Covert Action in Chile, 1970-1973 (Case Study #3)


"Do you want to be responsible for electing a communist as president of Chile?"

Those words were spoken by the senior CIA officer in Santiago, station chief Henry Heckscher, a man who had served the CIA since the beginning of the Cold War and was a veteran of covert actions in Guatemala and Laos. The United States government was debating whether to intervene, secretly, in the 1970 presidential elections in Chile, and Heckscher found himself at cross-purposes with the U.S. ambassador, Edward Korry, who was instinctively opposed to intervening.

Heckscher's question seems a caricature, but it struck a deep chord in Korry. It underscores the practical and ethical questions that run through U.S. decisions about intervening secretly in the politics of foreign countries. This case describes those decisions and their effects in Chile between the period leading up to the 1970 presidential elections and the military coup that overthrew and killed President Salvador Allende, a self-proclaimed Marxist, in September 1973.

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