The Consortium

By Robert Parry

WASHINGTON -- ABC News' longtime Paris bureau chief Pierre Salinger has concluded that the Reagan-Bush campaign did sabotage President Carter's Iran-hostage talks in 1980 -- that the so-called October Surprise allegations are true.

Through well-placed contacts in France, Salinger confirmed that then-GOP campaign director William J. Casey arranged secret meetings with Iranian emissaries in Paris in October 1980 and that conservative Western intelligence services sealed the deal with an airlift of military supplies to Iran.

Salinger, who had been President Kennedy's press secretary in the early 1960s, drafted an eight-paragraph section about his October Surprise findings for his recent memoirs, "P.S."

"There was an American-Iranian meeting in Paris on October 18 and 19," Salinger wrote. "That meeting was organized by Alexandre deMarenches, the leader of the SCECE (French CIA)."

That passage on what Salinger called "one of the hottest stories of my journalistic career" was published in the French-language edition of the memoirs. But when the book was released in the United States in 1995, St. Martin's Press deleted Salinger's October Surprise conclusion.

Salinger said he was told the deletion was a routine editing decision for length, although the book, with 294 pages of text, is not overly long. St. Martin's editor Jeremy Katz told The Consortium that he had forgotten why the October Surprise section was excised. "To be honest with you, I don't remember," he said.

Most likely, St. Martin's feared that Salinger's positive conclusion about the October Surprise controversy would open the book to ridicule, given the certainty of the Washington/New York elites that the 1980 hostage allegations are a myth. Even a seasoned journalist like Pierre Salinger could not challenge that pervasive taboo.

As recounted in the monograph, The October Surprise X-Files: The Secret Origins of the Reagan-Bush Era, a House task force rejected the charges in 1993 by hiding contradictory evidence and by ignoring testimony from credible witnesses. That evidence included an admission by a senior CIA official, incriminating FBI wiretaps of an Iranian intermediary and a confidential report to Congress from Russia's Supreme Soviet, which had its own intelligence files on the topic.

Bogus Alibis

The House task force withheld that evidence and instead followed the lead of two national magazines, Newsweek and The New Republic, which had debunked the October Surprise story in November 1991. Both magazines claimed they had disproved the charges because they had found an alibi for Casey on a day in late July when the Reagan-Bush campaign director was allegedly at a meeting with Iranians in Madrid. Instead, both magazines asserted that Casey was in London at a World War II historical conference.

But the London alibi collapsed in early 1992 when Americans who were with Casey at the conference stated that he arrived a day late, leaving time for the alleged Madrid meeting. In the congressional investigation, the House task force was compelled to admit that Newsweek and The New Republic had botched the crucial London alibi.

Yet, the task force pressed ahead by inventing a new alibi for Casey's whereabouts on the last weekend of July 1980: that Casey was at the exclusive Bohemian Grove resort in northern California. But that alibi fell apart, too, after a review of Bohemian Grove records showed that Casey actually attended the Grove the first weekend of August 1980, not the last weekend of July.

Still, despite the new evidence and the disproved alibis, the October Surprise debunking has held firm as Washington's conventional wisdom. Into that historical bias in 1995 flew Pierre Salinger's conclusion that the allegations were true. Salinger, who is now vice-chairman of public relations giant Burson-Marsteller in Washington, recently supplied an English-language version of his October Surprise section to The Consortium.

Hot Story

During the 444 days that Iran's radical Islamic government held 52 Americans hostage, Salinger was ABC's bureau chief in Paris and a leading reporter on the secret machinations which were occurring behind the scenes. During the crisis, ABC News broadcast a highly acclaimed nightly special called America Held Hostage, which would later evolve into Nightline.

The hostage crisis ended on Jan. 20, 1981, with the release of the hostages as Ronald Reagan completed his inaugural address. It was later that year when Salinger "ran into one of the hottest stories of my journalistic career." He said "a man named Jacques Montanes showed up at my ABC office with a big bag full of papers."

Montanes ran a company called SETI which delivered an international airlift of military supplies to Iran on Oct. 24, 1980, in defiance of President Carter's arms embargo. Because of some problems with the delivery, Montanes was detained in Iran for nine months before being released.

"He was angry at Iran for what they had done and wanted to get a story of important truth to the media," Salinger wrote. "This pile of military equipment (delivered by Montanes) came from the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain and Israel. ...The second ... thing I learned was that French intelligence was involved with the company, SETI, which sent the equipment. The intelligence man was called Colonel Jambel.

"And the third thing was a telex sent to an Iranian leader on Oct. 18, 1980. That telex was sent by two top French military people, the Division General, Robert Caillaux at the request of the Governor of the Military in Paris, General Lacaze. The telex said: 'We are ready to receive a telephone call from you to confirm what you have been told by Colonel Jambel. Colonel Jambel has served as an intermediary with the government to prepare this military operation. Colonel Jambel will certify to you that the company, SETI, is persona grata (favored) by our government and has our total confidence.'"

Salinger also received documents listing payments made to companies in Great Britain, Israel, Spain and Italy. He had records showing $330,042 paid to the Israeli government through the Bank Hapoalim in Zurich, Switzerland. He had another paper revealing $85,027 paid to the Kredietbank in Luxembourg for hiring a Cargolux aircraft to fly the supplies from Nimes, France, to Teheran. A second plane was hired to pick up the Israeli portion of the military delivery.

But when that plane reached Israel on Oct. 22, 1980, the Israelis withheld some of the promised equipment and loaded only about 250 tires for F-4 aircraft. Salinger said he learned that a day earlier President Carter had discovered the Israeli plan to violate the embargo and had protested directly to Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

"Obviously, I broke this story on ABC News," Salinger wrote, "something that shocked the American government. The Israeli government said what I had reported was a lie, but several months later they admitted they had participated in this flight with the F-4 tires." In the early 1980s, however, allegations had yet to surface about Republican collaboration with the conservative intelligence agencies in Israel and Europe.

Only in the years after the Iran-contra scandal broke in late 1986 did a number of witnesses, including senior Iranian officials and international arms dealers, begin alleging that Reagan's dealings with Iran dated back to the 1980 campaign. These witnesses described a series of meetings, including a round in Madrid in late July and a final set in Paris in mid-October.

Casey , the crafty old World War II spymaster who moved on to be CIA director, died in spring 1987. But other Reagan-Bush loyalists fiercely denied the October Surprise charges. Pressure built in 1991 for a congressional investigation. Then, Newsweek and The New Republic published matching cover stories debunking the charges by using the same bogus alibi to disprove Casey's presence at the Madrid meeting.

French Connection

"Well, having looked into this case quite a lot, I don't agree with (these) newspapers," Salinger wrote in the deleted book passage. What had finally convinced Salinger was a statement by a respected American journalist, David Andelman, who ghost-wrote the memoirs of French spy chief deMarenches in 1992.

Salinger knew Andelman and urged him to "push (deMarenches) toughly to get the truth about the Paris meeting. Andelman came back to me and said that Marenches had finally agreed (that) he organized the meeting, under the request of an old friend, William Casey. ...Marenches and Casey had known each other well during the days of World War II. Marenches added that while he prepared the meeting, he did not attend it."

In December 1992, Andelman also testified before the House task force about deMarenches's admission. But strangely, in its final report, the task force accepted Andelman's testimony as "credible" but declared that it lacked "probative value." The task force treated other supporting evidence as cavalierly, either rejecting it out of hand or hiding it from the public.

But in the deleted passage, Salinger said he had other information to corroborate deMarenches's statement to Andelman. "In the mid-80s, I had a long and important meeting with a top official in French intelligence," Salinger wrote. "He confirmed to me that the U.S.-Iranian meeting did take place on October 18 and 19 and he knew that Marenches had written a report on it which was in intelligence files. Unfortunately, he told me that file had disappeared."

Ironically, Salinger's account of his October Surprise reporting would suffer a similar fate, excised from his memoirs and "disappeared" from official American history -- like so much of the other October Surprise evidence.

(c) Copyright 1996 -- Please Do Not Re-Post

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