Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Iran-Contra Scandal!

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Rethinking Iran-Contra
By Robert Parry
July 1, 2010
The conventional view of the Iran-Contra scandal is that it covered the period 1985-86, when President Ronald Reagan became concerned about the fate of American hostages in Lebanon and agreed to secretly sell weapons to Iran’s Islamist government to gain its help in freeing the captives.
Supposedly, the scheme went awry when White House aide Oliver North and other participants got carried away, including North’s decision to divert profits from the arms sales to another one of Reagan’s priorities, the Nicaraguan contra rebels whose CIA assistance had been cut off by Congress.
The Iran-Contra scandal was exposed in fall of 1986 after the shooting down of a North supply plane over Nicaragua and revelations in Lebanon of Reagan’s arms sales to Iran. A White House staff shake-up, including North’s firing, and some wrist-slaps from Congress for Reagan’s alleged inattention to details resolved the scandal, at least that was how Official Washington saw it.
The few dissenters who wouldn’t accept that tidy conclusion – such as Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh – were mocked and marginalized by the news media, including the Washington Post (which ran an article concluding that Walsh’s consistency in pursuing the scandal was “so un-Washington” and that he would depart as “a perceived loser”).
But an accumulating body of evidence suggests that the traditional view of Iran-Contra was mistaken, that this conventional understanding of the scandal was like starting a novel in the middle and assuming you’re reading the opening chapter.
Indeed, it now appears clear that the Iran-Contra Affair began five years earlier in 1980, with what has often been treated as a separate controversy, called the October Surprise case, dealing with alleged contacts between Reagan’s presidential campaign and Iran.
In view of the latest evidence – and the crumbling of the long-running October Surprise cover-up – there appears to have been a single Iran-Contra narrative spanning the entire 12 years of the Reagan and Bush-41 administration, and representing a much darker story.
And it was not simply a tale of Republican electoral skullduggery and treachery, but possibly even more troubling, a story of rogue CIA officers and Israel’s Likud hardliners sabotaging a sitting U.S. president, Jimmy Carter.
Plus, with Washington’s failure to get at the larger truth about the Iran-Contra Affair, crucial patterns were set: Republicans acted aggressively, Democrats behaved timidly, and the U.S. national news media was transformed from Watergate-era watchdogs, to lapdogs and finally to guard dogs protecting national security wrongdoing.
In that sense, the Iran-Contra/October Surprise scandal represented the missing link in a larger American political narrative covering the sweep of several decades, explaining how the United States shifted away from a nation grappling with epochal problems, from energy dependence and environmental degradation to bloated military budgets and an obsession with empire.
For all his shortcomings and half-measures, President Carter had begun promoting solar and other alternative energies; he pushed conservation programs and worked to reduce the federal deficit; and abroad, he advocated greater respect for human rights and pulled back from the imperial presidency.
More on point, he cashiered many of the freewheeling Cold Warriors of the CIA and demanded land-for-peace concessions from Israel.
Unacceptable Dangers
Carter’s potential second term presented unacceptable dangers to some powerful interests at home and overseas. The CIA Old Boys (whom legendary CIA officer Miles Copeland deemed “the CIA within the CIA”) thought they understood the true national interests even if the lazy-minded public and weak-kneed politicians didn’t.
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and his Likud Party believed in a “Greater Israel” and were determined not to trade any more land conquered in the Six-Day War of 1967 for promises of peace with Palestinians and other Arabs. In 1980, Begin was still fuming over Carter’s Camp David pressure on him to surrender the Sinai in exchange for a peace deal with Egypt.
In other words, the deep-seated concerns of many influential forces intersected in 1980, all with a common desire to sink Carter’s reelection campaign. And the best way to do that was to undermine his efforts to gain the freedom of 52 American hostages then held in Iran. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The CIA/Likud Sinking of Jimmy Carter.”]
The secret relationships, born of the 1980 hostage dealings, created the framework for the Reagan administration’s approval of Israel’s clandestine arms shipments to Iran beginning immediately after Reagan took office in 1981, just as the American hostages were finally released. Those initial Israeli arms sales gradually evolved into the Iran-Contra weapons transfers.
Thus, when the Iran-Contra scandal surfaced in fall 1986, the subsequent cover-up was not simply to protect Reagan from possible impeachment for violating the Arms Export Control Act and the congressional ban on military aid to the Nicaraguan contras, but from exposure of the even darker, earlier phase of the scandal, which would implicate Israel and the CIA.
In authorizing the first investigation of Iran-Contra, Reagan’s Attorney General Edwin Meese set the chronological parameters as 1985 and 1986. Congressional inquiries also focused on that narrow time frame, despite indications that the scandal began earlier, such as the mystery of an Israeli-chartered arms flight that was shot down in July 1981 after straying into Soviet air space.
Only late in the Iran-Contra criminal investigation did Walsh and his investigative team begin suspecting that the only explanation for the futile arms-for-hostage dealings regarding Lebanon in 1985-86 – when each freed hostage was replaced by a new captive – was that the tripartite relationship of Iran-Israel-and-Reagan predated the Lebanese crisis, going back to 1980.
That was one reason why Walsh’s investigators asked George H.W. Bush’s national security adviser (and former CIA officer) Donald Gregg about his possible role in delaying the release of the hostages in 1980. His denial was judged deceptive by an FBI polygrapher.
‘People on High’
Nicholas Veliotes, Reagan’s assistant secretary of state for the Middle East, described his discovery of the earlier Iran connections after the Israeli plane went down in the Soviet Union in 1981.
“It was clear to me after my conversations with people on high that indeed we had agreed that the Israelis could transship to Iran some American-origin military equipment,” Veliotes said in an interview with PBS Frontline.
In checking out the Israeli flight, Veliotes came to believe that the Reagan camp’s dealings with Iran dated back to before the 1980 election.
“It seems to have started in earnest in the period probably prior to the election of 1980, as the Israelis had identified who would become the new players in the national security area in the Reagan administration,” Veliotes said. “And I understand some contacts were made at that time.”
Though some two dozen witnesses – including senior Iranian officials and a wide range of other international players – have expanded on Veliotes’s discovery, the pressure became overpowering in the final years of George H.W. Bush’s presidency not to accept the obvious conclusions. [For details of the evidence, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
It was easier for all involved – surely the Republicans but also the Democrats and much of the Washington press corps – to discredit the corroborated 1980 allegations. Taking the lead was the neoconservative New Republic.
In fall 1991, as Congress was deliberating whether to conduct a full investigation of the October Surprise issue, Steven Emerson, a journalist with close ties to Likud, produced a cover story for The New Republic claiming to prove the allegations were a “myth.”
Newsweek published a matching cover story also attacking the October Surprise allegations. The article, I was told, had been ordered up by executive editor Maynard Parker who was known inside Newsweek as a close ally of the CIA and an admirer of prominent neocon Elliott Abrams.
The two articles were influential in shaping Washington’s conventional wisdom, but they were both based on a misreading of attendance documents at a London historical conference which William Casey had gone to in July 1980.
The two publications put Casey at the conference on one key date – thus supposedly proving he could not have attended an alleged Madrid meeting with Iranian emissaries. However, after the two stories appeared, follow-up interviews with conference participants, including historian Robert Dallek, conclusively showed that Casey wasn’t at the conference until later.
Veteran journalist Craig Unger, who had worked on the Newsweek cover story, said the magazine knew the Casey alibi was bogus but still used it. “It was the most dishonest thing that I’ve been through in my life in journalism,” Unger later told me.
However, even though the Newsweek and New Republic stories had themselves been debunked, that didn’t stop other neoconservative-dominated publications, like the Wall Street Journal, from ladling out ridicule on anyone who dared take the October Surprise case seriously.
Peculiar Journalism
Emerson also was a close friend of Michael Zeldin, the deputy chief counsel for the House task force that investigated the October Surprise issue in 1992. Though the task force had to jettison Emerson’s bogus Casey alibi, House investigators told me Emerson frequently visited the task force’s offices and advised Zeldin and others how to read the October Surprise evidence.
Subsequent examinations of Emerson’s peculiar brand of journalism (which invariably toed the Likud line and often demonized Muslims) revealed that Emerson had financial ties to right-wing funders such as Richard Mellon Scaife and had hosted right-wing Israeli intelligence commander Yigal Carmon when Carmon came to Washington to lobby against Middle East peace talks.
In 1999, a study of Emerson’s history by John F. Sugg for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s magazine “Extra!” quoted an Associated Press reporter who had worked with Emerson on a project as saying of Emerson and Carmon: “I have no doubt these guys are working together.”
The Jerusalem Post reported that Emerson has "close ties to Israeli intelligence." And “Victor Ostrovsky, who defected from Israel's Mossad intelligence agency and has written books disclosing its secrets, calls Emerson ‘the horn’ -- because he trumpets Mossad claims,” Sugg reported.
Yet, the way Washington was working by the end of the 12-year Reagan-Bush-41 era, there was little interest in getting to the bottom of a difficult national security scandal. The House task force simply applied some fantastical logic, such as claiming that because someone wrote down Casey’s home phone number on another key date that proved he was at home, to conclude nothing had happened.
Between the House task force’s finding of “no credible evidence” and the subsequent ridicule heaped on the allegations by major U.S. news outlets, the October Surprise case was cast aside as a “conspiracy theory,” which is how it is still categorized by Washington’s insiders and by Wikipedia.
However, subsequent disclosures have revealed that a flood of new evidence incriminating the Republicans arrived at the House task force in its final weeks, in December 1992, so much so that chief counsel Lawrence Barcella says he recommended that task force chairman, Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Indiana, extend the investigation for several months. However, Barcella said Hamilton refused, citing procedural difficulties.
Instead, the incriminating evidence was simply kept from other task force members, and the investigation was shut down with a finding of Republican innocence. It even appears that a late-arriving report from the Russian government about its own intelligence on the case – corroborating allegations of a Republican-Iranian deal – was not even shown to Hamilton, the chairman.
When questioned this year, Hamilton told me he had no recollection of ever seeing the Russian report (though it was addressed to him) and Barcella added that he didn’t “recall whether I showed [Hamilton] the Russian report or not.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Key October Surprise Evidence Hidden.”]
According to other recent interviews, dissent within the task force over some of the irrational arguments being used to clear the Republicans was suppressed by Hamilton and Barcella. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Tricky October Surprise Report.”]
In other words, Official Washington preferred to sweep this unpleasant scandal under the rug rather than confront the facts and their troubling implications.
Yet, with Reagan remaining a conservative icon and his anti-government policies still in vogue among millions of Americans – slashing taxes for the rich, weakening corporate regulations, rejecting alternative energy, and expanding the military budget – the lost history of this broader Iran-Contra scandal has turned out to be a case that what the country didn’t know did turn out to hurt it.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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Iran-Contra's 'Lost Chapter'
By Robert Parry (A Special Report)
June 30, 2008
http://www.consortiumnews.com/2008/062908.html
As historians ponder George W. Bush’s disastrous presidency, they may wonder how Republicans perfected a propaganda system that could fool tens of millions of Americans, intimidate Democrats, and transform the vaunted Washington press corps from watchdogs to lapdogs.
To understand this extraordinary development, historians might want to look back at the 1980s and examine the Iran-Contra scandal’s “lost chapter,” a narrative describing how Ronald Reagan’s administration brought CIA tactics to bear domestically to reshape the way Americans perceived the world.
That chapter – which we are publishing here for the first time – was “lost” because Republicans on the congressional Iran-Contra investigation waged a rear-guard fight that traded elimination of the chapter’s key findings for the votes of three moderate GOP senators, giving the final report a patina of bipartisanship.
Under that compromise, a few segments of the draft chapter were inserted in the final report’s Executive Summary and in another section on White House private fundraising, but the chapter’s conclusions and its detailed account of how the “perception management” operation worked ended up on the editing room floor.
The American people thus were spared the chapter’s troubling finding: that the Reagan administration had built a domestic covert propaganda apparatus managed by a CIA propaganda and disinformation specialist working out of the National Security Council.
“One of the CIA’s most senior covert action operators was sent to the NSC in 1983 by CIA Director [William] Casey where he participated in the creation of an inter-agency public diplomacy mechanism that included the use of seasoned intelligence specialists,” the chapter’s conclusion stated.
“This public/private network set out to accomplish what a covert CIA operation in a foreign country might attempt – to sway the media, the Congress, and American public opinion in the direction of the Reagan administration’s policies.”
However, with the chapter’s key findings deleted, the right-wing domestic propaganda operation not only survived the Iran-Contra fallout but thrived.
So did some of the administration’s collaborators, such as South Korean theocrat Sun Myung Moon and Australian press mogul Rupert Murdoch, two far-right media barons who poured billions of dollars into pro-Republican news outlets that continue to influence Washington’s political debates to this day.
Before every presidential election, Moon’s Washington Times plants derogatory – and often false – stories about Democratic contenders, discrediting them and damaging their chances of winning the White House.
For instance, in 1988, the Times published a bogus account suggesting that the Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis had undergone psychiatric treatment. In 2000, Moon’s newspaper pushed the theme that Al Gore suffered from clinical delusions. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege. https://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/1868/t/1638/shop/shop.jsp?storefront_KEY=261]
As for Murdoch, his giant News Corp. expanded into American cable TV with the founding of Fox News in 1996. Since then, the right-wing network has proved highly effective in promoting attack lines against Democrats or anyone else who challenges the Republican power structure.
As President George W. Bush herded the nation toward war with Iraq in 2002-03, Fox News acted like his sheep dogs making sure public opinion didn’t stray too far off. The “Fox effect” was so powerful that it convinced other networks to load up with pro-war military analysts and to silence voices that questioned the invasion. [See Neck Deep. https://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/1868/t/1638/shop/shop.jsp?storefront_KEY=261]
Seeds of Propaganda
The seeds of this private/public collaboration can be found in the 84-page draft Iran-Contra chapter, entitled “Launching the Private Network.” [There appear to have been several versions of this “lost chapter.” This one I found in congressional files.]
The chapter traces the origins of the propaganda network to President Reagan’s “National Security Decision Directive 77” in January 1983 as his administration sought to promote its foreign policy, especially its desire to oust Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government.
In a Jan. 13, 1983, memo, then-National Security Advisor William Clark foresaw the need for non-governmental money to advance this cause. “We will develop a scenario for obtaining private funding,” Clark wrote.
As administration officials began reaching out to wealthy supporters, lines against domestic propaganda soon were crossed as the operation took aim at not only at foreign audiences but at U.S. public opinion, the press and congressional Democrats who opposed funding Nicaraguan rebels, known as contras.
At the time, the contras were earning a gruesome reputation as human rights violators and terrorists. To change this negative perception of the contras, the Reagan administration created a full-blown, clandestine propaganda operation.
“An elaborate system of inter-agency committees was eventually formed and charged with the task of working closely with private groups and individuals involved in fundraising, lobbying campaigns and propagandistic activities aimed at influencing public opinion and governmental action,” the draft chapter said.
Heading this operation was a veteran CIA officer named Walter Raymond Jr., who was recruited by another CIA officer, Donald Gregg, before Gregg shifted from his job as chief of the NSC’s Intelligence Directorate to become national security adviser to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.
[The draft chapter doesn’t use Raymond’s name in its opening pages, apparently because some of the information came from classified depositions. However, Raymond’s name is used later in the chapter and the earlier citations match Raymond’s role.]
According to the draft report, the CIA officer recruited for the NSC job had served as Director of the Covert Action Staff at the CIA from 1978 to 1982 and was a “specialist in propaganda and disinformation.”
“The CIA official [Raymond] discussed the transfer with [CIA Director William] Casey and NSC Advisor William Clark that he be assigned to the NSC as Gregg’s successor [in June 1982] and received approval for his involvement in setting up the public diplomacy program along with his intelligence responsibilities,” the chapter said.
“In the early part of 1983, documents obtained by the Select [Iran-Contra] Committees indicate that the Director of the Intelligence Staff of the NSC [Raymond] successfully recommended the establishment of an inter-governmental network to promote and manage a public diplomacy plan designed to create support for Reagan Administration policies at home and abroad.”
Raymond “helped to set up an elaborate system of inter-agency committees,” the draft chapter said, adding:
“In the Spring of 1983, the network began to turn its attention toward beefing up the Administration’s capacity to promote American support for the Democratic Resistance in Nicaragua [the contras] and the fledgling democracy in El Salvador.
“This effort resulted in the creation of the Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean in the Department of State (S/LPD), headed by Otto Reich,” a right-wing Cuban exile from Miami.
Though Secretary of State George Shultz wanted the office under his control, President Reagan insisted that Reich “report directly to the NSC,” where Raymond oversaw the operations as a special assistant to the President and the NSC’s director of international communications, the chapter said.
“At least for several months after he assumed this position, Raymond also worked on intelligence matters at the NSC, including drafting a Presidential Finding for Covert Action in Nicaragua in mid-September” 1983, the chapter said.
In other words, although Raymond was shifted to the NSC staff in part to evade prohibitions on the CIA influencing U.S. public opinion, his intelligence and propaganda duties overlapped for a time as he was retiring from the spy agency.
Key Player
Despite Raymond’s formal separation from the CIA, he acted toward the U.S. public much like a CIA officer would in directing a propaganda operation in a hostile foreign country. He was the go-to guy to keep the operation on track.
“Reich relied heavily on Raymond to secure personnel transfers from other government agencies to beef up the limited resources made available to S/LPD by the Department of State,” the chapter said.
“Personnel made available to the new office included intelligence specialists from the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army. On one occasion, five intelligence experts from the Army’s 4th Psychological Operations Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, were assigned to work with Reich’s fast-growing operation. …
“White House documents also indicate that CIA Director Casey had more than a passing interest in the Central American public diplomacy campaign.”
The chapter cited an Aug. 9, 1983, memo written by Raymond describing Casey’s participation in a meeting with public relations specialists to brainstorm how “to sell a ‘new product’ – Central America – by generating interest across-the-spectrum.”
In an Aug. 29, 1983, memo, Raymond recounted a call from Casey pushing his P.R. ideas. Alarmed at a CIA director participating so brazenly in domestic propaganda, Raymond wrote that “I philosophized a bit with Bill Casey (in an effort to get him out of the loop)” but with little success.
The chapter added: “Casey’s involvement in the public diplomacy effort apparently continued throughout the period under investigation by the Committees,” including a 1985 role in pressuring Congress to renew contra aid and a 1986 hand in further shielding S/LPD from the oversight of Secretary Shultz.
A Raymond-authored memo to Casey in August 1986 described the shift of S/LPD – then run by neoconservative theorist Bob Kagan who had replaced Reich – to the control of the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, which was headed by Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, another prominent neoconservative.
Another important figure in the pro-contra propaganda was NSC staffer Oliver North, who spent a great deal of his time on the Nicaraguan public diplomacy operation even though he is better known for arranging secret arms shipments to the contras and to Iran’s radical Islamic government, leading to the Iran-Contra scandal.
The draft chapter cited a March 10, 1985, memo from North describing his assistance to CIA Director Casey in timing disclosures of pro-contra news “aimed at securing Congressional approval for renewed support to the Nicaraguan Resistance Forces.”
North’s Operatives
The Iran-Contra “lost” chapter depicts a sometimes Byzantine network of contract and private operatives who handled details of the domestic propaganda while concealing the hand of the White House and the CIA.
“Richard R. Miller, former head of public affairs at AID, and Francis D. Gomez, former public affairs specialist at the State Department and USIA, were hired by S/LPD through sole-source, no-bid contracts to carry out a variety of activities on behalf of the Reagan administration policies in Central America,” the chapter said.
“Supported by the State Department and White House, Miller and Gomez became the outside managers of [North operative] Spitz Channel’s fundraising and lobbying activities.
“They also served as the managers of Central American political figures, defectors, Nicaraguan opposition leaders and Sandinista atrocity victims who were made available to the press, the Congress and private groups, to tell the story of the Contra cause.”
Miller and Gomez facilitated transfers of money to Swiss and offshore banks at North’s direction, as they “became the key link between the State Department and the Reagan White House with the private groups and individuals engaged in a myriad of endeavors aimed at influencing the Congress, the media and public opinion,” the chapter said.
In its conclusion, the draft chapter read:
“The State Department was used to run a prohibited, domestic, covert propaganda operation. Established despite resistance from the Secretary of State, and reporting directly to the NSC, the [S/LPD] attempted to mask many of its activities from the Congress and the American people.”
However, the American people never got to read a detailed explanation of this finding nor see the evidence. In October 1987, as the congressional Iran-Contra committees wrote their final report, Republicans protested the inclusion of this explosive information.
Though the Democrats held the majority, the GOP had leverage because Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Indiana, the House chairman, wanted some bipartisanship in the final report, especially since senior Republicans, including Rep. Dick Cheney, R-Wyoming, were preparing a strongly worded minority report.
Hamilton and the Democrats hoped that three moderate Republicans – William Cohen of Maine, Warren Rudman of New Hampshire and Paul Trible of Virginia – would break ranks and sign the majority report. However, the Republicans objected to the draft chapter about Ronald Reagan’s covert propaganda campaign.
As part of a compromise, some elements of the draft chapter were included in the Executive Summary but without much detail and shorn of the tough conclusions. Nevertheless, Cohen protested even that.
“I question the inordinate attention devoted in the Executive Summary to the Office of Public Diplomacy and its activities in support of the Administration’s polices,” Cohen wrote in his additional views. “The prominence given to it in the Executive Summary is far more generous than just.”
Long-Term Consequences
However, the failure of the Iran-Contra report to fully explain the danger of CIA-style propaganda intruding into the U.S. political process would have profound future consequences. Indeed, the evidence suggests that today’s powerful right-wing media gained momentum as part of the Casey-Raymond operations of the early 1980s.
According to one Raymond-authored memo dated Aug. 9, 1983, then-U.S. Information Agency director Charles Wick “via Murdock [sic] may be able to draw down added funds” to support pro-Reagan initiatives.
Raymond’s reference to Rupert Murdoch possibly drawing down “added funds” suggests that the right-wing media mogul was already part of the covert propaganda operation.
In line with its clandestine nature, Raymond also suggested routing the “funding via Freedom House or some other structure that has credibility in the political center.”
Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon, publisher of the Washington Times, also showed up in the Iran-Contra operations, using his newspaper to raise contra funds and assigning his CAUSA political group to organize support for the contras.
In the two decades since the Iran-Contra scandal, both Murdoch and Moon have continued to pour billions of dollars into media outlets that have influenced the course of U.S. history, often through the planting of propaganda and disinformation much like a CIA covert action might do in a hostile foreign country.
Further, to soften up the Washington press corps, Reich’s S/LPD targeted U.S. journalists who reported information that undermined the pro-contra propaganda. Reich sent his teams out to lobby news executives to remove or punish out-of-step reporters – with a disturbing degree of success. [For more, see Parry’s Lost History. https://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/1868/t/1638/shop/shop.jsp?storefront_KEY=261]
Some U.S. officials implicated in the Iran-Contra propaganda operations are still around, bringing the lessons of the 1980s into the new century.
For instance, Elliott Abrams. Though convicted of misleading Congress in the Iran-Contra Affair and later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush – Abrams is now deputy adviser to George W. Bush’s NSC, where he directs U.S.-Middle East policy.
Bob Kagan remains another prominent neocon theorist in Washington, writing op-eds for the Washington Post. Oliver North was given a news show on Fox.
Otto Reich now is advising Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Latin American affairs. Lee Hamilton is a senior national security adviser to Democratic candidate Barack Obama.
Enduring Skills
Beyond these individuals, the manipulative techniques that were refined in the 1980s – especially the skill of exaggerating foreign threats – have proved durable, bringing large segments of the American population into line behind the Iraq War in 2002-03.
Only now – with more than 4,100 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead – are many of these Americans realizing that were manipulated by clever propaganda, that their perceptions had been managed.
For instance, the New York Times recently pried loose some 8,000 pages of Pentagon documents revealing how the Bush administration had manipulated the public debate on the Iraq War by planting friendly retired military officers on TV news shows.
Retired Green Beret Robert S. Bevelacqua, a former analyst on Murdoch’s Fox News, said the Pentagon treated the retired military officers as puppets: “It was them saying, ‘we need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you.’” [NYT, April 20, 2008, or see Consortiumnews.com’s “US News Media’s Latest Disgrace.”]
Bush’s former White House press secretary Scott McClellan described similar use of propaganda tactics to justify the Iraq War in his book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception.
From his insider vantage point, McClellan cited the White House’s “carefully orchestrated campaign to shape and manipulate sources of public approval” – and he called the Washington press corps “complicit enablers.”
None of this would have been so surprising – indeed Americans might have been forewarned and forearmed – if Lee Hamilton and other Democrats on the Iran-Contra committees had held firm and published the scandal’s “lost chapter” two decades ago.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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The Secret World of Robert Gates
By Robert Parry
November 9, 2006
Robert Gates, George W. Bush’s choice to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary, is a trusted figure within the Bush Family’s inner circle, but there are lingering questions about whether Gates is a trustworthy public official.
The 63-year-old Gates has long faced accusations of collaborating with Islamic extremists in Iran, arming Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in Iraq, and politicizing U.S. intelligence to conform with the desires of policymakers – three key areas that relate to his future job.
Gates skated past some of these controversies during his 1991 confirmation hearings to be CIA director – and the current Bush administration is seeking to slip Gates through the congressional approval process again, this time by pressing for a quick confirmation by the end of the year, before the new Democratic-controlled Senate is seated.
If Bush’s timetable is met, there will be no time for a serious investigation into Gates’s past.
Fifteen years ago, Gates got a similar pass when leading Democrats agreed to put “bipartisanship” ahead of careful oversight when Gates was nominated for the CIA job by President George H.W. Bush.
In 1991, despite doubts about Gates’s honesty over Iran-Contra and other scandals, the career intelligence officer brushed aside accusations that he played secret roles in arming both sides of the Iran-Iraq War. Since then, however, documents have surfaced that raise new questions about Gates’s sweeping denials.
For instance, the Russian government sent an intelligence report to a House investigative task force in early 1993 stating that Gates participated in secret contacts with Iranian officials in 1980 to delay release of 52 U.S. hostages then held in Iran, a move to benefit the presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
“R[obert] Gates, at that time a staffer of the National Security Council in the administration of Jimmy Carter, and former CIA Director George Bush also took part” in a meeting in Paris in October 1980, according to the Russian report, which meshed with information from witnesses who have alleged Gates’s involvement in the Iranian gambit.
Once in office, the Reagan administration did permit weapons to flow to Iran via Israel. One of the planes carrying an arms shipment was shot down over the Soviet Union on July 18, 1981, after straying off course, but the incident drew little attention at the time.
The arms flow continued, on and off, until 1986 when the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal broke. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege. For text of the Russian report, click here. To view the actual U.S. embassy cable that includes the Russian report, click here.]
Iraq-gate Scandal
Gates also was implicated in a secret operation to funnel military assistance to Iraq in the 1980s, as the Reagan administration played off the two countries battling each other in the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq War.
Middle Eastern witnesses alleged that Gates worked on the secret Iraqi initiative, which included Saddam Hussein’s procurement of cluster bombs and chemicals used to produce chemical weapons for the war against Iran.
Gates denied those Iran-Iraq accusations in 1991 and the Senate Intelligence Committee – then headed by Gates’s personal friend, Sen. David Boren, D-Oklahoma – failed to fully check out the claims before recommending Gates for confirmation.
However, four years later – in early January 1995 – Howard Teicher, one of Reagan’s National Security Council officials, added more details about Gates’s alleged role in the Iraq shipments.
In a sworn affidavit submitted in a Florida criminal case, Teicher stated that the covert arming of Iraq dated back to spring 1982 when Iran had gained the upper hand in the war, leading President Reagan to authorize a U.S. tilt toward Saddam Hussein.
The effort to arm the Iraqis was “spearheaded” by CIA Director William Casey and involved his deputy, Robert Gates, according to Teicher’s affidavit. “The CIA, including both CIA Director Casey and Deputy Director Gates, knew of, approved of, and assisted in the sale of non-U.S. origin military weapons, ammunition and vehicles to Iraq,” Teicher wrote.
Ironically, that same pro-Iraq initiative involved Donald Rumsfeld, then Reagan’s special emissary to the Middle East. An infamous photograph from 1983 shows a smiling Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein.
Teicher described Gates’s role as far more substantive than Rumsfeld’s. “Under CIA Director [William] Casey and Deputy Director Gates, the CIA authorized, approved and assisted [Chilean arms dealer Carlos] Cardoen in the manufacture and sale of cluster bombs and other munitions to Iraq,” Teicher wrote.
Like the Russian report, the Teicher affidavit has never been never seriously examined. After Teicher submitted it to a federal court in Miami, the affidavit was classified and then attacked by Clinton administration prosecutors. They saw Teicher’s account as disruptive to their prosecution of a private company, Teledyne Industries, and one of its salesmen, Ed Johnson.
But the questions about Gates’s participation in dubious schemes involving hotspots such as Iran and Iraq are relevant again today because they reflect on Gates’s judgment, his honesty and his relationship with two countries at the top of U.S. military concerns.
About 140,000 U.S. troops are now bogged down in Iraq, 3 ½ years after President George W. Bush ordered an invasion to remove Saddam Hussein from power and eliminate his supposed WMD stockpiles. One reason the United States knew that Hussein once had those stockpiles was because the Reagan administration helped him procure the material needed for the WMD production in the 1980s.
The United States also is facing down Iran’s Islamic government over its nuclear ambitions. Though Bush has so far emphasized diplomatic pressure on Iran, he has pointedly left open the possibility of a military option.
Political Intelligence
Beyond the secret schemes to aid Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, Gates also stands accused of playing a central role in politicizing the CIA intelligence product, tailoring it to fit the interests of his political superiors, a legacy that some Gates critics say contributed to the botched CIA’s analysis of Iraqi WMD in 2002.
Before Gates’s rapid rise through the CIA’s ranks in the 1980s, the CIA’s tradition was to zealously protect the objectivity and scholarship of the intelligence. However, during the Reagan administration, that ethos collapsed.
At Gates’s confirmation hearings in 1991, former CIA analysts, including renowned Kremlinologist Mel Goodman, took the extraordinary step of coming out of the shadows to accuse Gates of politicizing the intelligence while he was chief of the analytical division and then deputy director.
The former intelligence officers said the ambitious Gates pressured the CIA’s analytical division to exaggerate the Soviet menace to fit the ideological perspective of the Reagan administration. Analysts who took a more nuanced view of Soviet power and Moscow’s behavior in the world faced pressure and career reprisals.
In 1981, Carolyn McGiffert Ekedahl of the CIA’s Soviet office was the unfortunate analyst who was handed the assignment to prepare an analysis on the Soviet Union’s alleged support and direction of international terrorism.
Contrary to the desired White House take on Soviet-backed terrorism, Ekedahl said the consensus of the intelligence community was that the Soviets discouraged acts of terrorism by groups getting support from Moscow for practical, not moral, reasons.
“We agreed that the Soviets consistently stated, publicly and privately, that they considered international terrorist activities counterproductive and advised groups they supported not to use such tactics,” Ekedahl said. “We had hard evidence to support this conclusion.”
But Gates took the analysts to task, accusing them of trying to “stick our finger in the policy maker’s eye,” Ekedahl testified
Ekedahl said Gates, dissatisfied with the terrorism assessment, joined in rewriting the draft “to suggest greater Soviet support for terrorism and the text was altered by pulling up from the annex reports that overstated Soviet involvement.”
In his memoirs, From the Shadows, Gates denied politicizing the CIA’s intelligence product, though acknowledging that he was aware of Casey’s hostile reaction to the analysts’ disagreement with right-wing theories about Soviet-directed terrorism.
Soon, the hammer fell on the analysts who had prepared the Soviet-terrorism report. Ekedahl said many analysts were “replaced by people new to the subject who insisted on language emphasizing Soviet control of international terrorist activities.”
A donnybrook ensued inside the U.S. intelligence community. Some senior officials responsible for analysis pushed back against Casey’s dictates, warning that acts of politicization would undermine the integrity of the process and risk policy disasters in the future.
Working with Gates, Casey also undertook a series of institutional changes that gave him fuller control of the analytical process. Casey required that drafts needed clearance from his office before they could go out to other intelligence agencies.
Casey appointed Gates to be director of the Directorate of Intelligence [DI] and consolidated Gates’s control over analysis by also making him chairman of the National Intelligence Council, another key analytical body.
“Casey and Gates used various management tactics to get the line of intelligence they desired and to suppress unwanted intelligence,” Ekedahl said.
Career Reprisals
With Gates using top-down management techniques, CIA analysts sensitive to their career paths intuitively grasped that they could rarely go wrong by backing the “company line” and presenting the worst-case scenario about Soviet capabilities and intentions, Ekedahl and other CIA analysts said.
Largely outside public view, the CIA’s proud Soviet analytical office underwent a purge of its most senior people. “Nearly every senior analyst on Soviet foreign policy eventually left the Office of Soviet Analysis,” Goodman said.
Gates made clear he intended to shake up the DI’s culture, demanding greater responsiveness to the needs of the White House and other policymakers.
In a speech to the DI’s analysts and managers on Jan. 7, 1982, Gates berated the division for producing shoddy analysis that administration officials didn’t find helpful.
Gates unveiled an 11-point management plan to whip the DI into shape. His plan included rotating division chiefs through one-year stints in policy agencies and requiring CIA analysts to “refresh their substantive knowledge and broaden their perspective” by taking courses at Washington-area think tanks and universities.
Gates declared that a new Production Evaluation Staff would aggressively review their analytical products and serve as his “junkyard dog.”
Gates’s message was that the DI, which had long operated as an “ivory tower” for academically oriented analysts committed to an ethos of objectivity, would take on more of a corporate culture with a product designed to fit the needs of those up the ladder both inside and outside the CIA.
“It was a kind of chilling speech,” recalled Peter Dickson, an analyst who concentrated on proliferation issues. “One of the things he wanted to do, he was going to shake up the DI. He was going to read every paper that came out. What that did was that everybody between the analyst and him had to get involved in the paper to a greater extent because their careers were going to be at stake.”
A chief Casey-Gates tactic for exerting tighter control over the analysis was to express concern about “the editorial process,” Dickson said.
“You can jerk people around in the editorial process and hide behind your editorial mandate to intimidate people,” Dickson said.
Gates soon was salting the analytical division with his allies, a group of managers who became known as the “Gates clones.” Some of those who rose with Gates were David Cohen, David Carey, George Kolt, Jim Lynch, Winston Wiley, John Gannon and John McLaughlin.
Though Dickson’s area of expertise – nuclear proliferation – was on the fringes of the Reagan-Bush primary concerns, it ended up getting him into trouble anyway. In 1983, he clashed with his superiors over his conclusion that the Soviet Union was more committed to controlling proliferation of nuclear weapons than the administration wanted to hear.
When Dickson stood by his evidence, he soon found himself facing accusations about his fitness and other pressures that eventually caused him to leave the CIA.
Dickson also was among the analysts who raised alarms about Pakistan’s development of nuclear weapons, another sore point because the Reagan-Bush administration wanted Pakistan’s assistance in funneling weapons to Islamic fundamentalists fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.
One of the effects from the exaggerated intelligence about Soviet power and intentions was to make other potential risks – such as allowing development of a nuclear bomb in the Islamic world or training Islamic fundamentalists in techniques of sabotage – pale in comparison.
While worst-case scenarios were in order for the Soviet Union and other communist enemies, best-case scenarios were the order of the day for Reagan-Bush allies, including Osama bin Laden and other Arab extremists rushing to Afghanistan to wage a holy war against European invaders, in this case, the Russians.
As for the Pakistani drive to get a nuclear bomb, the Reagan-Bush administration turned to word games to avoid triggering anti-proliferation penalties that otherwise would be imposed on Pakistan.
“There was a distinction made to say that the possession of the device is not the same as developing it,” Dickson told me. “They got into the argument that they don’t quite possess it yet because they haven’t turned the last screw into the warhead.”
Finally, the intelligence on the Pakistan Bomb grew too strong to continue denying the reality. But the delay in confronting Pakistan ultimately allowed the Muslim government in Islamabad to produce nuclear weapons. Pakistani scientists also shared their know-how with “rogue” states, such as North Korea and Libya.
“The politicization that took place during the Casey-Gates era is directly responsible for the CIA’s loss of its ethical compass and the erosion of its credibility,” Goodman told the Senate Intelligence Committee in 1991. “The fact that the CIA missed the most important historical development in its history – the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the Soviet Union itself – is due in large measure to the culture and process that Gates established in his directorate.”
Confirmation Battle
To push through Gates’s nomination to be CIA director in 1991, the elder George Bush lined up solid Republican backing for Gates and enough accommodating Democrats – particularly Sen. Boren, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman.
In his memoirs, Gates credited his friend, Boren, for clearing away any obstacles. “David took it as a personal challenge to get me confirmed,” Gates wrote.
Part of running interference for Gates included rejecting the testimony of witnesses who implicated Gates in scandals beginning with the alleged back-channel negotiations with Iran in 1980 through the arming of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the mid-1980s.
Boren’s Intelligence Committee brushed aside two witnesses connecting Gates to the alleged schemes, former Israeli intelligence official Ari Ben-Menashe and Iranian businessman Richard Babayan. Both offered detailed accounts about Gates’s alleged connections to the schemes.
Ben-Menashe, who worked for Israeli military intelligence from 1977-87, first fingered Gates as an operative in the secret Iraq arms pipeline in August 1990 during an interview that I conducted with him for PBS Frontline.
At the time, Ben-Menashe was in jail in New York on charges of trying to sell cargo planes to Iran (charges which were later dismissed). When the interview took place, Gates was in a relatively obscure position, as deputy national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush and not yet a candidate for the top CIA job.
In that interview and later under oath to Congress, Ben-Menashe said Gates joined in meetings between Republicans and senior Iranians in October 1980. Ben-Menashe said he also arranged Gates’s personal help in bringing a suitcase full of cash into Miami in early 1981 to pay off some of the participants in the hostage gambit.
Ben-Menashe also placed Gates in a 1986 meeting with Chilean arms manufacturer Cardoen, who allegedly was supplying cluster bombs and chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein’s army. Babayan, an Iranian exile working with Iraq, also connected Gates to the Iraqi supply lines and to Cardoen.
Gates has steadfastly denied involvement in either the Iran-hostage caper or the Iraqgate arms deals.
“I was accused on television and in the print media by people I had never spoken to or met of selling weapons to Iraq, or walking through Miami airport with suitcases full of cash, of being with Bush in Paris in October 1980 to meet with Iranians, and on and on,” Gates wrote in his memoirs. “The allegations of meetings with me around the world were easily disproved for the committee by my travel records, calendars, and countless witnesses.”
But none of Gates’s supposedly supportive evidence was ever made public by either the Senate Intelligence Committee or the later inquiries into either the Iran hostage initiative or Iraqgate.
Not one of Gates’s “countless witnesses” who could vouch for Gates’s whereabouts was identified. Though Boren pledged publicly to have his investigators question Babayan, they never did.
Perhaps most galling for those of us who tried to assess Ben-Menashe’s credibility was the Intelligence Committee’s failure to test Ben-Menashe’s claim that he met with Gates in Paramus, New Jersey, on the afternoon of April 20, 1989.
The date was pinned down by the fact that Ben-Menashe had been under Customs surveillance in the morning. So it was a perfect test for whether Ben-Menashe – or Gates – was lying.
When I first asked about this claim, congressional investigators told me that Gates had a perfect alibi for that day. They said Gates had been with Senator Boren at a speech in Oklahoma. But when we checked that out, we discovered that Gates’s Oklahoma speech had been on April 19, a day earlier. Gates also had not been with Boren and had returned to Washington by that evening.
So where was Gates the next day? Could he have taken a quick trip to northern New Jersey? Since senior White House national security advisers keep detailed notes on their daily meetings, it should have been easy for Boren’s investigators to interview someone who could vouch for Gates’s whereabouts on the afternoon of April 20.
But the committee chose not to nail down an alibi for Gates. The committee said further investigation wasn’t needed because Gates denied going to New Jersey and his personal calendar made no reference to the trip.
But the investigators couldn’t tell me where Gates was that afternoon or with whom he may have met. Essentially, the alibi came down to Gates’s word.
Ironically, Boren’s key aide who helped limit the investigation of Gates was George Tenet, whose behind-the-scenes maneuvering on Gates’s behalf won the personal appreciation of the senior George Bush. Tenet later became President Bill Clinton’s last CIA director and was kept on in 2001 by the younger George Bush partly on his father’s advice.
Now, as the Bush Family grapples with the disaster in Iraq, it is turning to an even more trusted hand to run the Defense Department. The appointment of Robert Gates suggests that the Bush Family is circling the wagons to save the embattled presidency of George W. Bush.
To determine whether Gates can be counted on to do what’s in the interest of the larger American public is another question altogether.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'
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Firewall: Inside the Iran-Contra Cover-up
By Robert Parry
1997
WASHINGTON -- In crucial ways, Watergate, the signature scandal of the 1970s, and Iran-contra, the signature scandal of the 1980s, were opposites. Watergate showed how the constitutional institutions of American democracy -- the Congress, the courts and the press -- could check a gross abuse of power by the Executive. A short dozen years later, the Iran-contra scandal demonstrated how those same institutions had ceased to protect the nation from serious White House wrongdoing.
Watergate had been part of a brief national awakening which exposed Cold War abuses -- presidential crimes, lies about the Vietnam War and assassination plots hatched at the CIA. The Iran-contra cover-up marked the restoration of a Cold War status quo in which crimes, both domestic and international, could be committed by the Executive while the Congress and the press looked the other way.
That Iran-contra reality, however, is still little understood for what it actually was: a victory of weakness and deceit over integrity and courage. On one front, the Washington media wants to perpetuate the myth that it remains the heroic Watergate press corps of All the President's Men. On another, the national Democratic establishment wants to forget how it crumbled in the face of pressures from the Reagan-Bush administrations. And, of course, the Republicans want to protect the legacy of their last two presidents.
Those combined interests likely will lead to very few favorable reviews of a new book by a man who put himself in the way of that cover-up -- Iran-contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh. In a remarkable new book, Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-up, Walsh details his six-year battle to break through the "firewall" that White House officials built around President Reagan and Vice President Bush after the Iran-contra scandal exploded in November 1986.
For Walsh, a lifelong Republican who shared the foreign policy views of the Reagan administration, the Iran-contra experience was a life-changing one, as his investigation penetrated one wall of lies only to be confronted with another and another -- and not just lies from Oliver North and his cohorts but lies from nearly every senior administration official who spoke with investigators.
According to Firewall, the cover-up conspiracy took formal shape at a meeting of Reagan and his top advisers in the Situation Room at the White House on Nov. 24, 1986. The meeting's principal point of concern was how to handle the troublesome fact that Reagan had approved illegal arms sales to Iran in fall 1985, before any covert-action finding had been signed. The act was a clear felony -- a violation of the Arms Export Control Act -- and possibly an impeachable offense.
Though virtually everyone at the meeting knew that Reagan had approved those shipments through Israel, Attorney General Edwin Meese announced what would become the cover story. According to Walsh's narrative, Meese "told the group that although [NSC adviser Robert] McFarlane had informed [Secretary of State George] Shultz of the planned shipment, McFarlane had not informed the president. ...
"[White House chief of staff Don] Regan, who had heard McFarlane inform the president and who had heard the president admit to Shultz that he knew of the shipment of Hawk [anti-aircraft] missiles, said nothing. Shultz and [Defense Secretary Caspar] Weinberger, who had protested the shipment before it took place, said nothing. [Vice President George] Bush, who had been told of the shipment in advance by McFarlane, said nothing. Casey, who [had] requested that the president sign the retroactive finding to authorize the CIA-facilitated delivery, said nothing. [NSC adviser John] Poindexter, who had torn up the finding, said nothing. Meese asked whether anyone knew anything else that hadn't been revealed. No one spoke."
When Shultz returned to the State Department, he dictated a note to his aide, Charles Hill, who wrote down that Reagan's men were "rearranging the record." They were trying to protect the president through a "carefully thought out strategy" that would "blame it on Bud" McFarlane.
'Fall Guy'
As part of that strategy, virtually all of Reagan's top advisers, including Shultz, gave false and misleading testimony to Congress and prosecutors. Their accounts essentially blamed the illegalities on Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North and his bosses at the National Security Council, McFarlane and Poindexter. Pretty much everyone else -- at the CIA, Defense Department, the Vice President's Office and the White House -- claimed ignorance.
Even though Oliver North testified in 1987 that he was the "fall guy" in this implausible scenario, the Democrats and much of the press corps still fell for it. There was a clicking of wine glasses around Washington as the "men of zeal" cover story was enshrined as the official history of the Iran-contra affair. A painful Watergate-style impeachment battle had been averted.
The story might have stopped there but for the work of Walsh and his small team of lawyers. Yet Walsh's investigation was hampered from the start by congressional rashness and hostility from key elements of the media. Congress was so ready to accept the theory of a rogue operation that it rushed ahead with televised hearings designed to make North and his NSC superiors, McFarlane and Poindexter, the primary culprits. Without even questioning North ahead of time, the Iran-contra committee granted the charismatic Marine officer and his pipe-smoking boss, Poindexter, limited immunity.
Three years later, that immunity came back to haunt Walsh's hard-won convictions of North and Poindexter. Conservative judges on the federal appeals court, particularly Reagan loyalists Laurence Silberman and David Sentelle, exploited the immunity opening to reverse North's conviction. Sentelle, a protege of Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., also joined in the decision to wipe out Poindexter's conviction. [Since then, Sentelle has taken over the three-judge panel which selects independent counsels.]
In his book, Walsh described the GOP majority on the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia as "a powerful band of Republican appointees [who] waited like the strategic reserves of an embattled army, ... a force cloaked in the black robes of those dedicated to defining and preserving the rule of law."
Still, despite the legal and political obstacles, Walsh's investigation broke through the White House cover-up in 1991-92. Almost by accident, as Walsh's staff was double-checking some long-standing document requests, the lawyers discovered hidden notes belonging to Weinberger and other senior officials. The notes made clear that there was widespread knowledge of the 1985 illegal shipments to Iran and that a major cover-up had been orchestrated by the Reagan and Bush administrations.
The Pounding Begins
The belated discovery led to indictments against senior CIA officials and Weinberger. Congressional Republicans, led by Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., reacted by angrily denouncing Walsh and calling for an end to his investigation. The Washington press corps also had grown hostile, complaining that Walsh's probe had taken too long and had cost too much.
The conservative Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal's editorial page fired near-daily barrages at Walsh often over trivial matters, such as first-class air fare and room-service meals. Key columnists and editorial writers for The Washington Post and The New York Times -- along with television pundits David Brinkley and Christopher Matthews -- joined in the Walsh bashings. Walsh was mocked as a modern-day Captain Ahab.
In his book, however, Walsh compared his trying experience to another maritime classic, Ernest Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea. In that story, an aging fisherman hooks a giant marlin and, after a long battle, secures the fish to side of his boat. On the way back to port, the marlin is attacked by sharks who devour its flesh and deny the fisherman his prize. "As the independent counsel, I sometimes felt like the old man," Walsh wrote, "more often, I felt like the marlin."
More seriously, the congressional and media attacks effectively limited Walsh's ability to pursue what appeared to be other false statements by senior administration officials. Those perjury inquiries could have unraveled other major national-security mysteries of the 1980s and helped correct the history of the era. But Walsh could not overcome the pack-like hostility of official Washington.
For instance, the Walsh team had strong suspicions that Bush's national security adviser, ex-CIA officer Donald Gregg, had lied when he testified that he was unaware of North's contra resupply operation, although Gregg's close friend, Felix Rodriguez, was working with North in Central America and called Gregg after each contra delivery.
There already had been problems with Gregg's story, including the discovery of a vice presidential office memo describing a planned meeting with Rodriguez about "resupply of the contras." Gregg bizarrely explained the memo away as a typo that should have read, "resupply of the copters."
More Cracks
In Firewall, Walsh disclosed that Gregg's stonewall experienced another crack when Col. James Steele, U.S. military adviser to El Salvador, flunked a polygraph test when he denied his own role in shipping weapons to the contras. Confronted with those results and incriminating notes from North's diaries, "Steele admitted not only his participation in the arms deliveries but also his early discussion of these activities with Donald Gregg," Walsh wrote.
Gregg also failed his own polygraph when he denied knowledge of the contra supply operation. [Gregg also flunked when he denied participating in the so-called October Surprise operation in 1980, an alleged secret CIA-GOP operation to undermine President Carter's Iran hostage negotiations and secure Reagan's election. See Robert Parry's Trick or Treason for more details on Gregg's alleged October Surprise role.]
Despite the doubts about Gregg's veracity, Walsh felt compelled to set aside those allegations as he struggled to finish several pending perjury cases against Weinberger and CIA officials, Clair George and Duane Clarridge. As those cases moved haltingly forward, anti-Walsh attacks multiplied in Congress and in the Washington media.
The Republican independent counsel also infuriated the GOP when he submitted a second indictment of Weinberger on the Friday before the 1992 elections. The indictment contained documents revealing that President Bush had been lying for years with his claim that he was "out of the loop" on the Iran-contra decisions. The ensuing furor dominated the last several days of the campaign and sealed Bush's defeat at the hands of Bill Clinton.
Walsh had discovered, too, that Bush had withheld his own notes about the Iran-contra affair, a discovery that elevated the president to a possible criminal subject of the investigation. But Bush had one more weapon in his arsenal. On Christmas Eve 1992, Bush destroyed the Iran-contra probe once and for all by pardoning Weinberger and five other convicted or indicted defendants.
"George Bush's misuse of the pardon power made the cover-up complete," Walsh wrote. "What set Iran-contra apart from previous political scandals was the fact that a cover-up engineered in the White House of one president and completed by his successor prevented the rule of law from being applied to the perpetrators of criminal activity of constitutional dimension."
But the cover-up likely could not have worked if the other institutions of Washington -- Congress, the courts and the press -- had not helped. Those institutions aided and abetted the White House both directly, through decisions that undermined the cases or reversed convictions, or indirectly, through incessant heckling of Walsh's investigators over trivial complaints.
Like the cover-up, the historic reversal -- from the constitutional protections of Watergate to the flouting of law in Iran-contra -- was complete. ~
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Behind Colin Powell's Legend -- Iran-Contra Amnesia
By Robert Parry & Norman Solomon
1996
In 1984-85, as the Iran-contra storm clouds began to build, one-star Gen. Colin Powell was the "filter" for information flowing to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. It would be what knowledge flowed through that "filter" that investigators would try to determine years later -- a mystery still relevant as Powell's political star rises and his importance to Bob Dole's 1996 campaign grows.
When Iran-contra broke in 1986-87, Powell would claim to know next to nothing about unlawful 1985 shipments of U.S. weapons from Israel to Iran -- or about illegal third-country financing of the Nicaraguan contra rebels. But was the general lying? The documentary record made clear certainly that his boss, Weinberger, knew a great deal.
Weinberger, a close adviser to President Reagan, was one of the first officials outside the White House to learn that Reagan had put the arm on Saudi Arabia to give the contras $1 million a month in 1984, as Congress cut off aid. Like Weinberger, Powell was a very close friend to Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador who handled that transaction. Powell and Bandar, who had met in the 1970s, were frequent tennis partners.
But exactly when Weinberger learned of the Saudi contributions and what he told Powell are still not clear. On June 20, 1984, Weinberger attended a State Department meeting on the contras, and his scribbled notes cited the need to "plan for other sources for $." But secrecy would be vital, the defense secretary understood. "Keep US fingerprints off," he wrote.
Over the summer, Gen. John Vessey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, learned from a foreign visitor about the Saudi money and passed on word to the defense secretary. "I reported it to Secretary Weinberger," Vessey said in a deposition. "His reaction was about the same as mine, sort of surprise first that <[>Saudi Arabia] would do it."
In 1985, when the Saudis doubled their annual contra gift from $12 million to $25 million, Vessey quickly passed on word to his boss. "Jack Vessey in office alone," Weinberger wrote on March 13, 1985. "Bandar is giving $25 million to Contras -- so all we need is non-lethal aid."
Dangerous Lands
Meanwhile, the White House was maneuvering into dangerous territory, too, in its policy toward Iran. The Israelis were interested in trading U.S. weapons to Iran to gain a strategic foothold in that Middle Eastern country -- and to enlist Iran's help in freeing American hostages in Lebanon.
Carrying the water for the Iran opening was national security adviser Robert McFarlane, who circulated a draft presidential order in late spring 1985. As always, the paper passed through Weinberger's "filter," Colin Powell. In his memoirs, Powell called the proposal "a stunner" and a grab by McFarlane for "Kissingerian immortality."
After reading the draft, Weinberger scribbled in the margins, "this is almost too absurd to comment on." Ironically, on the same day the Iran paper went out, Reagan declared that the United States would give no quarter to terrorism. "Let me further make it plain to the assassins in Beirut and their accomplices, wherever they may be, that America will never make concessions to terrorists," Reagan declared.
But in July 1985, Weinberger, Powell and McFarlane were actively meeting on details to do just that. Iran wanted 100 anti-tank TOW missiles that would be delivered through Israel, according to Weinberger's notes. Reagan gave his approval, though the White House wanted the shipments handled with "maximum compartmentalization" to prevent public disclosure.
On Aug. 20, 1985, the Israelis delivered the first 96 missiles to Iran, a pivotal moment for the Reagan administration. That missile shipment put the Reagan administration over the legal line, in violation of laws both requiring congressional notification for transshipment of U.S. weapons and prohibiting arms to Iran or any other nation designated a terrorist state. Violation of either statute could be a felony and an impeachable offense.
The available evidence from that period also suggests that Weinberger and Powell were very much in the loop on the operation, even though they may have opposed the policy. On Aug. 22, two days later, Israel notified McFarlane of the completed shipment. From aboard Air Force One, McFarlane promptly called Weinberger.
A Mystery Meeting
When Air Force One landed at Andrews Air Force Base, McFarlane rushed to the Pentagon to meet Weinberger and Powell. The 40-minute meeting started at 7:30 p.m, but the substance of the meeting remains in dispute. McFarlane said he cited Reagan's approval of the missile transfer and the need to replenish Israeli stockpiles. But Weinberger denied that account, and Powell insisted that he had only a vague memory of the meeting.
"My recollection is that Mr. McFarlane described to the Secretary the so-called Iran Initiative and he gave to the Secretary a sort of a history of how we got where we were that particular day and some of the thinking that gave rise to the possibility of going forward ... and what the purposes of such an initiative would be," Powell said in a deposition two years later.
Congressional attorney Joseph Saba asked Powell if McFarlane had mentioned that Israel already had supplied weapons to Iran. "I don't recall specifically," Powell answered vaguely. "I just don't recall." When Saba asked about any notes, Powell responded, "there were none on our side."
In a later interview with the FBI, Powell said he learned at that meeting that there "was to be a transfer of some limited amount of materiel" to Iran. But he did not budge on his claim that he did not remember that the first shipment had already gone and that replenishment had been promised.
This claim of only prospective knowledge would be key to Powell's Iran-contra defense. But it made little sense for McFarlane to hurry to the Pentagon, after learning of the delivery and the need for replenishment, simply to debate a future policy that, in fact, was already being implemented. The behavior of Powell and Weinberger in the following days also suggested that they knew an arms-for-hostage swap was under way.
According to Weinberger's diary, he and Powell eagerly awaited hostage release in following weeks. In early September 1985, Weinberger dispatched a Pentagon emissary to meet with Iranians in Europe. At the same time, McFarlane sent a message to Israel that the United States was prepared to replace 500 Israeli missiles, an assurance that would have required Weinberger's clearance.
On Sept. 14, 1985, Israel delivered the second shipment, 408 more missiles to Iran. The next day, one hostage, the Rev. Benjamin Weir, was released in Beirut. Back at the Pentagon, Weinberger penned in his diary a cryptic reference to "a delivery I have for our prisoners."
But when the Iran-contra scandal broke more than a year later, Weinberger and Powell would plead faulty memories again. Saba asked Powell if he had heard of any linkage between an arms delivery and Weir's release. "No, I have no recollection of that," Powell answered.
After Weir's freedom, the job of replenishing the Israel stockpile fell to White House aide Oliver North. "My original point of contact was General Colin Powell, who was going directly to his immediate superior, Secretary Weinberger," North would testify in 1987. But in their later sworn testimony, Powell and Weinberger would continue to insist that they had no idea that 508 missiles had already been shipped.
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