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Afghan Arab Essam al Ridi purchases more equipment in the US for the mujaheddin fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He had previously worked as a buyer for the mujaheddin, traveling the world to acquire items for the anti-Soviet jihad (see Early 1983-Late 1984). However, in 1985 he fell out with the others over Osama bin Laden’s influence in the movement, which he thought was excessive, and returned to the US to work as a flight instructor. Al Ridi buys eleven pairs of night vision goggles and gives them to Wadih El-Hage, who will later become Osama bin Laden’s personal secretary (see October 1995). El-Hage takes them to Pakistan for use in his passenger luggage. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001] Al Ridi will later purchase assassination rifles for the fighters linked to bin Laden, apparently with the CIA’s knowledge, but it is unclear whether the CIA knows about this transaction (see Early 1989).
Warren Rudman and Daniel Inouye. [Source: Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images]Both the House and Senate name special committees to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Avoiding Impeachment - The two investigations will quickly merge into one joint, unwieldy committee. Neither Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) nor Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-WV) have any intention of allowing the investigations to become impeachment hearings against President Reagan (see December 19, 1986). They decide to combine the House and Senate investigations in the hopes that the investigation will move more quickly and limit the damage to the presidency. They envision a bipartisan committee made up of wise, sober lawmakers able to prevent the investigation from becoming a witch hunt. Wright will remember telling the Republican minority leadership, “You appoint and we appoint and we can maintain some control.”
Choosing Chairmen, Members - Byrd chooses Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), a decorated World War II veteran who had served on the Senate Watergate Committee (see February 7, 1973) and the Senate Intelligence Committee. In turn, Inouye names Warren Rudman (R-NH), a former federal prosecutor, as his vice chairman, promising to share all the powers and responsibilities of the chairmanship with him. According to authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, Rudman “would overshadow” the self-effacing Inouye. For the House side, Wright names conservative Lee Hamilton (D-IN) to chair that portion of the committee. Both Hamilton and Inouye have a deep conviction that to accomplish anything of lasting import, decisions must be arrived at in a bipartisan fashion. Wright names several powerful Democratic committee chairmen to the House committee; their responsibilities as committee chairmen will interfere with their ability to devote the proper time and effort to the investigation. House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R-IN) chooses his members with a very different agenda in mind. Michel, himself a relatively moderate Republican, chooses Dick Cheney (R-WY) as the ranking member of the House investigation. Cheney is well-informed about intelligence and foreign affairs, and, in Dubose and Bernstein’s words, “ruthlessly partisan.” In addition, Cheney will function as the White House “mole” on the committee, alerting White House officials as to the thrust and direction of the investigation and allowing them time to prepare accordingly. Michel salts the House committee with right-wing ideologues, including Henry Hyde (R-IL) and Bill McCollum (R-FL). Few of Michel’s House committee members have any intention of pursuing the facts behind Iran-Contra; instead, they are bent on undermining the Democrats on the committee and ensuring that the committee achieves few, if any, of its goals.
Loss of Leverage - From the outset, Wright and Byrd’s opposition to any consideration of presidential impeachment, no matter what evidence is unearthed, loses them their biggest advantage in the proceedings. Not only will committee Republicans feel more confident in pulling the investigation away from sensitive and potentially embarrassing matters, the committee will ignore important evidence of Reagan’s own involvement in the Iran-Contra decision-making process, including recordings of telephone conversations showing Reagan discussing financing the Contras with foreign leaders. Hamilton in particular will be an easy mark for the ideologues in the Republican group of committee members; his biggest worry is whether Reagan “would be able to govern” after the investigation, and his relentless bipartisanship makes him easy for the committee Republicans to manipulate and sway. As for the Republicans, even fellow GOP committee member Rudman will become disgusted with their naked partisanship and their refusal to pursue the facts. “It was obvious that Dick Cheney and others were more interested in protecting the president than in finding out what had happened,” Rudman will later recall. Dubose and Bernstein add that Cheney has another agenda as well: preserving the powers of the presidency against Congressional encroachment.
Cheney's Influence - Cheney has always succeeded in lulling his opposition with his unruffled demeanor. He is able to do the same thing on the investigative committee. “We totally misread the guy,” a Democratic staffer later recalls. “We thought he was more philosophical than political.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 68-69]
Entity Tags: Robert C. Byrd, James C. (‘Jim’) Wright, Jr., Jake Bernstein, Henry Hyde, Daniel Inouye, Contras, Bill McCollum, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Lee Hamilton, Ronald Reagan, Robert Michel, Warren Rudman, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lou Dubose
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
Alann Steen and his wife on their honeymoon in 1986. [Source: Evelyn Floret / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images]Four teachers at Beirut University College—Americans Alann Steen, Jesse Turner, and Robert Polhill, and Indian-born US resident Mithileshwar Singh—are kidnapped by Hezbollah militants. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
President Reagan testifies before the Tower Commission. His chief of staff, Donald Regan, had previously told the commission that the US had not given its approval for the August 1985 sale of TOW missiles to Iran via Israel (see August 6, 1985 and August 20, 1985), but Reagan shocks both Regan and White House counsel Peter Wallison by admitting that he had indeed approved both the Israeli sale of TOWs to Iran and had agreed to replenish the Israeli stocks. Reagan uses the previous testimony of former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane as a guide. After Reagan’s testimony, Regan attempts to refocus Reagan’s memories of events, going through the chain of events with Reagan and asking questions like, “Were you surprised” when you learned about the TOW sales? Reagan responds, “Yes, I guess I was surprised.” Regan hammers the point home: “That’s what I remember. I remember you being angry and saying something like, ‘Well, what’s done is done.’” Reagan turns to Wallison and says, “You know, I think he’s right.” [Cannon, 1991, pp. 630-631]
The Foundation for Economic Trends sues the US Department of Defense and forces it to acknowledge the existence of its chemical and biological weapons programs. The Pentagon admits that it is operating 127 chemical and biological warfare research sites in the US. Science magazine reports that the suit reveals that the “DoD is applying recombinant DNA techniques in research and the production of a range of pathogens and toxins including botulism, anthrax and yellow fever.” [Science Magazine, 2/27/1987]
President Reagan testifies for a second time to the Tower Commission (see January 26, 1987). His testimony is incoherent and confused; some observers outside the White House begin speculating that Reagan suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or senile dementia. Commission investigators note that while the Meese investigation claimed Reagan did not know of the August 1985 shipment of missiles to Iran (see August 20, 1985 and November 21-25, 1986), Reagan himself claimed in his previous testimony he did know of the shipments. When asked to clarify the inconsistency, Reagan shocks onlookers by picking up a briefing memo he had been given and reading aloud, “If the question comes up at the Tower Board meeting, you might want to say that you were surprised.” [PBS, 2000] White House counsel Peter Wallison is stunned. “I was horrified, just horrified,” he later recalls. “I didn’t expect him to go and get the paper. The purpose of it was just to recall to his mind before he goes into the meeting” what he, Wallison, and Chief of Staff Donald Regan had agreed was the proper chain of events—that Reagan had not known of the shipments beforehand, and had been surprised to learn of them. [Cannon, 1991, pp. 631-632]
CIA Director William Casey abruptly resigns due to terminal brain cancer (see December 18, 1986). Casey’s illness makes him unavailable to testify before the Congressional Iran-Contra investigation, a huge boon for committee Republicans who are determined to keep the truth of Iran-Contra from being revealed (see January 6-7, 1987). Casey had been one of the prime movers behind the Iran arms sales, and was National Security Council staffer Oliver North’s prime supervisor in what insiders call “the Enterprise”—the ad hoc organization run by North and retired General Richard Secord (see November 19, 1985) that trained, supplied, and even at times fought for Nicaragua’s Contras. North and Secord’s organization managed to evade Congressional oversight and ignore laws passed to limit US involvement in the Nicaraguan insurgency (see October 10, 1984). According to upcoming testimony from North, Casey saw “the Enterprise” as such a success that it should serve as a model for other US covert operations around the globe. It was Casey’s idea to have foreign countries such as Saudi Arabia (see July, 1984) and Brunei (see June 11, 1986) supply money to the Contras, over the objections of White House officials such as Secretary of State George Shultz, who told Casey in reference to the phrase “quid pro quo” that he should remember that “every quid had a quo.” As one Democratic congressmen later puts it, Casey was the “godfather” of the entire Iran-Contra operation, and his unavailability to the committee is a tremendous blow to its ability to find the truth. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 70]
President Reagan sends a memo to the Tower Commission in an attempt to clarify his previous rambling and incoherent testimony (see January 26, 1987 and February 2, 1987). The memo does not improve matters. It reads in part: “I don’t remember, period.… I’m trying to recall events that happened eighteen months ago, I’m afraid that I let myself be influenced by others’ recollections, not my own.… The only honest answer is to state that try as I might, I cannot recall anything whatsoever about whether I approved an Israeli sale in advance or whether I approved replenishment of Israeli stocks around August of 1985 (see August 20, 1985). My answer therefore and the simple truth is, ‘I don’t remember, period.’” [PBS, 2000]
The FBI’s sketch of the as-yet-unidentified ‘Unabomber.’ [Source: FBI]Gary Wright, the owner of CAAMS Inc., a Salt Lake City, Utah, computer shop, is injured when he attempts to remove a “road hazard” at the rear entrance of his shop. The “hazard” is actually a bomb, similar to one that killed another computer shop owner in Sacramento, California, over a year ago (see December 11, 1985). A secretary saw a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses leave the bag containing the bomb; she becomes the first eyewitness in what will later become the “Unabomber” investigation (see April 3, 1996). [BBC, 11/12/1987; Washington Post, 1998] The “Unabomber” is improving his skills; this bomb contains a more sophisticated triggering device than earlier constructions. [World of Forensic Science, 1/1/2005] Almost six years ago, Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, the so-called “Unabomber,” planted another bomb in Salt Lake City (see October 8, 1981). But for now, the FBI has no knowledge of Kaczynski’s identity. It has, however, found what it calls “an absolute link” between the Wright bombing and the “Unabom” serial bombings that have been going on since 1978 (see May 25-26, 1978). Federal bomb expert Ron Wolters says the bombs in the different cases display a high level of similarity. Police describe the as-yet-unidentified bomber as a disgruntled academician or computer worker. [Chicago Sun-Times, 2/24/1987]
The Tower Commission issues its final report about the Iran-Contra affair. Among its conclusions, it finds that President Reagan’s top advisers were responsible for creating the “chaos” that led to the affair. It also finds that Reagan was largely out of touch and unaware of the operations conducted by his National Security Council (NSC) staff, and allowed himself to be misled by his closest advisers (see February 20, 1987). Reagan had failed to “insist upon accountability and performance review,” thus allowing the NSC process to collapse. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; PBS, 2000]
Fawn Hall, who was NSC official Oliver North’s secretary and who helped North destroy critical documents pertaining to the Iran-Contra affair (see November 21-23, 1986), admits lying to the FBI about the removal and destruction of documents. In January, Hall told FBI investigators that she had indeed secretly removed documents from the NSC offices by hiding them in her clothes (see November 25, 1986), but had only taken out computer printouts of North’s notes. Now she admits that she secretly removed some of the original documents that North had ordered her to alter to conceal his criminal activities. [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/13/2007]
The United Nations dispatches experts to the conflict zone on a mission that documents Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iran. [Jentleson, 1994, pp. 76]
President Reagan tells a national television audience that he has made mistakes on Iran-Contra, and claims he has had massive memory failures. “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages,” he says (see February 2, 1987 and February 20, 1987). “My heart and my best intentions tell me that’s true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower Board reported (see February 26, 1987), what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages. This runs counter to my own beliefs, to administration policy, and to the original strategy we had in mind. There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake.” Reagan’s sympathetic message resonates with US viewers; his popularity rebounds to over 50 percent in national polls. [White House, 3/4/1987; White House, 3/4/1987; PBS, 2000]
The Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress’s joint Iran-Contra investigation begin meetings to discuss the logistics of the upcoming public hearings (see May 5, 1987). Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) later recalls that House committee chairman “Lee Hamilton and I bent over backwards to be fair to the Republicans.” Many of the committee Republicans are not predisposed to return the favor. Moderate Republican Warren Rudman (R-NH), the co-chairman of the Senate committee, recalls that deep divides were forming between the committee’s moderate Republicans and the more hardline Republicans led by Dick Cheney (R-WY). “The meetings were very, very intensive,” Rudman will recall. Cheney helps put together the Republican committee members’ staff, and includes a number of hardline Reagan loyalists: the Justice Department’s Bruce Fein; the former assistant general counsel to the CIA, David Addington; and others. Notably, it is during the Iran-Contra hearings where Cheney and Addington form their lasting professional association.
Artificial Deadline - The first battle is over the length of the hearings. Cheney’s hardliners want the hearings over with quickly—“like tomorrow,” one former staffer recalls. Hamilton will recall: “Did I know Dick wanted to shorten it? Yes, I knew that.” Committee Democrats, fearful of extending the proceedings into the 1988 presidential campaign and thusly being perceived as overly partisan, agree to an artificial ten-month deadline to complete the investigation and issue a final report. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write that the deadline is “an invitation to the administration to stall while simultaneously burying the committee under mountains of useless information.” When, in the fall of 1987, the committee receives large amounts of new information, such as White House backup computer files, Cheney’s hardliners will succeed in insisting that the committee adhere to the deadline.
Jousting with the Special Prosecutor - The committee also has trouble co-existing with the special prosecutor’s concurrent investigation (see December 19, 1986). The special prosecutor, Lawrence Walsh, wants a long, intensive investigation culminating in a round of prosecutions. The committee worries that in light of Walsh’s investigation, key witnesses like Oliver North and John Poindexter would refuse to testify before the committee, and instead plead the Fifth Amendment. Rudman and committee counsel Arthur Liman want Walsh to quickly prosecute North for obstruction of justice based on North’s “shredding party” (see November 21-25, 1986). Rudman believes that he can get his Republican colleagues to agree to defer their investigation until after North’s trial. But Walsh declines. Rudman later says: “Walsh might have been more successful if he had followed our suggestion.… But he had this grand scheme of conspiracy.” As such, the committee has a difficult choice: abort the investigation or grant North immunity from prosecution so he can testify. Cheney and his hardliners, and even some Democrats, favor not having North testify in deference to his upcoming prosecution. “People were all over the place on that one,” Rudman will recall. Hamilton is the strongest proponent of immunity for North. “He believed that North had information no one else had,” a staffer will recall. Hamilton and the moderate Republicans are more interested in finding the details of the Iran-Contra affair rather than preparing for criminal prosecutions. The committee eventually compromises, and defers the testimony of North and Poindexter until the end of the investigation. Another committee staffer later recalls, “Hamilton was so fair-minded and balanced that in order to get agreements, he gave ground in areas where he shouldn’t have.”
North Deal 'Dooms' Investigation - Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The deal the committee struck with North’s canny lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, doomed Walsh’s investigation and the hearings.” The committee offers North “use immunity,” a guarantee that his testimony cannot be used against him in future prosecutions. The committee also agrees, unwisely, to a series of further caveats: they will not depose North prior to his testimony, his testimony will be strictly limited in duration, the committee will not recall North for further testimony, and he will not have to produce documents to be used in his testimony until just days before his appearance. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 70-72, 77]
Entity Tags: Oliver North, Jake Bernstein, David S. Addington, Bruce Fein, Brendan Sullivan, Arthur Liman, James C. (‘Jim’) Wright, Jr., John Poindexter, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Lawrence E. Walsh, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Warren Rudman, Lee Hamilton, Lou Dubose
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
Iran-Contra investigative committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) tells a reporter that former CIA Director William Casey, who recently resigned due to terminal brain cancer (see February 2, 1987), was “one of the best CIA directors the agency had ever had.” Referring to Casey’s inability to testify in the Iran-Contra hearings, Cheney says, “I don’t think it’s fair to criticize the man based on speculation and innuendo (see May 5, 1987), and to do so at a time when he is incapable of defending himself strikes me as in extremely poor taste.” As for Iran-Contra itself, Cheney says, “I think there’s a very real possibility that it’s going to be at best a footnote in the history books.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 70]
Neoconservative academics and authors Laurie Mylroie and Daniel Pipes write an article for the New Republic entitled “Back Iraq: Time for a US Tilt in the Mideast.” Mylroie and Pipes argue that the US must publicly embrace Saddam Hussein’s secular dictatorship as a bulwark against the Islamic fundamentalism of Iran. Backing Iraq “could lay the basis for a fruitful relationship” that would benefit US and Israeli interests, they write. They believe Washington should move to a closer relationship with Hussein because Iraq holds a more moderate view of Israel and the US than other countries in the Middle East. “The American weapons that Iraq could make good use of include remotely scatterable and anti-personnel mines and counterartillery radar.” Mylroie and Pipes argue not just for weapons sales to Iraq, but for the US to share intelligence with that nation: “The United States might also consider upgrading intelligence it is supplying Baghdad.” Mylroie and Pipes are apparently uninterested in the stories of Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against both Iranians and his own citizens (see March 5, 1984, March 1988, and August 25, 1988). After the 9/11 attacks, Mylroie will change her opinion and join the call for Hussein’s overthrow, blaming him for a raft of terror attacks going back to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see 1990, October 2000, and September 12, 2001). [New Republic, 4/27/1987 ; CounterPunch, 8/13/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 68]
Richard Secord receives whispered advice from his attorney, Thomas Green, during his testimony. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Public testimony begins in the joint House and Senate investigations of the Iran-Contra affair. General Richard Secord (see November 19, 1985) is the first witness (see May 5, 1987). [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
'Hero's Angle' - The televised hearing area in Room 325 of the Senate Office Building, built to accommodate over two dozen committee members, their staff, witnesses, lawyers, and television reporters and camera operators, features a series of two-tiered stages. Film director Steven Spielberg will later tell Senate counsel Arthur Liman that from a visual viewpoint, the staging is a terrible mistake; the witnesses appear on television “at the hero’s angle, looking up as though from a pit at the committees, who resembled two rows of judges at the Spanish Inquisition.” Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will note with some sardonicism that the committee’s two lawyers could not have been better choices to play television villains. Liman is “a nasal-voiced New York ethnic with ‘spaghetti hair,’” and House counsel John Nields is “a balding lawyer with long locks down to his collar who couldn’t keep his distaste for the witnesses from creeping into his voice.”
Opening Statements; Cheney Blames Congress, Not the White House - The hearings open with the usual long-winded opening statements from the various committee members. Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY), the leader of the Republican hardline contingent, makes it clear from the outset where he intends to go in the investigation. “Some will argue that these events justify the imposition of additional restrictions on presidents to prohibit the possibility of similar occurrences in the future,” he says. “In my opinion, this would be a mistake. In completing our task, we should seek above all to find ways to strengthen the capacity of future presidents and future Congresses to meet the often dangerous and difficult challenges that are bound to rise in the years ahead.” He then introduces his counter-argument: Congress’s dithering, not the Reagan administration’s clear violation of the law, is the crux of the problem with the Iran-Contra affair. “One important question to be asked is to what extent did the lack of a clear-cut policy by the Congress contribute to the events we will be exploring in the weeks ahead?” Cheney and his colleagues will argue that because Congress had supported the Contras in the past, its decision not to continue that support was an unforgivable breach, “a form of actionable negligence,” in Dubose and Bernstein’s words, that made it necessary for the Reagan administration to establish “a parallel support network as a ‘bridging’ mechanism until Congress could be brought around to a sensible policy.” Oliver North will echo this concept in his own testimony (see July 7-10, 1987), driving committee Vice Chairman Warren Rudman (R-NH) to retort: “The American people have the Constitutional right to be wrong. And what Ronald Reagan thinks, or what Oliver North thinks or what I think or what anybody else thinks makes not a whit if the American people say, ‘Enough.’” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 72-75]
Entity Tags: Richard Secord, John Nields, Jake Bernstein, Contras, Arthur Liman, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Reagan administration, Lou Dubose, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Steven Spielberg, Oliver North
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
In the first day of testimony before the Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee (see May 5, 1987), General Richard Secord (see September 19, 1986) testifies that CIA Director William Casey was one of the driving forces behind the illegal sales of arms to Iran, and the equally illegal diversion of profits from those arms to the Nicaraguan Contras. Secord, the leadoff witness, testifies that in addition to Casey, CIA and State Department officials aided in the efforts to provide the Contras with weapons and funds. Secord says he spoke with Casey about arming the Contras three times. He does not go into detail about what specific information he received from Casey during these conversations, but says the quality and amount of information was disappointing: “I was never able to get the professional intelligence I was accustomed to having.” Secord testifies that under Casey, high-ranking CIA agents in Honduras and Costa Rica gave him intelligence and other assistance. [New York Times, 5/7/1987]
Former CIA Director William Casey (see February 2, 1987) dies as a result of his inoperable brain cancer. Casey was a key figure in the Iran-Contra machinations. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later write, “In death he would become a helpful scapegoat for Oliver North and a resting place for missing information that would have filled out the contours of the scandal.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 70] Casey had been named as one of the architects of the scheme to use profits from illegal arms sales to Iran to secretly fund the Nicaraguan Contras (see May 5, 1987). He had been hospitalized since April 25, and unable to testify in the Iran-Contra hearings. The immediate cause of death is what doctors call “aspiration pneumonia,” which may mean that Casey inhaled food or food particles in his lungs that set up a toxic chemical reaction. A physician not involved in Casey’s treatment says that Casey may have had trouble swallowing properly. The hospital in Glen Cove, Long Island refuses to give any more details. Despite the swirling Iran-Contra controversy, President Reagan says of his longtime colleague and friend: “His nation and all those who love freedom honor today the name and memory of Bill Casey. In addition to crediting him with rebuilding America’s intelligence capability, history will note the brilliance of his mind and strategic vision, his passionate commitment to the cause of freedom and his unhesitating willingness to make personal sacrifices for the sake of that cause and his country.” [New York Times, 5/7/1987]
USS ‘Stark’ after being struck by Iraqi missile. [Source: US Department of Defense]Two missiles from an Iraqi F-1 Mirage warplane strike the USS Stark, killing 37 of the sailors aboard. The frigate is a member of a US naval task force sent to the Persian Gulf to keep the Gulf open for shipping during the Iran-Iraq War. The Iraqi fighter locks weapons on the Stark three minutes before firing; the commander of the ship refuses to issue the standard “back off” warning to the Iraqi pilot. The first missile bores deep into the ship but fails to explode; the second missile explodes, incinerating the crew’s quarters, the radar room, and the combat information center. The ship burns for two days. [PBS, 2000; Peniston, 2006, pp. 61-63]
Diverting Blame onto Iran - The Pentagon later claims that the Stark indeed warned the fighter pilot not to approach. Iraq quickly apologizes for the attack. The US continues to patrol the Gulf, and continues its program of re-registering Kuwaiti oil tankers under the American flag in order to protect them from Iranian attacks. A diplomat says that given the scale of casualties in the incident, the American public is going to start asking “what the hell is the US doing in the Gulf?” Iran calls the attack on the Stark a “divine blessing.” US officials quickly divert blame for the attack on Iran, accepting an Iraqi explanation that the fighter pilot must have mistaken the US warship for an Iranian vessel. [Guardian, 5/19/1987]
Excusing Iraq, Punishing 'Stark' Commander - “We’ve never considered them hostile at all,” says President Reagan in regards to Iraq’s military. “They’ve never been in any way hostile.… And the villain in the piece is Iran.” Senator John Warner (R-VA), a former secretary of the Navy, denounces Iran as “a belligerent that knows no rules, no morals.” Fellow senator John Glenn (D-OH) calls Iran “the sponsor of terrorism and the hijacker of airliners.” Iraq later determines that the Stark was in its so-called “forbidden zone,” and refuses to produce the pilot for any disciplinary action. The only punishment for the attack is suffered by the captain of the Stark, Glenn Brindel, who is relieved of his command, and his executive officer, who is punished for “dereliction of duty.” [TomDispatch (.com), 5/3/2007]
Lawsuits Dismissed - Two wrongful death lawsuits arising from the attacks will later be dismissed due to the “state secrets” privilege (see June 13, 1991 and September 16, 1992).
Felix Rodriguez, in US Army uniform. [Source: Cuba Informazione]CIA operative Felix Rodriguez testifies before the Iran-Contra committee (see May 5, 1987). Rodriguez, a Cuban exile and former US Army officer, is notorious for his involvement in the execution of South American revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara in 1967. Rodriguez also ran covert assassination operations for the CIA during the Vietnam War. Rodriguez’s connection to the White House was through Donald Gregg, the national security adviser to Vice President Bush (see March 17, 1983). Gregg had helped station Rodriguez at an airport in El Salvador, where Rodriguez could, under the pseudonym “Max Gomez,” manage the Contra resupply operation for Oliver North and Richard Secord (see Mid-September 1985 and November 19, 1985). CIA cargo handler Eugene Hasenfus (see October 5, 1986) told his Sandinista captors that “Max Gomez” was his contact with the CIA. Rodriguez’s testimony is potentially explosive, but committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) has no interest in eliciting any such infomation. Instead, he invites Rodriguez to launch a well-scripted diatribe against allowing the Soviet Union to establish a Communist foothold in Latin America. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 73-74]
Members of the Army Inspector General’s Office travel to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, to investigate indications of corruption within the highly secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program, commonly referred to as the Doomsday project, which is designed to keep the government functioning in times of emergency. The investigators approach veteran Army intelligence officer Tom Golden, who was assigned to a watchdog position within the secret program in 1984 (see January 1984). Golden informs the Army Inspector General’s Office of several instances of waste, fraud, and abuse inside his unit at the base (see July 1987). He speaks personally with chief of the inspector general’s intelligence oversight division, Colonel Ned Bacheldor, who assures Golden his status as a whistleblower will be kept confidential. Bacheldor will in fact leak Golden’s name to members of the COG program, who will in turn launch a retaliatory smear campaign against Golden (see After July 1987). Bacheldor leaves the Army Inspector General’s Office midway through the investigation to join the COG unit at Fort Huachuca. The Army Inspector General’s Office expands its investigation to include the leak, but word of the new investigation is released to those on the base. Before investigators can be dispatched, members involved with the COG project at Fort Huachuca destroy documents pertaining to the probe. Despite facing several obstacles, the investigation concludes that two recently awarded no-bid contracts are illegal and whistleblower Tom Golden has been targeted for retaliation. The contracts are canceled and a high-ranking general is reprimanded, but questionable practices will continue within the program and the smear campaign against Golden will last for years (see After July 1987). “The Army couldn’t even stop what was going on,” Golden will tell CNN in 1991. “It was a program the Army did not have jurisdiction over.” The House Armed Services Committee will have similar troubles investigating Golden’s case, but will reach conclusions similar to the Army (see Summer 1988-1989). [Emerson, 8/7/1989; CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]
Former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, in testimony before the Iran-Contra committee, admits he previously lied under oath when he denied the existence of third-party funding of the Nicaraguan Contras. In fact, Abrams himself had facilitated the funding of the Contras by the Sultan of Brunei (see June 11, 1986). Abrams will eventually plead guilty to lying to Congress, but will never see the inside of a jail cell, as President George H. W. Bush will pardon him (see December 25, 1992). During questioning, Republican committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) praises Abrams’s service, saying, “I do personally believe you have an extremely bright future in the public arena in the United States.” When Cheney becomes vice president in the Bush-Cheney White House, he will name Abrams as deputy national security adviser (see June 2001). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 74-75]
President Reagan speaking before the Brandenberg Gate. [Source: Public domain]In one of the most iconic moments in modern history, President Reagan, in a speech before the Brandenberg Gate in the Berlin Wall, challenges Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to raze the wall and allow East and West Berlin to become one city again. Reagan says: “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Reagan’s speech is widely, if perhaps simplistically, credited for bringing about the end of the Soviet Union. [PBS, 2000]
Richard Willard, assistant attorney general of the civil division, writes a memo to Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns about the Inslaw affair. According to Willard, George Bason, the bankruptcy court judge dealing with the Justice Department’s alleged theft of enhanced PROMIS software, should be taken off the case. Willard writes that Bason’s conduct is “so extraordinary that it warranted reassignment to another judge.” The House Judiciary Committee will comment that department officials are “concerned” about Bason’s handling of the case “very early in the litigation,” and that they think Bason tends to believe statements made by Inslaw. The committee will add: “The department believed that Judge Bason disregarded the sworn statements of department witnesses. The department also believed that Judge Bason made lengthy observations regarding the credibility of its witnesses and that Judge Bason’s uniformly negative conclusions were based on inferences not supported by the record.” Therefore, by the summer of 1987, the department is “actively seeking ways to remove Judge Bason from the case.” Bason will rule in favor of Inslaw in the autumn (see September 28, 1987). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
Former Deputy Attorney General Lowell Jensen says that Attorney General Ed Meese was informed about the Justice Department’s dealings with Inslaw. He makes the statement in a sworn deposition to the Office of Professional Responsibility, a Justice Department unit investigating the department’s alleged theft of the enhanced PROMIS case tracking software from Inslaw. Jensen says, “I have had conversations with the attorney general [Meese] about the whole Inslaw matter, as to what had taken place in the PROMIS development and what had taken place with the contract and what decisions had been made by the department with reference to that.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992] However, Meese will tell the House Judiciary Committee he has no recollection of any discussions about case tracking (see July 12, 1990).
Testimony in the Iran-Contra investigations turns to the possibility that NSC aide Michael Ledeen may have profited from the US sales of arms to Iran through Israel (see January 24, 1986). Ledeen’s former supervisor at the Department of Defense, Noel Koch, who has long suspected Ledeen of spying for Israel (see 1983 and 1986), says that he first became suspicious of Ledeen when he learned that the price Ledeen had negotiated for the sale to the Israeli government of basic TOW missiles was $2,500 each. Koch found that no TOW missile had ever been sold to any foreign government for less than $6,800 per unit. Under orders from his superiors in the department, Koch renegotiated the deal with an Israeli official, eventually raising the price to $4,500 per missile, almost twice what Ledeen had “negotiated” in Israel. Author Stephen Green, who will write two books on US-Israeli relations, will comment, “There are two possibilities here—one would be a kickback, as suspected by his NSC colleagues, and the other would be that Michael Ledeen was effectively negotiating for Israel, not the US.” [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]
The CIA sets a trap to catch operatives connected to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program who are buying components in the US, but “two high-ranking US officials extremely close to the White House” tip off Pakistan and only a minor player is caught. Initially, a Pakistani businessman contacts a Pennsylvania company called Carpenter Steel and asks to buy a specific type of metal used only in constructing centrifuges to enrich uranium. The Department of Energy learns of the contact and informs Richard Barlow, a CIA analyst focused on Pakistan’s nuclear program. Barlow realizes that both the businessman, Arshad Pervez, and his handler, Inam ul-Haq, a retired brigadier in the Pakistani army, are well-known Pakistan government operatives. Barlow and US Customs set up a sting at a bugged hotel room, but Pervez arrives without ul-Haq, the main target. Barlow then finds that the officials have tipped off Pakistan, even though the information about the operation was closely held (see Mid-1986 and After). Barlow finds cables implicating the two high-ranking officials in the tip-off: Robert Peck, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State of Near East Affairs, and another official at the under secretary level. A trail of paperwork definitively proves sabotage within the State Department and the tip-off is found “buried within the lawyerly language of a demarche to Islamabad, subtly phrased so as to protect those who had sent it.” Barlow will later comment: “The CIA went mad. These were criminal offenses.” However, the State Department argues an inquiry would disclose state secrets and the investigation is abandoned, just before President Ronald Reagan again certifies that “Pakistan does not possess a nuclear explosive device.” There will later be a stormy congressional hearing about the affair (see July 1987 or Shortly After). [New Yorker, 3/29/1993; Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 169; Guardian, 10/13/2007] Ul-Haq will later be arrested in Germany and extradited to the US, but he will only serve a very short sentence. His nuclear transactions in the US will also be linked to the criminal BCCI bank (see July 11, 1991).
Following an incident where a Pakistani procurement agent was arrested in the US trying to buy components for a nuclear weapon (see Before July 1987), there is a serious row about it between a CIA manager and a CIA analyst at a Congressional hearing. The hearing is called by Stephen Solarz (D-NY), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, to vet intelligence concerning Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. CIA manager General David Einsel says it is “not cut and dried” that the arrested Pakistani, Arshad Pervez, and his handler, Inam ul-Haq, are agents of the Pakistani government. Richard Barlow, a CIA analyst there to help Einsel, is surprised by the false answer, as it is a criminal offense to lie to Congress. He realizes, “Einsel’s testimony was highly evasive, and deliberately so.” He will also later comment: “These congressmen had no idea what was really going on in Pakistan and what had been coming across my desk about its WMD program. They did not know that Pakistan already had a bomb and was shopping for more with US help. All of it had been hushed up.” When Barlow is asked the same question, he says it is “clear” Pervez is working for Pakistan, at which point Einsel screams, “Barlow doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Solarz then asks whether there are any more cases involving the Pakistan government. Einsel says there are not, but Barlow replies, “Yes, there have been scores of other cases.” Barlow is then hustled out of the room and returns to CIA headquarters. A senior government official not cleared to attend the briefing comes in and tries to repair the damage, saying that Barlow was referring to intelligence reports, but “not all intelligence reports are accurate.” The official will later indicate that he is not proud of what he does, saying, “I didn’t know what I was getting into.” [New Yorker, 3/29/1993; Guardian, 10/13/2007] Barlow will subsequently be forced out of the CIA because of this hearing (see August 1987-1988).
Longtime US Army intelligence officer Tom Golden, who is currently acting as a watchdog within the ultra-secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program (see January 1984), notifies the Army Inspector General’s Office of several instances of waste, fraud, and abuse within the highly classified COG project. Golden additionally speaks in confidence about his findings to the chief of the inspector general’s intelligence oversight division, Colonel Ned Bacheldor. Golden tells the Inspector General’s Office that contracts are being awarded based on personal relationships among military officials and company employees. He says government personnel have rotating careers at contracted companies and some are being hired at excessive rates for limited work. Golden says the multi-billion dollar communication system at the heart of the COG program does not function properly and is costing exorbitant amounts of money to fix, and alleges the problems are being covered up by military officials (see Late 1985 and December 1990). Golden reports a high-ranking officer within the COG program, Brigadier General Eugene Renzi, who was awarded a multimillion-dollar no-bid contract to the BETAC Corporation, which employed the general’s son. US News and World Report describes BETAC as a “consulting firm composed of former intelligence and communications specialists from the Pentagon.” Golden also notes the BETAC contract included $400-a-day consultant jobs for several COG officials, including one of Renzi’s aides. As a result of Golden’s report, two contracts will be found to be illegal and will be subsequently canceled. Renzi will also be reprimanded. The Army assures Golden his name will remain confidential, but his status as a whistleblower will be leaked weeks later by Bacheldor, who will soon leave the Inspector General’s Office to join the COG program. Golden will soon become the target of a retaliatory smear campaign led by members of the secret project, including Renzi and Bacheldor (see After July 1987). [Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/16/1990; Knight Ridder, 12/18/1990; CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]
Justice Department staff tell Attorney General Edwin Meese that Judge George Bason of the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia is “off his rocker,” according to a sworn statement Meese will later make to the House Judiciary Committee. Bason is presiding over a dispute between the department and the software company Inslaw (see June 9, 1986) and will eventually rule against the department (see September 28, 1987). This comment appears to be part of a campaign to get Bason removed from the case (see June 19, 1987) and a judge more favorable to the department appointed. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
According to a sworn statement made to the House Judiciary Committee by Martin Bloom, clerk of the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia, the administration of the court by the clerk’s office is “up to par” by “the latter part of 1987.” Chief Judge Aubrey Robinson will agree with Bloom, complimenting the bankruptcy court’s judge, George Bason, on improvements in the court’s administrative condition in remarks to an annual judicial conference.
Condition of Clerk's Office Later Becomes Important - The condition of the clerk’s office will later become significant because it will apparently be an important factor in the non-reappointment of Bason later this year (see December 15, 1987). For example, a confidential report about his possible reappointment (see December 8, 1987) will say, “Judge Bason evidenced no inclination to come to grips personally with the management challenge posed by the terrible shortcomings of the Office of the Clerk of our Bankruptcy Court.” Bason is currently at loggerheads with the Justice Department over the Inslaw case (see June 19, 1987) and will rule in favor of Inslaw in September (see September 28, 1987).
Previous Poor Condition - It will be established that the clerk’s office was not in good condition when Bason took over the bankruptcy court in the mid-1980s, although a May 1986 report said that the system was being brought under control and Bloom will blame the previous clerk for the problems. Bloom will also say that Bason takes an active role in providing whatever assistance he can in improving the administrative condition of the court.
Committee's Assessment of Court - However, the committee that fails to reappoint Bason will somehow come to believe that it is still a mess at this time and that this is Bason’s fault, although an investigation by the House Judiciary Committee will find that “most of the district and circuit judges interviewed [who were on the reappointment committee] said that they had little or no contact with Judge Bason and were not in a position to have firsthand knowledge of the condition of his court.” Neither Bloom nor the previous clerk will be interviewed by the panel about the court’s administration and, according to Bason, there is no mechanism in place for the judges to personally evaluate it. The committee will comment: “Considering that poor administrative controls seemed to be one of the primary reasons for Judge Bason’s failed attempt at reappointment, it is unusual that neither Judge Bason nor the other individuals most responsible for the administration of the court were interviewed by the panel. Judge Robinson made a telling comment to committee investigators when he said it is unfortunate bankruptcy judges are selected by judges furthest removed from the bankruptcy court.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
Robert Bork. [Source: National Constitution Center]The controversial nomination of conservative judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court is defeated in the US Senate. Bork is denied a seat on the Court in a 58-42 vote, because his views are thought to be extremist and even some Republicans vote against him.
'Right-Wing Zealot' - Bork, nominated by President Reagan as one of the sitting judges who most completely reflects Reagan’s judiciary philosophy (see 1985-1986), is characterized even by administration officials as a “right-wing zealot.” Reagan also wants a nominee to placate the hard right over their disaffection caused by the brewing Iran-Contra scandal. However, to make him more palatable for the majority of Americans, Reagan officials attempt to repackage Bork as a moderate conservative. Senate Judiciary Committee member Edward Kennedy (D-MA) attacks Bork’s political philosophy, saying before the committee hearings: “[In Bork’s America] women would be forced into back alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is the—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.… No justice would be better than this injustice.” Kennedy’s words provoke complaint, but the characterization of Bork is based on his lengthy record of court verdicts and his large body of judicial writings.
Racial Equality Issues - Although there is no evidence to suggest that Bork is himself a racist, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write that “his positions on civil rights were an anathema to all who cared about equality in America.” Constitutional law professor Herman Schwartz will write in 2004, “Bork condemned the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause decisions outlawing the poll tax (to him it was just ‘a very small tax’), the decision establishing the one-person, one-vote principle, abolishing school segregation in the District of Columbia, barring courts from enforcing racially restrictive housing covenants, preventing a state from sterilizing certain criminals or interfering with the right to travel, and prohibiting discrimination against out-of-wedlock children…. Bork’s hostility to governmental action on behalf of minorities did not stop with his critique of court action. In 1963 he criticized a section of the proposed Civil Rights Act of 1964 that required white businesses to serve blacks as resting on a principle of ‘unsurpassed ugliness.’”
Ready to Fight - The Reagan administration understands that Bork’s nomination is opposed; on July 1, the day of his announced nomination, the media reports that Reagan will try to ensure Bork’s confirmation by waging an “active campaign.” Even Senate-savvy James Baker, Reagan’s chief of staff, is uncertain about Bork’s chances at being confirmed, and further worries that even if Bork wins the fight, the cost to Reagan’s political capital will be too high.
His Own Worst Enemy - Conservatives Justice Department official Terry Eastland will later say Senate Democrats sabotage Bork’s chances at faring well in the confirmation hearings, even positioning his table to ensure the least favorable angles for Bork on television. However, the public’s opinion of Bork is unfavorable, and Dean will write: “[I]t was not the position of his chair in the hearing room that made Bork look bad, but rather his arrogance, his hubris, and his occasional cold-bloodedness, not to mention his equivocations and occasional ‘confirmation conversions,’ where he did what no one else could do. He made himself a terrible witness who did not appear to be truthful.” The confirmation conversions even surprise some of his supporters, as Bork abandons his previous stances that the First Amendment only applies to political speech, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause does not apply to women. The Senate Judiciary Committee passes Bork’s nomination along to the full Senate, where Bork is defeated 58-42.
The Verb 'To Bork' - In 2007, Dean will write, “Bork’s defeat made him both a martyr and a verb,” and quotes conservative pundit William Safire as writing that “to bork” someone means to viciously attack a political figure, particularly by misrepresenting that figure in the media. [Dean, 2007, pp. 137-143]
Entity Tags: Herman Schwartz, US Department of Justice, Gregory Peck, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, US Supreme Court, William Safire, Ronald Reagan, James A. Baker, Senate Judiciary Committee, Terry Eastland, Robert Bork, John Dean
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns asks his subordinates at the Justice Department’s civil division to “consider initiatives for achieving a more favorable disposition of this matter [a legal dispute between the department and Inslaw over PROMIS software].” This is apparently a reference to the possible removal of Judge George Bason from the case, as the department thinks he is biased against it (see June 19, 1987). In response to the comments, the department will draft a report about removing Bason (see After July 7, 1987). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter listens with horrified fascination as Oliver North testifies to the Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee (see July 7-10, 1987) about the 1985 apprehension of the Arab terrorists who had hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro. North accuses unnamed members of Congress of being untrustworthy by leaking the military details of the hijackers’ capture to the press. Alter is fully aware that North is lying—in fact, North himself leaked the information about the capture to reporters. Alter is sure that North believes he will not be exposed because reporters do not, as a rule, reveal their sources. Though North did not speak to Alter himself about the Achille Lauro capture operation, Alter exposes North as the leaker. Alter will later write: “This didn’t exactly make me Mr. Popularity with my colleagues or with North, who threatened to sue. But I would do it all over again.” [Newsweek, 10/13/2003]
Oliver North testifying before the Iran-Contra Committee. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North testifies before the joint House-Senate Iran-Contra investigative committee. During the course of his testimony, he says he does not know if President Reagan had any knowledge of the diversion of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). North also testifies that William Casey, the recently deceased CIA director (see May 6, 1987), knew of and approved the diversion of funds to the Contras. North admits that the Iranian arms sales were initially designed to help facilitate the release of the American hostages being held by Hezbollah. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Tour de Force - North’s testimony is a “tour de force,” in the words of authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, that allows Republicans the opportunity to reverse the field of the hearings and go on the offensive instead of defending the conduct of the Reagan administration. North, a Marine lieutenant colonel, wears his full-dress Marine uniform throughout his entire testimony with rows of ribbons festooning his chest. Handsome and full of righteous patriotism, he is striking on television, and contrasts well with the nasal, disdainful committee lawyers (see May 5, 1987) who spend four days interrogating him.
Need to Free Hostages Trumps Law - For the first two days, North and House counsel John Nields spar for the cameras. North says that Casey had directed him to create the so-called “Enterprise” (see November 19, 1985 and February 2, 1987), the clandestine organization that supported the Nicaraguan Contras with money, weapons, and sometimes US personnel. North admits to shredding untold amounts of evidence after the operation came to light (see November 21-25, 1986). He also admits to lying to Congress in previous testimony. But all of his actions are justified, he says, by the need to get Iran to free the American hostages. “I’d have offered the Iranians a free trip to Disneyland if we could have gotten Americans home for it,” he declares in response to one question about US arms sales to Iran. Senate counsel Arthur Liman will later write, “He made all his illegal acts—the lying to Congress, the diversion [of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Contras], the formation of the Enterprise, the cover-up—seem logical and patriotic.”
Targeting Covert Operations - Nields’s preferred line of questioning—covert operations—makes many committee members uncomfortable. Some House Democrats want to use the investigation to further their own goals of limiting covert actions, and others simply want the truth to be revealed. In contrast, House Republicans are united in opposition to any details of covert operations being revealed on national television and thus hampering the president’s ability to conduct future operations as needed. After the first day of North’s testimony, committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) exults on PBS that North “probably was as effective as anybody we’ve had before the committee in coming forward very aggressively and stating what he did, saying why he did it, arguing that he was in fact authorized to take the activities that he did.”
Leaky Congress Unfit to Know of Covert Ops, North Contends - North echoes Cheney’s position that the question is not whether White House officials broke the law, but whether Congress was fit to consider the question of national security at all. North goes so far as to question the propriety of the hearings themselves: “I believe that these hearings, perhaps unintentionally so, have revealed matters of great secrecy in the operation of our government, and sources of methods of intelligence activities have clearly been revealed, to the detriment of our security.” North’s message is clear: Congress is not fit to handle covert operations or, by and large, to even know about them. Best for the legislature to allow the White House and the intelligence community to do what needs doing and remain quiet about it. North’s contention that Congress has leaked vital national security information is shot down by Senate committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who not only forces North to admit that he has no evidence of his contention, but that the White House, not Congress, is the main source of leaked classified information. Indeed, North himself has leaked information (see July 7-10, 1987). Inouye’s co-chair, Warren Rudman (R-NH) will later say: “The greatest leaks came out of the White House. North and company were the biggest leakers of all during that period.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 75-78] Nields, addressing North’s implication that the NSC has no obligation to tell the truth to Congress, says towards the end of his session with North: “We do believe in a democracy in which the people, not one lieutenant colonel, decide important policy issues, don’t we? … You denied Congress the facts North had admitted to lying about the government’s involvement with the Hasenfus plane. You denied the elected representatives of the people the facts.” [Boston Globe, 7/9/1987]
Impact on Public Opinion - Results will differ on North’s popularity with viewers (see July 9-31, 1987).
Entity Tags: William Casey, Warren Rudman, Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Arthur Liman, Bush administration (41), Contras, Daniel Inouye, Hezbollah, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Nields, Jake Bernstein, Lou Dubose
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
Following a request from the Justice Department’s leadership (see July 7, 1987), Michael Hertz, the director of the civil division’s commercial litigation branch at the department, writes a memo entitled “Feasibility of Motion to Disqualify the Judge in Inslaw.” The department has come to believe that the judge, George Bason, is biased against it (see June 19, 1987) and hopes to challenge his findings of fact by saying they are unsupported by evidence and reflect a desire to reach a preordained conclusion. This position is mostly based on the department’s observations that some of Bason’s findings of fact are “rambling and based on deductions that are both strained and have flimsy support.” However, Hertz writes to Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart Schiffer that the facts simply do not support a case of bias strong enough to disqualify Bason from the remainder of the Inslaw case. Hertz adds that he is “fairly confident” that any motion to dismiss Bason would not succeed and the denial of any such motion could not be successfully challenged on appeal. He gives the following reasons:
The department has no evidence that what it views as “Bason’s incredible factual conclusions or alleged bias” actually stem from an extrajudicial source, as the case law requires;
Adverse factual findings and inferences against the government are not enough to support a claim of bias; and
Adverse credibility rulings about some of the government’s witnesses in a prior phase of the proceedings are not on their own sufficient to disqualify Bason from the rest of the proceedings.
Hertz says that attempting to demonstrate bias by Bason could adversely affect any future appeal by the department on the findings of fact. He also advises Schiffer that as much as the department may disagree with
Bason’s findings: “[T]hey are not mere conclusory statements. Instead they reflect a relatively detailed judicial analysis of the evidence, including reasons for believing certain witnesses and disbelieving others, as well as consideration of what inferences might or might not be drawn from the evidence.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992] Despite this, the department will twice attempt to get Bason recused, failing both times (see January 19, 1988 and January 25, 1988).
Public opinion is sharply divided on the testimony, believability, and popularity of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North after his testimony before Congress’s Iran-Contra committee (see July 7-10, 1987). A Washington Post/ABC News poll shows 64 percent of those surveyed have a “favorable opinion” of North after watching his testimony. But the “scores of letters received” by the Post was almost exactly opposite, with two-thirds expressing disapproval or reservations about North’s testimony. The Post reports, “Of 130 letters that could be categorized easily as either favorable or unfavorable, 39 were favorable, 91 unfavorable.” One of the unfavorable letters reads in part: “I wish to register an emphatic voice that does not join in the general adulation of… North. He is certainly bright, articulate, sincere and dedicated—but not to the basics of democracy, the rule of law or the tenets of the Constitution.” One favorable letter characterizes North as “the guy we thought we were voting for when we voted for Reagan,” and lauds North for “his endeavor to help release our hostages, get a better relationship with Iran and most of all support the Nicaraguan contras with both military arms and humanitarian supplies.” Many of the letters in support of North chastize the media. One letter writer accuses the Post and the television news media of mocking North throughout his testimony, and concludes that after North’s performance, “the media have, at long last, been hoist on their own petard.” The Post reports that “the mix of letters” is “evidently not so very different from that received at other newspapers across the country,” with “letters editors at the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times all reported more mail against North. USA Today said the mail is now running 50-50 after an initial flurry of mail in North’s favor.” According to Gallup Polls president Andrew Kohut, letter writers are more articulate, more involved in public affairs, and more politicized than people who don’t write. Also, “people who hold intense attitudes tend to write…” [Washington Post, 7/31/1987] Television news anchors and pundits are equally divided. NBC’s Tom Brokaw says North “performed the congressional equivalent of a grand slam, a touchdown, a hole-in-one, a knockout. You can almost hear his supporters around the country chanting ‘Ol-lie, Ol-lie, Ol-lie.’” But CBS’s Dan Rather asks why North did not do as he had sworn to do and take all the blame for the Iran-Contra machinations: “Whatever happened to the idea that he would take arrows in his chest?” [Boston Globe, 7/9/1987]
Entity Tags: Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Andrew Kohut, ABC News, Dan Rather, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Tom Brokaw, USA Today, Oliver North
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
On the last day of Oliver North’s testimony to the Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee (see July 7-10, 1987), ranking Republican Dick Cheney handles the questioning. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will observe that the questioning is more of “a duet than an interrogation.”
Praise from Cheney to North - Cheney opens by praising North’s handling of the hearings, saying, “I know I speak for a great many people who have been watching the proceedings, because the Congress has been absolutely buried in the favorable public reaction to your testimony and phone calls and telegrams” (see July 9-31, 1987). North has taken to stacking piles of supportive telegrams on his witness table; what he and Cheney do not tell those watching the hearings is that Western Union is offering a half-price special on pro-North telegrams sent to the committee.
Obvious Orchestration - Dubose and Bernstein later write that Cheney and North’s session is so perfectly carried out that it seems scripted and rehearsed, “complete with programmed queries and answers not available to everyone else.” Committee co-chairman Warren Rudman (R-NH) later says, “It was apparent to me that there was coordination going on.” Bruce Fein, the Republican staff’s chief of research, later admits that there was indeed such collaboration, though he says it was nothing more than “coordinat[ing] strategy.” Cheney and North’s duet paints North as nothing more than a guy who wanted “to cut through red tape” to save Nicaragua from Communism. North takes the opportunity to portray the selfless hero: “Hang whatever you want around the neck of Ollie North… but for the love of God and the love of this nation, don’t hang around Ollie North’s neck the cutoff of funds to the Nicaraguan resistance again. This country cannot stand that, not just because of Nicaragua, but because of all the other nations in the world who look at us and measure by what we do now in Nicaragua, the measure of our whole commitment to their cause. To things like NATO, to things like our commitment to peace and democracy elsewhere in the world.”
'Turnaround from Defense to Offense [Is] Complete' - Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The two men were now in the zone, a parallel radical-right fantasyland, blissfully ignoring the damage to America’s reputation caused by the administration’s support for the Contras and its willingness to barter weapons for hostages with Iran and Hezbollah.” Cheney and North ignore the World Court’s condemnation of the US mining of Nicaraguan harbors, the Contras’ attacks on civilian targets such as medical centers while refusing to engage the Sandinista forces themselves, which had inflamed outrage in Europe, and the ridicule that Iranian hardliners had subjected US attempts to open negotiations. Cheney’s questioning strategy is so successful that he is able to offer North his remaining time to present a slideshow on why funding the Contras is so important. Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The turnaround from defense to offense was complete.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 75-78, 80]
Former National Security Adviser John Poindexter (see November 25, 1986) testifies before the joint House-Senate Iran-Contra investigative committee. Poindexter says that he never told President Reagan of the diversion of funds from the Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). He says he never told Reagan in order to preserve the president’s “plausible deniability.” [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage, who has attended some of Oliver North’s Restricted Interagency Group (RIG) meetings (see Late 1985 and After and July 1986 and After), testifies before the Joint House-Senate Committee investigating Iran-Contra (see May 5, 1987). Armitage is asked about RIG meetings in which North recited a list of his activities in coordinating the Contras, discussed the private funding of the Contras, and demanded item-by-item approval from group members: “[D]o you recall, regardless of what dates, regardless of where it was, regardless of whether it had exactly the players he said—because he could have gotten all that wrong—do you recall any meeting at which he did anything close to what his testimony suggests?” Armitage replies, “I do not.” [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993] It is not until RIG member Alan Fiers, a former CIA official, testifies in 1991 about North’s behaviors that verification of North’s discussion of such specifics about Contra activities and funding will be made public (see July 17, 1991).
Assistant Attorney General Richard Willard reports to Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns about the Inslaw case. Willard says that the Justice Department has developed a good trial record, but: “[T]here is virtually no reason for optimism about the judge’s ruling. Even though our witnesses performed admirably and we believe we clearly have the better case, Judge Bason made it apparent in a number of ways that he is not favorably disposed to our position.” The department has been trying to have Bason removed from the case for some time (see June 19, 1987) and he will soon rule in favor of Inslaw (see September 28, 1987). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
Following a stormy Congressional subcommittee hearing where he contradicted CIA manager David Einsel about Pakistan’s nuclear program (see July 1987 or Shortly After), analyst Richard Barlow is forced out of the CIA. Barlow will later say that he leaves because Einsel makes his job impossible: “Einsel went crazy. I was told that my personal behavior at the hearing had been unprofessional. I was accused of being unpatriotic and almost scuttling the Afghanistan program. I was viewed as being disloyal.” [Guardian, 10/13/2007] He will also say: “These people were determined that nothing like this was ever going to happen ever again—no more arrests, no more truth to the Congress.… I was targeted by some in the Directorate of Operations; they made my life miserable.” [Raw Story, 4/30/2007] Commenting on his position during the Cold War, he will add: “We had to buddy-up to regimes we didn’t see eye-to-eye with, but I could not believe we would actually give Pakistan the bomb. How could any US administration set such short-term gains against the long-term safety of the world?” Barlow’s job description is re-written six weeks after the hearing, removing him from work on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, and he leaves the CIA for the Customs Service a year later. [Guardian, 10/13/2007]
Longtime US Army intelligence officer Tom Golden, who is assigned to a watchdog position within the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program (see January 1984) and who recently reported irregularities inside the program (see After July 1987), is targeted by a lengthy and deliberate smear campaign. The effort to discredit Golden is organized by members of the secret COG project in retaliation for the whistleblower reporting instances of waste, fraud, and abuse to the Army Inspector General’s Office (see July 1987). Federal agents go door-to-door telling Golden’s neighbors they are investigating him for drinking and other embarrassing personal behaviors. Rumors are spread within the government about Golden having personal issues and spying for the Soviet Union. Those responsible for spreading the allegations include Brigadier General Eugene Renzi, who was exposed by Golden for awarding a no-bid contract to a company that employed the general’s son (see July 1987); Army intelligence officer Robert Rendon, an admitted black-marketer hired by the COG project in 1983 (see July 28, 1983); and Army Colonel Ned Bacheldor, who formally worked for the Army Inspector General’s Office and leaked Golden’s whistleblower status to members of the COG program. Rendon is ordered by his superior, Bacheldor, to spread insulting gossip about Golden. A classified document depicting Golden as a security risk is drawn up by Rendon and other members of the COG project and sent to the Justice Department in January 1990, leading to an official investigation of Golden’s background (see January-November 1990). In August 1990, Rendon insinuates to a fellow Army officer that Golden is a Soviet spy (see August 1990). “It leads people to believe you are in trouble,” Golden tells CNN in 1991, “and it damages your credibility, it damages your standing in the intelligence community, it really boils down to a smear campaign.” Separate investigations by the Army (see Summer 1987), the House Armed Services Committee (see Summer 1988-1989), and the FBI (see January-November 1990) conclude that Golden is guilty of no wrongdoing and is the target of a lengthy effort to intimidate whistleblowers inside the highly secretive COG program. “It cost myself and my family three years of living in absolute hell,” Golden says as he tears up during an interview with CNN, “my family paid a high price.” When asked if he would do it all over again, Golden nods and says, “Probably.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/16/1990; Knight Ridder, 12/18/1990; CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]
The Iran-Contra hearings come to an end after over 250 hours of testimony from 28 witnesses. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] The hearings have been unsatisfactory at best, with the committee saying in a final statement, “We may never know with precision or truth why [the Iran-Contra affair] ever happened.” [PBS, 2000] The biggest wrangle left for the committee is the status of the final report. The committee’s Democratic leaders want a unanimous report. The Republicans demand numerous concessions for such a unanimous report, including the exclusion of critical evidence of an administration cover-up and evidence implicating President Reagan in the Iran-Contra policy decision-making. The committee produces dozens of drafts of the final report, each more watered-down than the previous one, to accommodate Republican demands. The Republicans will get a report almost completely to their liking, but will then pull away and issue their own minority report anyway (see November 16-17, 1987). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 80-81]
Faced with revelations of his possible involvement in the Iran-US arms-for-hostage deals (see November 3, 1986), Vice President George Bush, who has been heavily involved in the deals both with Iran and with its enemy Iraq (see July 23, 1986), denies knowing anything about anything. He tells the press that he knew nothing about any administration officials objecting to selling arms to Iran: “If I had sat there, and heard George Shultz and Cap [Caspar Weinberger] express it strongly, maybe I would have had a stronger view. But when you don’t know something it’s hard to react…. We were not in the loop.” Weinberger, the Secretary of Defense, telephones Shultz, the Secretary of State, and snaps, “He was on the other side [supporting the arms deals with Iran]. It’s on the record! Why did he say that?” Former National Security Council aide Howard Teicher, who was deeply involved in the arms-for-hostage deals with Iran, will say in 1992, “Bush definitely knew almost everything about the Iranian arms-sales initiative. I personally briefed him in great detail many times. Like so many others, he got premature Alzheimer’s after the arms sales became public.” [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
One batch each of salmonella and E coli is sent to the Iraqi State Company for Drug Industries with the approval of the US Department of
Commerce. [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/8/2002]
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) physically assaults a Nicaraguan official during a diplomatic mission by US lawmakers to Managua. According to a witness, fellow senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), McCain is the co-chair, with Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), of the bipartisan Central American Negotiations Observer Group; Cochran is a member of the group. They are in a meeting with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, the leader of the ruling Sandinistas, and several Nicaraguan diplomats, discussing tensions between the two countries. A number of armed Nicaraguan soldiers are also in the room. Cochran recalls that tensions in the room are high due to the heavy pressure being brought to bear by the US against the Nicaraguans. The American lawmakers are pressing “pretty hard,” Cochran will recall. During the discussions, “McCain was down at the end of the table and we were talking to the head of the guerrilla group here at this end of the table and I don’t know what attracted my attention,” Cochran later says. “But I saw some kind of quick movement at the bottom of the table and I looked down there and John had reached over and grabbed this guy by the shirt collar and had snatched him up like he was throwing him up out of the chair to tell him what he thought about him or whatever. I don’t know what he was telling him but I thought, good grief, everybody around here has got guns and we were there on a diplomatic mission. I don’t know what had happened to provoke John but he obviously got mad at the guy and he just reached over there and snatched him.” McCain does not actually strike the Nicaraguan, and the two eventually retake their seats. Cochran will recall that the Nicaraguan appears “ruffled” after the incident. [Biloxi Sun-Herald, 6/30/2008; Biloxi Sun-Herald, 7/1/2008; Associated Press, 7/2/2008] In 2008, McCain will call Cochran’s story “simply untrue.” [Time, 7/2/2008] “I had many, many meetings with the Sandinistas,” McCain will say. “I must say, I did not admire the Sandinistas much. But there was never anything of that nature. It just didn’t happen.” [Associated Press, 7/2/2008]
Michael Springmann. [Source: Michael Springmann]Michael Springmann, head US consular official in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, later claims that during this period he is “repeatedly ordered… to issue [more than 100] visas to unqualified applicants.” He turns them down, but is repeatedly overruled by superiors. [BBC, 11/6/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 11/25/2001] In one case, two Pakistanis apply for visas to attend a trade show in the US, but they are unable to name the trade show or city in which it will be held. When Springmann denies them a visa, he gets “an almost immediate call from a CIA case officer, hidden in the commercial section [of the consulate], that I should reverse myself and grant these guys a visa.” Springmann refuses, but the decision is reversed by the chief of the consular section. Springmann realizes that even the ambassador, Walter Cutler, is aware of the situation, which becomes “more brazen and blatant” as time goes on. On one occasion Springmann is even told, “If you want a job in the State Department in future, you will change your mind.” [CBC Radio One, 7/3/2002; Trento, 2005, pp. 344-6] Springmann loudly complains to numerous government offices, but no action is taken. He is fired and his files on these applicants are destroyed. He later learns that recruits from many countries fighting for bin Laden against Russia in Afghanistan were funneled through the Jeddah office to get visas to come to the US, where the recruits would travel to train for the Afghan war. According to Springmann, the Jeddah consulate was run by the CIA and staffed almost entirely by intelligence agents. This visa system may have continued at least through 9/11, and 11 of the 19 9/11 hijackers received their visas through Jeddah (see November 2, 1997-June 20, 2001), possibly as part of this program (see October 9, 2002 and October 21, 2002). [BBC, 11/6/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 11/25/2001; CBC Radio One, 7/3/2002; Associated Press, 7/17/2002 ; Fox News, 7/18/2002]
Fawaz Younis, a Lebanese militant associated with the Amal militia, a Shiite organization that is influential in Lebanon at this time, is arrested in international waters near Cyprus on September 14, 1987 during a joint FBI-CIA operation. However, US authorities fail to ask him about activities in Lebanon, such as the murders of CIA officers, kidnappings of US citizens who will later be part of an arms-for-hostages deal with Iran (see Late May, 1986), and an attack on the US marine barracks in Beirut, where over 200 people were killed (see April 18-October 23, 1983). Authors Joe and Susan Trento will say, “The key to all these unasked questions may be that those in charge did not want to know the answers.” For example, he is not asked about cooperation between the Amal group, which had a covert relationship with the CIA, and Hezbollah in the bombings. One possible reason for this is that Amal head Nabih Berri has “full knowledge of the arms-for-hostages deal,” an aspect of the Iran-Contra scandal. After Younis is released in 2005, the Trentos will interview him and he will say that Amal was co-responsible for the attacks: “Nothing happened in areas we controlled without Amal’s cooperation.” He will also say that Berri ordered some of the hijackings and that he cannot understand “why the United States allowed him to get away with it.” In addition, he will comment, “Privately, people in our government will say we cannot act [against Islamic militancy] in Lebanon because Nabih Berri is a valuable US intelligence asset,” and, “That lack of action is seen by the Hezbollah as evidence of America’s lack of seriousness and resolve in the War on Terror.” Regarding 9/11, he will say, “I have no doubt that our experience in breaking through airport security, developing sources and help among airport staff, was information that Hezbollah passed on to al-Qaeda.” [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 213, 215-7]
Fawaz Younis, a militant for the Lebanese Amal organization who has just been captured by the US (see June 14-30, 1985 and September 18, 1987), is kept in poor conditions, according to a later account he gives. Yousef will make the following allegations of mistreatment:
Both his wrists are broken when he is captured and he is not given medical treatment or painkillers for five days. However, according to the US, the broken wrists are not discovered until Younis is transported to the US, a few days after his capture.
While being held at sea, he is placed in a “highly heated cabin” and, “An exhaust pipe inside the cabin blew sand and hot air during that period, and my only resort for fresh air was to constantly ask my abductors to go to the toilet, where I could breathe fresh air.”
Younis will also say he suffered from seasickness.
At his trial, he will say that a confession was coerced from him thanks to these factors, but will be convicted. However, FBI spokesman Frank Scafidi will dismiss the claims, saying: “This man was convicted. He is raising these allegations while sitting in prison, and I think that speaks for itself. The FBI as [a] matter of policy treats prisoners or arrestees in conformance with its policies and regulations.” [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 1/24/1999]
A group of US agencies, comprising the CIA, FBI, DEA, and Defense Department, cooperates on the capture and rendition of Fawaz Younis, an Islamic militant linked to Lebanon’s Amal militia who was previously involved in two airplane hijackings.
Arrested, Transferred to US - Younis is captured after being lured to a boat in international waters off Cyprus. He is then arrested and transferred to an aircraft carrier, from where he is flown directly to the US. The operation, which costs US$20 million, is so complicated because of rules set by the Justice Department. [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 78-94] Author Stephen Grey will call the rules “very tight.” CIA manager Duane Clarridge will say, “This meant that Yunis had to be apprehended by the FBI in international waters or airspace, remain in constant custody of the feds, and remain clear of the turf of any sovereign nation—for the entire duration of his 4,000-mile journey to the United States.” [Grey, 2007, pp. 133-134]
Details of Hijackings - In the first hijacking, Younis seized a plane in Beirut and attempted to fly it to Tunis, where the Arab League was meeting. The aim was to pressure the League into urging the Palestine Liberation Organization to leave Lebanon, as relations between it and local people had deteriorated. In the second hijacking, which took place five days later, the plane was seized by a team from Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, who beat the passengers and shot one of them, US Navy diver Robert Stethem. Posing as a crewman during a stopover in Beirut, Younis entered the plane and took control of the hijacking. The passengers were removed from the plane in groups, and dispersed through Beirut. They were later released in return for safe passage for the hijackers (see June 14-30, 1985).
Lured by Informant - The man who lured Younis to the boat is Jamal Hamdan, who had previously worked with the CIA on a false flag operation in Germany (see After Mid-April 1986). Authors Joe and Susan Trento will describe Hamdan as “a street hustler, murderer and drug dealer,” adding, “Hamdan’s Beirut police file is impressive.” Thanks to his connection to Amal, Hamdan was able to operate for a time despite his killings, but in 1985 he murdered a senior Druze official and then his sister-in-law, leading to his imprisonment. Amal leader and US intelligence asset Nabih Berri informed the US that Hamdan could help them with some drug cases, and he began providing the DEA and CIA with information about US-based drug dealers, which got him released from prison.
Deal for Asylum - In return for helping the operation to capture Younis, dubbed operation Goldenrod, Hamdan insisted on “huge cash payments” and asylum for himself and his family in the US. The Trentos will comment, “In other words, the FBI arranged to bring into our country a murderer and terrorist in return for the capture of an airplane hijacker who had never killed any Americans.” [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 78-94]
Judge George Bason of the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia issues an oral finding that the Justice Department “took, converted, and stole” the enhanced version of Inslaw’s PROMIS software by “trickery, fraud, and deceit.” The ruling is issued at the end of a trial that lasts over two weeks and involves sworn statements from over 40 witnesses and thousands of pages of documentary evidence. Bason finds that a key departmental official, project manager C. Madison Brewer, was biased against Inslaw (see April 1982, April 14, 1982, and April 19, 1982). In addition, Brewer’s boss Lowell Jensen (see December 29, 1983 and February 1984) is said to have “a previously developed negative attitude about PROMIS and Inslaw,” because he had been associated with the development of a rival case management system while he was a district attorney in California, and this affected his judgment throughout his oversight of the contract. Further, the department violated bankruptcy protection legislation that applied to Inslaw by using and exercising control over Inslaw’s property—the enhanced PROMIS software—without negotiating a license fee. This oral finding is confirmed in a written opinion issued on January 25, 1988. In the written finding, Bason adds, “[T]his court finds and concludes that the department never intended to meet its commitment and that once the department had received enhanced PROMIS pursuant to Modification 12 (see April 11, 1983), the department thereafter refused to bargain in good faith with Inslaw and instead engaged in an outrageous, deceitful, fraudulent game of ‘cat and mouse,’ demonstrating contempt for both the law and any principle of fair dealing.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
The US Congress suspends aid to Pakistan for six weeks, due to arguments related to the arrest of a Pakistani agent attempting to buy material for its nuclear weapons program (see Before July 1987 and July 1987 or Shortly After). Congress suspects that Pakistan has a nuclear weapons program, but the administration denies this, as do the Pakistanis, even though they are both well aware that the program is a reality. The suspension is symbolic, as it only lasts six weeks and does not affect aid that has already been agreed upon, but not yet provided. [New York Times, 9/30/1987; New Yorker, 3/29/1993]
The Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), an oversight component at the Justice Department, begins an investigation into allegations made by the software company Inslaw against some Justice Department staff. The OPR had conducted a preliminary investigation the previous year (see 1986), concluding the officials were not biased against the company. However, after a bankruptcy court finds serious wrongdoing by departmental officials (see September 28, 1987), Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns asks for “a complete and thorough investigation into the allegation of bias and misconduct by various Justice Department officials against Inslaw.” The full investigation will again conclude that the officials were not biased against Inslaw (see March 31, 1989). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
Claiborne Pell. [Source: Brown University]The Senate Foreign Relations Committee reports that the US faces a dire choice if Iran is victorious in its war with Iraq. The choice, the committee reports, is “between permitting Iran to dominate the West’s oil supply in the Persian Gulf, and direct US military intervention… .” The report warns that the US, having agreed to protect Kuwaiti shipping in the Persian Gulf from Iranian attacks, “seriously risks being drawn into war” against Iran, and notes that Gulf nations believe the US is siding with Iraq in the war, “and the expanded US naval presence is likely to invite more Iranian attacks of increasing severity.… American naval forces in the Gulf are now, in effect, hostage to Iraqi war policy.” The Senate is debating whether to invoke the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which requires Congress to either declare war in the region or withdraw funding for the US military presence in the Gulf. The Reagan administration opposes the move, and it is doubtful a majority in Congress will vote to invoke the resolution. The report calls the US policy of escorting Kuwaiti tankers “dangerously nebulous.” The Reagan administration agreed to protect the tankers after Kuwait threatened to turn to the Soviets for help if the United States refused. Most Gulf nations believe Kuwait’s threat to ask for Soviet help is nothing more than a “feint” to involve the US in the war; few believe Kuwait is serious about turning to the Soviets for assistance. The report says that although “the flow of oil is not in serious jeopardy,” “shipping in the gulf now appears less safe than before the US naval buildup began.” Iran has recently sown Gulf waters with mines, posing a threat to Kuwaiti and other shipping in the area. Interestingly, though the report is critical of Reagan administration policy in the Gulf, it does not recommend reversing course. The US cannot retreat from its promise to protect Kuwaiti shipping without risking “great cost to US credibility in the region.” Claiborne Pell (D-RI) says, “This report shows that the danger of a possible Iraqi collapse is greater than commonly understood, and that the perils for us in the Gulf are certain to increase.” The report notes that because of the White House’s secret arming of Iran (see 1981), Iraq faces the real possibility of defeat in the war, with potentially catastrophic results for the US. “US policy in the Persian Gulf has been shaped as much by a short-term desire to restore credibility lost in the Iran-Contra affair as by any careful assessment of US interests and objectives.” [Boston Globe, 10/19/1987; New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
Stuart Schiffer, deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil division, writes to Richard Willard, the assistant attorney general for the civil division, about the Inslaw case. Schiffer writes: “[Judge George] Bason has scheduled the next [Inslaw] trial for February 2 . Coincidentally, it has been my understanding that February 1  is the date on which he [Bason] will either be reappointed or replaced.” Bason had ruled in favor of Inslaw (see September 28, 1987) and the department had been trying to have him removed from the case for months (see June 19, 1987). After Bason’s bid for reappointment fails (see December 15, 1987), he will say that the department used its influence against him (see December 5, 1990). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
After Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court fails (see July 1-October 23, 1987), President Reagan nominates an equally hard-line conservative, appeals court judge Douglas Ginsberg. Ginsberg withdraws his nomination after the press learns that he had ignored a serious conflict-of-interest problem while at the Department of Justice, that he had smoked marijuana as both a student and a professor at Harvard Law School, and that, though Ginsberg professes to be stringently anti-abortion, his wife is a doctor who has herself performed abortions. Reagan will nominate a third and final selection for the Court, the somewhat more moderate Anthony Kennedy. [Washington Post, 1998; Federal Judicial Center, 9/26/2006; Dean, 2007, pp. 143-144]
Representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Army Corps of Engineers, and a Maryland-based company, Brogan Associates Incorporated, approach Fred Westerman, a retired 20-year Army intelligence veteran and current head of the government-contracted security firm Security Evaluations Incorporated. Westerman recently reported irregularities within the highly secretive Continuity of Government program against the wishes of his superiors (see 1986-1987). The group comes to Westerman’s offices and allegedly orders him to hand over important corporate files. Westerman will later allege that FEMA security operations specialist Robert Lorenz and Army Corps of Engineers officer Gerald Boggs order him to hand over corporate documents, communications, records, invoices, and checkbooks to Brogan Associates president Arthur Hutchins. Boggs allegedly notifies Westerman that refusal will result in termination of his company’s contract with the government, while Lorenz reportedly threatens to put Westerman’s company out of business. Westerman refuses to turn over the records, and, according to Westerman, FEMA will burglarize his offices in search of the files (see Late 1987). Systems Evaluations’ contract with the government will be canceled shortly thereafter (see December 1987). Westerman will file a lawsuit against the government (see November 1988), but it will be frozen when the Justice Department opens an investigation of him (see November 1988) and will later be sealed after an in-depth report highlighting Westerman’s case is published by a major magazine (see August 8, 1989). Westerman will lose another contract, along with his security clearances, in 1990 (see 1990), and by November 1991, he will be unemployable, several hundred thousand dollars in debt, and unable to gain any restitution from the government (see November 1991). [Associated Press, 9/11/1989]
The flag of the Branch Davidians. [Source: Wikimedia]Vernon Wayne Howell, a Texas musician and a member of the Branch Davidian sect of Seventh-day Adventists, forcibly installs himself as the leader of the Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas. Howell is a self-described loner and dyslexic who dropped out of high school, but taught himself the Bible, memorizing most of it by age 12. He was expelled from the Church of Seventh-day Adventists in 1979 for being a bad influence on the church’s young people, and in 1981 joined the Waco group of Branch Davidians in its 77-acre compound, “Mount Carmel,” on the outskirts of the city. Howell had an affair with the leader of the group, self-described prophetess Lois Roden, some 30 years older than himself.
Power Struggle - After Roden died, Howell began a lengthy struggle for control of the group with Roden’s son George Roden. In late 1987, Roden digs up the body of a member, Anna Hughes, and issues a challenge to Howell: the one who could raise her from the dead is the one to lead the community. Instead, Howell asks the local authorities to charge Roden with abusing a corpse. On November 3, Howell returns to the Mt. Carmel compound with seven male followers, all dressed in camouflage and bearing assault rifles, hunting rifles, shotguns, and ammunition. The two groups engage in a gunfight; during the exchange, Roden is shot in the chest and hands. Howell and his followers will be tried for attempted murder, but the others will be acquitted and Howell’s trial will end in a mistrial. In 1989, Roden will try to murder a man with an axe, and will be committed to a mental instutition for the rest of his life. By 1990, Howell will have established himself as the leader of the Waco Branch Davidians, and will legally change his name to David Koresh, explaining that he believes he is now the head of the Biblical House of David. Koresh is a Hebrew translation of “Cyrus,” the Persian king who allowed the Jews held captive in Babylon to return to Israel. [New York Times, 3/1/1993; Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Adventists Join Koresh at Waco Compound - Seventh-day Adventists and others from around the world will journey to Waco to join the Davidians, who all told number somewhere around 75. According to a multi-part series by the Waco Tribune-Herald based on the recollections and observations of former members (see February 27 - March 3, 1993), the Davidians gather at the compound to “await the end of the world.” The members believe that Koresh alone can open the so-called “Seven Seals” of Biblical prophecy, which will trigger the Apocalypse, destroy the world as we know it, and propel Koresh and his followers into heaven. The compound is heavily armed. [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993] Most of the Davidians live communally in an L-shaped compound of beige buildings. A few of the more elderly members live in a trailer four miles from the main compound. The trailer has more amenities than the main building, which lacks central heating and indoor plumbing. The men live separately from the women and children. Members rise early, breakfasting together in a large cafeteria and then going to work. Some of the men have jobs in the Waco area, and many stay, working on what sect member Paul Fatta will describe as a three-year renovation of the compound but what law enforcement officials say is a network of tunnels and bunkers. The children are home-schooled by the women. [New York Times, 3/6/1993]
Former Member: Koresh Brought Apocalyptic Mindset, Violence to Group - According to Davidian David Bunds, who will later leave the group, Koresh, or Howells as he is known, was something of a destabilizing factor from the time of his arrival. Bunds will later say: “We were a very reserved, very conservative group. There were no emotional displays. Then along came Vernon Howell. I remember my father said one day, ‘Well, that guy sounds like he’s going to end up saying he’s a prophet the way he’s acting.’” Bunds will later say that while he was enthralled for a time by Koresh’s personality and his apocalyptic preaching, he became increasingly disturbed at his insistence on having multiple “wives,” his stockpiling of more and more weapons, and the increasingly violent methods of “discipline” being meted out to “disobedient” children and adults alike (adults, Bunds and other “defectors” will later say, are physically beaten by Koresh’s cadre of militantly loyal “Mighty Men”). Bunds will be forced out of the group after questioning Koresh’s Biblical interpretations, and for taking a sect member as his wife against Koresh’s wishes. [Conway and Siegelman, 1995, pp. 244-246]
Federal Raid, Siege - The Waco Branch Davidians will kill four federal agents attempting to arrest Koresh on gun and sexual abuse charges (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993); most of them, including Koresh, will die in a fiery conflagration after a 51-day standoff (see April 19, 1993). After the February 1993 raid, Waco Chamber of Commerce president Jack Stewart will say: “The sad part about this group is that it has evolved from the peaceful, pastoral group that it started as in the 1930s. Only since this most recent leader have they begun to acquire some of the weaponry and attitudes that they have.” [New York Times, 3/1/1993]
The congressional Iran-Contra committee has finally produced a final report, which committee Democrats thought would be unanimous. But committee Republicans fought successfully to water down the report, including the exclusion of evidence proving President Reagan’s involvement in the policy decisions (see August 3, 1987 and After), and then at the last minute broke away and announced their intention to issue a minority report—which was their intention all along. “From the get-go they wanted a minority report,” Republican staffer Bruce Fein will later recall. The official majority report is due to come out on November 17, but a printing error forces it to be delayed a day (see November 18, 1987). The committee Republicans, headed by Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) and Senator Henry Hyde (R-IL) leak their minority report to the New York Times on November 16, thus stealing a march on the majority. On November 17, all of the committee Republicans save three—Senators Warren Rudman (R-NH), Paul Trible (R-VA), and William Cohen (R-ME)—hold a press conference in which they accuse the majority of staging a “witch hunt” against the president and the administration. The minority report asserts: “There was no constitutional crisis, no systematic disrespect for the ‘rule of law,’ no grand conspiracy, and no administration-wide dishonesty or cover-up.… In our view the administration did proceed legally in pursuing both its Contra policy and the Iran arms initiative.” Rudman calls the minority report “pathetic,” and says his Republican colleagues have “separated the wheat from the chaff and sowed the chaff.” The press focuses on the conflict between the two reports. The Democrats largely ignore the minority report: “This was ‘87,” one Democratic staff member will recall. “We had a substantial majority and the Republicans were trained to be what we thought was a permanent minority party. When they would yap and yell, we would let them yap. It just didn’t matter.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 80-81]
Congress’s joint Iran-Contra investigative committee issues its final majority report. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] The Republican minority has largely refused to join the majority report, which was watered down time and again to entice the Republicans to join in the issuance of a unanimous report (see November 16-17, 1987). Still, the watered-down report finds that the “clandestine financing operation undermined the powers of Congress as a coequal branch and subverted the Constitution.” The Reagan administration had violated a key belief of the Constitution’s framers: “the purse and the sword should never be in the same hands.” Regardless of the majority report’s findings, no significant reforms will come from the Iran-Contra investigation. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 81-82]
An official written report is drafted for the panel considering the appointment of a judge to the Bankruptcy Court to the District of Columbia. The two-page report briefly assesses the final four candidates, including the incumbent George Bason, who is, however, at loggerheads with the Justice Department over his handling of the Inslaw case (see June 19, 1987 and September 28, 1987). However, another—longer but unofficial—report will be drafted two weeks later and will be critical of Bason (see December 8, 1987). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
Members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency allegedly burglarize the offices of Systems Evaluations Incorporated, a government-contracted security firm working on the highly classified Continuity of Government program (see 1985). The head of the company, Fred Westerman, recently reported to federal officials several irregularities within the classified project (see 1986-1987) and was subsequently ordered to hand over corporate materials to a competitor, although he refused (see November 1987). Systems Evaluations’ contract will soon be canceled (see December 1987) and the Justice Department will open an investigation of the company shortly after Westerman files a lawsuit against the government seeking restitution (see November 1988 and November 1988). Westerman’s lawsuit will be frozen and sealed (see August 8, 1989), his contracts with the government will be canceled (see December 1987 and 1990), his security clearances will be stripped, and by 1991 he will be left unemployable, in debt, and unable to gain any restitution from the government (see November 1991). [Associated Press, 9/11/1989]
The Army Corps of Engineers notifies the head of Systems Evaluations Incorporated, Fred Westerman, that his company’s contract to set up secret storage facilities for the highly secretive Continuity of Government program will not being extended, despite previous promises that a five-year renewal was forthcoming. Westerman, a retired 20-year Army intelligence veteran, began work on the secret project in 1985 (see 1985). He began reporting irregularities within the program to government officials in 1986, against the wishes of his superiors (see 1986-1987). Westerman will file a lawsuit against the government seeking restitution (see November 1988), but the suit will be frozen when the Justice Department opens an investigation of him (see November 1988). US District Judge Norma Johnson will seal the suit shortly after an in-depth story on the COG program referring to Westerman’s case is published in a major magazine (see August 8, 1989). In 1990, Westerman will lose another contract, along with his security clearances (see 1990). By November 1991, he will be unemployable, several hundred thousand dollars in debt, and unable to gain any restitution from the government (see November 1991). [Emerson, 8/7/1989; San Francisco Chronicle, 8/8/1989; Associated Press, 9/11/1989; CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]
Gorbachev and Reagan sign the INF treaty. [Source: Ronald Reagan Library]US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sign a fundamental disarmament agreement. The two sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which has been stalled for years (see September 1981 through November 1983). The INF Treaty eliminates an entire class of intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missiles. It also provides for on-site verifications for each side (which agrees with Reagan’s signature quote, “Trust but verify”). And it marks the first real multi-lateral reduction of nuclear weapons, even if it is only a 5 percent reduction.
Strong Approval from American Public - Reagan’s approval ratings, weakened by public outrage over the Iran-Contra affair, rebound, and Gorbachev becomes a celebrity to many Americans (he causes a near-riot in Washington when, the day before signing the treaty, he spontaneously leaps out of his limousine and wades into the gathered crowd of well-wishers). Altogether, some 80 percent of Americans support the treaty.
Unable to Continue Longer-Range Negotiations - Reagan wants to build on the INF agreement to reopen the similarly moribund START negotiations (see May 1982 and After), but recognizes that there is not enough time left in his administration to accomplish such a long-term goal. Instead, he celebrates his status as the first American president to begin reducing nuclear arms by scheduling a visit to the Soviet Union.
Conservative Opposition - Hardline conservatives protest Gorbachev’s visit to Washington, and the signing of the treaty, in the strongest possible terms. When Reagan suggests that Gorbachev address a joint session of Congress, Congressional Republicans, led by House member Dick Cheney (R-WY—see 1983), rebel. Cheney says: “Addressing a joint meeting of Congress is a high honor, one of the highest honors we can accord anyone. Given the fact of continuing Soviet aggression in Afghanistan, Soviet repression in Eastern Europe, and Soviet actions in Africa and Central America, it is totally inappropriate to confer this honor upon Gorbachev. He is an adversary, not an ally.” Conservative Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Committee is more blunt in his assessment of the treaty agreement: “Reagan is a weakened president, weakened in spirit as well as in clout, and not in a position to make judgments about Gorbachev at this time.” Conservative pundit William F. Buckley calls the treaty a “suicide pact.” Fellow conservative pundit George Will calls Reagan “wildly wrong” in his dealings with the Soviets. Conservatives gather to bemoan what they call “summit fever,” accusing Reagan of “appeasement” both of communists and of Congressional liberals, and protesting Reagan’s “cutting deals with the evil empire” (see March 8, 1983). They mount a letter-writing campaign, generating some 300,000 letters, and launch a newspaper ad campaign that compares Reagan to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Senators Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Steven Symms (R-ID) try to undercut the treaty by attempting to add amendments that would make the treaty untenable; Helms will lead a filibuster against the treaty as well.
Senate Ratification and a Presidential Rebuke - All the protests from hardline opponents of the treaty come to naught. When the Senate votes to ratify the treaty, Reagan says of his conservative opposition, “I think that some of the people who are objecting the most and just refusing even to accede to the idea of ever getting an understanding, whether they realize it or not, those people, basically, down in their deepest thoughts, have accepted that war is inevitable and that there must come to be a war between the superpowers.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 142-145]
An apparently unofficial, confidential memo marked “read and destroy” is drafted about the four final candidates for the position of judge at the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia. The memo is clearly critical of the incumbent, George Bason, who is up for reappointment. Bason recently displeased the Justice Department by ruling against it in the Inslaw affair over the alleged theft of enhanced PROMIS software (see September 28, 1987). The memo states that “its purpose is to ‘help’ elucidate in particular our reasoning in ranking the candidates as we did,” and describes each of the four. The House Judiciary Committee will comment: “What is striking about the memorandum is that the description of each candidate except Judge Bason begins with positive commentary about the individual. The section describing Judge Bason begins, ‘I could not conclude that Judge Bason was incompetent.’ Other phrases used to describe Judge Bason include ‘he is inclined to make mountains out of molehills,’ ‘Judge Bason seems to have developed a pronounced and unrelenting reputation for favoring debtors,’ and finally, ‘Judge Bason evidenced no inclination to come to grips personally with the management challenge posed by the terrible shortcomings of the Office of the Clerk of our Bankruptcy Court.’” The memo is addressed to Judge Norma Johnson, who Bason will allege may have been an instrument of a campaign waged against him by the Justice Department (see May 1988). The panel appointing the bankruptcy court judge will meet a week later and decide not to give the position to Bason, but to a Justice Department lawyer who represented the government in the Inslaw case (see December 15, 1987). After Bason asks appeals court judges to reconsider his non-reappointment (see January 12, 1988), the memo will be circulated to them. The memo is unsigned, but an appeals court judge who later provides the memo to the House Judiciary Committee investigating the Inslaw affair will say another judge on the appointment panel drafted it. However, this judge will deny having done so. When, some years later, several members of the panel are asked by the committee whether they saw this memo, they will say they do not recognize it. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
George Bason, a bankruptcy judge who recently found in favor of Inslaw in a dispute over the Justice Department’s alleged theft of enhanced PROMIS software (see September 28, 1987), is not reappointed to the bench. Bason had been appointed in February 1984 instead of another judge who had resigned mid-term, but a decision is now taken to replace him with a Justice Department attorney named Martin Teel, who had appeared before him in the Inslaw case. Although the official report for the appointments panel about the candidates did not criticize Bason (see November 24, 1987), a subsequent unofficial report addressed to Norma Johnson, the head of the panel, did (see December 8, 1987). The unofficial report claimed that there were shortcomings in Bason’s administration of the clerk’s office, although the office appears to be running smoothly by this time (see Second Half of 1987). Several judges on the selection council will later say they did not know much about the candidates, and therefore relied on Johnson and her interpretation of reports prepared about them. The House Judiciary Committee will find that Johnson’s oral presentation “played a large role in the selection,” that Johnson ran the panel “firmly,” and that the other members “relied on her judgment.” Overall, it will call the selection process “largely informal, undocumented, and highly subjective.” Bason learns he will not be reappointed from Chief Judge Patricia Wald, of the US Court of Appeals, on December 28. Bason will later say that Teel was not qualified for the position (see January 12, 1988) and that the department had influenced the selection process in order to have him removed from the bench (see December 5, 1990). In this context, Bason will point out to the House committee that Johnson had previously worked with a departmental official named Stuart Schiffer, so he could have influenced her against Bason (see May 1988). Bason will also note that Johnson worked with Judge Tim Murphy for 10 years from 1970, and that Murphy had later worked as the assistant director on the implementation of PROMIS at the Justice Department. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
Although the US is already aware that the Soviet Union intends to withdraw from Afghanistan (see November 1986-November 1987) and a formal agreement on the Soviet withdrawal will be signed in four months (see April 1988), the US Congress approves aid of $480 million for Pakistan, despite its nuclear weapons program. Legislation has been passed that automatically cuts off aid to countries with illicit nuclear weapons programs (see August 1985 and August 1985), but this legislation is not invoked. Despite apparently knowing of the Pakistani program, Congress decides that supporting the war in Afghanistan is more important (see July 1987 or Shortly After and Late 1980s). Some lawmakers and officials will later say that at this time “everybody in Congress” knows that Pakistan has a nuclear weapons program (see Late 1980s), and anti-proliferation Senator John Glenn (D-OH) will later say the threat of nuclear proliferation “is a far greater danger to the world than being afraid to cut off the flow of aid to Afghanistan,” adding, “It’s the short-term versus the long-term.” [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]
Richard Butler, the head of the white separatist and neo-Nazi organization Aryan Nations (see Early 1970s), is indicted, along with 12 of his followers and fellow racists, by a federal grand jury for seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government by violence, conspiring to kill federal officials, and transporting stolen money across state lines. The sedition was allegedly developed at a 1983 Aryan Nations Congress meeting (see 1981 and After). The case is tried in Fort Smith, Arkansas, before an all-white jury. The goverment is unable to prove the case, and Butler and his fellow defendants are all acquitted. The judge refuses to accept the jury’s statement that it is deadlocked on two counts, a ruling that leads to the blanket acquittals. Other white supremacists acquitted in the trial are Louis Beam (see February 1992), Richard Wayne Snell (see 9:00 p.m. April 19, 1995), and Robert Miles. US Attorney J. Michael Fitzhugh says he believes the prosecution proved its case, but “we accept the verdict of the jury.” Six of the defendants are serving prison terms for other crimes. The prosecution says Butler, Beam, Miles, and the other 10 defendants had robbed banks and armored trucks of $4.1 million, including about $1 million that still is missing. The defense countered that the prosecution’s case was based on conspiracy theories given by the prosecution’s chief witness, James Ellison, an Arkansas white supremacist serving 20 years for racketeering. During the proceedings, Butler undergoes quadruple bypass surgery and a second surgery to unblock his carotid artery, all at government expense. [Associated Press, 4/8/1998; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010] Some time after the trial, one of the jurors marries one of the defendants, David McGuire. [Kaplan, 2000, pp. 19]
Ali Mohamed, now an instructor at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (see 1986), travels to Afghanistan to train mujaheddin. He tells friends that he plans to join the mujaheddin in Afghanistan and “kill Russians.” He informs supervisor Lt. Col. Steve Neely of his plans, who passes the information up the chain of command. Lt. Col. Robert Anderson, Mohamed’s commanding officer, also reports Mohamed’s suspicious activities to Fort Bragg officials and army intelligence, but gets no response. Mohamed takes one month of leave and goes to Afghanistan. No action is taken to prevent him from doing this. [New York Times, 12/1/1998; Raleigh News and Observer, 10/21/2001; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 143] When he returns, he boasts of his combat exploits to his colleagues. Lt. Col. Anderson writes up a second report and again gets no response. Freelance fighting would be a serious breach of military rules, and the New York Times will later note that, “The capture or death of an American serviceman in Afghanistan would have been a major international embarrassment to the United States.” However, no disciplinary action is taken against him. This leads Anderson to conclude that Mohamed’s activities are sponsored by a US intelligence agency. Anderson will state, “I think you or I would have a better chance of winning [the lottery], than an Egyptian major in the unit that assassinated [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat would have getting a visa, getting to California… getting into the Army and getting assigned to a Special Forces unit. That just doesn’t happen.” He will add that it is equally unthinkable that an ordinary US soldier would go unpunished after fighting in a foreign war. [New York Times, 12/1/1998; San Francisco Chronicle, 11/4/2001] Mohamed is also stealing classified documents from the base; some of them will be discovered by US investigators in 1990 (see November 5, 1990). According to a US army spokesperson, an officer working with Mohammed “did have some suspicions about what he did, but nothing came as a result of it. It really depended on who you believed.” [Associated Press, 12/31/2001]
Bush during his Harken days. [Source: Lions Gate Films]Prior to this year, President George W. Bush is a failed oilman. Three times, friends and investors have bailed him out to keep his business from going bankrupt. However, in 1988, the same year his father becomes president, some Saudis buy a portion of his small company, Harken, which has never performed work outside of Texas. Later in the year, Harken wins a contract in the Persian Gulf and starts doing well financially. These transactions seem so suspicious that the Wall Street Journal in 1991 states it “raises the question of… an effort to cozy up to a presidential son.” Two major investors in Bush’s company during this time are Salem bin Laden and Khalid bin Mahfouz. Salem bin Laden dies in a plane crash in Texas in 1988. [Intelligence Newsletter, 3/2/2000; Salon, 11/19/2001] Salem bin Laden is Osama’s oldest brother; Khalid bin Mahfouz is a Saudi banker with a 20 percent stake in BCCI. The bank will be shut down a few years later and bin Mahfouz will have to pay a $225 million fine (while admitting no wrongdoing) (see October 10, 2001)). [Forbes, 3/18/2002]
The US increases the amount of military intelligence it provides Iraq, a significant portion of which is channeled to the Iraqis through the CIA’s Baghdad office. [Washington Post, 12/30/2002]
Artist’s sketch of Said Ramadan. [Source: Wall Street Journal]In 1988, the Al Taqwa Bank is founded in Switzerland, and it quickly becomes one of the major funders for radical Islamic groups, including al-Qaeda (see 1988). The Al Taqwa Bank is closely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and one of its key founders, Said Ramadan, is one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s top leaders, and also the son-in-law of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Ramadan helped Saudi Arabia found the Muslim World League in 1962; the charity will go on to fund al-Qaeda and many other radical groups. But there is strong evidence that Ramadan also was a long-time CIA asset. [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 136] Declassified Swiss documents reveal that in the 1960s, the Swiss government considered him to be, “among other things, an intelligence agent of the British and the Americans.” The Wall Street Journal will report in 2005, “Historical evidence suggests Mr. Ramadan worked with the CIA.” For instance, he traveled on a Jordanian diplomatic passport given to him by the CIA, “his expenditures are financed by the American side,” and he worked closely with CIA supported propaganda fronts. [Mother Jones, 1/1/2006] The Egyptian government apparently also believed Ramadan worked with the US, and that he may have had a role in a plot against Egyptian President Abddul Nasser in the 1960s. Ramadan even met with President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Oval Office in 1953. [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 135-138] Ramadan will die in 1995 at the age of 69. It is not known how long his ties to the CIA and possibly other intelligence agencies lasted. Journalist Robert Dreyfuss will later comment: “It’s no exaggeration to say that Ramadan is the ideological grandfather of Osama bin Laden. But Ramadan, the Muslim Brotherhood, and their Islamist allies might never have been able to plant the seeds that sprouted into al-Qaeda had they not been treated as US allies during the Cold War and had they not received both overt and covert support from Washington.” [Mother Jones, 1/1/2006]
Near the end of the Soviet-Afghan war in the late 1980s and into the early 1990s, the radical mujaheddin heavily funded by the CIA and Saudi Arabia kill moderate Afghans by the thousands. By doing so, they manage to eliminate rivals to power when the war is over. The US does not object or limit funding because of this. Cheryl Benard, a RAND Corporation expert on Islam and the wife of future US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, will later comment: “At first, everyone thought, There’s no way to beat the Soviets. So what we have to do is throw the worst crazies at them that we can find, and there was a lot of collateral damage. We knew exactly who these people were, and what their organizations were like, and we didn’t care. Then, we allowed them to get rid of, just kill all the moderate leaders. The reason we don’t have moderate leaders in Afghanistan today is because we let the nuts kill them all. They killed the leftists, the moderates, the middle-of-the-roaders. They were just eliminated, during the 1980s and afterward.” [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 291]
The World Health Organization (WHO) presents Cuban leader Fidel Castro with its “Health for All” award in recognition of Cuba reaching all the WHO health goals set for developing countries to achieve by 2000. [Z Magazine, 6/2003]
As the end of President Reagan’s final term approaches, conservatives and hardliners have radically changed their view of him. They originally saw him as one of their own—a crusader for good against evil, obstinately opposed to communism in general and to any sort of arms reduction agreement with the Soviet Union in specific. But recent events—Reagan’s recent moderation in rhetoric towards the Soviets (see December 1983 and After), the summits with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev (see November 16-19, 1985 and October 11-12, 1986), and the recent arms treaties with the Soviets (see Early 1985 and December 7-8, 1987) have soured them on Reagan. Hardliners had once held considerable power in the Reagan administration (see January 1981 and After and Early 1981 and After), but their influence has steadily waned, and their attempts to sabotage and undermine arms control negotiations (see April 1981 and After, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and April 1983-December 1983), initially quite successful, have grown less effective and more desperate (see Before November 16, 1985). Attempts by administration hardliners to get “soft” officials such as Secretary of State George Shultz fired do not succeed. Conservative pundits such as George Will and William Safire lambast Reagan, with Will accusing him of “moral disarmament” and Safire mocking Reagan’s rapport with Gorbachev: “He professed to see in Mr. Gorbachev’s eyes an end to the Soviet goal of world domination.” It will not be until after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall (see November 9, 1989 and After) that conservatives will revise their opinion of Reagan, in the process revising much of history in the process. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 143-145]
Congress attempts to bring back the Fairness Doctrine (see 1987), a provision that mandates the broadcasting of differing viewpoints on controversial political and social issues (see 1949 and 1959). Though the legislation passes both houses of Congress by wide margins, President Reagan vetoes the legislation, and Congress is unable to muster enough votes to override the veto. In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will write: “The end of the Fairness Doctrine paved the way for talk radio as we know it today (see 1990-1993). Neither hosts nor stations currently have an obligation to provide balance or to open their programs to those of competing views.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 2/12/2005; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 45]
Anti-abortion protesters gather to voice their opposition to abortion. [Source: CNN]Operation Rescue California, a subgroup of the national anti-abortion organization (see 1986), under the leadership of Kevin White, stages “rescue campaigns” against a number of women’s clinics in California. The organization dubs the campaign “No Place to Hide.” Some of the most blatant harassment of doctors, nurses, and patients recorded by anti-abortion activists results from this campaign. [Kushner, 2003, pp. 38-39]
Ben Klassen, the founder and leader of the Church of the Creator (COTC—see 1973 and 1982-1983), travels to California to ask John Metzger, son of neo-Nazi White Aryan Resistance (WAR) founder Tom Metzger, about taking over the COTC. Klassen is 70 and actively looking for a successor. Metzger, saying he “wouldn’t want to be affiliated with a church,” declines. Metzger’s WAR, a nexus for neo-Nazi “skinheads” around the Northwest, is in temporary decline, having suffered a $12.5 million judgment against it from a civil suit filed on behalf of an Ethiopian murder victim and having been embarrassed by the disclosure of the fact that the Metzgers had spent WAR funds on personal items such as Tom Metzger’s toupee. COTC will ultimately benefit from the split, gaining many disenchanted WAR members. [Anti-Defamation League, 1993; Southern Poverty Law Center, 9/1999]
Conservative Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) says, “Democracy used to be a good thing, but now it has gotten into the wrong hands.” Presumably Helms is referring to countries which have used democratic elections to choose leaders unfriendly to US interests. [Hunt, 9/1/2009, pp. 10]
The cover of ‘Hunter.’ [Source: ce399 (.com)]William Pierce, the founder of the neo-Nazi National Alliance (see 1970-1974) and the author of the inflammatory and highly influential white supremacist novel The Turner Diaries (see 1978), oversees the creation of a publishing firm for the Alliance, National Vanguard Books. It will publish a number of works, most prominently a reprint of The Turner Diaries and Pierce’s second novel, Hunter, which tells the story of a white assassin who kills minorities, particularly interracial couples. He dedicates Hunter to Joseph Paul Franklin, convicted of the sniper murders of two African-American men (see 1980). Pierce will later tell his biographer that he wrote Hunter as a deliberate motivational tool for assassins, saying, “From the beginning with Hunter, I had this idea of how fiction can work as a teaching tool in mind.” In 2002, the Center for New Community will write, “Like The Turner Diaries, the book has inspired several real-life acts of racist terror” (see January 4, 2002 and After). In 1991, National Vanguard will expand into releasing audiotapes, which by December 1992 will spawn a radio show, American Dissident Voices. In 1993, it will begin publishing comic books targeted at children and teenagers. [Center for New Community, 8/2002 ]
Abdullah Azzam in Afghanistan. [Source: Al Jazeera]The Boston Globe will later say that throughout the 1980s, the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, “was a spiritual leader of the CIA-backed mujaheddin.” [Boston Globe, 6/21/1995] The Atlantic Monthly will later report that in the late 1980s in Peshawar, Pakistan, Abdul-Rahman “became involved with the US and Pakistani intelligence officials who were orchestrating the [Afghan] war. The sixty or so CIA and Special Forces officers based there considered him a ‘valuable asset,’ according to one of them, and overlooked his anti-Western message and incitement to holy war because they wanted him to help unify the mujaheddin groups.” He is unable to unify the groups, but he helps coordinate some of their activities. He tends to favor the two most radically anti-Western factions led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. He also has close links to Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden’s mentor. [Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996] According to Barnett Rubin, a Columbia University professor and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Azzam was also working with the CIA to help recruit for and unite the mujaheddin groups (see 1985-1989), and when he is assassinated in 1989, the CIA relies even more heavily on Abdul-Rahman. Rubin claims the CIA pays to send him back to Peshawar “to preach to the Afghans about the necessity of unity to overthrow the Kabul regime.” As a reward for his help, the CIA gives him a visa to the US, even though he is on a terrorism watch list (see July 1990). [New York Magazine, 3/17/1995] One source who worked with the CIA supply operation at this time will later say that Abdul-Rahman’s ties to Hekmatyar, the CIA’s most favored Afghan warlord, “put Sheikh Omar in the [CIA’s] good books. And believe me, later on when the Sheikh wanted to come to the States, he cashed in those chips.” [Lance, 2006, pp. 20]
Republicans in the US Senate successfully filibuster efforts to pass legislation that would significantly limit campaign spending by federal candidates. [Connecticut Network, 2006 ]
Dr. Alvin Marks patents two solar power technologies: Lepcon and Lumeloid. Lepcon consists of glass panels covered with a large array of millions of aluminum or copper strips, each less than a micron wide. As sunlight hits the metal strips, the energy in the light is transferred to electrons in the metal, which escape at one end in the form of electricity. Lumeloid uses a similar approach but substitutes less expensive sheets of filmed plastic for the glass panels and covers the plastic with conductive polymers. [US Department of Energy, 2002 ]
The Golden Chain list. [Source: Public domain]In March 2002, authorities in Bosnia, Sarajevo, will raid the offices of the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) due to suspected funding of al-Qaeda (see March 2002). The raid will uncover a handwritten list containing the name of twenty wealthy donors sympathetic to al-Qaeda. The list, referred to as “The Golden Chain,” contains both the names of the donors and the names of the recipients (but does not mention amounts given). Seven of the payments are made to Osama bin Laden. [United Press International, 2/11/2003] Most accounts will be vague on what year the Golden Chain document was written; some say 1988. [Wall Street Journal, 3/18/2003] But counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will say it dates from 1989. [US Congress, 10/22/2003] Al-Qaeda is formed in late 1988 (see August 11-20, 1988). The Wall Street Journal will later note, “The list doesn’t show any continuing support for al-Qaeda after the organization began targeting Americans, but a number of the Saudis on it have been under scrutiny by US officials as to whether they have supported terrorism in recent years.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/18/2003] The donors named include:
The “Bin Laden brothers.” Their first names are not mentioned. They give money to Osama bin Laden. UPI will later point out that “the discovery of this document in Sarajevo calls into question whether al-Qaeda has received support from one of Osama’s scores of wealthy brothers.”
Adel Batterjee, a wealthy Saudi businessman who is also the founder of both BIF and its predecessor, Lajnatt Al-Birr Al-Islamiah. He appears to be mentioned as a recipient three times. [United Press International, 2/11/2003] The US will declare him as a terrorist financier in 2004 (see December 21, 2004).
Wael Hamza Julaidan, a Saudi millionaire and one of the founders of al-Qaeda. He is listed as a recipient. The US will declare him a terrorist financier in 2002 (see September 6, 2002).
Saleh Kamel, a Saudi billionaire, and the majority shareholder of the Saudi conglomerate Dallah Albaraka. In 2003, Forbes will call him one of the richest people in the world. The list has him giving money to Batterjee.
Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, another Saudi billionaire. The SAAR network, which is named after him, will be raided by the FBI in 2002 (see March 20, 2002). [Emerson, 2006, pp. 400]
Khalid bin Mahfouz, another Saudi billionaire. A lawyer for bin Mahfouz will later say bin Mahfouz did contribute a small amount to fund the mujaheddin in the late 1980s, but only at the behest of the US and Saudi Arabia. [Wall Street Journal, 3/18/2003]
An unusual relationship forms between the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of Topeka, Kansas (see November 27, 1955 and After), and the political organization of Senator Al Gore (D-TN). In 1988, WBC head Fred Phelps provides rooms in his compound for Gore’s presidential campaign workers. In 1993, Phelps’s oldest son Fred Phelps Jr. is invited to the first Clinton-Gore inauguration. But by 1998, Gore is seen as such an enemy by the WBC that its members picket the funeral of his father. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001] In 2000, Phelps Senior will say that the relationship between himself and Gore is “not what it used to be,” but he will say that he still receives Christmas cards from Gore. Phelps will attempt to explain the relationship between Gore and the WBC, saying: “He was strong pro-life, and he said he wasn’t going to accept any money from homosexual groups, and things of that nature. But there’s no question in my mind that approximately in the late 1980s or the early 1990s he made a conscious decision that he wanted to be a successful national candidate, and he sold out on some of those critical social issues, because that’s what he had to do to succeed nationally in the Democratic Party.” [Topeka Capital-Journal, 11/4/2000]
Iraq uses chemical weapons to retake the Fao Peninsula. After the attacks, Lt. Col. Rick Francona, an American defense intelligence officer, is dispatched to the battlefield where he meets with Iraqi officers. According to a New York Times report, Francona “reported that Iraq had used chemical weapons to cinch its victory…. [He] saw zones marked off for chemical contamination, and containers for the drug atropine scattered around, indicating that Iraqi soldiers had taken injections to protect themselves from the effects of gas that might blow back over their positions.” [New York Times, 8/18/2002]
Zahid Shaikh Mohammed, the brother of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), works as the head of the Pakistani branch of the charity Mercy International. A book published in 1999 will allege that this charity, based in the US and Switzerland, was used by the CIA to funnel money to Muslim militants fighting against US enemies in places such as Bosnia and Afghanistan (see 1989 and After). It is not known when Zahid got involved with the charity, but he is heading its Pakistani branch by 1988, when his nephew Ramzi Yousef first goes to Afghanistan (see Late 1980s). [Reeve, 1999, pp. 120] In the spring of 1993, US investigators raid Zahid’s house while searching for Yousef (see Spring 1993). Documents and pictures are found suggesting close links and even a friendship between Zahid and Osama bin Laden. Photos and other evidence also show close links between Zahid, KSM, and government officials close to Nawaf Sharif, who is prime minister of Pakistan twice in the 1990s. The investigators also discover that Zahid was seen talking to Pakistani President Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari during a Mercy International ceremony in February 1993. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 48-49, 120] But despite the raid, Zahid apparently keeps his job until about February 1995, when Yousef is arrested in Pakistan (see February 7, 1995). Investigators learn Yousef had made a phone call to the Mercy office, and there is an entry in Yousef’s seized telephone directory for a Zahid Shaikh Mohammed. Pakistani investigators raid the Mercy office, but Zahid has already fled. [United Press International, 4/11/1995; Guardian, 9/26/2001; McDermott, 2005, pp. 154, 162] It is unclear what subsequently happens to Zahid. In 1999 it will be reported that he is believed to be in Kuwait, but in 2002 the Kuwaiti government will announce he is a member of al-Qaeda, so presumably he is no longer welcome there. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 48; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Mercy International’s Kenya branch will later be implicated in the 1998 US embassy bombing in that country, as will KSM, Zahid’s brother (see Late August 1998).
President Ronald Reagan invokes the Solarz amendment (see August 1985), cutting off aid to Pakistan due to its illicit nuclear weapons program. This is in response to the arrest of a Pakistani agent attempting to purchase technology for the program in the US six months previously (see Before July 1987). However, Reagan then waives the provisions of the amendment, allowing US aid to Pakistan to continue. Journalist Seymour Hersh will comment, “The president was telling Pakistan that it could have its money—and its bomb.” [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]
A federal appeals court rules 2-1 in favor of Theodore Olson, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, who has refused to comply with a subpoena issued as part of an independent counsel’s investigation into political interference at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Olson’s position is that the independent counsel is illegal under the Constitution, as interpreted by the so-called “unitary executive theory” (see April 30, 1986). One of the appellate court judges, Carter appointee Ruth Bader Ginsberg, argues that the independent counsel law is perfectly constitutional, and fits with the Founding Fathers’ vision of a system of “checks and balances” among the three governmental branches. But Reagan appointees Laurence Silberman and Stephen Williams outvote Ginsberg. Silberman, who writes the majority opinion, is a longtime advocate of increased executive power, and calls the independent counsel law “inconsistent with the doctrine of a unitary executive.” The Supreme Court will strike down Silberman’s ruling (see June 1988), but the independent counsel will not bring charges against Olson. [Savage, 2007, pp. 46-49]
The US Commerce Department allows the export of equipment to Iraq for its SCUD missile program, allowing the Iraqis to increase the range of its SCUD missiles. [US Congress, 7/2/1991]
US ambassador to Pakistan Robert Oakley. [Source: Terry Mitchell / Public domain]According to some accounts, by this time it is common knowledge in certain Washington circles that Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Despite this, the US government and Congress continues to pretend that Pakistan does not have such weapons, so that aid to Pakistan and the anti-Soviet mujaheddin based there can continue (see 1987-1989). A former top-level Reagan Administration official will later question the integrity of members of Congress who outwardly pretended to be tough on nuclear proliferators, but did not really want the aid to be cut off: “All this morality horse****. We were caught in a dilemma, and I didn’t know how to solve it: there was no way to stop the Pakistanis.… All this talk about breaking the law—it’s just a morality play. Of course everybody in Congress knew. The Administration was carrying out a popularly based policy in Afghanistan. If we’d cut off the aid to Pakistan, would we have been able to withstand the political heat from Congress?”
Former Ambassador: Congress 'Acquiesced' to Pakistani Program - According to the New Yorker, “many former members of the Reagan and Bush Administrations,” such as former ambassador to Pakistan Robert Oakley, will say that the essential facts about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program were known fully at this time to Congress, whose members “acquiesced” to the program, because of the Soviet-Afghan War and the popularity of Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in the US. Journalist Seymour Hersh will later comment, “Oakley’s point seemed to be that passive approval by Congress of bad policy somehow justified bad policy.”
Glenn: Nonproliferation Initiatives Thwarted - Senator John Glenn (D-OH) will say that most lawmakers did not want to know anyway: “I always thought in terms of the bigger picture—the nonproliferation treaty… We made a commitment that we’d cut off aid to transgressors, and we had to keep faith with those Third World people who signed with us. I didn’t think I had any option but to press for enforcement of the law against Pakistan.” He adds: “The Administration would always come to me and say how important it is to keep the arms flowing through to Afghanistan. I’d take my case on nonproliferation to the floor and lose the vote.”
Solarz: Balancing Concerns between Pakistan, Afghan War - Congressman Stephen Solarz (D-NY), one of the strongest opponents of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program during the Soviet-Afghan War, will admit that he and others who cared about non-proliferation constantly tried to balance that concern with a desire to support the anti-Soviet effort, which was based in Pakistan. “There were legitimate concerns that the Afghan war might spill over to Pakistan, and I felt we needed to give the President flexibility,” Solarz will say. “I didn’t want us to be in a worst-case scenario in case the Soviets moved across the border. I thought I was being responsible at the time.” Referring to allegations made by former State Department, CIA, and Pentagon analyst Richard Barlow that the administration was well-aware of the program and constantly lied to Congress (see July 1987 or Shortly After), he adds, “If what Barlow says is true, this would have been a major scandal of Iran-Contra proportions, and the officials involved would have had to resign. We’re not dealing with minor matters. Stopping the spread of nuclear weapons is one of the major foreign-policy issues of the nation—not to mention the law of the land.” [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]
Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan supplies North Korea with some basic technology for its nuclear program. The equipment is to be used for enriching uranium, but the Koreans are unable to make full use of the technology as they do not have the technical expertise to master the process alone. This causes co-operation between Pakistan and North Korea on nuclear matters to stall, until it is revived some years later (see Late 1990 or After). [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 220]
George Bason, a bankruptcy judge who ruled in favor of Inslaw in a dispute with the Justice Department over the alleged theft of PROMIS software (see September 28, 1987) and was subsequently not reappointed to the bench (see December 15, 1987), requests a hearing on his non-reappointment before the Judicial Council of the District of Columbia. Bason criticizes the other candidate, Justice Department official Martin Teel, who was given the position, saying he has “a considerably shorter total period of legal experience,” as he has mostly worked on taxation matters, not bankruptcy, and for the last few years has worked as a reviewer and then manager, without doing his own independent work. Teel will dispute this characterization in a letter to the House Judiciary Committee, saying he was qualified and, when appointed, had “six years of fairly extensive bankruptcy experience.” The request for a hearing will not change the decision to not reappoint Bason. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
The Justice Department files a motion that bankruptcy court judge George Bason recuse himself from further participation in a case over the bankruptcy of Inslaw and the department’s alleged theft of the enhanced PROMIS application, saying that he is biased against the department. Bason had ruled in favor of Inslaw (see September 28, 1987) and the department has been trying to have him removed from the case for months (see June 19, 1987). The motion is filed despite a report from Michael Hertz, the director of the civil division’s commercial litigation branch at the department, saying that such a move would not succeed (see After July 7, 1987). The bankruptcy court denies the motion three days later. [US Congress, 9/10/1992] The department will make a similar request later in the month (see January 25, 1988).
The Justice Department again tries to get Judge George Bason removed from the Inslaw case over the company’s bankruptcy and the department’s alleged theft of an enhanced version of the PROMIS software. Bason had ruled in favor of Inslaw (see September 28, 1987) and the department has been trying to have him removed from the case for months (see June 19, 1987). Following the failure of a recusal motion to Bason (see January 19, 1988), the department argues a motion before Chief Judge of the District Court for Columbia Aubrey Robinson for a writ of mandamus directing Judge Bason to recuse himself over allegations of bias. Robinson denies the department’s writ, ruling: “I can’t see anything in this record that measures up to the standards that would be applicable to force another judge to take over this case. There isn’t any doubt in my mind, for example, that the declaration filed by the Justice Department in support of the original motion is inadequate.” When the department appeals Bason’s ruling (see Between February 2, 1988 and November 22, 1989), it will again raise the issue of recusal, but District Court Judge William Bryant will say, “This court like the courts before it can find no basis in fact to support a motion for recusal.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
Dan Rather interviews Vice President Bush, watching him on a monitor. Neither Rather nor the CBS viewers can see Bush’s consultant Roger Ailes off-camera. [Source: Media Research Center]Roger Ailes, a former media consultant to the Nixon administration (see Summer 1970), comes up with a bold plan to help his new client, Vice President George H.W. Bush, who is running for president. Bush is neck-deep in the Iran-Contra scandal (see Before July 28, 1986, August 6, 1987, and December 25, 1992) and, as reporter Tim Dickinson will later write, comes across as “effete” in comparison to his predecessor Ronald Reagan. Ailes decides to use an interview with combative CBS News reporter Dan Rather to bolster his client’s image. Ailes insists that the interview be done live, instead of in the usual format of being recorded and then edited for broadcast. Dickinson will later write, “That not only gave the confrontation the air of a prizefight—it enabled Ailes himself to sit just off-camera in Bush’s office, prompting his candidate with cue cards.” Rather is in the CBS studio in New York and has no idea Ailes is coaching Bush. As planned, Bush begins the interview aggressively, falsely accusing Rather of misleading him by focusing the interview on Iran-Contra. (It is true that CBS had not informed the Bush team that it would air a report on the Iran-Contra investigation as a lead-in to the Bush interview, a scheduling that some in the Bush team see as a “bait-and-switch.”) When Rather begins to press Bush, Ailes flashes a cue card: “walked off the air.” This is a set piece that Bush and Ailes have worked out beforehand, based on an embarrassing incident in Rather’s recent past, when Rather angrily walked off the CBS set after learning that his newscast had been pre-empted by a women’s tennis match. Clenching his fist, Ailes mouths at Bush: “Go! Go! Just kick his ass!” Bush fires his rejoinder: “It’s not fair to judge my whole career by a rehash on Iran. How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set?” In their 1989 book The Acting President: Ronald Reagan and the Supporting Players Who Helped Him Create the Illusion That Held America Spellbound, CBS host Bob Schieffer and co-author Gary Paul Gates will write: “What people in the bureau and viewers at home could not see was that the response had not been entirely spontaneous. As the interview progressed, the crafty Ailes had stationed himself beside the camera. If Bush seemed to be struggling for a response, Ailes would write out a key word in huge letters on his yellow legal pad and hold it just beneath the camera in Bush’s line of vision. Just before Bush had shouted that it was not fair to judge his career on Iran, Ailes had written out on his legal pad the words.… Three times during the interview, Bush’s answer had come after Ailes had prompted him with key words or phrases scribbled on the legal pad.” Dickinson will later write: “It was the mother of all false equivalencies: the fleeting petulance of a news anchor pitted against the high crimes of a sitting vice president. But it worked as TV.” Ailes’s colleague Roger Stone, who worked with Ailes on the 1968 Nixon campaign, will later say of the interview: “That bite of Bush telling Rather off played over and over and over again. It was a perfect example of [Ailes] understanding the news cycle, the dynamics of the situation, and the power of television.” [Associated Press, 7/6/1989; NewsBusters, 1/25/2008; Rolling Stone, 5/25/2011] After the interview is concluded, Bush leaps to his feet and, with the microphone still live, says: “The b_stard didn’t lay a glove on me.… Tell your g_ddamned network that if they want to talk to me to raise their hands at a press conference. No more Mr. Inside stuff after that.” The unexpected aggression from Bush helps solidify his standing with hardline Republicans. The interview gives more “proof” to those same hardliners that the media is hopelessly liberal, “their” candidates cannot expect to be treated fairly, and that the only way for them to “survive” encounters with mainstream media figures is through aggression and intimidation. [Salon, 1/26/2011] Conservative commentator Rich Noyes will write in 2008 that Bush’s jab at Rather exposed the reporter’s “liberal bias,” though he will fail to inform his readers of Ailes’s off-camera coaching. [NewsBusters, 1/25/2008]
Entity Tags: Rich Noyes, CBS News, Bob Schieffer, Dan Rather, George Herbert Walker Bush, Tim Dickinson, Gary Paul Gates, Roger Stone, Roger Ailes, Ronald Reagan
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Elections Before 2000
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