Second Thoughts on October Surprise

Special Report: New evidence has shaken the confidence of former Rep. Lee Hamilton in his two-decade-old judgment clearing Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign of going behind President Carter’s back to frustrate his efforts to free 52 U.S. hostages in Iran, the so-called October Surprise case, Robert Parry reports.

By Robert Parry

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, who oversaw two congressional investigations into Ronald Reagan’s secret dealings with Iran, says a key piece of evidence was withheld that could have altered his conclusion clearing Reagan’s 1980 campaign of allegations that it sabotaged President Jimmy Carter’s hostage negotiations with Iran.

In a phone interview on Thursday, the 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 was at the center of Hamilton’s investigation in 1991-92 into whether Reagan’s campaign went behind Carter’s back to frustrate his attempts to free 52 American hostages before the 1980 election, popularly known as the “October Surprise.” 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 insure 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.

“Alleged facts have to do with 1979-80 no apparent reason for jurisdiction/subpoena power to extend beyond,” the document said. “There is no sunset provision this could drag on like Walsh!” a reference to the Iran-Contra special prosecutor.

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.

How to Kill an Inquiry

The documents, which I obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, showed that Reagan-Bush loyalists were determined to thwart any sustained investigation that might link the two scandals. The GOP counterattack included:

Delaying the production of documents;

Having a key witness dodge a congressional subpoena;

Neutralizing an aggressive Democratic investigator;

Pressuring a Republican senator to become more obstructive;

Tightly restricting access to classified information;

Narrowing the inquiry as it applied to alleged Reagan-Bush wrongdoing while simultaneously widening the probe to include Carter’s efforts to free the hostages;

Mounting a public relations campaign attacking the investigation’s costs; and

Encouraging friendly journalists to denounce the story.

Ultimately, the GOP cover-up strategy proved highly effective, as Democrats grew timid and neoconservative journalists then emerging as a powerful force in the Washington media took the lead in decrying the October Surprise allegations as a “myth.” The Republicans benefited, too, from a Washington press corps, which had grown weary of the complex Iran-Contra scandal.

It would take nearly two decades for the October Surprise cover-up to crumble with admissions by officials involved in the investigation that its exculpatory conclusions were rushed, that crucial evidence had been hidden or ignored, and that some alibis for key Republicans didn’t make any sense. [For details, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

Getting Some Help

In the near term, however, Republicans succeeded in their well-organized cover-up. They were aided immensely by Newsweek and The New Republic, which published matching stories on their covers in mid-November 1991 claiming to have debunked the October Surprise allegations by proving that Casey could not have made the trip to Madrid in 1980.

Though Bush’s White House already had the State Department’s information contradicting the smug self-certainty of the two magazines, the administration made no effort to correct the record. In the interview, Hamilton confirmed that he was unaware of the confirmation of a Casey-to-Madrid trip from the U.S. Embassy.

Yet, even without Beach’s memorandum, 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.

Ignoring Doubts

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.

A 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 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, also 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. The deadline came into play when the floodgates on evidence of Republican guilt opened in December 1992.

In 2010, shortly before his death, 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 more details on the cover-up, see Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

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.




What a Real Cover-up Looks Like

Exclusive: Republicans won’t let go of their conspiracy theory about some nefarious “cover-up” in “talking points” for Ambassador Susan Rice’s TV interviews on the Benghazi attack. But they should at least have better skills for detecting a real cover-up, since they’ve had direct experience, as Robert Parry documents.

By Robert Parry

There have been nine public hearings and countless hours of commentary about the so-called Benghazi “cover-up” really just some bureaucratic back-and-forth about “talking points” for a second-tier official’s appearance on TV. But none of the outraged members of Congress or the news media seems to have any idea what a real cover-up looks like.

In 2011, I gained access to files at the George H.W. Bush library in College Station, Texas, showing how Bush’s White House reacted to allegations in 1991 that he had joined in an operation in 1980 to sabotage President Jimmy Carter’s negotiations to free 52 American hostages then held in Iran.

What those files revealed was how to run a cover-up! Its framework was set on Nov. 6, 1991, by White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray, who explained to an inter-agency strategy session how to contain and frustrate a congressional investigation into the so-called October Surprise case. The explicit goal was to insure the scandal would not hurt President Bush’s reelection hopes in 1992.

Gray’s strategy session followed by two days the White House receiving evidence from the State Department that a key fact in the October Surprise allegations had been verified. Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign director, William Casey, indeed had traveled on a mysterious trip to Madrid, just as one of the central witnesses had claimed.

The confirmation was passed along by State Department legal adviser Edwin D. Williamson, who 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.” Associate White House counsel Chester Paul Beach Jr. noted Williamson’s information in a “memorandum for record” dated Nov. 4, 1991.

Two days later, on Nov. 6, Gray summoned his subordinates to a meeting that laid out how to thwart the October Surprise inquiry, which was seen as a dangerous expansion of the Iran-Contra investigation. Up to that point, Iran-Contra had focused on illicit arms-for-hostage sales to Iran that President Reagan authorized in 1985-86.

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.

The Stakes

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.

“Alleged facts have to do with 1979-80 no apparent reason for jurisdiction/subpoena power to extend beyond,” the document said. “There is no sunset provision this could drag on like Walsh!” a reference to Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh.

However, 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 narrative. The story started 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.

The documents, which I obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, showed that Reagan-Bush loyalists were determined to thwart any sustained investigation that might link the two scandals. The GOP counterattack included:

Delaying the production of documents;

Having a key witness dodge a congressional subpoena;

Neutralizing an aggressive Democratic investigator;

Pressuring a Republican senator to become more obstructive;

Tightly restricting access to classified information;

Narrowing the inquiry as it applied to alleged Reagan-Bush wrongdoing while simultaneously widening the probe to include Carter’s efforts to free the hostages;

Mounting a public relations campaign attacking the investigation’s costs; and

Encouraging friendly journalists to denounce the story.

Highly Effective

Ultimately, the GOP cover-up strategy proved highly effective, as Democrats grew timid and neoconservative journalists then emerging as a powerful force in the Washington media took the lead in decrying the October Surprise allegations as a “myth.”

The Republicans benefited, too, from a Washington press corps, which had grown weary of the complex Iran-Contra scandal. Careerist reporters in the mainstream press had learned that the route to advancement lay more in “debunking” such complicated national security scandals than in pursuing them.

It would take nearly two decades for the October Surprise cover-up to crumble with admissions by officials involved in the investigation that its exculpatory conclusions were rushed, that crucial evidence had been hidden or ignored, and that some alibis for key Republicans didn’t make any sense. [For details, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

In the near term, however, Republicans succeeded in their well-organized cover-up. They were aided immensely by Newsweek and The New Republic, which published matching stories on their covers in mid-November 1991 claiming to have debunked the October Surprise allegations by proving that Casey could not have made the trip to Madrid in 1980.

Though Bush’s White House already had the State Department’s information contradicting the smug self-certainty of the two magazines, the administration made no effort to correct the record. Yet, even without Beach’s memorandum, 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. However, 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 Sloppiness

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 and 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. [To this day, neither Newsweek nor The New Republic has published a correction for their errors, despite the historical damage done.]

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 conclusive evidence to the contrary reached the congressional investigation.

Coordination was 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. Lee Hamilton, chairman of the House Task Force, 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.

Withholding Documents

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.

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.

A 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 policy discussions. From the Bush library documents, it was apparent that the October Surprise cover-up was essentially an extension of the broader effort to contain the Iran-Contra scandal, with Bush personally involved in orchestrating both efforts.

For instance, Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh discovered in December 1992 that Bush’s White House counsel’s office, under Boyden Gray, also 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. After all, one of Bush’s s Iran-Contra diary entries, dated July 20, 1987, described then-Secretary of State George Shultz’s detailed notes on meetings with Reagan. In the Iran-Contra report, Walsh wrote that Bush’s phrasing about Shultz’s notes suggested that the withholding of Bush’s own documents was willful.

“I found this almost inconceivable,” Bush wrote about Shultz. “Not only that he kept the notes, but that he’d turned them all over to Congress. I would never do it. I would never surrender such documents.” Following those sentiments, Bush’s White House sought to frustrate not just Iran-Contra investigators but those assigned to examine the October Surprise issue.

Cat-and-Mouse Game

Rather than any commitment to openness regarding the October Surprise case, the documents reveal a cat-and-mouse game designed to block pursuit of the truth. 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]

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.”

Delaying Tactics

Beyond pushing the investigation later into 1992, the Republican delaying tactics also ensured that an interim House report, scheduled for the end of June, would not break any new ground that might torpedo Bush’s reelection hopes. The GOP made it a top goal to have the interim report clear Bush of allegations that he had joined a secret trip to Paris in mid-October 1980 to meet with Iranian representatives, the released documents show.

On June 24, 1992, Rehnquist prepared “talking points” for a Boyden Gray phone call with Republican Sens. Jim Jeffords of Vermont and Richard Lugar of Indiana stressing that “it must be said clearly for the record” that Bush was not in Paris. “We cannot let something this important left hanging,” Rehnquist wrote.

The key to that success was to prevent the congressional investigators from thoroughly examining Bush’s supposed alibis for the date of Oct. 19, 1980, when his account had him returning to his Washington home for a day off but when some October Surprise witnesses alleged he snuck off for a quick overnight flight to Paris to meet with Iranians.

The released records reveal that the White House had a hand in limiting what the Secret Service showed to the investigators regarding Bush’s supposed activities during the day of Oct. 19. The partially redacted Secret Service records, which were given to Congress, showed a morning trip to the Chevy Chase Country Club and an afternoon visit to a private residence.

But the redactions impeded efforts by congressional investigators to corroborate that those supposed movements by Bush actually took place. Under questioning, only one of the Secret Service agents, supervisor Leonard Tanis, had any memory of Bush’s supposed trip to the Chevy Chase Country Club. Tanis claimed that George and Barbara Bush attended a brunch with Supreme Court Justice and Mrs. Potter Stewart.

However, Barbara Bush’s records showed her going somewhere else that morning and, when questioned, Mrs. Stewart said she and her late husband did not have brunch with the Bushes. No one at the Chevy Chase club recalled the supposed brunch either. Tanis, a Bush favorite among the Secret Service detail, soon backed off his account.

With the Chevy Chase trip having verification problems, attention turned to the afternoon visit to a private residence. However, the Secret Service refused to release the name and address of the person visited, claiming that to do so would somehow endanger the agency’s protective strategies. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

Withholding a Name

What the records from the Bush library revealed, however, was that the White House was involved in keeping the name of the person secret, and that a Republican senator involved in the October Surprise inquiry was under intense pressure from the GOP to act more aggressively in Bush’s defense.

On June 24, 1992, Rehnquist wrote a memo for the file describing a meeting that she and Gray had with Sen. Terry Sanford, D-North Carolina, chairman of the subcommittee in charge of the Senate’s October Surprise inquiry, and Jeffords, the ranking Republican who was viewed as not on the GOP’s cover-up team.

The senators complained about the “GOP thrashing Jeffords,” Rehnquist wrote. “The Senators urged that we seek to stop the GOP from criticizing Sen. Jeffords’ handling of the minority interests in the investigation. They said that they were irritated by the continued GOP bashing and that it wasn’t doing any good.”

But the pummeling appears to have softened Jeffords’s readiness to ask tough questions of his fellow Republicans. Rehnquist wrote, with apparent relief, that there was “discussion concerning whether the investigators needed to see the names and addresses of private individuals whom the VP visited on a particular occasion” and the two senators “were not interested in the names and addresses of private individuals whom the VP may have visited on a particular day.”

So, the White House was spared publicly having to identify Bush’s alibi witness for the afternoon of Oct. 19, 1980.

In summer 1992, Republicans were suggesting that they wanted to protect the host’s name because Bush may have been visiting a woman friend and that the Democrats might have been hoping to stir up a sex scandal to counter some of the salacious rumors about their own nominee, Bill Clinton.

However, when Secret Service records for Barbara Bush were released they showed her going to the same unidentified residence, deflating suggestions of a sexual liaison involving her husband. The question that remained was whether George H.W. Bush actually was part of the afternoon visit or whether his wife’s day trip was used as a cover for his absence from Washington.

Without questioning the afternoon host, it was impossible to verify Bush’s alibi. Yet, in a strange alibi deal, the House Task Force agreed to clear Bush of taking a secret trip to Paris in exchange for the White House privately giving the name of Bush’s host to a small number of the congressional investigators. But they were barred from interviewing the alibi witness or releasing the name.

The peculiar arrangement being told the name of an alibi witness but never questioning the witness was typical of Bush’s White House imposing bizarre rules on the inquiry and the badgered investigators acquiescing. [It was not until September 2011 that I was able to pry loose the name of the “alibi witness,” Richard A. Moore, a former legal adviser to President Richard Nixon. However, by then, Moore had died.]

Contrary Evidence

The House Task Force stuck with its decision to clear Bush regarding the alleged Paris trip despite subsequent evidence suggesting that Bush, indeed, had flown to Paris and had created a false record to conceal the trip.

For instance, I informed the Task Force about contemporaneous knowledge of the Bush-to-Paris trip provided by Chicago Tribune reporter John Maclean, son of author Norman Maclean who wrote A River Runs Through It. John Maclean said a well-placed Republican source told him in mid-October 1980 about Bush taking a secret trip to Paris to meet with Iranians on the U.S. hostage issue.

After hearing this news in 1980, Maclean passed on the information to David Henderson, a State Department Foreign Service officer. Henderson recalled the date as Oct. 18, 1980, when the two met at Henderson’s Washington home to discuss another matter. (Maclean never used the information for a story, but he confirmed his knowledge after Henderson remembered the conversation when the October Surprise allegations surfaced a decade later.)

And, there was other support for the allegations of a Republican-Iranian meeting in Paris. David Andelman, the biographer for Count Alexandre deMarenches, head of France’s Service de Documentation Exterieure et de Contre-Espionage (SDECE), testified to the House Task Force that deMarenches told him that he had helped the Reagan-Bush campaign arrange meetings with Iranians on the hostage issue in summer and fall of 1980, with one meeting in Paris in October.

Andelman said deMarenches insisted that the secret meetings be kept out of his memoir because the story could otherwise damage the reputations of his friends, William Casey and George H.W. Bush.

The allegations of a Paris meeting also received support from several other sources, including pilot Heinrich Rupp, who said he flew Casey from Washington’s National Airport to Paris on a flight that left very late on a rainy night in mid-October 1980. Rupp said that after arriving at LeBourget airport outside Paris, he saw a man resembling Bush on the tarmac.

The night of Oct. 18 indeed was rainy in the Washington area. And, sign-in sheets at the Reagan-Bush headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, placed Casey within a five-minute drive of National Airport late that evening.

A well-connected French investigative reporter Claude Angeli said his sources inside the French secret service confirmed that the service provided “cover” for a meeting between Republicans and Iranians in France on the weekend of October 18-19. German journalist Martin Kilian had received a similar account from a top aide to intelligence chief deMarenches.

As early as 1987, Iran’s ex-President Bani-Sadr had made claims about such a Paris meeting, and Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe claimed to have been present outside the meeting and saw Bush, Casey, Gates and Gregg in attendance.

Russian Report

Finally, the Russian government sent a report to the House Task Force, saying that Soviet-era intelligence files contained information about Republicans holding a series of meetings with Iranians in Europe, including one in Paris in October 1980. “William Casey, in 1980, met three times with representatives of the Iranian leadership,” the Russian Report said. “The meetings took place in Madrid and Paris.”

At the Paris meeting in October 1980, “R[obert] Gates, at that time a staffer of the National Security Council in the administration of Jimmy Carter, and former CIA Director George Bush also took part,” the report said. “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.”

The Russian Report was kept hidden by the House Task Force until I discovered it by gaining access to the Task Force’s raw files. Though the report was addressed to Hamilton, he told me in 2010 that he had never seen the report until I sent him a copy shortly before our interview. Barcella then acknowledged to me that he might not have shown Hamilton the report and may have simply filed it away in boxes of Task Force records.

The documents from the Bush library also shed light on how far the Republicans were prepared to go to protect Bush on the issue of his whereabouts on Oct. 19, 1980. The GOP members of the Task Force insisted that the one Democratic investigator who had the strongest doubts about Bush’s alibi be barred from the inquiry altogether.

The suspicions of the investigator, House Foreign Affairs Committee chief counsel Spencer Oliver, had been piqued by the false account from Secret Service supervisor Tanis. In a six-page memo, Oliver urged a closer look at Bush’s whereabouts and questioned why the Secret Service was concealing the alibi witness’ name.

“Why did the Secret Service refuse to cooperate on a matter which could have conclusively cleared George Bush of these serious allegations?” Oliver asked. “Was the White House involved in this refusal? Did they order it?”

Oliver also noted Bush’s odd behavior in raising the October Surprise issue on his own at two news conferences. “It can be fairly said that President Bush’s recent outbursts about the October Surprise inquiries and [about] his whereabouts in mid-October of 1980 are disingenuous at best,” wrote Oliver, “since the administration has refused to make available the documents and the witnesses that could finally and conclusively clear Mr. Bush.”

Well-Founded Suspicions

From Janet Rehnquist’s memo on the meeting with Jeffords and Sanford, it appears that Oliver’s suspicion was well-founded about the involvement of Bush’s White House in the decision to conceal the name of the supposed afternoon host.

Another released documents reflected how angry the Republicans were about Oliver, who also had been a dogged investigator during the congressional Iran-Contra probe in 1987. Thomas Smeeton, a former CIA officer who served as Republican staff director for the House Intelligence Committee and had been Rep. Dick Cheney’s appointee to the congressional Iran-Contra committee, sent Rehnquist a memorandum prepared for Republican members regarding Oliver.

Entitled “October Surprise The Ubiquitous Spencer Oliver,” the memo said Republicans had “been told repeatedly that Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman [Dante] Fascell does not want his Chief Counsel, Spencer Oliver, to participate in the ‘October Surprise’ probe. Yet, we continue to get reports that he’s as active as ever. For example, the GAO [General Accounting Office], in congressional testimony last year [1991] indicated that he attended an October Surprise meeting with Senator Terry Sanford.”

Keeping Oliver off the October Surprise investigation became a high priority for the Republicans. At a midway point in the inquiry when some Democratic Task Force members asked the knowledgeable Oliver to represent them as a staff investigator, Republicans threatened a boycott unless Oliver was barred.

In a gesture of bipartisanship, Rep. Hamilton gave the Republicans the power to veto Oliver’s participation. Denied one of the few Democratic investigators with both the savvy and courage to pursue a serious investigation, the Democratic members of the Task Force retreated further into passivity.

Meanwhile, Bush’s White House kept up the pressure, restricting congressional access to key documents pertinent to the investigation. 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 Richard 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 was going to extraordinary lengths to control the evidence.

Questioning the Cost

As early as November 1991 at White House counsel Gray’s inter-agency meeting, Gray instructed administration officials to keep track of the costs for document searches so the inquiry could be challenged as a waste of money. Again and again, the documents reveal a near obsession with the estimated costs of the probe as well as the close collaboration between Rehnquist’s office and Republican congressional staff, especially John Mackey, the minority staff director on the October Surprise Task Force.

When another Bush legal adviser, Lee Liberman, helped coordinate a P.R. attack on the cost of the October Surprise investigation, Mackey sent his business card with the note, “Lee: FYI How to hit back! Best, John”

Bush’s White House also kept close track of press stories, especially those attacking the credibility of anyone who made October Surprise allegations. That was especially true about Carter’s former NSC aide Gary Sick, whose New York Times op-ed in April 1991 had given important impetus to the long-held suspicions regarding a GOP-Iranian deal in 1980.

On May 21, 1991, President Bush dashed off a personal note to conservative columnist William Rusher, thanking him for “rallying ‘round in that article challenging Gary Sick to apologize.”

However, at least one White House official privately held a different view of Sick’s book, October Surprise. On June 23, 1992, after reading it, Ash Jain wrote a memo to Janet Rehnquist, noting that “Sick presents a seemingly compelling account of [William] Casey’s participation in secret meetings with the Iranian Government.”

In the end, the Republican “delay/filibuster strategy” proved successful. The impact of the October Surprise scandal on Campaign 1992 was minimized, although Bush still failed to win reelection. It wasn’t until December 1992 a month after Bush lost to Bill Clinton that the floodgates on October Surprise evidence finally began to open.

Years later, Task Force chief counsel Barcella told me that so much new evidence poured in that final month implicating the Republicans that he asked Hamilton to extend the investigation three more months. But Hamilton, recognizing how nasty the Republican reaction would be, turned down the extension request, Barcella said.

For his part, Hamilton told me that he had no recollection of Barcella’s request. Hamilton also said he had no memory of Barcella ever showing him the Russian Report which arrived in January 1993 and corroborated allegations of meetings between Iranians and Republicans in Europe, including Bush, Gates and Casey in Paris.

Despite all the evidence of Republican guilt, Hamilton and his Task Force simply signed off on a finding of Republican innocence.

Though many lessons can be drawn from the failed October Surprise investigation of two decades ago, one point that is relevant today is to understand what a real government cover-up looks like.

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).




DiEugenio on Parry’s New Book

Exclusive: America’s political dysfunction stems, in large part, from the Right’s success in distorting U.S. history and the mainstream news media’s failure to counter those false narratives. That has left the nation adrift in a faux reality, a crisis described by Robert Parry’s new book and analyzed by Jim DiEugenio.

By Jim DiEugenio

Robert Parry is one of the growing number of former MSM journalists who departed his mainstream employers and today makes his home on the Web. The contents of his book, America’s Stolen Narrative, informs us to a large degree why he departed. But beyond that, his book demonstrates why Parry’s work is still exceptional and unique in his new milieu.

Many people, including myself, thought that once the so-called “liberal blogosphere” firmly established itself as an alternative to the fading MSM, it would then provide a real opportunity for a revival of genuine honest journalism. Journalism that would be unfettered by artificial boundaries imposed from the censoring pen of the editor’s office.

In other words, there was a real chance that the Internet could be the new 1960’s alternative press, the kind of underground truth-telling papers that Angus Mackenzie wrote about in his little book Secrets. As Mackenzie noted, these papers exemplified by Warren Hinckle’s Ramparts and Art Kunkin’s LA Free Press were so dangerous to the Establishment that the CIA established a program to counter and neutralize them.

By contrast, the problem with our so-called “liberal blogosphere” is that, with very few exceptions, there is no need to counter, let alone, neutralize these New Media outlets. One can pretty much declare that, for whatever reasons, the so-called New Media was stillborn.

The editors of sites like Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo and Huffington Post could easily sit on the panel that GE’s CEO Jack Welch designed for “The McLaughlin Group.” Welch was out to design the limits of the Conventional Wisdom. That is, the boundaries of information and opinion which he wanted the public to hear.

Well, not only could Joshua Micah Marshall, Markos Moulitsas, and Arianna Huffington easily sit on Welch’s panel, they have sat on an equivalent panel as appointed by the likes of George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week. Kunkin and Hinckle would never make the invitation list.

To his credit, neither would Robert Parry. And his new book demonstrates why not. America’s Stolen Narrative does not abide by the Conventional Wisdom, either the Welch version or the Stephanopoulos version. In fact, it shatters the so-called CW. How? By questioning the foundation that it stands upon.

And this completely exposes the CW for what it is: A way to mollify the public into accepting things as they are, never questioning how it got that way. One way the CW does this is by shoving crimes and scandals under the rug, thereby, letting the perpetrators not only get away with criminal offenses, but allowing them to operate in the political system as if nothing had ever happened.

Most informed commentators would say that this began with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But Parry begins with an event that seems to me to be directly related to Kennedy’s murder, but about which there has been very little written about in any media. One could dub it, the First October Surprise.

LBJ’s War 

As anyone who has read anything about Lyndon Johnson’s presidency would know, one of the most horrible mistakes the Texan made was to reverse Kennedy’s policy in Southeast Asia. Instead of continuing his predecessor’s withdrawal plan, in just three months, Johnson had signed off on a National Security Action Memorandum that reversed Kennedy’s plan. He then began to plan on a huge air and land war in Southeast Asia.

Enabled by the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which he clearly exaggerated for political ends, Johnson began an air war over Vietnam. Once he won the 1964 election, he almost immediately reneged on his promise not to expand the war. Very quickly, in just a matter of a few months, LBJ had inserted over 100, 000 combat troops in theater. (Kennedy had sent none.)

By 1967, this figure had multiplied to over half a million men. It was supplemented by Rolling Thunder, the code name for the largest aerial bombardment ever seen. The problem was simple: It didn’t work. Both Johnson and the commanding officer in theater, General William Westmoreland, failed to understand the true nature of the war. That it was not going to be won by search-and-destroy missions trying to kill as many Viet Cong as possible. Nor would it be won by bombing suspected sanctuaries or bridges or highways.

This resulted in indiscriminate killing of civilians which turned the populace away from the Saigon puppet government the U.S. was backing. Then, in one of the greatest intelligence failures of the 20th Century, the CIA failed to prepare for the Tet Offensive. Johnson and Westmoreland were exposed and humiliated.

The massive effort they had encouraged and bankrolled was seen as a mirage. The Viet Cong had raided every major city in South Vietnam and shattered the Vietnam policy in the White House. A rethinking was led by newly appointed Defense Secretary Clark Clifford.

As Clifford noted in the classic film Hearts and Minds, he had entered office as a backer of the war. Once he understood that the Pentagon had no real plan to win the war on the ground, and that the bombing campaign was largely ineffective, he came to the conclusion that America could not win. (This was the same conclusion that his predecessor, Robert McNamara, had reached.)

Clifford informed Johnson of the result of his extensive review. Therefore, on March 31, 1968, Johnson went on national television and announced a bombing halt over North Vietnam. He then dropped a political bombshell. He said he would not run for reelection.

Pursuing Peace

Seeing the war was lost, Johnson’s bombing halt was designed to encourage the North Vietnamese to agree to peace talks and end the war. It worked. North Vietnam agreed to begin the talks in Paris that summer.

The problem was that the Republicans understood that if Johnson secured a negotiated settlement it would greatly aid the Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey. In fact, it would reverse his fortunes since he was being hurt by Johnson’s expansion of the war, while Nixon was proclaiming he had a secret plan to end the war.

Nixon had always been skilled in the art of political subterfuge. Such tactics had been instilled in him by his designated hatchet man Murray Chotiner. So, Nixon sought to derail the peace talks to negate any political advantage that might accrue to Humphrey. His plan was to use China Lobby leader and anti-communist activist Anna Chennault to urge South Vietnam to sandbag the talks. This was done through contacts with South Vietnamese Ambassador Bui Diem and President Nguyen van Thieu.

Johnson clearly suspected something was wrong, since many of the South Vietnamese objections to the talks, like the shape of the negotiating table, were transparent dodges. By October, through information supplied by State Department official Eugene Rostow, the White House discovered that the Republicans were behind the obstruction.

Rostow’s information, garnered from Wall Street bankers, said that Nixon “was trying to frustrate the President, by inciting Saigon to step up its demands.” (Parry, p. 38)  Eugene’s brother, Walt Rostow, who was LBJ’s National Security Advisor, passed on the information to President Johnson.

Johnson then directed the FBI to monitor American contacts with Bui Diem at the South Vietnamese embassy. This surveillance uncovered the Chennault mission, which was a violation of the Logan Act forbidding private citizens from interfering with the conduct of American diplomacy.

Johnson called Sen. Everett Dirksen, R-Illinois, to complain about what he termed Nixon’s “dirty pool.” (ibid)  He then told Dirksen that although certain Republicans had criticized “my conduct of the war, they have never told the enemy that he’d get a better deal, but these last few days, Dick is [sic] just gotten a little shaky.” (Parry, p. 39)

Johnson then read Dirksen some of the intelligence reports that backed up what Johnson was accusing Nixon of doing. Dirksen replied that some people on his side were worried about a breakthrough on the eve of the election. Johnson responded that he was not playing politics with the negotiations.

Further, Nixon had pledged that he wanted the war stopped and would support LBJ in that regard. To make sure that Dirksen knew what he had on Nixon, LBJ told the senator, “He better keep Mrs. Chennault and all this crowd tied up for a few days.” (ibid)

Nixon’s Gambit

Johnson’s implied threats fell on deaf ears. On Nov. 2, Chennault contacted Bui Diem to convey a message from her boss that he wanted him to hold on since he understood all that was going on. (ibid, p. 40) Johnson again called Dirksen and threatened to inject the issue into the campaign. He said, “I don’t want to get this in the campaign. They oughtn’t be doing this. This is treason.” To which Dirksen agreed.

Johnson slammed his point home: “They’re contacting a foreign power in the middle of a war. You just tell them that their people are messing around in this thing, and if they don’t want it on the front pages, they better quit it.” (Parry, p. 41)

Next, Nixon called Johnson. Predictably, he denied any part in the sabotage of the talks. (Ibid, p. 42)  But yet, on Nov. 4, another FBI report had Anna Chennault visiting the South Vietnamese embassy. And in Saigon, a young reporter for the Christian Science Monitor began to pick up the scent of Chennault interfering with the talks.

Correspondent Beverly Deepe heard about a cable to Saigon by Bui Diem about his contacts with the Nixon camp. (Ibid, p. 43)  Deepe then drafted a story. Her editors referred it to the White House for comment.

After conferring with Walt Rostow, Clifford, and Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Johnson agreed not to say anything, out of a concern that exposing Nixon’s treachery might not be “good for the country,” especially if he still won the election. Instead, LBJ and Rostow buried the Nixon file. Before leaving the White House, Johnson told Rostow to take the file with him. Clearly, LBJ did not want Nixon to have it.

But the story does not end there. By burying this treachery, Johnson did not just make possible Nixon’s narrow win in the election, a win that may have been turned into a loss if Johnson exposed the subterfuge in the last few days of the election. And a Humphrey win very likely would have shortened the war saving hundreds of thousands of lives

But as Parry notes, the spiriting away of this file had an influence on President Nixon and the creation of the Plumbers Unit, the burglars who caused the Watergate crisis.

Most commentators, and even some of those involved inside the giant Watergate scandal, have maintained that the beginnings of that scandal originated with the New York Times’ publication of the Pentagon Papers. That multi-volume history of the Vietnam War was commissioned by McNamara before he left office.

For example, The Washington Post had always maintained that it was this publishing event that provoked the creation of the Plumbers Unit. This was the group of saboteurs inside the White House that was supposed to plug leaks for Nixon, and also sabotage his political enemies — thereby making sure he would win again in 1972.

There is no doubt that the publication of the Pentagon Papers, which began in June 1971, greatly disturbed Nixon. But if one reads the first tape transcript in Stanley Kutler’s book Abuse of Power, one will see that the discovery of the Johnson/Rostow file on Nixon’s Vietnam gambit actually figures prominently in the White House decision to create the Plumbers Unit.

Search for the File

In a conversation between Bob Haldeman, Nixon and Henry Kissinger, it is clear that Nixon understood that Johnson had kept an intelligence file on his Chennault operation. And this file could become important now that the secret history of the Vietnam War was being publicized. After all, if Nixon had not meddled in Johnson’s negotiations, perhaps the war would have wound down instead of continuing. It’s clear that on this tape, Nixon is proposing firebombing and breaking into the Brookings Institution to search for that file. (Parry, p. 62)

He actually suggests putting together a group of former spies, he mentions Howard Hunt as an example, in order to perform functions likes this. Therefore, not only did Johnson’s failure to expose the Chennault operation help bring Nixon into the White House, it was Nixon’s fear of his chicanery being exposed before his reelection campaign that gave impetus to Watergate.

This begins one of Parry’s major themes. Which is this: the Democrats repeatedly go easy on the Republicans in the spirit of non-partisanship, “the good of the country,” and staying on a positive agenda. And this is after real scandals.

Yet, the Republicans use every opportunity they have to exploit ersatz scandals, Whitewater, Obama’s birth certificate, thereby splitting and polarizing the country, while weakening and distracting the Democratic agenda. This is an important point that the Democrats have never learned.

The book goes deeper into Watergate, revising the official narrative further. If the reader will recall, the scandal broke in the papers because the Plumbers unit led by Jim McCord, Gordon Liddy, and Hunt was caught inside the Watergate Hotel in the early morning hours of June 17, 1972.

A security guard at the hotel complex suspected a break-in and called for the police. The reason the Plumbers were there was because this was the location of the Democratic National Committee. The DNC was headed by Larry O’Brien, a former campaign manager for President Kennedy who had ties to the Hughes Corporation.

No one has ever been able to convincingly explain why this location was a target. As many have said, traditionally, there really was not a lot of valuable political intelligence on hand at party headquarters. A much more practical site would have been the presidential candidate’s headquarters, in this case that would be frontrunner George McGovern’s.

Because of this conundrum, many authors have tried to insert some kind of reason for this burglary at the Watergate. A likely one being that since O’Brien’s desk was bugged during an earlier undetected break-in in May 1972, it may be that they were trying to find out what O’Brien had on the Nixon/Hughes relationship, which went back for decades.

The Bug That Worked

But Parry has discovered another probable reason. The other office that was bugged in May 1972 was that of Spencer Oliver and the bug on Oliver’s phone was the only one that worked. In fact, one of the burglars, Eugenio Martinez, had a key to Oliver’s secretary‘s desk.

In 1972, Oliver was executive director of the Association of State Democratic Chairmen.  In an interview Parry did with him, Oliver revealed that he was collaborating on a Stop McGovern campaign inside the party.

Oliver did not think that the liberal McGovern could defeat Nixon. He was therefore secretly backing a more moderate southerner, former North Carolina Gov. Terry Sanford. After the bugging of his office was discovered, Oliver began to suspect that since Nixon and the Plumbers favored McGovern as their opponent, information about the Stop-McGovern effort was what they were after, or at least what they obtained off his phone.

There is some interesting evidence that Parry details to back this. Nixon had appointed former Texas Gov. John Connally as Secretary of the Treasury early in 1971. Connally had always represented the conservative wing of the Democratic Party in Texas. In 1972, he formed an organization called Democrats for Nixon.

The idea behind this group was to try to paint McGovern as out of step with the mainstream of the Democratic Party. But as Parry notes, once inside the White House, Connally also provided much interesting information about the inner workings of the Democratic Party to Nixon’s campaign.  (Parry, p. 67)

Meanwhile, in late spring 1972, Spencer Oliver was trying to halt McGovern’s progress and promote the more electable Sanford at the Texas state convention by denying McGovern delegates that could push him close to the party’s presidential nomination.

But when Oliver got there he found something very curious afoot: Connally’s operatives were being overly generous to the McGovern delegates; i.e. allowing them more delegates, when you normally would have expected conservatives to favor shutting the liberal McGovern out and blocking his pursuit of the nomination.

There was another surprise awaiting Oliver. Robert Strauss, then national treasurer of the party, was at the convention. This surprised Oliver because, historically, Strauss had been a moneyman for Connally in Texas and otherwise not very active in state party politics.

Oliver felt that the convention was about 70 percent anti-McGovern, and if the conservative Democrats had united with him, they could have put a serious chink in McGovern’s nomination. (ibid, p. 69) Instead, McGovern finished a rather close second to Alabama Gov. George Wallace in terms of delegates, with Humphrey a distant third.

Strauss’s Role

The Strauss angle has a coda to it. When McGovern lost the general election, his Democratic Party chair, Jean Westwood, was purged. Strauss, Connally’s protégé, became chair of the Democratic Committee. (ibid, p. 73) Once Strauss assumed power, he called in Oliver, who was a key party to the civil suit against the Republicans over the Watergate break-in.

Strauss wanted Oliver to drop the suit and join him in a settlement agreement with the Republicans. Oliver disagreed since he thought the longer the suit was in court, the more information would come out and the more it would hurt the Republicans. So he got another attorney to represent him.

In what Oliver saw as retaliation, Strauss cut off Oliver’s paycheck, but the state chairmen agreed to pick it up. Strauss then did something else; he moved the Democratic offices out of the Watergate complex. This also struck Oliver as odd because as long as the party headquarters was there, and the lawsuit was ongoing, the hotel stood as a symbol of Republican perfidy. But Strauss insisted. So the party went to a new location at greater expense. (ibid, p. 76)

Almost until Nixon’s resignation in August 1974, Strauss remained adamantly opposed to the Democrats pursuing the Watergate scandal. Later, Connally formally switched parties to mount an unsuccessful run for president as a Republican in 1976. After Jimmy Carter’s defeat in 1980, Strauss continued his migration toward the GOP, too. He eventually ended up as George H. W. Bush’s ambassador to Moscow. In Parry’s calculus, this had been a predictable outcome.

The author then flashes forward to the (premature) end of the Carter administration. Chapter Five, I think should have a different title. It should actually be called “The Second October Surprise” or “October Surprise Reprise,” instead of just “The October Surprise,” in that it echoes the first one by the Nixon-Chennault apparatus, which prevented Humphrey’s election.

In 1980, it appears that the Republicans repeated this pattern by again interfering in American diplomacy in order to prevent Carter from freeing the American hostages captured by the Iranian revolutionaries when the U.S. Embassy was overrun in Tehran.

The discussion of this particular scandal is probably the longest one in the volume, which is fine with me because without this clandestine episode, what we call today the Reagan Revolution would likely not have happened. Therefore, this scandal is historically important, some would say it’s historically crucial.

But secondly, and this may have been done subliminally, by outlining this episode in detail, the author has essentially sketched a paradigm of how political crimes have been perfected in this country. As many commentators have observed, to pull off a scandal of this magnitude it is not necessary to construct a perfect crime.

The term “perfect crime” is almost a myth in the political sphere. What is necessary in fact what is key is to control the cover-up. If you can do that, then the mistakes in execution become all but irrelevant.

An Incurious Investigator

In this particular instance, the mechanism for controlling the cover-up was two-fold. First, the attorney running the congressional inquiry into the affair was the late Lawrence Barcella, a cagey veteran of the ways of the Washington Beltway. A partner in a large law firm, he had done work for and with the CIA in the famous Edwin Wilson case.

As we will see, Barcella was determined to let the scandal pass quietly by constructing a whitewash of a report, one that, if it had been used as a defense in a court of law would have been dashed to pieces in a matter of minutes. But secondly, and perhaps more important, the MSM made sure that any honest reporting into the affair would be unfairly criticized, even ridiculed.

One of the most interesting aspects of Parry’s writing on this episode is that it is personal. Parry made his reputation as a journalist when, at the Associated Press and in a famous article in The New Republic, he was one of the first to expose the fact that the secret and illegal war against Nicaragua was being run right out of the White House. He was also one of the first to uncover the fact that the CIA-backed Contra army opposing the democratically elected Nicaraguan government was trading in cocaine to finance its operations.

When the Iran/Contra Affair exploded as a major scandal in late 1986, Parry doubted the time line that the official investigators put together about when arms began to be shipped to Iran via Israel. The official story said this began in 1985, but Parry’s research indicated it started much earlier, back in 1981. (Parry, p. 89)

If that were so, then it would seem that the first arms shipments went from the Reagan administration before there were American hostages being held in Lebanon, Reagan’s supposed motive for shipping arms to Iran. Therefore, the first arms shipments were likely the completion of a deal to delay the release of the American hostages who had been held in Iran.

While a reporter at Newsweek Parry was prevented from fully investigating the depths of Iran/Contra and its probable connections to a second October Surprise. But he later got an opportunity to actually do just that. The PBS series Frontline decided to delve into various accounts from sources claiming that the Republicans had arranged such a swap: that is arms for hostages in order to keep President Carter from doing his own arms-for-hostages deal in the last weeks of the 1980 campaign.

A Second ‘Treason’?

As it turned out, the Iranians dashed Carter’s hopes of a pre-election settlement and only let the plane returning the hostages take off after Reagan was sworn in on Jan. 20, 1981. Why was that precise timing so necessary? Like Nixon, did Reagan’s campaign, led by veteran covert operator William Casey, also violate the Logan Act? Was there a second act of “treason”? Parry’s inquiry certainly seemed to indicate that such a thing had actually occurred.

Witnesses like Nicholas Veliotes, who was assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration, confirmed that the shipments of U.S. arms began in 1981 and stemmed from contacts made before the 1980 election. Ari Ben-Menashe, an Israeli intelligence officer, confirmed that Israel had decided to cooperate with the Republican effort to defeat Carter because they despised the Camp David peace agreement Carter had forced on them. (Parry, p. 88)

Further, Ben-Menashe said he had met some of the Republican delegation in Paris in October 1980, including Vice-President nominee George H. W. Bush and Reagan’s campaign director William Casey. (ibid) These arms sales continued for years since Iran needed weapons to fight its war with Iraq, a conflict which began in September 1980.

In 1991, the combination of the PBS documentary on the October Surprise, a parallel op-ed in the New York Times by former White House national security aide Gary Sick, and follow-up coverage by ABC’s Nightline created an impact that neither Washington nor the MSM could ignore. There were calls for a congressional inquiry into the charges, and such an inquiry was organized.

But even before that got going, both Newsweek and The New Republic ran very harsh and sneering cover stories attacking the very concept of an October Surprise. Martin Peretz, who was firmly in command of the latter publication, was a staunch defender of the conservative party in Israel, the Likud. Peretz commissioned an attack article by Steven Emerson, a reporter who also had ties not just to Likud, but to the Mossad. (Parry, p. 85)

The Newsweek and New Republic attacks particularly one aimed at a Nightline follow-up piece on a Casey meeting with Iranians in Madrid in July 1980 turned out to be provably wrong, but the two magazines’ major factual errors didn’t matter. As Parry writes, “On Capitol Hill, the impact of the one-two punch of Newsweek and the New Republic could not be overstated. Whatever momentum there was for a thorough investigation of the October Surprise issue quickly dissipated.”

Even though, in 1991, George H.W. Bush’s White House knew that Casey indeed had been in Madrid (Parry cites a White House memo to that effect, p. 97), the hired guns of the media were softening up the public perception of the scandal, paving the way for the official cover-up.  Which, as we shall see, is what happened.

A Troubling Paradigm

But what the author does here, by setting up this paradigm, is to reveal a very serious fault in the American democratic system, which undermines the whole concept of democracy. The MSM, led by neocon ideologues like Peretz and oligarchs like the Graham family at Newsweek, is, by nature, in favor of upholding the status quo.

Therefore, when something as potentially explosive as the October Surprise story was in play, they were determined that it should be caricatured as a goofy “conspiracy theory,” therefore, making it easier for 1.) The official inquiry to say there was nothing really there, and 2.) To discourage any other journalist from pursuing the story.

To highlight this very real and dangerous attitude that the (now dying) MSM had, Parry uses independent journalist Craig Unger as a witness. Unger was one of the people hired by Newsweek to examine the 1980 October Surprise allegations. In doing so, Unger warned the magazine’s top editors that they were misreading records purporting to show that Casey was at a London historical seminar in late July and thus not meeting with Iranians in Madrid.

Yet, rather than heed Unger’s warning (which was later proven to be correct), Newsweek editors essentially told him to take a hike and pressed ahead with their false alibi for Casey as the centerpiece for their debunking cover story. (The New Republic did the same thing, using the same false alibi.)

Unger later told Parry that Newsweek’s hit piece was “the most dishonest thing that I’ve been through in my life in journalism.” (Parry, p. 96)  In other words, the public be damned as to what the truth is. The MSM had a spectrum as to what the Conventional Wisdom was. The October Surprise did not fit into it. Therefore, it was macheted.

After the Newsweek/New Republic “debunking” stories, attorney Barcella’s path was laid out in front of him with red arrows. His job was to confirm the “debunking.” How he did that was not important since the MSM would cover his flank, no matter how silly his report was.

Though eventually having to recognize that the Newsweek/New Republic Madrid “alibi” for Casey was false, Barcella and his task force simply created a new one, placing Casey at the famous and mysterious Bohemian Grove enclave in California on that July weekend when Nightline’s witness, Iranian businessman and CIA operative Jamshid Hashemi, put Casey in Madrid.

According to the Bohemian Grove “alibi,” Casey flew from San Francisco to London, with no possible stop in Madrid. There was a serious problem with this, however. All the documentary evidence, including a diary from a member of the private club, indicated that Casey was not there in July, but in August. (ibid, p. 98)

Further, Barcella’s task force could not hammer down an alibi for Casey for the alleged Paris meeting in October either. So, the task force relied on the uncorroborated memory of his nephew, Larry Casey. But as Parry shows, Larry Casey’s story was not credible since he had presented an entirely different alibi to the Frontline documentary and only changed it after it was proven to be false. (ibid, p. 99)

A Determined Cover-up

Barcella’s cover-up path was further defined by Bush-41’s White House, which supplemented the efforts of the MSM by setting up its own team to counter the story. It was led by White House counsel Boyden Gray, who worked with the CIA to stonewall document production and to help Bush’s former national security aide (and CIA veteran) Donald Gregg, another prime suspect in the scandal, avoid being subpoenaed.

But still, in the face of all this obstruction, the evidence kept piling up that the October Surprise plot had actually happened. The biographer of French intelligence chief Alexandre de Marenches stated that the spymaster told him that he had helped arrange the Paris meetings to facilitate the plot.

John Maclean, a Chicago Tribune reporter and son of famous author Norman Maclean, said that a well-placed GOP source revealed to him details of a mid-October 1980 trip that Vice-President-nominee Bush took to Paris to meet with some Iranians about the hostage controversy.

The point being, Bush wanted the Iranians to hold up any release until Carter left office. Once Bush and Reagan were inaugurated, the Iranians would get a better deal in return, i.e., more weapons to fight their war against Iraq. (Parry, p. 107)

Besides Israel intelligence officer Ben-Menashe also placing Bush in Paris, pilot Heinrich Rupp said he flew Casey from Washington’s National Airport to Paris on a rainy night in mid-October of 1980. Upon arrival, he said he saw a man who resembled Bush on the tarmac. (ibid)

Therefore, it became imperative for Bush to also have an alibi for the weekend of Oct. 18-19, 1980. And, Barcella constructed one out of paper mache. At the time of the investigation in 1992, the Secret Service refused to reveal the full records of Bush’s movements, keeping secret the identity of Bush’s key alibi witness (even as Bush was demanding publicly that his alibi be accepted).

However, the congressional task force felt it could not clear Bush without getting the name of the alibi witness. So, Bush and Gray finally turned over the name to senior task force personnel but with the proviso that the investigators could not interview the alibi witness and could never release the name. Remarkably, the task force accepted the deal, clearing Bush but never interviewing his alibi witness.

It’s hard to believe, but Parry had to file an appeal to the National Archives to get those Secret Service records declassified. But he didn’t get them until 2012, 20 years after the investigation was over, a tribute to how effective the cover-up had been.

The alibi witness turned out to be one Richard Moore, a longtime GOP operative who had a role in Nixon’s Watergate cover-up and who was quite friendly with the Bushes. (Parry, p. 110) Bush had helped rehabilitate Moore’s career by appointing him ambassador to Ireland.

However, the stalling tactic had worked. By the time Parry got Moore’s name, he was dead and couldn’t be questioned about whether Bush was actually present in Washington or had slipped away for a secret flight to Paris.

Thus, the upside-down ways of the investigatory process in modern Washington. Normally, it would follow that if Moore had been a solid witness who could corroborate Bush’s presence in D.C., not Paris, Bush would have wanted Moore to testify. Instead, Bush prevented the House task force from interviewing Moore or releasing his name so others could. Doesn’t that suggest that Bush feared Moore would say Bush wasn’t visiting him on Oct. 19, 1980, in Washington?

Parry notes that a previous alibi for Bush on that day being at the Chevy Chase Country Club on Oct. 19 with former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart had already collapsed by the time the task force agreed not to interview Moore. (ibid, p. 111)

Mounting Evidence

As the evidence of Republican guilt built and the alibis failed, there was some dissent inside the House task force as to where Barcella was heading. Rep. Mervyn Dymally, D-California, had some tough questions about both the quality of the evidence and the flimsy logic that Barcella was employing. So, Barcella enlisted committee chairman Lee Hamilton to pressure Dymally into muffling his dissent.  (Parry, p. 142)

Also, with Bush defeated at the polls by Bill Clinton in November 1992, the Democrats saw even less need to press for the truth about an election a dozen years earlier. Parry notes, “Once the election passed, whatever interest in the investigation waned. People were looking toward a new Democratic administration.” (ibid)

So, as with the previous October Surprise, the tendency was with a new administration to just sweep the old dirt under the carpet for “the good of the country.” Barcella’s report stated that there was no credible evidence of any alleged political maneuvering by the GOP in 1980 to thwart Jimmy Carter’s campaign. Second, it claimed that its verdict was unanimous.

However, both points were, to say the least, dubious. Dymally told Parry that he recalled no roll call vote on the report. And as the author showed, the alibis by Casey and Bush were never supported by real facts.

The numerous witnesses alleging a Republican scheme though denounced as unreliable in Barcella’s report were never impeached. Therefore, whatever the task force report said, whatever the dying MSM declared, the case is still open. By no practical forensic standard did Barcella and Hamilton close it.

Also, just as Barcella’s whitewash was being sent to the printers, the Russian government replied to a request by Hamilton for information that the old Soviet Union might have had on the alleged conspiracy. But that reply also was swept under the rug. Why? Because it confirmed what Barcella and the MSM had been denying, namely that Casey, Bush and other GOP operatives had met with the Iranians in order to delay the release of the hostages for political gain. (ibid)

There is no way to soften what Parry relates next: Barcella deliberately buried this Russian report, which, granted, arrived late. But according to Hamilton, Barcella never showed it to the chairman to whom it was addressed. Barcella threw it in a box full of other materials. That box and other boxes containing records from the task force were later transferred to an abandoned Ladies Room in the House Rayburn Parking Garage. Fortunately for us and unfortunately for Barcella, Parry found the Russian report there in 1994.

Misplaced Trust

The book closes with two portraits of personages who figured in scandals that the author reported on, men whom the MSM has lionized, but whom Parry’s reporting reveals to be less than what they were propped up to be.

Colin Powell was revered as the one person in the Cabinet of George W. Bush who was not an undiluted neoconservative, the one guy with some common sense. Perhaps one could characterize him as a serious Council on Foreign Relations type rather than a cheerleader who would appear with Sean Hannity on Fox.

Yet, when George W. Bush decided on someone to present his fabricated case at the United Nations for war against Iraq, Powell was the one who did it. This would seem to indicate that 1.) Bush was aware of the advantages Powell had with the media. That is, they would be prepared to buy into his image. And 2.) Powell was a guy who would go along with the sales presentation no matter how bad it was. No matter if hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians would perish over a phony case for WMD, one that he was directly involved in selling.

Parry reveals that this was predictable because although the media tries to portray Powell as both independent and principled this is not accurate. Going all the way back to his service in Vietnam, Powell has been rather typical in his career advancement.  Like many others, he has gone with the flow in order to get carried along by the current.

So the idea that somehow Powell exercised independent judgment and stood up for what he thought was right, this is a greatly exaggerated sales image that Bush cleverly decided to utilize. It worked. The MSM fell for it and off to war we went.

For example, Powell was part of the preliminary investigation of the infamous massacre at My Lai. Powell’s early report tried to discredit the testimony of witness, Tom Glen, a U.S. soldier who was trying to blow the whistle on a pattern of abuses that included My Lai. Powell discarded Glen’s claims without even personally interviewing him or sending someone to do so. (Parry, p. 170)

To say the least, as with Iraq, Powell’s so-called independent judgment turned out to be terribly wrong.  In a similar way, regarding massacres of civilians in Vietnam, Powell was also part of the cover-up of another case in which General John W. Donaldson was accused of slaughtering civilians. However, after the disastrous war was over, Powell joined the Pentagon chorus by saying America lost the war because civilian leaders restrained the military.

As he climbed the Pentagon ladder, Powell made friends with Frank Carlucci and Caspar Weinberger. So, when Ronald Reagan became president, they put Powell into a position to reach the top. He did so by aiding in the illegal scheme to ship missiles to the outlaw state of Iran, including some shipments directly from U.S. stockpiles. Powell knew the logistics system so well that he understood how to bypass regular accounting procedures to conceal what was happening. In other words, he was an accessory to the crime. (Parry, p. 177)

Protected by his benefactors, and contracting convenient amnesia at a crucial time of questioning in the Iran-Contra investigation, Powell escaped any legal ramifications for his acts. But by participating in them, he was on his way to even higher positions in the GOP pantheon, eventually becoming George W. Bush’s Secretary of State. His career then culminated in his lethal United Nations sideshow.

The ‘Wise Man’ from Wichita

Parry’s last portrait is of Robert Gates, a career CIA bureaucrat who was first nominated to become CIA Director in 1987 but who withdrew his name when it became clear the nomination was headed for defeat due to his association with the Iran/Contra scandal. But after George H. W. Bush became president, he re-nominated Gates in 1991.

Many CIA intelligence analysts objected to this nomination and some risked reprisals by testifying against Gates. They accused Gates of “politicizing” CIA analysis to serve the interests of his political benefactors, a pattern that caused Gates to completely miss the crack-up of the Soviet bloc and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Gates missed this immense event because he had been serving the wishes of Casey, Reagan and Bush who in the 1980s were interested in promulgating the myth of an all-powerful Evil Empire whose power was growing, thus justifying a massive U.S. military buildup.

Though the reality was that the Soviet Union was crumbling and many CIA analysts were detecting that reality Gates did the bidding of his political masters, twisting the intelligence and punishing analysts who wouldn’t go along. So, in 1991, when Bush nominated Gates to lead the CIA, some CIA analysts stepped forward to object, but their warnings were for naught. After a bruising confirmation battle, Gates was confirmed, though he was out of a job after Clinton defeated Bush in 1992.

Bush again came to Gates’s career rescue, using political influence to install Gates first as a dean and then as President of Texas A&M. Bush’s influence was considerable, since Texas A&M was the home to his presidential library and Bush has a school of government service there named after him (where Gates was made dean).

Evidently, George W. Bush never forgot Gates’s service to Casey, Reagan and his father. Neither did he forget that, like Powell, Gates had a public image quite different than the neocons. Therefore, when the war in Iraq was disintegrating on national TV and Bush was being advised to disengage in 2006, he may have recalled the trick Colin Powell had performed for him. Bush removed Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense and installed Gates.

Though Congress expected Gates to assist in a military withdrawal from Iraq, Gates instead organized “the Surge,” an increase of U.S. troops in Iraq to squelch the resistance, a move hailed by the Republicans as a strategic victory. Thus, the GOP could claim that, well, OK, maybe it was a mistake to invade, maybe we blew the occupation, but we did put down the insurgency and prevailed.

However, as Parry shows, the Surge was never as effective as it was depicted. There were other, more important factors involved in the decline of the resistance in Iraq, many of which pre-dated the Surge. For instance, a counterinsurgency strategy implemented by the CIA killed al-Qaeda-in-Iraq leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi; segregation of the Sunni communities from Shiites reduced the opportunities for sectarian killings; and the decision by Shiite warlord Moktada al-Sadr to halt hostilities was intended to speed up American withdrawal.

In reality, the Surge amounted to a second “decent interval.” As one may recall, Nixon and Henry Kissinger knew they could not win in Vietnam. Therefore, the plan was to withdraw American forces but to keep U.S. air and naval power there so the country would not fall on their watch but rather after a “decent interval.”

The Surge was a ploy so that Iraq would not turn into a Shiite, anti-American country on Bush’s watch. Al-Sadr understood that and went along with it. And today, he is a uniquely powerful figure in Iraq (and the U.S. influence is quickly dissipating).

Gates was not only the implementer of the “decent interval” but he also backed a similar concept for Afghanistan under President Obama. That is, the sending in of more combat troops to combat terrorist threats there.

Parry concludes that these “stolen narratives,” which he has been at pains to uncover, have been disastrous for America. They have helped steal presidential elections, lengthen unnecessary wars, and made heroes out of men who are anything but.

America’s Stolen Narrative tries to correct that history. It’s a shame that with all the uproar over the New Media, he is one of the very few who does that onerous but necessary chore.

Jim DiEugenio is a researcher and writer on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and other mysteries of that era. His new book is Destiny Betrayed (Second Edition) from Skyhorse Publishing.




What Happened to the US Press Corps?

Exclusive: As the U.S. observes the tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, a key question remains: Why was there almost no accountability for journalists and pundits who went along with George W. Bush’s deceptions. The answer can be found in the cover-ups of the Reagan-Bush-41 era, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

In the early 1980s, when it became clear to me that the Reagan administration was determined to lie incessantly about its foreign policy initiatives that it saw propagandizing the American people as a key part of its success I pondered this question: What is the proper role of a U.S. journalist when the government lies not just once in a while but nearly all the time?

Should you put yourself into a permanently adversarial posture of intense skepticism, as you might in dealing with a disreputable source who had lost your confidence? That is, assume what you’re hearing is unreliable unless it can be proven otherwise.

To many readers, the answer may seem obvious: of course, you should! Indeed, it might seem wise to many of you that I should have assumed that Ronald Reagan and his Cold War hard-liners were always lying and work back from there to the rare occasions when they weren’t.

But it wasn’t that easy. At the time, I was working as an investigative reporter for The Associated Press in Washington and many of my senior news executives were deeply sympathetic to Reagan’s muscular foreign policy after the perceived humiliations of the lost Vietnam War and the long Iranian hostage crisis.

General manager Keith Fuller, the AP’s most senior executive, saw Reagan’s Inauguration and the simultaneous release of the 52 U.S. hostages in Iran on Jan. 20, 1981, as a national turning point in which Reagan had revived the American spirit. Fuller and other top executives were fully onboard Reagan’s foreign policy bandwagon, so you can understand why they wouldn’t welcome some nagging skepticism from a lowly reporter.

The template at the AP, as with other major news organizations including the New York Times under neocon executive editor Abe Rosenthal, was to treat Reagan and his administration’s pronouncements with great respect and to question them only when the evidence was incontrovertible, which it almost never is in such cases.

So, in the real world, what to do? Though some people cling to the myth that American reporters are warriors for the truth and that tough editors stand behind you, the reality is very different. It is a corporate world where pleasing the boss and staying safely inside the herd are the best ways to keep your job and gain “respect” from your colleagues.

Punishing the Truth

That lesson was driven home during the early 1980s. Some of us actually tried to do our jobs honestly, exposing crimes of state in Central America and elsewhere. Almost universally, we were punished by our editors and marginalized by our colleagues.

Early on, Raymond Bonner at the New York Times wrote courageously about right-wing “death squads” in El Salvador, even as Reagan and his team were disputing those bloody facts on the ground and coordinating with right-wing media attack groups in Washington to put Bonner on the defensive. Amid the smears, Rosenthal pulled Bonner out of Central America, reassigned him to a desk job in New York and caused Bonner to leave the Times.

Even those of us who had some success in exposing major scandals emerging from the brutality in Central America were treated as outsiders whose careers were always fragile. We had to dodge withering fire from the Reagan administration and its right-wing cohorts while keeping one eye on the nervous or angry editors to our backs.

There was really no way to win, no way to pick through all the minefields surrounding the most sensitive stories. If you pressed forward into the ugly scandals like the Reagan administration’s protection of Nicaraguan Contra drug traffickers or the secret arms deals with Iran and Iraq you would surely be “controversialized,” a phrase favored by Reagan’s “public diplomacy” operatives.

Eventually, one or more of your news executive, sympathetic to Reagan’s tough-guy foreign policy, would conclude that you were more trouble than you were worth and you would find yourself out of a job. Next, you could count on most of your colleagues who had protected their own careers by playing it safe to turn on you.

Sometimes even the Left media would join the mob mentality. One of my most disturbing moments came in 1993 when I wrote an article for The Nation pointing out logical inconsistencies in a House Task Force report “debunking” the so-called October Surprise case, whether Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign went behind President Jimmy Carter’s back to block the pre-election release of those hostages in Iran.

I had noted, for instance, that one of the Task Force’s key arguments was that because someone had written down William Casey’s home phone number on a certain date that Casey must have been at home and thus couldn’t have been where some witnesses had placed him. But that “home phone number” alibi made no logical sense, nor did some of the other illogical conclusions in the Task Force’s final report.

My Nation article prompted an angry letter from the Task Force chief counsel Lawrence Barcella who responded with a mostly ad hominem attack on me. After the letter arrived, I received a call from a senior Nation editor who told me I would be given a small space to respond but that I should know that “we agree with Barcella.”

Building a Home

That sort of “go-with-the-conventional-wisdom” attitude even inside supposedly left-of-center publications like The Nation or The New Yorker eventually led to my founding of Consortiumnews.com in 1995 as a home for well-researched journalism on important topics that had been orphaned by the existing news media.

As it would turn out, many years later before he died, Barcella told me that not even he agreed with Barcella. While he refused to engage with me in a point-by-point defense of his “logic” like how writing down Casey’s home number proved he was home he admitted that so much incriminating evidence against the Republicans poured in near the end of the October Surprise investigation in late 1992, that he requested a three-month extension to evaluate the new material, but was told no.

Yet, to this day, even as the October Surprise cover-up has crumbled in the face of even more evidence emerging from government archives, the story cannot be touched by mainstream or left-of-center news outlets that went with the flow in the early 1990s. [See Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative and Secrecy & Privilege.]

A similar example of journalistic cowardice surrounded the issue of Contra-cocaine trafficking and the protection of those crimes by the CIA and the Reagan administration during the 1980s.

In December 1985, my AP colleague Brian Barger and I battled a strongly reported story on this touchy topic through the resistance of AP executives and out to the public, but our story met hostility not just from Reagan’s team but also from major news outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Indeed, even when Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, conducted a courageous investigation confirming the AP story and taking the evidence of Contra-cocaine trafficking much further, his report faced ridicule or disinterest from the leading U.S. news organizations in the late 1980s.

So, when San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb revived the Contra-cocaine story in the mid-to-late 1990s long after the Reagan team had quit the field the vicious attacks on Webb came substantially from the mainstream news media, including the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. After all, why admit earlier mistakes?

Like other brave journalists before him, Webb saw his articles dissected mercilessly looking for any possible flaw, as his editors behind him crumbled in career panic. His follow-up investigation was cut short and he was driven from journalism to the applause of not only right-wing media attack groups but mainstream media “watchdogs” like Howard Kurtz. (In 2004, denied work in his profession and with bills mounting, Webb took his own life.)

The Iraq War Echo

Why this history is relevant today, as the United States commemorates the tenth anniversary of the disastrous Iraq War, is that it was the Reagan administration’s success in housebreaking the Washington press corps that guaranteed that only a handful of mainstream journalists would ask tough questions about President George W. Bush’s case for invading Iraq.

Put yourself in the shoes of an aspiring Washington correspondent in 2002-2003. Your immediate editors and bureau chiefs were people who succeeded professionally during the 1980s and 1990s. They climbed the ladder by not reaching out for the difficult stories that challenged Republican presidents and earned the wrath of right-wing attack groups. They kept their eyes firmly on the backsides of those above them.

The journalists who did the hard work during that era suffered devastating career damage, again and again. Indeed, they had been made into object lessons for others. Even progressive publications, which wanted some “credibility” with the mainstream, turned away.

In other words, a decade ago as in the 1980s and 1990s there was little or no reward in challenging the Bush administration over its claims about Iraq’s WMD, while there was a very big danger. After all, what if you had written a tough story questioning Bush’s case for war and had managed somehow to pressure your editors to run it prominently and then what if some WMD stockpiles were discovered in Iraq?

Your career would end in ignominy. You would forever be “the Saddam Hussein apologist” who doubted the Great War President, George W. Bush. You would probably be expected to resign to spare your news organization further embarrassment. If not, your editors would likely compel you to leave in disgrace.

Ugly Outrage

People may forget now but it took guts to challenge Bush back then. Remember what happened to the Dixie Chicks, a popular music group, when they dared to express disagreement with Bush’s war of choice. They faced boycotts and death threats.

At Consortiumnews.com in 2002-2003, we ran a number of stories questioning Bush’s WMD claims and his other arguments for war and even though we were only an Internet site, I got angry e-mails every time the U.S. invading forces found a 55-gallon drum of chemicals. The e-mails demanded that I admit I was wrong and telling me that I owed Bush an apology. [For details on the wartime reporting, see Neck Deep.]

When I would read those comments, I would flash back to the stomach-turning angst that I felt as a correspondent for AP and Newsweek when I published a story that I knew would open me to a new round of attacks. At those moments, all I had was confidence in my tradecraft, the belief that I had followed the rules of journalism in carefully assessing and presenting the evidence.

Still, there is no certainty in journalism. Even the most careful reporting can contain imprecision or errors. But that imperfection becomes a major problem when the rewards and punishments are skewed too widely, when the slightest problem on one side leads to loss of your livelihood while gross mistakes on the other carry no punishment at all.

That was the core failure of the U.S. news media on the Iraq War. By 2002-2003, a generation or more of American journalists had absorbed this career reality. There was grave danger to question Bush’s claims while there was little risk in going with the flow.

And, if you made that assessment a decade ago, you were right. Even though you were wrong journalistically in promoting or staying silent on Bush’s assertions about Iraq’s WMD, you almost surely continued your career climb. If questioned about why you got the WMD question wrong, you could simply say that “everyone got it wrong” or at least everyone who mattered so it would be unfair to single anyone out for blame.

But most likely, no one who mattered would even ask the question because those folks had been traveling in the same pack, spouting the same groupthink. So, if it seems odd to some Americans that today they are reading and watching the same pundits who misled them into a catastrophic war a decade ago, it shouldn’t.

[For a limited time, you can purchase Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush family for only $34. For details, 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 new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).




Iran-Contra’s ‘Lost Chapter’

From the Archive: In 1987, amid the Iran-Contra inquiry, investigators found that the scandal fit within a larger Republican scheme for manipulating American public opinion through CIA-style disinformation. But GOP senators blocked inclusion of the chapter in the final report, Robert Parry wrote in 2008.

By Robert Parry (Originally published on June 30, 2008)

As historians ponder George W. Bush’s disastrous presidency, they may wonder how Republicans perfected a propaganda system that could fool tens of millions of Americans, intimidate Democrats, and transform the vaunted Washington press corps from watchdogs to lapdogs.

To understand this extraordinary development, historians might want to look back at the 1980s and examine the Iran-Contra scandal’s “lost chapter,” a narrative describing how Ronald Reagan’s administration brought CIA tactics to bear domestically to reshape the way Americans perceived the world.

That chapter which we are publishing here for the first time  was “lost” because Republicans on the congressional Iran-Contra investigation waged a rear-guard fight that traded elimination of the chapter’s key findings for the votes of three moderate GOP senators, giving the final report a patina of bipartisanship.

Under that compromise, a few segments of the draft chapter were inserted in the final report’s Executive Summary and in another section on White House private fundraising, but the chapter’s conclusions and its detailed account of how the “perception management” operation worked ended up on the editing room floor.

The American people thus were spared the chapter’s troubling finding: that the Reagan administration had built a domestic covert propaganda apparatus managed by a CIA propaganda and disinformation specialist working out of the National Security Council.

“One of the CIA’s most senior covert action operators was sent to the NSC in 1983 by CIA Director [William] Casey where he participated in the creation of an inter-agency public diplomacy mechanism that included the use of seasoned intelligence specialists,” the chapter’s conclusion stated.

“This public/private network set out to accomplish what a covert CIA operation in a foreign country might attempt to sway the media, the Congress, and American public opinion in the direction of the Reagan administration’s policies.”

However, with the chapter’s key findings deleted, the right-wing domestic propaganda operation not only survived the Iran-Contra fallout but thrived.

So did some of the administration’s collaborators, such as South Korean theocrat Sun Myung Moon and Australian press mogul Rupert Murdoch, two far-right media barons who poured billions of dollars into pro-Republican news outlets that continue to influence Washington’s political debates to this day.

Before every presidential election, Moon’s Washington Times plants derogatory and often false stories about Democratic contenders, discrediting them and damaging their chances of winning the White House.

For instance, in 1988, the Times published a bogus account suggesting that the Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis had undergone psychiatric treatment. In 2000, Moon’s newspaper pushed the theme that Al Gore suffered from clinical delusions. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

As for Murdoch, his giant News Corp. expanded into American cable TV with the founding of Fox News in 1996. Since then, the right-wing network has proved highly effective in promoting attack lines against Democrats or anyone else who challenges the Republican power structure.

As President George W. Bush herded the nation toward war with Iraq in 2002-03, Fox News acted like his sheep dogs making sure public opinion didn’t stray too far off. The “Fox effect” was so powerful that it convinced other networks to load up with pro-war military analysts and to silence voices that questioned the invasion. [See Neck Deep.]

Seeds of Propaganda

The seeds of this private/public collaboration can be found in the 84-page draft Iran-Contra chapter, entitled “Launching the Private Network.” [There appear to have been several versions of this “lost chapter.” This one I found in congressional files.]

The chapter traces the origins of the propaganda network to President Reagan’s “National Security Decision Directive 77” in January 1983 as his administration sought to promote its foreign policy, especially its desire to oust Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government.

In a Jan. 13, 1983, memo, then-National Security Advisor William Clark foresaw the need for non-governmental money to advance this cause. “We will develop a scenario for obtaining private funding,” Clark wrote.

As administration officials began reaching out to wealthy supporters, lines against domestic propaganda soon were crossed as the operation took aim at not only at foreign audiences but at U.S. public opinion, the press and congressional Democrats who opposed funding Nicaraguan rebels, known as Contras.

At the time, the Contras were earning a gruesome reputation as human rights violators and terrorists. To change this negative perception of the Contras, the Reagan administration created a full-blown, clandestine propaganda operation.

“An elaborate system of inter-agency committees was eventually formed and charged with the task of working closely with private groups and individuals involved in fundraising, lobbying campaigns and propagandistic activities aimed at influencing public opinion and governmental action,” the draft chapter said.

Heading this operation was a veteran CIA officer named Walter Raymond Jr., who was recruited by another CIA officer, Donald Gregg, before Gregg shifted from his job as chief of the NSC’s Intelligence Directorate to become national security adviser to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.

[The draft chapter doesn’t use Raymond’s name in its opening pages, apparently because some of the information came from classified depositions. However, Raymond’s name is used later in the chapter and the earlier citations match Raymond’s role.]

According to the draft report, the CIA officer recruited for the NSC job had served as Director of the Covert Action Staff at the CIA from 1978 to 1982 and was a “specialist in propaganda and disinformation.”

“The CIA official [Raymond] discussed the transfer with [CIA Director William] Casey and NSC Advisor William Clark that he be assigned to the NSC as Gregg’s successor [in June 1982] and received approval for his involvement in setting up the public diplomacy program along with his intelligence responsibilities,” the chapter said.

“In the early part of 1983, documents obtained by the Select [Iran-Contra] Committees indicate that the Director of the Intelligence Staff of the NSC [Raymond] successfully recommended the establishment of an inter-governmental network to promote and manage a public diplomacy plan designed to create support for Reagan Administration policies at home and abroad.”

Raymond “helped to set up an elaborate system of inter-agency committees,” the draft chapter said, adding: “In the Spring of 1983, the network began to turn its attention toward beefing up the Administration’s capacity to promote American support for the Democratic Resistance in Nicaragua [the Contras] and the fledgling democracy in El Salvador.

“This effort resulted in the creation of the Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean in the Department of State (S/LPD), headed by Otto Reich,” a right-wing Cuban exile from Miami.

Though Secretary of State George Shultz wanted the office under his control, President Reagan insisted that Reich “report directly to the NSC,” where Raymond oversaw the operations as a special assistant to the President and the NSC’s director of international communications, the chapter said.

“At least for several months after he assumed this position, Raymond also worked on intelligence matters at the NSC, including drafting a Presidential Finding for Covert Action in Nicaragua in mid-September” 1983, the chapter said.

In other words, although Raymond was shifted to the NSC staff in part to evade prohibitions on the CIA influencing U.S. public opinion, his intelligence and propaganda duties overlapped for a time as he was retiring from the spy agency.

Key Player

Despite Raymond’s formal separation from the CIA, he acted toward the U.S. public much like a CIA officer would in directing a propaganda operation in a hostile foreign country. He was the go-to guy to keep the operation on track.

“Reich relied heavily on Raymond to secure personnel transfers from other government agencies to beef up the limited resources made available to S/LPD by the Department of State,” the chapter said.

“Personnel made available to the new office included intelligence specialists from the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army. On one occasion, five intelligence experts from the Army’s 4th Psychological Operations Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, were assigned to work with Reich’s fast-growing operation.

“White House documents also indicate that CIA Director Casey had more than a passing interest in the Central American public diplomacy campaign.”

The chapter cited an Aug. 9, 1983, memo written by Raymond describing Casey’s participation in a meeting with public relations specialists to brainstorm how “to sell a ‘new product’ Central America by generating interest across-the-spectrum.”

In an Aug. 29, 1983, memo, Raymond recounted a call from Casey pushing his P.R. ideas. Alarmed at a CIA director participating so brazenly in domestic propaganda, Raymond wrote that “I philosophized a bit with Bill Casey (in an effort to get him out of the loop)” but with little success.

The chapter added: “Casey’s involvement in the public diplomacy effort apparently continued throughout the period under investigation by the Committees,” including a 1985 role in pressuring Congress to renew Contra aid and a 1986 hand in further shielding S/LPD from the oversight of Secretary Shultz.

A Raymond-authored memo to Casey in August 1986 described the shift of S/LPD then run by neoconservative theorist Robert Kagan who had replaced Reich to the control of the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, which was headed by Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, another prominent neoconservative.

Another important figure in the pro-Contra propaganda was NSC staffer Oliver North, who spent a great deal of his time on the Nicaraguan public diplomacy operation even though he is better known for arranging secret arms shipments to the Contras and to Iran’s radical Islamic government, leading to the Iran-Contra scandal.

The draft chapter cited a March 10, 1985, memo from North describing his assistance to CIA Director Casey in timing disclosures of pro-Contra news “aimed at securing Congressional approval for renewed support to the Nicaraguan Resistance Forces.”

North’s Operatives

The Iran-Contra “lost” chapter depicts a sometimes Byzantine network of contract and private operatives who handled details of the domestic propaganda while concealing the hand of the White House and the CIA.

“Richard R. Miller, former head of public affairs at AID, and Francis D. Gomez, former public affairs specialist at the State Department and USIA, were hired by S/LPD through sole-source, no-bid contracts to carry out a variety of activities on behalf of the Reagan administration policies in Central America,” the chapter said.

“Supported by the State Department and White House, Miller and Gomez became the outside managers of [North operative] Spitz Channel’s fundraising and lobbying activities.

“They also served as the managers of Central American political figures, defectors, Nicaraguan opposition leaders and Sandinista atrocity victims who were made available to the press, the Congress and private groups, to tell the story of the Contra cause.”

Miller and Gomez facilitated transfers of money to Swiss and offshore banks at North’s direction, as they “became the key link between the State Department and the Reagan White House with the private groups and individuals engaged in a myriad of endeavors aimed at influencing the Congress, the media and public opinion,” the chapter said.

In its conclusion, the draft chapter read: “The State Department was used to run a prohibited, domestic, covert propaganda operation. Established despite resistance from the Secretary of State, and reporting directly to the NSC, the [S/LPD] attempted to mask many of its activities from the Congress and the American people.”

However, the American people never got to read a detailed explanation of this finding nor see the evidence. In October 1987, as the congressional Iran-Contra committees wrote their final report, Republicans protested the inclusion of this explosive information.

Though the Democrats held the majority, the GOP had leverage because Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Indiana, the House chairman, wanted some bipartisanship in the final report, especially since senior Republicans, including Rep. Dick Cheney, R-Wyoming, were preparing a strongly worded minority report.

Hamilton and the Democrats hoped that three moderate Republicans William Cohen of Maine, Warren Rudman of New Hampshire and Paul Trible of Virginia would break ranks and sign the majority report. However, the Republicans objected to the draft chapter about Ronald Reagan’s covert propaganda campaign.

As part of a compromise, some elements of the draft chapter were included in the Executive Summary but without much detail and shorn of the tough conclusions. Nevertheless, Cohen protested even that.

“I question the inordinate attention devoted in the Executive Summary to the Office of Public Diplomacy and its activities in support of the Administration’s polices,” Cohen wrote in his additional views. “The prominence given to it in the Executive Summary is far more generous than just.”

Long-Term Consequences

However, the failure of the Iran-Contra report to fully explain the danger of CIA-style propaganda intruding into the U.S. political process would have profound future consequences. Indeed, the evidence suggests that today’s powerful right-wing media gained momentum as part of the Casey-Raymond operations of the early 1980s.

According to one Raymond-authored memo dated Aug. 9, 1983, then-U.S. Information Agency director Charles Wick “via Murdock [sic] may be able to draw down added funds” to support pro-Reagan initiatives.

Raymond’s reference to Rupert Murdoch possibly drawing down “added funds” suggests that the right-wing media mogul was already part of the covert propaganda operation. In line with its clandestine nature, Raymond also suggested routing the “funding via Freedom House or some other structure that has credibility in the political center.”

Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon, publisher of the Washington Times, also showed up in the Iran-Contra operations, using his newspaper to raise Contra funds and assigning his CAUSA political group to organize support for the Contras.

In the two decades since the Iran-Contra scandal, both Murdoch and Moon have continued to pour billions of dollars into media outlets that have influenced the course of U.S. history, often through the planting of propaganda and disinformation much like a CIA covert action might do in a hostile foreign country.

Further, to soften up the Washington press corps, Reich’s S/LPD targeted U.S. journalists who reported information that undermined the pro-Contra propaganda. Reich sent his teams out to lobby news executives to remove or punish out-of-step reporters with a disturbing degree of success. [For more, see Parry’s Lost History.]

Some U.S. officials implicated in the Iran-Contra propaganda operations are still around, bringing the lessons of the 1980s into the new century. For instance, Elliott Abrams. Though convicted of misleading Congress in the Iran-Contra Affair and later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush Abrams became deputy adviser to George W. Bush’s NSC, where he directed U.S.-Middle East policy.

Robert Kagan remains another prominent neocon theorist in Washington, writing op-eds for the Washington Post. Oliver North was given a news show on Fox. Otto Reich advised Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Latin American affairs. Lee Hamilton was a senior national security adviser to Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

Enduring Skills

Beyond these individuals, the manipulative techniques that were refined in the 1980s especially the skill of exaggerating foreign threats have proved durable, bringing large segments of the American population into line behind the Iraq War in 2002-03.

Only now with thousands of U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead are many of these Americans realizing that were manipulated by clever propaganda, that their perceptions had been managed.

For instance, the New York Times pried loose some 8,000 pages of Pentagon documents revealing how the Bush administration had manipulated the public debate on the Iraq War by planting friendly retired military officers on TV news shows.

Retired Green Beret Robert S. Bevelacqua, a former analyst on Murdoch’s Fox News, said the Pentagon treated the retired military officers as puppets: “It was them saying, ‘we need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you.’” [NYT, April 20, 2008, or see Consortiumnews.com’s “US News Media’s Latest Disgrace.”]

Bush’s former White House press secretary Scott McClellan described similar use of propaganda tactics to justify the Iraq War in his book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception.

From his insider vantage point, McClellan cited the White House’s “carefully orchestrated campaign to shape and manipulate sources of public approval” and he called the Washington press corps “complicit enablers.”

None of this would have been so surprising indeed Americans might have been forewarned and forearmed if Lee Hamilton and other Democrats on the Iran-Contra committees had held firm and published the scandal’s “lost chapter” two decades ago.

[For a limited time, you can purchase Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush family for only $34. For details, 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 new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).




Rethinking Watergate/Iran-Contra

Special Report: New evidence continues to accumulate showing how Official Washington got key elements of the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals wrong, especially how these two crimes of state originated in treacherous actions to secure the powers of the presidency, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A favorite saying of Official Washington is that “the cover-up is worse than the crime.” But that presupposes you accurately understand what the crime was. And, in the case of the two major U.S. government scandals of the last third of the Twentieth Century Watergate and Iran-Contra that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Indeed, newly disclosed documents have put old evidence into a sharply different focus and suggest that history has substantially miswritten the two scandals by failing to understand that they actually were sequels to earlier scandals that were far worse. Watergate and Iran-Contra were, in part at least, extensions of the original crimes, which involved dirty dealings to secure the immense power of the presidency.

In the case of Watergate the foiled Republican break-in at the Democratic National Committee in June 1972 and Richard Nixon’s botched cover-up leading to his resignation in August 1974 the evidence is now clear that Nixon created the Watergate burglars out of his panic that the Democrats might possess a file on his sabotage of Vietnam peace talks in 1968.

Shortly after Nixon took office in 1969, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover informed him of the existence of the file containing national security wiretaps documenting how Nixon’s emissaries had gone behind President Lyndon Johnson’s back to convince the South Vietnamese government to boycott the Paris Peace Talks, which were close to ending the Vietnam War in fall 1968.

The disruption of Johnson’s peace talks then enabled Nixon to hang on for a narrow victory over Democrat Hubert Humphrey. However, as the new President was taking steps in 1969 to extend the war another four-plus years, he sensed the threat from the wiretap file and ordered two of his top aides, chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, to locate it. But they couldn’t find the file.

We now know that was because President Johnson, who privately had called Nixon’s Vietnam actions “treason,” had ordered the file removed from the White House by his national security aide Walt Rostow.

Rostow labeled the file “The ‘X’ Envelope” and kept it in his possession, although having left government, he had no legal right to hold onto the highly classified documents, many of which were stamped “Top Secret.” Johnson had instructed Rostow to retain the papers as long as he, Johnson, was alive and then afterwards to decide what to do with them.

Nixon, however, had no idea that Johnson and Rostow had taken the missing file or, indeed, who might possess it. Normally, national security documents are passed from the outgoing President to the incoming President to maintain continuity in government.

But Haldeman and Kissinger had come up empty in their search. They were only able to recreate the file’s contents, which included incriminating conversations between Nixon’s emissaries and South Vietnamese officials regarding Nixon’s promise to get them a better deal if they helped him torpedo Johnson’s peace talks.

So, the missing file remained a troubling mystery inside Nixon’s White House, but Nixon still lived up to his pre-election agreement with South Vietnamese President Nguyen van Thieu to extend U.S. military participation in the war with the goal of getting the South Vietnamese a better outcome than they would have received from Johnson in 1968.

Nixon not only continued the Vietnam War, which had already claimed more than 30,000 American lives and an estimated one million Vietnamese, but he expanded it, with intensified bombing campaigns and a U.S. incursion into Cambodia. At home, the war was bitterly dividing the nation with a massive anti-war movement and an angry backlash from war supporters.

Pentagon Papers

It was in that intense climate in 1971 that Daniel Ellsberg, a former senior Defense Department official, gave the New York Times a copy of the Pentagon Papers, the secret U.S. history of the Vietnam War from 1945 to 1967. The voluminous report documented many of the lies most told by Democrats to draw the American people into the war.

The Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers on June 13, 1971, and the disclosures touched off a public firestorm. Trying to tamp down the blaze, Nixon took extraordinary legal steps to stop dissemination of the secrets, ultimately failing in the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Nixon had an even more acute fear. He knew something that few others did, that there was a sequel to the Pentagon Papers that was arguably more explosive the missing file containing evidence that Nixon had covertly prevented the war from being brought to a conclusion so he could maintain a political edge in Election 1968.

If anyone thought the Pentagon Papers represented a shocking scandal and clearly millions of Americans did how would people react to a file that revealed Nixon had kept the slaughter going with thousands of additional American soldiers dead and the violence spilling back into the United States just so he could win an election?

A savvy political analyst, Nixon recognized this threat to his reelection in 1972, assuming he would have gotten that far. Given the intensity of the anti-war movement, there would surely have been furious demonstrations around the White House and likely an impeachment effort on Capitol Hill.

So, on June 17, 1971, Nixon summoned Haldeman and Kissinger into the Oval Office and as Nixon’s own recording devices whirred softly pleaded with them again to locate the missing 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, damnit, 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. Goddamnit, 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 Rostow to remove it in the final days of his own 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 even 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, 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 Watergate break-ins occurred nearly 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.

As it turned out, Nixon’s burglars were nabbed inside the Watergate complex on their second break-in on June 17, 1972, exactly one year after Nixon’s tirade to Haldeman and Kissinger about the need to blow the safe at the Brookings Institution in pursuit of the missing Vietnam peace-talk file.

Ironically, too, Johnson and Rostow had no intention of exposing Nixon’s dirty secret regarding LBJ’s Vietnam peace talks, presumably for the same reasons that they kept their mouths shut back in 1968, out of a benighted belief that revealing Nixon’s actions might somehow not be “good for the country.”

In November 1972, despite the growing scandal over the Watergate break-in, Nixon handily won reelection, crushing Sen. George McGovern, Nixon’s preferred opponent. Nixon then reached out to Johnson seeking his help in squelching Democratic-led investigations of the Watergate affair and slyly noting that Johnson had ordered wiretaps of Nixon’s campaign in 1968.

Johnson reacted angrily to the overture, refusing to cooperate. On Jan. 20, 1973, Nixon was sworn in for his second term. On Jan. 22, 1973, Johnson died of a heart attack.

Toward Resignation

In the weeks that followed Nixon’s Inauguration and Johnson’s death, the scandal over the Watergate cover-up grew more serious, creeping ever closer to the Oval Office. Meanwhile, Rostow struggled to decide what he should do with “The ‘X’ Envelope.”

On May 14, 1973, in a three-page “memorandum for the record,” Rostow summarized what was in “The ‘X’ Envelope” and provided a chronology for the events in fall 1968. Rostow reflected, too, on what effect LBJ’s public silence then may have had on the unfolding Watergate scandal.

“I am inclined to believe the Republican operation in 1968 relates in two ways to the Watergate affair of 1972,” Rostow wrote. He noted, first, that Nixon’s operatives may have judged that their “enterprise with the South Vietnamese” in frustrating Johnson’s last-ditch peace initiative had secured Nixon his narrow margin of victory over Hubert Humphrey in 1968.

“Second, they got away with it,” Rostow wrote. “Despite considerable press commentary after the election, the matter was never investigated fully. Thus, as the same men faced the election in 1972, there was nothing in their previous experience with an operation of doubtful propriety (or, even, legality) to warn them off, and there were memories of how close an election could get and the possible utility of pressing to the limit and beyond.” [To read Rostow’s memo, click here, here and here.]

What Rostow didn’t know was that there was a third and more direct connection between the missing file and Watergate. Nixon’s fear about the file surfacing as a follow-up to the Pentagon Papers was Nixon’s motive for creating Hunt’s burglary team in the first place.

Rostow apparently struggled with what to do with the file for the next month as the Watergate scandal expanded. On June 25, 1973, fired White House counsel John Dean delivered his blockbuster Senate testimony, claiming that Nixon got involved in the cover-up within days of the June 1972 burglary at the Democratic National Committee. Dean also asserted that Watergate was just part of a years-long program of political espionage directed by Nixon’s White House.

The very next day, as headlines of Dean’s testimony filled the nation’s newspapers, Rostow reached his conclusion about what to do with “The ‘X’ Envelope.” In longhand, he wrote a “Top Secret” note which read, “To be opened by the Director, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, not earlier than fifty (50) years from this date June 26, 1973.”

In other words, Rostow intended this missing link of American history to stay missing for another half century. In a typed cover letter to LBJ Library director Harry Middleton, Rostow wrote: “Sealed in the attached envelope is a file President Johnson asked me to hold personally because of its sensitive nature. In case of his death, the material was to be consigned to the LBJ Library under conditions I judged to be appropriate.

“After fifty years the Director of the LBJ Library (or whomever may inherit his responsibilities, should the administrative structure of the National Archives change) may, alone, open this file. If he believes the material it contains should not be opened for research [at that time], I would wish him empowered to re-close the file for another fifty years when the procedure outlined above should be repeated.”

Ultimately, however, the LBJ Library didn’t wait that long. After a little more than two decades, on July 22, 1994, the envelope was opened and the archivists began the long process of declassifying the contents.

Yet, because Johnson and Rostow chose to withhold the file on Nixon’s “treason,” a distorted history of Watergate took shape and then hardened into what all the Important People of Washington “knew” to be true. The conventional wisdom was that Nixon was unaware of the Watergate break-in beforehand that it was some harebrained scheme of a few overzealous subordinates and that the President only got involved later in covering it up.

Sure, the Washington groupthink went, Nixon had his “enemies list” and played hardball with his rivals, but he couldn’t be blamed for the Watergate break-in, which many insiders regarded as “the third-rate burglary” that Nixon’s White House called it.

Even journalists and historians who took a broader view of Watergate didn’t pursue the remarkable clue from Nixon’s rant about the missing file on June 17, 1971. Though a few other historians did write, sketchily, about the 1968 events, they also didn’t put the events together.

So, the beloved saying took shape: “the cover-up is worse than the crime.” And Official Washington hates to rethink some history that is considered already settled. In this case, it would make too many important people who have expounded on the “worse” part of Watergate, i.e. the cover-up, look stupid. [For details, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

The Iran-Contra Cover-up

Similarly, Official Washington and many mainstream historians have tended to dismiss Ronald Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal as another case of some overzealous subordinates intuiting what the President wanted and getting everybody into trouble.

The “Big Question” that insiders were asking after the scandal broke in November 1986 was whether President Reagan knew about the decision by White House aide Oliver North and his boss, National Security Advisor John Poindexter, to divert some profits from secret arms sales to Iran to secretly buy weapons for the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.

Once Poindexter testified that he had no recollection of letting Reagan in on that secret and with Reagan a beloved figure to many in Official Washington the inquiry was relegated to insignificance. The remaining investigation focused on smaller questions, like misleading Congress and a scholarly dispute over whether the President’s foreign policy powers overrode Congress’ power to appropriate funds).

At the start of the Iran-Contra investigation, Attorney General Edwin Meese had set the time parameters from 1984 to 1986, thus keeping outside of the frame the possibility of a much more serious scandal originating during Campaign 1980, i.e., whether Reagan’s campaign undermined President Jimmy Carter’s negotiations to free 52 American hostages in Iran and then paid off the Iranians by allowing Israel to ship weapons to Iran for the Iran-Iraq War.

So, while congressional and federal investigators looked only at how the specific 1985-86 arms sales to Iran got started, there was no timely attention paid to evidence that the Reagan administration had quietly approved Israeli arms sales to Iran in 1981 and that those contacts went back to the days before Election 1980 when the hostage crisis destroyed Carter’s reelection hopes and ensured Reagan’s victory.

The 52 hostages were not released until Reagan was sworn in on Jan. 20, 1981.

Over the years, about two dozen sources including Iranian officials, Israeli insiders, European intelligence operatives, Republican activists and even Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat have provided information about alleged contacts with Iran by the Reagan campaign.

And, there were indications early in the Reagan presidency that something peculiar was afoot. On July 18, 1981, an Israeli-chartered plane crashed or was shot down after straying over the Soviet Union on a return flight from delivering U.S.-manufactured weapons to Iran.

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.”

When I re-interviewed Veliotes on Aug. 8, 2012, he said he couldn’t recall who the “people on high” were who had described the informal clearance of the Israeli shipments 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.

Neocon Schemes

Newly discovered documents at the Reagan presidential library reveal 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.

Not only did the documents tend to support the statements by Veliotes but they also fit with comments that former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir made in a 1993 interview in Tel Aviv. 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 plenty of 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.

As recently as this past week, former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr reiterated his account of Republican overtures to Iran during the 1980 hostage crisis and how that secret initiative prevented release of the hostages.

In a Christian Science Monitor commentary about the movie “Argo,” Bani-Sadr wrote that “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.”

Though Bani-Sadr had discussed the Reagan-Khomeini collaboration before, he added in his commentary 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.”

In December 1992, when a House Task Force was examining this so-called “October Surprise” controversy and encountering fierce Republican resistance Bani-Sadr submitted a letter detailing his behind-the-scenes struggle with Khomeini and his son Ahmad over their secret dealings with the Reagan campaign.

Bani-Sadr’s letter dated Dec. 17, 1992 was part of a flood of last-minute evidence implicating the Reagan campaign in the hostage scheme. However, by the time the letter and the other evidence arrived, the leadership of the House Task Force had decided to simply declare the Reagan campaign innocent. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “‘October Surprise’ and ‘Argo.’”]

Burying the History

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

Instead of giving a careful review to the new evidence, the House Task Force ignored, disparaged or buried it. I later unearthed some of the evidence in unpublished Task Force files. However, in the meantime, Official Washington dismissed the “October Surprise” and other Iran-Contra-connected scandals, like Contra drug trafficking, as conspiracy theories. [For the latest information on the October Surprise case, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

As with Watergate and Nixon, Official Washington has refused to rethink its conclusions absolving President Ronald Reagan and his successor President George H.W. Bush of guilt in a range of crimes collected under the large umbrella of Iran-Contra.

When journalist Gary Webb revived the Contra-Cocaine scandal in the mid-to-late 1990s, he faced unrelenting hostility from Establishment reporters at the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. The attacks were so ugly that Webb’s editors at the San Jose Mercury News forced him out, setting in motion his professional destruction.

It didn’t even matter when an internal investigation by the CIA’s inspector general in 1998 confirmed that the Reagan and Bush-41 administrations had tolerated and protected drug trafficking by the Contras. The major newspapers largely ignored the findings and did nothing to help rehabilitate Webb’s career, eventually contributing to his suicide in 2004. [For details on the CIA report, see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]

The major newspapers have been equally unwilling to rethink the origins and the significance of the October Surprise/Iran-Contra scandal. It doesn’t matter how much new evidence accumulates. It remains much easier to continue the politically safe deification of “Gipper” Reagan and the fond remembrances of “Poppy” Bush.

Not only would rethinking Iran-Contra and Watergate stir up anger and abuse from Republican operatives and the Right, but the process would reflect badly on many journalists and historians who built careers, in part, by getting these important historical stories wrong.

However, there must come a point when the weight of the new evidence makes the old interpretations of these scandals intellectually untenable and when treasured sayings like “the cover-up is worse than the crime” are swept into the historical dustbin.

[For a limited time, you can purchase Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush family for only $34. For details, 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 new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).




How Neocons Messed Up the Mideast

Special Report: Newly available documents reveal how Ronald Reagan’s neocon aides cleared the way for Israeli arms sales to Iran in 1981, shortly after Iran freed 52 U.S. hostages whose captivity doomed Jimmy Carter’s reelection. The move also planted the seeds of the Iran-Contra scandal, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Just six months after Iran freed 52 Americans hostages in 1981, senior Reagan administration officials secretly endorsed third-party weapons sales to Iran, a move to align U.S. policy with Israeli desires to sell arms to the Islamic republic then at war with Iraq, according to documents recently released by the National Archives.

This Israeli arms pipeline to Iran already was functioning at the time of the policy shift on July 21, 1981. Three days earlier, on July 18, an Argentine plane strayed off course and crashed (or was shot down) inside the Soviet Union exposing Israel’s secret arms shipments to Iran, which apparently had been going on for months.

After the plane went down, Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East Nicholas Veliotes tried to get to the bottom of the mysterious weapons flight. “According to the [flight] documents,” Veliotes said later in an interview with PBS Frontline, “this was chartered by Israel and it was carrying American military equipment to Iran.

“And 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. Now this was not a covert operation in the classic sense, for which probably you could get a legal justification for it. As it stood, I believe it was the initiative of a few people [who] gave the Israelis the go-ahead. The net result was a violation of American law.”

The reason that the Israeli weapons shipments violated U.S. law was that no formal notification had been given to Congress about the transshipment of U.S. military equipment as required by the Arms Export Control Act.

But the Reagan administration was in a bind about notifying Congress and thus the American people about approving arms shipments to Iran so soon after the hostage crisis. The news would have infuriated many Americans and stoked suspicions that the Republicans had cut a deal with Iran to hold the hostages until Carter was defeated.

In checking out the Israeli flight, Veliotes also came to believe that the arrangement between Ronald Reagan’s camp and Israel regarding Iran and weapons 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.”

Q: “Between?”

Veliotes: “Between Israelis and these new players.”

In subsequent interviews, Veliotes said he was referring to “new players” who came into government with President Reagan, now known as the neoconservatives, including Robert McFarlane, counselor to Secretary of State Alexander Haig, and Paul Wolfowitz, the State Department’s director of policy planning. According to the newly released documents, McFarlane and Wolfowitz were collaborating with Israel through a clandestine channel.

One memo from Wolfowitz to McFarlane regarding the Israeli channel on Iran noted that “for this dialogue to be fruitful it must remain restricted to an extraordinarily small number of people.”

Though this secret conduit between the neocons and Israel may have originated before Election 1980, it continued, with some fits and starts, for years finally merging with what became known as the Iran-Contra Affair of 1985-86. In that scandal, Reagan secretly authorized the sale of U.S. anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Iran through Israel.

The documents declassified by National Archives personnel at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California suggest that the Iran-Contra machinations were an outgrowth of these earlier U.S. contacts with Israel regarding arms sales to Iran dating back to 1980-81.

McFarlane’s Role

McFarlane’s personal involvement in these activities threaded through the years of these clandestine operations, beginning with pre-election maneuverings with Iran in fall 1980 when its radical government was holding those 52 U.S. hostages and thus dooming President Jimmy Carter’s reelection hopes.

McFarlane participated in a mysterious meeting with an Iranian emissary at the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, a contact that has never been coherently explained by McFarlane or two other Republican participants, Richard V. Allen (who later became Reagan’s national security advisor) and Laurence Silberman (who was later appointed as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington). [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

After Reagan was elected in 1980, McFarlane popped up at the State Department working hand-in-glove with the Israelis on Iranian arms shipments. He subsequently moved to Reagan’s National Security Council where he played a central role in arranging a new security cooperation agreement with Israel in 1983 and initiating Reagan’s illicit Iran-Contra arms sales through Israel to Iran in 1985-86.

When I asked Veliotes on Wednesday about the declassified 1981 documents describing the McFarlane/Wolfowitz activities, he responded by e-mail, saying: “My guess it was triggered by the issue of the provision of U.S.-origin defense items to Iran by Israel, which received a certain amount of publicity around this time [July 1981]. This was contrary to U.S. law.

“My further guess is that Israel would have been the channel for delivery of non-U.S.-origin arms. That Wolfowitz and McFarlane would push this is no surprise. The two were part of the neocon cabal that professed to see Soviets everywhere in the Middle East and Israel as a major anti-Soviet ally. Ergo, support for Israeli actions would be in the U.S. interest.”

However, on July 13, 1981, when this State Department neocon group pushed a formal plan for allowing third-country weapons shipment to Iran, the idea encountered strong resistance from an Interdepartmental Group (IG), according to a memo from L. Paul Bremer III, who was then the State Department’s executive secretary and considered one of the neocons.

Though many Americans were still livid toward Iran for holding 52 American diplomatic personnel hostage for 444 days, Bremer’s memo described a secret tilt toward Iran by the Reagan administration, a strategy which included confirming “to American businessmen that it is in the U.S. interest to take advantage of commercial opportunities in Iran.” But the memo noted an inter-agency disagreement over whether the United States should oppose third-country shipments of non-U.S. weapons to Iran.

“State felt that transfers of non-U.S. origin arms to Iran by third countries should not be opposed,” the memo said. “However, other agency representatives at the IG DOD [the Department of Defense] and CIA felt that the supply of any arms to Iran would encourage Iran to resist efforts to bring an end to the war [with Iraq] and that all arms transfers to Iran should be actively discouraged.” (More than two decades later, Bremer would become famous or infamous as the American proconsul overseeing the disastrous occupation of Iraq.)

A Shifting Policy

Because of that disagreement within the IG, the Iran arms issue was bumped to the Senior Interdepartmental Group or SIG, where principals from the agencies met. Yet, before the SIG convened, the Israeli-chartered plane crashed inside the Soviet Union revealing the existence of the already-functioning secret arms pipeline.

But that incident was downplayed by the State Department in its press guidance and received little attention from the U.S. news media, which still accepted the conventional wisdom depicting President Reagan as a forceful leader who was standing up to the Iranians, surely not rewarding them with arms shipments and business deals.

When the SIG met on July 21, 1981, the State Department’s view, giving Israel a green light on arms shipments to Iran, prevailed. The SIG reflecting the opinions of such top officials as Vice President George H.W. Bush, CIA Director William J. Casey, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Secretary of State Alexander Haig sided with State’s neocons.

Though the SIG decision paper was not among the documents released to me by the archivists at the Reagan library, the policy shift was referenced in a Sept. 23, 1981, memo from Bremer to National Security Advisor Richard V. Allen. Bremer’s memo was reacting to a Sept. 3 complaint from the Joint Chiefs of Staff who wanted their dissent to the relaxed Iran arms policy noted.

In attaching a copy of the JCS dissent, Bremer revealed the outlines of the Iran policy shift. Lt. Gen. Paul F. Gorman noted in the dissent that “the moderate Arab states of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates are committed to a policy opposing arms transfers to Iran.

“If the United States drops its opposition to the transfer of arms not of US origin to Iran by third countries, the moderate Arabs would interpret that action as directly counter to their interests. The impact would be especially serious if Israel increased its arms deliveries to Iran in the wake of a US policy change.

“The Arab perspective tends to automatically link Israeli actions and US policy. The Iraqi Government recently informed the Chief of the US Interest Section in Baghdad that Iraq considers the United States ultimately responsible for arms already transferred to Iran by Israel since, in Iraq’s view, those transfers were possible only because US arms supplies to Israel are more than actually needed for Israel’s defense.

“If Israeli deliveries of arms to Iran increase after a change of US policy, the Iraqi argument may find a sympathetic audience among moderate Arab states. This would add to the momentum of growing discontent with US-to-Israel arms policy, which surfaced within some moderate Arab states after the Israeli air attacks in Iraq and Lebanon. This, in turn, would jeopardize US efforts to secure facility access and host-nation support in Arab states vital to US Southwest Asia strategy.”

The JCS also disputed Iran’s need for more weapons, saying: “Implicit in the argument for arms transfers to Iran is the idea that Iran needs arms to resist further Iraqi incursions. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe, however, that the military capability of Iran is sufficient to meet the current Iraqi threat. Iraq has long called for negotiations to end the war [which began in September 1980] and on several occasions has announced its willingness to accept a ceasefire.

“Given this politico-military climate, deliberate US action to encourage an increase in arms supply to Iran is unwarranted at this time. Rather than adding to the prospects for peace, increased supplies of arms may encourage Iran to intensify its military actions and continue to reject the negotiated-settlement option. Based on the above rationale, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that the United States continue to oppose all arms transfers to Iran at this time.”

Neocon Denials

Reacting to the JCS complaint, Bremer protested to National Security Advisor Allen that the policy shift was only a passive acceptance of third-country arms sales. “No participating agency at the SIG argued in favor of arms transfers,” Bremer wrote on Sept. 23, 1981, “nor did any agency argue in favor of ‘deliberate U.S. action to encourage an increase in arms supply to Iran.’”

But the policy shift did amount to an acceptance of Israeli shipments of at least non-U.S.-origin weapons to Iran. Israeli and U.S. government sources involved in the operations have told me that those shipments continued unabated for years, totaling in the tens of billions of dollars, with some of the profits going to fund Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories.

The JCS warnings proved prescient regarding the geopolitical impact of the Israeli arms flow to Iran. Through the latter half of 1981, Iraqi officials complained bitterly about what they viewed as U.S. complicity in Israel’s arms shipments to Iran and about Iran’s resulting capability to sustain its war effort.

State Department officials responded to these complaints by dancing around what they knew to be true, i.e. that Israel had shipped U.S.-origin and third-country weapons to Iran with U.S. knowledge and, to some degree, U.S. approval.

In one cable to British authorities, Secretary of State Haig described U.S. policy disingenuously as “hands off” toward the Iran-Iraq War. The cable said, “We have been assured repeatedly by Israeli officials at the highest level that arms subject to U.S. controls would not be provided Iran. We have no concrete evidence to believe that Israel has violated its assurances.”

(However, over the years, senior Israeli officials have claimed what Veliotes’s investigation also determined, that Israel’s early arms shipments to Iran had the quiet blessing of top Reagan administration officials. In 1982, Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon told the Washington Post that U.S. officials had approved the Iranian arms transfers. “We said that notwithstanding the tyranny of Khomeini, which we all hate, we have to leave a small window open to this country, a tiny small bridge to this country,” Sharon said.)

Bonding with Israel

By late summer 1981, the McFarlane-Wolfowitz tandem was making a bid to secure secret control over U.S. policy toward Iran. In a memo to Secretary Haig on Sept. 1, 1981, McFarlane and Wolfowitz urged Haig to put McFarlane in charge of that policy.

“What we do recommend is that you give Bud (McFarlane) a charter to develop policy on these issues, both within the Department and interagency, on an urgent basis,” the memo said.

Later in the year, McFarlane and Wolfowitz saw a new opening to bind U.S. policies on Iran more closely to the interests of Israel. In a Dec. 8, 1981, memo, McFarlane told Wolfowitz about a planned meeting he was to have with Israeli foreign policy and intelligence official David Kimche on Dec. 20.

“At this meeting I would like to introduce two new topics to our agenda and for this purpose would appreciate your providing the necessary analysis and talking points,” McFarlane wrote to Wolfowitz. One of those topics was Iran, according to the document. However, the second item still remains blacked out for national security reasons.

“Needless to say, this is a sensitive matter and you should not coordinate its development with any other office,” McFarlane wrote. “You should not coordinate it with any other Bureau.”

Wolfowitz delivered the “talking points” on Dec. 14 for what to tell Kimche. “There is intense concern about the future of Iran at a very high level in the U.S. government,” the talking points read. “If friends of the United States were able to suggest practical and prudent means of influencing events within Iran, it is possible that the U.S. government might eventually move to a more active policy. I am anxious to begin a dialogue with Israel on how to influence the evolution of events I feel that Israeli-U.S. cooperation could be important in dealing with these issues.”

Wolfowitz also suggested that McFarlane enlist Israel in efforts to draw Turkey into the Iran strategies. “I would be grateful for ideas on how Turkish cooperation could be effectively used,” the talking points stated.

“We should consider first whether we can set in motion any methods of influencing internal developments in Iran. Since none of the existing exile movements have major support within Iran, we have to look primarily at other internal means for the present.

“Do you have any way of providing useful resources to the moderate clergy who are now out of politics?  In a civil war situation, what are the crucial skills and equipment that the pro-Western elements are more likely to lack?”

The talking points for what McFarlane should tell Kimche added, “Finally, we believe it is important to ensure that the West has some counter to Soviet introduction of paramilitary or proxy forces, without necessarily having to turn to U.S. forces — so that the USSR does not have an option we cannot counter.”

The talking points also impressed upon Kimche the need for utmost secrecy: “Of course, for this dialogue to be fruitful it must remain restricted to an extraordinarily small number of people.”

In other words, McFarlane and Wolfowitz were looking to the Israelis as key partners in devising strategies for affecting the internal behavior of the Iranian government. And the Israelis’ principal currency for obtaining that influence was the shipment of weapons.

McFarlane and Wolfowitz also planned to collaborate secretly with Israel in devising broader U.S. policies toward the Middle East and intended to hide those policies from other U.S. government officials.

A Strategic Agreement

In his 1994 memoir, Special Trust, McFarlane described the broad sweep of issues raised in his meetings with Kimche, who had served as a senior Mossad official but in 1981 was director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

McFarlane wrote: “In addition to sales of military hardware and substantial U.S. military and economic aid to Israel, we discussed the possibility of applying Israel’s experience and talent in the areas of police and security training in third world areas, particularly Central America, under contracts from the Agency for International Development.” [p. 186]

In 1982, Reagan moved McFarlane to the White House as Deputy National Security Advisor, giving him responsibility for integrating the administration’s foreign policies. But Wolfowitz’s Policy Planning office came under the control of more seasoned leadership, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Lawrence Eagleburger.

According to the declassified records, Eagleburger was far from impressed by the McFarlane-Wolfowitz schemes for Iran. On April 1, 1982, Eagleburger responded to a memo from one of Wolfowitz’s assistants, James G. Roche. Eagleburger dryly noted that Roche’s memo, “A More Active Policy Toward Iran,” “contains a number of interesting ideas. I have serious doubts about nearly all of them, largely because of their effects on our relations with the Arabs.”

Eagleburger put question marks after several sections of Roche’s memo including one, “a more forthcoming policy toward third party arms transfers to both Iran and Iraq,” and another urging “exploration of possible U.S. and other Western economic cooperation with Iran.”

In the memo, Roche expressed frustration at the failure of the more Iran-focused strategy to carry the day. “Opportunities in this area have so far been allowed to slip away,” he wrote. “None of them got off the ground and Bud MacFarlane [sic] who presided over them has departed.”

After reading Eagleburger’s terse reaction to Roche’s memo, Wolfowitz wrote, “I perhaps should have made clearer from the outset that we recognize the immense danger Iran poses to our Arab friends in the [Persian] Gulf, and the need to contain it. We are by no means recommending a ‘tilt’ towards Iran at this moment.”

The Iraq Tilt

Instead, U.S. policy on the Iran-Iraq War would begin to move in the opposite direction as President Reagan grew worried that Iran was gaining the upper hand in the war and might actually defeat Iraq. To prevent that possibility, Reagan authorized a “tilt” toward Iraq in June 1982, according to a sworn affidavit filed in a 1995 criminal case by a Reagan NSC aide, Howard Teicher.

Teicher described a highly classified National Security Decision Directive that called for providing intelligence assistance to Iraq and directing the CIA to help Saddam Hussein’s army secure third-country military supplies, a project that fell largely to CIA Director William Casey and his deputy, Robert Gates.

Though the tilt toward Iraq represented a blow to the neocons, who shared the Israeli position of viewing Iraq as the greater of Israel’s two enemies, the Reagan administration’s favoritism toward Iraq didn’t put an end to the McFarlane-Wolfowitz initiatives. The Israelis also never stopped scouring the world for weapons to sell to Iran.

When McFarlane was promoted to become Reagan’s third National Security Advisor in October 1983, he was in even a stronger position to push the Israel-favored position regarding openings toward Iran. McFarlane finally succeeded in persuading Reagan to sign on to the strategic cooperation agreement that he had hammered out with Kimche.

“I was able to get the President to approve it in writing and to get it translated into a formal memorandum of understanding between the Pentagon and the Israeli defense ministry, which would form a joint political-military group to serve as the instrument for developing a broader agenda of cooperation,” McFarlane wrote in his memoir [p. 187].

In a now-declassified top-secret cable dated Dec. 20, 1983, McFarlane responded to a complaint from U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain Charles H. Price, who believed that the agreement was a last-minute scheme to “give the store” to Israel. McFarlane insisted the strategic arrangement was the culmination of a thorough review process.

McFarlane described the U.S.-Israeli security agreement as encouraging cooperation with third countries, “with special reference to Turkey,” as well as setting aside resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict in favor of pursuing other strategic collaboration with Israel.

“The President acknowledges that our ability to defend vital interests in Near East and South Asia would be enhanced by the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” McFarlane said in the cable. “Nevertheless, in recognition of Israel’s strategic location, its developed base infrastructure and the quality and inter-operability of the Israeli military forces, it was decided to resume cooperative paramilitary planning with Israel, expanding on the work begun earlier.”

The Iran-Contra Debacle

The stage was set for the next phase of this tighter U.S.-Israeli collaboration, the Iran-Contra Affair. Again, McFarlane’s Israeli friend, David Kimche, was a chief collaborator.

As McFarlane describes the Iran-Contra origins in Special Trust, Kimche visited him at the White House on July 3, 1985, to ask whether a National Security Council consultant (and neocon activist) Michael Ledeen was speaking for the administration when he approached Israeli officials with questions about internal Iranian divisions.

McFarlane confirmed that he had dispatched Ledeen, according to the book, and Kimche mentioned Iranian dissidents who were in contact with Israelis and who might be able to demonstrate their “bona fides” to the United States by gaining the release of American hostages then being held by pro-Iranian militants in Lebanon. [pp. 17-20]

Soon, McFarlane found himself at the center of a new round of secret arms sales to Iran via Israel, although these were authorized directly by President Reagan in what became an arms-for-hostage swap with a geopolitical veneer.

Even after stepping down as National Security Advisor in December 1985, McFarlane continued to participate in these Iranian arms sales, as the operation also evolved into a scheme for enriching some of the participants and generating profits that were diverted to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels, a U.S. proxy force fighting to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government in that Central American country.

According to one of the declassified documents, the Reagan administration’s expectation of Israeli cooperation in such paramilitary operations extended to a request from NSC aide Oliver North to Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin to supply hundreds of AK-47s to the Contras in September 1986.

“North told Rabin that the United States was out of funds to support the Contras,” according to a secret cable from U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Pickering. “North said he was aware of the fact that Israel had in its possession some 400-600 AK-47 rifles which he, North, would like to see provided to the Contras. Rabin asked if North was thinking of a gift and North replied that he was.

“Later, it was decided in the affirmative and the weapons were made available for shipment. Rabin insisted, however, that he would only provide the weapons to the United States, not directly to any other recipient. What the United States then did with the weapons was its own business.

“In October, the weapons were loaded on a ship and the ship departed Israel. However, the story began to break and the ship was returned to Israel and the weapons unloaded here. Rabin wanted us to know that the conversation had taken place.”

In November 1986, the convoluted Iran-Contra scandal exploded into public view, forcing the dismissal of North and National Security Advisor John Poindexter and prompting both criminal and congressional investigations. Embarrassed by the catastrophe that he helped create, McFarlane attempted suicide by taking an overdose of valium on Feb. 9, 1987, but survived.

In 1988, McFarlane pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor counts of concealing information from Congress, but he was pardoned along with five other Iran-Contra defendants on Christmas Eve 1992 by President George H.W. Bush, who himself had come under investigation for his role in the secret operations and the cover-up.

Ultimately, the investigations into Iran-Contra and related scandals including the October Surprise allegations of a secret Reagan-Iran deal in 1980, to stop Carter from resolving that earlier hostage crisis, and Iraqgate, the secret arms sales to Iraq failed to get to the bottom of the secret policies. Republican cover-ups largely succeeded. [For the latest on these cover-ups, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

Severe Consequences

The long-term consequences of the Reagan administration’s secret dealing with Israel, Iran and Iraq have resonated to the present day.

With both Iran and Iraq bolstered by outside arms deliveries, the Iran-Iraq War continued until 1988 with a death toll estimated at about one million. Over the next several years, the alliance of convenience between Israel and Iran began to sour with the two countries drifting toward becoming the bitter enemies that they are today.

Meanwhile, Iraq strapped by its war debts invaded Kuwait in 1990 in a dispute over money and oil. President George H.W. Bush responded with the Persian Gulf War, driving Saddam Hussein’s army out of Kuwait and putting the Iraqi dictator in the top tier of U.S. “enemies.”

To carry out the assault on Iraqi forces in 1991, Bush arranged for the United States to secure military bases in Saudi Arabia, a move that infuriated Saudi jihadist Osama bin Laden. Though bin Laden had sided with the United States in the war to drive Soviet troops from Afghanistan in the 1980s, bin Laden soon became a sworn enemy of the Americans.

Further, the high-tech capabilities of the modern U.S. military, as displayed in the Persian Gulf War, were so extraordinary that the neocons came to believe that the new weapons systems had qualitatively changed the nature of warfare, enabling the United States to dictate policies across a “uni-polar world” by force or the threat of force.

When Wolfowitz and other neocons returned to power in 2001 under President George W. Bush, they were convinced that they could remake the Middle East through a strategy of “regime change,” starting with a grudge match against Saddam Hussein and then moving on to Iran and Syria. The overriding goal was to create a new reality that would let Israel set its territorial boundaries with little regard for the Palestinians or other Arab neighbors.

This grand opportunity presented itself after bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorists struck at New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001. Though the fact that al-Qaeda was based in Afghanistan forced Bush to first attack that country, he quickly followed the neocon advice and pivoted toward Iraq and Saddam Hussein.

The neocons helped Bush concoct a case against Iraq, claiming that it was hiding stockpiles of WMD and was collaborating with al-Qaeda. Neither point was true, but the aggressive propaganda campaign rallied Congress and the American people behind the invasion of Iraq, which Bush announced on March 19, 2003.

The U.S.-led invasion force toppled Saddam Hussein’s government in three weeks but the neocon-organized occupation under Paul Bremer proved to be a disaster. An insurgency ensued and the country became virtually ungovernable.

Nearly 4,500 American soldiers died along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. The total cost to the U.S. Treasury is estimated at about $1 trillion and the United States ended up with little to show for the war after U.S. troops were compelled to withdraw at the end of 2011.

Today, despite the Iraq disaster, the neocons continue to press for another military conflict with Iran over its nuclear program, although Iran denies that it has any interest in building a nuclear bomb. Still, the Israeli government, which has a secret nuclear arsenal of its own, has repeatedly threatened to launch a preemptive strike against Iran but has been restrained by President Barack Obama, at least so far.

Though these geopolitical relationships involving the United States, Israel, Iraq and Iran have experienced many twists and turns over the past three-plus decades, some of the origins for this torturous journey can be found in the records of the early Reagan administration.

Much of that history remains classified, but bits and pieces are slowly coming to light revealing how a group of arrogant intellectuals the neocons set the United States and the Middle East on a path toward disaster.

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).




Swanson Critiques Parry’s New Book

Robert Parry’s new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, details how Republican treason became normalized through the actions of Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and others, but it lets the Democrats off too easily, writes David Swanson at warisacrime.org.

By David Swanson

How did right-wing politics in the United States survive the 1960s and 1970s and thrive beyond?  Not only did the wealthy invest in the corruption of politics, but the politicians invested in the normalization of treason.

When presidential candidate Richard Nixon sabotaged the peace process in Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson privately called it treason and publicly kept his mouth shut. By the time Bush the Elder, also involved in that earlier treason, worked with Robert Gates and William Casey to sabotage President Carter’s efforts to free hostages in Iran, the normalization was well underway.

The corruption of Watergate involved not only no-holds-barred political thievery, but also Nixon’s fear that Daniel Ellsberg or the Brookings Institution or someone else had possession of a file detailing Nixon’s successful 1968 efforts to prevent the war on Vietnam from ending.

The Iran-Contra scandal that grew out of the U.S.-Israeli-Iranian plot to replace Carter with Reagan, and the Iraq-gate scandal that followed, witnessed a last fling of half-hearted pushback in Congress and the corporate media. Today such non-sexual scandals no longer end in -gate. In fact, they are no longer scandals.

Piling George W. Bush’s blatantly stolen elections onto the history of recent U.S. politics calls into question the ability of Republicans to get elected to national office without cheating. But the normalization of treason has been very much a bi-partisan affair.

Robert Parry, who runs the invaluable website ConsortiumNews.com, has a new book out called “America’s Stolen Narrative.” My recommendation is to immediately read this book from Chapter 2 through to the end.

The introduction and chapter 1 depict President Barack Obama as having nothing but the best intentions, glorify the American Revolution, argue in favor of a strong federal government, and defend the practice of requiring people to purchase private health insurance (a Republican idea in its origins, of course, although Parry has adopted it as Democratic and good).

Also, Chapter 3 takes a detour into arguing unpersuasively for lesser-evilism. If you’re into that sort of thing, knock yourselves out. But in my view such discussions muddle and belittle the significance of the rest of this tremendously important book.

The “stolen narratives” referred to in the title are the accurate accounts that Parry presents of the treasonous acts I’ve mentioned above. Parry is an investigative journalist who has unearthed powerful evidence of the crimes of Nixon, Reagan and others. Parry not only details the evidence but recounts the processes of coverup and distortion that the U.S. media has made its second nature.

The result of this history is, I’m afraid, far worse than Parry’s opening pages let on. Not only do Americans imagine that their politicians mean well when they do not, particularly in the area of foreign policy, but the United States has fundamentally accepted unlimited presidential powers.

Nixon’s crimes during his famous cover-up, and the far worse underlying crimes as well, have now been legalized and accepted. Presidents do not answer to Congress or the public or the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

To a great extent, the people of our country have accepted temporary despots, and to a great extent our people falsely believe themselves powerless to act. They imagine the Left did something wrong through acting. This is part of how history must be explained when leaving out the fact that the Right has been cheating.

Parry’s account of Nixon’s undoing of peace in Vietnam, allowing for another four years of slaughter in Southeast Asia, is the best I’ve seen and alone worth the purchase of America’s Stolen Narrative.

Parry imagines what it might have meant, not only for peace in the world, but also for social justice and the “war on poverty” in the United States had Hubert Humphrey defeated Nixon. To the extent that Nixon’s successful electoral sabotage in 1968 opened the door to dirtier politics ever since, the damage can be multiplied.

Needless to say, that door was always somewhat opened. The Business Plot of 1933 was hardly less treasonous than anything Nixon did. Nixon’s go-between with the Vietnamese in 1968 was the widow of Claire Lee Chennault who had worked to provide China with U.S. planes, pilots and training to plan the firebombing of Japan and provoke Japan into the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Our false narratives still require the acceptance or glorification of all things related to World War II, but in fact one can see a bit of the husband in the widow Chennault. And then there’s the assassination of President Kennedy, which evidence suggests George H.W. Bush played a role in as in most of Parry’s post-1960’s narrative. But Parry’s case that we turned a corner toward a nastier political world with the Nixon presidency is a strong one.

The account of the Carter-Reagan October Surprise is also the best I’ve seen, in terms of the evidence presented and the background provided, including on the central role of the Israeli government. The same gang that hung President Carter out to dry for failing to free the hostages had earlier pressured him to bring the Shah of Iran to the United States, thereby provoking the fears of Iranians and the seizure of the U.S. Embassy.

The weapons shipments to Iran later grew into the Iran-Contra scandal, but common understanding of that scandal fails to trace it to its roots in the treasonous bargain that kept the hostages prisoners until the day of Reagan’s inauguration.

Parry devotes whole chapters to the history of corrupt manipulation by a couple of the dirtiest individuals in Washington: Colin Powell and Robert Gates. These two manage their heights of corruption and influence, in part, through their cross-partisanship. Democrats in Parry’s worldview seem to be largely battered wives failing to push back, failing to speak out, refusing to investigate or prosecute or impeach. True enough, as far as it goes.

But I think there is a great measure of complicity and outright expansion of bipartisan abuses that must be credited to the Democrats as well. An accurate understanding of exactly how evil some of our Republicans have been need not turn us into cheerleaders for the party of the current president, his record classifications, his groundbreaking secrecy claims, his record whistleblower prosecutions, his record levels of warrantless spying, his imprisonments without trial, his wars without Congress, his war-making CIA, or his “kill list” murder program.

Instead, an accurate understanding of how evil some of our politicians have been should move us to become, like Robert Parry, dogged pursuers of the facts that those in power seek to bury or beautify.

[Parry’s book is available in print here or as an e-book from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com.]

David Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works as Campaign Coordinator for the online activist organization http://rootsaction.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook.




The Death Toll of Watergate

Exclusive: Major gaps in the history of Watergate and Iran-Contra have let Republicans minimize those scandals by comparing them to the fabricated “scandal” over the Benghazi attacks. A fuller understanding of Watergate would reveal its links to Richard Nixon’s prolonging the Vietnam War, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Republicans are fond of comparing their scandal-mongering like the current hype over the terrorist assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya with genuine scandals, like Watergate, which sank Richard Nixon’s second term, and Iran-Contra, which marred Ronald Reagan’s last two years in office.

The GOP’s false equivalence represents both an effort to puff up their latest accusations against Democrats and an attempt to minimize the misconduct of those two Republican presidents. For instance, one favorite GOP comment about Benghazi is: “No one died at Watergate. Four brave Americans died in Benghazi.”

This apples-and-oranges sophistry misses the point that Watergate and Iran-Contra were complex conspiracies that required intensive investigations to unravel their secrets (many of which remain hidden or in dispute to this day) while the Benghazi affair boils down to an easily resolved question as to why the U.S. intelligence community withheld some of the details in the immediate aftermath of the attack last Sept. 11.

The answers seem to be that the Benghazi consulate had evolved into a CIA base for secret operations and that U.S. intelligence didn’t want to tip off the attack’s perpetrators regarding how much the agency knew about their identities. So, the word “extremists” replaced specific groups and the CIA affiliation of two slain Americans was withheld.

By contrast, the history of Watergate is still substantially misunderstood even by supposed experts. Evidence from the National Archives now indicates that Nixon’s Watergate operation linked back to his 1968 campaign’s sabotage of President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks, an operation that Johnson privately called “treason.”

As I explain in my new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, Johnson had learned, in the days before Election 1968, that Nixon’s campaign was keeping the South Vietnamese away from the Paris talks. LBJ even confronted Nixon by phone just two days before the election. Nixon denied any skullduggery but Johnson didn’t believe him.

Nixon’s campaign feared that if Johnson did achieve a Vietnam peace breakthrough, which was then in the offing, Vice President Hubert Humphrey would likely win the election, consigning Nixon to another bitter defeat.

There was also the possibility that if Johnson went public with what he knew about the Nixon campaign’s interference with the negotiations while a half million American troops were in the Vietnam war zone and more than 30,000 had already died the disclosure might put Humphrey over the top.

But Johnson’s advisers feared what might happen to the country’s unity if Nixon’s maneuver were revealed and he still went on to victory. They foresaw a dangerously weakened president and national disorder. As Defense Secretary Clark Clifford told Johnson in a conference call:

“Some elements of the story are so shocking in their nature that I’m wondering whether it would be good for the country to disclose the story and then possibly have a certain individual [Nixon] elected. It could cast his whole administration under such doubt that I think it would be inimical to our country’s interests.”

So, Johnson kept quiet; Nixon narrowly won the election; and the Paris peace talks remained stalled for the remainder of LBJ’s presidency. Johnson’s only revenge was to order his national security aide Walt Rostow to remove from the White House the file of “top secret” wiretap transcripts and other evidence of Nixon’s gambit when Johnson’s term ended on Jan. 20, 1969. Rostow labeled the file “The ‘X’ Envelope.”

Hoover’s Tip

Early in his presidency, Nixon received unsettling news from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover about how much Johnson knew about the Vietnam peace sabotage. Hoover described a widespread wiretapping operation against Nixon’s campaign. Hoover apparently overstated the extent of the actual wiretapping, but the report unnerved Nixon.

Nixon ordered his top assistants, White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, to track down the file, which they discovered was missing. They managed to reconstruct much of what had been in the file but they didn’t know where the original documents had gone.

The missing file became a sudden crisis for Nixon in mid-June 1971 when the New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers, a secret history of the Vietnam War from 1945 to 1967, which exposed many of the lies behind the war, mostly told by Democrats.

However, as the Pentagon Papers dominated the front pages of U.S. newspapers in June 1971, Nixon understood something that few others did that there was a shocking sequel to the Pentagon Papers, a secret file explaining how Nixon had torpedoed Johnson’s peace talks in 1968 and thus extended the war for several more years.

In other words, there was a file that could doom Nixon’s reelection in 1972 or possibly worse, result in his impeachment and even his prosecution. Nixon had not only continued the war, with the hope of getting his South Vietnamese allies a better deal than Johnson would have given them, but he had escalated the war with an invasion of Cambodia in 1970.

Beyond the unspeakable bloodshed in Indochina, the United States had been torn apart domestically with parents turning against their children, with massive street protests against the war, and with four American students slain at Kent State in Ohio and two at Jackson State in Mississippi.

The Missing File

Nixon was reminded of his vulnerability when the first installments of the Pentagon Papers were published in mid-June 1971. Just four days after the Times began publishing the leaked history, one of Nixon’s Oval Office tapes on June 17, 1971 recorded him demanding extraordinary measures to locate the missing file.

Nixon’s team referred to the file as related to Johnson’s Vietnam bombing halt of Oct. 31, 1968, but the file encompassed LBJ’s failed peace negotiations and more importantly the Republican sabotage of those talks, a reality that Nixon understood from Hoover’s briefing.

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

Haldeman responded, “We can’t find it.”

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

Nixon: “Well, damnit, 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. Goddamnit, 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 Walt Rostow to remove it in the final days of his own presidency.

Hiring Hunt

On June 30, 1971, Nixon again berated Haldeman about the need to break into Brookings and “take it [the file] out.” Nixon even suggested using former CIA officer E. Howard Hunt (who later oversaw the two Watergate break-ins in May and June of 1972) 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 planned Brookings break-in never took place, 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 Plumbers unit and then to Watergate.

Ironically, Walt Rostow made that link in his own mind when he had to decide what to do with “The ‘X’ Envelope” in the wake of Johnson’s death on Jan. 22, 1973. On May 14, 1973, as Rostow pondered what to do, the Watergate scandal was spinning out of Nixon’s control. In a three-page “memorandum for the record,” Rostow reflected on what effect LBJ’s public silence may have had on the unfolding Watergate scandal.

“I am inclined to believe the Republican operation in 1968 relates in two ways to the Watergate affair of 1972,” Rostow wrote. He noted, first, that Nixon’s operatives may have judged that their “enterprise with the South Vietnamese” in frustrating Johnson’s last-ditch peace initiative had secured Nixon his narrow margin of victory over Hubert Humphrey in 1968.

“Second, they got away with it,” Rostow wrote. “Despite considerable press commentary after the election, the matter was never investigated fully. Thus, as the same men faced the election in 1972, there was nothing in their previous experience with an operation of doubtful propriety (or, even, legality) to warn them off, and there were memories of how close an election could get and the possible utility of pressing to the limit and beyond.” [To read Rostow’s memo, click here, here and here.]

But there was a third link between Nixon’s Vietnam gambit and Watergate, one that Rostow did not know: In Nixon’s desperate search for the missing file, he had brought in E. Howard Hunt and created the team of burglars that later got trapped in Watergate.

What to Do?

In spring 1973, Rostow struggled with the question of what to do with “The ‘X’ Envelope” as the Watergate scandal continued to deepen. On June 25, 1973, fired White House counsel John Dean delivered his blockbuster Senate testimony, claiming that Nixon got involved in the cover-up within days of the June 1972 burglary at the Democratic National Committee. Dean also asserted that Watergate was just part of a years-long program of political espionage directed by Nixon’s White House.

The very next day, as headlines of Dean’s testimony filled the nation’s newspapers, Rostow reached his conclusion about what to do with “The ‘X’ Envelope.” In longhand, he wrote a “Top Secret” note which read, “To be opened by the Director, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, not earlier than fifty (50) years from this date June 26, 1973.”

In other words, Rostow intended this missing link of American history to stay missing for another half century. In a typed cover letter to LBJ Library director Harry Middleton, Rostow wrote: “Sealed in the attached envelope is a file President Johnson asked me to hold personally because of its sensitive nature. In case of his death, the material was to be consigned to the LBJ Library under conditions I judged to be appropriate.

“After fifty years the Director of the LBJ Library (or whomever may inherit his responsibilities, should the administrative structure of the National Archives change) may, alone, open this file. If he believes the material it contains should not be opened for research [at that time], I would wish him empowered to re-close the file for another fifty years when the procedure outlined above should be repeated.”

Ultimately, however, the LBJ Library didn’t wait that long. After a little more than two decades, on July 22, 1994, the envelope was opened and the archivists began the process of declassifying the contents, some of which remain classified to this day.

Yet, Rostow’s delay in releasing “The ‘X’ Envelope” had other political consequences. Since the full scope of Nixon’s political intelligence operations were not understood in 1973-74, Washington’s conventional wisdom adopted the mistaken lesson from the Watergate scandal that “the cover-up is worse than the crime.” What wasn’t understood was how deep Nixon’s villainy may have gone.

Another consequence is that Republicans still can disparage the significance of Watergate, sometimes referring to it as Nixon did, as “a third-rate burglary.” Not understanding the scope of criminality behind Nixon’s clandestine operations, GOP officials even rate Watergate as less important than the current flap over Benghazi because supposedly “no one died in Watergate.”

However, if the full continuum of Watergate were recognized that it partly stemmed from a cover-up of Nixon’s Vietnam War “treason” in 1968 the notion that “no one died” would sound like a sick joke.

Because Nixon extended the Vietnam War for four-plus years and expanded it into Cambodia, millions of people perished, the vast majority inhabitants of Indochina, but also more than 20,000 additional Americans. It is well past time that this more complete history is recognized.

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).




How the US Press Lost Its Way

Exclusive: People often wonder what happened to the American press after it distinguished itself in the 1970s by exposing the Pentagon Papers and Watergate. How did the U.S. news media lose its way over the past four decades, a question addressed by Robert Parry at a conference on information and secrecy.

By Robert Parry

Editor’s Note: From May 10 to May 12, journalist Robert Parry participated in a conference entitled, “From the Pentagon Papers to WikiLeaks: A Transatlantic Conversation on the Public’s Right to Know,” sponsored by the Heidelberg Center for American Studies in Heidelberg, Germany.

The conference consisted of media figures, legal scholars and freedom-of-information advocates and included Neil Sheehan, the New York Times correspondent who got the Pentagon Papers from Daniel Ellsberg, and Barry Sussman, the Washington Post editor who oversaw the newspaper’s coverage of the Watergate scandal.

Parry spoke on the last day and offered the following observations:

Much of this conference has focused on the glory days of American journalism in the 1970s. And rightly so. My talk, however, will deal with the more depressing question of why things then went so terribly wrong.

First, let me say it’s been an honor to be at this conference, especially with Neil Sheehan and Barry Sussman, who played such important roles exposing serious crimes of state in the early to mid-1970s. That was a time when U.S. journalism perhaps was at its best, far from perfect, but doing what the Founders had in mind when they afforded special protections to the American press.

In the 1970s, besides the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, there were other important press disclosures, like the My Lai massacre story and the CIA abuses — from Iran to Guatemala, from Cuba to Chile. For people around the world, American journalism was the gold standard.

Granted, that was never the full picture. There were shortcomings even in the 1970s. You also could argue that the U.S. news media’s performance then was exceptional mostly in contrast to its failures during the Cold War, when reporters tended to be stenographers to power, going along to get along, including early in the Vietnam War.

Even the much-admired Walter Cronkite flacked for the early U.S. bombing raids over Vietnam. But the press of the Seventies seemed to have learned lessons from its earlier gullibility. And, with Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, it could be said that America’s checks and balances were alive and well. In newsrooms around Washington, there was reason to be proud.

More broadly, the United States had reason to be proud. The American constitutional Republic had shown its capacity for self-correction. Not only had brave individuals done their jobs as professionals both in media and in government but the nation’s institutions had worked.

The press, the Congress, the courts along with an informed public had demanded and gotten accountability and reform. Not only were Nixon and many of his henchmen gone but Congress enacted legal changes designed to prevent the excessive influence of political donors, to open up government secrets to public scrutiny, to protect whistleblowers.

Again, things weren’t perfect and the nation faced many challenges in the 1970s, but one could say that democracy had been strengthened. As painful as the process was, the system had worked.

However, the success of democracy, this victory of the rule of law, was fragile. The struggle between dishonest pols and honest reporters between an engaged people and behind-the-scenes powerbrokers was far from over. Indeed, a new battle was just beginning.

After Nixon’s resignation, his embittered allies didn’t simply run up the white flag. They got to work ensuring that they would never experience “another Watergate.” And it wasn’t just a struggle that pitted the press against the pols.

You could say that much of the U.S. Establishment had been unnerved by the surge of democracy that had arisen to challenge longstanding traditions and injustices — the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, the environmental movement, the anti-war movement. There also were cultural upheavals, with the hippies and the drug culture. It was an unsettling time for the rich white men who held most of the levers of power.

And these folks were not about to cede power easily. They made adjustments, yes; they gave some ground. But many were determined to fight back and some had experience in defusing and dismantling social movements around the world. Indeed, the CIA’s decades of political and media manipulation in the Third World and even Europe gave Nixon’s allies a playbook for how to neutralize opponents and steer a population here at home.

So, they set out to do just that. America, which had often targeted other countries for manipulation, was about to get a taste of the same medicine. It may seem odd to explain what has happened over the past three-plus decades as the result of a well-orchestrated intelligence operation. But step back for a moment and take the name United States out of the equation. Think of it as “Nation X” or as, say, Chile in the 1970s.

Think how the CIA would target a country with the goal of shoring up a wealthy oligarchy. The Agency might begin by taking over influential media outlets or starting its own. It would identify useful friends and isolate troublesome enemies.

It would organize pro-oligarchy political groups. It would finance agit-prop specialists skilled at undermining and discrediting perceived enemies. If the project were successful, you would expect the oligarchy to consolidate its power, to get laws written in its favor. And eventually the winners would take a larger share of the nation’s wealth.

And what we saw in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the United States was something like the behavior of an embattled oligarchy. Nixon’s embittered allies and the Right behaved as if they were following a CIA script. They built fronts; they took over and opened new media outlets; they spread propaganda; they discredited people who got in the way; ultimately, they consolidated power; they changed laws in their favor; and over the course of several decades they made themselves even richer, indeed a lot richer, and that, in turn, has translated into even more power.

Getting Things Started

One key early figure in this operation was Nixon’s Treasury Secretary Bill Simon, a Wall Street investment banker who also ran the Olin Foundation. Simon used that perch to begin lining up right-wing foundations and getting them to pool their money. The likes of Richard Mellon Scaife and the Koch Brothers began investing in right-wing media, in right-wing think tanks, and in right-wing attack groups. Some of these attack groups were set up to go after troublesome reporters.

Ironically, given our comparison of this effort to CIA covert operations interfering in foreign countries, this time money flowed in from foreign sources to help fund propaganda inside the United States. The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, a South Korean cult leader who fancies himself the Messiah, invested tens of millions of dollars of his mysterious money in right-wing political and media organizations, including the Washington Times. Australian Rupert Murdoch showed up with millions more to buy up news media properties and give them a right-wing bent.

American neocons also emerged in this time frame. They became the intellectual shock troops for the Right’s counteroffensive. They also focused much of their attention on the media. In the late 1970s, for instance, neocon Marty Peretz took over the formerly liberal New Republic and turned it into the incubator that gave us right-wing columnists like Charles Krauthammer and Fred Barnes.

Arriving in DC

I had arrived in Washington in 1977, as a correspondent for the Associated Press. So I saw the end of that brief golden era of journalism. Jimmy Carter was president at the time. His administration was itself a reaction to the lies of the Vietnam War and Watergate. One of Carter’s campaign promises was never to lie to the American people. I recall AP ‘s White House correspondent, Michael Putzel, taking it on as a personal challenge to catch Carter in at least one lie. It sounds almost quaint today.

Then, came Ronald Reagan. He was the perfect pitchman for this pushback, the ideal front man for rallying average Americans to betray their own interests. A former movie star, Reagan could sell you anything, even Chesterfield cigarettes. He also could sell nostalgia for a mythical better day, a time before all those jarring social changes of the 1960s and all those national humiliations of the 1970s.

After defeating Jimmy Carter in 1980, Reagan brought with him a gifted team of P.R. and ad men. And, partly through the connection of Reagan’s Vice President (and former CIA director) George H.W. Bush, Reagan’s team also hooked up with CIA professionals, experts in the dark arts of political and media manipulation. The CIA’s Old Boys had suffered their own pain in the 1970s. Many got fired and their proud agency became the butt of national jokes.

Reagan also put one of Richard Nixon’s most cynical and unscrupulous allies, Bill Casey, in charge of CIA. Casey was a former intelligence officer from the OSS in World War II. He obsessed over the importance of deception and propaganda, what he viewed as key elements in defeating the Nazis and later containing the Communists. Casey understood that he who controlled the flow of information had a decisive advantage in any conflict.

Coordinated Assault

So, what we saw in the early to mid-1980s was an assault on the two key sources of information in Official Washington. One was inside the CIA itself, the analytical division. These fiercely independent CIA analysts had been a thorn in the side of the war machine for some time.

As Neil Sheehan (who wrote the Pentagon Papers stories for the New York Times) recalled in his keynote speech to the conference, it was a CIA analyst, Sam Adams, who had leaked evidence that the Vietnam War was unwinnable.

In the early 1980s, other CIA analysts were seeing signs that the Soviet Union was in rapid decline. But that was not the answer the Reagan administration wanted, since its policy centered around scaring the American people about the Soviet menace and financing a massive U.S. military buildup to counter Moscow’s supposed bid for worldwide conquest.

Reagan also wanted to assist right-wing dictatorships in Central America as they put down uprisings by peasants, students, even priests and nuns. Fear of an ever-expanding Soviet Union was to be the key motivator to separate the American people from their money and their common sense. They had to believe that a dangerous bear was on the loose and on the prowl in Central America.

In other words, the CIA analysts had to be brought into line. Rather than talk about the Soviet Union in decline and eager for accommodation with the West, the analysts had to get cracking, exaggerating the Soviet threat. And Casey had just the guy to do it, an ambitious, well-regarded young bureaucrat named Robert Gates.

Casey put Gates in charge of the analytical division and soon his reorganization of the directorate had sent some key analysts out to pasture and brought in a new more flexible cadre of careerists. They agreed that the Soviets were indeed 10 feet tall, the source of all evil in the world, and plotting to attack the U.S. through the soft underbelly of Texas.

The Troublesome Press Corps

But the problem wasn’t just getting control of the information inside the U.S. government. It also was to get control of the unruly Washington press corps. Casey had a hand in this, too. He moved one of his most experienced disinformation specialists, Walter Raymond Jr., from the CIA to the National Security Council.

The reason for Raymond’s shift was that the CIA was legally barred from influencing U.S. policy and politics. But the thinking was that if you externalized Raymond to the NSC then he wasn’t technically in the CIA. Casey used a similar subterfuge when he ran the contra war in Nicaragua through NSC official Oliver North — after Congress had banned the CIA and the Pentagon from giving the contras military support.

At the NSC, Raymond was put in charge of a special interagency task force for coordinating what was called “public diplomacy,” or how to sell U.S. policies around the world. But the office had a more secret and more sensitive domestic function. It was targeting members of Congress and the U.S. press corps and through them, the American people.

Secret government documents that later emerged in the Iran-Contra scandal revealed that Raymond’s team worked aggressively and systematically to lobby news executives and turn them against their reporters when the reporters dug up information that clashed with Reagan’s propaganda, especially in hot spots like Central America. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]

Sometimes the techniques were crude. For instance, a favorite tactic to discredit women reporters in Central America was to start whispering campaigns about them sleeping with Sandinistas. Other troublesome journalists were simply labeled “liberal,” a curse word in that period.

You might want to believe that the news executives stood up for their reporters. But that usually was not what happened.

The smear techniques proved remarkably successful, in part, because many of the news executives were already inclined to support Reagan’s muscular foreign policy and his resistance to the popular movements that had rocked America in the 1960s and 1970s, opening doors to minorities and women and lessening bigotry against gays.

Many senior editors shared a Cold War point-of-view and were unnerved by those political and cultural changes. At the AP, where I was, general manager Keith Fuller made no secret of his admiration for Reagan in having rescued America from the supposedly shameful days of the 1960s and 1970s. In one speech, Fuller talked about those days ripping at the “sinews” of American authority and saying that Americans wanted to get back to “the union of Adam and Eve,” not “the union of Adam and Bruce.”

Perception Management

Privately, the Reagan team had a name for what they were up to in their domestic propaganda schemes. They called it “perception management.” The idea was that if you could manage how the American people perceived events abroad, you could not only insure their continued support of the foreign policy, but in making the people more compliant domestically. A frightened population is much easier to control.

Thus, if you could manage the information flows inside the government and inside the Washington press corps, you could be more confident that there would be no more Vietnam-style protests. No more Pentagon Papers. No more My Lai massacre disclosures. No more Watergates.

Sure, there would be the occasional reporter who would fight a story through to publication but he or she could be neutralized. And most significantly, in the face of this well-organized pressure, the nation’s two preeminent papers where the likes of Neil Sheehan and Barry Sussman had starred the New York Times and the Washington Post largely moved to the sidelines when it came to Reagan-era scandals.

In the 1980s, the two influential papers became more solicitous to the Establishment than they were committed to the quality journalism that had contributed to the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s.

Investigating Reagan

All this became a factor in my journalism career. In late 1980, I had been put on the AP special assignment team and had begun investigating the secret side of the Reagan administration’s policies in Central America. My work wasn’t much appreciated by Keith Fuller and the AP brass, but I pressed on and broke a number of important stories about the CIA’s operations.

We won some journalism awards and that gave me a little protection. But it was always touch and go. When one of Reagan’s public diplomacy guys realized that I wasn’t going to back down, he looked me in the eye and said, in all seriousness, “we will controversialize you.”

That notion of controversializing reporters may sound silly, but it was a real strategy. By the mid-1980s, America’s Right had built up an imposing media infrastructure of its own with many newspapers and magazines.

The Right also controlled specialized attack groups that targeted journalists by name and were dedicated to making individual reporters the issue. Anti-journalism activists, the likes of Reed Irvine and Brent Bozell, coordinated their attacks with Reagan’s allies and operatives.

Still at AP we persisted in the Central America investigations. Essentially, I was trying to follow the advice of Watergate’s Deep Throat — to “follow the money.” Specifically, I wanted to know how the Nicaraguan contra rebels were getting funded after Congress cut off their financial support.

That work led me the secret operations of Oliver North and to the first story in June 1985 about his role funneling off-the-books money to the contras. Later, with my AP colleague Brian Barger, we discovered that many of the contra units had gotten involved in cocaine smuggling to help pay the bills.

On the Sidelines

Yet, as we pressed our investigation, we found ourselves remarkably alone, with the occasional exception of some left-of-center magazine or the Miami Herald. The AP editors took note that the Washington Post and the New York Times were staying mostly on the sidelines.

And, by summer 1986, Congress had buckled under Reagan’s pressure and agreed to resume contra funding. Barger quit the AP around that time and I was somewhat in the doghouse for having led the wire service off on this wild goose chase. However, then fate conspired to get the truth out.

On Oct. 5, 1986, on one of the last flights of Oliver North’s secret air force to dump weapons to the contras inside Nicaragua, a teen-age Sandinista draftee fired a SAM missile that brought down the cargo plane. One of the Americans onboard, Eugene Hasenfus, parachuted to safety and was captured. Suddenly our crazy AP stories didn’t seem so crazy after all.

The crashed plane and later disclosures about Reagan’s arms-for-hostage deals with Iran (from a Beirut newspaper) led to congressional investigations. And this brief vindication led me to a new job offer from Newsweek, which I took in early 1987.

In a way, the Iran-Contra Affair marked an opportunity to not only bring important facts to the American people but to revive that independent spirit of the U.S. press. And there were a few months of good reporting as the Big Papers scrambled to catch up.

Losing Momentum

But the dynamic had shifted too much. Or, you might say, the CIA-style political/media operation had advanced too far. There were too many forces supporting containment of the scandal and too few committed to its full explication.

In that sense, Iran-Contra became a test of the new paradigm: an aggressive right-wing apparatus doing damage control, determined to prevent another Watergate, up against a weakened force favoring accountability and truth.

At Newsweek which was part of the Washington Post company at the time there simply wasn’t the stomach for another Watergate anyway. Some senior editors even considered it a sign of their patriotism not to take part in the destruction of another Republican presidency.

So, there was little pushback when President Reagan and Vice President George Bush were largely spared and a few lower-ranking officials, like Oliver North, were thrown under the bus.

However, it wasn’t fine with me. From my sources, it was clear that a cover-up was underway to protect Reagan and his heir apparent Bush. And, I pushed through some stories at Newsweek along those lines. But the top brass, particularly executive editor Maynard Parker, had different ideas. He didn’t like Iran-Contra as a story and wanted it wrapped up quickly.

At one famous point in the hearings, the well-liked Secretary of State George Shultz declared that in Washington, “trust is the coin of the realm.” After that, he proceeded to lie though his teeth (a reality he later admitted to Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh).

But in 1987, Shultz’s assurance was good enough for my Newsweek editors who essentially told me that any further reporting about a cover-up was unwelcome. Newsweek bureau chief Evan Thomas specifically ordered me not to even read the congressional Iran-Contra report when it came out in fall 1987. I was reassigned to work on the Gary Hart sex scandal.

I hung on at Newsweek until 1990 and kept an eye on the Iran-Contra scandal as some of the secrets continued to dribble out. But my situation was untenable and I agreed to leave in June 1990. What was clear to me at that point was that the concept of “perception management” had carried the day in Washington, with remarkably little resistance from the Washington press corps.

Reverting to Form

While still living on the reputation of those golden days of the 1970s, Washington journalists had reverted to their pre-Vietnam, pre-Watergate inability to penetrate important government secrets in a significant way.

Yes, the press corps could get fierce about Bill Clinton’s sex life or Al Gore’s supposed exaggerations. But when it came to national security secrets especially with a Republican in the White House the American people and the world were in much greater danger than they knew.

For me, I did some documentaries for PBS Frontline and kept digging up material that shed new light on the dark secrets of the 1980s. But no one seemed interested. So, at the advice of my oldest son Sam, I turned to what was then the new media frontier, the Internet, and started what was the first investigative news Web site.

The site is called Consortiumnews.com, and over the past 16-plus years we have published hundreds of investigative news articles, including many from historical records that are now available but are of little interest to the major U.S. news outlets. Interestingly, a number of former CIA analysts also submit articles to us.

Yet, despite the Internet’s promise for circumventing the obstacles that I faced at AP and Newsweek, the Internet also has many shortcomings, including a shortage of good editing, too little fact-checking, too many crazy conspiracy theories, and perhaps most important of all, too little money.

The readership also is fragmented, making it impossible to have the impact that the New York Times had in the Pentagon Papers or the Washington Post had during Watergate.

Sadly, too, my fears about the dangers from a Washington press corps that had stopped asking the tough questions on issues of war and peace also proved prescient. After George W. Bush seized the White House — and especially after the 9/11 attacks — many journalists reverted back their earlier roles as stenographers to power. They also became cheerleaders for a misguided war in Iraq.

Indeed, you can track the arc of modern American journalism from its apex at the Pentagon Papers and Watergate curving downward to that center point of Iran-Contra before reaching the nadir of Bush’s war in Iraq.

Journalists found it hard even to challenge Bush when he was telling obvious lies. For instance, in June 2003, as the search for WMD came up empty, Bush began to tell reporters that he had no choice but to invade because Saddam Hussein had refused to let UN inspectors in.

Though everyone knew that Hussein had let the inspectors in and that it was Bush who had forced them to leave in March 2003, not a single reporter confronted Bush on this lie, which he repeated again and again right through his exit interviews in 2008.

The WikiLeaks Era

The failures of the U.S. news media over Iraq set the stage for what one might call the era of WikiLeaks. The absence of accountability and transparency over the last decade gave impetus to another evolution in how news can reach the people, by circumventing or coopting the traditional media.

In the era of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers, the system had worked, with individuals and institutions upholding their constitutional duties to inform the public and punish corrupt officials. By the era of Iran-Contra, some individuals within the system continued to do their jobs, but the institutions had stopped working. Almost no one was held accountable and the cover-up was largely succeeded.

By the era of WikiLeaks, people around the world had come to view the system and its functionaries as corrupt and untrustworthy. The tough-minded press corps of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate was a distant memory, replaced by what former CIA analyst Ray McGovern calls the “Fawning Corporate Media.”

Facing that reality, some individuals usually from outside the traditional news media have created new (and fragile) media institutions on the Internet, seeking transparency against government secrecy and fighting for at least some measure of accountability.

This has been a far-from-ideal solution. Web sites, even ones like WikiLeaks which gained worldwide notoriety, have been unable to demonstrate the staying power and the influence of news outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post. But the fact that millions of people now look to Internet sites (or cable-TV comedy shows) for information they can trust speaks volumes about how far the U.S. news media has slid over the past four decades.

So, if we were assessing how well the post-Watergate CIA-style covert operation worked, we’d have to conclude that it was remarkably successful. Even after George W. Bush took the United States to war in Iraq under false pretenses and even after he authorized the torture of detainees in the “war on terror,” no one involved in those decisions has faced any accountability at all.

When high-flying Wall Street bankers brought the world’s economy to its knees with risky gambles in 2008, Western governments used trillions of dollars in public moneys to bail the bankers out. But not one senior banker faced prosecution.

Upon taking office in 2009, President Obama saw little choice but to “look forward, not backward.” And, in all honesty, given the state of the American political/media process, it is hard to envision how he would have proceeded against what would have been a powerful phalanx of Establishment forces opposed to prosecuting Bush, Wall Street CEOs and their underlings.

Another measure of how the post-Watergate counteroffensive succeeded would be to note how very well America’s oligarchy had done financially in the past few decades. Not only has political power been concentrated in their hands, but the country’s wealth, too.

One can argue that there have been some bright spots in recent years. There has been some improvement in the U.S. press corps since its humiliation over the Iraq War. For instance, there was some good work done exposing the Bush administration’s torture policies and the CIA’s secret prisons. The emergence of independent Internet sites also has forced the mainstream media to compete for a share of credibility.

However, it’s also true that the U.S. press corps is making some of the same mistakes regarding the confrontation with Iran that were made over Iraq. And, many of the key journalists from 2003 remain in place in 2012. The absence of accountability has spread from government to the media itself. The makings are there for yet another catastrophe.

So, a sad but I think fair conclusion would be that at least for the time being, perception management has won out over truth. But the struggle over information and democracy has entered another new and unpredictable phase.

[To read more of Robert Parry’s writings, you can now order his last two books, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, at the discount price of only $16 for both. For details on the special offer, click here.]  

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.