Ted Koppel, whose broadcasting career got a big boost from the Iranian-hostage crisis in 1980, doesn't seem aware that the long-running cover-up of how Republicans sabotaged President Jimmy Carter's negotiations has collapsed -- or Koppel may simply prefer to stick with the safer version of the story.
In a Washington Post "Outlook" retrospective on the crisis, Koppel recounted how "the Iranians stage-managed the drama down to the last second. Precisely at noon [on Jan. 20, 1981] as [Ronald] Reagan began to recite the oath of office, the planeload of Americans [who had been held hostage for 444 days] was permitted to take off."
Explaining the motivation for this strange timing, Koppel wrote, "The Iranians' message was blunt and unambiguous: Carter and his administration had been punished for America's sins against Iran, and Reagan was being offered a conciliatory gesture in anticipation of improved behavior by Washington."
But Koppel said the new Reagan administration wanted Americans to take away another interpretation of the event. "The new president portrayed the hostage release as a long-overdue act by which the Iranians acknowledged the obvious: There was a new sheriff in town. The feckless days of the Carter administration were over and the Iranian mullahs had bowed to the inevitable."
Koppel ignored the obvious problems with both versions, such as why would Iran -- facing pressing military needs because of Iraq's invasion in September 1980 -- extend the stalemate with the United States for four more months simply to snub Jimmy Carter?
Or why didn't the growling Reagan either bark or bite after taking office. Instead, as Koppel noted, "once the hostages were released," no reprisal came, and the Iranian leadership offered no evidence of wanting to reconcile."
Surely, Koppel must know better. The reality was that very quickly after Reagan took office -- not only were there no reprisals against Iran -- but U.S. military hardware was flowing to Iran via Israel.
Nicholas Veliotes, Reagan's assistant secretary of state for the Middle East, learned of the administration's secret approval of these shipments to Iran after an Israeli plane went down in the Soviet Union in July 1981.
"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 an interview with PBS "Frontline" a decade after the events.
In checking out the Israeli flight in 1981, 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."
Koppel also must be aware that some two dozen witnesses -- including senior Iranian officials and a wide range of other international players -- have expanded on Veliotes's discovery, providing details of both how these pre-election contacts occurred and how the post-election shipments morphed into the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostage deals in 1985-86. [For details, see Robert Parry's Secrecy & Privilege.]
Koppel must know all this because his ABC News program "Nightline" -- which evolved from his earlier show "America Held Hostage" -- unearthed some of the evidence. For instance, in 1991, "Nightline" interviewed Iranian financier (and CIA operative) Jamshid Hashemi about secret 1980 meetings in Madrid involving Reagan's campaign director William Casey.
"Nightline" even matched up Hashemi's description of Casey's first Madrid meeting with high-ranking Iranians in summer 1980 to an unannounced trip that Casey had made to London in July 1980 for a historical conference. In 1991, Koppel noted that the trip meant that Casey was only a short plane flight away from Madrid.
But that broadcast by "Nightline" had momentous consequences. It escalated concerns among vulnerable power centers about the threat posed by the investigation into the mystery popularly known as the October Surprise.
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