Republished from Random Lengths News
Is Bush’s nominee to replace Donald Rumsfeld another scandal just waiting to happen? And why don’t the Democrats seem to care?
Over two decades before the Bush Administration first thought about politicizing intelligence to build a phony case for war against Iraq, Ronald Reagan’s CIA director, William Casey, played a trailblazing role in politicizing intelligence within the CIA, vastly inflating the threat posed by the Soviet Union, and blaming it for a wide range of terrorism it had nothing to do with. His right hand man was Robert Gates, President Bush’s appointee to succeed Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense.
But Gates did more than politicize intelligence. His involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, selling weapons to the terrorist-supporting Iranian government to illegally fund the terrorist Nicaraguan Contras—came close to getting him indicted.
As the Independent Counsel, Lawrence Walsh (a life-long Republican), explained in his final report, “The issue was whether Independent Counsel could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Gates was deliberately not telling the truth.” Just because he declined to indict did not mean he thought that Gates was innocent.
Furthermore, in his book, Firewall: the Iran/Contra Conspiracy and Cover-Up, Walsh explained that Gates set up an internal CIA investigation that hindered his criminal investigation. “No longer would we be able to question CIA witnesses while they were fresh,” Walsh wrote. Instead, they had time to get their stories straight.
As for Iran-Contra itself, national security expert Ivan Evland, of the Independent Institute, recently wrote, “Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the Iran-Contra affair was worse for the Republic than the Watergate scandal.... the Reagan administration’s evasion of a congressional ban on assisting the Nicaraguan Contras (the Boland Amendment) was a knife in the heart of the greatest power the Congress has under the checks and balances of the Constitution—the power of the purse.”
It gets worse. The arms shipments actually began in 1981—long before the Boland Amendment was passed. A report from Russian intelligence—buried by a “bipartisan” committee in 1993—confirmed long-standing suspicions that the 1980 Reagan/Bush campaign struck a secret deal with the Iranian government to not release 52 American hostages it was holding until after the 1980 elections. The secret deal was known as “the October Surprise.”
Gates was part of the Reagan/Bush team—even though he officially worked for the U.S. government, headed by Jimmy Carter. The head of the committee that buried the report was then-Congressman Lee Hamilton, a conservative Democrat from Indiana, who formerly co-chaired the “Independent” 9/11 Commission and now co-chairs the Iraq Study Group.
Even without the most explosive evidence against him, there’s a strong case against Gates for spinning intelligence.
“Here is a nation that went to war with politicized intelligence,” said former CIA Agent Mel Goodman—a senior Soviet analyst from 1966-1986 who clashed directly with Gates. And now to help clean up the mess, Bush is naming, “someone who was the most important practitioner of politicized intelligence in the history of the CIA,” Goodman stressed, adding, “As Yogi Berra would have said, ‘This is deja-vu all over again.’”
Goodman, is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, and co-author of the book, Bush League Diplomacy: How the Neoconservatives are Putting the World at Risk, one of the earliest warnings of the fiascoes we now face. Now that the neocon plans are in ruins, Goodman said, “There is an attempt now to soften the debate on Iraq,” both with the Gates nomination, and the Iraq Study Group—headed by Hamilton and Bush family crony James Baker, who helped steal the Florida election in 2000.
“This is not a legitimate way to expand the debate,” Goodman told Random Lengths News. “It’s an exercise in damage limitation to save the Bush legacy.”
In 1991 Goodman was one of three former CIA officers who testified against the nomination of Gates as director of the CIA. Congressional Quarterly’s National Security Editor, Jeff Stein, recently wrote, “The charges [Goodman raised] were almost identical to those that would be raised against Bush administration officials, a number of whom held high positions in the Reagan and first Bush administrations — Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney, in particular.”
Also testifying was Carolyn McGiffert Ekedahl, tasked in 1981 with preparing an analysis of the Soviet’s alleged string-pulling behind international terrorism. Only it turned out that the Soviets discouraged acts of terrorism, for purely practical 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 testified, describing the a broad consensus among the analysts involved. “We had hard evidence to support this conclusion.”
Perhaps if Gates had accepted what his analysts told him then, we might have seen al Qaeda coming years before we finally did. But the ironclad belief in evil states pulling terrorists’ strings persisted even after 9/11, Goodman pointed out. “As Richard Clark tried to tell the White House, these guys operate on their own. Bush never believed it,” Goodman said. Hence, the invasion of Iraq.
Instead, Ekedahl testified, Gates accused the analysts of trying to “stick our finger in the policy maker’s eye.” He helped rewrite the report, to make it more politically correct. Soon afterwards, Ekedahl said, many analysts were “replaced by people new to the subject who insisted on language emphasizing Soviet control of international terrorist activities.”
As senior analysts objected, restructuring was used to minimize their influence, Ekedahl explained. “Casey and Gates used various management tactics to get the line of intelligence they desired and to suppress unwanted intelligence,” she said.
Another example Goodman cited was the alleged Papal assassination plot. Casey wanted a report blaming it on the Soviets. “It was Gates who picked the three people who wrote it. And he told them to write it in secret,” Goodman recounted. Yet, “He [Gates] had testified as late as 1983 that the Soviets had nothing to do with it.” Because of this willingness to do whatever he’s asked, Goodman calls Gates “a windsock,” without any core beliefs. For this reason, labels like “neocon,” or “realist” are both irrelevant and misleading, Goodman stressed.
Gates was eventually confirmed, thanks to behind-the-scenes politicking by another conservative Democrat David Boren, then-Senator from Oklahoma, who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee that held the confirmation hearings. “David took it as a personal challenge to get me confirmed,” Gates wrote in his memoirs. But 31 senators voted against Gates—more than had voted against all previous CIA directors combined.
Iran-Contra—Not Enough Evidence to Indict
But Gates was first nominated four years earlier. He withdrew in the face of certain rejection because of his murky involvement in the Iran-Contra affair. At the very least, Gates was terribly negligent during Iran-Contra, and terribly forgetful afterwards.
Two questions were foremost, Walsh recalled in Firewall: “Had Gates falsely denied knowledge of Oliver North’s Contra-support activities? Had Gates falsely postdated his first knowledge of North’s diversion of arms sale proceeds to the Contras?” Walsh had direct testimony from Alan Fiers, who struck a plea bargain, that “he had kept Gates generally informed of his Contra-support activities,” but no records had been found to corroborate his testimony—possibly because the internal investigation had already found and buried them.
Investigative journalist, Robert Parry, who originally broke the Iran-Contra story for AP—only to have the rest of the media ignore it for six months—goes much further than Walsh. He begins with witnesses the committee called, but essentially ignored, without ever seriously investigating their charges. They pointed to active involvement on the Iran side of supplying arms, as well as involvement in supplying arms to Iraq—Iran’s enemy in the Iran-Iraq war at the time. There is a famous photograph of Rumsfeld meeting with Saddam Hussein in 1983, but Gates was reportedly a far more significant actor in providing assistance for his regime.
Congressional investigators have far more resources than journalists do, yet Boren’s committee left these questions hanging. Further allegations would be similarly ignored by the 1992-1993 investigation headed up Hamilton.
October Surprise—A Secret Deal to Steal the Election?
Parry had interviewed one of the witnesses against Gates, Ari Ben-Menashe, for PBS Frontline in August 1990. In the interview, Ben-Menashe, who worked for Israeli military intelligence from 1977-87, tied Gates to arms dealings with both Iran and Iraq.
Most chillingly, Parry wrote recently, “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,” a reference to the October Surprise.
Long written off as a mere “conspiracy theory,” the October Surprise scenario is strongly supported by the fact that arms shipments to Iran began in 1981.” An off-course plane carrying weapons to Iran via Israel was shot down over the Soviet Union on July 18, 1981.
Official Washington largely ignored the October Surprise until 1992, when Hamilton headed a low-profile investigation that, in Parry’s words, “debunked the charges by adopting an elaborate set of alibis for the key players, particularly the late CIA director William J. Casey.” The alibis lacked crucial corroboration at key points—a fact carefully glossed over by investigators and Beltway journalists alike.
Two days before the report’s official release in early January, 1993, however, a cable came from Moscow. It contained a six-page report responding to an earlier query about any information Soviet intelligence may have had. The Russians confirmed the October Surprise as fact. With Clinton about to be sworn in, and the bipartisan storylines about the report already written, the Russian report was quietly ignored, filed away in a set of boxes where Parry stumbled across it several years later.
According to the report, William Casey, representing the Reagan campaign, “met three times with representatives of the Iranian leadership.... in Madrid and Paris.” What’s more, at the October meeting in Paris, “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 report stated.
Why does this so-called “ancient history” matter? Parry put it bluntly: “One risk of putting career intelligence officer Robert Gates in charge of the Defense Department is that he has a secret —and controversia—history that might open him to pressure from foreign operatives, including some living in countries of U.S. military interest, such as Iran and Iraq.”
Because it was buried, the report has never been investigated. But neither has it been refuted. Once again, the Washington establishment is singing the praises of bipartisanship, after a somewhat jarring Democratic victory at the polls. Once again, Hamilton is heading a committee—the Iraq Study Group—that is papering over problems, rather than facing up to them. No one, it seems, wants to take a closer look at disturbing, upsetting facts.
As Mel Goodman said, “This is deja-vu all over again.” Or as philosopher George Santayana put it, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”