The Discreet Lies of ITT

POLITICS

I appreciate this opportunity to appear before this subcommittee to clarify the facts regarding ITT's concern and actions with respect to the Chilean elections in 1970, and subsequent events.

The basic facts are'

ITT did not take any steps to block the election of Salvador Allende as president of Chile...nor did ITT contribute money to any government to block the election of Dr. Allende...

UTTERING THESE WORDS five years ago last Sunday, ITT board chairman Harold S. Geneen began his testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Multinational Corporations during the last day of hearings on the multinational's activities in Chile in 1970-71. As the 29th and final witness to appear before the five-member subcommittee, Geneen's testimony epitomized the line of defense used by the cor-poration to fend off accusations of wrongdoing and illegal interference with the orderly electora' process of what was then the leading democracy in Latin America. According to the gospel of Geneen and the ten ITT executives summoned before the subcommittee, "all that ITT did was to present its views, concerns, and ideas to various departments of the U.S. Government." These actions, they clamed, were not only ITT's "constitutional right," but were also the conglomerate's "direct obligation to the shareholders and to the employees to attempt to protect their interests."

This argument clearly failed to convince the subcommittee's five senators in 1973 that the corporation behaved properly in Washington or in Santiago during the 1970 presidential elections in Chile. Yet because so little hard evidence turned up during those hearings, the subcommittee had to limit its harshest pronouncement, charging that "the highest officials of ITT sought to engage the CIA in a plan covertly to manipulate the outcome of the Chilean presidential election." Since the Senate subcommittee issued its report on ITT in June 1973, a steadily accumulating mass of evidence has reduced most of the ITT officials' testimony to a well-orchestrated collection of half-truths, dissembling statements and outright lies. At the very least,it is now definitively established that ITT officials covertly funneled some $350,000 in corporate funds to right wing opponents of the late Dr. Allende in the fall of 1970, a fruitless operation carried out with the advice of the CIA.

THE DAMNING IMPLICATIONS of this ITT-CIA conspiracy and other "dirty tricks" of the multinational have claimed some casualties in the intervening years. First came two plea-bargains, one of which featured all the niceties of a slap on the wrist. In November 1976, a former ITT public relations director for Latin America named Harold V. Hendrix pleaded guilty to a one-count charge of failing to testify fully and accurately to the Senate multinationals subcommittee during the ITT hearings. In return for dropping possible perjury charges against Hendrix, the Justice Department required Hendrix to cooperate fully with its fledgling ITT probe in subsequent months. Then came the Carter administration's Agnewesque deal with former CIA director Richard Henns last October 31. Atty. Gen. Griffin Bell at that time claimed "national security" considerations required him to allow the former superspook a nolo contendere plea to two counts of the same misdemeanor charge brought against Hendrix. The price Helms paid for this arrangement added a new dimension to the term "plea-bargain:" a pro forma pledge to cooperate with the Justice Department's ITT Investigation, a suspended two-year sentence, and a $2000 fine (which Helms's former CIA cronies raised at a special dinner on his behalf).

The Justice Department last month concluded its two-year criminal probe of the multinational, filing criminal informations against two high-level ITT executives. On March 20, the government charged senior vice president Edward J. Gerrity and regional public relations manager Robert Berrellez each with six felony counts of perjury, obstruction of government proceedings and making false statements in a government matter. The Justice Department stated that the felony charges stemmed from their false testimony to the Senate subcommittee in 1973. The criminal informations were filed only hours before the five-year statute of limitations on perjury would have lapsed.

But the real significance of the ITT case boils down to the old and increasingly familiar story of the one that got away. Today, Harold Geneen can go about the business of overseeing the globe-spanning empire of ITT that he so carefully built during the last 19 years without a single official cloud of suspicion hovering over him. Bell and the federal attorneys in charge of the ITT probe tersely informed the Washington press corps that Monday afternoon that no criminal charges would be lodged against the board chairman. Despite the many similarities between the testimony of Geneen and his accused flunkies and the factual contradictions of his opening statement and sworn answers in later years, the 67-year-old veteran of daring coups in the world of business and shady meddlings in the field of politics--both at home and abroad--will soon retire from a career unblemished by even one criminal indictment, much less a felony conviction.

WHILE THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT predictably declined to explain its decision to let off Geneen, some experts familiar with the ITT case and its operations in Chile questioned the last-minute resolution of the investigation. "It's clear that although Geneen didn't tell the subcommittee what happened, and that he probably lied outright, I would say that he was a lot more careful about his testimony than either Gerrity or Berrellez," Jack Blum, the associate counsel to the Senate multinationals subcommittee in 1973, said in a telephone interview Monday. Presently running a private practice in Washington, Blum extensively participated in the questioning of three ITT principals during the subcommittee's March-April 1973 hearings. "I for one think Geneen should have been prosecuted," Blum said, since "he certainly attended those hearings with the full intention of misleading the subcommittee, obviously in coordination with the other people from ITT who testified. Certainly in that degree, Geneen was part and parcel of the whole thing."

Edward M. Korry, U.S. ambassador to Chile at the time of the ITT-CIA conspiracies to prevent Allende's election as president, said in an interview last month that "the reason why the ITT case was covered up is because it would have exposed the whole network of relationships between various branches of the federal government--the CIA, the Senate Intelligence Committee, and successive administrations going back to the Kennedy administration--and the multinationals." They sought to conceal the aid extended by the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to U.S.-based multinationals, which were trying to protect their investments in Latin America and elsewhere. 'Korry added that the Carter administration permitted the Justice Department to continue its ITT investigation in order to cloak the whole matter with the department's "mantle of legitimacy."

AS A CONSEQUENCE OF HIS EFFORTS to get out the story about the ITT-CIA plots and the chronology of covert U.S. government action in Chile, Korry has become, in his words, a "non-person" among his former government colleagues. The Justice Department's failure to bring to trial men like Helms and Geneen may speak pointedly to the sincerity of the Carter administration's pledge to an "open" administration. But it should in no way reflect upon the accuracy of Korry's accusations or upon the merits of his crusade to "set the record straight." By demanding a comprehensive Justice Department investigation of his charges two years ago, Korry performed an invaluable service to the American public's right to know. His single-minded dedication to forcing Helms and the ITT principals to provide at least a symbolic accounting for their actions has kept alive the flickering hope that the trials of Messrs. Berrellez and Gerrity will eventually reveal additional details of the sordid machinations in which ITT and this nation's premier intelligence agency engaged.