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Rockefeller Aide's Tie to 1980 'October Surprise' Mystery

Some of the most intriguing documents discovered in the House “October Surprise” Task Force files related to Joseph Verner Reed, a longtime aide to Chase Manhattan Bank Chairman David Rockefeller. Starting in early 1979, Reed played a key role in getting the Carter administration to let the Shah of Iran into the United States, the act that sparked the seizure of the U.S. Embassy and 52 American hostages in November 1979.

The Task Force documents  suggest that Reed also knew about attempts by the Reagan-Bush campaign to disrupt President Jimmy Carter’s negotiations to free the hostages before Election 1980, preventing what then-vice presidential candidate George H.W. Bush dubbed Carter’s “October Surprise” of a last-minute hostage release.

The first page in this batch of documents consists of notes written by FBI agent Harry A. Penich in fall 1992, after he tried to serve a congressional subpoena on Reed, who had failed to return “numerous telephone calls” over a five-month period. Penich went to Reed’s 50-acre estate in Greenwich, Conn., and handed him the House subpoena. An outraged Reed reacted to the subpoena by claiming to have an in with one of Penich’s Task Force bosses, according to Penich’s notes.

“His [Reed’s] responses could best be characterized as lashing out,” Penich wrote in talking points for an unidentified superior. “He [Reed] did it in such a way as to lead a reasonable person to believe he had influence w/you. The man’s remarks were both inappropriate and improper. ”

Penich added, “I am not going to be his whipping boy because he can't manipulate the system.”

But Reed’s hardball tactics worked. When Reed finally testified in a secret telephone deposition on Dec. 18, 1992, Task Force lawyers just went through the motions. Penich took the interview notes, which cover the final two pages of this first batch of documents. Reed denied knowing what “October Surprise” referred to and added that he “recalls no contact with Casey in 1980.” [For a text of the Penich notes, click here. To see a PDF file of the actual notes, click here.]

Clearly, the Task Force lawyers didn’t press Reed very hard. Most strikingly, the lawyers failed to confront Reed with evidence that would have impeached his contention that he had “no contact with Casey in 1980.” Another document in the Task Force files was a sign-in sheet for the Reagan-Bush campaign headquarters in Arlington, Va., which showed Reed, Rockefeller and two other aides checking in for a visit with Casey on Sept. 11, 1980. [To see the sign-in sheet, click here.]

The third batch of documents are from a “secret” deposition with former CIA officer Charles Cogan. On Dec. 21, 1992, as the Task Force was wrapping up its work, Cogan described a conversation that he recalled from early 1981 between Joseph Reed and CIA Director William Casey at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.

Reed, who had just been named U.S. ambassador to Morocco, entered Casey’s office as Cogan was leaving. Knowing Reed, Cogan said he lingered at the door and had a “definite memory” of a comment Reed made to Casey about disrupting Carter's “October Surprise.” But Cogan said he couldn’t recall the precise verb that Reed had used.

“Joseph Reed said, ‘we’ and then the verb [and then] something about Carter’s October Surprise,” Cogan testified. “The implication was we did something about Carter's October Surprise, but I don’t have the exact wording.”

One congressional investigator, who discussed the recollection with Cogan in a less formal setting, concluded that the verb that Cogan chose not to repeat was an expletive for sex – as in “we f--d Carter’s October Surprise.”

During Cogan’s deposition, David Laufman, a Republican lawyer on the Task Force and a former CIA official, asked Cogan if he had since then “had occasion to ask him [Reed] about this” recollection?  Yes, Cogan replied, he had asked Reed about it, after Reed moved to a protocol job at the United Nations.

“I called him up,” Cogan said. “He was at his farm in Connecticut, as I recall, and I just told him that, look, this is what sticks in my mind and what I am going to say [to Congress], and he [Reed] didn't have any comment on it and continued on to other matters.”

And so did the Task Force lawyers at this remarkable deposition. The lawyers even failed to ask Cogan the obvious follow-up: What did Casey say and how did Casey react when Reed allegedly told Reagan’s ex-campaign chief something to the effect that “we f--d Carter’s October Surprise.” [To see the first several pages of Cogan's deposition, click here.]

Penich, now an FBI agent in San Diego, Calif., did not return our telephone calls over the past couple of weeks seeking comment. Reed, who is now a deputy to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, didn’t respond to phone or e-mail messages. Cogan, who became a Harvard professor, declined to discuss his testimony because it remains classified.

[For the most recent account of the October Surprise mystery and the role of the Rockefeller group, see Robert Parry’s new book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq. For a 1995 article about Reed and the October Surprise case, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Follow the Money.”]

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