The Russian Report
On Jan. 11, 1993, Russia's Supreme Soviet sent a secret cable to
the U.S. Congress. The cable claimed that Russian national
security files held evidence that two U.S. Presidents and two
CIA directors had committed an act of treachery with Iran's
radical Islamic government in 1980.
Despite its explosive potential, the document was kept from the
American people. It was buried in a pile of cardboard boxes,
left behind with a host of other unclassified and secret papers
in an obscure storage room on Capitol Hill:
a real-life "X-Files."
By Robert Parry
- October Surprise X-Files (Part 1): Russia's Report
WASHINGTON -- On Jan. 11, 1993, the nation's capital was
readying itself for the Inauguration of President Bill Clinton,
the first Democrat to sit in the Oval Office in a dozen years.
Temporary grandstands were going up along Pennsylvania Avenue.
The city brimmed with a celebratory air that fills the capital
whenever a grand event like an Inauguration takes place. But in
an obscure set of offices near the U.S. Capitol, a congressional
task force was coping with another problem, one that had seeped
out over those same twelve years to stain the Republican victory
that had last changed party power at the White House, in 1980.
The House task force was concluding a year-long investigation
into claims that Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign had
interfered with President Carter's negotiations to free 52
Americans held hostage in Iran. A mixed bag of Iranian
officials, foreign intelligence agents and international arms
dealers had alleged a Republican deal behind Carter's back. But
the task force had decided there was "no credible evidence" to
support allegations that the Reagan campaign had blocked
Carter's possible "October Surprise" of an election-eve hostage
Carter's failure to free those hostages over 444 days had sealed
his political doom and boosted Reagan from a neck-and-neck race
to a resounding electoral victory. The hostages' release, as
Reagan was completing his Inaugural Address on Jan. 20, 1981,
opened a floodgate of patriotic fervor that reshaped the
political landscape and made Reagan a hero.
The possibility that this pivotal moment in modern American
history had resulted from a nearly treasonous dirty trick had
drawn understandably angry denials from Reagan-Bush loyalists --
and even from Democrats who feared that the public would lose
faith in politics if the charges proved true.
So, with a collective sigh of relief, the House task force
debunked the charges by adopting an elaborate set of alibis for
the key players, particularly the late CIA director William J.
Casey, who had run Reagan's campaign. One of the Casey alibi
dates was nailed down, according to the task force, because a
Republican operative had written Casey's home phone number on a
piece of paper that day, although the operative admitted that he
had no recollection of reaching Casey at home.
Nevertheless, with a host of such dubious alibis, the 968-page
report was shipped off to the printers, with a public release
set for Jan. 13, 1993. Washington journalists, already briefed
on the task force findings, were preparing to praise the report
as "exhaustive" and "bipartisan."
But two days before the news conference, a cable arrived from
Moscow. It was a response to a query dated Oct. 21, 1992, that
Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., who headed the House task force, had
sent to Sergey Vadimovich Stepashin, then chairman of the
Supreme Soviet's Committee on Defense and Security Issues.
Hamilton asked Stepashin -- whose job was roughly equal to
chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee -- what
information the Russian government had about the so-called
"October Surprise" charges.
The Supreme Soviet's response was delivered to the U.S. Embassy
in Moscow by Nikolay Kuznetsov, secretary of the subcommittee on
state security. Kuznetsov apologized for the "lengthy
preparation of the response." It was quickly translated by the
U.S. embassy and forwarded to Hamilton.
Carter vs. Reagan
To the shock of the task force, the six-page Russian report
stated, as fact, that Casey, George Bush and other Republicans had met
secretly with Iranian officials in Europe during the 1980
presidential campaign. The Russians depicted the hostage
negotiations that year as a two-way competition between the
Carter White House and the Reagan campaign to outbid one another
for Iran's cooperation on the hostages. The Russians asserted
that the Reagan team had disrupted Carter's hostage negotiations
after all, the exact opposite of the task force conclusion.
As described by the Russians, the Carter administration offered
the Iranians supplies of arms and unfreezing of assets for a
pre-election release of the hostages. One important meeting had
occurred in Athens in July 1980 with Pentagon representatives
agreeing "in principle" to deliver "a significant quantity of
spare parts for F-4 and F-5 aircraft and also M-60 tanks ... via
Turkey," according to the Russian report. The Iranians
"discussed a possible step-by-step normalization of
Iranian-American relations [and] the provision of support for
President Carter in the election campaign via the release of
But the Republicans were making separate overtures to the
Iranians, also in Europe, the Russians claimed. "William Casey,
in 1980, met three times with representatives of the Iranian
leadership," the Russians wrote. "The meetings took place in
Madrid and Paris."
At the Paris meeting in October 1980, "R[obert] Gates, at that
time a staffer of the National Security Council in the
administration of Jimmy Carter and former CIA director George
Bush also took part," the Russians said. "In Madrid and Paris,
the representatives of Ronald Reagan and the Iranian leadership
discussed the question of possibly delaying the release of 52
hostages from the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Teheran."
Both the Reagan Republicans and Carter Democrats "started from
the proposition that Imam [Ruhollah] Khomeini, having announced
a policy of 'neither the West nor the East,' and cursing the
'American devil,' imperialism and Zionism, was forced to acquire
American weapons, spares and military supplies by any and all
possible means," the Russians wrote. According to the report,
the Republicans won the bidding war.
"After the victory of R. Reagan in the election, in early 1981,
a secret agreement was reached in London in accord with which
Iran released the American hostages, and the U.S. continued to
supply arms, spares and military supplies for the Iranian army,"
the report continued. The deliveries were carried out by
Israel, often through private arms dealers, the Russians said.
Spares for F-14 fighters and other military equipment went to
Iran from Israel in March-April 1981 and the arms pipeline kept
flowing into the mid-1980s.
"Through the Israeli conduit, Iran in 1983 bought
surface-to-surface missiles of the 'Lance' class plus artillery
of a total value of $135 million," the report said. "In July
1983, a group of specialists from the firm, Lockheed, went to
Iran on English passports to repair the navigation systems and
other electronic components on American-produced planes." Then,
in 1985, the weapons tap opened wider, into the Iran-contra
The Russian 'Bomb'
The matter-of-fact Russian report was stunning. It also matched
other information the task force had. The Israelis, for
example, had shipped U.S. military spares to Iran in the early
1980s, with the acquiescence of senior Reagan administration
officials. But the Russians weren't clear about where their
information came from or how reliable it was.
After receiving the Russian report in January 1993, a U.S.
Embassy political officer went back to the Russians seeking more
details. But the Russians would state only that the data came
from the Committee on Defense and Security Issues. The embassy
political officer then speculated that Moscow's report might
have been "based largely on material that has previously
appeared in the Western media."
But apparently, there was no
serious follow-up -- even though Moscow, the communist enemy in
the 1980s, claimed to possess incriminating evidence about two
CIA directors (Casey and Gates) and two U.S. Presidents (Reagan
and Bush). Though the Russian claims about Carter's negotiations
with Iran might cause embarrassment, Carter, as President, possessed
the constitutional authority to negotiate with a foreign power.
The Republicans did not.
Task force investigators felt the Russian report could be safely
dismissed because one section took seriously the allegations of
former Israeli intelligence official Ari Ben-Menashe, an
Iranian-born Jew. Ben-Menashe had testified to Congress that,
as an Israeli intelligence officer, he
participated in Paris meetings between senior Iranians and
Republican emissaries in October 1980. Ben-Menashe had placed
Casey, Bush and Gates at those meetings as well.
But Bush, who was Reagan's vice presidential running mate in
1980 and President during the task force investigation, denied
being in Paris. So did Gates, who was Casey's deputy director
at CIA and Bush's CIA director. (Casey died in 1987 before the
October Surprise issue surfaced.)
When Ben-Menashe went public in the early 1990s, the Israeli
government first called him an imposter and claimed he had never
worked for Israeli intelligence. But confronted with documents
proving Ben-Menashe's employment, Israeli officials reversed
themselves and admitted that Ben-Menashe had worked for Israeli
military intelligence from 1977-87. Nevertheless, they
continued to attack his truthfulness. The House task force also
rejected Ben-Menashe as lacking credibility. For his part, Ben-Menashe,
now living in Canada, still insists that he was telling the truth.
After finding the Russian report in a remote storage room on
Capitol Hill, I contacted one well-placed official in Europe who
checked with the Russian government. "This was real information
based on their own sources and methods," the official told me.
As for the possibility that the report was blowback from the
U.S. media, the official insisted that the Russians "would not
send something like this to the U.S. Congress at that time, if
it was bullshit."
Instead, the Russians considered their report "a bomb" and
"couldn't believe it was ignored," the official said. Not only
did the House task force keep the extraordinary Russian report
secret, it ended up in a cardboard box among hundreds of
documents, some unclassified and others "secret." The document
boxes were piled, ingloriously, on the floor of a former Ladies'
Room which had been converted into storage space, deep inside a
parking garage of the Rayburn House Office Building.
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