Russia-gate Is No Watergate or Iran-Contra

Special Report: Many comparisons have been made between Russia-gate and the earlier scandals of Watergate and Iran-Contra, but the similarities are at best superficial, explains Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Russia-gate, the sprawling investigation into whether Russia meddled in last year’s U.S. election, is often compared to the two big political scandals of the latter half of the Twentieth Century, Watergate and Iran-Contra. Sometimes you even hear that Russia-gate is “bigger than Watergate.”

Yet what is perhaps most remarkable about those two Twentieth Century scandals is how little Official Washington really understands them – and how these earlier scandals significantly contrast, rather than compare, with what is unfolding now.

Although the historical record is still incomplete on Watergate and Iran-Contra, the available evidence indicates that both scandals originated in schemes by Republicans to draw foreign leaders into plots to undermine sitting Democratic presidents and thus pave the way for the elections of Richard Nixon in 1968 and Ronald Reagan in 1980.

As for Russia-gate, even if you accept that the Russian government hacked into Democratic emails and publicized them via WikiLeaks, there is still no evidence that Donald Trump or his campaign colluded with the Kremlin to do so. By contrast, in the origins of Watergate and Iran-Contra, it appears the Nixon and Reagan campaigns, respectively, were the instigators of schemes to enlist foreign governments in blocking a Vietnam peace deal in 1968 and negotiations to free 52 American hostages in Iran in 1980.

Though Watergate is associated directly with the 1972 campaign – when Nixon’s team of burglars was caught inside the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate building – Nixon’s formation of that team, known as the Plumbers, was driven by his fear that he could be exposed for sabotaging President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks in 1968 in order to secure the White House that year.

After Nixon’s narrow victory over Vice President Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 election, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover informed Nixon that Johnson had a secret file, complete with wiretapped phone calls, detailing the Nixon campaign’s backchannel messages to South Vietnamese officials convincing them to boycott Johnson’s Paris peace talks. Later, Nixon learned that this incriminating file had disappeared from the White House.

So, in 1971, after the leaking of the Pentagon Papers, which recounted the lies that had been used to justify the Vietnam War through 1967, Nixon fretted that the missing file about his peace-talk gambit in 1968 might surface, too, and would destroy him politically. Thus, he organized the Plumbers to find the file, even contemplating fire-bombing the Brookings Institution to enable a search of its safe where some aides thought the missing file might be found.

In other words, Watergate wasn’t simply a break-in at the Democratic National Committee on June 17, 1972, in pursuit of useful political intelligence and Nixon’s ensuing cover-up; the scandal had its origins in a far worse scandal, the derailing of peace talks that could have ended the Vietnam War years earlier and saved the lives of tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers and possibly more than 1 million Vietnamese.

Iran-Contra Parallels

Similarly, the Iran-Contra scandal exploded in 1986 with revelations that President Reagan had authorized secret arms sales to Iran with some of the profits going to fund the Nicaraguan Contra rebels, but the evidence now indicates that the connections between Reagan’s team and Iran’s revolutionary regime traced back to 1980 when emissaries from Reagan’s campaign worked to stymie President Jimmy Carter’s negotiations to free 52 American hostages then held in Iran.

According to multiple witnesses, including former Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs Nicholas Veliotes, the pre-election contacts led to the opening of a weapons pipeline to Iran (via Israel), after Reagan was sworn in on Jan. 20, 1981, which was the precise moment when Iran finally released the American hostages after 444 days.

Some key players in the 1980 Reagan-Iran contacts reappeared four years later at the start of direct (again secret) U.S. arms shipments to Iran in 1985, which also involved Israeli middlemen. These key players included Iranian CIA operative Cyrus Hashemi, former CIA clandestine services chief Theodore Shackley, Reagan’s campaign chief and then-CIA Director William Casey, and former CIA Director and then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.

In other words, the Iran-Contra weapons shipments of 1985-86 appear to have been an outgrowth of the earlier shipments dating back to 1980 and continuing under Israeli auspices until the supply line was taken over more directly by the Reagan administration in 1985-86.

Thus, both the Watergate scandal in 1972 and the Iran-Contra Affair in 1986 could be viewed as “sequels” to the earlier machinations driven by Republican hunger to seize the enormous powers of the U.S. presidency. However, for decades, Official Washington has been hostile to these underlying explanations of how Watergate and Iran-Contra began.

For instance, The New York Times, the so-called “newspaper of record,” treated the accumulation of evidence regarding Nixon’s 1968 peace-talk gambit as nothing more than a “rumor” until earlier this year when a scholar, John A. Farrell, uncovered cryptic notes taken by Nixon’s aide H.R. Haldeman, which added another piece to the mosaic and left the Times little choice but to pronounce the historical reality finally real.

Grasping the Watergate Narrative

Still, the Times and other major news outlets have failed to factor this belated admission into the larger Watergate narrative. If you understand that Nixon did sabotage President Johnson’s Vietnam War peace talks and that Nixon was aware that Johnson’s file on what LBJ called Nixon’s “treason” had disappeared from the White House, the early “Watergate tapes” from 1971 suddenly make sense.

Nixon ordered White House chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger to locate the missing file but their search came up empty. Yet, some Nixon aides thought the file might be hidden at the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank in Washington. So, in his desperate pursuit of the file, Nixon called for a break-in at Brookings, possibly even fire-bombing the building as a cover for his team of burglars to slip in amid the confusion and rifle the safe.

The old explanation that Nixon simply wanted to find some file related to Johnson’s 1968 pre-election Vietnam bombing halt never made sense given the extreme steps that Nixon was prepared to take.

The relevant portions of Nixon’s White House tapes include an entry on June 17, 1971, coincidentally one year to the day before the Watergate burglars were caught. Nixon summoned Haldeman and Kissinger to the Oval Office and pleaded with them again to locate the file.

“Do we have it?” Nixon asked Haldeman. “I’ve asked for it. You said you didn’t have it.”

Haldeman: “We can’t find it.”

Kissinger: “We have nothing here, Mr. President.”

Nixon: “Well, damn-it, I asked for that because I need it.”

Kissinger: “But Bob and I have been trying to put the damn thing together.”

Haldeman: “We have a basic history in constructing our own, but there is a file on it.”

Nixon: “Where?”

Haldeman: “[Presidential aide Tom Charles] Huston swears to God that there’s a file on it and it’s at Brookings.”

Nixon: “Bob? Bob? Now do you remember Huston’s plan [for White House-sponsored break-ins as part of domestic counter-intelligence operations]? Implement it.”

Kissinger: “Now Brookings has no right to have classified documents.”

Nixon: “I want it implemented. Goddamn-it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.”

Haldeman: “They may very well have cleaned them by now, but this thing, you need to “

Kissinger: “I wouldn’t be surprised if Brookings had the files.”

Haldeman: “My point is Johnson knows that those files are around. He doesn’t know for sure that we don’t have them around.”

But Johnson did know that the file was no longer at the White House because he had ordered his national security adviser, Walt Rostow, to remove it in the final days of Johnson’s presidency.

Forming the Burglars

On June 30, 1971, Nixon again berated Haldeman about the need to break into Brookings and “take it [the file] out.” Nixon suggested using former CIA officer E. Howard Hunt to conduct the Brookings break-in.

“You talk to Hunt,” Nixon told Haldeman. “I want the break-in. Hell, they do that. You’re to break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them in. Just go in and take it. Go in around 8:00 or 9:00 o’clock.”

Haldeman: “Make an inspection of the safe.”

Nixon: “That’s right. You go in to inspect the safe. I mean, clean it up.”

For reasons that remain unclear, it appears that the Brookings break-in never took place (nor did the fire-bombing), but Nixon’s desperation to locate Johnson’s peace-talk file was an important link in the chain of events that led to the creation of Nixon’s burglary unit under Hunt’s supervision. Hunt later oversaw the two Watergate break-ins in May and June of 1972.

While it’s possible that Nixon was still searching for the file about his Vietnam-peace sabotage when the ill-fated Watergate break-ins occurred a year later, it’s generally believed that the burglary was more broadly focused, seeking any information that might have an impact on Nixon’s re-election, either defensively or offensively.

However, if you think back on 1971 when the Vietnam War was tearing the country apart and massive antiwar demonstrations were descending on Washington, Nixon’s desperation to locate the missing file suddenly doesn’t seem quite so crazy. There would have been hell to pay if the public learned that Nixon had kept the war going to gain a political advantage in 1968.

Through 1972 – and the early days of the Watergate scandal – former President Johnson had stayed silent about Nixon’s sabotage of the Paris peace talks. But the ex-President became livid when – after Nixon’s reelection in 1972 – Nixon’s men sought to pressure Johnson into helping them shut down the Watergate investigation, in part, by noting that Johnson, too, had deployed wiretaps against Nixon’s 1968 campaign to obtain evidence about the peace-talk sabotage.

While it’s not clear whether Johnson would have finally spoken out, that threat to Nixon ended two days after Nixon’s second inaugural when on Jan. 22, 1973, Johnson died of a heart attack. However, unbeknownst to Nixon, Johnson had left the missing file, called “The X-Envelope,” in the care of Rostow, who – after Johnson’s death – gave the file to the LBJ presidential library in Austin, Texas, with instructions that it be kept under wraps for at least 50 years. (Rostow’s instructions were overturned in the 1990s, and I found the now largely declassified file at the library in 2012.)

So, with the “The X-Envelope” squirreled away for more than two decades at the LBJ library and with the big newspapers treating the early sketchy reports of Nixon’s peace-talk sabotage as only “rumors,” Watergate remained a scandal limited to the 1972 campaign.

Still, Nixon’s cover-up of his campaign’s role in the Watergate break-in produced enough clear-cut evidence of obstruction of justice and other offenses that Nixon was forced to resign on Aug. 9, 1974.

A Failed Investigation

The 1979-81 hostage confrontation with Iran was not nearly as devastating a crisis as the Vietnam War but America’s humiliation during the 444-day-long ordeal became a focus of the 1980 election, too, with the first anniversary of Iran’s seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran coincidentally falling on Election Day 1980.

President Carter’s failure to gain freedom for the 52 embassy personnel turned what had been a close race into a landslide for Ronald Reagan, with Republicans also gaining control of the U.S. Senate and ousting some of the most influential Democratic senators.

In 1984, Reagan won reelection in another landslide, but two years later ran afoul of the Iran-Contra scandal. Reagan’s secret arms sales to Iran and diversion of profits to the Contras “broke” in November 1986 but focused only on Reagan’s 1985-1986 arms sales and the diversion. Still, the scandal’s crimes included violations of the Arms Export Control Act and the so-called Boland Act’s prohibitions on arming the Contras as well as perjury and obstruction of justice. So there was the prospect of Reagan’s impeachment.

But – from the start of Iran-Contra – there was a strong pushback from Republicans who didn’t want to see another GOP president driven from office. There was also resistance to the scandal from many mainstream media executives who personally liked Reagan and feared a public backlash if the press played an aggressive role similar to Watergate.

And, moderate Democrats, such as Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana who co-chaired the congressional investigation, sought to tamp down the Iran-Contra fires and set up firebreaks to prevent the investigation from spreading to related crimes such as the Reagan administration’s protection of Contra cocaine traffickers.

“Ask about the cocaine,” pleaded one protester who was dragged from the Iran-Contra hearing room, as the congressional investigators averted their eyes from such unseemly matters, focusing instead on stilted lectures about the Congress’s constitutional prerogatives.

It was not until 1990-91 that it became clear that secret U.S.-approved arms shipments to Iran did not start in 1985 as the Iran-Contra narrative claimed but traced back to 1981 with Reagan’s approval of arms sales to Iran through Israel.

Reagan’s politically risky move of secretly arming Iran immediately after his inauguration and the hostage release was nearly exposed when one of the Israeli flights strayed into Soviet airspace on July 18, 1981, and crashed or was shot down.

In a PBS interview nearly a decade later, Nicholas Veliotes, Reagan’s assistant secretary of state for the Middle East, said he looked into the incident by talking to top administration officials.

“It was clear to me after my conversations with people on high that indeed we had agreed that the Israelis could transship to Iran some American-origin military equipment,” Veliotes said.

In checking out the Israeli flight, Veliotes came to believe that the Reagan camp’s dealings with Iran dated back to before the 1980 election. “It seems to have started in earnest in the period probably prior to the election of 1980, as the Israelis had identified who would become the new players in the national security area in the Reagan administration,” Veliotes said. “And I understand some contacts were made at that time.”

However, in 1981, Veliotes said, the State Department issued misleading press guidance to cover the administration’s tracks and the Washington media failed to follow up. Thus, the U.S.-Israeli arms pipeline to Iran stayed secret from the American people until November 1986 when — despite Reagan’s long-running insistence that he would never trade arms with a terrorist state like Iran — the operation was exposed.

When I re-interviewed Veliotes in 2012, he said he couldn’t recall who the “people on high” were who had described the informal clearance of the Israeli shipments of U.S.-manufactured weapons, but he indicated that “the new players” were the young neoconservatives who were working on the Reagan campaign, many of whom later joined the administration as senior political appointees.

Documents that I discovered at the Reagan presidential library revealed that Reagan’s neocons at the State Department, particularly Robert McFarlane and Paul Wolfowitz, initiated a policy review in 1981 to allow Israel to undertake secret military shipments to Iran.

McFarlane and Wolfowitz also maneuvered to put McFarlane in charge of U.S. relations toward Iran and to establish a clandestine U.S. back-channel to the Israeli government outside the knowledge of even senior U.S. government officials.

Another Failed Investigation

In 1991, faced with the accumulating evidence of a prequel to the Iran-Contra scandal, Congress grudgingly agreed to take a look at these so-called “October Surprise” allegations. But Republicans, then led by President George H.W. Bush and his White House team, mounted an aggressive cover-up to “spike” the story.

And, with the congressional inquiry largely in the hands again of Rep. Hamilton, the Democrats timidly folded their tent despite a growing body of evidence that the Reagan team was indeed guilty.

Much of that evidence flowed into the House Task Force in December 1992 when President George H.W. Bush had already been defeated for reelection and the Democrats were looking forward to their renewed control of Washington. So, instead of giving a careful review to the new evidence, the House Task Force ignored, disparaged or buried it.

The late-arriving material included sworn testimony on Dec. 18, 1992, from David Andelman, the biographer of French intelligence chief Alexandre deMarenches, describing how deMarenches had confided that he had helped arrange the Republican-Iranian contacts. Andelman, an ex-New York Times and CBS News correspondent, said that while he was working on deMarenches’s autobiography, the arch-conservative spymaster admitted arranging meetings between Republicans and Iranians about the hostage issue in the summer and fall of 1980, with one meeting held in Paris in October.

Andelman said deMarenches ordered that the secret meetings be kept out of his memoirs because the story could otherwise damage the reputations of his friends, William Casey and George H.W. Bush. Andelman’s testimony corroborated longstanding claims from a variety of international intelligence operatives about a Paris meeting involving Casey and Bush. But the Task Force report brushed this testimony aside, paradoxically terming it “credible” but then claiming it was “insufficiently probative.”

The Task Force’s report argued that Andelman could not “rule out the possibility that deMarenches had told him he was aware of and involved in the Casey meetings because he, deMarenches, could not risk telling his biographer he had no knowledge of these allegations.”

In the last weeks of the investigation, the House investigators also received a letter from former Iranian President Bani-Sadr detailing his behind-the-scenes struggle with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his son Ahmad over their secret dealings with the Reagan campaign. But the House investigators dismissed Bani-Sadr’s first-hand account as hearsay and thus also lacking “probative value.”

I later unearthed some of the evidence in unpublished Task Force files. However, in the meantime, Official Washington had dismissed the “October Surprise” and other Iran-Contra-connected scandals, like Contra drug trafficking, as conspiracy theories.

The Russian Report

Ironically, another piece of late-arriving evidence was a January 1993 report from a national security committee of the Russian parliament about the Kremlin’s intelligence data confirming that key Republicans, including George H.W. Bush and William Casey, had met with Iranian officials in Europe regarding the hostages during the 1980 campaign.

Hamilton had requested the Russian assistance before the U.S. election in 1992, but the report was not sent until there were only two weeks left in George H.W. Bush’s presidency.

Lawrence Barcella, who served as the Task Force chief counsel, later told me that so much incriminating evidence arrived late that he asked Hamilton to extend the inquiry for three months but that Hamilton said no (although Hamilton told me that he had no recollection of denying Barcella’s request).

The other fatal flaw of the House investigation was that it left much of the actual investigating up to President George H.W. Bush’s White House counsel’s office and the State Department, although Bush was one of the chief suspects and, in 1991-92, was running for re-election, a campaign that would have been derailed if the 1980 October Surprise allegations were confirmed.

The naivete of this decision was underscored years later when I located a memo at Bush’s presidential library stating that the State Department had informed the White House counsel’s office that Casey had traveled to Madrid in 1980, corroborating a key October Surprise allegation.

The confirmation of Casey’s trip was passed along by State Department legal adviser Edwin D. Williamson to Associate White House Counsel Chester Paul Beach Jr. in early November 1991, just as the October Surprise inquiry was taking shape, according to Beach’s “memorandum for record” dated Nov. 4, 1991.

Williamson said that among the State Department “material potentially relevant to the October Surprise allegations [was] a cable from the Madrid embassy indicating that Bill Casey was in town, for purposes unknown,” Beach noted.

Two days later, on Nov. 6, 1991, Beach’s boss, White House counsel C. Boyden Gray, arranged an inter-agency strategy session and explained the need to contain the congressional investigation into the October Surprise case. The explicit goal was to ensure the scandal would not hurt President Bush’s reelection hopes in 1992.

In 2013, when I interviewed Hamilton about the Beach memo, he lamented that the Madrid information had not been shared with his investigation, saying “you have to rely on people” in authority to comply with information requests.

“We found no evidence to confirm Casey’s trip to Madrid,” Hamilton told me. “We couldn’t show that. The [George H.W. Bush] White House did not notify us that he did make the trip. Should they have passed that on to us? They should have because they knew we were interested in that.”

Asked if knowledge that Casey had traveled to Madrid might have changed the Task Force’s dismissive October Surprise conclusion, Hamilton said yes, because the question of the Madrid trip was key to the task force’s investigation.

Not Moving the Needle

However, the Madrid trip revelation and other post-investigation disclosures failed to move the needle on Official Washington’s disdain for the October Surprise story.

The later disclosures included a 1993 interview in Tel Aviv in which former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said he had read the 1991 book, October Surprise, by Carter’s former National Security Council aide Gary Sick, which made the case for believing that the Republicans had intervened in the 1980 hostage negotiations to disrupt Carter’s reelection.

With the topic raised, one interviewer asked, “What do you think? Was there an October Surprise?”

“Of course, it was,” Shamir responded without hesitation. “It was.”

And, there were other corroborating statements as well. In 1996, for instance, while former President Carter was meeting with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Arafat in Gaza City, Arafat tried to confess his role in the Republican maneuvering to block Carter’s Iran-hostage negotiations.

“There is something I want to tell you,” Arafat said, addressing Carter in the presence of historian Douglas Brinkley. “You should know that in 1980 the Republicans approached me with an arms deal [for the PLO] if I could arrange to keep the hostages in Iran until after the [U.S. presidential] election,” Arafat said, according to Brinkley’s article in the fall 1996 issue of Diplomatic Quarterly.

In 2013, after the movie “Argo” appeared regarding an early facet of the Iran-hostage crisis, former Iranian President Bani-Sadr elaborated on his account of Republican overtures to Iran in 1980 and how that secret initiative prevented release of the hostages.

In a Christian Science Monitor commentary, Bani-Sadr wrote, “Ayatollah Khomeini and Ronald Reagan had organized a clandestine negotiation which prevented the attempts by myself and then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter to free the hostages before the 1980 U.S. presidential election took place. The fact that they were not released tipped the results of the election in favor of Reagan.”

Then, Bani-Sadr added a new detail, that “two of my advisors, Hussein Navab Safavi and Sadr-al-Hefazi, were executed by Khomeini’s regime because they had become aware of this secret relationship between Khomeini, his son Ahmad, … and the Reagan administration.” [For more details on the October Surprise case, see Robert Parry’s Trick or Treason and America’s Stolen Narrative.]

Compare and Contrast

So how do Watergate and Iran-Contra compare and contrast with Russia-gate? One key difference is that in Watergate in 1972-73 and Iran-Contra in 1985-86, you had clear-cut crimes (even if you don’t want to believe the two “prequels” from 1968 and 1980, respectively).

In Watergate, five burglars were caught inside the DNC offices on June 17, 1972, as they sought to plant more bugs on Democratic phones. (An earlier break-in in May had installed two bugs, but one didn’t work.) Nixon then proceeded to mount a cover-up of his 1972 campaign’s role in funding the break-in and other abuses of power.

In Iran-Contra, Reagan secretly authorized weapons sales to Iran, which was then designated a terrorist state, without informing Congress, a violation of the Arms Export Control Act. He also kept Congress in the dark about his belated signing of a related intelligence “finding.” And the creation of slush funds to finance the Nicaraguan Contras represented an evasion of the U.S. Constitution.

There was also the attendant Iran-Contra cover-up mounted both by the Reagan White House and later the George H.W. Bush White House, which culminated in Bush’s Christmas Eve 1992 pardons of six Iran-Contra defendants as special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh was zeroing in on possible indictment of Bush for withholding evidence.

By contrast, Russia-gate has been a “scandal” in search of a specific crime. President Barack Obama’s intelligence chieftains have alleged – without presenting any clear evidence – that the Russian government hacked into the emails of the Democratic National Committee and of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta and released those emails via WikiLeaks and other Internet sites. (The Russians and WikiLeaks have both denied the accusations.)

The DNC emails revealed that senior Democrats did not maintain their required independence regarding the primaries by seeking to hurt Sen. Bernie Sanders and help Clinton. The Podesta emails pulled back the curtain on Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street banks and on pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation.

Hacking into personal computers is a crime, but the U.S. government has yet to bring any formal charges against specific individuals supposedly responsible for the hacking of the Democratic emails. There also has been no evidence that Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russians in the hacking.

Lacking any precise evidence of this cyber-crime or of a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign, Obama’s Justice Department holdovers and now special prosecutor Robert Mueller have sought to build “process crimes,” around false statements to investigators and possible obstruction of justice.

Railroading Flynn

In the case of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, acting Attorney General Sally Yates used the archaic Logan Act of 1799 to create a predicate for the FBI to interrogate Flynn about a Dec. 29, 2016 conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, i.e., after Trump’s election but before the Inauguration.

The Logan Act, which has never resulted in a prosecution in 218 years, was enacted during the period of the Alien and Sedition Acts to bar private citizens from negotiating on their own with foreign governments. It was never intended to apply to a national security adviser of an elected President, albeit before he was sworn in.

But it became the predicate for the FBI interrogation — and the FBI agents were armed with a transcript of the intercepted Kislyak-Flynn phone call so they could catch Flynn on any gaps in his recollection, which might have been made even hazier because he was on vacation in the Dominican Republic when Kislyak called.

Yates also concocted a bizarre argument that the discrepancies between Flynn’s account of the call and the transcript left him open to Russian blackmail although how that would work – since the Russians surely assumed that Kislyak’s calls would be monitored by U.S. intelligence and thus offered them no leverage with Flynn – was never explained.

Still, Flynn’s failure to recount the phone call precisely and the controversy stirred up around it became the basis for an obstruction of justice investigation of Flynn and led to President Trump’s firing Flynn on Feb. 13.

Trump may have thought that tossing Flynn overboard to the circling sharks would calm down the sharks but the blood in the water only excited them more. According to then-FBI Director James Comey, Trump talked to him one-on-one the next day, Feb. 14, and said, “‘I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Trump’s “hope” and the fact that he later fired Comey have reportedly led special prosecutor Mueller to look at a possible obstruction of justice case against Trump. In other words, Trump could be accused of obstructing what appears to have been a trumped-up case against Flynn.

Of course, there remains the possibility that evidence might surface of Trump or his campaign colluding with the Russians, but such evidence has so far not been presented. Or Mueller’s investigation might turn over some rock and reveal some unrelated crime, possibly financial wrongdoing by Trump or an associate.

(Something similar happened in the Republican investigation of the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi attack, a largely fruitless inquiry except that it revealed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent and received official emails over a private server, which Comey decried during last year’s campaign as “extremely careless” but not criminal.)

Curb the Enthusiasm

Another contrast between the earlier scandals (Watergate and Iran-Contra) and Russia-gate is the degree of enthusiasm and excitement that the U.S. mainstream media and congressional Democrats have shown today as opposed to 1972 and 1986.

Though The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein aggressively pursued the Watergate scandal, there was much less interest elsewhere in major news outlets until Nixon’s criminality became obvious in 1973. Many national Democrats, including DNC Chairman Bob Strauss, were extremely hesitant to pursue the scandal if not outright against it.

Similarly, although Brian Barger and I at The Associated Press were pursuing aspects of Iran-Contra since early 1985, the big newspapers and networks consistently gave the Reagan administration the benefit of the doubt – at least before the scandal finally burst into view in fall 1986 (when a Contra-supply plane crashed inside Nicaragua and a Lebanese newspaper revealed U.S. arms shipments to Iran).

For several months, there was a flurry of attention to the complex Iran-Contra scandal, but the big media still ignored evidence of a White House cover-up and soon lost interest in the difficult work of unraveling the convoluted networks for arms smuggling, money laundering and cocaine trafficking.

Congressional Democrats also shied away from a constitutional confrontation with the popular Reagan and his well-connected Vice President George H.W. Bush.

After moving from AP to Newsweek in early 1987, I learned that the senior executives at Newsweek, then part of The Washington Post Company, didn’t want “another Watergate”; they felt another such scandal was not “good for the country” and wanted Iran-Contra to go away as soon as possible. I was even told not to read the congressional Iran-Contra report when it was published in October 1987 (although I ignored that order and kept trying to keep my own investigation going in defiance of the wishes of the Newsweek brass until those repeated clashes led to my departure in June 1990).

So, perhaps the biggest similarity between Russia-gate and Watergate is that Richard Nixon and Donald Trump were both highly unpopular with the Washington establishment and thus had few influential defenders, while an important contrast with Iran-Contra was that Reagan and Bush were very well liked, especially among news executives such as Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham who, by all accounts, did not care for the uncouth Nixon. Today, the senior executives of The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major news outlets have made no secret of their disdain for the buffoonish Trump and their hostility toward Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In other words, what is driving Russia-gate – for both the mainstream news media and the Democrats – appears to be a political agenda, i.e., the desire to remove Trump from office while also ratcheting up a New Cold War with Russia, a priority for Washington’s neoconservatives and their liberal-interventionist sidekicks.

If this political drama were playing out in some other country, we would be talking about a “soft coup” in which the “oligarchy” or some other “deep state” force was using semi-constitutional means to engineer a disfavored leader’s removal.

Of course, since the ongoing campaign to remove Trump is happening in the United States, it must be presented as a principled pursuit of truth and a righteous application of the rule of law. But the comparisons to Watergate and Iran-Contra are a stretch.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).




Bush-41’s October Surprise Denials

Exclusive: “Deny everything,” British traitor Kim Philby said, explaining how the powerful can bluff past their crimes, a truism known to George H.W. Bush when he denied charges of his own near treason in the October Surprise case, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A recently discovered lecture by the late British traitor Kim Philby contains a lesson that may help explain how George H.W. Bush could bluff and bluster his way past mounting evidence that he and other Republicans conspired in 1980 to block release of 52 U.S. hostages in Iran and thus ensure Ronald Reagan’s election, an alleged gambit that bordered on treason itself.

In a speech in East Berlin in 1981 – just aired by the BBC – the Soviet double-agent Philby explained that for someone like himself born into what he called “the ruling class of the British Empire,” it was easy to simply “deny everything.” When evidence was presented against him, he simply had to keep his nerve and assert that it was all bogus. With his powerful connections, he knew that few would dare challenge him.

“Because I was born into the British governing class, because I knew a lot of people of an influential standing, I knew that they [his colleagues in Britain’s MI-6 spy agency] would never get too tough with me,” Philby told members of East Germany’s Stasi. “They’d never try to beat me up or knock me around, because if they had been proved wrong afterwards, I could have made a tremendous scandal.”

That’s why growing evidence and deepening suspicions of Philby’s treachery slid by while he continued spying for the Soviet Union. He finally disappeared in January 1961 and popped up several months later in Moscow, where he lived until his death in 1988.

Though the circumstances are obviously quite different, Philby’s recognition that his patrician birth and his powerful connections gave him extraordinary protections could apply to George H.W. Bush and his forceful denials of any role in the Iran-Contra scandal – he falsely claimed to be “out of the loop” – and also the October Surprise issue, whether the Reagan-Bush dealings with Iran began in 1980 with the obstruction of President Jimmy Carter’s negotiations to free 52 U.S. Embassy hostages seized by Iranian radicals on Nov. 4, 1979.

Carter’s failure to secure the hostages’ release before the U.S. election, which fell exactly one year later, doomed his reelection chances and cleared the way for Reagan and the Republicans to gain control of both the White House and the Senate. The hostages were only released after Reagan was sworn in as President on Jan. 20, 1981, and as Bush became Vice President.

We now know that soon after the Reagan-Bush inauguration, clandestine U.S.-approved arms shipments were making their way to Iran through Israel. An Argentine plane carrying one of the shipments crashed in July 1981 but the incriminating circumstances were covered up by Reagan’s State Department, according to then-Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East Nicholas Veliotes, who traced the origins of the arms deal back to the 1980 campaign.

This hard-to-believe reality – that the tough-guy Reagan-Bush administration was secretly shipping weapons to Iran after Tehran’s mullahs had humiliated the United States with the hostage crisis – remained a topic for only occasional Washington rumors until November 1986 when a Beirut newspaper published the first article describing another clandestine shipment. That story soon expanded into the Iran-Contra Affair because some of the arm sales profits were diverted to the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan Contra rebels.

For Bush, the emergence of this damaging scandal, which could have denied him his own shot at the White House, was time to test out his ability to “deny everything.” So, he denied knowing that the White House had been secretly running a Contra resupply operation in defiance of Congress, even though his office and top aides were in the middle of everything. Regarding the Iran arms deals, Bush insisted publicly he was “out of the loop.”

Behind closed doors where he ran the risk of perjury charges, Bush was more forthcoming. For instance, in non-public testimony to the FBI and the Iran-Contra prosecutor, “Bush acknowledged that he was regularly informed of events connected with the Iran arms sales.” [See Special Prosecutor’s Final Iran-Contra Report, p. 473]

But Bush’s public “out of the loop” storyline, more or less, held up going into the 1988 presidential election. The one time when he was directly challenged with detailed Iran-Contra questions was in a live, on-air confrontation with CBS News anchor Dan Rather on Jan. 25, 1988.

Instead of engaging in a straightforward discussion, Bush went on the offensive, lashing out at Rather for allegedly ambushing him with unexpected questions. Bush also recalled an embarrassing episode when Rather left his anchor chair vacant not anticipating the end of a tennis match which was preempting the news.

“How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set in New York?” Bush asked testily. “How would you like that?”

Fitting with Philby’s observation, Bush’s bluster won the day. Much of the elite U.S. media, including Newsweek where I was working at the time, sided with Bush and slammed Rather for his sometimes forceful questioning of the patrician Bush.

Having put Rather in his place and having put the Iran-Contra issue to rest – at least as far as the 1988 campaign was concerned – Bush went on to win the presidency. But the history still threatened to catch up with him.

October Surprise Mystery

The October Surprise case of 1980 was something of a prequel to the Iran-Contra Affair. It preceded the Iran-Contra events but surfaced publicly in the aftermath of the Iran-Contra disclosures. This earlier phase slowly came to light when it became clear that the U.S.-approved arms sales to Iran did not begin in 1985, as the official Iran-Contra story claimed, but years earlier, very soon after Reagan and Bush took office.

Also, in the wake of the Iran-Contra Affair, more and more witnesses surfaced describing this earlier phase of the scandal, eventually totaling about two dozen, including former Assistant Secretary of State Veliotes; former senior Iranian officials, such as President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr and Defense Minister Ahmad Madani; and intelligence operatives, such as Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe and a CIA-Iranian agent Jamshid Hashemi. Many of these witnesses were cited in a PBS documentary that I co-wrote in April 1991, entitled “The Election Held Hostage.”

After the documentary aired – and amid growing public interest – pressure built on Congress to open a new inquiry into this prequel, but President Bush made clear that his reaction would be to “deny everything.”

On May 3, 1991, at a White House press availability, Bush was asked about reports that he had traveled to Paris in October 1980 to personally seal the deal on having the 52 hostages released only after the election – as Israeli intelligence officer Ben-Menashe had described.

“Was I ever in Paris in October 1980?” a clearly annoyed Bush responded, repeating the question through pursed lips. “Definitely, definitely, no.”

Bush returned to the October Surprise topic five days later, his anger still clearly visible: “I can only say categorically that the allegations about me are grossly untrue, factually incorrect, bald-faced lies.”

Yet, despite Bush’s anger – and despite “debunking” attacks on the October Surprise story from the neoconservative New Republic and my then-former employers at Newsweek – the House and Senate each started investigations, albeit somewhat half-heartedly and with inadequate resources.

Still, the congressional October Surprise inquiries sent Bush’s White House into panic mode. The President, who was expecting to coast to reelection in 1992, saw the October Surprise issue – along with the continued Iran-Contra investigation by special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh – as threats to his retention of power.

By fall 1991, the Bush administration was pulling together documents from various federal agencies that might be relevant to the October Surprise inquiry. The idea was to concentrate the records in the hands of a few trusted officials in Washington. As part of that process, the White House was informed that there appeared to be confirmation of a key October Surprise allegation.

In a “memorandum for record” dated Nov. 4, 1991, Associate White House Counsel Paul Beach Jr. wrote that one document that had been unearthed was a record of Reagan’s campaign director William J. Casey traveling to Madrid, Spain, a potentially key corroboration of Jamshid Hashemi’s claim that Casey had met with senior Iranian emissary Mehdi Karrubi in Madrid in late July and again in mid-August 1980.

The U.S. Embassy in Madrid’s confirmation of Casey’s trip had gone to State Department legal adviser Edwin D. Williamson, who was responsible for assembling the State Department documents, according to the memo. Williamson passed on word to Beach, who wrote that Williamson said that among the State Department “material potentially relevant to the October Surprise allegations [was] a cable from the Madrid embassy indicating that Bill Casey was in town, for purposes unknown.”

The significance of this confirmation of Casey’s trip to Madrid can hardly be overstated. The influential October Surprise debunking stories – ballyhooed on the covers of Newsweek and The New Republic – hinged on their joint misreading of some attendance records at a London historical conference which they claimed proved Casey was there and thus could not have traveled to Madrid. That meant, according to the two magazines, that the CIA’s Iranian agent Jamshid Hashemi was lying about arranging Casey’s two meetings with Karrubi in Madrid.

In their double-barreled shoot-down of the October Surprise story, Newsweek and The New Republic created a Washington “group think,” which held that the October Surprise case was just a baseless “conspiracy theory.” But the two magazines were wrong.

I already knew that their analyses of the London attendance records were inaccurate. They also failed to interview key participants at the conference, including historian Robert Dallek who had looked for Casey and confirmed to me that Casey had skipped the key morning session on July 28, 1980.

But 1991 was pre-Internet, so it was next to impossible to counter the false reporting of Newsweek and The New Republic, especially given the powerful conventional wisdom that had taken shape against the October Surprise story.

Not wanting to shake that “group think,” Bush’s White House withheld news of the Williamson-Beach discovery of evidence of Casey’s trip to Madrid. That information was neither shared with the public nor the congressional investigators. Instead, a well-designed cover-up was organized and implemented.

The Cover-up Takes Shape

On Nov. 6, 1991, two days after the Beach memo, Beach’s boss, White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray, convened an inter-agency strategy session and explained the need to contain the congressional investigation into the October Surprise case. The explicit goal was to ensure the scandal would not hurt President Bush’s reelection hopes in 1992.

At the meeting, Gray laid out how to thwart the October Surprise inquiry, which was seen as a dangerous expansion of the Iran-Contra investigation where some of prosecutor Walsh’s investigators also were coming to suspect that the origins of the Reagan-Bush contacts with Iran traced back to the 1980 campaign.

The prospect that the two sets of allegations would merge into a single narrative represented a grave threat to George H.W. Bush’s political future. As assistant White House counsel Ronald vonLembke, put it, the White House goal in 1991 was to “kill/spike this story.” To achieve that result, the Republicans coordinated the counter-offensive through Gray’s office under the supervision of associate counsel Janet Rehnquist, the daughter of the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Gray explained the stakes at the White House strategy session. “Whatever form they ultimately take, the House and Senate ‘October Surprise’ investigations, like Iran-Contra, will involve interagency concerns and be of special interest to the President,” Gray declared, according to minutes. [Emphasis in original.]

Among “touchstones” cited by Gray were “No Surprises to the White House, and Maintain Ability to Respond to Leaks in Real Time. This is Partisan.” White House “talking points” on the October Surprise investigation urged restricting the inquiry to 1979-80 and imposing strict time limits for issuing any findings, the document said.

In other words, just as the Reagan administration had insisted on walling off the Iran-Contra investigation to a period from 1984-86, the Bush administration wanted to seal off the October Surprise investigation to 1979-80. That would ensure that the public would not see the two seemingly separate scandals as one truly ugly affair.

Meanwhile, as Bush’s White House frustrated the congressional inquiries with foot-dragging, slow-rolling and other obstructions, President Bush would occasionally lash out with invective against the October Surprise suspicions.

In late spring 1992, Bush raised the October Surprise issue at two news conferences, bringing the topic up himself. On June 4, 1992, Bush snapped at a reporter who asked whether an independent counsel was needed to investigate the administration’s pre-Persian Gulf War courtship of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

“I wonder whether they’re going to use the same prosecutors that are trying out there to see whether I was in Paris in 1980,” the clearly peeved President responded. “I mean, where are we going with the taxpayers’ money in this political year? I was not in Paris, and we did nothing illegal or wrong here” on Iraq.

At another news conference at the world environmental summit in Brazil, Bush brought up the October Surprise case again, calling the congressional inquiries “a witchhunt” and demanding that Congress clear him of having traveled to Paris.

Taking their cue from the President, House Republicans threatened to block continued funding for the inquiry unless the Democrats agreed that Bush had not gone to Paris. Although Bush’s alibi for the key weekend of Oct. 18-19, 1980, was shaky, with details from his Secret Service logs withheld and with supposedly corroborating witnesses contradicting each other, the Democrats agreed to give Bush what he wanted.

After letting Bush off the hook on Paris, the inquiry stumbled along inconclusively with the White House withholding key documents and keeping some key witnesses, such as Bush’s former national security adviser Donald Gregg, out of reach.

Perhaps more importantly, the Casey-Madrid information from Beach’s memo was never shared with Congress, according to House Task Force Chairman Lee Hamilton, who I interviewed about the missing material in 2013.

Whatever interest Congress had in the October Surprise case faded even more after Bush lost the 1992 election to Bill Clinton. There was a palpable sense around Official Washington that it would be wrong to pile on the defeated President. The thinking was that Bush (and Reagan) should be allowed to ride off into the sunset with their legacies intact.

So, even as more incriminating evidence arrived at the House task force in December 1992 and in January 1993 – including testimony from French intelligence chief Alexander deMarenches’s biographer confirming the Paris meeting and a report from Russia’s duma revealing that Soviet intelligence had monitored the Republican-Iranian contacts in 1980 – it was all cast aside. The task force simply decided there was “no credible evidence” to support the October Surprise allegations.

Trusting the Suspect

Beyond the disinclination of Hamilton and his investigators to aggressively pursue important leads, they operated with the naïve notion that President Bush, who was a prime suspect in the October Surprise case, would compile and turn over evidence that would prove his guilt and seal his political fate. Power at that level simply doesn’t work that way.

After discovering the Beach memo, I emailed a copy to Hamilton and discussed it with him by phone. The retired Indiana Democratic congressman responded that his task force was never informed that the White House had confirmation of Casey’s trip to Madrid.

“We found no evidence to confirm Casey’s trip to Madrid,” Hamilton told me. “The [Bush-41] White House did not notify us that he did make the trip. Should they have passed that on to us? They should have because they knew we were interested in that.”

Asked if knowledge that Casey had traveled to Madrid might have changed the task force’s dismissive October Surprise conclusion, Hamilton said yes, because the question of the Madrid trip was key to the task force’s investigation.

“If the White House knew that Casey was there, they certainly should have shared it with us,” Hamilton said. Hamilton added that “you have to rely on people” in authority to comply with information requests.

Therein, of course, lay the failure of the October Surprise investigation. Hamilton and his team were counting on President Bush and his team to bring all the evidence together in one place and then share it with Congress, when they were more likely to burn it.

Indeed, by having Bush’s White House gather together all the hard evidence that might have proved that Bush and Reagan engaged in an operation that bordered on treason, Hamilton’s investigation may have made it impossible for the historical mystery ever to be solved. There is a good chance that whatever documentary evidence there might have been doesn’t exist anymore.

After discovering the Beach memo, I contacted both Beach and Williamson, who insisted that they had no memory of the Casey-to-Madrid records. I also talked with Boyden Gray, who told me that he had no involvement in the October Surprise inquiry, although I had the minutes to the Nov. 6, 1991 meeting where he rallied Bush’s team to contain the investigation.

I also filed a Freedom of Information Act request to have the records of the U.S. Embassy in Madrid searched for the relevant cable or other documents regarding Casey’s trip, but the State Department said nothing could be found.

So, the question becomes: Did Bush’s loyal team collect all the raw documents in one place, not so they could be delivered to Congress, but rather so they could be removed from the historical record permanently, thus buttressing for all time the angry denials of George H.W. Bush?

Surely, someone as skilled in using power and influence as former President Bush (the elder) would need no advice from Kim Philby about how to use privilege and connections to shield one’s guilt. That, after all, is the sort of thing that comes naturally to those who are born to the right families, attend the right schools and belong to the right secret societies.

George H.W. Bush came from the bosom of the American ruling class at a time when it was rising to become the most intimidating force on earth. He was the grandson of a powerful Wall Street banker, the son of an influential senator, and a director of the Central Intelligence Agency. (Along the way, he attended Yale and belonged to Skull and Bones.)

Indeed, Poppy Bush could probably have given Kim Philby lessons on how to brush off suspicions and cover up wrongdoing. Still, Philby’s insight into how the powerful and well-connected can frustrate the investigations and questions of lesser citizens is worth recalling: “Deny everything.”

[For the newest compilation of evidence on the October Surprise case, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

[To watch a video interview with Robert Parry discussing this article, click here.]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).




The Reality of Robert Gates

Official Washington hails Robert Gates as one of its Wise Men and the former CIA director and defense secretary clearly concurs as he shows in his new book but the reality is far less complimentary, as ex-CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman describes.

By Melvin A. Goodman

Former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who served both Bush administrations as well as the Obama administration, has produced his third self-aggrandizing memoir. His most recent effort, A Passion for Leadership, is in the form of lessons learned, but there is no acknowledgement of any flaw or stumble, let alone mistake.

Gates writes, “A leader, or those who aspire to that role, regardless of whether in the public or the private sector, must have integrity.” Yet, in view of Gates’ emphasis on “integrity,” it’s useful to review his CIA career, particularly his relationship with CIA Director William Casey.

51O4NqR6XWL._SX340_BO1,204,203,200_

First, there is virtually no discussion of the fact that President Ronald Reagan nominated Gates to be the director of central intelligence in 1987, but his duplicity on the Iran-Contra scandal meant he could not be confirmed. After his appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. David Boren, the chairman of the committee, called Gates at home to report that too many members of the committee simply didn’t believe his denials of prior knowledge of the illegal Iran-Contra covert action (which involved secretly selling weapons to Iran with some proceeds going to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels).

Sen. Boren even called Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel investigating Iran-Contra, to ascertain whether Gates would be indicted. Walsh “doubted Gates’ veracity,” but said he would “probably not” be indicted. Walsh warned Boren, however, that there were still troubling areas indicating that Gates falsely denied knowledge of Colonel Oliver North’s Contra-support activities. North was Bill Casey’s “case officer” for Iran-Contra.

Walsh knew that Gates had been informed of the illegal “arms-for-profit deal,” but Gates continues to claim that he had been “kept in the dark” and doesn’t remember any conversations that gave him advance knowledge. Walsh’s report included ten pages on Gates, concluding that there was “insufficient evidence” to warrant charging Robert Gates with a crime. But the report noted that the “statements of Gates often seemed scripted and less than candid.”

In fact, it was Gates’ deputy, Dick Kerr, as well as a senior intelligence officer, Charlie Allen, who had access to sensitive documents and briefed Gates on the sale of missiles to Iran and the diversion of profits to the Contras. North even briefed Gates on the Swiss bank accounts where the money for the Contras was kept.

A veteran CIA operative, Tom Polgar, wrote many members of the committee to remind them about Gates’ role in Iran-Contra, and the “slanting of intelligence under the leadership of Casey and Gates.” Nevertheless, Gates still pretends to be an innocent bystander in the Iran-Contra crisis, although he was on center stage at an important decision-making juncture.

In his book, Gates contends that he “was no lawyer and didn’t even know if laws had been broken.” It was well known at the CIA that the sale of surface-to-air missiles to Iran was a violation of congressional law and that, in any event, the profits of covert sales had to be turned back to the U.S. Treasury.

Actually, Gates played a key role in developing a national intelligence estimate in 1985 that provided the intelligence justification for selling arms to Iran, and referred to the congressional investigations of Iran-Contra as “bureaucratic bullshit” that Casey was determined to evade.

Three decades later, Gates acknowledges that Casey “orchestrated” Iran-Contra “in league with the national security adviser.” During the hearings in 1991 and in his first memoir in 1996, Gates defended Casey throughout.

Even worse, Gates makes no mention of the fact that his confirmation as CIA director in 1991, when he was nominated for a second time, produced the most contentious and tumultuous vote on an intelligence official in the agency’s history. Gates dismissed the committee hearings as a “food fight,” but more than 30 senators voted against Gates, which was far greater than all votes for all previous directors.

In his memoir, Gates takes credit for his “self-discipline” in front of senators who “love to hear themselves talk,” and for “keeping silent in the face of outrageous speeches.” He goes on the attack only against the late Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, who not only voted against Gates, but read into the congressional record some of the more than 50 statements from CIA analysts who opposed Gates’s confirmation.

“The analytic product improved substantially” during my “four years” as deputy director of intelligence,” says Gates in 2016. This may be the most ludicrous aspect of Gates’s memoir.

As Senator Bill Bradley remarked in explaining his vote against Gates, the director of intelligence was wrong about every major intelligence issue that marked the 1980s and President Reagan’s two terms in office.

Former CIA Director Stansfield Turner wrote in Foreign Affairs that the “corporate view” of the CIA under Gates “missed by a mile” and that the United States should not “gloss over the enormity of this failure to forecast the magnitude of the Soviet crisis.”

There is no mention of Secretary of State George Shultz in the Gates’ memoir, presumably because Shultz’s memoir charged Gates with “manipulating” him and being “usually wrong” about the Soviet Union. The former secretary of state emphasized that he had been “misled, lied to, and cut out” by Casey and Gates.

I would only add that Gates was entirely wrong about Moscow and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, and he made sure that the CIA was wrong as well.

Two years after Shultz told Gates that “you have a big, powerful machine not under good control” and “I distrust what comes out of it,” Secretary of State James Baker had his own confrontation with Gates. Gates was giving speeches that undermined Baker’s policies, and the secretary threatened to go to President George H.W. Bush to stop Gates’s efforts.

National security adviser Brent Scowcroft got the message and turned off Gates’s polemics. Like Shultz, Baker is not mentioned in the memoir.

“At every level, a leader should strive to make his employees proud to be where they are and doing what they do,” says Gates in 2016.

In my 24 years at the CIA, there was never the kind of toxic atmosphere that existed when Gates served as deputy director for intelligence, deputy director of CIA, and finally director of CIA. Several Republican senators who supported Gates, including Warren Rudman and Intelligence Committee vice chairman Frank Murkowski, acknowledged Gates’s imperious manner in their statements.

Chairman Boren believed he had to make a personal commitment and “indeed the commitment of our entire committee” that “no action will be taken against [Gates’s critics] in a way that will disrupt or penalize their career advancement.”

Boren said he would hold Gates “accountable and carefully scrutinize his decisions and actions to ensure that needed changes are made.” Boren had no ability whatsoever to enforce such a commitment, and his colleagues on both sides of the aisle were nonplussed and chagrined that their chairman had gone out on the limb with a feckless gesture. Accordingly, nothing was done when some of Gates’s critics suffered professionally as a result of their sworn affidavits, including vindictive polygraph examinations.

Perhaps if the Senate had done its job in 1991 and rejected the Gates’s nomination as it was prepared to do in 1987 and if the Senate Intelligence Committee had pursued the warnings it received regarding politicization, then perhaps it would have been more difficult to politicize intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq War a decade later.

The Senate Intelligence Committee gave the benefit of the doubt to Bob Gates when it should have given the benefit to his critics. Unfortunately, there is no indication in A Passion for Leadership that Gates has learned any lessons from any of this.

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA, National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism,” and the forthcoming The Path to Dissent: A Whistleblower at CIA (City Lights Publishers, 2015).  Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.




Forgetting Reagan’s Worst Scandal

The mainstream U.S. media shies from direct criticism of conservative icon Ronald Reagan, so the history of the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages deal often gets forgotten even amid discussions about the U.S. policy against negotiating with terrorists, as Sam Husseini notes.

By Sam Husseini

Much of the media has been abuzz with President Barack Obama’s announcement that, as NBC put it: “the government will no longer threaten to criminally prosecute families of American hostages who pay ransom to get loved ones back from such groups as ISIS…”

The NBC report — and virtually every other report on this subject I’ve seen — have made no mention of when the U.S. government did pay for hostages in the Iran-Contra Affair. That’s when the Reagan administration sold arms to Iran in exchange for hostages and illegally used the funds for the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

An extreme example of media mis-reporting was Jake Tapper who claimed on Nov. 18, 2014: “It’s a policy the U.S. government has never wavered on. America does not negotiate with terrorists. You have heard them say that, but now the Obama administration is ordering a full review of how it does deal with hostage situations in light of recent criticism from families of Americans brutally murdered by ISIS terrorists.”

So, I tweeted to Tapper: “never wavered on negotiating for hostages? I guess Iran-Contra didn’t happen.”

He tweeted back: “good point, we should we have couched that” I responded: “No corrections on cable. Cause, 24-hour news.”

And indeed, no correction on was forthcoming. Because it’s not like CNN has a lot of time to fill to educate, especially younger viewers about what happened in Iran-Contra.

Particularly insidious is Tapper’s notion that he should have “couched that” differently. Firstly, it avoids acknowledging that what he said was false: “It’s a policy the U.S. government has never wavered on.” That’s just a brazen lie.

But in a subtle way, his response is even worse. Tapper is would seem, is tacitly blaming himself for not finessing the lie better. Perhaps he thinks it would be better had he said: “Administration after administration has declared they don’t negotiate with terrorists, but now, that policy is being reconsidered…”

This would fulfill the goal of creating a false impression while not being so oafish as to outright lie. And in some way, that’s what most of the media did on this story (and countless others) — create the impression that the U.S. has never traded for hostages without outright lying about it.

All this helps put Iran-Contra, one of the few instances when the machinations of policy were exposed to public scrutiny to at least some degree, further into the memory hole. Indeed, what’s called the Iran-Contra Affair helped bring some light on several insidious policies, including plans to outright suspend the U.S. Constitution.

Another deceitful aspect of this story is it further solidifies the “definition” of terrorist that’s commonly employed by major media being whoever the U.S. government says is a terrorist. These hypocrisies certainly include as FAIR and others have noted not calling Dylann Storm Roof a terrorist. But outside even that discussion is if the violence of the U.S. government and its allies shouldn’t be called terrorism.

Much is also lost by not understanding the dynamics around the Iran-Contra Affair — which involved the U.S. arming both Iran and Iraq while those two countries fought a bloody war. Dahlia Wasfi in her recent piece “Battling ISIS: Iran-Iraq war redux” points out that the U.S. government is in effect doing the same thing in the Mideast now — arming warring sides.

She writes: “Just as with Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, the people in the battlefields of Syria and Iraq pay the highest price. And just as was the case in the 1980s, the devastation of these countries serves U.S. and Israeli hegemony.”

Sam Husseini is communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy. Follow him on twitter: @samhusseini. [This story first appeared at Husseini’s blog.]




Jeb Bush’s Tangled Past

Special Report: As Jeb Bush prepares to announce his presidential candidacy, he’s mostly viewed as the smarter and less dangerous Bush brother, but he has his own tangled history of dubious business deals and unsavory associates, writes Chelsea Gilmour.

By Chelsea Gilmour

Making lots of money was very important to Jeb Bush. In 1983, he was famously quoted by a Miami News reporter saying, ”I’d like to be very wealthy, and I’ll be glad to let you know when I think I’ve reached my goal.” But the manner in which he has acquired his wealth, currently estimated between $8 million and $10 million, has raised many red flags and even allegations of wrongdoing.

Trading on his family name, Jeb Bush wove a spider’s web of business partners and deals based on family connections and (sometimes shadowy) business transactions. His associates ranged from Miami organized crime figures to Washington and Wall Street insiders. He experimented in various areas from real estate to international sales to investing in an NFL team.

By all accounts, Jeb Bush is a hard worker putting in long hours. But he is also a privileged individual whose success has its foundations in his family name. And his tangle of business affairs since 1974 is nothing if not entitled and convoluted.

Following graduation from the University of Texas at Austin in Latin American Studies in 1973, Jeb Bush went to work with the international division of the Texas Commerce Bank. As the St. Petersburg Times reported, an executive at the bank, James A. Baker III, was a close friend of Jeb’s father and would later run George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign before becoming the Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan and Secretary of State under Bush Sr.

Three years later the 24-year old Jeb was sent to oil-rich Caracas, Venezuela, to open a new operation of the bank, managing hundreds of millions of dollars. While there, he rubbed elbows with executives such as Lady Bird Johnson, the widow of President Lyndon Johnson, a director of the bank.

In 1979, Jeb Bush quit his banking job and moved his family back to the United States to help on his father’s presidential campaign. Though he worked as an unpaid volunteer on the campaign, he received some compensation for his time: he forged a robust network of political and business connections which would serve him well over the next decades in his self-proclaimed quest to make money.

After the 1980 election which made his father Vice President Jeb Bush moved to Miami, Florida, where he became involved in the business and political world of the city, dominated at the time by wealthy Cuban émigrés. Bush became associated with Armando Codina, a Cuban real-estate investor and Republican supporter of George H. W. Bush. Because of Codina’s personal affinity towards the Bushes, Codina offered Jeb a business partnership in his real-estate company.

With no prior real-estate experience and for no initial investment, Bush received 40 percent of the profits and had his name on the company, Codina Bush Group. In return, Codina got the prestige carried by the Bush family name. Their alliance would set Bush on track to build his wealth and business reputation.

By 1983, Bush had earned enough to start making small investments in the acquisition of properties with Codina. One of their first ventures was Museum Tower, located at 1390 Brickell Ave., on Miami’s “Banker’s Row.” Bush invested $1,000. By 1990 he sold out for about $346,000.

But the building proved to be a headache for Bush and Codina, as a third-party investor, who had borrowed over $4 million from a local savings and loan company, defaulted on the loan. A 1990 New York Times article describes how the savings institution became insolvent and eventually had to be bailed out by the federal government. Bush and Codina are quoted as being unaware that the funds for the $4 million repayment of the loan came from taxpayer money.

The Cuban Connection

Jeb Bush’s connections with other prominent Cuban-American businessmen and politicians in Miami before and during his Florida governorship are extensive. Some of these alliances have raised eyebrows and occasionally got him into trouble.

As the Guardian recounted from the 2002 book, Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana by Ann Louise Bardach, Jeb Bush, in 1984, “began a close association with Camilo Padreda, a former intelligence agent under the Batista dictatorship, overthrown by Fidel Castro. Jeb Bush was then the chairman of the Dade county Republican party and Padreda its finance chairman.” Later, Padreda would be convicted of “defrauding the housing and urban development department of millions of dollars during the 1980’s.”

In 1984, Bush was approached by Miguel Recarey Jr., the owner of International Medical Centers (IMC), a large health maintenance organization. The Tampa Bay Times described Recarey as a charming yet volatile personality who openly bragged about his connection to the crime boss Santo Trafficante Jr. Recarey allegedly approached Bush to help him acquire an office building, but received an additional bonus, numerous calls by Bush to Washington to request a waiver of Medicare rules that were threatening IMC’s profits.

Bush was paid $75,000 compensation for helping obtain a property. But sources told the St. Petersburg Times that it was repayment for Bush’s political help, as IMC never purchased a building shown by Codina-Bush and Recarey received his sought-after federal waiver. In addition, two months before Bush placed calls to Washington, “in September of 1984, the Dade County GOP received a $2000 contribution from IMC,” reported the Miami News.

Two years later, IMC was shut down because it was insolvent and Recarey was accused of stealing millions of government dollars, along with multiple charges of bribery and fraud against the government. The Miami News reported in 1991, “By the time the organization collapsed in mid-1987, IMC and Miguel Recarey were receiving a $30 million check from the federal government each month. In fact, IMC was the biggest Medicare fraud scheme in American history.”

Recarey fled the country and remains an international fugitive. According to a Tampa Bay Times article last March, Recarey has been working as a technology executive in Madrid, Spain.

There was another facet to the Bush-Recarey relationship, described by the Guardian via Bardach’s 2002 book on the Cuba-Miami link. “In 1985, Jeb Bush acted as a conduit on behalf of supporters of the Nicaraguan contras with his father, then the vice-president, and helped arrange for IMC to provide free medical treatment for the contras.”

The Miami News continued, “When the Iran-contra scandal began to break in October 1986, the CBS Evening News and the Herald quoted unnamed officials as saying that Jeb had served as his father’s chief point of contact with the contra rebels. Jeb’s denials were narrow. He did not deny being his father’s liaison to the contras, only that he had not participated ‘directly’ in the illegal contra resupply effort directed from the White House.”

Contra Ties

Robert Parry, who in the mid-1980s was an Associated Press reporter investigating the Reagan-Bush administration’s secret support for the Contras, confirms Jeb Bush’s association with Contra supporters operating out of Miami. Parry recalls that one Nicaraguan businessman with close ties to both Jeb Bush and the Contras told Parry that Jeb Bush was getting involved with a pro-Contra mercenary named Tom Posey, who was organizing groups of military advisers and weapons shipments.

In 1988, Posey was indicted along with several other individuals on charges of violating the Neutrality Act and firearms laws, charges that were dismissed in 1989 when a federal judge ruled that the United States was not at peace with Nicaragua.

Jeb Bush was also instrumental in helping Cuban-American politician Ileana Ros-Lehtinen get elected to Congress in 1989 when he became her campaign manager. Besides managing and handling strategy, Jeb helped raise funds, including imploring then-President George H.W. Bush to appear at a Miami fundraiser for the congressional hopeful.

President Bush was quoted as saying, “I am certain in my heart I will be the first American president to step foot on the soil of a free and independent Cuba.” Returning the favor now, Ros-Lehtinen has publicly endorsed Jeb Bush for the 2016 presidential election.

There is also the troubling history of the Bush family connection to the Cuban drug kingpin, Leonel Martinez, as reported by the Miami News. Martinez left Cuba following the communist overthrow to continue his capitalist ventures and eventually became one of the most successful cocaine and marijuana importers in Miami during the 1980s. He was also a generous benefactor of the Republican Party.

“Between 1984 and 1987, Martinez and his wife Margarita donated at least $14,200 to political organizations controlled by the Bush family,” including the Dade County GOP, of which Jeb became chairman in 1984, and the vice presidential campaign fund of George H.W. Bush. A photograph of Martinez and Bush Sr. shaking hands shows the value placed on Martinez’s contributions.

When Martinez was finally arrested in 1989 for possession of 300 kilos of cocaine he entered a plea deal. The Washington Post reported another layer of connection to the Bushes:

“Formal approval of the plea bargain had to be provided by Dexter Lehtinen, the top federal prosecutor in Miami — who owed his job to Jeb and George Bush. Lehtinen, a former Republican state legislator with little prosecutorial experience, is married to Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the congresswoman from Miami. In July 1990, while Leonel Martinez’s case was still under consideration by Lehtinen’s office, his wife’s campaign received a $500 campaign contribution from Margarita Martinez, Leonel’s wife.”

The Post continued that, while it is not assumed the Bushes were aware of the source of Martinez’s money during the 1980s, the connection was troubling at a time when Vice President George H.W. Bush was head of the federal anti-drug task force. The Bushes also did not attempt to return any of the money contributed by Martinez after they learned of its source.

Jeb Bush was integral, too, in securing a number of “pardons” of Cubans involved in terrorist acts. One example was his intervention to help release Cuban terrorist Orlando Bosch from prison and grant him U.S. residency. A notorious right-wing Cuban terrorist, Bosch was convicted of firing a rocket at a Polish ship en route to Cuba and was implicated in many other acts of terrorism, including the 1976 mid-air bombing of a Cubana Airlines plane, killing 73 civilians.

The Cubana Airlines bombing and several other major acts of right-wing Cuban terrorism occurred while George H.W. Bush was CIA director and was working closely with anti-communist Cuban exiles employed by the CIA, including Felix Rodriguez, a close associate of Bosch’s alleged co-conspirator in the Cubana bombing Luis Posada Carriles.

In its 2002 review of Bardach’s book, The Guardian wrote, “Bosch’s release, often referred to in the US media as a pardon, was the result of pressure brought by hardline Cubans in Miami, with Jeb Bush serving as their point man.” And, in July 2002, while Jeb Bush was Florida’s governor, he “nominated Raoul Cantero, the grandson of Batista, as a Florida supreme court judge despite his lack of experience. Mr Cantero had previously represented Bosch and acted as his spokesman, once describing Bosch on Miami radio as a ‘great Cuban patriot’.”

During George W. Bush’s presidency, “[o]ther Cuban exiles involved in terrorist acts, Jose Dionisio Suarez and Virgilio Paz Romero, who carried out the 1976 assassination of the Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier in Washington, [were also] released.”

In addition to the release of convicted Cuban terrorists, according to the Guardian, Bardach’s book suggests, “[t]he Bush family has also accommodated the demands of Cuban exile hardliners in exchange for electoral and financial support.” George W. Bush’s presidential adviser Karl Rove “‘has urged him to fully accommodate hardliners in return for electoral victories for both his brother and himself’, Bardach’s book says. For their help, many hardline Cuban-Americans have received plum jobs in the current administration.”

Swiss Bank

The Saint Petersburg Times reported that from 1986 to 1987 Bush sat on the board of the Private Bank and Trust, a secretive, Swiss-owned institution that managed wealthy foreigner customers’ investments for a fee. In 1991, the bank was shut down by federal regulators for “making investments contrary to client instructions and putting funds in companies affiliated with or managed by the bank.”

Bush denied any knowledge of nefarious financial activity while he was there. Yet rumors of the bank’s clientele included Latin American drug cartel leaders, presidents, generals and manufacturing oligarchs, which deepen suspicions of Bush’s connection to illicit dealings in Latin America, highlighted by his support of the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980s.

In 1987, Bush became Florida’s secretary of commerce through an appointment by Gov. Bob Martinez (no relation to Leonel). Martinez was helped in his election bid by the Dade County Republican Party of which Bush was chairman from 1984 to 1994. Bush left the state position after a year to help with his father’s presidential campaign, but during his short-lived tenure as commerce secretary, he furthered his network of business and political connections.

One such connection was businessman David Eller, a Republican fundraiser and owner of MWI Corp., a water pump company. In 1988, Bush and Eller formed Bush-El. Corp. to market and sell water pumps internationally through MWI, most notably in Nigeria. According to the St. Petersburg Times, over the next few years Bush invested no money in the company yet made nearly $650,000. Eller later donated large sums to the Florida GOP and Bush’s gubernatorial campaign.

Again, a legal controversy marred Jeb Bush’s mix of politics and business. The federal government brought a lawsuit against MWI alleging fraud and bribery. The lawsuit involved the sale of water pumps to Nigeria, with a $74 million loan from the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

Originally, Bush had been enlisted to secure loans from Nigerian banks but, when the loans fell through, MWI turned to the federal government’s Ex-Im Bank. Bush asserts he stopped working on the transaction at this point, because it conflicted with his own rule not to work with U.S. government agencies. But the New York Times revealed Bush continued to be involved in the deal.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, “The government contends that in applying for Ex-Im loans, MWI fraudulently concealed that the deal would include a ‘highly irregular’ $28 million in commissions for the company’s Nigerian sales agent. The Justice Department argues Ex-Im never would have approved the deal had Ex-Im known of that payment.”

The government alleged that Mohammed Indimi, the recipient of the sales commission, had used the money to pay bribes. According to Forbes, by 2014 Indimi was the 37th richest man in Africa as the founder of a privately held oil exploration and production company.

Bush, Eller and MWI denied any wrongdoing by Bush or special benefits bestowed by his connections. Bush called it “patently absurd” to suggest he played a part in securing Ex-Im loans. But the deal prompted lingering questions about Bush’s use of familial influence and was referenced disparagingly by opponents in his gubernatorial bids. It may cause further allegations of cronyism and unlawful dealing in his 2016 presidential campaign.

The Lawless Link

In 1989, Bush began a series of real-estate ventures with another acquaintance, Richard Lawless, a former CIA officer who supposedly helped secure the release of American hostages in Lebanon in 1988 under Vice President George Bush. As reported by the St. Petersburg Times, during Jeb Bush’s term as state commerce secretary, “Lawless’s consulting firm — U.S. Asia Commercial Development Corp. — won a state contract worth $160,000 to promote Florida exports in Asia.”

Later, Bush and Lawless sought to sell property to wealthy foreign investors. Bush was paid by Lawless to find properties. Bush formed, among a number of other private companies, Uno and Uno Dos as “investment vehicles for different deals.” Lawless formed U.S. Asia Florida and a number of similarly named companies.

The Bush-Lawless connection raised more troubling questions about Jeb Bush’s merger of his business dealings with his father’s connections from the intelligence world. In 1988, the New York Times reported that in the aftermath of the Iran-Contra scandal, which involved secret sales of weapons to Iran with some profits diverted to support the Contra war in Nicaragua, more secret contacts with Iran may have continued involving an intermediary representing Vice President Bush in efforts to gain the release of American hostages in Lebanon. According to former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, that intermediary was Richard Lawless.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said: ”There is a fellow named Lawless. He is over there. What he’s up to, nobody knows. But he doesn’t represent the United States. . . . He does not represent the Vice President or the President or anybody else.”

But the Times reported that Lawless “had worked in the operations directorate of the Central Intelligence Agency until several years ago [and] that Mr. Lawless had served in the United States Embassy in South Korea in the years when Donald P. Gregg had been the C.I.A. station chief there. Mr. Gregg is now the national security adviser to Mr. Bush.” Lawless denied contacting Iran as part of a hostage deal on behalf of Vice President George Bush.

The Petway Tie

From 1989 to 1994, Bush was involved in other business dealings that were called into question. One deal, described by the St. Petersburg Times, was a 1993 investment in the soon-to-be NFL team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, through an acquaintance from his secretary of commerce days, Thomas Petway III. Petway, a Republican fundraiser, had worked on Jeb Bush’s gubernatorial campaign finance committee and would later become the co-chairman of President George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign in Florida.

The Jaguar transaction produced another lawsuit, asserting Petway had pushed aside investors in favor of Bush, whom he offered special monetary rewards. The St. Petersburg Times reported, Bush “sold his Jaguars stake back to the ownership group in June 1997. ‘I just told them to pay me back for what I put in,’ Bush said. The transaction netted Bush a taxable gain of about $58,000.”

The Jacksonville Jaguars deal wasn’t Bush’s only profit from the association with Petway. In 1995, Petway facilitated a meeting between Bush and Paul Kahn, owner of Ideon Corp., a company that sold credit card protection services. Bush was offered $50,000 a year to become a board member, plus stock options. It was not their first meeting, as Kahn had held a fundraiser for Bush’s unsuccessful 1994 gubernatorial campaign.

But it became apparent that Ideon was in trouble; Kahn proved to be an inept owner and the company suffered huge losses. He left the company in 1996. According to the St. Petersburg Times, “Bush and the seven other directors agreed to sell Ideon to CUC International. Lawsuits filed against the Ideon board for stock manipulation and weak oversight were settled early [in 1998] for $15-million, all paid by CUC.”

In 1990, Bush and partner Armando Codina tried their hand in a new area of business when they purchased a shoe-importing business called Oriental Trading Corp. The intention was to sell the shoes to small stores using credit, but the venture broke down when lenders would no longer issue credit to the company. The investor group cashed out in 1993 and Bush, after investing $100,000, walked away with a net profit of $244,000.

One of Bush’s biggest real estate deals was the sale of IBM’s Boca Raton office park in 1996. The St. Petersburg Times reported the massive complex consisted of 2-million square feet of space sprawling on 565 acres of land with an assessed value of $100 million. In 1997, it was sold at $46.1 million, less than half the assessed value, to Blue Lake Ltd., a Florida company that included Republican fundraiser Mark Guzzetta. Jeb Bush had been best man at Guzzetta’s wedding and Guzzetta became finance co-chairman of Bush’s 1998 gubernatorial campaign.

The Lehman Link

Bush was elected Governor of Florida in 1998 and served two consecutive terms. When he left the Governor’s office in 2007, his wealth had diminished from $2 million to $1.3 million. He began working to restore his finances and started by creating two consulting firms, Jeb Bush and Associates, with his son Jeb Bush Jr., and Britton Hill Partners LLC.

Jeb Bush became a paid consultant for banking giant Lehman Brothers (later Barclay’s) and joined the board of a number of companies, receiving sizeable salaries with each appointment. Bush’s post-governorship business relations included a larger network of partners yet were no less convoluted and problematic than his earlier dealings.

The New York Times noted last year that in board fees and stock grants from publicly traded companies, Jeb Bush earned $3.2 million. At one time, he sat on the board of six different companies. His work as a consultant with Lehman Brothers and Barclay’s generated millions of dollars. And additionally Bush received handsome compensation from his numerous speeches and public appearances. According to the Times, he received an average of $50,000 per speech, delivering more than 100 speeches since 2007.

In 2007, Bush joined Lehman Brothers, the global financial services company, as a paid consultant to its private equity business. A year later, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, touching off the 2008 financial crash that led to massive bank bailouts from the federal government and cost the jobs of millions of Americans. But Bush was not among them.

Barclay’s, the British multinational bank and financial services company, purchased Lehman Brothers’ North America Division and Bush shifted to Barclay’s payroll for an excess of $1 million a year until he left the company at the end of 2014.

Jeb Bush also joined the board of directors of Tenet Healthcare Corp. in April 2007. Though himself a strong critic of the Affordable Care Act, Bush’s relationship with Tenet, which enthusiastically supported the legislation and is estimated to receive up to $100 million in new revenue from the Act, has proved rewarding.

A Securities and Exchange Commission filing from 2014, published by ThinkProgress.com, notes Jeb Bush’s total income from Tenet for the year as $298,500, with $128,500 in fees and $170,000 in stock awards. The New York Times notes that Bush has earned more than $2 million from his tenure as a board member at Tenet.

But Tenet has had its share of problems, too. A ThinkProgress link to the Journal Enquirer of Connecticut estimated in 2013 that Tenet “has paid more than $1 billion over the last decade to settle a series of fraud, overbilling, kickback, and other allegations by its biggest customer: the federal government. Tenet Healthcare Corp. also agreed to pay more than half as much, $641 million, to settle hundreds of civil lawsuits as well as an additional $80 million to pay back taxes after an IRS audit.”

The article also notes that in September 2003, U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley observed, “Tenet appears to be a corporation that is ethically and morally bankrupt.” Grassley wrote in a letter that “in the annals of corporate fraud, Tenet (formerly National Medical Enterprises) more than holds its own among the worst corporate wrongdoers.” Bush resigned from Tenet on Dec. 31, 2014, to focus on the 2016 presidential elections.

An Investor Scheme

In November 2007, Bush began work with InnoVida Holdings, a manufacturer of building materials, which was owned by Claudio Osorio, a Miami businessman whose previous company, CHS Electronics, ended in bankruptcy in 2001, according to the South Florida Business Journal. The 2007 contract between Jeb Bush and Associates and InnoVida agreed to pay Bush $15,000 a month plus reasonable expenses as a member of the board of directors. From 2007 to 2010 Jeb Bush and Associates were paid a total of $468,901.

Bush left the company in 2010 and the following year InnoVida filed for bankruptcy protection. In 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged InnoVida and Osorio with “defrauding investors in an offering fraud scheme” and Osorio ultimately pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money-laundering. Court records published by Thinkprogress.org show that in 2013, Jeb repaid $270,000 to InnoVida creditors “in order to avoid the expense and uncertainty of litigation and to enhance the funds payable to creditors.”

Bush joined the board of Swisher Hygiene in 2010, at a time when company executives acknowledged their “financial statements were unreliable and their accounting practices were inadequate” reported the New York Times. This caused stock prices to drop dramatically and shareholders to file lawsuits against Bush and his colleagues.

The documents of one lawsuit, which named Bush, accused the defendants of “sustained and systematic failure to exercise their oversight responsibilities,” and was combined with other lawsuits, prompting Swisher Hygiene to agree “to a class-action settlement, with no admission of fault,” according to ThinkProgress.com.

Britton Hill Partners was formed in 2008, but information didn’t emerge regarding the company until 2013, when a filing was made to the Securities and Exchange Commission under a law requiring a company to file a notice after managing more than $100 million.

As reported by Bloomberg News, the company was known as Britton Hill Holdings by 2013 and its board consisted of Bush and three other associates: two former employees of Swiss-based international bank Credit Suisse, David Savett and Ross Rodrigues, who worked in natural gas trading and leveraged finance, respectively, and one former banker from Lehman Brothers, Amar Bajpai.

A jumble of private equity funds and investors emerged after Britton Hill Holdings made their 2013 SEC filing. Bloomberg News reported that in addition to the original Florida based company were at least three other private equity funds: BH Logistics, BH Global Aviation Holdings based in Delaware, and BH Global Aviation in the United Kingdom, whose location essentially served as a tax-haven since the U.K. eliminated taxes on income earned outside the country. There are also at least eight limited partners involved in the Britton Hill funds, including former cronies from Bush’s days as governor and private equity funds based in China.

The funds generally invest in energy production and exploration and aviation technology. Two instances of corporate nepotism emerged by which Britton Hill partners were subsequently named to the board of the companies they had invested in. As outlined by Bloomberg News, these companies are Inflection Energy and Dorian LPG. After BH Global Aviation Holdings invested in Inflection Energy, a company exploring for natural gas in the Appalachian mountain range, Inflection named Bajpai to its board of directors. Later, David Savett was named to the board of Dorian LPG, a liquid petroleum gas shipping company, after BH Logistics bought 1.4 million shares of the company.

Over the past two years Jeb Bush’s business activity through the Britton Hill companies ramped up significantly, with the companies securing large investments from numerous financers. This whirlwind of activity has provoked questions regarding Bush’s presidential campaign strategy, as one would normally be pulling out of such business ventures before running for office, rather than getting more deeply involved. Holding a leadership role in such a variety of investments could raise issues of conflicts of interest.

White House Beckons

Jeb Bush’s litany of troubling business ventures and roster of dubious partners have prompted a number of unanswered questions. One puzzle is how he manages to repeatedly get involved with corrupt and/or soon-to-be defunct companies and then pulls out just before a lawsuit is brought against the company. Or how he has largely avoided legal liability over allegations of corporate malfeasance.

Also, how involved was he in the Iran-Contra affair through his various associations in Miami, including right-wing Cuban exiles such as Bosch associate Luis Posada, who worked closely on the Contra war with former CIA officer Felix Rodriguez, who, in turn, was in frequent contact with Donald Gregg, Vice President George H.W. Bush’s  national security adviser?

Other Bush business crossovers to that scandal include Miguel Recarey Jr. and Richard Lawless. And if Bush was willing to bend the rules and call in political favors for his (sometimes less-than-esteemed) business associates in the past, what’s to stop him from doing the same if he reaches the White House?

The Washington Post reported, “Bush has spoken openly about his business experience while visiting early primary states, telling potential supporters that despite his years in politics, he’s also ‘signed the front side of a paycheck.’ He uses the line to suggest that his business experience makes him a rarity among the field of potential presidential candidates.”

But his business dealings might also have a downside for his 2016 presidential bid as he tries to maintain the shroud of secrecy that has surrounded them so far. Bush may face problems as Mitt Romney did during the 2012 campaign regarding his private equity funds, as Bloomberg News suggested last year. Bush’s business connections and investors, including his recent multi-million dollar deals with Chinese companies, may be dissected.

But one thing is certain: old alliances and family connections will continue to serve Bush in the future as he taps into the network of donors and political operatives who served his father and brother in their presidential elections. He also is turning to his own network of supporters.

The Wall Street Journal reported Bush is enlisting the help of past associates to lead his finance and fundraising teams for a presidential bid, including Thomas Petway, Mark Guzzetta and Armando Codina. And the Washington Post showed that, despite repeated assertions of being his “own man,” 19 of the 21 campaign foreign policy advisers to Jeb Bush worked in his father and/or brother’s administration.

Chelsea Gilmour is an assistant editor at Consortiumnews.com. She has previously published “The Mystery of the Civil War’s Camp Casey.”




Reagan-Bush Ties to Iran-Hostage Crisis

Exclusive: The Senate wants to block Iran’s new UN ambassador because he was linked to the Iran hostage crisis 35 years ago, but that standard would strip honors from Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, implicated in extending the hostage crisis to win the 1980 election, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

U.S. government officials are in high dudgeon again this time over Iran’s audacity in naming an ambassador to the United Nations who allegedly played a minor role in the 1979-81 crisis in which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days in Iran. But the same U.S. officials ignore the now overwhelming evidence that Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush helped extend the hostages’ suffering to gain an edge in the 1980 election.

The double standard getting worked up over the allegations about Iranian Ambassador Hamid Aboutalebi and going silent over the evidence implicating Reagan and Bush is just the latest in a long series of examples of the U.S. government’s hypocrisy.

Indeed, one might think that the near treasonous behavior of Reagan and Bush was more objectionable than whatever Aboutalebi did as a young man in Tehran. He has denied direct participation in the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 though he apparently provided some assistance with translations and negotiations. Aboutalebi is now a close adviser to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and has served as Iranian ambassador to Belgium, Italy, Australia and the European Union.

It is rare for the United States to block an ambassador to the United Nations, which is located in New York City, but Aboutalebi’s selection has become the latest excuse for congressional hardliners to throw a wrench into negotiations aimed at limiting but not eliminating Iran’s nuclear program. On Monday, the U.S. Senate passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to deny Aboutalebi a visa for entering the United States. Following the Senate’s lead, the Obama administration also has criticized the nomination.

The irony, however, is that Cruz and pretty much every leading Republican model themselves after President Reagan whose election in 1980 now appears to have been aided by his campaign’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering to frustrate President Jimmy Carter’s negotiations to gain the hostages’ freedom. Those talks broke down in October 1980 and the hostages were only freed after Reagan was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 1981.

Reagan’s purported “October Surprise” operation to torpedo Carter’s hoped-for success in getting the hostages out before the Nov. 4, 1980, election would have made the Republican icon a much bigger villain in the hostages’ ordeal than Aboutalebi. George H.W. Bush, who was Reagan’s running mate in 1980, was also implicated in the sabotage operation.

Mounting Evidence

The evidence of this Republican skullduggery has been building for more than three decades, with the 1980 contacts between the Reagan team and radical Iranians appearing to be the opening chapter of the Iran-Contra saga of 1985-86, which also involved secret contacts and the trading of arms for hostages.

Both operations also were shielded by aggressive Republican cover-ups that extended from 1986 to 1993, although congressional and government investigators did a much better job in excavating the Iran-Contra secrets than they did with the October Surprise case. It wasn’t until last June that Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Indiana, who headed both congressional inquiries, admitted that he had been misled about key October Surprise evidence.

In a phone interview, the retired Indiana Democrat responded to a document that I had e-mailed him revealing that in 1991 a deputy White House counsel working for then-President George H.W. Bush was notified by the State Department that Reagan’s campaign director William Casey had taken a trip to Madrid in relation to the so-called October Surprise issue.

Casey’s alleged trip to Madrid in 1980 had been at the center of Hamilton’s investigation in 1991-92 into whether Reagan’s campaign went behind Carter’s back to frustrate his hostage negotiations. In early 1993, Hamilton’s task force dismissed the allegations after concluding that Casey had not traveled to Madrid.

“We found no evidence to confirm Casey’s trip to Madrid,” Hamilton told me. “We couldn’t show that. The [Bush-41] White House did not notify us that he did make the trip. Should they have passed that on to us? They should have because they knew we were interested in that.”

Asked if knowledge that Casey had traveled to Madrid might have changed the task force’s dismissive October Surprise conclusion, Hamilton said yes, because the question of the Madrid trip was key to the task force’s investigation. “If the White House knew that Casey was there, they certainly should have shared it with us,” Hamilton said, adding that “you have to rely on people” in authority to comply with information requests.

The document revealing White House knowledge of Casey’s Madrid trip was among records released to me by the archivists at the George H.W. Bush library in College Station, Texas. The U.S. Embassy’s confirmation of Casey’s trip was passed along by State Department legal adviser Edwin D. Williamson to Associate White House Counsel Chester Paul Beach Jr. in early November 1991, just as the October Surprise inquiry was taking shape.

Williamson said that among the State Department “material potentially relevant to the October Surprise allegations [was] a cable from the Madrid embassy indicating that Bill Casey was in town, for purposes unknown,” Beach noted in a “memorandum for record” dated Nov. 4, 1991.

Organizing the Cover-up

Two days later, on Nov. 6, Beach’s boss, White House counsel C. Boyden Gray, arranged an inter-agency strategy session and explained the need to contain the congressional investigation into the October Surprise case. The explicit goal was to ensure the scandal would not hurt President Bush’s reelection hopes in 1992.

At the meeting, Gray laid out how to thwart the October Surprise inquiry, which was seen as a dangerous expansion of the Iran-Contra investigation, which Rep. Hamilton had co-chaired when the scandal was reviewed by Congress in 1987. A parallel criminal investigation by special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh was continuing in 1991 and some of his investigators were coming to suspect that the origins of Iran-Contra contacts with Iran traced back to Reagan’s 1980 campaign.

Up to that point, Iran-Contra had focused on illicit arms-for-hostage sales to Iran that President Reagan authorized in 1985-86. However, some October Surprise witnesses were claiming that the framework for Reagan’s secret arms shipments to Iran, usually through Israel, took shape during the 1980 campaign.

The prospect that the two sets of allegations would merge into a single narrative represented a grave threat to George H.W. Bush’s reelection campaign. As assistant White House counsel Ronald vonLembke, put it, the White House goal in 1991 was to “kill/spike this story.” To achieve that result, the Republicans coordinated the counter-offensive through Gray’s office under the supervision of associate counsel Janet Rehnquist, the daughter of the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Gray explained the stakes at the White House strategy session. “Whatever form they ultimately take, the House and Senate ‘October Surprise’ investigations, like Iran-Contra, will involve interagency concerns and be of special interest to the President,” Gray declared, according to minutes. [Emphasis in original.]

Among “touchstones” cited by Gray were “No Surprises to the White House, and Maintain Ability to Respond to Leaks in Real Time. This is Partisan.” White House “talking points” on the October Surprise investigation urged restricting the inquiry to 1979-80 and imposing strict time limits for issuing any findings, according to the document said.

But the key to understanding the October Surprise case was that it appeared to be a prequel to the Iran-Contra scandal, part of the same storyline beginning with the 1980 crisis over 52 American hostages held in Iran, continuing through their release immediately after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 1981, then followed by mysterious U.S. government approval of secret arms shipments to Iran via Israel in 1981, and ultimately morphing into the Iran-Contra Affair of more arms-for-hostage deals with Iran until that scandal exploded in 1986. [For more on the scandal and cover-up, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

Getting Some Help

Though Beach’s memo in November 1991 revealed the Bush-41 administration’s knowledge of the Casey trip to Madrid in 1980, the Republican cover-up was aided immensely that month by Newsweek and The New Republic, which published matching stories on their covers claiming to have debunked the October Surprise allegations by proving that Casey could not have made the trip to Madrid.

Despite knowing the falsity of those magazine articles, Bush’s White House made no effort to correct the record or to inform congressional investigators. Yet, even without Beach’s memo, there was solid evidence at the time disproving the Newsweek/New Republic debunking articles. Both magazines had sloppily misread attendance records at a London historical conference that Casey had attended on July 28, 1980, the time frame when Iranian businessman (and CIA agent) Jamshid Hashemi had placed Casey in Madrid for a secret meeting with Iranian emissary Mehdi Karrubi.

The two magazines insisted that the attendance records showed Casey in London for a morning session of the conference, thus negating the possibility that he could have made a side trip to Madrid. But the magazines had failed to do the necessary follow-up interviews, which would have revealed that Casey was not at the morning session on July 28. He didn’t arrive until that afternoon, leaving the “window” open for Hashemi’s account.

At PBS “Frontline,” where I was involved in the October Surprise investigation, we talked to Americans and others who had participated in the London conference. Most significantly, we interviewed historian Robert Dallek who gave that morning’s presentation to a small gathering of attendees sitting in a conference room at the British Imperial War Museum.

Dallek said he had been excited to learn that Casey, who was running Reagan’s presidential campaign, would be there. So, Dallek looked for Casey, only to be disappointed that Casey was a no-show. Other Americans also recalled Casey arriving later and the records actually indicate Casey showing up for the afternoon session.

In other words, the high-profile Newsweek-New Republic debunking of the October Surprise story had itself been debunked. However, typical of the arrogance of those publications and our inability to draw attention to their major screw-up the magazines never acknowledged their gross error.

Worse Than a Mistake

I later learned that the journalistic malfeasance at Newsweek was even worse than sloppiness. Journalist Craig Unger, who had been hired by Newsweek to work on the October Surprise story, told me that he had spotted the misreading of the attendance records before Newsweek published its article. Unger said he alerted the investigative team, which was personally headed by executive editor Maynard Parker.

“They told me, essentially, to fuck off,” Unger said.

During my years at Newsweek, from 1987-90, Parker had been my chief nemesis. He was considered close to prominent neocons, including Iran-Contra figure Elliott Abrams, and to Establishment Republicans, such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Parker also was a member of banker David Rockefeller’s Council on Foreign Relations, and viewed the Iran-Contra scandal as something best shut down quickly. Jumping to a false conclusion that would protect his influential friends would fit perfectly with what I knew of Parker.

The false articles in Newsweek and The New Republic gave the White House cover-up a key advantage: Washington’s conventional wisdom crowd now assumed that the October Surprise allegations were bogus. All that was necessary was to make sure no hard evidence to the contrary, such as the U.S. Embassy’s confirmation of a mysterious Casey trip to Madrid, reached the congressional investigation.

A big part of the Bush-41 cover-up was to run out the clock on Hamilton’s inquiry, which was only authorized through the end of the congressional session in early January 1993. Delays of document production and evasion of a subpoena would prove crucial.

For instance, on May 14, 1992, a CIA official ran proposed language past associate White House counsel Janet Rehnquist from then-CIA Director Robert Gates regarding the agency’s level of cooperation with Congress. By that point, the CIA, under Gates, was already months into a pattern of foot-dragging on congressional document requests.

Bush had put Gates, who was also implicated in the October Surprise case, at the CIA’s helm in fall 1991, meaning that Gates was well-positioned to stymie congressional requests for sensitive information about secret initiatives involving Bush, Gates and Donald Gregg, another CIA veteran who was linked to the scandal.

The records at the Bush library revealed that Gates and Gregg, indeed, were targets of the congressional October Surprise probe. On May 26, 1992, Rep. Hamilton wrote to the CIA asking for records regarding the whereabouts of Gregg and Gates from Jan. 1, 1980, through Jan. 31, 1981, including travel plans and leaves of absence.

The persistent document-production delays finally drew a complaint from Lawrence Barcella, chief counsel to the House task force who wrote to the CIA on June 9, 1992, that the agency had not been responsive to three requests on Sept. 20, 1991; April 20, 1992; and May 26, 1992.

A History of Lies

Gregg and Gates also were implicated in the broader the Iran-Contra scandal. Both were suspected of lying about their knowledge of secret sales of military hardware to Iran and clandestine delivery of weapons to Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

An ex-CIA director himself, Bush also had been caught lying in the Iran-Contra scandal when he insisted that a plane shot down over Nicaragua in 1986 while dropping weapons to the Contras had no connection to the U.S. government (when the weapons delivery had been organized by operatives close to Bush’s vice presidential office where Gregg served as national security adviser).

And, Bush falsely claimed that he was out of the “loop” on Iran-Contra decisions when later evidence showed that he was a major participant in the discussions. From the Bush library documents, it was apparent that the October Surprise cover-up was essentially an extension of the broader Republican effort to contain the Iran-Contra scandal, with Bush personally involved in orchestrating both efforts.

For instance, Iran-Contra special prosecutor Walsh discovered in December 1992 that Bush’s White House counsel’s office, under Boyden Gray, had delayed production of Bush’s personal notes about the arms shipments to Iran in the 1985-86 time frame. Though Gray’s office insisted that the delay was unintentional, Walsh didn’t buy it.

Beyond dragging its heels on producing documents, the Bush administration maneuvered to keep key witnesses out of timely reach of the investigators. For instance, Gregg used his stationing as U.S. Ambassador to South Korea in 1992 to evade a congressional subpoena.

Like Gates and Bush, Gregg had been linked to secret meetings with Iranians during the 1980 campaign. When asked about those allegations by FBI polygraph operators working for Iran-Contra prosecutor Walsh, Gregg was judged to be deceptive in his denials. [See Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters, Vol. I, p. 501]

Dodging a Subpoena

And, when it came to answering questions from Congress about the October Surprise matter, Gregg found excuses not to accept service of a subpoena.

In a June 18, 1992, cable from the U.S. Embassy in Seoul to the State Department in Washington, Gregg wrote that he had learned that Senate investigators had “attempted to subpoena me to appear on 24 June in connection with their so-called ‘October Surprise’ investigation. The subpoena was sent to my lawyer, Judah Best, who returned it to the committee since he had no authority to accept service of a subpoena.

“If the October Surprise investigation contacts the [State] Department, I request that you tell them of my intention to cooperate fully when I return to the States, probably in September. Any other inquiries should be referred to my lawyer, Judah Best. Mr. Best asks that I specifically request you not to accept service of a subpoena if the committee attempts to deliver one to you.”

That way Gregg ensured that he was not legally compelled to testify while running out the clock on the Senate inquiry and leaving little time for the House task force. His strategy of delay was endorsed by Janet Rehnquist after a meeting with Best and a State Department lawyer. In a June 24, 1992, letter to Gray, Rehnquist wrote that “at your direction, I have looked into whether Don Gregg should return to Washington to testify before the Senate Subcommittee hearings next week. I believe we should NOT request that Gregg testify next week.”

The failure to effect service of the subpoena gave the Bush team an advantage, Rehnquist noted, because the Senate investigators then relented and merely “submitted written questions to Gregg, through counsel, in lieu of an appearance. . This development provides us an opportunity to manage Gregg’s participation in October Surprise long distance.” Rehnquist added hopefully that by the end of September 1992 “the issue may, by that time, even be dead for all practical purposes.”

Asked about this strategy of delay, Hamilton told me that “running out the clock is a very familiar tactic in any congressional investigation” since the Bush-41 administration would have known that the task force’s authorization expired at the end of the session. That deadline came into play when the floodgates on evidence of Republican guilt opened in December 1992.

In 2010, shortly before his death to cancer, the task force’s former chief counsel Barcella told me that so much incriminating evidence against the Reagan campaign poured in during December 1992 that he asked Hamilton for a three-month extension, but was rebuffed. Hamilton said he had no recollection of such a specific request from Barcella, but added that he might have explained the problem of the task force’s authorization running out at end of the session.

“All I could have done is go before the next Congress and request reauthorization,” Hamilton told me. However, with key evidence withheld and facing fierce Republican resistance to extending the inquiry Hamilton chose to simply wrap up the task force’s report with a judgment clearing Reagan, Bush, Casey and other alleged participants.

Now, realizing that the White House was sitting on knowledge about a mysterious Casey trip to Madrid, Lee Hamilton is no longer so sure. [For a fuller account of the October Surprise evidence implicating Reagan’s 1980 campaign, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege and America’s Stolen Narrative, which also contains evidence of a precursor “October Surprise” case, Richard Nixon’s sabotage of President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks in 1968.]

Yet, in April 2014, even as the U.S. government endlessly honors Ronald Reagan with his name attached to Washington’s National Airport and dozens of other government facilities and as warm nostalgia envelopes the aging George H.W. Bush there is outrage across Official Washington that Hamid Aboutalebi, who was 22 when the U.S. hostages were taken, has been named Iran’s ambassador to the UN.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




Firewall: Inside the Iran-Contra Cover-up

From the Archive: The death of Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh on Wednesday at the age of 102 marked the passing of what is now rare in the American Establishment, a person who courageously fought for a truthful historical record, as Robert Parry explained in this 1997 review of Walsh’s memoir, Firewall.

By Robert Parry (First published in 1997)

In crucial ways, Watergate, the signature scandal of the 1970s, and Iran-Contra, the signature scandal of the 1980s, were opposites. Watergate showed how the constitutional institutions of American democracy — the Congress, the courts and the press — could check a gross abuse of power by the Executive, albeit imperfectly. A short dozen years later, the Iran-Contra scandal demonstrated how those same institutions had ceased to protect the nation from serious White House wrongdoing.

Watergate had been part of a brief national awakening which exposed Cold War abuses — presidential crimes, lies about the Vietnam War and assassination plots hatched at the CIA. The Iran-Contra cover-up marked the restoration of a Cold War status quo in which crimes, both domestic and international, could be committed by the Executive while the Congress and the press looked the other way.

That Iran-Contra reality, however, is still little understood for what it actually was: a victory of weakness and deceit over integrity and courage. On one front, the Washington media wants to perpetuate the myth that it remains the heroic Watergate press corps of All the President’s Men. On another, the national Democratic establishment wants to forget how it crumbled in the face of pressures from the Reagan-Bush administrations. And, of course, the Republicans want to protect the legacy of their last two presidents.

Those combined interests led to very few favorable reviews of a memoir by a man who put himself in the way of that cover-up — Iran-Contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh. In Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-up, Walsh details his six-year battle to break through the “firewall” that White House officials built around President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush after the Iran-Contra scandal exploded in November 1986.

For Walsh, a lifelong Republican who shared the foreign policy views of the Reagan administration, the Iran-Contra experience was a life-changing one, as his investigation penetrated one wall of lies only to be confronted with another and another — and not just lies from White House aide Oliver North and his lower-level cohorts but lies from nearly every senior administration official who spoke with investigators.

According to Firewall, the cover-up conspiracy took formal shape at a meeting of Reagan and his top advisers in the Situation Room at the White House on Nov. 24, 1986. The meeting’s principal point of concern was how to handle the troublesome fact that Reagan had approved illegal arms sales to Iran in fall 1985, before any covert-action finding had been signed. The act was a clear felony — a violation of the Arms Export Control Act — and possibly an impeachable offense.

Though virtually everyone at the meeting knew that Reagan had approved those shipments through Israel, Attorney General Edwin Meese announced what would become the cover story. According to Walsh’s narrative, Meese “told the group that although [NSC adviser Robert] McFarlane had informed [Secretary of State George] Shultz of the planned shipment, McFarlane had not informed the president. …

“[White House chief of staff Don] Regan, who had heard McFarlane inform the president and who had heard the president admit to Shultz that he knew of the shipment of Hawk [anti-aircraft] missiles, said nothing. Shultz and [Defense Secretary Caspar] Weinberger, who had protested the shipment before it took place, said nothing. [Vice President George] Bush, who had been told of the shipment in advance by McFarlane, said nothing. Casey, who [had] requested that the president sign the retroactive finding to authorize the CIA-facilitated delivery, said nothing. [NSC adviser John] Poindexter, who had torn up the finding, said nothing. Meese asked whether anyone knew anything else that hadn’t been revealed. No one spoke.”

When Shultz returned to the State Department, he dictated a note to his aide, Charles Hill, who wrote down that Reagan’s men were “rearranging the record.” They were trying to protect the president through a “carefully thought out strategy” that would “blame it on Bud” McFarlane.

‘Fall Guy’

As part of that strategy, virtually all of Reagan’s top advisers, including Shultz, gave false and misleading testimony to Congress and prosecutors. Their accounts essentially blamed the illegalities on Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North and his bosses at the National Security Council, McFarlane and Poindexter. Pretty much everyone else — at the CIA, Defense Department, the Vice President’s Office and the White House — claimed ignorance.

Even though Oliver North correctly testified in 1987 that he was the “fall guy” in this implausible scenario, the Democrats and much of the press corps still fell for it. There was a clicking of wine glasses around Official Washington as the “men of zeal” cover story was enshrined as the official history of the Iran-Contra affair. A painful Watergate-style impeachment battle had been averted.

The story might have stopped there but for the work of Walsh and his small team of lawyers. Yet Walsh’s investigation was hampered from the start by congressional haste and from hostility among key elements of the media. Congress was so ready to accept the theory of a rogue operation that it rushed ahead with televised hearings designed to make North and his NSC superiors, McFarlane and Poindexter, the primary culprits. Without even questioning North ahead of time, the Iran-Contra committee granted the charismatic Marine officer and his pipe-smoking boss, Poindexter, limited immunity.

Three years later, that immunity came back to haunt Walsh’s hard-won convictions of North and Poindexter. Conservative judges on the federal appeals court, particularly Reagan loyalists Laurence Silberman and David Sentelle, exploited the immunity opening to reverse North’s conviction. Sentelle, a protege of Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., also joined in the decision to wipe out Poindexter’s conviction. [After that, Sentelle took over the three-judge panel, which oversaw independent counsels, including Walsh.]

In Firewall, Walsh described the GOP majority on the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia as “a powerful band of Republican appointees [who] waited like the strategic reserves of an embattled army, … a force cloaked in the black robes of those dedicated to defining and preserving the rule of law.”

Still, despite the legal and political obstacles, Walsh’s investigation broke through the White House cover-up in 1991-92. Almost by accident, as Walsh’s staff was double-checking some long-standing document requests, the lawyers discovered hidden notes belonging to Weinberger and other senior officials. The notes made clear that there was widespread knowledge of the 1985 illegal shipments to Iran and that a major cover-up had been orchestrated by the Reagan and Bush administrations.

The Pounding Begins

The belated discovery led to indictments against senior CIA officials and Weinberger. Congressional Republicans, led by Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kansas, reacted by angrily denouncing Walsh and calling for an end to his investigation. The Washington press corps also had grown hostile, complaining that Walsh’s probe had taken too long and had cost too much.

The conservative Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page fired near-daily barrages at Walsh often over trivial matters, such as first-class air fare and room-service meals. Key columnists and editorial writers for The Washington Post and The New York Times — along with television pundits David Brinkley and Christopher Matthews — joined in the Walsh bashings. Walsh was mocked as a modern-day Captain Ahab.

In his book, however, Walsh compared his trying experience to another maritime classic, Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. In that story, an aging fisherman hooks a giant marlin and, after a long battle, secures the fish to the side of his boat. On the way back to port, the marlin is attacked by sharks that devour its flesh and deny the fisherman his prize. “As the independent counsel, I sometimes felt like the old man,” Walsh wrote, “more often, I felt like the marlin.”

More seriously, the congressional and media attacks effectively limited Walsh’s ability to pursue what appeared to be other false statements by senior administration officials. Those perjury inquiries could have unraveled other major national-security mysteries of the 1980s and helped correct the history of the era. But Walsh could not overcome the pack-like hostility of Official Washington.

For instance, the Walsh team had strong suspicions that Bush’s national security adviser, ex-CIA officer Donald Gregg, had lied when he testified that he was unaware of North’s Contra resupply operation, although Gregg’s close friend, Felix Rodriguez, was working with North in Central America and called Gregg after each Contra delivery.

There already had been problems with Gregg’s story, including the discovery of a vice presidential office memo describing a planned meeting with Rodriguez about “resupply of the contras.” Gregg bizarrely explained the memo away as a typo that should have read, “resupply of the copters.”

More Cracks

In Firewall, Walsh disclosed that Gregg’s stonewall experienced another crack when Col. James Steele, U.S. military adviser to El Salvador, flunked a polygraph test when he denied his own role in shipping weapons to the Contras. Confronted with those results and incriminating notes from North’s diaries, “Steele admitted not only his participation in the arms deliveries but also his early discussion of these activities with Donald Gregg,” Walsh wrote.

Gregg failed his own polygraph when he denied knowledge of the Contra supply operation. Gregg also flunked when he denied participating in the so-called October Surprise operation in 1980, an alleged secret CIA-GOP operation to undermine President Jimmy Carter’s Iran hostage negotiations and secure Reagan’s election. [See Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege and America’s Stolen Narrative for more details on Gregg’s alleged October Surprise role.]

Despite the doubts about Gregg’s veracity, Walsh felt compelled to set aside those allegations as he struggled to finish several pending perjury cases against Weinberger and CIA officials, Clair George and Duane Clarridge. As those cases moved haltingly forward, anti-Walsh attacks multiplied in Congress and in the Washington media.

The Republican independent counsel also infuriated the GOP when he submitted a second indictment of Weinberger on the Friday before the 1992 elections. The indictment contained documents revealing that President Bush had been lying for years with his claim that he was “out of the loop” on the Iran-Contra decisions. The ensuing furor dominated the last several days of the campaign and sealed Bush’s defeat at the hands of Bill Clinton.

Walsh had discovered, too, that Bush had withheld his own notes about the Iran-Contra Affair, a discovery that elevated the President to a possible criminal subject of the investigation. But Bush had one more weapon in his arsenal. On Christmas Eve 1992, Bush destroyed the Iran-Contra probe once and for all by pardoning Weinberger and five other convicted or indicted defendants.

“George Bush’s misuse of the pardon power made the cover-up complete,” Walsh wrote. “What set Iran-contra apart from previous political scandals was the fact that a cover-up engineered in the White House of one president and completed by his successor prevented the rule of law from being applied to the perpetrators of criminal activity of constitutional dimension.”

But the cover-up likely could not have worked if the other institutions of Washington — Congress, the courts and the press — had not helped. Those institutions aided and abetted the White House both directly, through decisions that undermined the cases or reversed convictions, or indirectly, through incessant heckling of Walsh’s investigators over trivial complaints.

Like the cover-up that bedeviled Lawrence Walsh, the historic reversal for America — from the constitutional protections of Watergate to the flouting of law in Iran-Contra — was complete.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




Robert Gates Double-Crosses Obama

Special Report: Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates is slamming President Obama in a new memoir, accusing him of lacking enthusiasm for the Afghan War. But perhaps Obama’s bigger mistake was trusting Gates, a Bush Family operative with a history of dirty dealing, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

As Barack Obama is staggered by a back-stabbing memoir from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the President can’t say that some people didn’t warn him about the risk of bringing a political opportunist like Gates into his inner circle on national security.

Those warnings date back to just days after Obama’s election in 2008 when word began to spread that some of his advisers were urging Obama to keep Gates on as Defense Secretary as part of a “Team of Rivals” and a show of bipartisanship. On Nov. 13, 2008, I posted a story at Consortiumnews.com entitled “The Danger of Keeping Robert Gates,” which said:

“If Obama does keep Gates on, the new President will be employing someone who embodies many of the worst elements of U.S. national security policy over the past three decades, including responsibility for what Obama himself has fingered as a chief concern, ‘politicized intelligence.’ it was Gates as a senior CIA official in the 1980s who broke the back of the CIA analytical division’s commitment to objective intelligence.”

I cited a book by former CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman, Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA, which identified Gates as the chief action officer for the Reagan administration’s drive to tailor intelligence reporting to fit White House political desires.

But Gates’s nefarious roles in national security scandals went much deeper than that, despite his undeniable PR skills in shaping his image as a dedicated public servant who has earned Official Washington’s near-universal regard as a modern-day Wise Man.

In reality, Gates has been more a careerist who had a chameleon-like skill to adapt to the ideological hues of the powerful people around him. But at his core he seemed most comfortable in a Cold War setting of tough-talking belligerence which led him to repeated policy miscalculations, including dismissing Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989 as a phony and missing the collapse of the Soviet Union two years later.

But it’s how Gates began his meteoric rise in the U.S. intelligence community during the Reagan years that has remained most cloaked in mystery. As a young CIA official in 1980, Gates was implicated in secret maneuvers to sabotage President Jimmy Carter’s negotiations to free 52 U.S. hostages then held in Iran, a failure by Carter that doomed his reelection.

Gates was identified as one of the participants in a key October 1980 meeting in Paris allegedly also involving William Casey, who was then Reagan’s campaign director; George H.W. Bush, a former CIA director and then-Reagan’s vice presidential running mate; Iranian emissary Mehdi Karrubi; and Israeli intelligence officers, including Ari Ben-Menashe who later testified under oath about what he witnessed.

The Paris meeting and Gates’s alleged involvement was also cited by a Russian government report given to U.S. congressional investigators in early 1993. The Russian Report prepared by a national security committee of the Russian Duma stated that “William Casey, in 1980, met three times with representatives of the Iranian leadership 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 Russian Report 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.”

According to the Russian Report, the Republicans succeeded in wooing the Iranians who rebuffed Carter’s appeals. “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 Russian Report said.

The Iranians only released the hostages after Reagan was sworn in as President on Jan. 20, 1981. U.S.-approved arms deliveries followed, carried out by Israel, the Russian Report said. As a young Israeli intelligence officer, Ben-Menashe testified that he took part in the weapons shipments, sometimes coordinating his work with Gates at the CIA. Gates has denied the allegations but he has been less than forthcoming with investigators.

The Russian Report came in response to an Oct. 21, 1992, query from Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Indiana, who was then heading a task force examining this so-called October Surprise case. But Hamilton later told me that the Russian Report never reached him, ending up in a box of unpublished files that I discovered a couple of years later. [For the text of the Russian report, click here. To view the U.S. embassy cable that contains the Russian report, click here.]

Hamilton’s investigation also faced frustrations when it tried to secure information about the 1980 whereabouts of Gates and Donald Gregg, another CIA officer linked to the October Surprise allegations. Documents released by the National Archives have revealed that the CIA in 1991 and 1992 dragged its heels on complying with Hamilton’s information requests on Gates and Gregg, both of whom were close to then-President George H.W. Bush.

As Hamilton’s investigation was starting in fall 1991, President Bush went to extraordinary lengths to install Gates as CIA director, facing down stiff congressional resistance because of suspicions that Gates had lied about his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, which also involved secret Reagan-approved arms shipment to Iran.

So it was Gates’s agency in 1991-92 that stonewalled the congressional investigators seeking information on Gates’s possible collaboration with enemies of the United States in 1980. [For more details on this October Surprise mystery, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege and America’s Stolen Narrative. For Hamilton’s latest assessment of the case, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Second Thoughts on October Surprise.”]

Evading Accountability

In the end, Gates was able to skate away from the October Surprise suspicions just as he had evaded concerns about his role in other CIA-related scandals. Gates had been implicated, too, in misleading Congress about the Iran-Contra scandal and Iraq-gate, a parallel program of secretly aiding Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Though Gates also denied any wrongdoing in those scandals and disparaged Ben-Menashe and another witness who linked him to the Iraqi arms deals the allegations about Gates and Iraq were bolstered by a January 1995 affidavit from Howard Teicher, who had been a staffer on Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council.

“Under CIA Director Casey and Deputy Director Gates, the CIA authorized, approved and assisted [Chilean arms dealer Carlos] Cardoen in the manufacture and sale of cluster bombs and other munitions to Iraq,” Teicher declared.

So, it appears that Robert Gates made his bones in George H.W. Bush’s covert world by undertaking secretive projects that skirted American law, such as evading arms export controls against shipments to Iran and Iraq, and even may have engaged in actions bordering on treason if the October Surprise allegations are true.

If Gates did indeed perform these sensitive missions, his swift rise in the early 1980s from a relatively obscure analyst to chief of the analytical division and then to deputy CIA director would make more sense. As he climbed the bureaucratic ladder, he further enhanced his standing with the Reagan administration by whipping the CIA analysts into line behind President Reagan’s apocalyptic view of the Soviet Union.

Corrupting Intelligence

Before Gates’s ascent in the 1980s, the CIA’s analytical division had a proud tradition of objectivity and scholarship regarding the agency’s intelligence product. However, during the Reagan administration with Gates playing a key role, that ethos collapsed.

At Gates’s confirmation hearings in 1991, former CIA analysts, including senior Soviet specialist Melvin Goodman, took the extraordinary step of coming out of the shadows to accuse Gates of politicizing the intelligence while he was chief of the analytical division and then deputy director.

These former intelligence officers said the ambitious Gates pressured the CIA’s analytical division to hype the Soviet menace to fit Reagan’s ideological perspective. Analysts who took a more nuanced view of Soviet power and behavior faced pressure and career reprisals.

In 1981, Carolyn McGiffert Ekedahl of the CIA’s Soviet office was the unfortunate analyst who was handed the assignment to prepare an analysis on the Soviet Union’s alleged support and direction of international terrorism. Contrary to the desired White House take on Soviet-backed terrorism, Ekedahl said the consensus of the intelligence community was that the Soviets discouraged acts of terrorism by groups getting support from Moscow for practical, not moral, reasons.

“We agreed that the Soviets consistently stated, publicly and privately, that they considered international terrorist activities counterproductive and advised groups they supported not to use such tactics,” Ekedahl testified. “We had hard evidence to support this conclusion.”

But Gates took the analysts to task, accusing them of trying to “stick our finger in the policy maker’s eye,” Ekedahl said. Gates, dissatisfied with the terrorism assessment, joined in rewriting the draft “to suggest greater Soviet support for terrorism and the text was altered by pulling up from the annex reports that overstated Soviet involvement,” Ekedahl said.

Soon, the hammer fell on the analysts who had prepared the more nuanced Soviet-terrorism report. Ekedahl said many analysts were “replaced by people new to the subject who insisted on language emphasizing Soviet control of international terrorist activities.”

A donnybrook ensued inside the U.S. intelligence community. Some senior officials responsible for analysis pushed back against the dictates of Gates and CIA Director Casey, warning that acts of politicization would undermine the integrity of the process and risk policy disasters in the future.

In his first memoir, From the Shadows, Gates denied politicizing the CIA’s intelligence product, though acknowledging that he was aware of Casey’s hostile reaction to the analysts’ disagreement with right-wing theories about Soviet-directed terrorism.

But the evidence is clear that Gates used top-down management techniques to get his way. CIA analysts sensitive to their career paths intuitively grasped that they could rarely go wrong by backing the “company line” and presenting the worst-case scenario about Soviet capabilities and intentions, Ekedahl and other CIA analysts said.

The CIA’s proud Soviet analytical office underwent a purge of its top people. “Nearly every senior analyst on Soviet foreign policy eventually left the Office of Soviet Analysis,” Goodman said. “The politicization that took place during the Casey-Gates era is directly responsible for the CIA’s loss of its ethical compass and the erosion of its credibility.

“The fact that the CIA missed the most important historical development in its history the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the Soviet Union itself is due in large measure to the culture and process that Gates established in his directorate.”

The Afghan Folly

But Gates’s legacy at the CIA had other even more lethal consequences. Because of his insistence on overstating Soviet strength, Gates misread the opportunity presented by the emergence of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s. From Gates’s perch near the top of the U.S. national security establishment, he kept calling Gorbachev a phony who would never withdraw Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

When Gorbachev did withdraw Soviet troops in February 1989, Gates then serving as President George H.W. Bush’s deputy national security adviser  joined in the decision to rebuff Gorbachev’s proposal for a cease-fire and a coalition government between the Soviet-backed regime of President Najibullah in Kabul and the CIA-supported mujahedeen. Instead, Gates and his colleagues set their sights on a decisive victory for the CIA- and Saudi-backed forces, which included Osama bin Laden and other Islamist extremists.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom of Official Washington that America’s “big mistake” in Afghanistan was to abandon the mujahedeen after the Soviets left in early 1989 a myth pushed by Gates himself the reality was that the Bush-41 administration continued funneling money and weapons to the rebels for nearly three more years as the fractious mujahedeen failed to take Kabul but busied themselves slaughtering civilians and each other.

Najibullah’s regime actually outlasted the Soviet Union, which fell apart in late 1991. Ironically, after failing to detect cracks in the Soviet empire dating back at least to the 1970s, Gates and his cohorts claimed credit for its “sudden” collapse. But the chaos in Afghanistan, which might have been avoided if Gates had cooperated with Gorbachev, soon set the stage for new national security threats to the United States.

By fall 1991, President George H.W. Bush had reinstalled Gates at the CIA as director all the better to frustrate investigations into October Surprise, Iran-Contra and Iraq-gate.

After Bush’s defeat in 1992, Gates had hoped to stay on, but was removed by President Bill Clinton. Gates retreated to Washington State, where he worked on his first memoir, From the Shadows. Afterwards, ex-President Bush arranged to get Gates a job at Texas A&M, where Gates, the ever-skillful bureaucrat, soon rose to become the school’s president.

Meanwhile, in the mid-1990s, the fundamentalist Taliban emerged from Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan and successfully marched on Kabul. One of the Taliban’s first victims was Najibullah who was tortured, castrated and hung from a light post. Thankful for the help from Saudi-backed jihadists, the Taliban also granted refuge to Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda band which had shifted its terror war from the Soviets to the Americans.

After George W. Bush’s disputed election victory in 2000, many of Gates’s neocon allies returned to power in Washington and after al-Qaeda carried out the 9/11 attacks U.S. forces were dispatched to Afghanistan to oust the Taliban and root out al-Qaeda, whose surviving leaders mostly fled to Pakistan.

Rather than fully stabilize Afghanistan, Bush-43 and the neocons quickly pivoted toward Iraq with an invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein. Soon, U.S. forces found themselves bogged down in two inconclusive wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq. By 2006, Iraq was descending into a sectarian civil war and Bush faced the prospect of a humiliating military defeat. He and his neocon advisers began thinking about a U.S. military escalation, to be called a “surge.”

But Generals John Abizaid and George Casey, the Iraq field commanders, felt they had already begun tamping down the violence through a mix of alliances with Sunni tribes, reducing the American “footprint,” separating Shiite and Sunni communities, and targeted killings of al-Qaeda militants. Abizaid and Casey were supported in their strategy by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

So, as President Bush settled on the “surge” a plan to dispatch 30,000 more soldiers he also decided to replace his military command, recalling Abizaid and Casey and cashiering Rumsfeld. Bush turned to Gen. David Petraeus to implement the “surge” and recruited Gates to sell it as the new Defense Secretary.

The Democrats and the Washington press corps were easily fooled. They misinterpreted the personnel changes as a sign that Bush had decided to wind down the war. Gates was hailed as an “adult” who would lead the impetuous “war president” out of the Iraq quagmire. But the reality was the opposite. Gates became Bush’s guide for going in deeper.

Gates also proved invaluable in selling the “surge” as a great “success,” although nearly 1,000 additional U.S. soldiers died (along with countless Iraqis) and the strategic arc toward a U.S. defeat wasn’t changed. The primary “success” from the “surge” was to enable Bush and his neocon advisers to exit the scene without a clear-cut defeat wrapped around their necks.

The Gates Legend

But the legend of Robert Gates and the myth of the “successful surge” shielded him from the damaged reputations that the bloody debacle in Iraq inflicted on Bush and many neocons.

After Obama was elected in 2008, his advisers persuaded the President-elect to keep Gates on as Defense Secretary, along with the media’s beloved Gen. Petraeus as a top commander. Obama ignored contrary advice from former CIA analysts who had worked with Gates and from the few journalists who understood Gates’s real history.

Obama’s decision to go with the “Team of Rivals” theme in assembling his national security team guaranteed that he surrounded himself with people like Gates who had no loyalty to the new administration, as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who usually sided with Gates and Petraeus as they pushed for an Iraq-style “surge” in Afghanistan.

In 2009, as Obama insisted on a steady withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq along the lines of an agreement that the Iraqi government had forced on Bush the new President wanted another withdrawal plan for Afghanistan, where Bush’s neglect had allowed the Taliban to make a comeback.

But Gates and Petraeus were set on guiding the inexperienced Obama into an Afghan “surge,” essentially by employing the old bureaucratic trick of presenting their desired outcome as the only realistic option. Mouse-trapped by this maneuver and realizing the political damage that he would face if he spurned the recommendations of Gates-Petraeus-Clinton Obama accepted a counterinsurgency “surge” of 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan but he pushed back by trying to limit the mission and insisting on withdrawal by the end of 2014.

Gates continued to undercut the President by briefing reporters during a flight to Afghanistan that “we are in this thing to win” and presenting the war as essentially open-ended. Gates offered these credulous reporters a history lesson on Afghanistan that Gates knew to be false. He declared “that we are not going to repeat the situation in 1989″ when the United States supposedly abandoned Afghanistan once the Soviet troops left.

Even Gates’s much-ballyhooed Pentagon budget trimming while winning rave reviews from the news media was more P.R. than reality. As noted by military affairs expert Lawrence J. Korb, Gates’s high-profile savings were mostly weapons projects, like the F-22, that were already slated for the scrap heap. Plus, Gates rejected any substantial cuts in future military spending despite having personally overseen a rise in the baseline Pentagon budget from $450 billion in 2006 to $550 billion when he departed in 2011.

Gates’s petty vindictiveness, which had wielded against his CIA colleagues, also was apparent in his final days as Defense Secretary in 2011 when he blocked the appointment of Marine Gen. James Cartwright as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff out of anger over Cartwright’s willingness to give President Obama’s alternative options to the Afghan “surge” in 2009.

The Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock reported that Cartwright’s expected elevation from JCS deputy chairman to JCS chairman was nixed, in part, by Gates who “had long mistrusted Cartwright because of his independent relationship with the president and for opposing [Gates’s] plan to expand the war in Afghanistan.”

Slamming Obama

Gates’s nasty side resurfaces in his new memoir, Duty, according to press accounts before its release on Jan. 14. Gates reportedly lashes out at Vice President Joe Biden and other Obama administration officials who dared to express doubts about the wisdom of the counterinsurgency “surge” in Afghanistan.

Even more damaging, Gates offers a negative depiction of President Obama and former Secretary of State Clinton, portraying them as shallow political opportunists who supposedly had opposed the Iraq War “surge” only because of cheap politics. Gates further lambastes Obama for sending troops to fight and die in Afghanistan without believing in the mission.

According to Bob Woodward’s account of Duty, Gates concluded by early 2010 that Obama “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”

Woodward wrote that Gates was “leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat [by asserting] that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan. The president was ‘skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail.’”

Obama must now deal with the fallout of Gates having been allowed a front-row seat on national security policy and predictably turning on Obama and other Democrats who didn’t favor the wars that Bush-43 had started and that Gates had helped prosecute. It was a predictable problem and indeed it had been predicted.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




Contras, Dirty Money and CIA

From the Archive: On Dec. 20, 1989, President George H.W. Bush ordered the invasion of Panama to arrest Gen. Manuel Noriega on drug charges. The U.S. news media viewed the assault as a case of Bush seeking justice, but there was a darker back story of U.S. guilt, as Robert Parry reported in 1997.

By Robert Parry (Originally published in 1997)

On the afternoon of Oct. 2, 1987, John F. Molina, a 46-year-old Cuban with the look of a Latin Sean Connery, sauntered from the stylish Panama City offices of the law firm, Sucre y Sucre. Molina and his companion, Enrique Delvalle, had been clearing up business that they had with lawyers who had created shell corporations for an arms supply network for the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. The two men stepped out onto the busy street and climbed into Molina’s red Mitsubishi four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Without their noticing, a young bushy-haired man with a moustache darted toward the car. The young man raised a .32-caliber pistol, pointed it at Molina’s head and fired three times. Molina slumped across the front seat. For a moment, Delvalle thought Molina was reaching toward the opposite side door. Then, Delvalle realized that John Molina was dead.

The gunman fled on foot. He was chased and cornered by an armed bystander, and then was arrested by Panamanian police. In custody, the killer identified himself as Maximillano Casa Sanchez, a Colombian hit man. Casa Sanchez told police that Colombian narcotraffickers had sent him to Panama to rub out Molina over a drug debt.

In the following days, La Republica, a newspaper allied with then-dictator Manuel Noriega, played up the drug angle — and Molina’s ties to Noriega’s political enemies in the Cruzada Civilista. The newspaper also noted that in the 1970s, Molina was president of UniBank, or the Union de Bancos, the Panamanian outpost for the WFC Corp., a shadowy money-laundering network earlier known as World Finance Corporation and run by Miami-based Cuban-Americans with close ties to the CIA.

But the Molina case had a more contemporary CIA connection. At the time of his death, Molina was the financial architect behind a mysterious arms warehouse in the dusty Honduran town of San Pedro Sula. The warehouse, sometimes called the Arms Supermarket, was stacked high with millions of dollars in guns and ammunition earmarked for the Contras. In that operation, Molina had told family members that he worked for the CIA.

To this day, the mystery of the Arms Supermarket’s money is one of the most intriguing unanswered questions of the Iran-Contra scandal. But the Molina case shed new light as well into another dark corner of the Reagan administration’s Contra war: how, in a variety of cases, the funding for that covert operation was closely tied not only to guns-for-drugs — as has been alleged for years — but to the even-murkier world of drug money-laundering.

Since the mid-1980s, drug pilots and other cocaine-cartel operatives have asserted that Contras assisted in transhipping cocaine to the United States in exchange for money and guns, or that cartel kingpins contributed cash to the Contras to curry favor with the Reagan administration.

Those charges resurfaced in a 1996 series by Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury-News, but the Molina case opened a doorway to the other question: how much did the Contra war benefit from dirty money. [For the latest on the broader issue of Contra-cocaine trafficking, see Consortiumnews.com’s “New Evidence on Contra-Cocaine Scandal.”]

Guns & Drugs

The CIA would neither confirm nor deny a relationship with Molina. “This is not something I can really, really give you a definite answer on,” said CIA spokesman David Christian. “We just don’t have the resources to check all inquiries of this sort.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration also failed to respond to repeated requests about the late John Molina. A senior government official, however, confirmed that Molina’s name was mentioned in a number of DEA criminal files, including some cases that were still under investigation in the late 1990s.

U.S. government records also show that the money for the Arms Supermarket’s guns was always suspect. National Security Council aide Oliver North’s handwritten notes on July 12, 1985, recounted a warning from one CIA officer in the field that “$14M [million] to finance came from drugs.”

According to a Contra-supply flow chart that I obtained from Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh’s Iran-Contra records at the National Archives, the Arms Supermarket was part of a complex arms network ultimately reporting to former CIA officer Felix Rodriguez, an anti-Castro Cuban who used the pseudonym “Max Gomez.” Through Rodriguez, the arms network connected to the office of then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.

“The ‘Arms Warehouse’ was started with ‘seed money’ of approximately $14 million, from the CIA,” read the text accompanying the flow chart. “Later, it was believed that funds relating to narcotics traffic found its way into inventory in the warehouse.” Although the authorship of the flow chart is unclear, it matches information supplied to investigators by another Contra arms broker, Barbara Studley, who worked closely with retired Gen. John K. Singlaub.

In a deposition in a related civil case, Studley testified that “General Singlaub informed me that he had been briefed by Oliver North that the Supermarket had been funded by drug money.” Asked if she had heard those allegations from anyone else, Studley responded, “numerous conversations with numerous people, … this item came up.”

In a telephone interview, Ronald Martin, the Arms Supermarket’s principal owner, vehemently denied any drug connection and denounced the charge as a lie spread by North and other business rivals who wanted to horn in on Contra arms profits.

“All they were trying to do was taint us and push us out of any business that might be forthcoming,” Martin said. But Martin acknowledged that Molina did arrange the Arms Supermarket’s money through banks in Panama. Martin also would not say exactly who put up the money.

Dirty Money

During the official Iran-Contra investigations, these drug suspicions were never resolved. William Hassler, a lawyer who handled the issue for Independent Counsel Walsh, explained that the Martin group was not a focus of the Iran-Contra probe. “I’m not sure we considered it a part of our investigation,” Hassler explained.

So, the suspicions about the Arms Supermarket remained hazy. But Molina’s use of Panamanian banks as the source of funds for the Contra weapons and his own connection to the world of drug-money laundering gave a concrete form to the suspicions for the first time.

But Molina was not alone straddling the money-laundering line. North and others involved in the Contra operations also crossed into areas of apparent criminality. Indeed, little-noticed Iran-Contra evidence demonstrated that the Reagan administration repeatedly turned to criminal money-laundering to finance Contra activities.

While serving as a key White House national security aide, for instance, North tapped into a money-laundering network that pulled hundreds of thousands of dollars in untraceable cash off New York City streets. The cash deliveries were arranged by Swiss financier Willard Zucker working through a Republic National Bank officer, named Nan Morabia.

On Zucker’s orders, Morabia tapped into a money-laundering operation controlled by her husband in New York City. Her husband and son then delivered bags filled with hundreds of thousands of dollars to North’s operatives in New York hotel rooms. Sometimes, to cap off these amateurish spy operations, North’s men first would be required to display matching halves of torn dollar bills.

At the European end of this money-laundering scheme, Zucker made equivalent transfers from North’s Swiss bank accounts (containing profits from U.S. arms sales to Iran) into the Swiss accounts of the money-launderers. That way, the money-launderers could turn their “dirty” money in the United States into “clean” money in Europe.

Morabia, who was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for her cooperation with the Iran-Contra investigation, acknowledged that the so-called “cash drops” were designed to circumvent federal currency laws. Those anti-money-laundering statutes require federal reporting of any cash transfer of $10,000 or more into or out of the United States.

Iran-Contra Independent Counsel Walsh described these “cash drops” in a brief section of his final report in 1993. Walsh said the cash transfers through Zucker’s operation totaled $2.7 million.

More Bags of Money

Similarly, Walsh’s probe found that another $467,000 went in bags from Southern Air Transport’s petty cash fund in Miami to pay salaries and buy gas for North’s Contra air re-supply operations based at El Salvador’s Ilopango airport. SAT, a onetime CIA-owned airline, was then reimbursed through money transfers from North’s Swiss accounts, Walsh report stated.

Again, the cash deliveries flouted federal requirements to report the removal of more than $10,000 in cash from the United States. But given the strong political pressures on Walsh to wrap up his long-running investigation and the complexity of the cases, the independent counsel chose not to prosecute the participants in the money-laundering schemes. The apparent money-laundering crimes also received scant media attention.

However, the later discovery of documents gave a more sinister cast to the SAT-Ilopango operation. As North’s pilots were carrying those bags of cash from Miami, a female FBI informant was alleging, in September 1986, that she had witnessed cocaine being loaded aboard SAT planes in Barranquilla, Colombia, in 1983 and 1985. The woman, Wanda Palacio, identified a North pilot, Wallace “Buzz” Sawyer, as one crew member loading drugs onto a Barranquilla flight in early October 1985.

Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department spurned Palacio’s testimony as lacking credibility. But Sawyer’s flight logs — recovered after Sawyer was killed in the crash of an Oliver North supply plane over Nicaragua on Oct. 5, 1986 — corroborated Palacio’s claim that Sawyer was in Barranquilla in early October 1985 flying an SAT cargo plane. The Palacio allegations suggest that participants in North’s Contra resupply operations were trafficking in drugs and possibly using the secret government operation as a cover to “clean” their money.

The Reagan administration’s collaboration with alleged drug traffickers and money-launderers also was far from isolated. In 1986, the Reagan administration paid $806,401 to four companies to supply the Contras with non-lethal aid despite documentary evidence of drug trafficking by all four companies.

Washington & Traffickers

One of the Contra contractors, a Costa Rican seafood company called Frigorificos de Punterennas, was created as a cover for drug-money laundering, according to sworn testimony by two of the firm’s principals, Carlos Soto and Ramon Milian Rodriguez. Still, in 1986, the State Department put $261,937 into a Frigorificos bank account controlled by Cuban-American Luis Rodriguez. A year later, Rodriguez was charged in federal court as a major marijuana smuggler.

The State Department has never explained how the four money-laundering companies were selected, although Ambassador Robert Duemling who oversaw Contra “humanitarian” aid recalled that North wanted continuation of “the existing arrangements of the resistance movement,” the Contras.

Those “existing arrangements” were maintained despite even earlier drug warnings from some of North’s field operatives. In June 1984, North’s courier, Robert Owen, passed on information that Cuban-Americans working with the Contras are “involved in drugs.” Another North aide, Lt. Col. Robert Earl, recalled that in 1986, CIA officers on the ground were worried because these Cubans were knee-deep in “corruption and greed and drugs.”

But the DEA has stated that it has no record that North or his associates passed on evidence of Contra drug trafficking. Indeed, some DEA officers, including Celerino Castillo, have claimed that their investigations were undermined by senior officials in Washington.

In one 1989 memo, Castillo summarized his findings, which implicated a half dozen pilots and other drug smugglers who were associated with the Contra network at El Salvador’s Ilopango military airport. In addition, Castillo’s memo on drug trafficking implicated senior Salvadoran Air Force officers who protected North’s secret Contra operation and sold fuel to North’s pilots.

Still, the mystery of John Molina’s murder may represent the most provocative link between the Contra supply operation and drug money-launderers, leaving behind the question: Was Molina simply a man who knew too much. [For more details on the CIA-drug connection, see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




Judge Leon’s Dirty Climb to the Bench

Exclusive: Civil libertarians are cheering federal judge Richard Leon for his ruling against the NSA’s massive surveillance program and that’s all to the good but Leon’s route to the bench followed a twisted course of partisan investigations and one historic cover-up, Robert Parry reports.

By Robert Parry

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon is winning kudos across the political spectrum for a ruling that rejects the constitutionality of the National Security Agency vacuuming up the metadata on virtually every phone call made in America. Leon clearly possesses a libertarian streak, but he earned his place on the bench by running a partisan cover-up of a historic crime.

Leon was appointed to his lifetime judicial post by George W. Bush in 2002 after Leon won the gratitude of the Bush Family by protecting its interests as an aggressive and reliable Republican legal apparatchik on Capitol Hill. There, the heavy-set Leon gained a reputation as a partisan bully who made sure politically charged investigations reached a desired outcome, whatever the facts.

In the 1990s, Leon served as special counsel to the House Banking Committee as it transformed President Bill Clinton’s minor Whitewater real estate deal into a major scandal that eventually led to the House vote to impeach Clinton in 1998 and thus set the stage for Bush’s disputed election victory in 2000.

But Leon’s most important work for the Bushes may have come in the 1980s and early 1990s when he helped construct legal justifications for Republican law-breaking and sought to intimidate Iran-Contra-related witnesses who came forward to expose GOP wrongdoing.

In 1987, when Rep. Dick Cheney, R-Wyoming, was leading the Republican counteroffensive against the Iran-Contra investigation into evidence that President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush had engaged in a wide-ranging conspiracy involving illegal weapons shipments and money transfers, Leon stepped forward as deputy chief counsel on the Republican side.

Leon worked with Cheney not only in fending off accusations of wrongdoing, but in coming up with a counter-argument that accused Congress of intruding on foreign policy prerogatives of the President.

“Congressional actions to limit the President in this area should be reviewed with a considerable degree of skepticism,” the Republican minority report said. “If they interfere with the core presidential foreign policy functions, they should be struck down.”

In 2005 as vice president, Cheney harkened back to that Iran-Contra minority report in defending George W. Bush’s assertion of unlimited presidential powers during wartime.

“If you want reference to an obscure text, go look at the minority views that were filed with the Iran-Contra committee,” Cheney told a reporter. Cheney said those old arguments “are very good in laying out a robust view of the president’s prerogatives with respect to the conduct of especially foreign policy and national security matters.”

So, one could say that Richard Leon was there at the birth of what became George W. Bush’s imperial presidency, which gave birth to the NSA’s massive spying operation which Leon declared unconstitutional on Monday (although Leon stayed his ruling to give the government time to appeal).

Cover-up of Crimes

But Leon’s crucial work in the Capitol Hill trenches of partisan warfare went beyond erecting the legal barricades behind which Republican presidents could hide their illegal acts. More significantly, he launched frontal assaults against GOP “enemies,” i.e. whistleblowers who threatened to expose the crimes.

In 1992, when a House task force was examining evidence that Reagan and Bush began their secret contacts with Iran in 1980 while trying to unseat President Jimmy Carter, Leon was the Republican point man to make sure nothing too damaging came out that could threaten President George H.W. Bush’s reelection campaign. Leon served as chief minority counsel to the House task force investigating the so-called October Surprise allegations.

At the time, evidence was mounting that Reagan and the senior Bush had interfered with President Carter’s efforts to gain the release of 52 U.S. hostages held by Islamic radicals in Iran, a crisis that helped doom Carter’s reelection in 1980.

From the start of the congressional inquiry, however, the goal seemed more to debunk the allegations of Republican wrongdoing than to seriously assess the evidence. At one point, I went to the task force’s office and questioned chief majority counsel Lawrence Barcella and his assistant, Michael Zeldin, about this peculiar style of investigating.

Barcella and Zeldin pointed to Leon’s insistence that interviews with witnesses be conducted only with him or another Republican present. This stricture had sharply limited the task force’s ability to follow leads and develop new witnesses.

Indeed, some key October Surprise witnesses described to me how Leon sought to intimidate them into retracting their allegations about Republican wrongdoing. When these witnesses refused to alter their sworn testimony, they became the targets of the task force, more so than Reagan and Bush.

Jamshid Hashemi, an Iranian businessman who had been recruited to assist the Carter administration on the hostage issue in 1980, alleged that he and his brother Cyrus Hashemi also helped Reagan’s campaign chief William Casey arrange secret meetings with Iranian officials in Madrid in summer 1980.

Jamshid Hashemi’s account of the Madrid meetings was publicized by ABC’s “Nightline” program and later came under attack from journalists at The New Republic and Newsweek who apparently saw their role more as sweeping these troubling charges under the rug than getting at the truth.

In November 1991, both magazines splashed across their covers articles seeking to debunk Hashemi’s claims of Madrid meetings by using an alibi for Casey that later turned out to be false. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Unmasking October Surprise Debunker.”]

‘The Fat Man’

When Jamshid Hashemi stuck to his account in sworn testimony before the task force in 1992, he said Leon tried to pressure him to recant his allegations. “I found this Mr. Leon who I knew as ‘the fat man’ every time we had a break and my lawyer would go to the washroom, he would rush into my room where I was sitting and say, ‘come on, change the story’,” Jamshid Hashemi told me.

“I said I would not change my story at all. The last time he opened the door, I said, ‘Get out of my office. If you have anything to say, say it in front of my lawyer.’” Hashemi said Leon, rather than task force chief counsel Barcella, appeared to be running the October Surprise investigation with the goal of protecting Republicans.

I received a similar account of Leon’s behavior from former Israeli intelligence official Ari Ben-Menashe, who had testified that he and other Israelis helped arrange a Paris meeting in October 1980 involving Casey, George H.W. Bush and key Iranians. Ben-Menashe said Leon demanded that he alter his sworn testimony as well, calling Leon “a Bush crony.”

Besides Hashemi and Ben-Menashe, more than a score of individuals described Republican guilt including: ex-Iranian president Abolhassan Bani-Sadr (who sent the task force a detailed account of the Iranian-Republican contacts from his view in Tehran); senior officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization who described overtures from Republicans seeking help in interfering in the hostage crisis; and French intelligence chief Alexandre deMarenches (who told his biographer about secret GOP-Iran hostage meetings in Paris, claims corroborated by other French intelligence officials).

Declassified documents from the George H.W. Bush presidential library also reveal how in 1992 then-President Bush and his team counted on Leon’s help as the White House sought to restrict congressional access to key papers.

In a “top secret” memo dated June 26, 1992, to the State Department about cooperation with the October Surprise probe, National Security Council executive secretary William F. Sittmann demanded “special treatment” for NSC documents related to presidential deliberations.

Regarding the House task force, Sittmann recommended that only Republican counsel Leon and Democratic counsel Barcella be “permitted to read relevant portions of the documents and to take notes, but that the State Department retain custody of the documents and the notes at all times.”

Though Republicans kept insisting that the October Surprise allegations were a myth, the Bush administration in 1992 was going to extraordinary lengths to control the evidence. [For details, see “Inside the October Surprise Cover-up.”]

Mission Accomplished

Leon did his job well, constraining the investigation sufficiently to ensure that the task force fell in line with Republican demands that the October Surprise allegations be rejected.

Years later, Barcella told me that so much new evidence in support of the October Surprise allegations poured in late in the investigation in December 1992 that he urged task force chairman, Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Indiana, to extend the deadline for several months. Hamilton, however, refused and ordered the probe wrapped up with a finding of Republican innocence.

However, even after the finishing touches had been put on the task force report clearing the Republicans, complications for Leon, Hamilton and the other debunkers continued to emerge.

On Jan. 11, 1993, just two days before the task force’s debunking report was scheduled for release, the Russian government sent an extraordinary report to Hamilton describing Moscow’s internal intelligence on the controversy.

The Russian report described Republican meetings with Iranians in Europe, including Casey’s trip to Madrid and the Paris meeting that the Russians said also involved George H.W. Bush and then-CIA officer Robert Gates (and later U.S. Defense Secretary).

Instead of making the Russian report public, Barcella stuck it and its startling information in a cardboard box that was filed away with other classified and unclassified material from the investigation. (I found the Russian report later when I got access to the task force’s raw documents. For the text of the Russian report, click here. To view the actual U.S. embassy cable that includes the Russian report, click here.)

While concealing the Russian report and other evidence corroborating the October Surprise allegations, the House task force released its negative findings on Jan. 13, 1993, and went on the attack against the witnesses who had rejected Leon’s demands that they recant their testimony.

In January 1993, task force leaks indicated that Jamshid Hashemi and Ari Ben-Menashe would be referred to the Justice Department for prosecution on perjury charges. However, no such indictments were ever returned. Over the years, both Hashemi and Ben-Menashe have stuck to their stories.

When I re-interviewed Hashemi in 1997 about the October Surprise case, he said, “I thought it was my duty that the people in the United States should know. They should know, they should be the judge of it.”

Though Hashemi sat through my interview with the same gentlemanly style that I encountered when I first met him in 1990, he did flash with anger when I asked him about the task force’s report. “Rubbish, that’s what I think,” said Hashemi. “Just a whitewash of the whole situation. It’s a cover-up.”

Hashemi argued that it made no sense for him to have invented his October Surprise account, which he repeated under oath to Congress in 1992. He had nothing to gain and a great deal to lose, he said. “Who has ever paid me a single dime?” Hashemi asked. “I had to pay all my lawyer’s fees. What did I gain here?”

Hashemi blamed the cover-up primarily on the attack strategy of Republican lawyers on the task force, particularly Richard Leon.

Casey in Madrid

In the later release of documents from the Bush library, one was particularly relevant to Hashemi’s claim that Casey had traveled secretly to Madrid, a claim that The New Republic/Newsweek articles and the House task force had rejected (albeit with contradictory and false alibis).

As the congressional investigation was just getting underway in fall 1991, State Department legal adviser Edwin D. Williamson informed associate White House counsel Chester Paul Beach Jr. that among the State Department “material potentially relevant to the October Surprise allegations [was] a cable from the Madrid embassy indicating that Bill Casey was in town, for purposes unknown,” Beach noted in a “memorandum for record” dated Nov. 4, 1991

In other words, even as The New Republic and Newsweek and then the House task force were impugning Hashemi’s truthfulness about a Madrid trip, Bush’s White House was aware of evidence that placed Casey in Madrid during the October Surprise time frame. [For more details on the October Surprise case, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege or America’s Stolen Narrative.]

Earlier this year when I interviewed Hamilton about the Beach memo citing Casey’s Madrid trip, the former congressman said the information had been withheld from his investigation and would have surely altered the task force’s conclusions.

“We found no evidence to confirm Casey’s trip to Madrid,” Hamilton told me. “We couldn’t show that. The [Bush-41] White House did not notify us that he did make the trip. Should they have passed that on to us? They should have because they knew we were interested in that.”

Asked if knowledge that Casey had traveled to Madrid might have changed the task force’s dismissive October Surprise conclusion, Hamilton said yes, because the question of the Madrid trip was key to the task force’s investigation.

“If the White House knew that Casey was there, they certainly should have shared it with us,” Hamilton said, adding that “you have to rely on people” in authority to comply with information requests. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Second Thoughts about October Surprise.”]

The House task force’s failure to get at the truth about the October Surprise controversy resulted, in large part, from a determined cover-up by George H.W. Bush’s administration, but it also benefited profoundly by having a key operative inside the investigation, Richard Leon.

So, when George W. Bush, the eldest son of the former president, found himself in the White House in 2001 (with the help of five Republican justices on the U.S. Supreme Court), Leon’s name landed on a list of judicial candidates. He was nominated by Bush on Sept. 10, 2001, and confirmed by the Senate on Feb. 14, 2002.

But now with a Democratic president in the White House and with a lawsuit before him brought by right-wing activist Larry Klayman (who like Leon cut his proverbial teeth on the Clinton-era Whitewater “scandal”), Leon ruled in favor of Klayman’s lawsuit.

Given the passion expressed in the ruling calling the NSA’s technology “almost Orwellian” one might assume that Leon is simply expressing his inner constitutionalist. And that may well be the case. It is not uncommon for federal judges, after they get lifetime tenure, to demonstrate more intellectual independence.

But there is also no changing how Leon earned his Republican spurs that got him on the federal bench in the first place.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.