Winter Fund Drive Special: A Concise History of Consortium News by Robert Parry

During the 2011 Winter Fund Drive, ex-CIA analyst (and peace activist) Ray McGovern suggested that the late Bob Parry write a brief narrative to explain Consortium News’ history and goals. 

(If you want to donate to our end-of-year fund drive, please click Donate.)

A Brief Narrative of Consortium News

By Robert Parry
Special to Consortium News

In 1995, after more than two decades in the mainstream news media (AP, Newsweek and PBS), I founded Consortiumnews.com as a home for the serious journalism that no longer had a place in an American news business that had lost its way.

At the time, I was the lead journalist on what had become known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and I had watched first-hand as senior news executives chose to squelch that inquiry apparently out of fear that it would cause another impeachment crisis around another Republican president, Ronald Reagan.

Such a possibility was deemed “not good for the country,” a view held both inside Congress and in the boardrooms of the elite national news media. But I refused to accept the judgment. I continued to pursue the many loose ends of the scandal, from evidence of drug trafficking by Reagan’s beloved Nicaraguan Contras to suspicions that the arms-for-hostages deals with Iran started much earlier, possibly even during the 1980 presidential campaign.

My insistence on getting to the bottom of this historically important story alienated me from my senior editors at Newsweek and from many of my journalistic colleagues who simply wanted to keep their jobs and avoid trouble. But it offended me that the national press corps was signing off on what amounted to a high-level cover-up.

The era of Watergate had come full circle. Instead of exposing crimes and cover-ups, the Washington press corps’ job had changed into harassing and mocking serious investigators the likes of Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh who stayed on the trail.

Consistency and persistence were oh so passé. The Washington news media had drifted into a culture of careerism where top jobs paid well into the six- and even seven-figures. Your hair style and glib presentation on TV were far more important than the quality of your reporting. And the most important thing was to avoid the wrath of right-wing attack groups who would “controversialize” you.

By the mid-90s, it had become clear to me that there was no feasible way to do the work that had to be done within the confines of the mainstream media. The pressures on everyone had grown too intense. No matter how solid the reporting, many issues were simply off limits, particularly scandals that reflected badly on the admired duo of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Even when I obtained highly classified government documents in 1994-95 shedding light on how U.S. policies toward Iraq and Iran had evolved at the start of the Reagan-Bush era, this information could find no home even in the liberal outliers of the mainstream media.

Quitting the Mainstream

So, on the advice of my oldest son Sam, who told me about this strange new phenomenon called the Internet, I started this Web site in fall 1995.

Besides seeing Consortiumnews.com as a place for serious journalism, I also envisioned it as a refuge for quality journalists who faced the same frustrations that I did. I thought we could provide editing and financial support, as well as an outlet that would distribute their stories to the public. Hence, the rather clunky name, Consortiumnews. At the time, I thought I could raise a significant amount of money for the project.

However, during my initial contacts with public-interest and liberal foundations, I was told that a major objection to funding journalism was the cost. The feeling was that information was an expensive luxury. But I thought I could prove that assumption wrong by applying old-fashioned journalistic standards to this new medium.

To start the Web site the first of its kind on the Internet I cashed out my Newsweek retirement fund and we began producing groundbreaking reporting original to the Web. Over time, we showed that quality journalism could be done at a bargain-basement price.

Yet, despite our journalistic success, foundations and large funders remained skittish. We became an IRS-recognized 501-c-3 non-profit in 1999 (as the Consortium for Independent Journalism) and received some modest grants, but we have never been funded at the level that I had hoped.

Indeed, at the start of the crucial 2000 presidential campaign, our financial situation had grown so dire that I was forced to take an editing job at Bloomberg News and put the Web site on a part-time basis. We still published some important stories about the campaign, including how unfairly the Washington press corps was treating Al Gore and how outrageous the Florida recount was, but we didn’t have the impact that we could have had.

During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2002-03, we also challenged Washington’s conventional wisdom, which was solidly behind George W. Bush’s case for war. But again our voice was muted.

Finally, in early 2004, I felt it was important to pull together our volumes of original material about the Bush Family before that year’s election. For personal financial reasons, I couldn’t leave Bloomberg News until April (and I must admit it wasn’t easy stepping away from a six-figure salary). But I felt I had no choice.

After quitting, I accelerated the pace at Consortiumnews.com and got to work on a book that became Secrecy & Privilege, the history of the Bush Dynasty.

After George W. Bush got his second term, we still kept at it at Consortiumnews.com, contesting his claims about the Iraq War and his broader neoconservative strategy, which combined violence in the Middle East with an assault on civil liberties at home. I felt it was especially crucial to explain the real history of U.S. relations with Iran and Iraq, a narrative that had been grossly distorted by the cover-ups in the 1980s and early 1990s.

MSM and CIA Parallels

To my great satisfaction, we also began developing what might be regarded as unlikely relationships with former CIA analysts, such as Ray McGovern, Peter Dickson, Melvin Goodman and Elizabeth Murray. Though these CIA folks had been trained not to talk to journalists like me, it turned out they also were looking for places to impart their important knowledge.

I found that our experiences had run on parallel tracks. In the 1980s, as the Washington press corps was facing intense pressure to toe the Reagan-Bush line, the CIA analysts were experiencing the same thing inside their offices at Langley. It became clear to me that the Right’s central strategy of that era had been to seize control of the information flows out of Washington.

To do so required transforming both CIA analysts and Washington journalists into propagandists. The crowning achievement of that project had been the cowering CIA “analysis” and the fawning “journalism” that had been used to whip up popular support for George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.

And that is where I fear we still stand, stuck in a dangerous swamp of disinformation, spin and lies.

Though the election of Barack Obama in 2008 showed that the Right’s propaganda machine is not all-powerful, it remains the most intimidating political force in the United States. It can literally create scandals out of nothing, like the “birther” controversy that persuaded many Americans that Obama was born in Kenya despite clear evidence to the contrary. On economic topics, millions of Americans are convinced to oppose their own best interests.

Today, the Right along with much of the Washington mainstream media is reprising the propagandistic treatment of Iraq regarding Iran, with a new conflict increasingly likely as the American public again gets whipped up into a war frenzy.

Still, my hope remains that we can finally gain the financial backing that we need at Consortiumnews.com to be a strong voice for truth and a way to maintain the best principles of journalism in order to counteract the exaggerations and hysteria that are again taking hold in America.

If you want to help us, you can make a donation by credit card at the Web site or by check to Consortium for Independent Journalism (CIJ); 2200 Wilson Blvd.; Suite 102-231; Arlington VA 22201. Or you can use PayPal (our account is named after our e-mail address “consortnew@aol.com”).

Since we are a 501-c-3 non-profit, your donation may be tax-deductible. We appreciate any size donation that you can afford.

Here are some other ways you can help us continue our work:

If you’d rather spread out your support in smaller amounts, you can sign up for a monthly donation.

As always, thanks for your support.

Robert Parry

The late Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. He founded Consortiumnews.com in 1995 as the Internet’s first investigative magazine. He saw it as a way to combine modern technology and old-fashioned journalism to counter the increasing triviality of the mainstream U.S. news media.

Please give to our end-of-year fund drive, by clicking Donate.




Consortium News Launches Winter Fund Drive

To keep bringing quality independent journalism in the tradition of our founding editor, the late Robert Parry, we depend on our readers’ support. So today Consortium News launches its year-end, Winter Fund Drive. 

Please Donate to Keep Bob Parry’s Legacy Going

Today Consortium News launches its Winter Fund Drive. We depend on you, the reader, to keep this site going, the first independent news on the internet begun in 1995 by the late, legendary journalist Robert Parry.  We are working hard to maintain the same high standards of journalism that Bob set. Our mission is to bring you news and analysis suppressed by the establishment media. We’ve brought on new, accomplished writers, such as Max Blumenthal, Pepe Escobar, Stefania Maurizi, As’ad AbuKhalil, John Kiriakou, Patrick Lawrence and Diana Johnstone.  We’ve begun Consortium News Radio, and added video reports to our site.  And we plan much more.

We’re on a roll.  To keep it going please donate today!

 

Consortiumnews is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and donations by U.S. taxpayers are fully tax-deductible to the extent of the law. 

 




The Bushes’ ‘Death Squads’

George H.W. Bush was laid to rest on Wednesday but some of his murderous policies lived on through his son’s administration and until this day, as Robert Parry reported on January 11, 2005.

How George W. Bush Learned From His Father

By Robert Parry
Special to Consortium News

By refusing to admit personal misjudgments on Iraq, George W. Bush instead is pushing the United States toward becoming what might be called a permanent “counter-terrorist” state, which uses torture, cross-border death squads and even collective punishments to defeat perceived enemies in Iraq and around the world.

Since securing a second term, Bush has pressed ahead with this hard-line strategy, in part by removing dissidents inside his administration while retaining or promoting his protégés. Bush also has started prepping his younger brother Jeb as a possible successor in 2008, which could help extend George W.’s war policies while keeping any damaging secrets under the Bush family’s control.

As a centerpiece of this tougher strategy to pacify Iraq, Bush is contemplating the adoption of the brutal practices that were used to suppress leftist peasant uprisings in Central America in the 1980s. The Pentagon is “intensively debating” a new policy for Iraq called the “Salvador option,” Newsweek magazine reported on Jan. 9.

The strategy is named after the Reagan-Bush administration’s “still-secret strategy” of supporting El Salvador’s right-wing security forces, which operated clandestine “death squads” to eliminate both leftist guerrillas and their civilian sympathizers, Newsweek reported. “Many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success – despite the deaths of innocent civilians,” Newsweek wrote.

Central America Veterans

The magazine also noted that a number of Bush administration officials were leading figures in the Central American operations of the 1980s, such as John Negroponte, who was then U.S. Ambassador to Honduras and is now U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.

Other current officials who played key roles in Central America include Elliott Abrams, who oversaw Central American policies at the State Department and who is now a Middle East adviser on Bush’s National Security Council staff, and Vice President Dick Cheney, who was a powerful defender of the Central American policies while a member of the House of Representatives.

The insurgencies in El Salvador and Guatemala were crushed through the slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians. In Guatemala, about 200,000 people perished, including what a truth commission later termed a genocide against Mayan Indians in the Guatemalan highlands. In El Salvador, about 70,000 died including massacres of whole villages, such as the slaughter carried out by a U.S.-trained battalion against hundreds of men, women and children in and around the town of El Mozote in 1981. 

The Reagan-Bush strategy also had a domestic component, the so-called “perception management” operation that employed sophisticated propaganda to manipulate the fears of the American people while hiding the ugly reality of the wars. The Reagan-Bush administration justified its actions in Central America by portraying the popular uprisings as an attempt by the Soviet Union to establish a beachhead in the Americas to threaten the U.S. southern border.

[For details about how these strategies worked and the role of George H.W. Bush, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.]

More Pain

By employing the “Salvador option” in Iraq, the U.S. military would crank up the pain, especially in Sunni Muslim areas where resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq has been strongest. In effect, Bush would assign other Iraqi ethnic groups the job of leading the “death squad” campaign against the Sunnis.

One Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Perhmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, according to military insiders familiar with discussions,” Newsweek reported.

Newsweek quoted one military source as saying, “The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving the terrorists. … From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation.”

Citing the Central American experiences of many Bush administration officials, we wrote in November 2003 – more than a year ago – that many of these Reagan-Bush veterans were drawing lessons from the 1980s in trying to cope with the Iraqi insurgency. We pointed out, however, that the conditions were not parallel. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Iraq: Quicksand & Blood.”]

In Central America, powerful oligarchies had long surrounded themselves with ruthless security forces and armies. So, when uprisings swept across the region in the early 1980s, the Reagan-Bush administration had ready-made – though unsavory – allies who could do the dirty work with financial and technological help from Washington.

Iraqi Dynamic

A different dynamic exists in Iraq, because the Bush administration chose to disband rather than co-opt the Iraqi army. That left U.S. forces with few reliable local allies and put the onus for carrying out counterinsurgency operations on American soldiers who were unfamiliar with the land, the culture and the language.

Those problems, in turn, contributed to a series of counterproductive tactics, including the heavy-handed round-ups of Iraqi suspects, the torturing of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and the killing of innocent civilians by jittery U.S. troops fearful of suicide bombings.

The war in Iraq also has undermined U.S. standing elsewhere in the Middle East and around the world. Images of U.S. soldiers sexually abusing Iraqi prisoners, putting bags over the heads of captives and shooting a wounded insurgent have blackened America’s image everywhere and made cooperation with the United States increasingly difficult even in countries long considered American allies.

Beyond the troubling images, more and more documents have surfaced indicating that the Bush administration had adopted limited forms of torture as routine policy, both in Iraq and the broader War on Terror. Last August, an FBI counterterrorism official criticized abusive practices at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more,” the official wrote. “When I asked the M.P.’s what was going on, I was told that interrogators from the day prior had ordered this treatment, and the detainee was not to be moved. On another occasion … the detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night.”

Despite official insistence that torture is not U.S. policy, the blame for these medieval tactics continues to climb the chain of command toward the Oval Office. It appears to have been Bush’s decision after the Sept. 11 attacks to “take the gloves off,” a reaction understandable at the time but which now appears to have hurt, more than helped.

TV World

Many Americans have fantasized about how they would enjoy watching Osama bin Laden tortured to death for his admitted role in the Sept. 11 attacks. There is also a tough-guy fondness for torture as shown in action entertainment – like Fox Network’s “24” – where torture is a common-sense shortcut to get results.

But the larger danger arises when the exceptional case becomes the routine, when it’s no longer the clearly guilty al-Qaeda mass murderer, but it is now the distraught Iraqi father trying to avenge the death of his child killed by American bombs.

Rather than the dramatic scenes on TV, the reality is usually more like that desperate creature in Guantanamo lying in his own waste and pulling out his hair. The situation can get even worse when torture takes on the industrial quality of government policy, with subjects processed through the gulags or the concentration camps.

That also is why the United States and other civilized countries have long banned torture and prohibited the intentional killing of civilians. The goal of international law has been to set standards that couldn’t be violated even in extreme situations or in the passions of the moment.

Yet, Bush – with his limited world experience – was easily sold on the notion of U.S. “exceptionalism” where America’s innate goodness frees it from the legal constraints that apply to lesser countries.

Bush also came to believe in the wisdom of his “gut” judgments. After his widely praised ouster of Afghanistan’s Taliban government in late 2001, Bush set his sights on invading Iraq. Like a hot gambler in Las Vegas doubling his bets, Bush’s instincts were on a roll.

Now, however, as the Iraqi insurgency continues to grow and inflict more casualties on both U.S. troops and Iraqis who have thrown in their lot with the Americans, Bush finds himself facing a narrowing list of very tough choices.

Bush could acknowledge his mistakes and seek international help in extricating U.S. forces from Iraq. But Bush abhors admitting errors, even small ones. Plus, Bush’s belligerent tone hasn’t created much incentive for other countries to bail him out.

Instead Bush appears to be upping the ante by contemplating cross-border raids into countries neighboring Iraq. He also would be potentially expanding the war by having Iraqi Kurds and Shiites kill Sunnis, a prescription for civil war or genocide.

Pinochet Option

There’s a personal risk, too, for Bush if he picks the “Salvador option.” He could become an American version of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet or Guatemala’s Efrain Rios Montt, leaders who turned loose their security forces to commit assassinations, “disappear” opponents and torture captives.

Like the policy that George W. Bush is now considering, Pinochet even sponsored his own international “death squad” – known as Operation Condor – that hunted down political opponents around the world. One of those attacks in September 1976 blew up a car carrying Chilean dissident Orlando Letelier as he drove through Washington D.C. with two American associates. Letelier and co-worker Ronni Moffitt were killed.

With the help of American friends in high places, the two former dictators have fended off prison until now. However, Pinochet and Rios Montt have become pariahs who are facing legal proceedings aimed at finally holding them accountable for their atrocities.

[For more on George H.W. Bush’s protection of Pinochet, see Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

One way for George W. Bush to avert that kind of trouble is to make sure his political allies remain in power even after his second term ends in January 2009. In his case, that might be achievable by promoting his brother Jeb for president in 2008, thus guaranteeing that any incriminating documents stay under wraps.

President George W. Bush’s dispatching Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to inspect the tsunami damage in Asia started political speculation that one of the reasons was to burnish Jeb’s international credentials in a setting where his personal empathy would be on display.

Though Jeb Bush has insisted that he won’t run for president in 2008, the Bush family might find strong reason to encourage Jeb to change his mind, especially if the Iraq War is lingering and George W. has too many file cabinets filled with damaging secrets.

This is how this article originally appeared on Consortium News.

The late investigative reporter Robert Parry, the founding editor of Consortium News, broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. His last book, America’s Stolen Narrative, can be obtained in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

If you value this original article, please consider making a donation to Consortium News so we can bring you more stories like this one.

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Bush-41’s October Surprise Denials

Deny everything,” British traitor Kim Philby said as a way for the powerful can bluff past their crimes, something George H.W. Bush knew when he denied charges of his own near treason in the October Surprise case, wrote Robert Parry on 4/6/2016.

By Robert Parry
Special to Consortium News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October Surprise Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cover-up Takes Shape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trusting the Suspect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The late investigative reporter Robert Parry, the founding editor of Consortium News, broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. His last book, America’s Stolen Narrative, can be obtained in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

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Taking a Bush Secret to the Grave

The National Archives approved Robert Parry’s appeal on a 30-year-old secret: the address where George H.W. Bush supposedly went on an October 1980 weekend — when several witnesses put Bush in Paris meeting with Iranians, Parry reported on 9/27 2011.

By Robert Parry
Special to Consortium News

A three-decade-old mystery has finally been solved who was George H.W. Bush’s unidentified “alibi witness” on Oct. 19, 1980, when other witnesses allege the then-Republican vice presidential candidate took a secret flight to Paris for meetings with Iranians. But the mystery’s answer only raises new questions.

After 20 years of rejecting requests from various investigators for the identity of the “alibi witness,” the U.S. government finally released enough information from Secret Service files in response to an appeal that I filed with the National Archives to ascertain the person’s identity.

The person who perhaps could have verified where Bush was or wasn’t on that day was Richard A. Moore, a Bush family friend best known for his role in the Watergate scandal as a special counsel to President Richard Nixon. In 1973, Moore was Nixon’s point man in attacking the credibility of fired White House counsel John Dean after Dean turned whistleblower.

In 1980, Moore, who somehow managed to escape indictment for his Watergate role, and his wife, Jane Swift Moore, were living in an exclusive tree-lined neighborhood in Northwest Washington about one mile from the home of George H.W. and Barbara Bush.

According to Secret Service records that I found in the files of Bush’s White House counsel C. Boyden Gray — and which have now been more fully released — Bush’s Secret Service detail left the Bush family home at 4429 Lowell St. N.W. at 1:35 p.m. on Oct. 19, 1980, and arrived at “Moore Residence, 4917 Rockwood Pkwy.” at 1:40 p.m.

By checking Washington D.C. real estate records, I discovered that Richard A. Moore owned the house at 4917 Rockwood Parkway in 1980.

If George H.W. Bush actually made the visit to Moore’s house with his wife Barbara Bush on that afternoon — rather than Barbara possibly going alone — that would make Bush’s alleged trip to Paris virtually impossible. So it would have seemed to be in Bush’s interests to release this information to investigators and have them interview Moore, if Moore would confirm that Bush dropped by that day.

In the early 1990s, Moore also was Bush’s ambassador to Ireland and thus presumably inclined to help both his boss and his friend. However, when investigators were trying to determine whether Bush had traveled to Paris — and were looking for evidence to prove that he hadn’t — the Bush administration whited-out Moore’s address before releasing redacted versions of the Secret Service records.

Moore died on Jan. 27, 1995. So, if George H.W. Bush’s purpose in delaying release of Moore’s identity was to ensure that no one could check with Moore about Bush’s alibi for Oct. 19, 1980, Bush achieved his goal.

Though most of us who were examining this mystery two decades ago gave great weight to the Secret Service records seeming to place Bush in Washington, not Paris, there was the question of whether Bush, a former CIA director, might have convinced some friendly Secret Service supervisor to cook up some alibi to cover the flight to Paris.

Those suspicions deepened with the Bush administration’s continued refusal to provide seemingly innocuous information, like Moore’s address.

Justifying a Secret

In 1991-92, President George H.W. Bush’s administration continued to insist on keeping the “Moore Residence” destination secret even after Congress authorized an investigation into the so-called October Surprise case: whether Republicans in 1980 had contacted Iranians behind President Jimmy Carter’s back to frustrate his efforts to free 52 American hostages.

Carter’s failure to gain release of the hostages made him look weak and inept, setting the stage for Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory, an election which dramatically changed the course of the nation. The Iranians released the American hostages immediately after Reagan was sworn in on Jan. 20, 1981, further making Reagan appear to be an imposing world figure.

Though there were early rumors about a secret Republican deal with Iran, the October Surprise mystery didn’t gain much traction until the exposure of secret Iran-Contra arms shipments approved by Reagan to Iran in 1985-86. Suddenly, the notion that Reagan and his Vice President George H.W. Bush would lie about covert dealings with Iran didn’t seem so preposterous.

Essentially, the October Surprise question was whether Reagan’s secret contacts with Iran dated back to Campaign 1980, as a growing number of witnesses — from inside the governments of Iran, Israel, France and the United States — were alleging.

However, when Congress finally agreed to look into the October Surprise case in 1991-92, Republicans were determined to circle the wagons around the then-sitting President George H.W. Bush, who was facing a tough reelection fight against Democrat Bill Clinton.

Rather than welcome any truth-seeking, the Republicans and their media allies went on the attack claiming that the October Surprise case was a baseless “conspiracy theory.”

At the time, the Republicans also suggested several reasons why the alibi witness for Oct. 19, 1980, should remain secret. One was that Bush might have been off on a romantic rendezvous and that Democrats simply wanted to pry into the visit as a way to neutralize accounts of Bill Clinton’s womanizing.

However, that “tryst” rationale fell apart when I obtained the Secret Service records for Barbara Bush and they showed her on the same trip, with the destination again whited-out.

Then, there was the suggestion that the unidentified Bush family friends were very private people who shouldn’t be dragged into the middle of a political controversy. (As it turned out, the Moores were very much public figures, both having worked in the Nixon White House and Richard A. Moore serving as U.S. ambassador to Ireland during the first Bush administration.)

In 1992, as Bush’s team continued to stonewall the identity of Bush’s “alibi witness,” Bush angrily demanded at two news conferences that Congress specifically clear him of the allegations that he had taken a secret trip to Paris in 1980.

Bowing to those pressures in June 1992, Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Indiana, chairman of the House investigative task force, agreed to a curious bargain in which he and a few senior investigators were shown the destination of Bush’s supposed afternoon trip on Oct. 19, 1980, but with the proviso that they never interview anyone who was there or disclose any names.

So, without verifying Bush’s alibi, the House task force cleared Bush of going to Paris. When I asked Hamilton about this strange agreement this week, in the wake of the National Archives’ release of the “Moore Residence” document, he responded through a spokesman that he was “not able to provide any answers” because he no longer has his official records.

Moore’s Silence

Though the Oct. 19, 1980, visit could have involved either Moore or his wife or both, the “alibi witness” being kept secret in 1992 had to be Moore, since his wife, Jane Swift Moore, died in 1985.

When I contacted one of Moore’s sons, Richard A. Moore Jr., he told me that he didn’t think that any of the family’s five children were still living in the Rockwood Parkway house in 1980. Nor did he think there would likely be any photographs of the visit since the Bushes were “almost neighbors,” often popping in.

But the question remains: If Richard A. Moore could have confirmed that Bush was definitely in Washington on Oct. 19, 1980, not on a secret mission to Paris, why wasn’t he questioned? Why was the Bush administration so determined to block the House task force from interviewing Moore?

Moore owed a huge debt to Bush, who had lifted Moore from his Watergate-tainted purgatory in 1989 by appointing him to be U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. Moore would seem to be a friendly witness who would happily want to cover for Bush, if possible.

Which is why Moore’s silence in 1992 only adds to the mystery. Moore served in Dublin until June 1992, departing the same month as the battle over withholding his identity was playing out in Washington.

Given Moore’s close call with a criminal prosecution for his role in the Watergate cover-up he was often in meetings where all the other participants ended up going to jail he understandably might have been very leery about lying to Congress even to protect another U.S. president and a personal friend, if Bush indeed had snuck off to Paris.

Another document released to me under my appeal to the National Archives raises further suspicions about Bush’s whereabouts on that Sunday. Undated handwritten notes that I found in the files of one of White House counsel Gray’s assistants, Ronald Von Lembke, indicate that some of the Secret Service records for Oct. 19, 1980, were missing.

For that date, the notes say, “*NO Residence Report. *0000 [midnight] – 0800 missing. 0800-1600 okay. *1600-2400 missing.” Stars were used to highlight the references to missing material.

Written in the margin, next to the time references is the name “Potter Stewart,” the late Supreme Court Justice who was another Bush family friend. The reference suggests that the White House counsel’s office was checking on how to bolster Bush’s alibi for Oct. 19, 1980.

The same notes include a check mark next to the name “Buck Tanis,” suggesting that the author of the notes had contacted Secret Service supervisor Leonard “Buck” Tanis, who was a Bush favorite from his Secret Service detail. Tanis was one of the supervisors for Bush’s Secret Service detail in October 1980.

Tanis was also the only Secret Service agent on Bush’s detail for Oct. 19, 1980, who claimed to recall another dubious part of Bush’s alibi mentioned in the Secret Service reports, a morning trip to the Chevy Chase Country Club.

When the redacted Secret Service records were first released in the early 1990s, Bush’s supposed Chevy Chase visit was cited as slam-dunk evidence that Bush couldn’t have gone to Paris.

Relying on Republican sources, friendly journalists reported that Bush had been playing tennis that morning at the club. But the tennis alibi collapsed when it was discovered that rain had prevented tennis that morning.

Then, Tanis came forward with another story, that George H.W. and Barbara Bush had brunch at the club with Justice and Mrs. Potter Stewart. By 1992, however, Justice Stewart was dead and Republicans said Mrs. Stewart was in poor health, suffering senility and couldn’t be interviewed.

So, another Bush alibi couldn’t be checked out and Tanis’s recollection would have to stand unchallenged.

However, I learned that reports of Mrs. Stewart’s physical and mental decline were greatly exaggerated. She was going out with a retired CIA official whom I knew. When I called her, she was quite lucid and told me that she and her husband never had brunch with the Bushes at the Chevy Chase club.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, I also obtained redacted reports from Barbara Bush’s Secret Service detail and they showed her going to the C&O jogging path that morning, not to the Chevy Chase club.

When I passed on this information to congressional investigators, they interviewed Tanis again and he backed away from his story of the brunch. He joined the other Secret Service agents in saying he had no specific recollection of Bush’s travels that day.

The newly released handwritten notes suggest that, at minimum, an official from Bush’s counsel’s office discussed the Potter Stewart alibi with Tanis, thus raising questions about whether Tanis’s initial testimony about the alleged brunch was tainted.

Bush’s Curious Actions

With Tanis and his brunch alibi discredited, investigative attention in 1992 turned to the afternoon trip on Oct. 19, 1980. But there again Bush’s alibi proved curious, especially with his “alibi witness,” who we now know was Ambassador to Ireland Richard A. Moore, kept away from the congressional task force.

All this strange behavior piqued the suspicions of House Foreign Affairs Committee chief counsel R. Spencer Oliver. In a six-page memo, Oliver urged a closer look at Bush’s whereabouts and questioned why the Secret Service was concealing the name of the alibi witness for the afternoon trip.

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.”

From the newly released White House documents, it is clear that Oliver’s suspicions were well-founded regarding the involvement of Bush’s White House staff in the decision to conceal the name of his supposed afternoon host.

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

In another gesture of bipartisanship, 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 inquiry, the Democratic members of the task force retreated. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Inside the October Surprise Cover-up” or Secrecy & Privilege.]

The Case for the Trip

All this Republican resistance to the October Surprise investigation also must be viewed against the backdrop of significant evidence that Bush did go to Paris and that the Reagan campaign did undercut Carter’s efforts to free the hostages.

Though some of those suspicions dated back almost to the time the hostages were freed on Jan. 20, 1981, other allegations emerged as the Iran-Contra investigation progressed in the late 1980s. That led PBS “Frontline” to recruit me in 1990 to examine whether the October Surprise case had been a prequel to the Iran-Contra Affair.

That Frontline documentary, which aired in April 1991, coincided with a New York Times op-ed by former National Security Council aide Gary Sick, giving new momentum and new credibility to the October Surprise allegations.

As the October Surprise controversy heated up with the Republicans and Bush allies in the news media waging a fierce counteroffensive Frontline asked me to stay on the story, which led to another discovery that bolstered the Bush-to-Paris claims.

Because of the April 1991 documentary, David Henderson, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer, recalled a conversation that he had had with a journalist on Oct. 18, 1980, about Bush flying to Paris that night to meet with Iranians regarding the American hostages.

Henderson couldn’t remember the reporter’s name but he passed the information on to Sen. Alan Cranston, D-California, whose staff forwarded the letter to me. By cross-checking some other information, we determined that the journalist was John Maclean of The Chicago Tribune, the son of author Norman Maclean who wrote the novel, A River Runs Through It.

Though John Maclean was not eager to talk with me, he finally agreed and confirmed what Henderson had written in his letter. 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 from his source, Maclean passed on the information to Henderson when the two met at Henderson’s Washington home to discuss another matter.

For his part, Maclean never wrote about the Bush-to-Paris leak because, he told me, a Reagan campaign spokesman officially denied it. As the years passed, the memory of the leak faded for both Henderson and Maclean, until the October Surprise story bubbled to the surface in 1991.

The significance of the Maclean-Henderson conversation was that it was a piece of information locked in time untainted by later claims and counter-claims about the October Surprise dispute.

One could not accuse Maclean of concocting the Bush-to-Paris allegation for some ulterior motive, since he hadn’t used it in 1980, nor had he volunteered it a decade later. He only confirmed it and did so reluctantly.

French Intelligence

And, there was other support for the allegations Republican-Iranian meeting in Paris.

David Andelman, the biographer for Count Alexandre deMarenches, then head of France’s Service de Documentation Exterieure et de Contre-Espionage (SDECE), testified to congressional investigators 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 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 (then Ronald Reagan’s campaign chief and later CIA director) 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.

There were other bits and pieces of corroboration about the Paris meetings.

A French arms dealer, Nicholas Ignatiew, told me in 1990 that he had checked with his government contacts and was told that Republicans did meet with Iranians in Paris in mid-October 1980.

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 Oct. 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 his own claims about a Paris meeting, and Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe testified that he was present outside the Paris meeting and saw Bush, Casey and other Americans in attendance.

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, “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.”

Requested by Hamilton, who was in charge of the lackadaisical congressional inquiry into the October Surprise mystery in 1992, the Russian report arrived via the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in January 1993. But Hamilton’s task force had already decided to dismiss the October Surprise allegations as lacking solid evidence.

The Russian report was kept hidden until I discovered it after gaining access to the task force’s raw files. Though the report was addressed to Hamilton, he told me last year that he had not seen the report until I sent him a copy shortly before our interview.

Lawrence Barcella, the task force’s chief counsel, 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.

Casey in Spain

I also discovered in the files at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, another document that supported allegations that Casey had traveled to Madrid, as Iranian businessman Jamshid Hashemi had claimed. Hashemi testified under oath that Casey met with Iranian emissary Mehdi Karrubi in Madrid, Spain, in late July 1980 to discuss delaying the release of the American hostages until after the presidential election so as not to help President Carter.

Searching through the archived files at the Bush library, I found a “memorandum for record” dated Nov. 4, 1991, by associate White House counsel Chester Paul Beach Jr.

Beach reported on a conversation with 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.”

However, the House task force was apparently never told about this confirmation of Casey’s presence in Madrid and proceeded to reject the Madrid allegations by citing a particularly bizarre alibi for Casey’s whereabouts on the last weekend in July 1980.

The task force placed Casey at the exclusive all-male retreat at the Bohemian Grove in California although the documentary evidence clearly showed that Casey attended the Grove on the first weekend of August, not the last weekend of July. [For details, see Secrecy & Privilege. For more on Casey’s alleged travels, see Consortiumnews.com’s “October Surprise Evidence Surfaces.”]

Stranger Than Fiction

Another stranger-than-fiction twist in this story is the new revelation that a figure from the Watergate cover-up was Bush’s “alibi witness,” although the witness apparently could not be counted on to support Bush’s October Surprise alibi.

Though Richard A. Moore was not one of the household names from the Watergate cover-up, a review of literature on the scandal reveals that he was a trusted aide to President Nixon and helped formulate both legal and public-relations strategies to fend off the Watergate investigations.

In The Haldeman Diaries, White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman describes Nixon frequently sending his top aides to consult with Moore about developments in the scandal. At one point, as White House counsel Dean is starting to talk with prosecutors, Haldeman notes that “Moore was very close to Dean, how about having him talk with Dean and see what he has in mind.”

In Dean’s Blind Ambition, Dean credits Moore with first coming up with the memorable phrase that the Watergate cover-up was becoming “a cancer” on Nixon’s presidency, a metaphor that Dean used in a key confrontation with Nixon and repeated during the Watergate hearings.

During those hearings, Moore was dispatched by the White House to dispute Dean’s assertion that Nixon was complicit in the cover-up of the June 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters at least as early as that September.

On July 12, 1973, Moore told the Senate Watergate Committee that “nothing said in my meetings with Mr. Dean or my meetings with the President suggests in any way that before March 21 [1973] the President had known, or that Mr. Dean believed he had known, of any involvement of White House personnel in the bugging or the cover-up.”

Perhaps because of his status as a lawyer to Nixon, Moore escaped the fate of many other White House insiders who were indicted and prosecuted for false testimony and obstruction of justice.

Being a Yale alumnus and a friend of the well-connected George H.W. Bush, who was then chairman of the Republican National Committee, probably didn’t hurt either.

Moore had started his legal career working as a lawyer for the American Broadcasting Company in the 1940s. He was a close friend of Nixon’s Attorney General John N. Mitchell who brought Moore into the Nixon administration as his special assistant. Moore moved over to the White House in 1971 to serve as special counsel to Nixon.

After leaving the White House, Moore returned to the television industry, becoming a founder and associate producer of “The McLaughlin Group” political chat show.

In September 1989, President George H.W. Bush named Moore as Ambassador to Ireland, where he stayed until June 1992, when his testimony in another political scandal might have proved very important in either exonerating Bush or exposing a phony cover story that protected Bush’s participation in an operation that bordered on treason.

Without ever being questioned in the October Surprise mystery, Moore died in Washington on Jan. 27, 1995, at age 81. He succumbed to prostate cancer, according to his daughter Kate L. Moore.

The late investigative reporter Robert Parry, the founding editor of Consortium News, broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. His last book, America’s Stolen Narrative, can be obtained in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

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George H.W. Bush, the CIA and a Case of State-Sponsored Terrorism

Forty-two years ago, a car-bomb exploded in Washington killing Chile’s ex-Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier, an act of state terrorism that the CIA and its director George H.W. Bush tried to cover up, Robert Parry reported on Sept. 23, 2000.

By Robert Parry
Special to Consortium News 

In early fall of 1976, after a Chilean government assassin had killed a Chilean dissident and an American woman with a car bomb in Washington, D.C., George H.W. Bush’s CIA leaked a false report clearing Chile’s military dictatorship and pointing the FBI in the wrong direction.

The bogus CIA assessment, spread through Newsweek magazine and other U.S. media outlets, was planted despite CIA’s now admitted awareness at the time that Chile was participating in Operation Condor, a cross-border campaign targeting political dissidents, and the CIA’s own suspicions that the Chilean junta was behind the terrorist bombing in Washington.

In a 21-page report to Congress on Sept. 18, 2000, the CIA officially acknowledged for the first time that the mastermind of the terrorist attack, Chilean intelligence chief Manuel Contreras, was a paid asset of the CIA.

The CIA report was issued almost 24 years to the day after the murders of former Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and American co-worker Ronni Moffitt, who died on Sept. 21, 1976, when a remote-controlled bomb ripped apart Letelier’s car as they drove down Massachusetts Avenue, a stately section of Washington known as Embassy Row.

In the report, the CIA also acknowledged publicly for the first time that it consulted Contreras in October 1976 about the Letelier assassination. The report added that the CIA was aware of the alleged Chilean government role in the murders and included that suspicion in an internal cable the same month.

CIA’s first intelligence report containing this allegation was dated 6 October 1976,” a little more than two weeks after the bombing, the CIA disclosed.

Nevertheless, the CIA – then under CIA Director George H.W. Bush – leaked for public consumption an assessment clearing the Chilean government’s feared intelligence service, DINA, which was then run by Contreras.

Relying on the word of Bush’s CIA, Newsweek reported that “the Chilean secret police were not involved” in the Letelier assassination. “The [Central Intelligence] agency reached its decision because the bomb was too crude to be the work of experts and because the murder, coming while Chile’s rulers were wooing U.S. support, could only damage the Santiago regime.” [Newsweek, Oct. 11, 1976]

Bush, who later became the 41st president of the United States (and is the father of the 43rd president), has never explained his role in putting out the false cover story that diverted attention away from the real terrorists. Nor has Bush explained what he knew about the Chilean intelligence operation in the weeks before Letelier and Moffitt were killed.

Dodging Disclosure

As a Newsweek correspondent in 1988, a dozen years after the Letelier bombing, when the elder Bush was running for president, I prepared a detailed story about Bush’s handling of the Letelier case.

The draft story included the first account from U.S. intelligence sources that Contreras was a CIA asset in the mid-1970s. I also learned that the CIA had consulted Contreras about the Letelier assassination, information that the CIA then would not confirm.

The sources told me that the CIA sent its Santiago station chief, Wiley Gilstrap, to talk with Contreras after the bombing. Gilstrap then cabled back to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Contreras’s assurances that the Chilean government was not involved. Contreras told Gilstrap that the most likely killers were communists who wanted to make a martyr out of Letelier.

My story draft also described how Bush’s CIA had been forewarned in 1976 about DINA’s secret plans to send agents, including the assassin Michael Townley, into the United States on false passports.

Upon learning of this strange mission, the U.S. ambassador to Paraguay, George Landau, cabled Bush about Chile’s claim that Townley and another agent were traveling to CIA headquarters for a meeting with Bush’s deputy, Vernon Walters. Landau also forwarded copies of the false passports to the CIA.

Walters cabled back that he was unaware of any scheduled appointment with these Chilean agents. Landau immediately canceled the visas, but Townley simply altered his plans and continued on his way to the United States. After arriving, he enlisted some right-wing Cuban-Americans in the Letelier plot and went to Washington to plant the bomb under Letelier’s car.

The CIA has never explained what action it took, if any, after receiving Landau’s warning. A natural follow-up would have been to contact DINA and ask what was afoot or whether a message about the trip had been misdirected. The CIA report in 2000 made no mention of these aspects of the case.

After the assassination, Bush promised the CIA’s full cooperation in tracking down the Letelier-Moffitt killers. But instead the CIA took contrary actions, such as planting the false exoneration and withholding evidence that would have implicated the Chilean junta.

Nothing the agency gave us helped us to break this case,” said federal prosecutor Eugene Propper in a 1988 interview for the story I was drafting for Newsweek. The CIA never volunteered Ambassador Landau’s cable about the suspicious DINA mission nor copies of the fake passports that included a photo of Townley, the chief assassin. Nor did Bush’s CIA divulge its knowledge of the existence of Operation Condor.

FBI agents in Washington and Latin America broke the case two years later. They discovered Operation Condor on their own and tracked the assassination back to Townley and his accomplices in the United States.

In 1988, as then-Vice President Bush was citing his CIA work as an important part of his government experience, I submitted questions to him asking about his actions in the days before and after the Letelier bombing. Bush’s chief of staff, Craig Fuller, wrote back, saying Bush “will have no comment on the specific issues raised in your letter.”

As it turned out, the Bush campaign had little to fear from my discoveries. When I submitted my story draft – with its exclusive account of Contreras’s role as a CIA asset – Newsweek’s editors refused to run the story. Washington bureau chief Evan Thomas told me that Editor Maynard Parker even had accused me of being “out to get Bush.”

The CIA’s Admission

Twenty-four years after the Letelier assassination and 12 years after Newsweek killed the first account of the Contreras-CIA relationship, the CIA admitted that it had paid Contreras as an intelligence asset and consulted with him about the Letelier assassination.

Still, in the sketchy report in 2000, the spy agency sought to portray itself as more victim than accomplice. According to the report, the CIA was internally critical of Contreras’s human rights abuses and skeptical about his credibility. The CIA said its skepticism predates the spy agency’s contact with him about the Letelier-Moffitt murders.

The relationship, while correct, was not cordial and smooth, particularly as evidence of Contreras’ role in human rights abuses emerged,” the CIA reported. “In December 1974, the CIA concluded that Contreras was not going to improve his human rights performance. …

By April 1975, intelligence reporting showed that Contreras was the principal obstacle to a reasonable human rights policy within the Junta, but an interagency committee [within the Ford administration] directed the CIA to continue its relationship with Contreras.”

The CIA report added that “a one-time payment was given to Contreras” in 1975, a time frame when the CIA was first hearing about Operation Condor, a cross-border program run by South America’s military dictatorships to hunt down dissidents living in other countries.

CIA sought from Contreras information regarding evidence that emerged in 1975 of a formal Southern Cone cooperative intelligence effort – ‘Operation Condor’ – building on informal cooperation in tracking and, in at least a few cases, killing political opponents. By October 1976, there was sufficient information that the CIA decided to approach Contreras on the matter. Contreras confirmed Condor’s existence as an intelligence-sharing network but denied that it had a role in extra-judicial killings.”

Also, in October 1976, the CIA said it “worked out” how it would assist the FBI in its investigation of the Letelier assassination, which had occurred the previous month. The spy agency’s report offered no details of what it did, however. The report added only that Contreras was already a murder suspect by fall 1976.

At that time, Contreras’ possible role in the Letelier assassination became an issue,” the CIA’s report said. “By the end of 1976, contacts with Contreras were very infrequent.”

Even though the CIA came to recognize the likelihood that DINA was behind the Letelier assassination, there never was any indication that Bush’s CIA sought to correct the false impression created by its leaks to the news media asserting DINA’s innocence.

After Bush left the CIA with Jimmy Carter’s inauguration in 1977, the spy agency distanced itself from Contreras, the new report said. “During 1977, CIA met with Contreras about half a dozen times; three of those contacts were to request information on the Letelier assassination,” the CIA report said.

On 3 November 1977, Contreras was transferred to a function unrelated to intelligence so the CIA severed all contact with him,” the report added. “After a short struggle to retain power, Contreras resigned from the Army in 1978. In the interim, CIA gathered specific, detailed intelligence reporting concerning Contreras’ involvement in ordering the Letelier assassination.”

Remaining Mysteries

Though the CIA report in 2000 contained the first official admission of a relationship with Contreras, it shed no light on the actions of Bush and his deputy, Walters, in the days before and after the Letelier assassination. It also offered no explanation why Bush’s CIA planted false information in the American press clearing Chile’s military dictatorship.

While providing the 21-page summary on its relationship with Chile’s military dictatorship, the CIA refused to release documents from a quarter century earlier on the grounds that the disclosures might jeopardize the CIA’s “sources and methods.” The refusal came in the face of President Bill Clinton’s specific order to release as much information as possible.

Perhaps the CIA was playing for time. With CIA headquarters officially named the George Bush Center for Intelligence and with veterans of the Reagan-Bush years still dominating the CIA’s hierarchy, the spy agency might have hoped that the election of Texas Gov. George W. Bush would free it from demands to open up records to the American people.

For his part, former President George H.W. Bush declared his intent to take a more active role in campaigning for his son’s election. In Florida on Sept. 22, 2000, Bush said he was “absolutely convinced” that if his son is elected president, “we will restore the respect, honor and decency that the White House deserves.”

The late investigative reporter Robert Parry, the founding editor of Consortium News, broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. His last book, America’s Stolen Narrative, can be obtained in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

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Peter Lavelle: Why I Read Consortium News

Peter Lavelle, the host of RT’s Cross Talk, explains what Consortium News means to him.

From the desk of Peter Lavelle:

Not long ago during a visit he made to Moscow, I told Joe Lauria – now editor-in-chief of Consortium News— that I would read Robert Parry’s brilliant articles before I went to the studio to record my program, CrossTalk, at RT. Indeed it would not be exaggeration to claim Parry was my most important and influential “research assistant.” To this day Consortium News continues to be a valuable source of news and well-reasoned analysis. 

The media sphere today is under immense pressure. Governments, media in the service of power, and the growing tyranny of Big Tech have marginalized serious, well-informed journalism. Consortium News is one of the few news outlets I visit on a daily basis. It is refreshing and not bombarded by partisan bluster and low-octane thinkers. Instead, I find excellent, well-edited writing, as well as high-level intellectual honesty.

Most importantly, Consortium News does not bow to power. Robert Parry’s tradition of calling “balls and strikes” reaffirms the purpose of journalism – to critically contribute to the public square. Needless to say there is preciously little of that today. Consortium News fills this indispensable niche.

Please make a donation today during Consortium‘s Fall Fund Drive so it can continue to deliver for you.

Peter Lavelle is host of RT’s political debate program CrossTalk.




Gareth Porter: Why I Write for Consortium News

Consortium News is a priceless resource for honing in on the truth in the tradition of its founder Robert Parry, says Gareth Porter.

From the desk of Gareth Porter

We’ve all seen how the recent period of vertiginous political change has resulted in rapidly growing pressure on independent media to conform to partisan and/or ideologically rigid positions on the most crucial issues of international and national politics.  The result has been a further narrowing of the already very limited range of sources of news and analysis that are able to deliver truly independent and critical reporting.

That is why I have become increasingly convinced that Consortium News is a priceless resource for honing in on the truth in the tradition of its founder Robert Parry.  His vision was to nurture an online source of investigative reporting and analysis that would never bow to pressure from powerful political interests, ignore pivotal stories or embrace official narratives based on falsehoods.  Parry’s untimely death last January posed an enormous challenge to his successor to carry on this fearless endeavor.  But Joe Lauria, whom I have known for the last few years, is fully capable of steering the ship safely through the threats to the unique role of Consortium News.  He is working hard to produce a news site that can continue to grow in stature and in readership.

And that is why I write for Consortium News.

Now is the time for all those who share Robert Parry’s determination to defy pressures to conform to powerful interests and support this resource of inestimable value.

So please make a donation today during Consortium‘s Fall Fund Drive so it can continue to deliver for you.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian writing on US national security policy. His latest book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, was published in February of 2014. Follow him on Twitter: @GarethPorter.




The Battle for Our Minds

There are battlefields in Syria, Ukraine, Yemen, and elsewhere, but given the state of corporate media, perhaps the most consequential battle now being fought is for our minds, says Patrick Lawrence.

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

After reading The New York Times piece “The Plot to Subvert an Election” I put the paper down with a single question.

Why, after two years of allegations, indictments, and claims to proof of this, that, and the other did the newspaper of record—well, once the newspaper of record—see any need to publish such a piece? My answer is simple: The orthodox account of Russia-gate has not taken hold: It has failed in its effort to establish a consensus of certainty among Americans. My conclusion matches this observation: The orthodox narrative is never going to achieve this objective. There are too many holes in it.

The information age is actually a media age,” John Pilger, the noted British–Australian journalist, remarked during a symposium four years ago, when the Ukraine crisis was at its peak. “We have war by media; censorship by media; demonology by media; retribution by media; diversion by media—a surreal assembly line of obedient clichés and false assumptions.” Pilger revisited the theme in a piece last week on Consortium News, arguing that once-tolerated, dissenting opinion has in recent years “regressed into a metaphoric underground.”

There are battlefields in Syria, Ukraine, Yemen, and elsewhere, but perhaps the most consequential battle now being fought is for our minds.

Those who dispense with honest intellectual inquiry, healthy skepticism of all media, and an insistence that assertions require supporting evidence should not win this war. The Times piece by Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti—two of the paper’s top-tier reporters—is a case in point: If the Russia-gate narrative were so widely accepted as their report purports, there would have been no need to publish such a piece at this late date.

Many orthodox narratives are widely accepted however among a public that is not always paying attention. The public too often participates in the manufactured consent. Usually it take years for the truth to be widely understood. Sometimes it comes when the U.S. admits it decades later, such as the role of the CIA in the coups in Iran and Chile. Other times it comes through admissions by former U.S. officials, such as former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara about the Vietnam War.

Even Recent Narratives are Fraying

There are more recent examples of official narratives quickly fraying if not starting to fall apart, though Establishment media continues to push them.

For instance, there are serious doubts about who was responsible for alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria. The most significant was in Eastern Ghouta in August 2013 followed by attacks in Khan Sheikhoun (April 2017) and Douma (April 2018).

The corporate media accounts of each of these attacks have been countered with persuasive evidence against the prevailing view that the government of Bashar al–Assad was to blame. It has been provided journalists (Seymour Hersh ), a scientist (Theodore Postol ), and on-the-ground correspondents and local witnesses. These reports are subject to further verification. But by no means do official narratives stand without challenge.

There is also the case of Malaysian Flight MH–17, shot down over Ukrainian territory in June 2014. The official report, issued a year later, concluded that the plane was downed by Ukrainian rebels using a Russian-supplied missile. The report was faulty from the first: Investigators never visited the site , some evidence was based on a report produced by Bellingcat , an open-source web site affiliated with the vigorously anti–Russian Atlantic Council, and Ukraine was given the right to approve the report before it was issued.

Last week the Russian military disclosed evidence that serial numbers found in the debris at the MH–17 crash site indicate the missile that downed the plane was produced at a Soviet military-production plant in 1986 owned by Ukraine. Let us see further verification of this evidence (although I seriously doubt any Western correspondent will seek any). The official report of 2015 noted the serial numbers, so we know they are authentic, but it did not use them to trace the missile’s provenance.

There is also the seriously muddled case of the poisoning of the Skripals in Britain.  Why hasn’t the Western media dug into this story rather than accept at face value the pronouncements of the British government?

A month ago I lamented the damage Russia-gate has done to many of our most important institutions, the press not least among them. What is the corporate media thinking? That once President Trump is dumped, all will return to normal and professional standards will be restored? One can also argue the reverse: that adversarial journalism has returned to the White House beat largely out of personal animus towards Trump and that it will disappear again once a more “normal” president is in office.

As Pilger put it, “This is a seismic shift, with journalists policing the new ‘groupthink,’ as [Robert] Parry called it, dispensing myths and distractions, pursuing its enemies.”

In other words, Establishment journalism has shifted far afield from its traditional ideals of non-partisan, objective reporting and is instead vying for your mind to enlist it in its agenda to promote American interests abroad or one party or the other at home.

We can’t let them get away with it. Our minds are our own.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author, and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century (Yale). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is www.patricklawrence.us. Support his work via www.patreon.com/thefloutist.

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Journalists Are All Julian Assange

As Ecuador threatens to expel Julian Assange, CN Ed. Joe Lauria will speak in a 50-hr. online vigil for Assange on Sat., 8pm EDT. In 2010, Bob Parry, late CN founder & editor, wrote this incisive essay on Assange’s vital work. 

By Robert Parry
Originally published Dec. 16, 2010.

Whatever the unusual aspects of the case, the Obama administration’s reported plan to indict WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for conspiring with Army Pvt. Bradley Manning to obtain U.S. secrets strikes at the heart of investigative journalism on national security scandals.

That’s because the process for reporters obtaining classified information about crimes of state most often involves a journalist persuading some government official to break the law either by turning over classified documents or at least by talking about the secret information. There is almost always some level of “conspiracy” between reporter and source.

Contrary to what some outsiders might believe, it’s actually quite uncommon for sensitive material to simply arrive “over the transom” unsolicited. Indeed, during three decades of reporting on these kinds of stories, I can only recall a few secret documents arriving that way to me.

In most cases, I played some role – either large or small – in locating the classified information or convincing some government official to divulge some secrets. More often than not, I was the instigator of these “conspiracies.”

My “co-conspirators” typically were well-meaning government officials who were aware of some wrongdoing committed under the cloak of national security, but they were never eager to put their careers at risk by talking about these offenses. I usually had to persuade them, whether by appealing to their consciences or by constructing some reasonable justification for them to help.

Other times, I was sneaky in liberating some newsworthy classified information from government control. Indeed, in 1995, Consortiumnews.com was started as a way to publish secret and top-secret information that I had discovered in the files of a closed congressional inquiry during the chaotic period between the Republicans winning the 1994 elections and their actual takeover of Congress in early 1995.

In December 1994, I asked for and was granted access to supposedly unclassified records left behind by a task force that had looked into allegations that Ronald Reagan’s campaign had sabotaged President Jimmy Carter’s hostage negotiations with Iran in 1980.

To my surprise, I discovered that the investigators, apparently in their haste to wrap up their work, had failed to purge the files of all classified material. So, while my “minder” wasn’t paying attention to me, I ran some of the classified material through a copier and left with it in a folder. I later wrote articles about these documents and posted some on the Internet.

Such behavior – whether cajoling a nervous government official to expose a secret or exploiting some unauthorized access to classified material – is part of what an investigative journalist does in covering national security abuses. The traditional rule of thumb has been that it’s the government’s job to hide the secrets and a reporter’s job to uncover them. 

In the aftermath of significant leaks, the government often tries to convince news executives to spike or water down the stories “for the good of the country.” But it is the news organization’s ultimate decision whether to comply or to publish.

Historically, most of these leaks have caused the government some short-term embarrassment (although usually accompanied by exaggerated howls of protests). In the long run, however, the public has been served by knowing about some government abuse. Reforms often follow as they did during the Iran-Contra scandal that I was involved in exposing in the 1980s.

A Nixon Precedent

Yet, in the WikiLeaks case – instead of simply complaining and moving on – the Obama administration appears to be heading in a direction not seen since the Nixon administration sought to block the publication of the Pentagon Papers secret history of the Vietnam War in 1971.

In doing so, the Obama administration, which came to power vowing a new era of openness, is contemplating a novel strategy for criminalizing traditional journalistic practices, while trying to assure major U.S. news outlets that they won’t be swept up in the Assange-Manning dragnet.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that federal prosecutors were reviewing the possibility of indicting Assange on conspiracy charges for allegedly encouraging or assisting Manning in extracting “classified military and State Department files from a government computer system.”

The Times article by Charlie Savage notes that if prosecutors determine that Assange provided some help in the process, “they believe they could charge him as a conspirator in the leak, not just as a passive recipient of the documents who then published them.

Among materials prosecutors are studying is an online chat log in which Private Manning is said to claim that he had been directly communicating with Mr. Assange using an encrypted Internet conferencing service as the soldier was downloading government files. Private Manning is also said to have claimed that Mr. Assange gave him access to a dedicated server for uploading some of them to WikiLeaks. 

Adrian Lamo, an ex-hacker in whom Private Manning confided and who eventually turned him in, said Private Manning detailed those interactions in instant-message conversations with him. He said the special server’s purpose was to allow Private Manning’s submissions to ‘be bumped to the top of the queue for review.’ By Mr. Lamo’s account, Private Manning bragged about this ‘as evidence of his status as the high-profile source for WikiLeaks.’” 

Though some elements of this suspected Assange-Manning collaboration may be technically unique because of the Internet’s role – and that may be a relief to more traditional news organizations like the Times, which has published some of the WikiLeaks documents – the underlying reality is that what WikiLeaks has done is essentially “the same wine” of investigative journalism in “a new bottle” of the Internet.

By shunning WikiLeaks as some deviant journalistic hybrid, mainstream U.S. news outlets may breathe easier now but may find themselves caught up in a new legal precedent that could be applied to them later.

As for the Obama administration, its sudden aggressiveness in divining new “crimes” in the publication of truthful information is especially stunning when contrasted with its “see no evil” approach toward openly acknowledged crimes committed by President George W. Bush and his subordinates, including major offenses such as torture, kidnapping and aggressive war.

Holder’s Move

The possibility of an indictment of Assange no longer seems to me like rampant paranoia. Initially, I didn’t believe that the Obama administration was serious in stretching the law to find ways to prosecute Assange and to shut down WikiLeaks. 

But then there was the pressure on WikiLeaks’ vendors such as Amazon.com and PayPal along with threats from prominent U.S. political figures, spouting rhetoric about Assange as a “terrorist” comparable to Osama bin Laden and a worthy target of assassination.

Normally, when people engage in such talk of violence, they are the ones who attract the attention of police and prosecutors. In this case, however, the Obama administration appears to be bowing to those who talk loosely about murdering a truth-teller.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week that he has taken “significant” steps in the investigation, a possible reference to what an Assange lawyer said he had learned from Swedish authorities about a secret grand jury meeting in Northern Virginia.

The Times reported, “Justice Department officials have declined to discuss any grand jury activity. But in interviews, people familiar with the case said the department appeared to be attracted to the possibility of prosecuting Mr. Assange as a co-conspirator to the leaking because it is under intense pressure to make an example of him as a deterrent to further mass leaking of electronic documents over the Internet. 

By bringing a case against Mr. Assange as a conspirator to Private Manning’s leak, the government would not have to confront awkward questions about why it is not also prosecuting traditional news organizations or investigative journalists who also disclose information the government says should be kept secret — including The New York Times, which also published some documents originally obtained by WikiLeaks.”

In other words, the Obama administration appears to be singling out Assange as an outlier in the journalistic community who is already regarded as something of a pariah. In that way, mainstream media personalities can be invited to join in his persecution without thinking that they might be next.

Though American journalists may understandably want to find some protective cover by pretending that Julian Assange is not like us, the reality is – whether we like it or not – we are all Julian Assange.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. He founded Consortiumnews in 1995. 

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