consort.gif (5201 bytes)
November 5, 2000
History on the Ballot

Page 1, 2, 3

Bush's Political War

For the next four years, Bush’s presidency waged a low-intensity political war against those who threatened to disclose the dark secrets.

A particular nemesis was Iran-contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, a lifelong Republican who was troubled by the layers of dishonesty and deception that he encountered from veterans of the Reagan-Bush administration. [For details, see Walsh's Firewall.]

Others, too, were pulling at the loose threads of long-denied secrets. Some congressional Democrats pressed for documents about the U.S. military’s support for repressive regimes during the Cold War.

Those requests led to discovery of what was known inside the Pentagon as Project X, the name given to the distillation of lessons learned about counterinsurgency warfare.

Project X began in 1965 as a top-secret program at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center at Fort Holabird, Md., according to a brief history of the operation. Project X pulled together the field lessons from U.S. counterinsurgency operations around the world and put those lessons into training manuals.

Translated into many languages, the booklets were to “provide intelligence training to friendly foreign countries,” according to the Pentagon history.

Linda Matthews of the Pentagon’s Counterintelligence Division recalled that in 1967-68, some of the Project X training material was prepared by officers connected to the Phoenix program, a notorious assassination program in Vietnam.

“She suggested the possibility that some offending material from the Phoenix program may have found its way into the Project X materials at that time,” the Pentagon report said.

By the mid-1970s, Project X material was being shared with armies all over the world. In reviewing these training programs, the Pentagon acknowledged that Project X was the source for some of the “objectionable” lessons taught at the School of the Americas, where Latin American officers were trained in blackmail, kidnapping, murder and spying on non-violent political opponents.

But the full story of Project X – and the precise techniques taught to the Third World armies – will never be told.

In the final days of the Bush administration, Dick Cheney’s Defense Department ordered the collection of all Project X documents. The manuals and other materials were brought to a central location and systematically destroyed.

The ostensible rationale for the mass destruction of documents was to prevent Project X from being used as teaching material in the future. But the more immediate consequence was to keep these unpleasant facts away from the American people.

Only the brief Project X history and some of the more innocuous records survived and were released in 1997.

Around the same time as the destruction of the Project X records, President Bush was completing the long-running cover-up of the Iran-contra scandal. On Christmas Eve 1992, he issued pardons to former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and five other Iran-contra defendants.

The pardons effectively ended the Iran-contra investigation and spared leading Republicans, including Gen. Colin Powell, the embarrassment of having to testify at the Weinberger trial about their earlier deceptions.

After leaving office, Bush himself refused to submit to an interview with Walsh that might have established what Bush and his aides actually did during the Iran-contra operation.

Clinton-Gore Record

The arrival of the Clinton-Gore administration offered some hope that the secrets of the Cold War might finally be shared with the American people. Often, the new administration fell short, however.

Sometimes, the administration protected the Reagan-Bush secrets as zealously as the Republicans had, as if the Democrats were trying to prove their trustworthiness on national security issues.

As early as the Clinton transition period in December 1992, the incoming Democrats rejected overtures from the Iranian government offering details about the 1980 October Surprise controversy.

Rep. Hamilton, who had been named to head a task force on the October Surprise issue in 1992, proved his commitment to bipartisanship again.

When evidence supporting the long-held October Surprise suspicions poured in during the last weeks of the Bush administration, Hamilton’s task force turned a deaf ear and – in the case of the Russian report – actually hid the evidence from public view.

[I discovered the Russian report and other secret records when I gained access to the task force documents in 1994. For details, see The October Surprise X-Files: The Hidden Origins of the Reagan-Bush Era or the series by the same name in the Archives of this Web site.]

Other times, the Clinton-Gore administration moved aggressively to discredit witnesses who divulged evidence of wrongdoing by the Reagan-Bush crowd.

In January 1995, a Reagan-Bush national security aide, Howard Teicher, submitted a sworn affidavit describing secret CIA military shipments to Iraq in the early-to-mid 1980s. Clinton’s Justice Department hastily classified the affidavit a state secret and then pounded Teicher as lacking credibility.

Teicher’s affidavit confirmed earlier allegations by Ari Ben-Menashe and other Middle Eastern intelligence operatives that the Reagan-Bush administration had funneled military equipment to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the 1980s, at the same time the White House was shipping other weaponry to Iran.

President Bush and his aides had angrily denounced those so-called Iraqgate allegations when they surfaced in 1991. Those denials carried over into the Clinton administration’s assault on Teicher and his affidavit.

Gradually, however, the Clinton-Gore administration began building a modest record for releasing Cold War secrets.

Clinton’s first energy secretary, Hazel O’Leary, opened the files on some nuclear weapons secrets. Clinton also agreed to declassify evidence about the U.S. role in Guatemala and the slaughter of 200,000 people in that country’s civil war.

In 1998, the CIA’s inspector general produced a surprisingly candid account acknowledging the Nicaraguan contras’ involvement in drug trafficking. [For details, see Lost History.]

When Spanish judges began pressing for evidence about the “dirty wars” in Chile and Argentina, the Clinton administration again agreed to cooperate, providing evidence of U.S. complicity in the Chilean military coup in 1973 and the covert CIA relationship with the Chilean dictatorship that followed.

In recent months, the White House also has battled CIA over releasing more documents about the spy agency’s knowledge of the human rights violations in Chile and Chilean intelligence operations elsewhere, such as the Letelier-Moffitt murders.

Though the White House has prevailed in most of these struggles, foot-dragging at CIA headquarters – now officially named the George Bush Center for Intelligence – delayed release of additional documents until after the election.

The Future of History

While the Clinton-Gore record on openness has been mixed, the administration has given Americans back important chapters of their recent history. The record of a second Bush administration could be quite different.

George W. Bush could be faced with choices early in his administration about releasing additional CIA records that could implicate his father in activities surrounding a double homicide.

The potential for other new disclosures about crimes – from the 1980 October Surprise operations to contra-drug trafficking to Iraqgate seem unlikely, too – since they would cast a negative light on the Bush family legacy.

The inclusion of Cheney on the Bush ticket further suggests that continuation of Cold War cover-ups will be a hallmark of a Bush II administration.

Cheney proved his mettle with the Bush family by protecting the elder George Bush during the Iran-contra troubles. He demonstrated his commitment to secrecy again by overseeing the destruction of historical records from Project X.

Given the Bush family’s success in containing unpleasant secrets from the past quarter century, it also might be easier to understand why George W. Bush has taken chances hiding his own personal indiscretions, as the recent disclosure of a driving-under-the-influence arrest has shown.

Far more often than not, the Bushes have prevailed in keeping their secrets – and keeping a truthful historical record – from the American people.

Robert Parry is an investigative reporter who broke many of the Iran-contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek.

Back to Front