1991 Congressional Hearings
Intelligence and Security
Statement of Gary G. Sick, November 22, 1991
Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to be invited to testify before the committee on the question of possible unauthorized contacts by private Americans with Iran during the presidential elections of 1980. I realize that this is an extremely contentious issue, with implications that go to the heart of the U.S. political system. I hope that my testimony can be helpful to you in deciding whether or not to proceed with a full investigation of this matter.
It may be useful at the start to give you a few words of background about myself and how I became involved with this issue. I spent a full career of 24 years as an officer in Naval Intelligence, retiring in 1981 as a Captain. During the last ten years of my naval service, I completed a PhD in Political Science at Columbia University and then came to Washington where I was the desk officer for the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
In 1976, I was seconded to the National Security Council staff, to work on Persian Gulf and Middle East affairs in the administration of President Gerald Ford. The National Security Adviser at that time was General Brent Scowcroft. After the 1976 elections, I was asked to remain in the same position under the administration of President Carter, where I worked for Zbigniew Brzezinski. After the 1980 elections, I was retained in the same position for several months by the administration of President Reagan and his National Security Adviser Richard V. Allen. After my retirement from the Navy in April 1981, I was retained as an unpaid consultant with the National Security Council until I went to New York in August of that year.
I was the principal White House aide for Iranian affairs during the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis. After I left government service, I spent a year at Columbia University researching and writing a book about those events [`All Fall Down: America's Tragic Encounter With Iran']. The book was published in 1985, when I was deputy director of the International Affairs Program and the Ford Foundation. I retired from the Ford Foundation at the end of 1987. Since that time, I have been an independent author and analyst, specializing in the politics of Iran and the Persian Gulf. I also teach a graduate seminar in U.S. foreign policy at Columbia University, where I am an adjunct professor.
My decision to write about the events of the 1980 election was taken slowly and reluctantly. I had, of course, heard suspicions about a secret deal between the Reagan-Bush campaign and Iran almost from the moment when the hostages were released only a few minutes after President Reagan's inaugural. I did not believe them. I simply refused to believe that a party out of power would intervene with a hostile foreign power to undercut the negotiating efforts of their own government and affect the lives and welfare of 52 American prisoners. Four years later, I wrote a book about the hostage crisis which was not flattering to the Carter administration. I made no reference to a possible secret deal. In the election of 1988, when accusations of a secret deal first received widespread attention in the national media, I acknowledged the new information that had come to light, but I refused to endorse the allegations despite repeated queries from journalists and the Democratic campaign. After the 1988 election, I submitted a proposal to The Twentieth Century Fund to write a book about the Reagan administration's relations with Iran. The proposal made no reference to the so-called October Surprise, and as I began work on that project in early 1989 I had no intention whatsoever to deal with that subject.
As I began collecting research material for the book, however, I began to discover anomalies in the historical record. For example, I found that some Iranian officials in 1980 had referred openly to efforts by the Reagan-Bush campaign to delay the release of the hostages for political reasons. These contemporaneous statements, and the timing of certain Iranian decisions during the hostage crisis, seemed to be consistent with allegations of a secret deal that had emerged in 1987 and 1988, leading me to dig deeper. During this same time, I began to talk regularly to a small group of journalists who were continuing to pursue this story even after it had been abandoned by the mainstream media. Their investigative findings often matched the timing of the new material I was finding in the historical record. By the end of 1989, I began to conduct a few interviews with prospective sources.
It was not until mid 1990 that I felt I had accumulated enough evidence to consider writing on this subject. At that point I faced an unpleasant decision. I had never considered myself a political partisan. I had always been a registered Democrat, but I had never participated in political campaigns and I attempted to maintain a balanced, non-partisan perspective in my work. I realized that if I decided to write on an issue of such great political volatility, which cut so close to the bone of political sensitivities, I would subject myself to accusations of partisanship and, potentially, to smear tactics as part of a campaign to discredit my work. I consulted with my family, warning them of the possibly unpleasant consequences. They encouraged me to proceed.
I also realized that I might lose the grant on which I relied to carry out the research. In mid-1990 I met with the president of The Twentieth Century Fund to inform him that the book I intended to write was quite different--and far more controversial--than the proposal I had submitted 18 months earlier. I said that I could still write the book I had promised
to the Fund, but it would have to be delayed until I completed my research on the 1980 elections. In the meantime, I would understand if the Fund wished to suspend the grant. After careful consideration, the Twentieth Century Fund agreed to continue its support, a decision that I regarded--and continue to regard--as both generous and courageous.
I provide this brief background to set the record straight. My decision to write about this subject was taken because I had uncovered a body of evidence that I believed was important and deserved to be brought to public attention. I came to the subject late, and I realized that it was potentially hazardous--personally and professionally. My present position, in which I am identified as the advocate for a politically controversial point of view, is both unfamiliar and uncomfortable to me. I firmly believe, however, that the research I have done, with the invaluable assistance of many other researchers and journalists, is too important to be ignored. It is also far from complete. I fully intend to persevere in exploring the circumstances of the 1980 election, though I recognize the limitations of any private citizen in attempting to get to the bottom of such a complex and sensitive matter. For that reason, I respectfully urge the Congress to undertake a quiet, balanced, thorough, and politically fair investigation of these matters.
I would like to raise two substantive points with the members of the subcommittee. Both involve sources.
Within the past several weeks, two magazine articles have appeared that were sharply critical of allegations that the Reagan-Bush campaign of 1980 met secretly with Iranians to affect the timing of the release of the American hostages in Iran. 1
These two articles, which were quite similar in form, tone and substance, were published simultaneously on November 4 (although the publication dates of the magazines are given as November 11 in one case and November 18 in the other). I was contacted by reporters for both articles shortly in advance of publication. In both cases, I informed them that many of the points they intended to raise in their articles would be covered in great detail in my book, which was scheduled to appear one week later on November 11. In both cases, the authors of these articles showed little interest in what I might have to say, and both rushed into print without waiting to see the book.
1 Steven Emerson and Jesse Furman, The New Republic, November 18, 1991; John Barry et al., Newsweek, November 11, 1991.
As a result, there has been a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding that could easily have been avoided. Because of the proximity of the dates, many observers perhaps understandably assumed that these articles were a critique of my research, when in fact they deliberately chose to ignore it. What they did was to set up a series of straw men, crude caricatures of both the evidence and those who have treated that evidence seriously, and then proceed to knock them down. I do not recognize myself in these gross generalizations, although I am clearly intended to be included as one of their generic conspiracy theorists. I also do not recognize the sources they describe, although I have in many cases spent many hours with these men while the authors of these articles have for the most part contented themselves with a search for press clips. Most of all, I do not find in these articles any reflection of the care and attention that has been devoted to authenticating the evidence that I and others have presented. In their selective use of evidence, their unwillingness to consider alternative explanations, their quickness to demean anyone who has done serious research work on this subject, and their cavalier and wholesale dismissal of the testimony of numerous sources, they did nothing to further the cause of truth. They did, however, whether intentionally or inadvertently, poison the atmosphere in such a way that a reasoned discussion of these issues has become infinitely more difficult.
That is regrettable, for a dispassionate discussion of these issues is precisely what is needed at this time.
Last week, Random House/Times Books published `October Surprise: America's Hostages in Iran and the Election of Ronald Reagan.' In that book, I attempt to provide the first truly comprehensive analysis of all the available evidence on this subject. The book contains a great deal of new information, not of the `smoking gun' variety but rather the crucial details that link the major events together in a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. The array of evidence presented in the book is the same evidence that persuaded me to change from disbelief to a growing conviction that a secret deal took place in 1980. That evidence may not persuade everyone, but it does provide a baseline for reasoned discussion. In the past, this story has consisted mostly of isolated bits of evidence presented in a wide array of news sources. This book at least assembles those diverse bits and pieces and places them in a larger political and historical context.
What this evidence shows is a consistent pattern of secret contacts between the Reagan-Bush campaign and Iran. The contacts began early in 1980, from about the moment that William Casey became the campaign manager for Mr. Reagan. They continued through the summer of that year in Madrid, where the first outline of a deal was reportedly proposed and accepted and where Israeli participation was first introduced. The terms of the bargain were reportedly made final in the second half of October in Paris. The hostages were released minutes after President Reagan had taken the oath of office, and arms began to flow to Iran from Israel, with U.S. government acquiescence, almost immediately thereafter.
The historical spine of this account is simply a reconstruction of the chronological record, based on a wide
variety of news accounts, letters, and other data from the period. Some of this information has only recently come to light, such as the report of the Iranian foreign minister to the parliament on August 16, 1980, in which he said: `We have information that the American Republican Party, in order to win in the upcoming election, is trying very hard to delay the resolution of the hostage question until after the American election.' [p. 89] That statement was made only a few days after Casey was reported to have met with an Iranian representative in Madrid for the very purpose described in the statement.
Some of the new information is based on a review of information that was available to the Carter administration in 1980. For example, it is now known that the Hashemi brothers, who were working both with the Carter administration and, covertly, with the Reagan campaign, did seek out two senior Iranians who were prepared to come out of Iran to meet with Americans on the hostage question. One of those was a relative of Khomeini, who in fact had such a meeting in Madrid with a private U.S. representative on July 2. The other was Mehdi Karrubi, who is later said to have met with William Casey at the same site and under almost identical circumstances just three weeks later.
In reconstruction this sequence of events, I conducted hundreds of interviews over a period of several years. I also shared information with a number of fine journalists and scholars, and I benefited immensely from their work. In the book, I cite more than fifty sources, most of whom were former government officials in Iran, the United States, Israel, as well as officials of the Republican campaign, former hostages, and academics. There is no `super source' who claims to know the whole story. Quite the contrary, I was told repeatedly that this was a professionally managed covert operation which respected the rules of compartmentalization and `need to know.'
The sources are named. Unlike the Watergate investigation that was launched on the basis of a unidentified Deep Throat, this research relies primarily on the testimony of individuals who have been prepared, often at some personal risk, to speak on the record. That means that these individuals have exposed themselves to attack and ridicule, but it also means that in the best academic tradition, the facts can be checked by other investigators. Anonymous sources are used very sparingly in this book, primarily to corroborate information from other sources.
Key elements of the story, particularly the accounts of covert meetings, rely on individuals who have operated on the shadowy side of international politics. Convert arms deals and political operations, regrettably, do not employ boy scout leaders and church deacons. There are two good reasons for that. First `respectable' people do not have the special skills that are required for such operations. Second, it is convenient to be able to discredit a disgruntled operative who may decide to start talking about what he knows. That does, however, create a serious problem for the researcher.
There are two possible choices. One can dismiss any source who does not have an impeccable record of integrity and honesty. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that anyone who has been investigated or indicted by a federal agency should automatically be rejected as a source, and everything he says should be regarded as false. In Washington, and elsewhere, that sharply reduces the available supply of interlocutors.
A second possibility is to listen carefully to what such individuals say, especially if there is reason to believe that they have access to important information, and then to check those statements as carefully as possible. That is the path I chose. To paraphrase President Reagan's maxim, the rule is `Listen but verify.' To those who would repudiate any specific source, I would ask only that you take the effort to find out what information is based on his testimony and whether there is any corroborating evidence. What you will soon discover is that many of the sources who have become popular targets for attack either do not appear at all in this study or else have been used only when the information they provided was independently corroborated.
Mr. Chairman, based on my research, I believe there is substantial evidence that a secret deal was carried out during the election of 1980. Most of that evidence has never been examined by a duly constituted body of the U.S. government. It is certainly incomplete, and reasonable people may differ on the interpretation of the data, but in my view there is ample evidence to justify a low-key and responsible examination by a panel equipped with subpoena power.
In closing, let me suggest to you several areas of inquiry that have been closed to me and to other private researchers but which might be fruitful avenues of investigation for a congressional committee.
First, and most obvious, where was William Casey during this period? Over the past summer, President Reagan directed the archivists of his new library to search the 1980 campaign records to see if there was any evidence that William Casey was involved with Iran during the campaign. According to their report, they found no information whatsoever about his schedule. Mr. Casey simply seemed to be absent from the campaign he directed. His secretary has been similarly uninformed. When reporters contacted her about Mr. Casey's movements during the period of the alleged meetings in Madrid, she had no information about his movements. Later research discovered that he had attended an international conference in London during part of that time. Can it be that Mr. Casey went off to a long-scheduled conference without telling his secretary or leaving behind some instructions about how he could be reached? This was, after all, only the
second week after the Republican National Convention, and he was the national campaign manager. Mr. Casey was a very busy man. It seems impossible that he would keep no day books, phone logs, calendars, or appointment books, that he accumulated no bills or receipts or even memos that would locate him on key dates. Is there no one who saw him or spoke to him on those dates? We have here the case of the phantom campaign manager. I think a duly empowered investigative team could resolve this mystery. It may find that he was merely attending to campaign business on those dates. If so, then perhaps these questions can be laid to rest. But all attempts to do so have thus far failed.
Second, we know from court documents that the New York office of Cyrus Hashemi was under intensive surveillance by the FBI and Customs from at least October 14, 1980, until the surveillance was abruptly terminated shortly after the Reagan administration took office. Cyrus Hashemi, according to his brother, was acting as a double agent, cooperating with both the Carter administration and Mr. Casey on the hostage issue. His telephone calls, conversations and movements during this crucial period should provide a wealth of information that would either confirm or deny his brother's accounts. Those records are presently sealed and unavailable to private investigators, as are his files in other government agencies that had contact with him. They should be available to an investigative committee of the Congress.
Third, there is a considerable body of evidence that military equipment began to flow in substantial quantities from Israel to Iran almost immediately after the Reagan inauguration and that these shipments were known to, and approved, by the new administration. There are also repeated charges that some of that equipment came from U.S. stockpiles in Europe and possibly in the United States. That can be checked. A proper investigation should be able to determine whether or not these shipments occurred, and if they did, who authorized them.
Finally, a congressional committee should be able to take depositions from many of the sources who have provided information on this subject, as well as those who have steadfastly refused to talk to me or others who have attempted to investigate this story.
In short, it is my view that the evidence developed to date is sufficient to justify an investigation, and there is reason to believe that such an investigation could resolve the issue.
The charges that have been raised are not about refighting an election that is long past. They are about the proper functioning of a democratic system. If this did not happen, we owe it to Mr. Casey and others to clear any suspicion from their names. If it did happen, it was a perversion of the democratic process and those responsible should be held accountable for their actions, if only to insure that it never happen again.--
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