The Pieces Arrayed
excerpted from the book
Secrecy & Privilege
Rise of the Bush Dynasty from
Watergate to Iraq
by Robert Parry
The Media Consortium Inc., 2004,
[March 23, 1979, late on a Friday afternoon, Chase Manhattan Bank
Chairman David Rockefeller and his longtime aide Joseph Verner
Reed arrived at a town house in the exclusive Beekham Place neighborhood
on New York's East Side. They were met inside by a small, intense
and deeply worried woman who had seen her life turned upside down
in the last two months. Iran's Princess Ashraf, the strong-willed
twin sister of the Iran's
long-time ruler, had gone from wielding
immense behind-the-scenes clout in the ancient nation of Persia
to living in exile - albeit a luxurious one.
With hostile Islamic fundamentalists running
her homeland, Ashraf also was troubled by the plight of her ailing
brother, the ousted Shah of Iran, who had fled into exile, first
to Egypt and then Morocco. Now, she was turning for help to the
man who ran one of the leading U.S. banks, one which had made
a fortune serving as the Shah's banker for a quarter century and
handling billions of dollars in Iran's assets. Ashraf's message
was straightforward. She wanted Rockefeller to intercede with
Jimmy Carter and ask the President to relent on his decision against
granting the Shah refuge in the United States.
Later on March 23 ... Rockefeller attended a dinner with Happy
Rockefeller, the widow of his brother Nelson who had died two
months earlier. Also at the dinner was former Secretary of State
Henry Kissinger, a long-time associate of the Rockefeller family.
Discussing the Shah's plight, Happy Rockefeller described her
late husband's close friendship with the Shah, which had included
a weekend stay with the Shah and his wife in Teheran in 1977.
Happy said that when Nelson learned that the Shah would be forced
to leave Iran, Nelson offered to pick out a new home for the Shah
in the United States. The dinner conversation also turned to the
dangerous precedent that President Carter was setting by turning
his back on a prominent U.S. ally. What message of American timidity
was being sent to other pro-U.S. leaders in the Middle East?
The dinner led to a public campaign by
Rockefeller - along with Kissinger and former Chase Manhattan
Bank Chairman John McCloy - to find a suitable home in exile for
the Shah. Country after country closed their doors to the Shah
as he began a humiliating odyssey as what Kissinger would call
a modern-day "Flying Dutchman," wandering in search
of a safe harbor. Rockefeller assigned his aide, Joseph Reed,
"to help [the Shah] in any way he could," including
serving as the Shah's liaison to the U.S. government. McCloy,
one of the so-called Wise Men of the post-World War II era, was
representing Chase Manhattan as an attorney with Milbank, Tweed,
Hadley and McCloy. One of his duties was to devise a financial
strategy for staving off Iran's withdrawal of assets from the
Rockefeller also pressed the Shah's case
personally with Carter when the opportunity presented itself.
On April 9, 1979, at the end of an Oval Office meeting on another
topic, Rockefeller handed Carter a one-page memo describing the
views of many foreign leaders disturbed by recent U.S. foreign
policy actions, including Carter's treatment of the Shah. "With
virtually no exceptions, the heads of state and other government
leaders I saw expressed concern about United States foreign policy
which they perceived to be vacillating and lacking in an understandable
global approach," Rockefeller's memo read. "They have
questions about the dependability of the United States as a friend."
An irritated Carter abruptly ended the meeting.
When the Shah's medical condition took a turn for the worse in
October, however, Carter relented and agreed to let the Shah fly
to New York for emergency treatment. Celebrating Carter's reversal,
Rockefeller's aide Joseph Reed wrote in a memo, "our 'mission
impossible' is completed.
Rockefeller was just one of many powerful people who felt that
Jimmy Carter had fallen down on the job and that a new direction
was needed from Washington. With the hostage crisis started, a
countdown of 365 days began toward the 1980 elections. Though
he may have been only dimly aware of his predicament, Carter faced
a remarkable coalition of enemies and adversaries both inside
and outside the United States.
In the Persian Gulf, the Saudi royal family
and other Arab oil sheiks blamed Carter for forsaking the Shah
and feared their own playboy life styles might be next on the
list for the Islamic fundamentalists. The Israeli government saw
Carter as too cozy with the Palestinians and too eager to cut
a peace deal that would force Israel to surrender land won in
the 1967 war. European anti-communists believed Carter was too
soft on the Soviet Union and was risking the security of Europe.
Dictators in the Third World - from the Philippines and South
Korea to Argentina and El Salvador - were bristling at Carter's
human rights lectures.
Inside the United States, the Carter administration
had made enemies at the CIA by purging many of the Old Boys who
saw themselves as protectors of America's deepest national interests.
Many CIA veterans, including some still within the government,
were disgruntled. And, of course, the Republicans were determined
to win back the White House, which many felt had been unjustly
taken from their control after Nixon's landslide victory in 1972.
This subterranean struggle between Carter,
trying desperately to free the hostages before the 1980 election,
and those who stood to benefit by thwarting him became known popularly
as the "October Surprise" controversy. The nickname
referred to the possibility that Carter might have ensured his
reelection by arranging the hostage return the month before the
presidential election as an October Surprise, although it came
ultimately to refer to clandestine efforts to stop Carter from
pulling off his October Surprise.
But the question of whether George H.W.
Bush and other Republicans, in fact, did conspire with Iranians
and international operatives to block Carter's October Surprise
would become not only a political mystery but a test of whether
it is possible to determine the truth when many powerful interests
are threatened by it. Given the complexity of the mystery and
the questionable credibility of some witnesses, the October Surprise
case also their the limits of how much the American people ever
get to know about [r nation's secret history.
The first major recounting of Nixon's sabotage of Johnson's Paris
peace talks - by offering South Vietnam's President Nguyen van
Thieu a better deal from Republicans than was available from the
Democrats - came 15 years after the actual events, in Seymour
Hersh's 1983 political biography of Henry Kissinger, The Price
of Power. According to Hersh's book, Kissinger learned of Johnson's
peace plans and warned Nixon's campaign. "It is certain"
Hersh wrote "that the Nixon campaign alerted by Kissinger
to the impending success of [Vietnam] peace talks, was able to
get a series of messages to the Thieu government making it clear
that a Nixon Presidency would have different views on the peace
Nixon's chief emissary was Anna Chennault,
an anti-communist Chinese leader who was working with the Nixon
campaign. Hersh quoted one former official in President Lyndon
Johnson's Cabinet as stating that the U.S. intelligence "agencies
had caught on that Chennault was the go-between between Nixon
and his people, and President Thieu in Saigon . ... The idea was
to bring things to a stop in Paris and prevent any show of progress."
In her memoirs, The Education of Anna,
Chennault acknowledged that she was the courier. She quoted Nixon
campaign manager John Mitchell as calling her a few days before
the 1968 election and 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 have made that
clear to them. ,
On November 2, four days before the U.S.
election, Thieu withdrew from his tentative agreement to sit down
with the Viet Cong at the Paris peace talks, killing Johnson's
last hope for a settlement of the war. A late Humphrey surge fell
short and Nixon won a narrow election victory.
In The Price of Power, Hersh quoted Chennault
as saying that after the election, in 1969, Mitchell and Nixon
urged her to keep quiet about her mission, which could have implicated
them in an act close to treason. 14 As the Vietnam War dragged
on for another four years, tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers
died, as did hundreds of thousands of Indochinese. When the allegations
of the secret deal surfaced, survivors of the Nixon administration
denied them, depicting Chennault as a freelance operative working
on her own initiative.
Over the years, more historical pieces
fell into place, however. In his 1991 memoirs, Counsel to the
President, Clark Clifford, Johnson's Secretary of Defense, wrote
that as the peace initiative advanced in October 1968, the Johnson
administration was stunned by "our discovery, through intelligence
channels, of a plot - there is no other word for it - to help
Nixon win the election by a flagrant interference in the negotiations."
Four years after Clifford's book, Daniel
Schorr, the former CBS News correspondent, added more details
to the story in a Washington Post article. Schorr cited decoded
cables that U.S. intelligence had intercepted from the South Vietnamese
embassy in Washington. On October 23, 1968, Ambassador Bui Diem
cabled Saigon with the message that "many Republican friends
have contacted me and encouraged me to stand firm," according
to Schorr's article. On October 27, 1968, the Ambassador wrote,
"The longer the present situation continues, the more favorable
for us . ... I am regularly in touch with the Nixon entourage."
Perhaps the fullest account of Nixon's
1968 gambit appeared in 2000 in Anthony Summers's The Arrogance
of Power. "This is a story that has long hung between the
shadows of Nixon's past and the disgrace of his Presidency, half
reported on partial evidence, often exploited by partisan sources,
yet never fully resolved," Summers wrote. "He escaped
full opprobrium for his behavior while he was alive, yet the evidence
implies a sin and a cynicism worse than any of the offenses that
would later make headlines."
In 2002, former South Vietnamese Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky
described the Republican initiative from the Saigon government's
point of view in his memoirs Buddha's Child. Chennault, Ky wrote,
"told us that Nixon was far more anticommunist than Humphrey
and that if he was elected he would make sure that U.S. aid continued
until the war was won. But, Madame Chennault explained, first
he needed our help. We could help by not going to the Paris peace
conference until after the election. If we refused to participate
in negotiations, she explained, Nixon would be able to condemn
the Democratic Party and Humphrey as weaklings. There would be
no light at the end of the tunnel, no hope for a quick peace.
Anna Chennault may have been right in her observation that "power
overpowers all reason."
The Pieces Arrayed
After years of performing what might be called clean-up duty for
Nixon and the CIA, Bush would emerge as a principal in the October
Surprise case. Bush would serve as both a coordinator of a Republican
intelligence operation about President Carter's Iranian initiatives
and an alleged intermediary to the Iranians seeking their cooperation
with the Reagan-Bush campaign.
What is not in doubt is that Bush - first
as a Republican presidential candidate and then as the party's
vice presidential nominee - served as a ringleader for a host
of disgruntled former CIA officials, who had worked for Bush when
he was CIA director. Tie-se ex-intelligence officers were so distraught
over Carter's handling of the spy agency and his conduct of foreign
policy that they cast off their traditional cloak of anonymity
and joined the effort to oust the sitting President.
In Bush's campaign for the Republican
nomination, ex-covert CIA officers volunteered as public foot
soldiers. One joke making the rounds about Bush's announcement
of his presidential candidacy on May 1, 1979, was that "half
the audience was wearing raincoats." Bill Colby, Bush's predecessor
as CIA director, said Bush "had a flood of people from the
CIA who joined his supporters. They were retirees devoted to him
for what he had done" at the spy agency.
All told, at least two dozen former CIA
officials went to work for their former boss. Among them was the
CIA's director of security, Robert Gambino, who left the CIA immediately
before joining the Bush campaign, causing concern within the Carter
administration because of Gambino's knowledge about security investigations
of senior officials and the personal information that must be
divulged in those inquiries.'
Beyond the ex-CIA personnel who joined
the Bush campaign were other intelligence officers who remained
in the CIA but still made clear their choice for President. "The
seventh floor of Langley was plastered with 'Bush for President'
signs," George Carver, a senior CIA analyst, told me.
Carter administration officials also worried
about the personal relationships between some former CIA officers
in Bush's campaign and active-duty CIA personnel who continued
to hold sensitive jobs inside the Democratic administration. For
instance, Gambino, a 25-year CIA veteran and CIA officer Donald
Gregg, who served as a CIA representative o Carter's National
Security Council, "are good friends who knew each other from
the CIA," according to an unpublished section of a report
by a House Task Force, which investigated the October Surprise
issue in 1992.*
Still, Jimmy Carter never appreciated
how much he was surrounded by enemies. He was the proverbial babe
in the woods. Out of necessity or naively, Carter and his administration
also turned to people he believed might help resolve the hostage
crisis while not knowing their full connections to some of his
most dedicated adversaries.
former CIA Director William Casey's personal reflections:
"Everyone [in Reagan's camp] agreed
that Jimmy Carter had to be removed from office in order to save
the nation from economic ruin and international humiliation,"
Casey wrote. He also recognized the pivotal role played by the
Iranian hostage crisis in highlighting Carter's shortcomings.
"The Iranian hostage crisis was the focal point of the failure
of Carter's foreign policy," Casey wrote.
... As the hostage crisis dragged on,
the attention of many CIA Old Boys also turned toward the American
humiliation in Iran, which they found doubly hard to take since
it had been the site of the agency's first major victory, the
restoration of the Shah to the Peacock Throne in 1953. A number
of veterans from that operation were still alive in 1980. Archibald
Roosevelt was one of the Old Boys from the Iranian operation.
He had moved on to become an adviser to David Rockefeller at Chase
Manhattan Bank. Another was Miles Copeland, who had served the
CIA as an intermediary to Arab leaders, including Egyptian President
Gamal Abdul Nasser. In his autobiography, The Game Player, Copeland
claimed that he and his CIA chums prepared their own Iranian hostage
rescue plan in March 1980.
... "Let me say first that we liked
President Carter," Copeland told me "He read, unlike
President Reagan later, he read everything. He knew what he was
about. He understood the situation throughout the Middle East,
even these tenuous, difficult problems such as Arabs and Israel.
But the way we saw Washington at that time was that the struggle
was really not between the Left and the Right, the liberals and
the conservatives, as between the Utopians and the realists, the
pragmatists. Carter was a Utopian. He believed, honestly, that
you must do the right thing and take your chance on the consequences.
He told me that. He literally believed that."
Copeland's deep Southern accent spit out
the words with a mixture of amazement and disgust. To Copeland
and his CIA friends, Carter deserved respect for a first-rate
intellect but contempt for his idealism.
"Most of the things that were done
[by the United States] about Iran had -, been on a basis of stark
realism, with possibly the exception of letting the Shah down,"
Copeland said. "There are plenty of forces in the country
we could have marshaled . ... We could have sabotaged [the revolution].
I think in the long run we'd have had a hard time to do it because
Islam is the march of the future. But, yes, we could have done
something about it. But we had to do it early. We had to establish
what the Quakers call 'the spirit of the meeting' in the country,
where everybody was thinking just one way. The Iranians were really
like sheep, as they are now."
But Carter, troubled by the Shah's human
rights record, delayed taking decisive action and missed the moment
of opportunity, Copeland said. Infuriating the CIA's Old Boys,
Carter had sacrificed an ally on the altar of idealism. "Carter
really believed in all the principles that we talk about in the
' West," Copeland said, shaking his mane of white hair. "As
smart as Carter is, he did believe in Mom, apple pie and the corner
drug store. And those things that are good in America are good
Veterans of the CIA and Republicans from
the Nixon-Ford administrations judged that Carter simply didn't
measure up to the demands of a harsh world. "There were many
of us - myself along with Henry \ Kissinger, David Rockefeller,
Archie Roosevelt in the CIA at the time - we believed very strongly
that we were showing a kind of weakness, which people in Iran
and elsewhere in the world hold in great contempt," Copeland
said. "The fact that we're being pushed around, and being
afraid of the Ayatollah Khomeini, so we were going to let a friend
down, which was horrifying to us. That's the sort of thing that
was frightening to our friends in Saudi Arabia, in Egypt and other
But Carter also was susceptible to bending
to the moral suasions of the Shah's friends, who argued on humanitarian
grounds that the ailing Shah deserved admission to the United
States for medical treatment. "Carter, I say, was not a stupid
man," Copeland said. Carter had even a greater flaw: "He
was a principled man." So, Carter decided that the moral
act was to allow the Shah to enter the United States for treatment,
leading to the result Carter had feared: the seizure of the U.S.
The Israeli government was another deeply interested player in
the Iran crisis. For decades, Israel had cultivated covert ties
with the Shah's regime as part of a Periphery Strategy of forming
alliances with non-Arab states in the region to prevent Israel's
Arab enemies from focusing all their might against Israel. Though
losing an ally when the Shah fell and offended by the anti-Israeli
rhetoric from the Khomeini regime, Israel had gone about quietly
rebuilding relations with the Iranian government. One of the young
Israeli intelligence agents assigned to this task was an Iranian-born
Jew named An Ben-Menashe, who had immigrated to Israel as a teen-ager
and was valuable because he spoke fluent Farsi and still had friends
in Iran, some of whom were rising within the new revolutionary
In his own 1992 memoirs, Profits of War,
Ben-Menashe said the view of Israel's Likud leaders, including
Prime Minister Menachem Begin, was one of contempt for Jimmy Carter
in the late 1970s. "Begin loathed Carter for the peace agreement
forced upon him at Camp David," Ben-Menashe Wrote. "As
Begin saw it, the agreement took away Sinai from Israel, did not
create a comprehensive peace, and left the Palestinian issue hanging
on Israel's back."°
After the Shah fell, Begin grew even more
dissatisfied with Carter's handling of the crisis and alarmed
over the growing likelihood of an Iraqi attack on Iran's oil-rich
Khuzistan province. Israel saw Iraq's Saddam Hussein as a far
greater threat to Israel than Iran's Khomeini. Ben-Menashe wrote
that Begin, recognizing the realpolitik needs of Israel, authorized
shipments to Iran of small arms and some spare parts, via South
Africa, as early as September 1979.
After the U.S. hostages were taken in
November 1979, the Israelis came to agree with Copeland's hard-headed
skepticism about Carter's approach to the hostage issue, Ben-Menashe
wrote. Even though Copeland was generally regarded as a CIA "Arabist"
who had opposed Israeli interests in the past, he was admired
for his analytical skills, Ben-Menashe wrote.
"A meeting between Miles Copeland
and Israeli intelligence officers was held at a Georgetown house
in Washington, D.C.," Ben-Menashe wrote. "The Israelis
were happy to deal with any initiative but Carter's. David Kimche,
chief of Tevel, the foreign relations unit of Mossad, was the
senior Israeli at the meeting . ... The Israelis and the Copeland
group came up with a two-pronged plan to use quiet diplomacy with
the Iranians and to draw up a scheme for military action against
Iran that would not jeopardize the lives of the hostages."
Questioned by congressional investigators a dozen years later,
Carter I said he felt that by April, "Israel cast their lot
with Reagan," according to notes I found among the unpublished
documents in the House Task Force files. Carter traced the Israeli
opposition to his reelection to a "lingering concern [among]
Jewish leaders that I was too friendly with Arabs." Carter's
National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski also recognized
the Israeli hostility. In an interview, Brzezinski told me that
the Carter White House was well aware that the Begin government
had "an obvious preference for a Reagan victory."
Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat is another Middle Eastern figure
who claimed to have received a Republican overture in summer 1980.
... "There is something I want to
tell you," Arafat said, addressing Carter at a meeting in
Arafat's bunker. "You should know that in 1980 the Republicans
approached me with an arms deal [for the PLO] if I could / arrange
to keep the hostages in Iran until after the [U.S. presidential]
Arafat insisted that he rebuffed the offer,
but he supplied Carter with few other details, no name of the
Republican representative nor exactly when and where the approach
was made. But the conversation was recounted by historian Douglas
Brinkley who was present when Carter and Arafat spoke. Brinkley
included the exchange in an article for the fall 1996 issue of
Diplomatic History, a scholarly quarterly. Later, through a spokesman,
Carter confirmed to me the conversation with Arafat had occurred
as described by Brinkley.
Arafat's statement to Carter did not stand
alone. Since the late 1980s, one of Arafat's senior aides, Bassam
Abu Sharif, had given journalists a similar account of a Republican
approach to the PLO in July 1980 when the PLO was maintaining
close ties to the Islamic government in Iran. In 1990, during
an interview in Tunisia, Bassam Abu Sharif told me that a senior
figure in the Reagan campaign had contacted Arafat and the PLO
in Beirut about engineering a delay in the hostage release.
"It was important for Reagan not
to have any of the hostages released during the remaining days
of President Carter," Bassam said. "The offer was, 'if
you block the release of hostages, then the White House would
be open for the PLO.' In spite of that, we turned that down .
...1 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."
Other PLO sources said Arafat discovered during a September 1980
trip to Iran that his intervention was superfluous since the Republicans
already had established other back channels to the radical Islamic
On July 14, the Republican National Convention opened in Detroit.
After a brief flirtation with the possibility of enlisting former
President Ford as the vice presidential nominee, Reagan settled
on George H.W. Bush.
After accepting the No. 2 spot, Bush began
merging his CIA-heavy campaign apparatus with Reagan's. The united
Reagan-Bush campaign created a strategy group, known as the "October
Surprise Group," to prepare for "any last-minute foreign
policy or defense-related event, including the release of the
hostages, that might favorably impact President Carter in the
November election," according to a draft section of the House
Task Force report.
... Deleted from the final [October Surprise
Group] report also was a section describing how the exCIA personnel
who had worked for Bush's campaign became the nucleus of the Republican
intelligence operation that monitored Carter's Iran-hostage negotiations
for the Reagan-Bush team.
"The Reagan-Bush campaign maintained
a 24-hour Operations Center, which monitored press wires and reports,
gave daily press briefings and maintained telephone and telefax
contact with the candidate's plane," the draft report read.
"Many of the staff members were former CIA employees who
had previously worked on the Bush campaign or were otherwise loyal
to George Bush.