Overthrow of the Allende government and the Australian connection

While thousands of Chileans took to the streets of Santiago to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the U.S.-backed coup against Salvador Allende’s socialist government on September 11, 1973, outside the region Chile, and the legacy of General Pinochet's dictatorship, has also attracted attention. In the Nation magazine Peter Kornbluh ― director of the National Security Archive's Chile Documentation Project and author of ‘The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability’ ― has written how a Chilean judge is attempting to have Capt. Ray Davis ― former head of the U.S. Military Group in Chile ―extradited from Florida for his alleged involvement in the murder of U.S. citizens Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi under the military. In Australia, journalist Florencia Melgar and writer Sarah Gilbert have published a report for the broadcaster SBS titled ‘The Other 9/11’ discussing Canberra’s role back in the 1970s. They write:

After a formal request from the United States, two officers from the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, or ASIS, were stationed in Santiago. By 1972, the officers had agreed to manage three agents on the CIA’s behalf and to relay information to Washington.

“The idea of taking over for one of the allies in Chile wasn’t a new thing – it was the pattern of helpful smaller ally being given pieces of work,” says Nicky Heger, author and journalist specialised in intelligence.

In 1972, Labor’s Gough Whitlam became Prime Minister, bringing progressive politics to Canberra after more than two decades of conservative government. One of the things set to change was foreign policy.

Bill Robertson, then head of Australia’s Secret Service, had the unhappy task of informing Mr Whitlam that his spies were helping the CIA to undermine a fellow progressive, left-wing government in South America.

There are different accounts of what came next. Whitlam has said he was appalled at the news, and ordered the officers to be pulled out right away. But Robertson tells a different story. In a memo that he published to clear his name after Whitlam unceremoniously sacked him in 1975, Robertson refers to an “ASIS station in another country.” Expert commentators have concluded that he meant Chile. 

The memo says Whitlam “agonised” over the decision to remove the ASIS agents, worrying that the US might “react adversely.” It says the Prime Minister declined to immediately sign the order to remove the ASIS agents, which Robertson presented when he first told Whitlam about their activities, and it was a couple of months before Whitlam acted.

The mere fact of Australia’s involvement in Chile only became public in 1977 when a Royal Commission, set up by Gough Whitlam to thoroughly investigate Australia’s security services, made its report.

Posted on September 11, 2013 .