Congress of the United StatesThe Honorable George Tenet
House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515-0508
August 3, 2000
Director of Central Intelligence
The Central Intelligence Agency
Washington D.C. 20505
Dear Director Tenet:
As a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I am writing you in anticipation of the final declassification of documents related to Chile that is due in September. I am a strong supporter of President Clinton's special Chile Declassification Project and have closely followed the CIA's participation in the release of this important history.
As a firm believer that we as a nation -- and the CIA as an institution -- can only be strengthened by the declassification of this history, I was heartened last fall when CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield informed the news media that the CIA recognized its obligation to declassify documents about controversial CIA covert operations in Chile during the early 1970s and that "covert action-related documents will be reviewed for declassification and released...." I welcomed the written assurances that your office sent to "senior" officials overseeing this project that such documents would be reviewed and released, and the similar assurances that National Security Advisor Samuel Berger has passed on to the public and to Congress. I fully agree with President Clinton who, when asked about CIA resistance to declassifying such documents, responded: "I think you're entitled to know what happened back then and how."
We are indeed entitled to know.
That is why I am dismayed to learn that, as this declassification process enters its final stages, the Directorate of Operations is once again resisting compliance with the President's directive to declassify these documents and placing your own public assurances that such documents would be released in doubt. I am writing to urge you to keep your commitment to full disclosure, and to comply to the fullest extent with the Presidential mandate of this special declassification project.
As I know you are aware, most if not all of these records on Chile were generated over 25 years ago. While the continuing need to protect identities of sources may lead to legitimate redactions, the idea that dozens if not hundreds of documents must be withheld to protect the methods of covert action is difficult to accept in the case of Chile. Many of the intricate details of CIA operations in Chile were reported by the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, chaired by Senator Frank Church, in the mid-1970s. While the release of these documents will certainly contribute to the historical record, they could not compromise the methods of covert operations any more than the Church Committee inquiry did over 25 years ago.
Our democracy distinguishes itself from other closed societies by the principle of accountability through an informed electorate with access to information. To withhold this history now will be perceived as a major effort to hide the past from public scrutiny of a controversial Cold War operation. Failure to comply with the President's directive on declassifying Chile documents will wholly undermine the integrity of this laudable exercise in openness. It will damage the modern image of the CIA, as well as the credibility of U.S. efforts to press other nations, from Chile to Germany to Russia, to acknowledge and redress their own pasts as a way of moving forward toward a better future.
The Administration's Chile Declassification Project provides the opportunity for the CIA to make a dramatic statement about its attitude toward the past, and its role in a post-Cold War 21st century United States of America. You will receive full credit from myself and other legislators, as well as from the American public, for acknowledging the past, controversial though it may be, and placing a priority on the rights of U.S. citizens to know the fullest history of this great nation.
I would urge you to set aside the arguments that this history must remain secret, despite the passage of so many years and the strong public interest in evaluating these records of a previous era. It is past time to allow the United States as a country, and the CIA as an institution, to put this past behind us -- through the simple act of being forthcoming and opening your files for historical consideration. The opportunity to do that is now.
I look forward to a reaffirmation from you that the CIA will be releasing its archives, as promised, in September and proudly complying with the mandate of the President's Chile Declassification Project.
Thank you for your attention to this matter that is of such great importance to me and so many of my colleagues.
Sincerely,cc: President William Jefferson Clinton
Member of Congress
Hon. Samuel Berger
Hon. Madeleine Albright