Sunday, May 25, 2014

The CIA and the Chilean Coup

Former CIA agent Jack Devine just published an article in Foreign Affairs about the Chilean coup that is getting attention because he argues the CIA was mostly clueless about the details of the coup and therefore was not successfully plotting as often portrayed. The CIA had the desire and the resources but the Chilean military was a tough nut to crack.

A few thoughts:

First, can we stop saying "what really happened" about anything? He gives us one viewpoint and so it is only what "really happened" to him, or at least his version of it.

Second, his version is basically what I've been teaching in my classes for a long time and I think has already settled into scholarly conventional wisdom. Every single indication is that the CIA was trying hard to support a coup but was mostly in the dark.

Third, not being directly responsible for the coup is not the same as not being responsible at all. The Nixon administration played an important role in making it happen. In class I discuss what Kathryn Sikkink has called "green lights," whereby the signals of approval the U.S. gives are critical for assuring coup-makers that they'll be supported if successful. So:

Washington hailed Allende’s demise as a major victory. Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, were pleased. So was the CIA: against all odds, the Santiago station had helped create a climate for the coup without tainting the effort by becoming directly involved.

Public statements, covert meetings, throwing CIA money, and the like are not plotting with the military but are powerful tools nonetheless for creating a coup climate. And, of course, they are also major violations of sovereignty.

Fourth, the persistent belief that the U.S. was more actively involved in making the coup happen stems in part from the also persistent U.S.-centric assertion that the United States government drives just about all major events around the world. Latin American agency disappears. Chileans wouldn't possibly do this on their own!

Fifth, the CIA does enough--and Devine notes how he tossed money around, even claiming credit for the women banging pots--that conspiracy theories of major plots all over the place are just believable enough. He lauds covert operations but the CIA has done tremendous damage to U.S. credibility, U.S. moral authority, and sometimes even U.S. national security.


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