November 5, 2000
History on the Ballot
By Robert Parry
History will be on the ballot Nov. 7.
An honest accounting of American history from the Cold War has not been an issue in Campaign 2000. But recent disclosures of human rights abuses and other crimes – especially from the bloody front lines of Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile and Argentina – could slow to a trickle or be stopped outright with a victory by Texas Gov. George W. Bush and his running mate, Dick Cheney.
For one, the Bush family’s legacy could suffer greatly from anything approaching full disclosure of this Cold War history.
Indeed, if the American people understood the already documented role of the Republican candidate’s father in a wide range of scandals, it is hard to believe that the younger George Bush could have ridden his father’s “good name” to the GOP nomination, let alone to the gates of the White House.
But much of that history remains in the shadows, ironically because Democrats chose to limit critical investigations in the name of bipartisanship in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
More recently, national security agencies have frustrated timely release of information, seemingly with an eye toward the election and possible restoration of the Bush dynasty. The Cold War history now in the balance includes evidence implicating the elder George Bush – at least for negligence and possibly worse – in the double homicide of Chilean dissident Orlando Letelier and American co-worker Ronni Moffitt in a 1976 car-bombing in Washington, D.C.
This murder is under renewed criminal investigation by the Justice Department, a probe that would face serious new obstacles in a second Bush administration.
The American people would have known more about the elder Bush’s role in this terrorist incident by now, except that the CIA dragged its heels long enough to push back release of CIA documents to Nov. 13, a week after the election. [Washington Post, Oct. 24, 2000]
What’s already known about the Letelier-Moffitt murders isn't pretty. In 1976, George H.W. Bush was CIA director when his office at Langley, Va., received a warning from a U.S. ambassador about a suspicious mission being carried out in the United States by Chilean intelligence then headed by a paid CIA asset, Col. Manuel Contreras.
But Bush’s agency took no known action to stop the assassination. After the fatal car-bombing on Sept. 21, 1976, Bush’s CIA consulted with Contreras and planted false stories in the U.S. news media to divert suspicion away from the killers. The CIA also withheld important evidence from the FBI. [For details, see George H.W. Bush & a Case State Terrorism, Sept. 23, 2000.]
After Jimmy Carter became president in 1977 and Bush left the CIA, he remained a favorite of disgruntled CIA personnel. By the late 1970s, these CIA men were objecting to Carter’s human rights policies and infuriated over restrictions on CIA activities, including the downsizing of the CIA’s Operations Directorate. One prominent Bush backer was the legendary CIA officer Theodore Shackley, known as the Blond Ghost.
In early 1980, top CIA officials working on the seventh floor of headquarters were in near rebellion against the sitting president. Some brazenly demonstrated their hope that Bush would challenge and unseat Carter. “The seventh floor of Langley was plastered with ‘Bush for President’ signs,” recalled George Carver, a senior CIA analyst.
When Bush was tapped to be Ronald Reagan’s vice presidential nominee in summer 1980, many of these former CIA officers joined the Republican national campaign. A contingent manned a 24-hours-a-day Operations Center at Reagan-Bush campaign headquarters in Arlington, Va.
The ex-CIA officers also maintained close ties to on-duty CIA officials, including Donald Gregg and Robert Gates who worked inside Carter’s White House and were privy to the administration’s most sensitive secrets and strategies.
Carter’s most pressing crisis at the time was Iran, where Islamic extremists had overrun the U.S. embassy and were holding 52 Americans hostage.
As the 1980 campaign progressed, some former CIA men began promoting the idea of secret Republican initiatives in Iran. Other CIA men allegedly went further, assisting the Reagan-Bush campaign in developing back-channel contacts with the Iranian government.
Over the past two decades, more than a score of witnesses – including senior Iranian officials, top French intelligence officers, Israeli intelligence operatives and even Palestine leader Yasir Arafat – have confirmed the existence of a Republican initiative to interfere with Carter’s efforts to free the hostages before the U.S. presidential election in 1980.
In 1996, during a meeting in Gaza, Arafat personally told former President Carter that senior Republican emissaries approached the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1980 with a request that Arafat help broker a delay in the hostage release.
“You should know that in 1980 the Republicans approached me with an arms deal if I could arrange to keep the hostages in Iran until after the elections,” Arafat told Carter. [For details, see Diplomatic History, Fall 1996]
Arafat’s spokesman Bassam Abu Sharif has said the GOP gambit pursued other channels, too. In an interview with me in Tunis in 1990, Bassam indicated that Arafat learned upon reaching Iran in 1980 that the Republicans and the Iranians had made other arrangements.
“The offer [to Arafat] was, ‘if you block the release of hostages, then the White House would be open for the PLO’,” Bassam said. “I guess the same offer was given to others, and I believe that some accepted to do it and managed to block the release of hostages.” [For details, see Robert Parry's Trick or Treason.]
In a little-noticed letter to the U.S. Congress, dated Dec. 17, 1992, former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr said he first learned of the Republican hostage initiative in July 1980 when a nephew of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from a meeting with an Iranian banker, Cyrus Hashemi, who had close ties to Reagan’s campaign chief William Casey and to Casey’s business associate, John Shaheen.
Bani-Sadr said the message from the Khomeini emissary was clear: the Republicans were in league with the CIA in an effort to undermine Carter and were demanding Iran’s help.
Bani-Sadr said the emissary “told me that if I do not accept this proposal they [the Republicans] would make the same offer to my rivals.” The emissary added that the Republicans “have enormous influence in the CIA,” Bani-Sadr wrote. “Lastly, he told me my refusal of their offer would result in my elimination.”
Bani-Sadr said he resisted the GOP scheme, but the plan was accepted by the hard-line Khomeini faction.
For years, at the center of these so-called October Surprise allegations were the gray eminences of the elder George Bush and Bill Casey, who allegedly traveled to Europe for final rounds of meetings with Iranians from the Khomeini faction.
Two eyewitnesses – an Israeli intelligence official named Ari Ben-Menashe and a pilot named Heinrich Rupp – placed Bush in Paris for a meeting on Oct. 19, 1980.
Bush has denied making such a trip but has never explained what he was doing that day. His alibi, based on partially censored Secret Service records, has not been credibly supported by a single witness who could recall Bush’s movements during the hours that a trip to Paris would have required.
On the other hand, in support of the statements by Ben-Menashe and Rupp, two other witnesses confirmed that Republicans were talking about Bush traveling to Paris at precisely the same time frame.
These corroborating witnesses were then-U.S. State Department official David Henderson and Chicago Tribune journalist John Maclean. The pair met in Washington that same weekend and discussed the Bush tip that Maclean had received from a senior Republican.
Though Maclean wouldn’t divulge the name of his source, a personal calendar kept by Reagan’s foreign policy adviser, Richard Allen, (that I later gained access to) showed that Allen had a meeting with Maclean earlier that week.
Another document from Allen’s personal files established that Allen and Bush were in contact about the hostage issue. According to Allen’s handwritten notes, Bush called him on Oct. 27, 1980, with news that former Texas Gov. John Connolly had heard that Carter still might be able to spring the hostages before the election.
Bush ordered Allen to check out Connolly’s rumor and then pass his findings back to Bush via former CIA officer Shackley, whose name was misspelled by Allen as “Shacklee.”
The note confirms two points: that Bush was actively involved in the campaign’s October Surprise operation and that Shackley, considered a master spy, was helping Bush on the issue.
The existence of the Republican-Iranian meetings in Paris also was confirmed by three senior French intelligence officials, including French intelligence chief Alexandre deMarenches, according to evidence uncovered by a later congressional investigation.
David Andelman, a journalist who was deMarenches’s biographer, testified to a House task force that the French intelligence chief admitted setting up the Paris meeting for Casey.
In January 1993, another piece of corroborating evidence was sent to Congress by the Russian Supreme Soviet, which pored through intelligence files in Moscow at the request of the task force and reported finding documents showing that Casey had traveled to Europe in 1980 for meetings with Iranians.
At the Paris meeting in October 1980, “R[obert] Gates … and former CIA director George Bush also took part,” said the Russian report, drafted by Sergei V. Stepashin, who later became Russia’s prime minister.
Despite this body of evidence, the Republican hierarchy has steadfastly rejected the October Surprise charges. That denial was backed by a bipartisan House task force that agreed in early 1993 that there was “no credible evidence” to support the allegations of a Republican-Iranian deal.