Source: Consortium News
As Barack Obama is staggered by a back-stabbing memoir from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the President can't say that some people didn't warn him about the risk of bringing a political opportunist like Gates into his inner circle on national security.
Those warnings date back to just days after Obama's election in 2008 when word began to spread that some of his advisers were urging Obama to keep Gates on as Defense Secretary as part of a "Team of Rivals" and a show of bipartisanship. On Nov. 13, 2008, I posted a story at Consortiumnews.com entitled "The Danger of Keeping Robert Gates," which said:
"If Obama does keep Gates on, the new President will be employing someone who embodies many of the worst elements of U.S. national security policy over the past three decades, including responsibility for what Obama himself has fingered as a chief concern, 'politicized intelligence.' ... it was Gates -- as a senior CIA official in the 1980s -- who broke the back of the CIA analytical division's commitment to objective intelligence."
I cited a book by former CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman, Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA, which identified Gates as the chief action officer for the Reagan administration's drive to tailor intelligence reporting to fit White House political desires.
But Gates's nefarious roles in national security scandals went much deeper than that, despite his undeniable PR skills in shaping his image as a dedicated public servant who has earned Official Washington's near-universal regard as a modern-day Wise Man.
In reality, Gates has been more a careerist who had a chameleon-like skill to adapt to the ideological hues of the powerful people around him. But -- at his core -- he seemed most comfortable in a Cold War setting of tough-talking belligerence which led him to repeated policy miscalculations, including dismissing Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989 as a phony and missing the collapse of the Soviet Union two years later.
But it's how Gates began his meteoric rise in the U.S. intelligence community during the Reagan years that has remained most cloaked in mystery. As a young CIA official in 1980, Gates was implicated in secret maneuvers to sabotage President Jimmy Carter's negotiations to free 52 U.S. hostages then held in Iran, a failure by Carter that doomed his reelection.
Gates was identified as one of the participants in a key October 1980 meeting in Paris allegedly also involving William Casey, who was then Reagan's campaign director; George H.W. Bush, a former CIA director and then-Reagan's vice presidential running mate; Iranian emissary Mehdi Karrubi; and Israeli intelligence officers, including Ari Ben-Menashe who later testified under oath about what he witnessed.
The Paris meeting and Gates's alleged involvement was also cited by a Russian government report given to U.S. congressional investigators in early 1993. The Russian Report -- prepared by a national security committee of the Russian Duma -- stated that "William Casey, in 1980, met three times with representatives of the Iranian leadership ... 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 Russian Report said. "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."
According to the Russian Report, the Republicans succeeded in wooing the Iranians who rebuffed Carter's appeals. "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 Russian Report said.
The Iranians only released the hostages after Reagan was sworn in as President on Jan. 20, 1981. U.S.-approved arms deliveries followed, carried out by Israel, the Russian Report said. As a young Israeli intelligence officer, Ben-Menashe testified that he took part in the weapons shipments, sometimes coordinating his work with Gates at the CIA. Gates has denied the allegations but he has been less than forthcoming with investigators.
The Russian Report came in response to an Oct. 21, 1992, query from Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Indiana, who was then heading a task force examining this so-called October Surprise case. But Hamilton later told me that the Russian Report never reached him, ending up in a box of unpublished files that I discovered a couple of years later. [For the text of the Russian report, click here. To view the U.S. embassy cable that contains the Russian report, click here.]
Hamilton's investigation also faced frustrations when it tried to secure information about the 1980 whereabouts of Gates and Donald Gregg, another CIA officer linked to the October Surprise allegations. Documents released by the National Archives have revealed that the CIA in 1991 and 1992 dragged its heels on complying with Hamilton's information requests on Gates and Gregg, both of whom were close to then-President George H.W. Bush.
As Hamilton's investigation was starting in fall 1991, President Bush went to extraordinary lengths to install Gates as CIA director, facing down stiff congressional resistance because of suspicions that Gates had lied about his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, which also involved secret Reagan-approved arms shipment to Iran.
So it was Gates's agency in 1991-92 that stonewalled the congressional investigators seeking information on Gates's possible collaboration with enemies of the United States in 1980. [For more details on this October Surprise mystery, see Robert Parry's Secrecy & Privilege and America's Stolen Narrative. For Hamilton's latest assessment of the case, see Consortiumnews.com's "Second Thoughts on October Surprise."]