48 years after the military coup that overthrew the Government of Salvador Allende in Chile, on September 11, 1973, the American National Security Archive has published this Friday unpublished documents that reveal the collaboration that Australia lent to the CIA to support the intervention of the United States in Chile. In 1971, in the first months of the socialist administration, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), at the request of the CIA, opened a secret office in Santiago, Chile to carry out “clandestine espionage operations”, in a new shows “the multinational effort to destabilize the Government” of the Popular Unity.
Undercover Australian teams and agents arrived in the Chilean capital and, with the support of Chilean informants, presented intelligence reports on Chile directly at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The spies ended up completely leaving the South American country only after the military intervention that gave rise to 17 years of bloody dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet, marked by death, disappearances and torture.
“After 50 years, we continue to learn about the covert history of clandestine operations against the Allende government,” Peter Kornbluh, an analyst on Chile at the US National Security Archive, assures EL PAIS, who has declassified the ASIS documents. After Pinochet’s arrest in London in 1998, the US government, then chaired by Bill Clinton, began publishing previously unknown papers relating to the military coup that ended Allende. The Washington-based National Security Archive has since released its findings intermittently.
It was in the last quarter of 1970, just when the Popular Unity Government took office, when the CIA asked Australia for help, according to Australian cables, reports and memoranda. It was the Minister of Foreign Relations of the Liberal Party, William McMahon, who authorized the operation in December 1970 to open the secret ASIS station in the Chilean capital, which took place in the following months. “XXX reports that our safe and typewriter will arrive in Valparaíso around September 11 and will be delivered to XXX within a week,” says an Australian report from mid-1971, which erases the names of the agents involved in the operation. clandestine.
The Australian documents focus on the practicalities of setting up the secret office in Santiago, Chile, such as staffing and managing the intelligence station (monthly expense reports, housing arrangements, communication methods, inspections of security, among others). The papers reveal numerous requests for authorization to acquire equipment, such as safes, cameras, office supplies and vehicles for the work of ASIS spies in the Chilean capital. But the material from Australia, which is declassified thanks to the efforts of Clinton Fernandes, a former Australian Army intelligence analyst seeking the release of the documents, contains few revelations about the details of the covert operations, the intelligence material collected or the links with the CIA in Chile. “These sections of the records are completely censored,” says the US National Security Archive.
Back in the days when Australia’s secret office was set up in Chile at the request of the CIA, for example, Australians recommended their undercover agents to buy a “light gray or beige” German Volkswagen beetle car at an estimated cost. of $ 1,800. The spies had at their disposal at least a second vehicle, a Fiat 600. When the Australian station closed its operations and disposed of its assets in the Chilean capital, a new cable reported that this car had been damaged in the middle of the clashes “between opposing factions during the riots in Santiago.” The Australians, however, recovered the investment: “The vehicle was sold at a higher price than we originally paid,” reports one of the documents on the Fiat.
The ASIS agents had the help of Chilean informants and presented intelligence reports directly to the CIA, at its headquarters in Langley, Virginia, as the Richard Nixon Administration carried out an aggressive strategy of hostility and pressure against the Allende government. . But after at least 18 months of operations, the new Labor Party Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, who took office in December 1972, ordered the ASIS director to shut down Chile’s operations. The cables report that Whitlam was “uneasy” about Australia’s involvement because if the operation were to become known, “it would be extremely difficult to justify our presence,” according to a memo from a conversation between Whitlam and former ASIS director General William Robertson.
Another declassified document indicates that the Prime Minister of Australia “was well aware of the importance of this [operación] for Americans and that he was extremely concerned that his decision would not be interpreted as anti-American…. He said that he was very concerned that the Americans did not believe that he personally disapproved of what they were doing in Chile and that he supported Allende. ” The reports expose Whitlam’s nervousness about the closure of his secret office in Santiago. According to another of the declassified cables, the prime minister was very concerned that the CIA would interpret this decision “as a hostile gesture towards the United States in general or towards the CIA in particular.”
Australian papers declassified this Friday by the US National Security Archive show that the espionage office was closed around July 1973, two months before the military intervention, “although, according to reports, an ASIS agent remained in Santiago. until after the military coup of September 11 ”. A cable from the Chilean capital informs headquarters in Australia that all records had been destroyed. “The station has been closed as planned,” says a document.
The papers were released by Australia following consecutive freedom of information requests by Fernandes, a former Australian Army intelligence analyst and professor of international and political studies at the University of New South Wales in Canberra. It has been Fernandes who has pressured his government to declassify the historical national security files on secret operations of the ASIS in Indonesia, Cambodia and Chile. “Many Australians would have the right to express legitimate concern if ASIS were exposed for having cooperated with the CIA to overthrow the democratically elected Government of Chile led by President Salvador Allende,” argued Professor Fernandes in a legal brief presented to the Administrative Court of Appeals. of Australia in May 2021. In his opinion, transparency would strengthen Australian democracy, contrary to what his Government defends, which estimates that, even after half a century, any disclosure of documents would still “damage” Australia’s international relations , according to the National Security Archive.
It was last June when, in a closed-door hearing, Australian Government officials provided Fernandes with several hundred records relating to the opening, management and closure of the ASIS station in Santiago, between 1970 and 1973. They were, however , heavily censored, reports the US National Security Archive. In the papers, for example, ASIS is referred to by the codename MO9.
The documents Fernandes had access to, however, confirm details of Australia’s covert operations in Chile that were leaked to the press and appeared over the years in the testimonies of former Australian officials. Following the Chile episode, Prime Minister Whitlam asked the Royal Intelligence and Security Commission for an investigation of all Australian intelligence activities, which ended in a secret eight-volume report, written by Judge Robert Hope. The investigation included a detailed account of the operations in Chile, parts of which were leaked to the press. In 1977, when Whitlam was leader of the opposition, he briefly acknowledged Chile’s operations in Parliament. “It has been written, I cannot deny it, that when my government took office, Australian intelligence personnel were still working as proxies and nominees for the CIA to destabilize the Government of Chile,” admitted Whitlam, who died in 2014.
Australia has managed to keep most of the details about the CIA operations in Chile from ASIS secret. “The Australian government insists on secrecy to avoid having to admit to the Australian public that it helped destroy Chilean democracy,” according to Fernandes. Currently, an Australian court is deliberating whether it should compel the government to publish these historical records on Chile.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.