these four previously-unknown conversations on Chile, were recently declassified by the Nixon Presidential library.

On November 30, 2008 the National Security Archive will publish a comprehensive collection of Kissinger telcons in the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA). Comprising 15,502 telcons, this collection documents Kissinger’s conversations with top officials in the Nixon and Ford administrations, including President Richard Nixon; Defense Secretaries Melvin Laird, Elliot Richardson, and James Schlesinger; Secretary of State William P. Rogers; Ambassador to the U.N. George H.W. Bush; and White House Counselor Donald Rumsfeld; along with noted journalists, ambassadors, and business leaders with close White House ties.  Wide-ranging topics discussed in the telcons include détente with Moscow, military actions during the Vietnam War and the negotiations that led to its end, Middle East peace talks, the 1970 crisis in Jordan, U.S. relations with Europe, Japan, and Chile, rapprochement with China, the Cyprus crisis (1974- ), and the unfolding Watergate affair.  When combined with the Archive’s previous electronic publication of Kissinger’s memoranda of conversation -- The Kissinger Transcripts: A Verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy, 1969-1977 -- users of the DNSA will have access to comprehensive records of Kissinger’s talks with myriad U.S. officials and world leaders.  Like the Archive’s earlier publication, the Kissinger telcons will be comprehensively and expertly indexed, providing users with have easy access to the information they seek.  The collection also includes 158 White House tapes, some of which dovetail with transcripts of Kissinger’s telephone conversations with Nixon and others.  Users of the set will thus be able to read the “telcon” and listen to the tape simultaneously.



l. Helms/Kissinger, September 12, 1970, 12:00 noon.

Eight days after Salvador Allende’s narrow election, Kissinger tells CIA director Richard Helms that he is calling a meeting of the 40 committee—the committee that determines covert operations abroad.  “We will not let Chile go down the drain,” Kissinger declares.  Helms reports he has sent a CIA emissary to Chile to obtain a first-hand assessment of the situation.

2. President/Kissinger, September 12, 1970, 12:32 p.m.

In the middle of a Kissinger report to Nixon on the status of a terrorist hostage crisis in Amman, Jordan, he tells the president that “the big problem today is Chile.”  Former CIA director and ITT board member John McCone has called to press for action against Allende; Nixon’s friend Pepsi CEO Donald Kendall has brought Chilean media mogul Augustine Edwards to Washington.  Nixon blasts a State Department proposal to “see what we can work out [with Allende], and orders Kissinger “don’t let them do that.” The president demands to see all State Department cable traffic on Chile and to get an appraisal of “what the options are.”

3. Secretary Rogers, September 14, 1970, 12:15pm (page 2)

After Nixon speaks to Secretary of State William Rogers about Chile, Kissinger speaks to him on September 14. Rogers reluctantly agrees that the CIA should “encourage a different result” in Chile, but warns it should be done discreetly lest U.S. intervention against a democratically-elected government be exposed.  Kissinger firmly tells Secretary Rogers that “the president’s view is to do the maximum possible to prevent an Allende takeover, but through Chilean sources and with a low posture.”

4) President/Kissinger, July 4, 1973, 11:00 a.m.

Vacationing in San Clemente, Nixon calls Kissinger and discusses the deteriorating situation in Chile.  Two weeks earlier, a coup attempt against Allende failed, but Nixon and Kissinger predict further turmoil.  “I think that Chilean guy may have some problems,” Nixon states.  “Oh, he has massive problems.  He has massive problems…he’s definitely in difficulties,” Kissinger responds.  The two share recollections of three years earlier when they had covertly attempted to block Allende’s inauguration.  Nixon blames CIA director Richard Helms and former U.S. ambassador Edward Korry for failing to stop Allende; “they screwed it up,” he states.  The conversation then turns to Kissinger’s evaluation of the Los Angeles premiere of the play “Gigi.”

5) President/Kissinger, September 16, 1973, 11:50 a.m. (previously posted May 26, 2004)

In their first substantive conversation following the military coup in Chile, Kissinger and Nixon discuss the U.S. role in the overthrow of Allende, and the adverse reaction in the new media. When Nixon asks if the U.S. “hand” will show in the coup, Kissinger admits “we helped them” and that “[deleted reference] created conditions as great as possible.”  The two commiserate over what Kissinger calls the “bleating” liberal press. In the Eisenhower period, he states, “we would be heroes.” Nixon assures him that the people will appreciate what they did: “let me say they aren’t going to buy this crap from the liberals on this one.”


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