Lawrence Barcella, who was chief counsel of the October Surprise investigation, has accused me of lying about him when I wrote that he decided to “hide” a report from the Russian government that contradicted his conclusion of “no credible evidence” that Ronald Reagan’s campaign sabotaged President Jimmy Carter’s attempts to free 52 Americans held hostage in Iran in 1980.
In a recent e-mail exchange, Barcella wrote to me: "You're no longer merely cherry-picking facts and misrepresenting events, but flat out lying. I'm not going to take the time or expend the energy to go line by line over what you've spewed out the past year or so, revealing as that would be regarding your falsehoods.
“You say I simply decided to hide the Russian rpt. That's a lie.”
Yet, despite Barcella’s anger, the undisputed fact is that Barcella took no action to release the Russian Report publicly, nor did he apparently show it to any of the congressmen on the House task force assigned to investigate the October Surprise mystery.
Although the report from the Russian Duma was addressed to the task force chairman, Rep. Lee Hamilton, the Indiana Democrat told me this spring that “I don’t recall seeing it.”
After hearing that from Hamilton, I contacted Barcella who acknowledged that he didn’t “recall whether I showed [Hamilton] the Russian report or not.” In an e-mail last Friday, however, Barcella amended that recollection slightly stating that “I do specifically recall discussing it with Lee.”
Barcella then added that “I related to you my specific recollection of that discussion.” But the discussion that Barcella had told me about previously did not deal with the Russian Report, but about other evidence of Republican guilt that had arrived in December 1992, information that Barcella thought justified extending the investigation three more months (which didn’t happen).
By the time the Russian Report arrived on Jan. 11, 1993, the task force had completed its work. Its debunking report had been sent to the printer and was set for release two days later.
Also, Hamilton made clear to me in two interviews, including one after checking with his former staff aide Michael Van Dusen, that he had no recollection at all of the Russian Report, which one might think would have stuck in his mind since it represented possibly the first time that the two former Cold War adversaries had cooperated on a historical intelligence investigation.
Earlier this year, I also interviewed several former congressmen who had served on the task force and former staffers, none of whom had any recollection of the Russian Report. So, there is no corroborating evidence that Barcella shared the Russian Report with any of the officials responsible for the task force.
It’s also clear that the last-minute arrival of the Russian Report – and its conclusions contradicting the findings of the Barcella-led investigation – would have represented an embarrassment to the task force which had already begun briefing selected reporters on its October Surprise debunking.
On Jan. 13, 1993, the task force released its report at a news conference with Hamilton and Republican vice-chair Henry Hyde discussing the findings. At that time, Barcella made no reference to the Russian Report, nor did anyone else.
Then, as the task force was closing down its offices, the Russian Report was unceremoniously deposited in a box with other unpublished material from the investigation. Barcella later told me that he envisioned it disappearing into a vast government warehouse like the closing scene of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
However, the Russian Report and other undisclosed material that went against the task force’s findings ended up in a less grand location. The taped-up boxes were moved to some House office space that years earlier had been carved out of the Rayburn House Parking Garage and there dumped on the floor of an abandoned Ladies Room.
I had been recruited by PBS “Frontline” in 1990 to investigate the October Surprise issue – essentially whether the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostage deals of 1985-86 had a prequel in 1980 – but I turned to other topics in 1993 after the House task force finished its business.
Still, I remained troubled by some of the irrational arguments that the task force had used in its effort to debunk the allegations of the many witnesses who claimed that the Republicans had gone behind Jimmy Carter’s back in 1980 to strike their own deal with the Iranians.
For instance, one alibi for Reagan’s campaign chief William Casey was based on the fact that Reagan’s foreign policy aide Richard Allen had written down Casey’s home phone number on one key day, thus, in the view of the task force, proving that Casey was at home – even though there was no evidence that Allen had called or talked to Casey.
Another Casey alibi had relied on the uncorroborated memory of Casey’s nephew Larry that his late father had called his brother (Bill Casey) on Oct. 19, 1980, and found him at work at the campaign headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, not in Paris where other witnesses had placed Casey.
In 1992, Barcella’s investigators deemed Larry Casey’s recollection “credible,” supposedly proving that Bill Casey had not traveled to Paris. But Larry Casey’s recollection was anything but “credible.”
In 1991, a year earlier, I had interviewed Larry Casey for a “Frontline” documentary. At that point, he had offered a completely different alibi for his uncle on that date. Larry Casey insisted that he vividly remembered his parents having dinner with Bill Casey at the Jockey Club in Washington on Oct. 19, 1980.
”It was very clear in my mind even though it was 11 years ago,” Larry Casey said.
But then I showed Larry Casey the sign-in sheets for the Reagan campaign headquarters. The entries recorded Larry Casey’s parents picking up Bill Casey for the dinner on Oct. 15, four days earlier. Larry Casey acknowledged his error, and indeed an American Express receipt later confirmed Oct. 15 as the date of the Jockey Club dinner.
In 1992, however, Larry Casey testified before the House task force and offered the substitute “phone call alibi,” which he had not mentioned in the “Frontline” interview. Though I notified the House task force about this serious discrepancy, the task force was undeterred. It still used the “phone call alibi” to debunk the Paris allegations.
Then, there was the strange alibi for George H.W. Bush on the same date, Oct. 19, 1980, a supposed drive with Barbara Bush to visit a family friend in Washington. However, in 1992, then-President Bush’s Secret Service balked at identifying the friend, only agreeing to give the House task force the name if the task force agreed to keep the name secret and to not interview the alibi witness. The task force agreed to this peculiar arrangement.
So, after the Republicans swept the November 1994 elections and as the Democrats were preparing to relinquish control, I decided that the time was ripe for seeking access to the unpublished task force files. I arranged with Democratic staffers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee to let me see the records, although they imposed some restrictions such as limiting me to copying only a dozen pages per visit.
Arriving on Capitol Hill on a cold blustery December day, I followed their directions through the Rayburn parking garage and found the out-of-the-way offices. I was led through a warren of cubicles back to the Ladies Room, where the boxes of documents had been piled on the floor.
Left alone, while the staffer who was supposed to mind me talked to his girlfriend about Christmas plans, I began ripping open the boxes, which had not been examined by anyone else. While searching through one box, I found the Russian Report and the translation provided by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. The Embassy cable was classified “confidential.”
To my surprise, I also found other secret and top secret material that had apparently been left behind accidentally in the rush to complete the task force’s work. I managed to copy some of this material, though hampered by the dozen-page limit. I also returned a couple of more times, filling my dozen-page copying quota with each visit.
Except for my examination of these records in late 1994 and early 1995, it does not appear that any other journalist or scholar has taken the time to go through this material. Today, it is not even clear where these records are or whether they still exist. Earlier this year, I couldn’t get an answer from the House Foreign Affairs Committee regarding their whereabouts or accessibility.
So, I believe the use of the verb “hide” to describe Barcella’s handling of the Russian Report was fair and accurate. He certainly didn’t advertise the existence of the remarkable document, nor did he make it easy to find.
However, in an e-mail last weekend, Barcella suggested that he could have made finding the Russian Report even harder if not impossible. “Trust me Bob, if I didn't want that rpt to surface, you wouldn't have found it,” Barcella wrote.
Still, it seems pretty clear that Barcella really “didn’t want that rpt to surface.” He might reasonably have thought that sticking it in a box that would likely disappear into some government warehouse was a pretty safe way to make sure that it wouldn’t.
Except for my unlikely trip to the Ladies Room, it probably would have remained safely outside the public domain, possibly forever.
Yet, more troubling in my view than a dispute over my choice of the verb “hide” is Barcella’s continued refusal to address specific criticisms of the logic behind the task force conclusions, which he has insisted represented “meticulous” investigative work and analysis.
In one of my e-mails back to him last weekend, I wrote:
“As for the investigation, as reflected in the report, it is anything but meticulous. Indeed, many of the alibis are laughable. Surely, you don't think that Dick Allen's writing down Bill Casey's home phone number on one day is proof that Casey was at home, especially since Allen told the task force he had no memory (or record) of calling Casey that day.
“Surely, you were aware that Larry Casey was lying when he concocted another alibi for his uncle, after presenting Frontline with an entirely different (and provably false) alibi.
“Surely, as a seasoned prosecutor, you would not accept an agreement from someone who identifies an alibi witness but then forbids you to speak with the alibi witness. Even a rookie cop would laugh at that one.”
However, Barcella responded, as he has previously, rebuffing the opportunity to explain how these and other judgments could be defended.
“I told you I'm not going get into a point by point with you,” he wrote. “Time is too precious to me right now than to deal with your obsession.”
[For more on the Russian Report and recent criticisms of the House task force, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Key October Surprise Evidence Hidden” and “The Tricky October Surprise Report,” or see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege. To see the story that prompted Barcella's complaint, go to Consortiumnews.com's "To Publish Official Secrets -- or Not."]
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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This story was published on August 5, 2010.