The Consortium

Where's Bill Casey?

In 1991-92, the October Surprise investigation was like a worldwide Where's Waldo game, trying to locate Bill Casey on crucial days in 1980. Two national magazines and a House task force claimed success, thus disproving that Casey sabotaged the Iran hostage talks. The game was over; Casey and the Republicans were innocent.

But from an obscure storage room on Capitol Hill comes a photograph showing that the Where's Bill game was fixed, that his face is not among the Bohemian Grove members who supplied the vital alibi, a troubling chapter about faked history from the October Surprise X-Files. By Robert Parry

WASHINGTON -- "We found a photograph from the Bohemian Grove for the last weekend of July," the congressional investigator boasted to me over the phone. I was stunned.

"You found a photograph from the Bohemian Grove?" I stammered.

The announcement might not have sounded that unusual. But for the few reporters who were investigating the October Surprise controversy, the statement that the House task force had located a photograph from the Bohemian Grove for the last weekend of July 1980 was big news. It was exactly the kind of hard evidence that we had been seeking to show whether William Casey was at that exclusive men's retreat in northern California or at a secret meeting with Iranian emissaries in Spain.

>From the investigator's confident tone, it sounded as if the House task force finally had the smoking-gun evidence to disprove the allegation that Casey, as Ronald Reagan's campaign director in 1980, had disrupted President Carter's Iranian hostage negotiations, a dirty trick that bordered on treason and might have cinched a historic GOP victory.

As the October Surprise story belatedly heated up, in 1991-92, investigators had tried to fix Casey's whereabouts on a handful of days when several witnesses placed the Republican campaign chief at meetings in Madrid and Paris. Two of those mystery days were July 27 and 28, 1980, a Sunday and a Monday, when Iranian CIA agent Jamshid Hashemi testified that he was with Casey in Madrid at a two-day meeting with radical Iranian mullah Mehdi Karrubi.

But nailing down the whereabouts of Casey, a wily old World War II spymaster, had proved difficult. Documents and news clips did show that going into that late July weekend in 1980 Casey was in Arlington, Va., at the Republican campaign headquarters. He disappeared from public view on Saturday, July 26; was missing Sunday and Monday morning; and then turned up late on Monday afternoon, July 28, at a World War II historical conference in London.

But where had Casey been from Saturday until Monday afternoon? Could he have gone to Madrid for a two-day meeting before flying to London?

A Debunking Hysteria

At a pivotal moment in the October Surprise investigation (in November 1991), two national magazines, Newsweek and The New Republic, published matching cover stories declaring that records at the historical conference revealed that Casey arrived in London Sunday evening, July 27, and attended the next morning's session, July 28. That proved, the magazines declared in unison, that a two-day meeting in Madrid was impossible. The October Surprise story was declared a "myth."

The impact of those two magazine stories cannot be overstated. They convinced most of the Washington news media and many members of Congress that the longstanding suspicions of Casey's skulduggery were false. A kind of debunking hysteria followed, with other publications joining in a stampede that trampled any careful examination of the October Surprise facts.

But Newsweek and The New Republic were wrong; they had completely misread the London evidence. When more thorough interviews were done with Americans who had attended the London conference with Casey, it became clear that Casey was not there on either Sunday night or Monday morning. He arrived late Monday afternoon, as a notation on the attendance sheet corroborated. It said Casey "came at 4 p.m."

Typically, however, neither magazine corrected the major journalistic error that they had committed. The new information also received almost no mention in the rest of the national media. So millions of Americans were left believing that the two magazines had established a correct alibi for Bill Caseyand that the October Surprise story had been disproved.

Though inclined to join in the debunking, the House task force, which started work in 1992, was forced to recognize the glaring mistake by the two magazines. But instead of blowing the whistle, the congressional investigators simply began a quiet search for a new alibi to slip into the place of the old.

By fall 1992, the task force had settled on a new location for Casey's late July weekend whereabouts. The task force put him in the Parsonage cottage at the Bohemian Grove encampment in northern California.

According to this new alibi, Casey flew from Los Angeles to San Francisco on Friday, July 25, with Republican operative Darrell Trent. Casey then drove with Trent to the Bohemian Grove, arriving sometime late Friday evening. Casey stayed at the Grove until Sunday morning, July 27. He then went to San Francisco, boarded a British Airways flight, flew all night, and landed about lunchtime the next day, Monday, July 28, in London.

That itinerary left no time for a side trip to Spain, so Jamshid Hashemi's allegations of a secret two-day meeting in Madrid could be declared false a second time. The October Surprise charges were again dismissed as a "myth."

But there were problems, too, with this Bohemian Grove alibi. I and other reporters at Public Broadcasting System's FRONTLINE program had already investigated this possibility for Casey's whereabouts and found it to be untrue. We discovered clear documentary evidence that Casey actually attended the Grove on the following weekend, Aug. 1-3, not the last weekend of July.

Evidence in the Way

Indeed, the House task force's own evidence countered the Bohemian Grove alibi. According to Grove records obtained by the House investigators, Casey's host, Darrell Trent, was already at the Grove on Friday, July 25, while Casey was still in Washington. So they could not have traveled together from Los Angeles.

Further, the task force found a plane ticket for a flight that Casey did take that day. But it was not to the West Coast. It was a ticket for the Washington-to-New York shuttle. A Casey calendar entry then showed a meeting on Saturday morning, July 26, with a right-to-life activist who said she met Casey at his home in Roslyn Harbor, N.Y.

Other records supported FRONTLINE's interpretation that Casey had attended the Grove the following weekend. Republican campaign records revealed that on Aug. 1, Casey did travel to Los Angeles, where he hooked up with Darrell Trent. Also on Aug. 1, Grove financial records documented Casey and Trent making purchases at the Grove. In addition, there was a diary entry from Matthew McGowan, one of the Grove members at the Parsonage cottage. He wrote on Aug. 3 that "we had Bill Casey, Gov. Reagan's campaign mgr., as our guest this last weekend."

Still, regardless of these facts, the House task force insisted on the Bohemian Grove alibi. The congressional investigators showed a similar bias in handling the alibi for Casey on the other crucial date, Oct. 19, 1980. That's when witnesses claimed they saw the campaign director in Paris at another round of meetings with Karrubi, an assertion supported by four French intelligence officials, including the French spy chief Alexandre deMarenches who described the meetings to his biographer.

To overcome the Paris evidence, the task force relied on the decade-old memory of Casey's nephew, Larry Casey, who claimed he remembered his late father placing a telephone call to Bill Casey who was at the Republican headquarters in Arlington. Though Larry Casey had no corroboration for that memory, the task force accepted it as "credible."

But again, FRONTLINE reporters had been down that road -- and found it to be a dead end. I had interviewed Larry Casey on videotape in 1991, a year before his House testimony. In that interview, Larry Casey offered a completely different alibi, insisting that he vividly remembered his parents having dinner with Bill Casey at the Jockey Club in Washington on Oct. 19, 1980.

"It was very clear in my mind even though it was 11 years ago," Larry Casey said. But then I showed Larry Casey the sign-in sheets for the GOP headquarters. The entries recorded Larry Casey's parents picking up Bill Casey for the dinner on Oct. 15, four days earlier. Larry Casey acknowledged his error, and indeed an American Express receipt later confirmed Oct. 15 as the date of the Jockey Club dinner.

In 1992, however, Larry Casey testified before the House task force and offered the phone call alibi, which he had not mentioned in the FRONTLINE interview. Though I notified the House task force about this discrepancy, the task force was undeterred. It still used the phone call alibi to debunk the Paris allegations.

The Bohemian Grove Photo

This pattern of accepting silly alibis for Bill Casey had convinced me that the House investigation was little more than a whitewash. Clearing the late Bill Casey and Ronald Reagan's campaign pleased Republicans who wanted to protect the legitimacy of the 12-year Reagan-Bush reign. But the Democrats, too, seemed eager to go along, frightened of a head-on fight with the Republicans.

But my confidence was shaken by the House investigator on the phone and his photograph. A formal group photo of the Bohemian Grove members and guests at the Parsonage cottage on the last weekend of July 1980 would be the clincher. It would prove, finally, that Jamshid Hashemi was a liar and that the Madrid allegation was a myth.

"You found a photograph of Bill Casey at the Bohemian Grove?" I choked. A lightheadedness swept over my mind as I tried to reconcile how the seeming ironclad evidence against the Bohemian Grove alibi could have been so wrong.

But I sensed an uncertainty, maybe even embarrassment, at the other end of the line.

"Well," the investigator answered hesitantly, "Bill Casey's not in the photograph. Everyone else is. Darrell Trent, his host, is there. But Bill Casey's not in the picture."

"Bill Casey's not there?" I exclaimed in amazement.

"No, Bill Casey's not in the picture."

Still, in its published report, the task force ditched the photograph and other documents putting Casey at the Grove only on the first weekend of August 1980. The task force relied instead on one piece of paper, a notation written by Republican foreign policy adviser Richard Allen. On a note page dated Aug. 2, Allen had scribbled down Casey's Long Island home phone number.

That act of writing down the number proved, the task force sleuths concluded, that Casey was at home that day -- and thus not at the Grove. That, in turn, meant that Casey must have attended the Grove the last weekend of July. The task force embraced this strange argument even though Allen testified that "I can't tell you whether or not I got through" on Casey's number when he dialed it Aug. 2.

In other words, the seasoned House investigators decided that writing down a person's home phone number proved the person was at home, even if the phone went unanswered. Armed with such "logic," the task force completed its debunking of the October Surprise allegations.

On the Op-Ed page of the New York Times, the task force chairman, Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., cited the solid Casey alibis as a key reason why the task force report "should put the controversy to rest once and for all." (Jan. 24, 1993) Hamilton's article was aptly entitled "Case Closed."

And so it stayed, until I learned that senior Iranian officials had informed intermediaries close to President Clinton in 1993-94 that the House task force had gotten the story all wrong. These Iranians asserted that they indeed had collaborated with Casey and other Republicans in 1980. But the Clinton administration, at its highest levels, chose not to reopen the "closed" investigation. President Clinton apparently felt the old fight was too risky and might detract from his high-priority domestic agenda.

It was then that I tracked down the House task force records in a barren storage room off the House Rayburn parking garage. In the boxes were documents, some "secret" and even "top secret," that contradicted many of the task force's conclusions. I dubbed these records, the October Surprise X-Files. (See the first five issues of The Consortium for more details.)

In one of the dozens of boxes, I found a color photograph of the 16 men who spent that pivotal last weekend of July 1980 in the Parsonage cottage at the Bohemian Grove. They were posed in a formal setting, with some older gentlemen seated in front and the other members and guests standing in elevated rows behind them. I looked at one man after another, searching for the tall, stooped, large-headed figure of Bill Casey. He was no where to be seen.

(c) Copyright 1996 -- PLEASE DO NOT RE-POST

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