In the end, Gates was able to skate away from the October Surprise suspicions just as he had evaded concerns about his role in other CIA-related scandals. Gates had been implicated, too, in misleading Congress about the Iran-Contra scandal and Iraq-gate, a parallel program of secretly aiding Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
Though Gates also denied any wrongdoing in those scandals -- and disparaged Ben-Menashe and another witness who linked him to the Iraqi arms deals -- the allegations about Gates and Iraq were bolstered by a January 1995 affidavit from Howard Teicher, who had been a staffer on Ronald Reagan's National Security Council.
"Under CIA Director Casey and Deputy Director Gates, the CIA authorized, approved and assisted [Chilean arms dealer Carlos] Cardoen in the manufacture and sale of cluster bombs and other munitions to Iraq," Teicher declared.
So, it appears that Robert Gates made his bones in George H.W. Bush's covert world by undertaking secretive projects that skirted American law, such as evading arms export controls against shipments to Iran and Iraq, and even may have engaged in actions bordering on treason if the October Surprise allegations are true.
If Gates did indeed perform these sensitive missions, his swift rise in the early 1980s from a relatively obscure analyst to chief of the analytical division and then to deputy CIA director would make more sense. As he climbed the bureaucratic ladder, he further enhanced his standing with the Reagan administration by whipping the CIA analysts into line behind President Reagan's apocalyptic view of the Soviet Union.
Before Gates's ascent in the 1980s, the CIA's analytical division had a proud tradition of objectivity and scholarship regarding the agency's intelligence product. However, during the Reagan administration with Gates playing a key role, that ethos collapsed.
At Gates's confirmation hearings in 1991, former CIA analysts, including senior Soviet specialist Melvin Goodman, took the extraordinary step of coming out of the shadows to accuse Gates of politicizing the intelligence while he was chief of the analytical division and then deputy director.
These former intelligence officers said the ambitious Gates pressured the CIA's analytical division to hype the Soviet menace to fit Reagan's ideological perspective. Analysts who took a more nuanced view of Soviet power and behavior faced pressure and career reprisals.
In 1981, Carolyn McGiffert Ekedahl of the CIA's Soviet office was the unfortunate analyst who was handed the assignment to prepare an analysis on the Soviet Union's alleged support and direction of international terrorism. Contrary to the desired White House take on Soviet-backed terrorism, Ekedahl said the consensus of the intelligence community was that the Soviets discouraged acts of terrorism by groups getting support from Moscow for practical, not moral, reasons.
"We agreed that the Soviets consistently stated, publicly and privately, that they considered international terrorist activities counterproductive and advised groups they supported not to use such tactics," Ekedahl testified. "We had hard evidence to support this conclusion."
But Gates took the analysts to task, accusing them of trying to "stick our finger in the policy maker's eye," Ekedahl said. Gates, dissatisfied with the terrorism assessment, joined in rewriting the draft "to suggest greater Soviet support for terrorism and the text was altered by pulling up from the annex reports that overstated Soviet involvement," Ekedahl said.
Soon, the hammer fell on the analysts who had prepared the more nuanced Soviet-terrorism report. Ekedahl said many analysts were "replaced by people new to the subject who insisted on language emphasizing Soviet control of international terrorist activities."
A donnybrook ensued inside the U.S. intelligence community. Some senior officials responsible for analysis pushed back against the dictates of Gates and CIA Director Casey, warning that acts of politicization would undermine the integrity of the process and risk policy disasters in the future.
In his first memoir, From the Shadows, Gates denied politicizing the CIA's intelligence product, though acknowledging that he was aware of Casey's hostile reaction to the analysts' disagreement with right-wing theories about Soviet-directed terrorism.