"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Underside of the Reagan Revolution

Through most of American history, conservatives have insisted on the strict observance of law and have opposed the expansion of executive power. The Reagan administration’s administration of legislation affecting the civil rights of African Americans sometimes seemed a bit lax, and it approached economic regulations and labor law with a business-friendly perspective. But in its public manifestation, it did not appear bent on expanding executive power or on circumventing statutory law. However, in covert matters, its record was very different. In its dealings in Central America, it constantly circumvented the law and lied to Congress. Its weapons sales in the Middle East also circumvented the law and sometimes violated it outright. In matters involving PROMIS software, which came to be used in law-enforcement, banking and intelligence work, its representatives consistently lied to courts about government use and marketing of this software.

In battling Communists and their leftist allies, the actions of the Reagan administration strongly suggest that it believed there were almost no legal restraints on what it could do. In 1986, the United States government began selling arms to Iran and using the profits to help the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. Both actions were illegal. Ronald Reagan denied having authorized this program. This turned out to be the tip of a massive iceberg of illegal activity. The US had been selling arms to Iran and Iraq since the beginning of the Reagan administration.

Of far greater importance was the elaborate executive infrastructure, answerable to Vice President George H.W. Bush, to secretly supply the right-wing Contras. Congress cut legitimate aid to a trickle with the two Boland Amendments, making all other assistance of any sort, including the use of US personnel illegal. Another breach of the law occurred in the Reagan-Bush, Sr., years. The NSC and CIA violated the law by advising and provisioning the Contras in Nicaragua. They used US military personnel in some operations against Nicaragua, a violation of the Neutrality Act, which forbids use of force against nation with whom the US is at peace. Later, the violation of the law was compounded when Congress legislated against supplying the contra rebels in Nicaragua. Almost certainly, Bush was deeply involved in operational problems.

The covert war in Central America in some ways laid the foundations for America’s future imperial adventures in the Middle East. Some intelligence was cooked, and administration actions were covered by the claim that the Communists and their allies were resorting to terrorism. Otto Reich, Elliot Abrams, and Ambassador Jean Kirkpatrick gave the public buckets of misinformation about the murders of unarmed men, nuns—more than twenty of whom were thrown out of helicopters-- women, and children. John Negroponte, then ambassador to Honduras, deceived Congress about all this while playing a major role in the Central American black operations. Ambassador Negroponte hid and protected the grisly crimes of General Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, army chief who had promised to employ the same bloody tactics used by neo-Nazis in Argentina. Indeed, Negroponte played a role in establishing Battalion 3-16, which carried out many barbaric crimes. Negroponte praised
Alvarez for his “dedication to democracy,” and Ronald Reagan gave the general the Legion of Merit medal.

Reagan established the White House Working Group to coordinate efforts to sell his policies in Latin America and work with many other interests including the Heritage Foundation, Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, and Pat Robertson’s Freedom Council in getting out their message. The seeds of a new American world order were here and made possible by a new alliance of nationalists: Neo Conservatives, the Religious Right, and free marketers. Over time, nationalists like Cheney and Rumsfeld allied so fully with the Neo Conservatives that some thought they had changed. Those involved in orchestrating these operations saw them as ultimately successful, but the Contras never dealt the Sandanistas a military defeat. The reform regime fell due to US economic pressure.

It is also abundantly clear that the NSC and CIA helped and protected the Contras bringing drugs into the United States. This was the principal means of financing their operations. There is considerable evidence that the CIA itself did more than watch and help these operations. The irony is that after moving tons of drugs into the United States to finance the Contras, the problem in Nicaragua was solved by threatening Sandanista leader Daniel Ortega’s family. He was told that his second cousin, a very close friend, would- be killed on a certain day if Ortega did not announce free elections. After his cousin was murdered, he backed down. It is difficult to understand what those involved in these activities thought democracy demanded of them. Perhaps Lt. Colonel Oliver North’s secretary, Fawn Hall, spoke for them when she said they were obeying a “ higher law.” Two decades later, those who took a similar view of the rights of the executive branch of government were talking about inherent powers of the president that exceeded those concretely spelled out in legislation or the constitution.

Much of effort to provide arms for the Contras was coordinated by Lt. Colonel Oliver North, a deputy in the office of the National Security Advisor. A number of former CIA agents played important roles, as did CIA contractors in Central America. At first, it appeared that the CIA was permitting the Contras to bring cocaine into the United States to pay for weapons. The agency and the Justice Department repeatedly shielded US drug dealers who were acting as distributors for the Contras. By late 1985 or 1986, it was clear that the drug trade was being coordinated out of Washington. The operation had become so large that elaborate money laundering schemes in the US had become necessary. Many of those involved in this drug trade were Cuban ex-patriots who were tied to US intelligence work since the Bay of Pigs invasion. There is significant evidence that it also became necessary to share profits with some politicians, mostly Republicans.

Iran/Contra began after a May 16, 1986, National Security Planning Group Meeting where President Reagan suggested that perhaps “Ollie’s people” could help. It soon became clear that this was a reference to using money from the sale of weapons to Iran. Soon, Ted Shackley, technically a private citizen, was in touch with an Iranian general and arms-dealer/fixer Manucher Ghorbanifar. Some witnesses said that Vice President Bush visited Shackley’s Virginia office, but their comments were sometimes subsequently changed. Oliver North worked with the CIA’s Dewey Clarridge to move the weapons, but Clarridge has insisted that for a long time he thought they were dealing with oil-drilling equipment. By August Congress was hearing that the NSC was using private money to help the Contras, and North appeared before the House Permanent Committee on Intelligence on August 6. He told them that he had neither funded the Contras nor given them any military advice. On October 5, 1986, the Sandanistas shot down a CIA plane carrying supplies. Two Americans were killed, and a third, Eugene Hasenfuss, survived. Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams coordinated the cover-up, which soon evaporated. After four days of questioning, Hasenfuss told the Nicaraguans he was working for the CIA and identified Colonel Rodriguez as his control agent. The administration denied all involvement and got Congress to appropriate the $100 million to resupply the Contras. Yet, the crash of Hasenfuss C-123 started the half-hearted Iran-Contra investigation.

Congressional committees investigated, but neither the politicians nor the press were very thorough in their probe. A subcommittee under John Kerry went so far as to claim that in at least a few instances the CIA protected the CUIA drug trade, but the committee was continually hamstrung by the Senate establishment, and Kerry was labeled a conspiracy theorist. The offenses involved were so serious that had a less popular president been involved, impeachment would have been seriously discussed. David Kimche, a top Israeli Foreign Ministry official, first brought the possibility of selling weapons to Iran to National Security assistant Robert McFarlane. President Reagan then instructed McFarlane to look into the possibility of doing so, and his aide Michael Ledeen, handled many of the details. Leeden1i would later be one of the key figures behind the Second Iraq War. When most of the pieces of the tentative deal were in place, McFarlane briefed Reagan, chief-of-staff Donald Regan, George Schultz, Caspar Weinberger, Bill Casey, and George Schultz.

One version of how the deal got off the ground gives Ed Meese a key role. At a meeting in thee situation room of the White House, Attorney General Edwin Meese played the leading role. It was agreed that Secretary of State Edwin Meese and National Security assistant Colonel Robert McFarlane engineered the arms sale, but that McFarlane did not tell President Reagan Yet, the Walsh investigation only documents Meese’s extensive involvement beginning in January 1986, months after the process had begun. Meese had been directly involved in the cocaine-for-guns trade in Central America, delaying and calling of investigations of traffickers.

From the president’s diary of August 23, 1985, it can be deduced that he may not have realize he had approved the deal. The first arms shipment was made on August 20. Soon thereafter, McFarlane testified that Reagan approved replenishing the Israeli arsenal for weapons sold to Iran. After 400 TOW missiles had been shipped, only one hostage had been released. There would be more negotiations and more sales to obtain other releases.

The arms were shipped over an eighteen-month period. Three shipments were made in 1985. A problem was that the terrorists would release hostages and then quickly replace them with others. A key player was Manucher Ghobanifar, the Mossad agent and arms dealer. Lt. Colonel North and the Iranian arms dealer marked up the arms 370% before selling them to the government of Iran. At a meeting in thee situation room of the White House, Attorney General Edwin Meese played the leading role. It was agreed that Secretary of State Edwin Meese and National Security assistant Colonel Robert McFarlaine engineered the arms sale, but that McFarlane did not tell President Reagan. In 1992, Howard Teicher, a former NSC staffer, revealed that Vice President Bush was fully briefed on the arms for hostages deal. The 1985 sale was a violation of the Arms Control Act, and Reagan’s involvement would have been an impeachable offense. Chief of Staff Don Regan had been present when the sale was discussed with Reagan. Schultz and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger had objected to the sale but did not object while the cover story was being hatched. Also present were National Security Advisor Ambassador John Poindexter, and CIA Director Casey.

Schultz returned to the State Department and dictated a memo to an aid saying the record had been “rearranged” and that Bud McFarlane was designated to shoulder the blame. A year later, Lt. Colonel Oliver North and Bud McFarlane successfully hid the truth when testifying before Congress and convinced most observers that Iran-Contra had been a rogue operation. President Reagan later appeared before the Tower Commission to discuss the Iran-Contra deal and read to the commissioners his state directions. In 1991-1992, Walsh and his staff found evidence of the cover-up in papers of Caspar Weinberger and his staff. They soon found evidence that Bush aide Donald Gregg had lied about what he knew about how money from the sales was used to resupply the Nicaraguan Contras. A memo showed that Gregg was to discuss “respupplying the contras” with Bush. George Bush claimed he was “out of the loop” on Iran-Contra and refused to give the investigators his papers. During Bush’s presidency, an aid found the portion of his secret diary that discussed Iran. In it, Bush said, “I’m one of the few people that know fully the details.”

Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum

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Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!