Nathaniel Davis

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Person.png Nathaniel Davis  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(diplomat, spook)
Nathaniel Davis.png
BornApril 12, 1925
DiedMay 16, 2011 (Age 86)
Alma materPhillips Exeter Academy, Brown University, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
Interests • Chile/1973 coup d'état
• Guatemala
Spooky US diplomat. Death squads in Central America, coup in Chile

Employment.png United States Ambassador to Switzerland

In office
November 20, 1976 - July 31, 1977

Employment.png Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs

In office
April 2, 1975 - December 18, 1976

Employment.png Director General of the Foreign Service

In office
November 13, 1973 - March 17, 1975

Employment.png United States Ambassador to Chile

In office
October 20, 1971 - November 1, 1973
During the coup

Employment.png United States Ambassador to Guatemala

In office
November 21, 1968 - August 21, 1971

Employment.png Envoy of the United States to Bulgaria

In office
May 6, 1965 - May 20, 1966

Nathaniel Davis [1] was a career diplomat who served in the United States Foreign Service for 36 years. Having started the paramilitary death squad program in Guatemala, he continued his career by overseeing the 1973 coup in Chile.

Early years

Davis was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on April 12, 1925. His father, Harvey Nathaniel Davis, taught at Harvard University and his mother, Alice Rohde Davis, was a research medical doctor. In 1928, the family moved to the campus of Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey, upon the appointment of Harvey Davis as the college's president. Nathaniel Davis attended the Stevens Hoboken Academy and graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy, in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1942. He attended Brown University, where he served in the Navy Reserve. He graduated from Brown and obtained a commission as an ensign in the U.S. Navy in September 1944, but as a member of the Class of 1946. He served aboard the aircraft carrier Template:USS until 1946. He earned a masters and ultimately a doctorate from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of Tufts University in 1960.

Early career

Davis began his Foreign Service career with an assignment in Prague in 1947, followed by postings in Florence, Rome and Moscow, before returning to the U.S. in 1956 to work at the Soviet Desk at the State Department in Washington, D.C. His next foreign assignment was in Caracas, Venezuela, from 1960 to 1962. From 1962 to 1965, he served in the Peace Corps, first as Special Assistant to the Director, R. Sargent Shriver, and later Deputy Director for Program Development and Operations. He left the Peace Corps in 1965 to serve as the United States Envoy to Bulgaria (1965–1966). After his ambassadorship in Bulgaria, he served on the staff of the National Security Council in the White House, as President Lyndon B. Johnson's senior advisor on Soviet and Eastern European affairs, as well as the United Nations.


In 1966, Julio César Méndez Montenegro was elected president of Guatemala under the banner of "democratic openness." Méndez Montenegro was the candidate of the Revolutionary Party, a center-left party of the post-Ubico era.

The arrival of Nathaniel Davis as Ambassador coincided with the US starting to finance, arm and train paramilitary organizations such as La Mano Blanca and the Secret Anti-Communist Army. These organizations were the predecessors of infamous death squads of the 1980s. Military advisers to the United States Army Special Forces (Green Berets) were sent to Guatemala to train the army of that country exclusively in counterinsurgency and repression, making it the most effective and sophisticated in Central America. His cousin César Montenegro Paniagua, a deputy under the government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, was kidnapped, tortured and murdered during his presidency.

The repression bore fruit and the next government was that of a military man. In 1970, Colonel Carlos Manuel Arana Osorio was elected president. Nnw guerrilla activities started in 1972.

Allende government

Full article: Chile/1973 coup d'état

Nathaniel Davis served as ambassador to Chile throughout the destabilization period against Salvador Allende, the democratically elected president of Chile, and in the first steps of the installation of the military dictatorship that followed.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act in 1999 from the secret archives of the time tell how the secret US campaign, including the following:

  • Handwritten notes taken by CIA director Richard Helms that record orders from President Richard Nixon to help start a coup in Chile[2][3]
  • At the first meeting between Helms and senior agency officials about the covert operations codenamed "FUBELT", a special task force under the supervision of the CIA Deputy Director of Plans, Thomas Karamessines, was established, directed by veteran agent David Atlee Phillips. The memorandum states that the CIA must prepare an action plan for the National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, in 48 hours. [4] [3]
  • Henry Kissinger, Thomas Karamessines and Alexander Haig (military assistant to Henry Kissinger and Operation 40), in a meeting on October 15, 1970, spoke of promoting covert operations for a coup in Chile, known as "Track II ". Kissinger orders that the CIA were continue keeping pressure on each weak point of Allende in sight. [5]
  • In a secret cable, Thomas Karamessines transmitted orders Kissinger to the CIA chief in Santiago, Henry Heckscher stating: "It is a firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup.[6] [3]
  • The CIA published a series of secret operations aimed at pressuring President Eduardo Frei Montalva to support "a military coup that would prevent Allende from taking office on November 3. [7][3]
  • After the election of Salvador Allende, the United States considered trying to expel Chile from the Organization of American States.[8]
  • Officials from the Embassy and the State Department's Office of Political Planning called for economic and military aid to the Pinochet dictatorship to be cut on human rights grounds, but were rejected by Nathaniel Davisand officials from the Pentagon and the Treasury Department. [9][3]

Davis wrote a history of that period called The Last Two Years of Salvador Allende.[10]


Upon his return from Chile, he held two positions at the assistant secretary level: as Director General of the Foreign Service (1973–1975) and as the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the Ford administration from 1975 to 1976. Davis resigned from the latter post over a policy difference with then-Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, regarding covert action in Angola.

Operation IA Feature, a covert Central Intelligence Agency operation, authorized U.S. government support for Jonas Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and Holden Roberto's National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA) militants in Angola. President Gerald Ford approved the program on July 18, 1975, despite strong opposition from officials in the State Department, including Davis, and the CIA. Two days prior to the program's approval Davis told Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of State, that he believed maintaining the secrecy of IA Feature would be impossible. Davis correctly predicted the Soviet Union would respond by increasing its involvement in Angola, leading to more violence and negative publicity for the United States. When Ford approved the program Davis resigned.[11] John Stockwell, the CIA's station chief in Angola, echoed Davis' criticism saying the program needed to be expanded to be successful, but the program was already too large to be kept out of the public eye. Davis' deputy and former U.S. ambassador to Chile, Edward Mulcahy, also opposed direct involvement. Mulcahy presented three options for U.S. policy towards Angola on May 13, 1975. Mulcahy believed the Ford administration could use diplomacy to campaign against foreign aid to the Communist People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), refuse to take sides in factional fighting, or increase support for the FNLA and UNITA. He warned, however, that supporting UNITA would not sit well with Mobutu Sese Seko, the ruler of Zaire.[12][13][14]

Davis was subsequently appointed Ambassador to Switzerland (1976–1977). In 1977, Davis moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where he taught at the Naval War College for six years as Diplomat in Residence. In 1983, he retired from the Foreign Service.


When Costa-Gavras's film Missing was released by Universal Studios in 1982, Davis, who had been the United States Ambassador to Chile from 1971 to 1973, filed a US$150 million libel suit against the director and the studio. Although he was not named directly in the movie, he had been named in the book on which the movie was based. The court eventually dismissed Davis's suit. The film was removed from the market during the lawsuit but re-released upon dismissal of the suit.[15]

Academia, retirement, and death

While still in the Foreign Service, between 1977 and 1983, Davis taught at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, where one of his students was Oliver North.[16] Upon his retirement from the Foreign Service, Davis accepted a position as the first Alexander and Adelaide Hixon Professor of Humanities at Harvey Mudd College, in Claremont, California, where he taught political science from 1983 until his retirement in 2002, at which time he was named Professor Emeritus of Political Science.[17][18] During his time at Harvey Mudd College, he wrote a book, using research he had been working on since 1947, which had also been the basis for his doctoral dissertation, called A Long Walk to Church: a Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy. He wrote a second edition of the book in 2003.[19]

Davis was a skier and had awards and accomplishments in white water canoeing and mountain climbing, most notable of which was a "first ascent" of Mount Abanico in the Venezuelan Andes with George Band. (Band was a member of the team that first successfully climbed Mount Everest.) He also was a political activist, starting in the 1960s with the civil rights movement. Beginning in the 1980s, he held a variety of positions in the Democratic Party, both in California and nationally. On May 16, 2011, Davis died, aged 86, in Claremont, California.[20]


  3. a b c d e David Corn. Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusades. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994
  10. Nathaniel Davis, The Last Two Years of Salvador Allende (Cornell University Press, 1985, ISBN 978-0801417917).
  11. Brown, Seyom. The Faces of Power: Constancy and Change in United States Foreign Policy from Truman to Clinton, 1994. Page 303.
  12. Jussi Hanhimäki and Jussi M. Hanhim̀eaki. The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy, 2004. Page 408.
  13. Andrew, Christopher M. For the President's Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush, 1995. Page 412.
  14. Richard H. Immerman and Athan G. Theoharis. The Central Intelligence Agency: Security Under Scrutiny, 2006.asdqwtqw. Page 325.
  16. Elaine Woo, "Nathaniel Davis dies at 86; U.S. ambassador to Chile when Allende was deposed.", May 21, 2011, retrieved Sept. 10, 2011.
  17. Nathaniel Davis, A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy,(Oxford: Westview Press, 2003), back cover
  19. Nathaniel Davis, A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy,(Oxford: Westview Press, 2003).
  20. Douglas Martin, "Nathaniel Davis, Diplomat, Is Dead at 86", May 22, 2011, retrieved Sept. 10, 2011. The Los Angeles Times incorrectly referenced the cause of death as cancer. Elaine Woo, "Nathaniel Davis dies at 86; U.S. ambassador to Chile when Allende was deposed." May 21, 2011, retrieved Sept. 10, 2011.

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