Archive for September, 2009

Reagan’s October Surprise

September 1, 2009

In 1968, Lyndon Johnson, who was leaving the White House to go home to die, was negotiating a peace agreement with North Vietnam. Fearing that Johnson would succeed and that peace would win the November election for VP Humphrey, Nixon sent Anna Chennault, widow of Flying Tiger hero Claire Chennault, to secretly contact South Vietnamese president Nguyen van Thieu, to offer a better deal if Thieu refused to cooperate with the Paris peace talks.

In his biography of Kissinger, Seymour Hersh reported that US intelligence agencies discovered, “The idea was to bring things to a stop in Paris and prevent any show of progress.” In her autobiography, Chennault quoted Nixon aide John Mitchell telling her, “I’m speaking on behalf of Mr. Nixon. It’s very important that our Vietnamese friends understand our Republican position and I hope you made that clear to them.” Daniel Schorr reported that Ambassador Bui Dhien cabled Saigon with the message that “The longer the present situation continues, the more favorable for us.” Thieu withdrew from the peace talks.

Johnson and Humphrey believed that public knowledge of the treachery would tear the already divided nation apart. To keep it secret was the moral hazard of encouraging others to do the same. Four years later, 1972, Nixon betrayed Thieu by telling China the US would accept a Communist Vietnam. In the meantime, more than 20,000 Americans died.

In the 1980 presidential campaign, Reagan and Carter were about even in the polls. Fifty-two Americans were held hostage by Iran in retaliation because Eisenhower overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran and placed the Shah on the throne. Republicans feared that if Carter freed the hostages he would be reelected. If he didn’t, Reagan might win if 52 hostages were the center of the campaign.

July 1980 officials from the Pentagon met with Iranian officials in Athens and agreed to supply arms and spare parts for US weapons in Iran’s possession for the release of the hostages. Perhaps unsavory, but with the president’s authority government officials can bargain with representatives of other nations. However, it is treason for citizens to do so.

Reagan won the election and when he took the oath of office, the Iranians released the hostages. Reagan lifted the embargo so that Israel could ship weapons to Iran, a “state supporter of terrorism.” The US replaced the Israeli weapons. Retired General Yehoshua Saguy, head of Israeli military intelligence in 1980, said Prime Minister Menachem Begin claimed US approval for Israel’s secret weapons shipments to Iran but that the approval had not come from Carter, who had angrily objected to the shipments.

Although US media often refer to 1986 as the beginning of the US arms to terrorists program, in March-April 1981, airplanes carried US military equipment from Israel to Iran. In a PBS interview, Nicholas Veliotes, Reagan’s assistant secretary of state for the Middle East, said he first discovered the secret arms pipeline to Iran when an Israeli weapons flight was shot down over the Soviet Union, July 18, 1981, on its third mission to deliver US military supplies from Israel to Iran. “And it was clear to me after my conversations with people on high that indeed we had agreed that the Israelis could transship to Iran some American-origin military equipment…I believe it was the initiative of a few people (who) gave the Israelis the go-ahead. The net result was a violation of American law.

“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…between Israelis and these new players.”

Iran’s acting Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh told Agence France- Presse (AFP) Sept. 6, 1980 that he had information that Reagan was “trying to block a solution” to the hostage impasse. Sept. 16, Ghotbzadeh was quoted, “Reagan, supported by Kissinger and others, has no intention of resolving the problem. They will do everything in their power to block it.”

October 1980, Frontline reported that according to French intelligence Salem bin Laden, Osama’s oldest brother, was one of the two closest friends of Saudi King Fahd and often performed important missions for him. The French report speculated that he was involved in secret Paris meetings between US and Iranian emissaries this month. Later Frontline noted that the meetings had never been confirmed but that some speculated that in these meetings Bush1 negotiated a delay to the release of the US hostages in Iran. If the French report was correct, it pointed to highly illegal behavior between the Bush and bin Laden families.

In May 1982, Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon told the Washington Post that US officials had approved the Iranian arms transfers. 1983, Specialists from Lockheed went to Iran on English passports to repair airplanes the US had sold to Iran. By 1985, weapons were sent by airplane and ships, including anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles.

When the Iran/contra crime was discovered in 1986, special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh suspected that the arms-for-hostage program began in 1980, since Reagan sold arms to Iran when they held hostages and when they didn’t. Investigators took a polygraph of Bush1’s national security adviser Donald Gregg. “Were you ever involved in a plan to delay the release of the hostages in Iran until after the 1980 Presidential election?” Gregg’s denial was judged to be deceptive.

Robert Parry reported that according to FBI wiretaps on Sept. 23, 1980, two men from Houston placed phone calls to an Iranian banker, Cyrus Hashemi. They informed Hashemi that a “a Greek ship captain” would deliver a $3 million deposit from Beirut to Hashemi’s offshore bank. One of the Texans, Harrel Tillman, was a 30-year friend of Bush1. Hashemi was acting as a principal intermediary for Carter’s efforts to free the hostages. Tillman also was a consultant to Iran’s radical Islamic government.

According to his brother’s sworn testimony, Hashemi arranged a secret meeting in Madrid between William Casey, chair of the Reagan election campaign, later to be Reagan’s Director of the CIA, and a radical Iranian mullah, Mehdi Karrubi, July 1980, to open a back-channel to Iran and disrupt Carter’s hostage negotiations. In mid-October 1980, while Hashemi pretended to help Carter resolve the hostage crisis, he worked with Republicans lining up arms shipments to Iran, including parts for helicopter gunships and night-vision goggles for pilots.

On Oct. 22, 1980, the FBI taped Hashemi’s wife scolding him about his double-dealing. Iran’s former Defense Minister, Ahmed Madani, testified

that he had chastised Hashemi for collaborating with the Republicans behind Carter’s back. “We are not here to play politics,” Madani testified that he told Hashemi. Oct. 23, Casey’s business associate John Shaheen used a bugged phone in Hashemi’s office to discuss developments in Carter’s hostage negotiations, keeping Casey informed about Carter’s strategies. When evidence of illegal arms trafficking by Hashemi went to a grand jury, May 1984, the Justice Department tipped off Hashemi, allowing him to cancel a flight to the US.

Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe said he was in Paris as part of a six-member Israeli delegation that was coordinating the arms deliveries to Iran. He said the key meeting had occurred at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. In his memoirs, Profits of War, Ben-Menashe wrote that he recognized several Americans, Republican congressional aide Robert McFarlane, CIA officers Robert Gates, Donald Gregg and George Cave, former CIA director George Bush and William Casey meeting with Iranian cleric Mehdi Karrubi.

Ben-Menashe said the meetings finalized a previous agreement to release the 52 hostages in exchange for $52 million, guarantees of arms sales for Iran, and unfreezing of Iranian funds in US banks. The hostage release was to coincide with Reagan’s expected inauguration. Heinrich Rupp testified that he flew Casey from Washington to Paris in mid-October.

French investigative reporter Claude Angeli said the French secret service confirmed that they had provided “cover” for a meeting between Republicans and Iranians in France on the weekend of Oct. 18-19, 1980. German journalist Martin Kilian heard the same from French chief of intelligence Alexandre deMarenches. David Andelman, deMarenches’s biographer, testified that deMarenches said he had helped the Reagan campaign meet with Iranians about the hostage issue in the summer and fall of 1980 but would not permit the story in his biography because it could damage the reputation of his friends, Casey and Bush.

1987, Iran’s ex-President Bani-Sadr made similar claims about a Paris meeting between Republicans and Iranians. In a letter to Congress, Dec. 17, 1992, he said he knew of the Republican hostage offer in July 1980 when a nephew of supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini returned from a meeting with Hashemi, who had close ties to William Casey, and his business associate, John Shaheen. Bani-Sadr said the Republicans were in league with pro-Republican elements of the CIA in an effort to undermine Carter and wanted Iran’s help. Bani-Sadr said he resisted the GOP scheme, but the deal was accepted by the hard-line Khomeini faction. In addition to Bani-Sadr, Foreign Minister Sadeq Ghotzbadeh and Defense Minister Ahmed Madani had noted the meeting in official records.

David Henderson, a State Department Foreign Service officer, said he heard about the Paris trip when a Chicago Tribune reporter said he had just been told by a well-placed Republican source that Bush was flying to Paris for a clandestine meeting with a delegation of Iranians about the hostages.

The House October Surprise Task Force pondered what would happen if they confirmed the treachery of two more Republican presidents and two CIA directors. Would citizens lose their faith in government? Would it destroy one of the two political parties? What would media blowback be? What would Republican retaliation be? While wrapping up the investigation they received a requested report from post Soviet Union Russia.

According to Russian intelligence, “On the supply of American arms to Iran according to available information, the Chairman of the R. Reagan election campaign, William Casey, in 1980 met three times with representatives of the Iranian leadership…At the meeting in Paris in October 1980, in addition to Casey, R. Gates, at that time a staffer of the National Security Council in the administration for Jimmy Carter, and former CIA Director George Bush also took part. In Madrid and Paris, the representatives of Ronald Reagan and the Iranian leadership discussed the question of possibly delaying the release of 52 hostages…until after the elections that took place in November 1980. In exchange for this, the American representatives promised to supply arms to Iran.”

The task force agreed to ignore the Russian report that concluded that Reagan had offered more to hold the hostages than Carter did to release them, and other information still being received. January 1993, the task force concluded that “no credible evidence” existed to support allegations of Republican treachery. They were unable to explain an eight-day gap on one FBI tape or why eleven other tapes were blank. They made no effort to explain why none of the witnesses was credible. In the event of later disclosures or if complaints arose about selective omission of evidence, Task force chief counsel E. Lawrence Barcella suggested as a trap door, “This report does not and could not reflect every single lead that was investigated, every single phone call that was made, every single contact that was established…the task force did not resolve every single one of the scores of… question marks that have been raised over the years.” Barcella was a law partner of Paul Laxalt, part of the Reagan-Bush campaign.

In a 1993 press conference former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said he had read Gary Sick’s book, October Surprise, about Republican disruption of the negotiations to free the hostages. Someone asked, “Was there an October Surprise?” “Of course, it was,” Shamir responded.

Yasir Arafat told reporter Richard Fricker that senior Republicans had traveled to Beirut in 1980 seeking avenues to the Iranian leadership. In 1996, during a meeting in Gaza, Arafat told Carter, “You should know that in 1980 the Republicans approached me with an arms deal if I could arrange to keep the hostages in Iran until after the elections.” Arafat’s spokesman, Bassam Abu Sharif, said, “The offer was, ‘if you block the release of hostages, then the White House would be open for the PLO.’ I guess the same offer was given to others, and I believe that some accepted to do it and managed to block the release of hostages.”

Jamshid Hashemi’s reaction to the Task Force report was, “Rubbish, that’s what I think. Just a whitewash of the whole situation. It’s a cover-up.” In a 1997 interview with The Consortium, Hashemi repeated that he and his brother were in meetings with Casey and representatives of Ayatollah Khomeini. He had testified to the task force because “I thought it was my duty that the people in the United States should know. They…should be the judge of it.”

Others thought the people shouldn’t know. On his first day in office, Bush2’s counsel Alberto Gonzales drafted an executive order for Bush postponing release of the Reagan-Bush records.