Not to belabor a point, but some die-hard defenders of the October Surprise cover-up continue to insist that there is real evidence debunking the now overwhelming case that Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign interfered with President Jimmy Carter’s negotiations to free 52 American hostages then held in Iran.
One defender claimed in a recent blog post: “calendars, eyewitness accounts, telephone logs and credit card receipts showed that [Reagan’s campaign chief William Casey] was in the United States and London at the time of the alleged meetings” in Madrid and Paris.
But that simply isn’t true. What is true is that a series of fabricated alibis for Casey and others have come apart at the seams, starting with the initial alibi that was concocted for Casey by The New Republic and Newsweek.
In the same week in fall 1991, the two magazines touted a matching alibi for Casey for late July 1980, supposedly showing that he couldn’t have attended an alleged meeting in Madrid with a senior Iranian cleric. They put Casey at a historical conference in London on one key morning.
However, the publications – in their rush to debunk what they deemed a “conspiracy theory” – had misread the evidence and had failed to do the follow-up interviews that would have shown that their “reporting” was completely wrong. Casey had skipped the morning session.
The magazines’ alibi was so thoroughly disproven that an investigative House October Surprise Task Force, which itself was caught up in a bipartisan spirit to embrace Republican innocence, was forced to jettison that alibi, but then concocted an equally bogus one of its own, putting Casey at – of all places – the Bohemian Grove in California where rich men frolic during several weekends each summer.
The problem with that alibi was that the clear documentary evidence – including purchase receipts and contemporaneous notations – showed that Casey actually attended the Bohemian Grove on the first weekend of August 1980, not the last weekend of July.
To counter the documentary evidence, the House task force seized on the fact that Reagan’s foreign policy adviser Richard Allen had written down Casey’s home phone number on that first weekend in August, thus proving – the task force sleuths concluded – that Casey was at home that weekend and therefore must have attended the Bohemian Grove the last weekend in July.
Perhaps no single act by the House task force demonstrated its anything-goes determination to clear the Republicans whatever the evidence than this application of “logic.” The task force included this “write-down-a-home-number” alibi in its final report but concealed the fact that Allen had testified he had no recollection or record of reaching Casey at home.
To further bolster its Bohemian Grove alibi, the task force found an old flight schedule showing that there was a plane that flew directly from San Francisco to London and thus theoretically could have gotten Casey to the London conference by the time those records reveal that he actually arrived. However, there was no evidence that Casey was on that plane.
It was those two abuses of rationality that prompted Rep. Mervyn Dymally, a task force member, to submit a dissent which observed sensibly that "just because phones ring and planes fly doesn't mean that someone is there to answer the phone or is on the plane."
However, when Dymally submitted his dissent, he received a terse phone call in early January 1993 from the task force's Democratic chairman Lee Hamilton, who vowed to “come down hard on” Dymally if the dissent were not withdrawn.
The next day, Hamilton, who was becoming chairman of the House International Affairs Committee, fired the entire staff of the Africa subcommittee, which Dymally had chaired before his retirement from Congress which had just taken effect. Hoping to save the jobs of his former staffers, Dymally agreed to withdraw the dissent but still refused to put his name on the task force's conclusions.
Having shut down Dymally’s dissent, the path was clear to roll out the deceptive final report to the acclaim of Official Washington. The debunking findings were selectively leaked to friendly reporters or to others who weren’t familiar with the controversy’s intricate details.
After getting the desired knock-down stories on the morning of Jan. 13, 1993, Hamilton and Republican vice-chair Henry Hyde presided over a peculiar news conference in a House committee room.
Though the topic was the task force report, copies were kept shrink-wrapped out of the hands of reporters. In other words, the reporters weren’t allowed to see the report until after the news conference was over.
The tactic worked. Few reporters actually read the report and even fewer knew enough to spot the holes. Washington’s “conventional wisdom” quickly solidified around the judgment that the October Surprise story was a loony conspiracy theory.
Hamilton put on the finishing touches by writing an op-ed for the New York Times, entitled “Case Closed.” The article cited supposedly solid alibis for the whereabouts of William Casey as the key reason why the task force findings “should put the controversy to rest once and for all.” [NYT, Jan. 24, 1993]
Ten days later, Hyde took to the House floor to gleefully mock anyone who still doubted the October Surprise innocence of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
During his "special order" speech, the white-haired Hyde did acknowledge some weaknesses in the House task force findings and the documentary evidence. Casey's 1980 passport had disappeared, as had key pages of his calendar, Hyde admitted.
Hyde noted, too, that the chief of French intelligence, Alexandre deMarenches, had told his biographer that Casey did hold hostage talks with the Iranians in Paris in October 1980. Several French intelligence officials had corroborated that assertion.
But Hyde insisted that two solid blocks of evidence proved that the October Surprise allegations were false. Hyde said his first cornerstone was hard-rock alibis for Casey and other key suspects.
"We were able to locate [Casey's] whereabouts with virtual certainty" on the dates when he allegedly met with Iranians in Europe to discuss the hostages, Hyde declared.
For instance, Casey had been in California (at the Bohemian Grove resort) on the late July 1980 weekend of a purported meeting with Iranians in Madrid, Hyde said.
There was an alibi, too, that same weekend for the late Cyrus Hashemi, an alleged Iranian intermediary who supposedly was at the Madrid meeting. Hashemi – who had ties to the CIA, to Tehran's radical mullahs and to the corrupt Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) – was in Connecticut, Hyde said.
That supposedly disproved the allegations of Hashemi's older brother Jamshid, who testified under oath that he and Cyrus were with Casey and senior Iranian cleric Mehdi Karrubi in Madrid that weekend.
The second debunking cornerstone, Hyde said, was the absence of anything incriminating on FBI wiretaps of Cyrus Hashemi over five months in late 1980 and early 1981 when he was under suspicion for his dealings with Iran.
"There is not a single indication that William Casey had contact with Cyrus or Jamshid Hashemi," Hyde said. "Indeed, there is no indication on the tapes that Casey or any other individuals associated with the Reagan campaign had contact with any persons representing or associated with the Iranian government."
But under any careful inspection, both of Hyde's cornerstones crumbled. The alibis for Casey and others were laughably bogus. The clear and documented record showed that the House investigators had put Casey at the Bohemian Grove on the wrong weekend.
The proof of Hashemi's presence in Connecticut consisted of phone records showing two one-minute calls, one from a lawyer to Hashemi's home and one back to the lawyer. There was no evidence that Hashemi received or made the calls, and the pattern more likely fit a call asking a family member when Hashemi was due home and the second call giving the answer.
Hyde was wrong, too, about the absence of incriminating evidence on the Hashemi wiretaps. But since those wiretaps were secret in 1993, that argument was impossible to judge then.
However, when I accessed the raw House task force documents in a remote Capitol Hill storage room in late 1994, I found a classified summary of the FBI bugging.
According to that summary, the bugs revealed Cyrus Hashemi deeply enmeshed with Republicans on arms deals to Iran in fall 1980 as well as in financial schemes with Casey's close friend and business associate, John Shaheen.
And contrary to Hyde's claim of "not a single indication" of contact between Casey and Cyrus Hashemi, the Iranian banker was recorded as boasting that he and Casey had been "close friends" for years. That claim was supported by a CIA memo which stated that Casey recruited Cyrus Hashemi into a sensitive business arrangement in 1979.
Beyond that, the secret FBI summary showed Hashemi receiving a $3 million offshore deposit, arranged by a Houston lawyer who said he was a longtime associate of George H.W. Bush. The Houston lawyer, Harrel Tillman, told me in an interview that in 1980, he was doubling as a consultant to Iran's Islamic government.
After Ronald Reagan’s election in November 1980, Tillman was back on the line promising Hashemi help from the "Bush people" for one of his foundering business deals. Then, the FBI wiretaps picked up Hashemi getting a cash payment, via a courier arriving on the supersonic Concorde, from the corrupt bank, BCCI.
In his House floor speech, Hyde also had insisted that the task force had disproven the alleged Paris meeting on Oct. 19, 1980, despite the corroborated statements from French intelligence and other witnesses that the meeting had, in fact, happened.
To counter that evidence, the task force embraced another dubious alibi, the uncorroborated memory of Casey’s nephew Larry, who claimed 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.
The task force 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 task force about this serious discrepancy, the “phone call alibi” was still accepted as definitive proof.
Hamilton and Hyde were freed up to miswrite an important chapter of recent American history.
Though some Americans might find such a willful distortion of the public record troubling, it worked wonders for the careers and reputations of those involved.
For instance, Hamilton won kudos from columnist David Broder and other Washington insiders for his bipartisanship in exonerating well-liked Republicans, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, of a dirty trick that bordered on treason.
Hamilton’s accommodating investigative style ultimately earned him one of the highest unofficial Washington honors – the title of Wise Man – assuring him seats on blue-ribbon panels that have included the 9/11 Commission and the Iraq Study Group.
Before his death in 2007, Hyde was honored as well, awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
In modern Washington, it should come as no surprise that “respectability” and “honors” don’t necessarily go to people who stand up for the truth or for rationality. Indeed, it’s almost always the opposite; they are bestowed on people who go with the flow and get along.
When the House Task Force’s former chief counsel Lawrence Barcella fired off several angry e-mails to me last weekend – decrying my refusal to accept his conclusions while refusing to respond to my specific criticisms about the crazy alibis – he ended with the comment: “None of what I say matters b/c you've made your bed.”
[For the most detailed account of the October Surprise case, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege. It's also available as part of a three-book package for a deeply discounted price.]
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 6, 2010.