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For Immediate Release
September 25, 2004
Updated: September 27, 2004
Contact: Peter Kornbluh 202 994 7116


National Security Archive Commends State Department, CIA for Declassification

WASHINGTON D.C.: For the first time in forty years, CIA and White House documents on covert political intervention in the 1964 Chilean election were declassified yesterday. The documents, which detail Washington's political and operational decisions on covert action "directed at the defeat of Salvador Allende" by "increasing the organizational efficiency and campaigning ability of the Christian Democratic Party," provide a comprehensive historical record of U.S. efforts to sway the election to candidate Eduardo Frei between January and September 1964.

The records were published in the new volume of the State Department's Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, Volume XXXI, South and Central America; Mexico. National Security Archive analyst Peter Kornbluh hailed the State Department for "filling in a dark historical hole on the secret efforts by the United States to intervene in Chile's political process." The release, he said, "demonstrates the power of a congressional mandate for the State Department to systematically declassify the full record, including on covert operations."

Although a special Senate Committee headed by Frank Church had viewed these records and written about them in a 1975 report on "Covert Action in Chile: 1963-1973," Kornbluh noted, "there is no substitute for the actual declassification of this long hidden history."

CIA Initiative

According to the declassified reports, covert support for Frei's Christian Democrats began in April 1962, at the suggestion of Kennedy aide Richard Goodwin and the U.S. Ambassador to Chile, with a series of secret payments on "a non-attributable basis"--meaning that the source of the funds was kept a secret from Frei and his party officials. In preparation for the 1964 campaign, in December 1963 the CIA's Western Hemisphere Division proposed a concrete "political action program in Chile" to bolster the Christian Democrats chances of winning. The CIA's Chief of Western Hemisphere Division, J.C. King, recommended that funds for the campaign "be provided in a fashion causing Frei to infer United States origin of funds and yet permitting plausible denial," so that the CIA could "achieve a measure of influence over [the] Christian Democratic Party."

The documents record that on March 26, 1964, Frei's campaign managers met with U.S. embassy officials to go over their campaign budget of $1.5 million for which the party only had $500,000. A memorandum recording the meeting noted that "The Chileans suggested that the U.S. government make up this difference which amounts to one million dollars for the period from now to election time." The "Special Group" which approved covert actions met on April 2 in the White House situation room and authorized CIA financing of the campaign and a compromise with the CIA in which the U.S. source of the secret funding "would be inferred" but with "no evidence of proof."

On May 14, the Special Group approved an increase in covert spending to $1.25 million to allow the Christian Democrats to "campaign at its full potential." On July 23, the Johnson administration approved another $500,000 for Frei to "maintain the pace and rhythm of his campaign effort." A secret memorandum to National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy from an aide noted that "we can't afford to lose this one, so I don't think there should be any economy shaving in this instance."

The CIA spent a total of $2.6 million directly underwriting the campaign. An additional $3 million was spent on anti-Allende propaganda activities designed to scare voters away from Allende's FRAP coalition.

Frei’s Knowledge

The documentation ends a long standing debate in Chile as to whether Frei himself was aware of this funding. On May 4, 1964, Frei met with the deputy chief of mission in Chile. In a memorandum of conversation sent through CIA channels to Washington, the DCM, Mr. Jova, stated that Frei had expressed his "gravest concern" that an unidentified businessman had been indiscrete in openly discussing the $1 million dollars of funding due to come from the U.S. government. Frei "hoped that all concerned would be extremely careful on any loose talk on any matters connected with financial assistance," Jova reported, "because any linking of him to USG or U.S. private sector financial assistance was fatal."

After Frei's victory on September 4, 1964, the "303 Committee"--the new name of the interagency group responsible for covert operations--met and discussed the U.S. contribution. According to minutes of the meeting, "Mr. Bundy indicated that a vote of commendation should be extended to those responsible for the successful outcome of the Chilean election." CIA Director John McCone "remarked that the voters, themselves, in Chile deserved some commendation." A special report prepared by the CIA on Chile's new president-elect noted that "with some good fortune and tactful handling, Frei could become an outstanding leader and statesman in Latin America and an exceptionally valuable, if occasionally carping, friend of the United States."

In the aftermath of the election, the CIA and the State Department continued to fight over whether and how to exercise U.S. influence over Frei. In a September 30th meeting between State Department and CIA officials, the head of covert operations, Desmond Fitzgerald was told that Secretary of State Dean Rusk "doesn't want us in our dealings with the Frei Government to use leverage acquired through support of the CD [Christian Democrats]." "Fitzgerald said this made him very unhappy," according to the memorandum of conversation. The Assistant Secretary of State, Thomas Mann, told the CIA that he doubted Rusk's directive "was as sweeping as it sounds."

The new FRUS volume also includes more than a dozen State Department documents on U.S. policy leading up to the 1964 coup in Brazil, but none of the hundreds of CIA records on covert support for the military coup plotters believed to exist. In the spirit of the CIA’s decision to declassify some documents on the 1964 Chilean election, the National Security Archive called on the Agency to release the entire record on Brazil, and all other documents on covert action in Chile during the 1960s.

According to Kornbluh, “After four decades, there is no conceivable justification for continuing to cover up this history.”

Click here for a selection of documents on the 1964 election in Chile

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