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Inside the October Surprise Cover-up

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The records, just released by the Bush library, reveal that one of the targets of the October Surprise probe was Gates himself.

On May 26, 1992, Rep. Lee Hamilton, chairman of the House Task Force, wrote to the CIA asking for records regarding the whereabouts of Gregg and Gates from Jan. 1, 1980, through Jan. 31, 1981, including travel plans and leaves of absence.

The Bush administration's document delays finally drew a complaint from Lawrence Barcella, chief counsel to the House Task Force which had been created to investigate the October Surprise case. He wrote to the CIA on June 9, 1992, that the agency had not been responsive to three requests on Sept. 20, 1991; April 20, 1992; and May 26, 1992.

Gregg and Gates also were implicated in the broader the Iran-Contra scandal. Both were suspected of lying about their knowledge of secret sales of military hardware to Iran and clandestine delivery of weapons to Contra rebels fighting Nicaragua's leftist government.

A former CIA director himself, Bush also had been caught lying in the Iran-Contra scandal when he insisted that a plane shot down over Nicaragua in 1986 while dropping weapons to the Contras had no connection to the U.S. government (when the weapons delivery had been organized by operatives close to Bush's vice presidential office).

And, Bush falsely claimed that he was out of the "loop" on Iran-Contra decisions when later evidence showed that he was a key participant in the policy discussions.

From the newly available record, it's apparent that the October Surprise cover-up was essentially an extension of the broader effort to contain the Iran-Contra scandal, with Bush personally involved in orchestrating both efforts.

Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh discovered in December 1992 that Bush's White House counsel's office, under Boyden Gray, also had delayed production of Bush's personal notes about the arms shipments to Iran in the 1985-86 time frame.

Though Gray's office insisted that the delay was unintentional, one of Bush's s Iran-Contra diary entries, dated July 20, 1987, described then-Secretary of State George Shultz's detailed notes on meetings with Reagan. In the Iran-Contra report, Walsh wrote that Bush's phrasing about Shultz's notes suggested that the withholding of Bush's own documents was willful.

"I found this almost inconceivable," Bush wrote about Shultz. "Not only that he kept the notes, but that he'd turned them all over to Congress."  I would never do it. I would never surrender such documents."

Following those sentiments, Bush's White House sought to frustrate not just Iran-Contra investigators but those assigned to examine the October Surprise issue.

Sly Game

Rather than any commitment to openness regarding the October Surprise case, the documents reveal a cat-and-mouse game designed to block any serious pursuit of the truth.

Beyond dragging its heels on producing documents, the Bush administration maneuvered to keep key witnesses out of timely reach of the investigators. For instance, Gregg, who was Vice President Bush's national security adviser in the 1980s, used his stationing as U.S. Ambassador to South Korea in 1992 to evade a congressional subpoena.

Like Gates and Bush, Gregg had been linked to secret meetings with Iranians during the 1980 campaign. When asked about those allegations by FBI polygraph operators working for Iran-Contra prosecutor Walsh, Gregg was judged to be deceptive in his denials. [See Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters, Vol. I, p. 501]

And, when it came to answering questions from Congress about the October Surprise matter, Gregg found excuses not to accept service of a subpoena.

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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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