Covert Action

During the 1970s, Congressional investigations into government intelligence actions revealed a number of covert (or hidden) operations against foreign powers which flirted with Communism.

The document below is a 1970 telegram from the CIA regarding planning a coup in Chile. Salvador Allende, the president of Chile, was considered to be friendly to left-wing ideology. This telegram is remarkably forthright about the need to eliminate a democratically elected leader. Documents like this would lead to increased oversight of the CIA by congress beginning in the 1970s and 1980s.

CIA Operating Guidance Cable on Coup Plotting in Chile
October 16, 1970

Restricted Handling
Classified Message
CITE Headquarters

Immediate Santiago (Eyes Only)
[unintelligible] policy, objectives, and actions were reviewed at high USG level afternoon 15 October. Conclusions, which are to be your operational guide, follow:

  1. It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup. It would be much preferable to have this transpire prior to 24 October but efforts in this regard will continue vigorously beyond this date. We are to continue to generate maximum pressure toward this end utilizing appropriate resource. It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG and American hand will be well hidden. While this imposes on us a high degree of selectivity in making military contacts and dictates that these contacts be made in the most secure manner it definitely does not preclude contacts such as reported in Santiago 544 which was a masterful piece of work.
  2. After the most careful consideration it was determined that a Viaux coup attempt carried out by him alone with the forces now at his disposal would fail. Thus, it would be counterproductive to our [blacked out] objectives. It was decided that [CIA] get a message to Viaux warning him against precipitate action. In essence our message is to state, “We have reviewed your plans, and based on your information and ours, we come to the conclusion that your plans for a coup at this time cannot succeed. Failing, they may reduce your capabilities for the future. Preserve your assets. We will stay in touch. The time will come when you together with all your other friends can do something. You will continue to have our support.” You are requested to deliver the message to Viaux essentially as noted above. Our objectives are as follows: (A) To advise him of our opinion and discourage him from acting alone; (B) Continue to encourage him to amplify his planning; (C) Encourage him to join forces with other coup planners so that they may act in concert either before or after 24 October. (N.B. six gas masks and six CS canisters are being carried to Santiago by special courier ETD Washington 1100 hours 16 October)
  3. There is great and continuing interest in the activities of Tirado, Canales, Valenzuela et al and we wish them optimum good fortune.
  4. The above is your operating guidance. No other policy guidance you may receive from [blacked out] or its maximum exponent in Santiago, on his return, are to sway you from your course.
  5. Please review all your present and possibly new activities to include propaganda, black operations, surfacing of intelligence or disinformation, personal contacts, or anything else your imagination can conjure which will permit you to continue to press forward toward our [blacked out] objective in a secure manner.

End of message


To consider:
How would the United States government of 1970s, if asked, justify this level of interference with foreign governments? What other examples of this type of behavior can you describe?