It also became increasingly clear that the U.S.-sanctioned arms shipments to Iran did not begin in 1985 (as the official Iran-Contra narrative suggested) but dated back at least to early 1981, shortly after Reagan took office, with Israelis acting as the middlemen much as they did in 1985-86.
On July 18, 1981, an Israeli-chartered plane was shot down after straying over the Soviet Union, offering the first glimpse of these secret arms transactions. In a PBS interview nearly a decade later, Nicholas Veliotes, Reagan's assistant secretary of state for the Middle East, said he looked into the incident by talking to top administration officials.
"It was clear to me after my conversations with people on high that indeed we had agreed that the Israelis could transship to Iran some American-origin military equipment," Veliotes said.
In checking out the Israeli flight, Veliotes came to believe that the Reagan camp's dealings with Iran dated back to before the 1980 election.
"It seems to have started in earnest in the period probably prior to the election of 1980, as the Israelis had identified who would become the new players in the national security area in the Reagan administration," Veliotes said. "And I understand some contacts were made at that time."
The Veliotes interview was included in a documentary that I was hired to do for PBS Frontline on the October Surprise case. (The program, which aired in spring 1991, disclosed new evidence of a Reagan-Iran deal but cited gaps in the evidence and reached no firm conclusion.)
One of Carter's national security aides, Gary Sick, weighed in on the topic as well with an op-ed in the New York Times, which concluded that the Republicans likely did pull off an October Surprise maneuver that prevented Carter from freeing the hostages before Election Day.
Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh also came to suspect that the only plausible explanation for Reagan's persistent arms-for-hostage swaps in the mid-1980s when every hostage released in Lebanon was followed by another hostage being taken was that there was some prior relationship with the Iranians.
Walsh's investigators even polygraphed Vice President George H.W. Bush's national security adviser Donald Gregg about his possible involvement in the earlier 1980 phase of the scandal.
"Were you ever involved in a plan to delay the release of the hostages in Iran until after the 1980 Presidential election?" the examiner asked Gregg, a former CIA officer. Gregg's denial was judged to be deceptive. [See Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters, Vol. I, p. 501]
However, as Official Washington grew tired of the complex Iran-Contra scandal and major news organizations like the Washington Post began mocking Walsh for his supposedly obsessive investigation the chances for a serious probe of the Iran-Contra prequel, the October Surprise case, grew dimmer.
Those who were threatened by possible October Surprise disclosures also were very powerful. Not only would a tough investigation threaten Reagan's legacy and the presidency of his successor, George H.W. Bush, but it could have cast Israel in a negative light, if it were confirmed that Israel's Likud government which had bristled at Carter's Mideast peace initiatives had then conspired with the Republican Party to oust a sitting American President.
So, it was not surprising that the neoconservative New Republic and the Washington Post's Newsweek filed matching debunking stories on the October Surprise case in fall 1991. (I was told that the Newsweek article was ordered up by executive editor Maynard Parker who had close neocon ties and who resented me for battles we had fought over the Iran-Contra issue when I worked at Newsweek before the October Surprise assignment from Frontline.)
Both magazine debunking articles relied on the same false alibi for Reagan's campaign director William Casey on a key weekend in July 1980 when Jamshid Hashemi, a key Iranian witness who then worked for the CIA, alleged that Casey had conferred with Iranian emissary Mehdi Karrubi in Madrid.
Although the New Republic's and Newsweek's alibi for Casey was later proven to be false, the impact of the two high-profile stories created a fire break against the possibility that a serious congressional investigation into the October Surprise affair would get very far. The Republicans were quick to ridicule anyone who dared to press ahead.
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