The U.S. government knew of a plot to oust Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in the weeks before a 2002 military coup that briefly unseated him, newly released CIA documents show, despite White House claims to the contrary.
Yet the United States, which depends on Venezuela for nearly one-sixth of its oil, never warned Chavez's government, Venezuelan officials said.
The Bush administration has denied that it was involved in the coup or knew one was being planned. At a White House briefing on April 17, 2002, just days after the short-lived coup, a senior official who did not want to be named said, "The United States did not know that there was going to be an attempt of this kind to overthrow -- or to get Chavez out of power."
Yet based on the newly released CIA briefs, that does not appear to be the case, an analyst said Wednesday.
"This is substantive evidence that the CIA knew in advance about the coup, and it is clear that this intelligence was distributed to dozens of members of the Bush administration, giving them knowledge of coup plotting," said Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archives.
The briefs were obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by Eva Golinger, a Long Island attorney and pro-Chavez activist.
Chavez was overthrown on April 12, 2002, after military dissidents blamed him for deaths at an opposition march. He was returned to power two days later.
A CIA brief from April 6, 2002, states that "military factions, including some disgruntled senior officers and a group of radical junior officers, are stepping up efforts to organize a coup against President Chavez, possibly as early as this month."
A CIA spokeswoman said Tuesday that the agency played no role in the coup and was simply collecting information.
White House and National Security Council officials had no immediate comment.