Last in a series
THE IRAN-CONTRA affair gave the American public its first insights into the way the Secret Team fashioned its own foreign policy. What is truly surprising is not the content of the arms-for-hostages deal, but the fact that it was exposed. Coming shortly after President Reagan condemned Iran and Nicaragua, along with Libya, for supposedly being the backbone of international terrorism, the deal neatly inverted U.S. propaganda. Through its weapons purchases, the monster Khomeini regime was secretly funding arms for the Nicaraguan Contras, who were waging war, backed by the U.S. in contravention of its own neutrality laws. In typical Secret Team fashion, the deal was unknown to the nominal foreign policy chiefs, the U.S. Secretaries of Defence and State, but went on behind closed doors in the office of a young Lieutenant-Colonel, whose secretary later shredded documents by confusing the FBI with the KGB.
What is unknown to the American general public, even after "Contragate," is that the arms-for-hostages deal was typical of the manoeuvres of an extremist clique whose policies were more concerned with plunder and mayhem than any genuine U.S. foreign policy interest. The team of covert agents/businessmen Theodore Shackley and Tom Clines, organized schemes ranging from aid to the Cuban drug- and gun-running exiles to providing Nicaraguan dictator Somoza with weapons in his last days, which he used to bomb civilians. Arms sales to Iran via Israel did not begin with the notorious arms-for-hostages deal. And even the avowed enemy Libya received covert U.S. aid.
THE ACTIONS OF EDWIN WILSON ARE TYPICAL of the mirror images that reflect the reality of world politics. A former CIA agent, Wilson is currently in prison for his Libyan dealings. He trained Libyan would-be terrorists while American policy denounced the Libyan terrorist network. His recruits staffed and trained the air force of Libya leader Col. Ghaddafi, and he supplied planes, men and weapons for Ghaddafi's military forays into Chad and Sudan. Such weapons sales were likely financed by the CIA-connected Nugan Hand Bank. While Wilson's escapades often have been seen as that of a traitor, they constantly had the approval of top covert warfare planner Theodore Shackley, as Jonathan Kwitny points out in The Crimes of Patriots.
During the moderate era of U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Wilson was jailed and Theodore Shackley, as well as some 800 other CIA covert operations agents, were fired. Before his imprisonment, Wilson, along with Clines, organized assistance to the Contras via Israel, who were Somoza's arms suppliers. Carter's attempts to isolate Iran were frustrated in a similar manner by the same strange alliance of extremist former covert agents and Israel. Even during the holding of the hostages, abruptly ending after the installation of Ronald Reagan as President, Israel supplied arms to the Khomeini regime. These included spare parts for U.S.-made tanks and F-4 Phantom jets, as Jonathan Marshall, Peter Dale Scott and Jane Hunter show in The Iran Contra Connection.
AGENTS FIRED BY Carter were employed in the Reagan election campaign, turning their covert tactics on the incumbent President, Reagan's campaign chairman, veteran intelligence agent William Casey, openly boasted of running an "intelligence operation" against Democrats. Later, investigations by a congressional committee showed Reagan forces had infiltrated their opponents with spies, and had even managed to acquire the "debate book" of President Carter, a briefing book used for his television debate with Reagan.
After Reagan's election, the fired agents went back to work. Contras received U.S. backing and aid was given to the Khomeini government. One of the first friendly overtures of the Reagan Administration was to pass on lists of all the members of the Iranian Tudeh (Communist) party.
KHOMEINI'S FORCES RESPONDED by killing 4,000 Tudeh leaders and supporters. Former U.S. Under-Secretary of State, David Newton, rejoiced that "the leftists there seem to be getting their heads cut off." When the arms for hostage scheme was launched, it was facilitated by Israelis long involved in their government's strategy of an alliance with Iran. Arms sales profits did not go only to the Contras. Some went to the Israeli secret service, Mossad, some to the UNITA guerrilla organization at war with Angola, while some even ended up in the pockets of financiers of the Shiite Iranians in Beirut, who had kidnapped the Americans the deal was intended to free!
The exploits of the Secret Team demonstrated how a few highly placed extremists could develop and implement their own foreign policy, working sometimes within government and sometimes in spite of it. In doing so, they used the very tactics for which they condemned their alleged adversaries.p
John Bacher is a historian working in Toronto.