Dinges, a professor of journalism at Columbia University and former managing editor of National Public Radio News, takes a hard, careful look at Latin America in the 1970s, that woeful time of vicious struggles between bitter extremes, when human life was cheap and torture, kidnapping, and terrorism common. Dinges is careful not to go further than his evidence allows. On the contentious question of the U.S. role in the Chilean coup of 1973, for instance, he says the record remains incomplete, even with the recent declassification of 24,000 U.S. government documents. But the core of Dinges' book treats the period after the coup, examining the alliances that formed within the clandestine Latin American left, on the one hand, and between the United States and General Augusto Pinochet after he took power, on the other.
Dinges' account includes much new disturbing information and some remarkable revelations, particularly about the relationship of the United States to the Latin American intelligence agencies responsible for the Operation Condor assassinations and other systematic human rights violations. He cautiously weighs evidence of CIA support for Chile's notorious intelligence service, dina, and examines dina's role in targeting Pinochet's opponents at home and abroad. He also shows how contradictory U.S. behavior was, especially when human rights and intelligence concerns intersected. In June 1976, after Washington learned of planned assassinations outside of Latin America (including the targeting of a prominent U.S. Democratic member of Congress), U.S. support for the dictator began to wane. But Dinges sees this whole sorry episode as a classic case of "blowback": the unintended consequences of U.S. policies long kept secret from the U.S. public. This is a remarkable book and a major contribution to the historical record.