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11.15  The long read:  The plastic backlash: what's behind our sudden rage – and will it make a difference? [the world wants to throw-up...]

11.15 Claws out: crab fishermen sue 30 oil firms over climate change [workers are waking-up...]

11.15 Trump administration to cut air pollution from heavy-duty trucks

11.14 Backed by Ocasio-Cortez, Youth Climate Activists Arrested in Pelosi's Office Demanding Democrats Embrace 'Green New Deal'

11.13 What would a smog-free city look like?

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11.13 Interior department whistleblower: Ryan Zinke hollowed out the agency

11.12  This Land is Your Land:  The Zinke effect: how the US interior department became a tool of industry [behaving ignorantly again...]

11.12 Planned Parenthood's new president warns of 'state of emergency' for women's health

11.11 Trump responds to worst fires in California’s history by threatening to withhold federal aid [behaving ignorantly again...]

11.11 Interior department sued for ‘secretive process’ in at-risk species assessment [behaving ignorantly again...]

11.11 Keystone XL pipeline: judge rules government 'jumped the gun' and orders halt [behaving ignorantly again...]

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11.17 As Energy for Medicare for All Explodes, Steny Hoyer's Plan Includes Waiting for Trump to Help Make Obamacare Better [Another who is unfit to be Democrat leader]

11.17 'A Staggeringly Bad Idea': Outrage as Pelosi Pushes Tax Rule That Would 'Kneecap the Progressive Agenda' [Unfit to be Democrat leader]

11.17 Trump Is Starting to Panic

11.16 As 'Green New Deal' Demand Grows, Democrats Have Choice: Confront and Defeat Fossil Fuel Industry or Take Credit for 'Doomed' Planet [Two choices: Save life-on-Earth or help Republicans let it die?]

11.16 Trump’s latest interview shows a president who’s in way over his head

11.16 Why the political fight in Georgia is far from over

11.16 Florida judge sides with Democrats, giving thousands a second chance to fix their ballots

11.15 Democrats Won Big. Can They Go Bold, Too? [it's about suppressing the influence and leadership by Republican-like Democrats who counsel 'íncremental' (no) change, such as Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Shumer and Joe Biden]

11.15 Pentagon Officials Forced to Make Fewer Public Appearances to Avoid Provoking Trump [...by revealing Trump's huuuge ignorance]

11.15 REPUBLICANS USED A BILL ABOUT WOLVES TO AVOID A VOTE ON YEMEN WAR [if there are 'defense industry' profits to be made—including congress-critter insider-trading—and political 'donations' to be had, we mustn't stop killing innocent civilians!]

11.15 Big Oil v the planet is the fight of our lives. Democrats must choose a side

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11.16 Amazon’s HQ2 Will Get a Tax Break Designed to Help the Poor [a Republican program that directly helps participating wealthy companies—but only helps workers if and when 'trickle-down' occurs.]

11.16 Trump doesn’t want to punish Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi. His new sanctions prove it. [George W. Bush made a similar immoral decision for the same oily reasons after 9-11, protecting Saudi defense contracts while facilitating the slaughter of poorer Arab "terrorists" in the region.]

11.15 The Earth is in a death spiral. It will take radical action to save us [fossil fuel burning, un-recyclable plastic production/use and methane gas release must cease ASAP.]

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11.17 Saudi crown prince's 'fit' delays UN resolution on war in Yemen

11.17 Thousands gather to block London bridges in climate rebellion [We're losing WWIII because the enemy is invisible while we're like frogs slowly cooking. We aren't informed enough to be alarmed, but must get organized and motivated to fight back. We need a War Plan to ruthlessly pursue the fight of our lives!]

11.17 Policies of China, Russia and Canada threaten 5C climate change, study finds [Climate catastrophe is increasingly likely without worldwide organization, funding and commitment to winning THE WAR AGAINST GLOBAL WARMING.]

11.17 CIA finds Saudi crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi killing – report

11.15 Cuba to pull doctors out of Brazil after President-elect Bolsonaro comments [terms must be negotiated for fairness to Cuba's health professionals without disruption of healthcare for Brazil's poor]

11.14 'Appalling' Khashoggi audio shocked Saudi intelligence – Erdogan [Exposing a psychopath?]

11.14 Israel and Hamas launch hundreds of attacks in Gaza clash

11.14 Mueller seeking more details on Nigel Farage, key Russia inquiry target says

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  Who to Trust on a Truth Commission?
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9/11 COMMISSION REDUX:

Who to Trust on a Truth Commission?

by Robert Parry
Originally published 25 June 2009

While a truth commission to examine the crimes of the Bush administration has a certain appeal – especially if there’s not going to be a tough special prosecutor bringing criminal charges – there still would be the issue of who could fill the job of getting at the truth.

That's because over the past three decades, the Washington media/political establishment has shown itself stunningly inept at conducting serious inquiries that can penetrate even the most implausible cover stories if a probe’s target has influential friends in high places.

Instead, investigations into difficult questions have usually settled for politically convenient half-answers, especially when the Democratic love of bipartisanship confronts Republican anger over holding accountable someone like Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Dick Cheney or George W. Bush.

The key staffing problem is that pretty much all the Wise Men and Wise Women of Washington have seen their reputations thrive in the hot house of intellectual corruption that has dominated the capital for the last 30 years -- and thus they are hopelessly compromised.

Take, for instance, CIA Director Leon Panetta’s musings to New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer about a possible truth commission and what could make such a panel acceptable.

“I’m not big on commissions,” Panetta told Mayer. “On the other hand, I could see that it might make some sense, frankly, to appoint a high-level commission, with somebody like Sandra Day O’Connor, Lee Hamilton — people like that.”

It is because of people like retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a Republican, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat – that the United States is in the mess it’s in today.

Yet it is because of people like that – retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a Republican, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat – that the United States is in the mess it’s in today.

Both O'Connor and Hamilton have faced tough political choices in their careers and opted for what was then regarded as the safe path – which it may have been for them although the United States and the world suffered grievously from their failures of courage and foresight.

O’Connor famously twisted legal logic in December 2000 to justify overriding the electoral judgment of the American people nationwide and denying the voters of Florida an honest counting of their ballots to achieve the partisan goal of putting George W. Bush in the White House. [For details, see our book Neck Deep or Consortiumnews.com’s “A Time Machine to Save America.”]

GOP Go-to Guy

Meanwhile, Hamilton has been the go-to guy for the Republicans whenever they want a Democrat who won’t push too hard to shatter a fragile cover-up. He is a master of conducting investigations not in pursuit of truth but in a quest for a politically acceptable solution.

My first dealings with a Hamilton investigation came in August 1986 when he was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and it fell to him to investigate allegations that I had reported for the Associated Press about White House aide Oliver North providing secret support for the Nicaraguan contra rebels.

Hamilton led a delegation of committee members (including then-Rep. Dick Cheney) down to the White House Situation Room where North and his boss John Poindexter were asked about the allegations. Their emphatic denials were accepted as true, and Hamilton joined with other committee members in agreeing to conduct no deeper investigation.

The bipartisan decision pleased many people in Washington – though not me and a few others who had worked hard to expose North’s clandestine network.

Thanks to Hamilton, North and his team almost escaped unharmed, except that one of their last supply planes was shot down over Nicaragua on Oct. 5, 1986, and one survivor, Eugene Hasenfus, pointed the finger at the White House and especially the office of Vice President Bush. A month later, the Iran arms sales side of the Iran-Contra scandal surfaced in a Lebanese newspaper.

Soon, the “wise” heads of Washington were put together to figure out how to finesse this unseemly scandal of high-level arms trafficking, money-laundering, law-breaking, lying and indirect negotiations with terrorists. Lee Hamilton was again tapped to run the House side of the Iran-Contra probe and again was desperately seeking a bipartisan consensus.

Though Hamilton received high marks for his high-toned lectures about the rule of law to Oliver North, behind the scenes Hamilton was making sure that the investigation didn’t go too far up the ladder and implicate President Reagan and Vice President Bush in the dirtiest aspects of the scandal.

Hamilton diverted the probe away from how the Reagan administration countenanced drug traffickers in the contra operation and how neoconservatives under Reagan had conducted what amounted to a domestic covert propaganda operation to manage the "perceptions" of the American public about the contras. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]

To get a veneer of bipartisanship, Hamilton toned down the final report, going especially softly on Reagan and Bush. Also with ill-advised grants of immunity, Hamilton gummed up subsequent prosecutions of North and Poindexter, allowing right-wing justices on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington to cite the congressional immunity as the reason to throw out the convictions.

Ironically, it would an 80-year-old patrician Republican – special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh – who would make the most progress in achieving some measure of accountability for the Iran-Contra scandal by breaking through what Walsh called a White House “firewall” that Hamilton had failed to detect.

Walsh indicted Reagan’s Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger for concealing key evidence about the Iranian arms sales. Walsh also showed that Secretary of State George Shultz, who had wowed Hamilton’s committee with the words “trust is the coin of the realm,” had then proceeded to lie to the Congress (although Shultz was not indicted).

The October Surprise Opening

Walsh’s investigators reached a tentative conclusion, too, that the Iran-Contra arms sales, which occurred in 1985-86, may have had an antecedent in earlier arms shipments related to the so-called October Surprise case in which the Reagan-Bush campaign allegedly went behind President Jimmy Carter’s back in 1980 to sabotage his negotiations with Iran about freeing 52 U.S. hostages then held in Iran.

Those suspicions led Walsh’s investigators to polygraph former CIA officer Donald Gregg, who worked as Vice President Bush’s national security adviser in the 1980s. In 1990, an FBI polygraph examiner deemed Gregg deceptive when he answered no to the question: “Were you ever involved in a plan to delay the release of the hostages in Iran until after the 1980 Presidential election?” [See the Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters, Vol. I, 501]

Yet when the House of Representatives finally got around to investigating the October Surprise allegations in 1991, it was again Lee Hamilton who was put in charge, and the new investigation followed Hamilton’s trademark pattern of seeking answers that wouldn’t upset the Republicans.

Hamilton even gave the Republicans effective veto power over Democratic staff, when he let Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Illinois, block the appointment of House International Affairs Committee chief counsel Spencer Oliver as one of the investigators, apparently because Oliver believed that the October Surprise charges might well be true.

Under the Hamilton-Hyde leadership, the “investigation” turned into a determined effort to disprove the allegations raised by Iranian, Israeli, American and European officials and intelligence operatives. The debunking largely focused on the creation of alibis to cover the whereabouts of George H.W. Bush and Reagan’s campaign chief William Casey on key dates.

Although those alibis turned out to be flawed or clearly bogus, they carried the day throughout most of the year-long probe. When one false alibi for Casey’s whereabouts over a crucial weekend in late July 1980 collapsed in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Hamilton’s task force simply concocted a new equally false alibi. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Where’s Bill Casey?” or Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege for details.]

Avoiding the Truth

Hamilton’s commitment to avoid painful truths proved crucial for the October Surprise cover-up in December 1992 as his task force was completing its inquiry with a strong determination to see no Republican wrongdoing.

However, just a month after Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush for the presidency, the dam that had held back the 12-year-old secrets finally gave way. The task force suddenly found itself inundated by a flood of new evidence of Republican guilt.

Task force chief counsel Lawrence Barcella, who had been onboard for the debunking, was stunned by the late surge of new evidence. He concluded that it couldn’t be ignored and that it justified extending the investigation at least a few more months.

Years later, Barcella told me that he recommended a three-month extension to Hamilton, but the Indiana Democrat rejected the idea of taking the extra time to check out the new evidence. Hamilton told Barcella to wrap up the inquiry with the previous conclusion of Republican innocence.

So, the House October Surprise task force turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to the late-arriving evidence. Still, Barcella was not entirely comfortable. On Dec. 8, 1992, he instructed his deputies “to put some language in, as a trap door” in case later disclosures disproved the report’s conclusions.

“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,” Barcella suggested as “trap door” wording. “Similarly, the Task Force did not resolve every single one of the scores of ‘curiosities,’ ‘coincidences,’ sub-allegations or question marks that have been raised over the years and become part of the October Surprise story.”

But some of the information that would arrive during the investigation’s final month would deal not just with “curiosities,” but with central questions behind the mystery of why the American hostages remained captive through Election 1980 and were freed immediately after Reagan and Bush were sworn in on Jan. 20, 1981.

On Dec. 17, 1992, former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr sent the task force a letter describing the internal battles of the Iranian government over the Republican intervention in the 1980 hostage crisis. Bani-Sadr recounted how he threatened to expose the secret deal between Reagan-Bush campaign officials and Islamic radicals close to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini if it weren’t stopped.

Bani-Sadr said he first learned of the Republican “secret deal” with Iranian radicals in July 1980 after Reza Passendideh, a nephew of Ayatollah Khomeini, attended a meeting with Iranian financier Cyrus Hashemi and Republican lawyer Stanley Pottinger in Madrid on July 2, 1980.

Though Passendideh was expected to return with a proposal from the Carter administration, Bani-Sadr said Passendideh instead carried a plan “from the Reagan camp.”

“Passendideh told me that if I do not accept this proposal, they [the Republicans] would make the same offer to my [radical Iranian] rivals. He further said that they [the Republicans] have enormous influence in the CIA,” Bani-Sadr wrote. “Lastly, he told me my refusal of their offer would result in my elimination.”

Bani-Sadr said he resisted the threats and sought an immediate release of the American hostages, but it was clear to him that the wily Khomeini was playing both sides of the U.S. political street.

This secret Republican plan to block release of the hostages until after the U.S. elections remained a point of tension between Bani-Sadr and Khomeini, according to Bani-Sadr’s letter. Bani-Sadr said his trump card was a threat to tell the Iranian people about the secret deal that the Khomeini forces had struck with the Republicans.

“On Sept. 8, 1980, I invited the people of Teheran to gather in Martyrs Square so that I can tell them the truth,” Bani-Sadr wrote. “Khomeini insisted that I must not do so at this time. ... Two days later, again, I decided to expose everything. Ahmad Khomeini [the ayatollah’s son] came to see me and told me, ‘Imam [Khomeini] absolutely promises’” to reopen talks with Carter if Bani-Sadr would relent and not go public.

Bani-Sadr said the dispute led Khomeini to pass on a new hostage proposal to the U.S. government through his son-in-law, Sadegh Tabatabai. Though Tabatabai did deliver a new peace plan to U.S. officials in West Germany, the initiative unraveled when Iraq’s Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in mid-September 1980.

Meanwhile, high-level contacts between Republicans and Khomeini representatives allegedly continued, often using Israeli and European intelligence operatives as intermediaries. On the outs with Khomeini, Bani-Sadr saw his political position deteriorate and he was soon forced to flee into exile.

Corroborating Evidence

Bani-Sadr’s detailed account meshed with previous statements made by two other senior Iranian officials, former Defense Minister Ahmad Madani and the acting Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh.

Madani had lost to Bani-Sadr in the 1980 presidential race despite covert CIA assistance funneled to his campaign through Cyrus Hashemi. Madani also discovered that Hashemi was double-dealing with the Republicans.

In an interview with me for PBS Frontline in the early 1990s, Madani said Hashemi brought up the name of Reagan’s campaign chief William Casey in connection with these back-channel negotiations over the U.S. hostages. Madani said Hashemi had urged Madani to meet with Casey, earning a rebuke from Madani that “we are not here to play politics.”

Ghotbzadeh made his comments about the Republican interference contemporaneously to the events, telling Agence France Press on Sept. 6, 1980, that he had information that Reagan was “trying to block a solution” to the hostage impasse. (Ghotbzadeh was later executed by Iranian hardliners.)

Despite Bani-Sadr’s claims of first-hand knowledge and these corroborating statements by two other senior Iranian officials, the House task force dismissed Bani-Sadr’s account as “hearsay” that lacked probative value.

Soon, however, there was more evidence to explain away. On Dec. 18, 1992, a day after Bani-Sadr’s letter, David Andelman, the biographer of French intelligence chief Alexandre deMarenches, gave sworn testimony to the task force about the Republican-Iranian contacts.

Andelman, an ex-New York Times and CBS News correspondent, said that while he was writing deMarenches’s memoir, the arch-conservative spymaster admitted arranging meetings between Republicans and Iranians about the hostage issue in the summer and fall of 1980, with one meeting held in Paris in October.

Andelman said deMarenches ordered that the secret meetings be kept out of his memoir because the story could damage the reputation of his friends, William Casey and George H.W. Bush. At the time of Andelman’s work on the book, Bush was running for re-election as President of the United States.

Andelman’s testimony corroborated longstanding claims from a variety of international intelligence operatives about a Paris meeting involving Casey and Bush. But the task force brushed this testimony aside, too, paradoxically terming it “credible” but then claiming it was “insufficiently probative.”

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

Bush-to-Paris

Besides corroborative testimony from intelligence operatives, including Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe, the task force also was aware of contemporaneous knowledge of the alleged Bush-to-Paris trip by Chicago Tribune reporter John Maclean.

Maclean, the son of author Norman Maclean who wrote A River Runs Through It, said a well-placed Republican source told him in mid-October 1980 about Bush’s secret trip to Paris to meet with Iranians on the U.S. hostage issue. Maclean passed on that information to David Henderson, a State Department Foreign Service officer. Henderson recalled the date as Oct. 18, 1980.

For his part, Maclean never wrote about the Bush-to-Paris leak because, he told me later, a Reagan-Bush campaign spokesman subsequently denied it. As the years passed, the memory of the leak faded for both Henderson and Maclean, until the October Surprise allegations bubbled to the surface again in the early 1990s.

Henderson mentioned the meeting in a 1991 letter to a U.S. senator that was forwarded to me while I was working for PBS Frontline. Though not eager to become part of the October Surprise story, Maclean confirmed that he had received the Republican leak. He also agreed with Henderson’s recollection that their conversation occurred on or about Oct. 18, 1980. But Maclean declined to identify his source.

The significance of the Maclean-Henderson conversation was that it was a piece of information locked in a kind of historical amber, untainted by subsequent claims by intelligence operatives whose credibility had been challenged.

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 when approached by Frontline and even then wasn’t eager to talk about it.

State of Denial

In December 1992, despite the mounting evidence that the Republicans indeed had made secret contacts with Iranian radicals in 1980, the task force continued under Hamilton’s orders not to rethink its conclusions or to extend the investigation.

Meanwhile, the incriminating evidence kept on coming.

On Dec. 21, 1992, ex-CIA officer Charles Cogan recounted a remark in early 1981 from banker David Rockefeller’s aide Joseph Reed to then-CIA Director William Casey about their success in blocking Carter’s “October Surprise.”

Reed had been Rockefeller’s point man in helping the Shah of Iran after his 1979 ouster, which led the Khomeini regime to seek the withdrawal of billions of dollars from the Shah’s accounts at Rockefeller’s Chase Manhattan Bank.

But the Iranian hostage crisis worked to the bank’s advantage because the U.S. government – as retaliation for the hostage-taking – froze those accounts. If the crisis were resolved quickly and the money suddenly unfrozen, Chase Manhattan’s financial viability would have been put in doubt.

After Reagan and Bush took office – and the Chase accounts remained frozen – Reed was appointed ambassador to Morocco, which led him to visit Casey at CIA headquarters, as Cogan lingered at the door to Casey’s office.

“Joseph Reed said, ‘we’ and then the verb [and then] something about Carter’s October Surprise,” Cogan testified in a “secret” deposition. “The implication was we did something about Carter’s October Surprise.”

Task force investigators understood the full quote to have been, “We fucked Carter’s October Surprise,” a claim that was at the heart of what the task force was assigned to investigate. But the task force left Cogan’s recollection out of its report altogether.

Selective Judgments

The pattern of the task force’s selective judgments began to grate on some of the Democratic congressmen assigned to the investigation.

Though the October Surprise allegations supposedly were a myth, the information developed by the task force staff was kept under tight secrecy. Congressmen were only allowed to review the evidence in a secure room under guard.

The restrictions meant that many members were forced to rely on the task force staff that had been assembled largely by excluding anyone who thought the allegations might actually be true. Some had other conflicts of interest tilting them toward the prescribed debunking conclusion.

For instance, Barcella’s deputy, Michael Zeldin, was a personal friend of Steven Emerson, a writer with close ties to Israel’s Likud – whose leaders allegedly played a key role in the October Surprise maneuverings and stood to be exposed as having helped unseat an American President (Carter).

Emerson had written an influential October Surprise debunking article for The New Republic based on a Casey alibi that turned out to be false. Still, House investigators told me that Emerson frequently visited the task force’s offices and advised Zeldin and others how to read the October Surprise evidence.

On Jan. 3, 1993, Congressman Mervyn Dymally, a California Democrat and task force member who was retiring from Congress, submitted a dissent to the impending task force report, complaining about selective handling of evidence to clear the Reagan-Bush campaign.

In reviewing the task force report, Dymally’s staff aide, Marwan Burgan, had spotted some of the report’s absurd alibis, including the claim that because someone wrote down Casey’s home phone number on one day that proved Casey was home, or that because a plane flew from San Francisco directly to London on another important date that Casey must have been onboard.

Sources who saw Dymally’s dissent said it argued that “just because phones ring and planes fly doesn’t mean that someone is there to answer the phone or is on the plane.” But Dymally’s reasonable observations were fiercely opposed by Barcella, who enlisted task force chairman, Lee Hamilton, to pressure Dymally into withdrawing the dissent.

Dymally told me that the day his dissent was submitted, he received a call from Hamilton warning him that if the dissent was not withdrawn, “I will have to come down hard on you.”

The next day, Hamilton, who was becoming chairman of the House International Affairs Committee, fired the staff of the Africa subcommittee that Dymally had headed. The firings were billed as routine, and Hamilton told me that “the two things came along at the same time, but they were not connected in my mind.”

Hamilton said his warning to Dymally referred to a toughly worded response that Hamilton would have fired off at Dymally if the dissent had stood. However, hoping to salvage his staff's jobs, Dymally agreed to withdraw the dissent.

Russian Complication

So the House task force’s report was shipped off to the printers with its conclusion that there was “no credible evidence” of Republican double-dealing with Iran over the 52 U.S. hostages in 1980.

The report was scheduled for release on Jan. 13, 1993, just one week before George H.W. Bush’s Presidency officially would come to an end. But there was still one more surprise for the October Surprise Task Force.

On Jan. 11, 1993, Hamilton received a response to a query he had sent to the Russian government on Oct. 21, 1992, requesting any information that Moscow might have about the October Surprise case.

The Russian response came from Sergey V. Stepashin, chairman of the Supreme Soviet’s Committee on Defense and Security Issues, a job roughly equivalent to chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

In what may have been an unprecedented act of cooperation between the two longtime enemies, Stepashin provided a summary of what Russian intelligence files showed about the October Surprise charges and other secret U.S. dealings with Iran.

In the 1980s, after all, the Soviet KGB was not without its sources on a topic as important to Moscow as developments in neighboring Iran. The KGB had penetrated or maintained close relations with many of the intelligence services linked to the October Surprise allegations, including those of France, Spain, Germany, Iran and Israel.

History has shown, too, that the KGB had spies inside the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies. So, Soviet intelligence certainly was in a position to know a great deal about what had or had not happened in 1980.

The Supreme Soviet’s response was delivered to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow by Nikolay Kuznetsov, secretary of the subcommittee on state security. Kuznetsov apologized for the “lengthy preparation of the response.” It was quickly translated by the U.S. embassy and forwarded to Hamilton.

To the shock of the task force, the six-page Russian report stated, as fact, that Casey, Bush, CIA officials and other Republicans had met secretly with Iranian officials in Europe during the 1980 presidential campaign.

The Russians depicted the hostage negotiations that year as a two-way competition between the Carter White House and the Reagan-Bush campaign to outbid one another for the cooperation of Iran’s government regarding the hostage crisis.

Contradicting Hamilton

The Russians asserted that the Reagan-Bush team indeed had disrupted Carter’s hostage negotiations, the exact opposite of Hamilton’s conclusion.

As described by the Russians, the Carter administration offered the Iranians supplies of arms and unfreezing of assets for a pre-election release of the hostages. The Iranians “discussed a possible step-by-step normalization of Iranian-American relations [and] the provision of support for President Carter in the election campaign via the release of American hostages,” the report said.

But the Republicans were making their own overtures to the Iranians, the Russian report said. “William Casey, in 1980, met three times with representatives of the Iranian leadership,” the report said. “The meetings took place in Madrid and Paris.”

At the Paris meeting in October 1980, “R[obert] Gates, at that time a staffer of the National Security Council in the administration of Jimmy Carter and former CIA Director George Bush also took part,” the Russian report said. “In Madrid and Paris, the representatives of Ronald Reagan and the Iranian leadership discussed the question of possibly delaying the release of 52 hostages from the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Teheran.” [Gates is now Defense Secretary.]

Both the Reagan-Bush Republicans and the Carter Democrats “started from the proposition that Imam Khomeini, having announced a policy of ‘neither the West nor the East,’ and cursing the ‘American devil,’ imperialism and Zionism, was forced to acquire American weapons, spares and military supplies by any and all possible means,” the Russian report said. The Republicans just won the bidding war.

”After the victory of R. Reagan in the election, in early 1981, a secret agreement was reached in London in accord with which Iran released the American hostages, and the U.S. continued to supply arms, spares and military supplies for the Iranian army,” the Russian report continued.

The deliveries were carried out by Israel, often through private arms dealers, the Russian report said. Spares for F-14 fighters and other military equipment went to Iran from Israel in March-April 1981 and the arms pipeline kept flowing into the mid-1980s.

”Through the Israeli conduit, Iran in 1983 bought surface-to-surface missiles of the ‘Lance’ class plus artillery of a total value of $135 million,” the Russian report said. “In July 1983, a group of specialists from the firm, Lockheed, went to Iran on English passports to repair the navigation systems and other electronic components on American-produced planes.”

In 1985, the weapons tap opened wider, into the Iran-Contra shipments.

The matter-of-fact Russian report was stunning. It also matched other information the task force had. For example, the task force had discovered that the Israelis had shipped U.S. military spares to Iran in 1981, with the secret acquiescence of senior Reagan-Bush administration officials.

Hamilton's Quandary

Hamilton faced a quandary about what to do with the explosive Russian report, which – if accurate – made the task force report, which was then at the printers, not worth the paper it was being printed on.

Reputations, including Hamilton’s, could have been severely damaged. During his days as House Intelligence Committee chairman in the mid-1980s, Hamilton had come under criticism for dismissing early evidence about Oliver North’s secret contra-supply operations and getting blindsided by the covert military shipments to Iran in 1985-86.

If Hamilton had to renounce his own October Surprise report, he might have been left looking like the Republicans’ favorite chump. He might not have built a glittering post-congressional career as a well-regarded senior statesman invited to sit on important panels like the 9/11 Commission and later a task force with former Secretary of State James Baker to recommend future strategy in the Iraq War.

So, in January 1993, Hamilton decided to bury the Russian report.

“We got the stuff from the Russians just a few days before” the task force’s own report was set for release, Barcella told me in an interview in 2004. “We weren’t going to be able to look into it, whether it was new information, disinformation or whatever it was.”

When I asked him why he and Hamilton didn’t just release the Russian report along with the task force report, Barcella responded that the Russian report was classified, precluding its disclosure to the public. Hamilton was in a strong position to get it declassified, but he chose not to.

So the extraordinary Russian report was simply boxed up and filed away with other unpublished information that the task force had collected. Barcella said he envisioned the material ending up in some vast warehouse, “like in the movie ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.’”

Actually, the Russian report found an even less elegant resting place. In late 1994, I discovered the documents, including the Russian report, in boxes that had been piled up in a former Ladies Room being used for storage in an obscure office off the Rayburn House Office Building’s parking garage. [To examine the key “Ladies Room” documents, click here.]

While woeful in terms of penetrating official lies in pursuit of truth, Hamilton parlayed his performance as a congressional investigator into the esteemed status of a Washington’s Wise Man. He was a natural choice for the 9/11 Commission and the Iraq Study Group, someone who would do all he could to avoid ruffling the feathers of prickly Republicans.

CIA Director Leon Panetta now gazes toward the respected figure of Lee Hamilton as the kind of person who could be trusted to head a truth commission on the crimes of George W. Bush’s administration.

In doing so, Panetta unwittingly confirms why so many accountability advocates favor an independent special prosecutor – and don’t trust Washington insiders to investigate their own.


Robert ParryRobert 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.

This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



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This story was published on June 26, 2009.

 

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