Twenty Years Ago, a Lost Opportunity
Twenty years ago, there was a chance to expose some of the darkest secrets of Ronald Reagan’s presidency: how his men had sabotaged President Jimmy Carter’s reelection campaign and how the Iran-Contra scandal had really begun.
On April 15, 1991, former National Security Council aide Gary Sick published an op-ed in the New York Times, explaining why he had come to conclude that the Reagan campaign had gone behind Carter’s back in 1980 to delay the release of 52 American hostages held in Iran and thus deny Carter an “October Surprise” that might have salvaged his reelection.
The following day, April 16, PBS “Frontline” aired a one-hour documentary that I had helped produce which came to a more ambiguous conclusion but also presented new evidence supporting the suspicions of a treacherous deal between Republican operatives and Iranian emissaries in 1980.
After those two investigative efforts, the history of the United States stood at a crossroads. In one direction, there would a painful reexamination of the Iran-Contra scandal with a much harsher indictment of President Reagan and his team; down the other path, there would be a politically expedient cover-up that would mollify the angry Republicans.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with how Washington operates that the latter course was the one taken. Yet, today, we know that the leaders of the congressional “October Surprise” investigation of 1991-92 understood the inadequacy of their work.
Chief counsel Lawrence Barcella told me that so much evidence of Republican guilt flooded into the House task force in late 1992 that he unsuccessfully sought a three-month extension of the inquiry. Instead, he was instructed to press ahead with the agreed-upon debunking, which involved palming off on the American public false and even ludicrous alibis for key Republicans.
Rep. Lee Hamilton, task force chairman, also told me that he was never shown a remarkable report from the Russian government, which corroborated allegations of Republican-Iranian meetings. Instead, the report was put into a box that Barcella said he expected would simply be lost to history; instead I found it after gaining access to some of the raw documents.
Indeed, it was that discovery – and several others – which led to the creation of Consortiumnews.com in 1995, to make this history available to the American people. However, the U.S. political/media system is such that even documentary evidence can be easily brushed aside or ignored – and it was in this case.
Instead, the false narrative of Reagan’s “innocence” solidified. Today, even among some of the better historians, a misleading understanding of the Iran-Contra Affair took hold: that the arms-for-hostage trades in 1985-86 were an anomaly, rather than part of a worse scandal that began five years earlier.
Simply put, the effort to reach the truth about Reagan’s secret dealings with Iran proved to be a “bridge too far.” However, in honor of that moment two decades ago when Gary Sick and Frontline made their brave (though perhaps hopeless) charge forward, I am encouraging readers to get the DVD of the Frontline documentary by making a donation of $50 or more to keep Consortiumnews.com alive.
All you have to do is make a donation by credit card or check and contact us by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us where to send the DVD.
For donations of $100 or more, you can also get the two-DVD set of the never-before-seen debriefing of October Surprise witness, Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe.
(If you have recently made a donation of $50 and want to receive either the Frontline DVD or the debriefing of Ben-Menashe, just drop us an e-mail with your snail-mail address.)
And to read more about the lost opportunity of spring 1991, go to “A Two-Decade Detour into Empire.”
As always, we appreciate your help.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. He founded Consortiumnews.com in 1995 as the Internet's first investigative magazine. He saw it as a way to combine modern technology and old-fashioned journalism to counter the increasing triviality of the mainstream U.S. news media.
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