The Secret Team, Part I: The Secret's Out

By John Bacher | 1987-12-01 12:00:00

Last summer's Iran-Contra TV show, starring Ollie North, will be immortalized in the Congressional Record, but nothing was resolved by the split decision. The issue was turned into:
Did Reagan know about the arms-for-hostage swap with Iran or that the profits were spent to arm the Contras in Nicaragua? The actual story is far more horrifying. Neither the Tower Commission nor the Congressional inquiry have revealed how much American foreign policy has been run by a clique of neofascists in what John F. Kennedy called an "invisible government."
Since the passage of the National Security Act of 1949, American foreign policy has been divided in open and covert fields. In the covert field, mercenary wars are carried out, unfriendly governments are secretly toppled, and narcotics are traded for guns to supply fascistic-minded allies. During the past twenty-five years, these covert operations (as revealed by a law suit by the U.S. Christic Institute, an interfaith, public interest law firm and public policy centre), have been directed by a remarkably unknown 'Secret Team."

By John Bacher

Cuba, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Chile, Iran, Australia, Nicaragua...

The first gathering of the U.S. Secret Team was for the Bay of Pigs invasion and a super-secret sub-operation, "Operation Mongoose" to assassinate Cuban revolutionary leaders. After attempts to overthrow Castro were abandoned in 1965, such veterans of the Cuban adventure as Theodore Shackley and Thomas Clines, along with future Contra fundraiser, Major General John Singlaub, moved to direct the U.S. secret war in Laos. Shackley and Clines backed Van Pao, a major opium trader. Drug money was used to train the Hmong tribesmen in political assassination: Some 100,000 non-combatant "communist sympathizers" were assassinated in Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand,. Shackley and Clines also directed the Phoenix program in Vietnam in 1974 and '75 that murdered 60,000 non-Viet Cong civilian administrators. From 1971 to 1973, they also directed the CIA's "Track II" strategy, aimed at overthrowing Allende's democratic government in Chile. Here the Secret Team recruited the terrorist Arnac Galil from the Cuban military, who would later try to assassinate Eden Pastora, the leader of a Costa Rican-based contra group who refused to cooperate with the CIA-directed Contras.

After Vietnam, Shackley's Secret Team moved to Teheran, to help the Shah's secret police assassinate opponents of the regime. After the Vietnam war; opium funds from Southeast Asia were illegally deposited in the Australian Nugan Hand Bank, Shackley and Secret Team members were implicated in destabilizing the Australian Labor Party government at this time. In 1978, no longer in government service under the Carter administration, Shackley and Clines armed Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza after the U.S. government banned such aid, and later advised Somoza's ex-National Guardsmen until this job was taken over by the CIA following President Ronald Reagan's election. After Congress cut off Contra aid in 1984, Reagan turned to the Secret Team to illegally fund the Contras.

Post-Bay of Pigs Terrorism and Drug Traffic

The heart of the Iran-Contra affair lies at the attempt to continue, under the National Security Council, covert wars that were rendered difficult to carry out after Congress began monitoring such actions in the wake of Watergate. Formerly, the Central Intelligence Agency, beginning in 1949, had a blank cheque to carry out any imaginable order of an American president. The biggest fiasco of those cowboy days, the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, left a terrible legacy, the Secret Team, responsible for the Iran-Contra cloak and dagger stunts.

Unlike its model, the covert CIA invasion of Guatemala of 1954, which led to brutal human rights violations, the invasion of Cuba failed, leaving the American government with a problem -- how to dispose of a secret army, trained in terror, assassination, and sabotage. Veteran CIA officer, Ray Cline, himself a key player of the Secret Team, has observed that after training the Cubans and putting them in business, it was "not that easy to turn them off." By the early 1970s, American law enforcement officials estimated that at least eight per cent of the Bay of Pigs army had been arrested for drug crimes. Others signed up for CIA missions; some participated in the Watergate burglary, led by ex-CIA Bay of Pigs political officer E. Howard Hunt.

Despite Nixon's use of Cubans in Watergate, his administration actually pioneered in shaking off the drug-financed covert terrorist actions characteristic of the "invisible government." Under Nixon, CIA director James Schlesinger fired some 1,000 CIA covert warfare specialists. Another 600 were let go by Stansfield Turner in the Carter Administration. Nixon's break with the extremists' dreams of using military force to overthrow Castro came in 1974, when Secretary of State Henry Kissinger tried to establish normal diplomatic relations with Cuba. Orlando Bosch, the leader of the Cuban terrorist organization, CORU, was even jailed in Costa Rica for plotting to assassinate Kissinger during a 1976 visit. Throughout President Carter's efforts to normalize relations, CORU conducted a campaign of terrorism. This terror was a dress rehearsal for the Contra War, as it featured massive financial frauds and manipulations, for which the killing often seemed to be a convenient pretext. Respected journalist Penny Lemoux points this out in her book In Banks We Trust. Many of the kidnappings conducted by CORU of supposed Castro sympathizers were simply shakedowns. The terrorists conducted twenty-five bombings in Miami alone. After a Cuban airliner was bombed in 1976, killing 73 people, including the entire Cuban fencing team, CORU succeeded in perpetuating conflict between the U.S. and Cuba. Castro broke off talks for normalizing relations because of the wave of anti-Americanism that followed.

Hasenfus Spills the Beans

After the election of Ronald Reagan, the energies of the Cuban exiles were directed toward the Contra War against Nicaragua. One CIA Cuban veteran, turned Contra trainer, Felix Rodriguez, helped blow up a Spanish freighter trading with Cuba in 1964, and later interrogated Che Guevara shortly before his murder in 1967. Another, Luis Posada, was removed from his post as chief of Venezuelan intelligence after his links to the 1976 bombing of the Cuban airliner were uncovered. Rodriguez and Posada were in charge of loading Eugene Hasenfus's supply plane from the Ilopango air base in El Salvador. When the Sandinistas shot down the plane and captured the pilot, Hasenfus told the international press that he worked for the CIA and that his boss should help him get out of jail. He was freed by President Ortega.

The Contra War is characterized by the same combination of terrorism, lucrative drug deals, and unobtainable objectives, as CORU's war against the Cuban government Two Nicaraguan smugglers convicted in the largest cocaine seizure in the history of the U.S. West Coast, in 1985, admitted they had passed drug profits to the Contras. A leading San Francisco fundraiser for the Contras was identified in 1984 by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as "the apparent head of a criminal organization responsible for smuggling kilogram quantities of cocaine into the United States." Former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Thomas White, has charged the Reagan Administration with attempting to kill an FBI inquiry into the Contras' drug ties. One convicted smuggler admitted to flying 1,500 kilograms of cocaine from the farm of a CIA operative in Costa Rica to the United States. CBS Evening News reported that at a 1980 drug trial in Costa Rica, the government presented wire-tapped evidence showing "the drug dealers' ties to the top level of Contra leaders in Costa Rica,"

The controversial arms sales to Iran, portrayed as an irrational departure from policy, actually fit into a period of prolonged cooperation with that repressive regime.. During 1982-83, the CIA helped pass along to Khomeini details on Tudeh Communist party activities, based on the revelations of a KGB defector. Armed with this information, Khomeini's forces arrested or killed 4,000 Tudeh supporters and expelled eighteen KGB agents. Former U.S. Under-Secretary of State, David Newon, even noted with satisfaction that "The leftists there seem to he getting their heads cut off." Israel, the proxy for the U.S. arms shipments to Iran, continued to sell arms to the Khomeini dictatorship even after the seizure of the U.S. Embassy. Their sales included spare parts for US.-made FA Phantom jets. Profits from the covert Iranian sale, Washington Post journalist Jack Anderson has reported, also went to Israel's foreign intelligence agency, Mossad, for undercover operations abroad.

The Iran-Contra affair points to the sophistication needed by the peace movement to counter the distortions of terrorism and narcotics smuggling that are used as a pretext to support wars around the world. This is difficult for, as we learn from books such as The Iran Contra Connection: Secret Arms and Covert Operations in the Reagan Era, moderate government officials have supported absurd policies because of manipulation by reactionary extremists more interested in making a killing in the drug trade than in political objectives.

One hopeful sign is the law suit now being organized by the Christic Institute. This Washington-based organization was begun seven years ago by lawyer Daniel Sheehan and an interfaith group anxious to apply the law to burning issues. It won favorable judgments in the Three Mile Island investigation and the Karen Silkwood case, to name two. Sheehan has persuaded the organization Trial Lawyers for Public Justice to donate the services of forty-five lawyers to speed up the depositions of all those involved with the Secret Team. The case will take almost a year to prepare, but the results may help restore democracy and justice to the U.S. government.

The Iran-Contra Connection-Secret Teams and Covert Operations in the Reagan Era, by Jonathan Marshall, Peter Dale Scott, and Jane Hunter. South End Press, Boston, 1987. See also, Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987, by Bob Woodward, General, 1987.

John Bacher works on land conservation in the Niagara area.

Peace Magazine Dec 1987-Jan 1988

Peace Magazine Dec 1987-Jan 1988, page 6. Some rights reserved.

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