By Robert Parry
- Lost History (Part 4): Pierre Salinger & a 1980 Taboo
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,"
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
"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.
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