By Robert Parry
- Lost History (Part 3): October Surprise Arises
WASHINGTON -- The October Surprise controversy -- allegations
that Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign sabotaged President Carter's
Iranian hostage negotiations -- is now before the U.S. Supreme
Court, though the fact has received virtually no notice in the
The issue was brought to the high court by former national
security adviser Robert McFarlane who claims he was libeled by a
1991 Esquire magazine story linking him to both the alleged
1980 hostage dirty trick and to the Jonathan Pollard spy case.
McFarlane's lawyer, Forrest Hainline, took the libel suit to the
Supreme Court in hopes of reversing earlier dismissals by the
U.S. District Court and by the U.S. Court of Appeals in
Washington. Both courts ruled that McFarlane failed to show
that Esquire displayed a reckless disregard for the truth, the
legal standard required when a public figure seeks damages for
McFarlane's suit specifically targeted quotes from former
Israeli intelligence official Ari Ben-Menashe, who asserted that
McFarlane participated in Republican back-channel contacts with
Iran in 1980 and developed a "special relationship" with Israeli
spymaster Rafi Eitan.
Ben-Menashe even has alleged that McFarlane was the mysterious
"Mr. X" who gave Israel advice on what U.S. government secrets
Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard should steal from American
intelligence files. Pollard was caught in 1985, convicted of
espionage and is currently in federal prison. Israel has never
identified any other Americans who assisted Pollard's spy
In court pleadings, McFarlane's lawyer has called Ben-Menashe a
"liar" and argued that allowing the former Israeli intelligence
official to accuse McFarlane of such acts of treachery crosses
the "reckless disregard" line.
Esquire's lawyers countered by arguing that magazine writer
Craig Unger went to extraordinary lengths to check Ben-Menashe's
bona fides as an Israeli intelligence official and to test his
reliability on other sensitive topics. For instance, in 1986,
Ben-Menashe leaked details of the Iran-contra scandal to
American journalists months before the story broke publicly. "I
never caught him [Ben-Menashe] in a lie and I tried," Unger said
in a deposition. "I tried to catch him in lies many, many times
and I never did."
It was also clear that McFarlane had participated in at least
one October Surprise-related meeting, a discussion at
Washington's L'Enfant Plaza Hotel with an Iranian emissary who
was offering to deliver the 52 American hostages in Iran to
Ronald Reagan in fall 1980.
Then, in the early days of the Reagan administration, McFarlane
was designated the U.S. point man for the "strategic
relationship" between Israel and the United States. McFarlane
later became a central player in the Iran-contra scandal, when
President Reagan authorized the trading of U.S. arms to Iran in
1985-86 for the release of other American hostages then held in
In earlier legal briefs, Esquire argued narrowly that
McFarlane, a public figure, simply had failed to demonstrate
that the magazine acted recklessly and that it had no reason to
believe the charges were false.
But the magazine's recent brief to the Supreme Court cites new
evidence bolstering the October Surprise allegations, including
the findings of The Consortium's investigation into a 1993
House task force report. The task force claimed it found "no
credible evidence" to support the October Surprise charges.
As the Esquire brief notes, however, The Consortium conducted
"an independent review of both classified and unclassified
documents left behind by the House Task Force [and] concluded
that 'the boxes of documents revealed that the task force used
false alibis on [former CIA Director William] Casey's
whereabouts for key October Surprise dates; withheld relevant
documents and testimony that clashed with its conclusions;
dismissed credible witnesses who supplied unwelcome support for
the allegations; and accepted dubious -- if not blatantly
false-- testimony from Republicans."
The new evidence discovered by The Consortium included
testimony from a senior CIA official who was present at a 1981
meeting at which a prominent Republican boasted to then-CIA
Director William Casey about their success in blocking Carter's
attempted "October Surprise" of a last-minute hostage release.
There were also secret FBI wiretaps of one of Carter's Iranian
intermediaries receiving a $3 million deposit through a George
Bush-connected lawyer and getting other lucrative business from
a close Casey friend.
In addition, the House task force hid a 1993 report from
Russia's Supreme Soviet stating that Moscow's national security
files contained evidence that Casey and Bush did participate in
meetings with Iranians to derail Carter's hostage negotiations.
(For details, see the new monograph, The October Surprise
X-Files: The Hidden Origins of the Reagan-Bush Era. )
Another question arising from McFarlane's long-running legal
battle with Esquire is who is paying for McFarlane's suit. His
limited financial resources were depleted by his Iran-contra
difficulties in the late 1980s. And to carry a complex legal
case to the Supreme Court can cost millions of dollars. It is
particularly unusual when the chances for a significant jury
award are not good.
McFarlane's attorney, Hainline, declined to answer questions
about how much the suit has cost. but denied that McFarlane was
receiving outside assistance to finance the action. The Supreme
Court could accept the case for a full hearing or reject it
Meanwhile, McFarlane's lawsuit continues to chill other
journalists who might want to explore the allegations of
high-level wrongdoing contained in the Esquire article.
(c) Copyright 1996 -- Please Do Not Re-Post
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