When US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger demanded the military in Chile seize power from democratically elected President, Salvador Allende, the country had been a stable, functioning democracy for over 40-years. However, in 1970, US assets in Chile were being nationalised, wages increased and land redistributed. This was an anathema to an administration, where capitalism trumps democracy. At Kissinger’s request, the Nixon administration set aside 10 million dollars to initiate the coup and afterwards support the junta. Sadly, it was all about who controlled Chile’s copper mines, and whether US shareholders, or the Chilean Government should reap the lions share of the profit.

On September 11, 1973, the military, led by General Pinochet, attacked the democratically elected Government of Chile. President Salvador Allende was killed, and afterwards thousands of citizens were tortured and murdered.

The first step in overthrowing President Allende required General René Schneider, the army commander-in-chief, be removed. Schneider had declared himself a constitutionalist and opposed a coup d’état. He believed in democracy, and the rule of law. However, Henry Kissinger didn’t, and ordered General Schneider murdered. To make that happen, the CIA assassins were provided $50,000 cash, three submachine guns, and a satchel of tear gas.

The guns were delivered to Santiago in a diplomatic pouch by friend and mentor, Colonel Al Morgan. General Schneider, who had survived a previous attempt on his life, was shot dead soon afterwards, which was a JFK moment for Chile. This important detail isn’t in the book, EG&M, but I believe that aiding and abetting the murder of a principled, family man, and delivering Chile into the arms of a ruthless dictator, haunted Morgan for the rest of his life.

General René Schneider murdered by the CIA in 1970: Photograph Chilean National Archives.

On September 11, 1973 the incoming army commander, General Augusto Pinochet, launched his coup. President Salvador Allende and thousands of Chilean citizens were murdered by gangsters in uniform. Pinochet’s reign of terror lasted 17 years.  

Masters of the Universe: General Augusto Pinochet, from the Army, General Gustavo Leigh Guzmán, of the Air Force; Admiral José Toribio Merino Castro, of the Navy and General Director César Mendoza of the National Police.

Immediately after the coup, the same Colonel Al Morgan, piloting a CIA Howard 500 aircraft (code-named Brutus) secretly delivered M16’s to the junta. The weapons were used by army loyalists to suppress continuing resistance to the military occupation. Those who opposed the junta were ‘disappeared’. Many were thrown alive from helicopters into the sea. It was a dark moment in US foreign policy, but a darker moment for Chile.

Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Chile: Pinochet being congratulated by Kissinger.

However, in 1998, at the request of the Spanish Government, Pinochet was arrested when visiting the UK for medical treatment. He died before he could be tried – which was a Pyrrhic victory for Chilean democracy. Henry Kissinger also escaped a trial for crimes against humanity, hiding behind a State Department cloak of secrecy. He died in 2023, aged 100.

Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Chile: Pinochet inspects his favourite gangsters.

The 95,000-word main story – The Original 9/11 – has three interwoven strands, (like my climbing rope of old, purchased from a Melbourne Ship’s chandler in 1964.) I tell one strand of the story (as told me) first person, from the co-pilot’s seat in Colonel Al Morgan’s Bell Jet Ranger, and later, from the right-hand seat in the CIA Howard 500 aircraft, delivering weapons to Santiago.

After delivering the M16s to Pinochet, we returned to Nevada in the US with 100 kg of Colombian cocaine, purchased from Colonel Manuel Noriega in Panama, and two tons of cartel marijuana, picked up from a CIA camp in Mexico. I believe the contraband was then delivered to Ciro Mancuso, a drug-dealing kingpin, in Reno, Nevada.

Mancuso was eventually arrested by State authorities, but not before he had built a 100 million dollar empire. He served a relatively short time in prison and was allowed to keep some of the proceeds from his dealings, most likely after Federal intervention. (They didn’t want him selling the story.) Mancuso’s daughter, Julia, went on to win an Olympic skiing gold medal, redeeming the family name. She believes that her father was simply a few years ahead of the times, which has proved true, now weed is legal in most jurisdictions.

Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Chile: The day of the coup.

Morgan’s cocaine dealings with Panama’s hit man, Colonel Noriega, while gun-running to Pinochet, are likely one of the many secrets buried among the thousands of US State Department cables, and memoranda, that fifty years later still remain under lock and key. However, in 1973, there existed a stash of duplicate documents, kept by Noriega at the Grand Hotel Nacional, in Panama, (where we overnighted and refueled en route to Santiago) implicating the Nixon administration in lying to Congress, and everyone else for that matter, about the extent of the US involvement in the coup, and how it was largely financed with drug money.

On one of Morgan’s twelve runs to Santiago, with a hold full of M16s, marked as milk powder, he examined the records stored by Colonel Noriega in several brown filing cabinets, positioned in a line against the back wall of the main hotel conference room, where the cash for cocaine transactions took place. The cabinets were arranged with vases of flowers on top, and with the drawers set against the wall, so they couldn’t be readily opened, or even recognised as filing cabinets. ‘Hiding in plain sight,’ Morgan had said.

However, Noriega, dependent on the CIA for income, and probably in a moment of weakness, invited Morgan to inspect the documents. Afterwards, he said, ‘They’re dynamite. That stuff will never see the light of day.’

‘It’s insurance against being raided,’ Noriega had replied, which turned out to be a tad optimistic. I believe it was the main reason President George H. W. Bush ordered Panama invaded – when Noriega was captured by the US military, in 1989, and the documents destroyed.

The Original 9/11, part fact, part fiction, tells Colonel Al Morgan’s story.

Photograph: William Gentile/Corbis: Manuel Noriega in Panama.

The second strand to The Original 9/11 establishes historical context:

In 1971, the immensely courageous, Daniel Ellsberg, whose job at the time in the NSA was planning how to win a nuclear war, and fearing that Nixon was about to use a nuclear weapon on Hanoi, risked a life sentence, or worse, by leaking the ‘Pentagon Papers’ to the NY Times and the Washington Post. The ‘Papers’ revealed the senseless, subterfuge behind the US involvement in the Vietnam War. Once they were published, it became clear that President Nixon had extended the war (and immeasurable suffering) four years beyond any possible justification for the war in the first place. And there was none in the first place. By 1973, Cambodia and Laos had been destroyed by US bombing: collateral damage, resulting in the emergence of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. The Kent State University massacre had just happened. And the Unabomber had been created by a CIA attempting mind control experiments with LSD, although this was never truly acknowledged by Harvard University, where the experiments were performed. Afterwards, Professor Ted Kaczynski went off the rails and terrorised the US for the next 20-years. American Graffiti, a George Lucas movie, had just been released. And of course, Watergate was a supernova, torching American politics, or at least the GOP.

The third strand to The Original 9/11 is my own story:

It provides the ‘dark-side’ entertainment – the ‘glue’ holding the book together – although I make good use of willing friends in the narrative, including my wife, Heather Martin, aka Bree Martinez: a significant character in the story. Heather occasionally reminds me that there is no statute of limitations on murder, although there’s one on defamation. In that regard, I’m relying on elapsed time, and the US Constitution’s First Amendment.

However, what’s the point in writing something that isn’t personally revealing, dangerously engaging, fun to read, relevant, and hopefully, provides food for thought in a world always ready and willing to make the same mistakes over, and over?

Chris Dewhirst