Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bush, McCain and the Old Iran-Contra Team

The Gang's All Here
September 17, 2008

The vetting of Sarah Palin for the McCain campaign by an Iran-Contra alumnus brought an epiphany. (See “The Man Who Vetted Palin.") The American people’s inability to control this crime spree we call the Bush administration is not because we’re lazy, narcissistic or willfully blind to human rights violations, as much of the world now views us.

It’s because we’ve been misidentifying this crime spree as “the Bush administration.” What we’re clearly confronting is the Iran-Contra Alumni Association masquerading as the Executive Branch, replete with domestic spying, dark ops, fake journalists, fake news reels, press intimidation, protester arrests, infiltration and torture. Their latest maneuver is the woman with zero foreign policy experience a heart beat from taking that 3 a.m. call. A call which, of course, they’ll answer for her as they have done for Bush II.

We can’t counter this massive operation with Code Pink, despite my undying gratitude for their bravery and brains. We need to give the pink slips to the Iran-Contra gang. We need a full blown Congressional Committee on Corruption in the Federal Government – a truth commission with subpoena power. And we need the hearings to air live, for however long it takes, to get to the bottom of this syndication of crime.

Here’s five top questions the Committee can put on its priority list: did the Iran-Contra gang shake down Bush II for keeping the secrets of Bush I; did Bush II just decide on his own to reward the Iran-Contra gang for not writing tell-all books and for demonstrating they value loyalty over lawfulness. Why did Senator McCain call Iran-Contra central casting to round out his campaign? Why are these lawyers that hold the secrets to Iran-Contra vetting Federal candidates and judges?

Here’s a look at the amazing reemergence of the cast of recycled characters from Iran-Contra days:

Robert M. Gates, Secretary of Defense: On December 6, 2006, the United States Senate voted 95-2 to confirm Mr. Gates, despite the fact that he occupies a full chapter, Chapter 16, in the “Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters.” Mr. Gates spent 26 years at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). When the Iran arms sales and illegal diversion of funds to the Contras and other unknown pockets were taking place right under his nose, he was the CIA’s deputy director for intelligence (DDI) from 1982 to 1986. Despite his murky history, he was recycled as Director of the CIA by President George H.W. Bush in 1991, who, let’s not forget, was also a former Director of the CIA.

The Independent Counsel’s report concedes that while there was not enough evidence to indict Mr. Gates for his role in Iran-Contra, the Independent Counsel, Lawrence E. Walsh, heavily implies Mr. Gates lied about what he knew and when he knew it.

During the 2006 confirmation hearings, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) questioned Mr. Gates about his role in Iran-Contra and Mr. Gates obfuscated, to say the least. Here are excerpts:
LEVIN: It is no secret that I voted against Dr. Gates' nomination to be director of central intelligence in 1991. I did so because I thought that he had been less than candid about the role that he played in the Iran-Contra affair. As I have said before, however, I, for one, intend to take a fresh and fair look at Dr. Gates' record…However, you gave a number of further explanations about these events and your lack of memory. You said that the matter had been investigated exhaustively by the Intelligence Committee. The key figures in the affair were interviewed or testified and affirmed that they had not shared important information with you…

However, there was one thing that you said in support of your answer which troubled me, and I wanted to give you an opportunity to comment on it. And that's when you said that the Iran-Contra independent counsel, after seven years of investigation, could not find a single witness to testify that my role in the matter was other than I described it…

GATES: Sure. I think the short answer, Senator, is: In the very short time that I had to prepare the answers to the questions that came from the committee, that it seemed, without having access to any of the documents or the records that I had seen before, that the best way to answer this current committee's question was simply to refer to the note to the response that I was invited to place in the record of the Iran-Contra report.

And the sentence that you quoted in terms of not finding any other witnesses was the central part of a three- or four-, I think, sentence response that I wrote to the report of the Iran-Contra independent counsel.

In other words, Mr. Gates refused to answer the question about his role in Iran-Contra while applying for one of the most important jobs in the United States; a job where he will take over for the train wreck left by Donald Rumsfeld to continue a war that has thus far cost hundreds of thousands of lives along with the credibility of the United States and left us a financial basket-case.

Mr. Gates assertion “that the Iran-Contra independent counsel, after seven years of investigation, could not find a single witness to testify that my role in the matter was other than I described it…” is more than a little problematic. The Independent Counsel did, indeed, find someone, namely Richard Kerr, a CIA colleague of Mr. Gates at the time. Here’s the relevant passage from the Independent Counsel’s report:
“…the evidence was clear that Gates's statements concerning his initial awareness of the diversion were wrong: Kerr brought him the information from Allen over a month earlier than Gates admitted. This would have been material because it suggested that the CIA continued to support [Oliver] North's activities without informing North's superiors or investigating. …In the end, although Gates's actions suggested an officer who was more interested in shielding his institution from criticism and in shifting the blame to the NSC than in finding out the truth, there was insufficient evidence to charge Gates with a criminal endeavor…”

Fred Fielding, White House Counsel: Mr. Fielding was appointed White House Counsel to President George W. Bush on January 9, 2007. Mr. Fielding was White House Counsel to President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1986, a period which saw secret Presidential “findings” that led the U.S. intelligence apparatus to illegally thwart the will of Congress with secret arms sales to Iran and illegal diversion of arms proceeds to the Nicaraguan Contras as well as millions in unaccounted for funds. The Contras were a U.S. funded mercenary army to a large degree, similar to Blackwater in Iraq. Mr. Fielding was a part of Blackwater’s legal team before becoming White House Counsel according to Legal Times. Blackwater is under criminal investigation over a Baghdad shooting by its armed guards that left 17 Iraqis dead.

During the period that Mr. Fielding was giving counsel to President Reagan, according to the International Court of Justice “the President of the United States authorized a United States government agency to lay mines in Nicaraguan ports; that in early 1984 mines were laid in or close to the ports of El Bluff, Corinto and Puerto Sandino, either in Nicaraguan internal waters or in its territorial sea or both, by persons in the pay and acting on the instructions of that agency, under the supervision and with the logistic support of United States agents; that neither before the laying of the mines, nor subsequently, did the United States Government issue any public and official warning to international shipping of the existence and location of the mines; and that personal and material injury was caused by the explosion of the mines...”

The man who admits in his autobiography, A Spy for All Seasons, that he was the mastermind behind planting mines in the ports of a country with which we were not at war is Duane R. “Dewey” Clarridge. This act was viewed as an act of terrorism by many. Mr. Clarridge was a career employee at the CIA. His major posts included chief of the Latin American Division, chief of the European Division and Chief of the Counterterrorism Center. On November 26, 1991, a federal Grand Jury indicted Mr. Clarridge on perjury charges as part of the Independent Counsel’s investigation. On December 24, 1992, George H.W. Bush pardoned Clarridge while his court case was ongoing. According to Clarridge, as reported in the Los Angeles Times, he was to be hired as a national security deputy in the Bush administration in 2001 but opposition arose (reported elsewhere as Democratic opposition).

John Negroponte: On January 5, 2007, John Negroponte was appointed Deputy Secretary of State after the President had previously appointed him to three other posts, including Director of National Intelligence, a post invented by the Bush administration. (On July 30, 2008, President Bush signed another of his notorious Executive Orders, Executive Order 13470, putting the Director of National Intelligence office and its budget under the direct control of the President of the United States, making it the “head of the Intelligence Community” and making the CIA subordinate to it.)

Negroponte was Ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. He has been widely linked to turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in Honduras during that time, overseeing a Contra staging operation in the country, and falsifying reports to Congress on the existence of death squads operating in the country.

Elliott Abrams, Deputy National Security Advisor: In the first term of Bush II, Mr. Abrams held the post of Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East and North African Affairs. On February 2, 2005, President George W. Bush appointed Mr. Abrams to the posts of Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy.

Mr. Abrams also occupies a full chapter in the Independent Counsel’s report, Chapter 25. Mr. Abrams held numerous posts in the Reagan administration, most notably Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American affairs beginning in July 1985. He became the chief cheerleader for aid to the Contras in Nicaragua. Mr. Abrams pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges of withholding information in the Iran-Contra matter and admitted the following: he withheld from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) his knowledge of Oliver North's Contra activities. He also admitted that he withheld from HPSCI the fact that he had solicited $10 million in aid for the contras from the Sultan of Brunei. That would be the same $10 million that ended up in a private bank account and has yet to be adequately explained.

There is, of course, the typo explanation offered by Mark Belnick, a lawyer who assisted in the Senate investigation of Iran-Contra but was later himself tried in a 9-count indictment by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office for stealing millions from Tyco International while General Counsel. Mr. Belnick was acquitted. Mr. Abrams was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush on December 24, 1992.

This is just a small sampling of the Iran-Contra gang that found an equal employment opportunity waiting for them in jobs requiring background checks and security clearances in the Bush administration.

Equally troubling, Senator John McCain appears to be adopting a similar mind set. In addition to Arthur B. Culvahouse, the man who vetted Sarah Palin and read a treasure trove of classified Iran-Contra documents as White House Counsel to President Reagan, the McCain-Palin campaign web site lists another of their advisors as Robert (Bud) McFarlane. Mr. McFarlane is Chapter 1 in the Independent Counsel’s report. On March 11, 1988, Mr. McFarlane pleaded guilty to unlawfully withholding information from Congress about Oliver North’s Contra activities and foreign solicitation of funds. On December 24, 1992, President George H.W. Bush pardoned him.

What’s Bud McFarlane doing for the McCain campaign? He’s part of a “Truth Squad.” (Memo to Truth Squad: Focus your sights on Sarah Palin’s $40 Billion natural gas pipe dream that exists only on paper and in Republican convention speeches to 37 million Americans.)

McCain has also signed on Theodore (Ted) Olson to be Co-Chair of his Justice Advisory Committee to vet future Federal judges for lifetime appointments. Mr. Olson was Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel in the Reagan administration. During this time, he became the target of a different Independent Counsel investigation. Alexia Morrison investigated Mr. Olson for a potential coverup of Environmental Protection Agency conduct. No charges were brought. He then became President Reagan’s personal attorney representing him in the Iran-Contra matter, spending much time refusing to turn over documents. Mr. Olson is also the attorney who argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore, securing the 5 to 4 decision that put George W. Bush in the White House. Mr. Olson was appointed Solicitor General in the first term of George W. Bush.

The off balance sheet secrets that Wall Street has hidden away under this administration’s free market madness are now imploding and saddling our children with trillions more in national debt. The secrets that the Iran-Contra gang have hidden away for two decades are an equally dangerous brew, especially if they are now influencing the selection of Federal candidates and judges and creating new rogue operations to ensnare our country in more preemptive attacks.

Dark secrets and democracy cannot live side by side. The American people have waited long enough for the truth.
Pam Martens worked on Wall Street for 21 years. She has no securities position, long or short, in any company mentioned in this article. She writes on public interest issues from New Hampshire. She can be reached at