A photo of Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the minutes before the April 15, 2013, explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Tsarnaev died after a shootout with police three days later. His younger brother, Dzhokhar, was apprehended on April 19 and is now facing federal terrorism charges.
The distrust between U.S. and Russian intelligence services has become an issue in the Boston Marathon bombing case, but that history dates back to shortly after the Cold War ended when Russia supplied evidence to a major U.S. national security investigation and later learned that the material had been unceremoniously discarded.
In that 1992-1993 investigation, Rep. Lee Hamilton, then the incoming chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, asked his counterpart in the Russian Duma, Sergei V. Stepashin, for any evidence that Moscow might have about allegations that Republicans secretly collaborated with Iran in 1980 to delay the release of 52 U.S. hostages and thus torpedo President Jimmy Carter's reelection bid.
But Russia seemed willing to cooperate, especially after Bush lost his own reelection bid in November 1992. So, just one year after the Soviet Union collapsed, the Supreme Soviet's Committee on Defense and Security Issues prepared a summary of internal Soviet-era intelligence files and sent the report to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on Jan. 11, 1993, for delivery to Hamilton.
The Russian Report, matter-of-factly, identified Bush, Gates and William Casey (who in 1980 was Ronald Reagan's campaign director and later became CIA director) as having participated in a meeting with Iranians in Paris in October 1980 at which the Republicans promised Iran military assistance if Iran kept the hostages until after the U.S. presidential election.
"William Casey, in 1980, met three times with representatives of the Iranian leadership," the six-page report stated. "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. ... In Madrid and Paris, 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."
The Russian Report also described President Carter's parallel offers to Iran to get the hostages freed before the Nov. 4, 1980, election. One key meeting occurred in Athens in July 1980 with Pentagon representatives agreeing "in principle" to deliver "a significant quantity of spare parts for F-4 and F-5 aircraft and also M-60 tanks ... via Turkey," according to the Russian Report.
In return, Iranians "discussed a possible step-by-step normalization of Iranian-American relations [and] the provision of support for President Carter in the election campaign via the release of American hostages," the report said.
The Russian Report observed that both the Reagan campaign and the Carter administration "started with the proposition that [Iran's leader] Imam [Ruhollah] Khomeini, having announced a policy of 'neither the West nor the East,' and cursing the 'American devil,' imperialism and Zionism, was forced to acquire American weapons, spares and military supplies by any and all possible means."
The Republicans simply won the bidding war. However, the legal difference between the rival efforts was that President Carter had the constitutional authority to conduct negotiations with foreign powers. The Republican campaign did not.
Tracing the Weapon Flow
The Russian Report also described how the Reagan administration fulfilled its debt to Iran. "After the victory of R. Reagan in the election, in early 1981, a secret agreement was reached in London in accord with which Iran released the American hostages, and the U.S. continued to supply arms, spares and military supplies for the Iranian army," the report said.
The deliveries were carried out by Israel, often through private arms dealers, the report said. Spares for F-14 fighters and other military equipment went to Iran from Israel in March-April 1981 and the arms pipeline stayed open into the mid-1980s, the report said.
"Through the Israeli conduit, Iran in 1983 bought surface-to-surface missiles of the 'Lance' class plus artillery of a total value of $135 million," the report said. "In July 1983, a group of specialists from the firm, Lockheed, went to Iran on English passports to repair the navigation systems and other electronic components on American-produced planes."
In other words, according to the Russian Report (and other evidence from U.S. and Israeli officials), the Reagan administration sanctioned U.S. weapons shipments to Iran before the Iran-Contra deals, which also moved through Israel in 1985-1986.
In early 1993, when the Russian Report arrived at the U.S. Embassy, it was still under the control of the Bush administration. So, the report was translated and topped with a dismissive preamble, questioning the quality of the Russian information and noting that the Russian government had not responded to a request for more details.
The embassy's preamble speculated that Moscow's report might be "based largely on material that has previously appeared in the Western media," though that supposition was not supported by any evidence. The classified cable containing the translation of the Russian Report was then forwarded to the House October Surprise Task Force, which Hamilton was chairing. [For the text of the Russian report, click here. To view the U.S. Embassy cable that contains the Russian report, click here.]