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Inside the October Surprise Cover-up

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Finally, the Russian government sent a report to the House Task Force, saying that Soviet-era intelligence files contained information about Republicans holding a series of meetings with Iranians in Europe, including one in Paris in October 1980.

"William Casey, in 1980, met three times with representatives of the Iranian leadership," the Russian report said. "The meetings took place in Madrid and Paris."

At the Paris meeting in October 1980, "R[obert] Gates, at that time a staffer of the National Security Council in the administration of Jimmy Carter, and former CIA Director George Bush also took part," the report said. "The representatives of Ronald Reagan and the Iranian leadership discussed the question of possibly delaying the release of 52 hostages from the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Teheran."

Requested by Rep. Hamilton, the Russian report arrived at the House Task Force, via the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, in January 1993, after the Task Force had already decided to dismiss the October Surprise allegations as lacking solid evidence.   

The Russian report was kept hidden by the Task Force until I discovered it after gaining access to the Task Force's raw files.

Though the report was addressed to Hamilton, he told me last year that he had never seen the report until I sent him a copy shortly before our interview. Barcella then acknowledged to me that he might not have shown Hamilton the report and may have simply filed it away in boxes of Task Force records.

Blackballing a Democrat

The newly released documents from the Bush library shed some additional light on how far the Republicans were prepared to go to protect Bush on the issue of his whereabouts on Oct. 19, 1980. The GOP members of the Task Force insisted that the one Democratic investigator who had the strongest doubts about Bush's alibi be barred from the inquiry altogether.

The suspicions of the investigator, House Foreign Affairs Committee chief counsel Spencer Oliver, had been piqued by the false account from Secret Service supervisor Tanis. In a six-page memo, Oliver urged a closer look at Bush's whereabouts and questioned why the Secret Service was concealing the alibi witness' name.

"Why did the Secret Service refuse to cooperate on a matter which could have conclusively cleared George Bush of these serious allegations?" Oliver asked. "Was the White House involved in this refusal? Did they order it?"

Oliver also noted Bush's odd behavior in raising the October Surprise issue on his own at two news conferences.

"It can be fairly said that President Bush's recent outbursts about the October Surprise inquiries and [about] his whereabouts in mid-October of 1980 are disingenuous at best," wrote Oliver, "since the administration has refused to make available the documents and the witnesses that could finally and conclusively clear Mr. Bush."

From Janet Rehnquist's memo on the meeting with Jeffords and Sanford, it appears that Oliver's suspicion was well-founded about the involvement of Bush's White House in the decision to conceal the name of the supposed afternoon host.

Even 20 years later, the Bush library continues to withhold the complete Secret Service documents that would contain the identity of the alibi witness.

However, one of the released documents reflected how angry the Republicans were about Oliver, who had been a dogged investigator during the congressional Iran-Contra probe in 1987. He also was asking touchy questions about Iraq-gate and October Surprise in 1991-92.

Thomas Smeeton, a former CIA officer who served as Republican staff director for the House Intelligence Committee and had been Rep. Dick Cheney's appointee to the congressional Iran-Contra committee, sent Rehnquist a memorandum prepared for Republican members regarding Oliver.

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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 It's also available at

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