The Ladies' Room Secrets
Stored away in a converted Ladies' Room on Capitol
Hill, dusty boxes contained startling evidence of Republican
dirty tricks in the 1980 presidential campaign -- and of a
bipartisan cover-up that continues to this day.
From secret payments to an Iranian banker to incriminating CIA
discussions, the documents painted a picture of political deceit
at the highest levels of national power and of a fraud
perpetrated on American history: another chapter of the October
By Robert Parry
- October Surprise X-Files (Part 2): The Ladies' Room Secrets
WASHINGTON -- After its release on Jan. 13, 1993, the House task
force report on the October Surprise controversy quickly
hardened into historical concrete. Its conclusion that there
was "no credible evidence" to support the allegations of
Republican sabotage in the 1980 Iran hostage crisis won acclaim
across the political spectrum.
Columnist David Broder lauded Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., the
task force chairman, as the "conscience of Congress" for
repudiating the accusations of GOP wrongdoing. No one, it
seemed, examined the quality of the investigation or listened to
the few dissenting voices.
But in the months following the task force's findings, more
foreign leaders in positions to know told other Americans that
there was more to the October Surprise story than the task force
found. Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasir Arafat
informed American journalist Richard Fricker that senior
Republicans had traveled to Beirut in 1980 seeking avenues to
the Iranian leadership.
In a May 1993 videotaped interview in Tel Aviv, former Israeli
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was asked "was there an October
Surprise?" and he responded "of course, it was." In another
interview, retired Israeli General Yehoshua Saguy, who was head
of Israeli military intelligence in 1980, said Prime Minister
Menachem Begin claimed American approval for Israel's secret
1980 weapons shipments to Iran. But the approval had not come
from President Carter, who had angrily objected to the shipments
when he learned of them.
The French Spymaster
Alexandre deMarenches, the man who ran French intelligence in
1980, privately mocked the House task force findings and let
stand the sworn testimony of his biographer that he
(deMarenches) had arranged meetings between Ronald Reagan's
campaign chief William J. Casey and Iranians in Paris in October
In December 1992, deMarenches's biographer, David Andelman, an
ex-New York Times and CBS News correspondent, had testified
before the task force that deMarenches had discussed the Paris
meetings while the two were writing deMarenches's autobiography,
The Fourth World War. After Andelman's testimony, the task
force called deMarenches. But when the imperious French
spymaster failed to return the call, the task force concluded,
paradoxically, that Andelman's testimony was "credible" but
lacked "probative value."
These newer witnesses also were corroborating longstanding
claims about Republican interference that had been made by top
Iranians of the period, including Iran's President Abolhassan
Bani-Sadr, Foreign Minister Sadeq Ghotzbadeh and Defense
Minister Ahmed Madani. Other testimony supporting the October
Surprise charges had come from intelligence agents with
confirmed ties to Israel, France and the United States.
But the dismissive House task force report effectively buried
the October Surprise story as an historical issue. Washington's
conventional wisdom readily accepted that there had been no
Republican contacts to Iran in 1980; that Casey, George Bush and
other Reagan campaign officials had been falsely accused.
Then, last year, senior representatives of Iran's current
government held informal talks in Europe with Americans close to
President Clinton. Like deMarenches, these Iranians were amused
at how wrong the House task force had been. Casey indeed had
made secret overtures to Iran during the hostage crisis of 1980,
these Iranians said.
The new Iranian claims were relayed to the highest levels of the
Clinton administration. But fearing how a reopened October
Surprise investigation might look, the White House refused to
reconsider the House task force findings. For reasons perhaps
explained best by Washington's acute sense for sniffing career
danger, the October Surprise story had become one of the
capital's most powerful taboos.
The Ladies' Room Files
Given that reality, I hesitated before seeking access to the
task force's raw files. But having learned of the new Iranian
claims, I decided to go ahead. I obtained permission from the
House International Relations Committee to examine the task
force's unclassified papers. I was told that there had not been
a single prior request for these records that had been
collecting dust in an obscure office off the Rayburn House
Office Building's parking garage, across from the U.S.
To reach the files required taking the Rayburn building's
elevator to a sub-basement floor and then winding through the
musty underground garage almost to the car exit at the
building's south side. To the right, behind
venetian-blind-covered windows was a small locked office. Inside
were a few desks, cloth-covered partitions, phones and a
rumbling old copying machine.
At the rear of the office was a converted Ladies' Room, now used
for storage. The task force's taped boxes sat against the wall,
under an empty tampon dispenser which still hung from the
salmon-colored tiles. I began pulling the tape off the boxes
and poring through the files.
Not only did I find unclassified notes and documents about the
task force's work, but also "secret" and even "top secret"
papers that had been left behind, apparently in the haste to
wrap up the investigation.
A few "secret" depositions were there, including one of a
senior CIA officer named Charles Cogan. Cogan testified that he
had attended a 1981 meeting at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.,
in which a high-ranking Republican commented to Casey about
their success in disrupting Carter's "October Surprise," the
term used to describe President Carter's hope for a last-minute
release of the 52 American hostages held in Iran.
Another box contained a "secret" summary of FBI wiretaps placed
on phones belonging to Cyrus Hashemi, an Iranian financier who
had worked for the CIA in 1980. Hashemi also was a key Carter
intermediary in the hostage talks. But in fall 1980, the
wiretaps showed Hashemi receiving a $3 million deposit arranged
by a Houston lawyer who claimed to be associated with then-vice
presidential candidate George Bush.
After the 1980 election, the Houston lawyer was back on the
phone promising Hashemi help from "the Bush people" for one of
Hashemi's failing investments. And shortly after President
Reagan's Inauguration, a second mysterious payment to Hashemi
arrived from London by Concorde, via a courier for the Bank of
Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).
There were notes, too, describing Bush's active involvement in
monitoring President Carter's Iran hostage negotiations.
According to one set of notes, dated Oct. 27, 1980, Bush
instructed foreign policy adviser Richard Allen to funnel
last-minute information about the negotiations back to him via
Theodore Shackley, the CIA's former associate deputy director for
Still, another file contained a summary of all "secret" and "top
secret" State Department records on arms sales to Iran in the
1980s. One "top secret/sensitive" document recounted private
meetings that Secretary of State Alexander Haig had with Middle
Eastern leaders during a trip in May 1981. The leaders told
Haig about the continuing secret flow of weapons from Israel to
I also found a "confidential" October Surprise report that had
been sent by Russia's Supreme Soviet informing the task force
that Moscow's national security files contained evidence that
Casey, Bush and other Republicans had negotiated secretly with
Iranians in Europe in 1980. [See "The Consortium," Dec. 11,
1995, Vol. 1, No. 1]
All of this information had been excluded from the House task
force report. And after the report was completed, the documents
were left unceremoniously behind on the floor of the converted
'A Trap Door'
Other task force papers in the boxes revealed how flimsy the
report's October Surprise debunking had been. Even, task force
chief counsel E. Lawrence Barcella was nervous about the
weaknesses. On Dec. 8, 1992, he instructed his deputies "to put
some language in, as a trap door" in case later disclosures
disproved parts of the report or if complaints arose about
selective omission of evidence.
"This report does not and could not reflect every single lead
that was investigated, every single phone call that was made,
every single contact that was established," Barcella suggested
as "trap door" wording. "Similarly, the task force did not
resolve every single one of the scores of 'curiosities,'
'coincidences,' sub-allegations or question marks that have been
raised over the years and become part of the October Surprise
But as the documents made clear, many of those "coincidences"
left out were historically important. The October Surprise
story connected some of the world's most powerful figures in
secret interlocking business deals. The documents also revealed
an investigation that not only overlooked a few "curiosities" or
failed to mention a "lead" or two, but an inquiry that
consistently slanted the evidence.
The boxes of documents revealed that the task force used false
alibis on 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.
Conflicts of Interest
In addition, the task force's files contained new evidence of
conflicts of interest for the House investigators, particularly
chief counsel Barcella. In the 1980s, he had been a lead
attorney for the corrupt international bank, BCCI, which paid
his firm more than $2 million to shield it from press and
governmental investigations. At that time, Barcella also was a
law partner of Paul Laxalt, who had been chairman of the
Reagan-Bush campaign in 1980.
Indeed, the Ladies' Room files showed that a fascinating chapter
of recent American history -- the story of the pivotal 1980
election -- had been seriously miswritten. Even if one still
judges that the evidence falls short of proving an explicit
Republican-Iranian "deal" to delay the release of the 52
American hostages, the facts do point to significant GOP
interference in President Carter's negotiations during the
Much of that missing history was there in the documents.
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