The US Files in the Media

14 September 2000
Article

The White House ordered a new look at several hundred files that the CIA intends to withhold when it releases American documents about the 1973 military coup in Chile.

TNI and the Pinochet precedent

The White House ordered a new look today at several hundred files that the Central Intelligence Agency intends to withhold when it releases American documents about the 1973 military coup in Chile. Responding to concerns that the spy agency is overly protective of its secrets, Samuel R. Berger, the national security adviser, postponed the governmentwide release of documents and asked aides to review the CIA papers and seek the fullest possible disclosure.

The move appeared to signal a victory for Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and other advocates of a broad disclosure of the American role in the overthrow of the Socialist government of President Salvador Allende and in the ensuing 17- year dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. And it could be read as a rebuke to George J. Tenet, the CIA director, who last month overruled his own declassification experts and announced that he would withhold certain files on Chile on the ground that they would compromise intelligence techniques still in use.

Joe Lockhart, the White House spokesman, said the re-examination of the CIA papers would take no more than a few weeks. In two previous releases of about 7,500 documents, there has been no explicit evidence of a CIA role in destabilizing the Allende government, archivists say.

The declassification effort was ordered last year by President Clinton to shed light on rights abuses, terrorism and other acts of political violence in Chile from 1968 to 1990.

A Senate committee reported in 1975 on CIA efforts to prevent Mr. Allende from taking office. But the official record remains somewhat murky on whether American intelligence operatives had a direct role in the 1973 coup, and on what the American government knew about the murders of thousands of Chileans — and some Americans — under General Pinochet.

Last month, Mr. Tenet told members of Congress that some of the documents in question must be withheld because they presented a pattern of activity that had the effect of revealing intelligence methods that have been employed worldwide.

Mr. Tenet insisted that he was not trying to shield his agency or the United States from embarrassment.

Copyright 2000 New York Times