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Inside the October Surprise Cover-up

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--Neutralizing an aggressive Democratic investigator;

--Pressuring a Republican senator to become more obstructive;

--Tightly restricting access to classified information;

--Narrowing the inquiry as it applied to alleged Reagan-Bush wrongdoing while simultaneously widening the probe to include Carter's efforts to free the hostages;

--Mounting a public relations campaign attacking the investigation's costs; and

--Encouraging friendly journalists to denounce the story.

Ultimately, the GOP cover-up strategy proved highly effective, as Democrats grew timid and neoconservative journalists -- then emerging as a powerful force in the Washington media -- took the lead in decrying the October Surprise allegations as a "myth."

The Republicans benefited, too, from a Washington press corps, which had grown weary of the complex Iran-Contra scandal. Careerist reporters in the mainstream press had learned that the route to advancement lay more in "debunking" such complicated national security scandals than in pursuing them.

It would take nearly two decades for the October Surprise cover-up to crumble with admissions by officials involved in the investigation that its exculpatory conclusions were rushed, that crucial evidence had been hidden or ignored, and that some alibis for key Republicans didn't make any sense.

Yet, despite the cover-up's short-term success, there were senior Republicans even in 1991-92 who opposed the obstruction strategy, favoring instead a good-faith effort to respond to investigative questions.

One of the released documents reveals that Secretary of State James Baker favored quicker production of documents and viewed "the delay/filibuster strategy of the House and Senate Republicans as counterproductive."

Nevertheless, Bush's White House stayed in charge of coordinating Republican obstruction of the October Surprise probe, much as it did other related scandals such as the broader Iran-Contra Affair and the Iraq-gate scandal involving secret weapons sent to Iraq's dictator Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

The White House cover-up also had the advantage of having self-interested parties in key jobs inside the federal government. 

For instance, on May 14, 1992, a CIA official ran proposed language past associate White House counsel Janet Rehnquist from then-CIA Director Robert Gates regarding the agency's level of cooperation with Congress. By that point, the CIA, under Gates, was already months into a pattern of foot-dragging on congressional document requests.

Bush had put Gates at the CIA's helm in fall 1991, meaning that Gates was well-positioned to stymie congressional requests for sensitive information in the CIA's vaults about secret initiatives involving Bush, Gates and Donald Gregg, another CIA veteran who was implicated in Reagan-era national security scandals.

Pursuing Gates

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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