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Robert Parry On What the Corporate Media Forgot: The Reagan Administration’s Manipulation of Intelligence and Exaggeration of Threats

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DEMOCRACY NOW–“The U.S. News media’s reaction to Ronald Reagan’s death is putting on display what has happened to American public debate in the years since Reagan’s political rise in the late 70’s: a near total collapse of serious analytical thinking at the national level.” So begins Robert Parry’s latest piece at called “Raiding Reagan, A Bogus Legacy.” Robert Parry is a veteran journalist. For years he worked as an investigative reporter for the associated press and “Newsweek” magazine. His reporting led to the exposure of what’s now known as the Iran-Contra scandal.

Note: This is a rush transcript.

This is what President Reagan had to say as the Iran-Contra scandal was breaking:

  • PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN:* We did not — repeat, did not — trade weapons or anything else for hostages. Nor will we.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Reagan in 1986, but his statements changed a few months later.

  • PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN:* A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.

AMY GOODMAN: President Reagan in 1986. Investigative reporter, Robert Parry, especially for listeners for viewers who were kids or not even born at the time, explain the Iran-Contra scandal, please.

ROBERT PARRY: Well, Amy, the Iran-Contra scandal comes out of a couple of different initiatives that the Reagan administration was following. One was as Dr. Chomsky mentioned the war in Nicaragua, which had to be done with a great deal of deception surrounding it, because congress had opposed much of that effort. The international community had opposed much of that effort, so the Reagan administration essentially took it underground with the work people like Elliot Abrams and Oliver North and John Poindexter. On one side there was an effort to maintain support for the contras, who were engaged in fighting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. On the other side, there was a long-running policy, which we have traced back now to 1981 of secretly helping the Iranian government arm itself. That was in the context of the Iran-Iraq war where the U.S. policy became basically to secretly support both sides — both the Iranian fundamentalist government of Khomeini, and the more secular government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. You had those two policies running in parallel form, and then when the financing for the contras became more and more problematic, the Reagan administration decided to use some of the profits from selling arms to the Iranians to help support the contras. So, that became known as the Iran-Contra scandal when it finally broke.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the context for this taking place. I wanted to play for you Ed Meese, the former attorney general, who is the one who broke to the national media the Reagan administration’s admission of what had taken place. He was interviewed yesterday on Wolf Blitzer’s “Late Edition” on CNN. This is former Reagan attorney general, Edwin Meese.

  • EDWIN MEESE:* The association or relationship with moderate forces in Iran, and part of the agreement to show good faith was to provide some defensive weapons for them. Separately from that, we had the support of the freedom fighters. When you had some people in the White House that unauthorized — took some of the profits from the sale of arms to Iran and diverted them to the support of the freedom fighters. That was the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: He then went on to say, and I’d like to continue this quote of Edwin Meese, just to bring it right back up, to talk about president Reagan, what he did in terms of his admission. This is again former attorney general Edwin Meese.

  • EDWIN MEESE:* I told the President what happened, and he said, Ed, we have to get this out to the American people as quickly as we can. He called the cabinet first and we had a meeting in which it was revealed to the cabinet. An hour later, he brought in the congressional leaders and presented the whole picture to them, and then at noon, brought the press together, had a press conference, and he introduced the subject and then he was actually entertaining the Supreme Court for lunch that day, and he had to excuse himself to do that, and he asked me, then, to explain the details to the press corps. It was something that he knew nothing about while it was going on in terms of the unauthorized activity, and which he was — was quick to make sure that all of the facts came out to the public. I think that in itself probably saved his Presidency, at least enabled him to continue to be a successful president over the next two years, which were critical in ultimately our relationship with the Soviet Union and ending the cold war.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Reagan attorney general, Edwin Meese. Your response, Bob Parry.

ROBERT PARRY: Well, that really is not quite true. It is true that they — that the — Edwin Meese put out at a press conference in November of 1986, the basic facts that Oliver North and the team was working with made this transfer of money from the Iran shipment weapons to the contras. However, the — what happened after that was simply a — the placing of the original cover-up, which had been to protect Oliver North to making him the fall guy and essentially imposing a second cover-up. Which was designed to protect Ronald Reagan, Vice President George Bush, the Central Intelligence Agency and other entities of the administration that had been deeply involved in this operation in a very — in various ways. It took a lot more work both from in the press and most significantly by Lawrence Walsh, the special prosecutor who investigated the Iran-Contra scandal to break through many, many barriers. Lawrence Walsh, a patrician republican, if you remember, named his book on this topic, “Firewall.” The reason he used the name — the title “Firewall” is because a firewall had been built to protect Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr. and other elements of the administration from the spread of the scandal. We learned later as the thing played out that there was a — the C.I.A. remained directly involved in these operations, really through to the end. So, it wasn’t a case of just Oliver North and a few men of zeal taking action, it was a case of an administration essentially bringing the policy underground and then when it was exposed in part, just replacing it with a new cover-up.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Parry today. The kind of discussion we’re hearing over the last few days is more than the discussion of a man who has just died, but it’s talking about a rewriting of the historical record. Can you talk about this discussion, whether it is in Central America or whether it’s the discussion of President Reagan winning the cold war?

ROBERT PARRY: Well, I think in essence Amy, what we have seen here is a continuation in this administration of some of the approaches that became — that really became very prominent in the Reagan administration. First, there is the manipulating of intelligence, exaggerating dangers that occurred both in strategic level with the Soviet Union in trying to present the Soviet Union as much more aggressive and powerful and effective than it turned out to be. It was a country on the verge of collapse. Then also exaggerating the threats from praises like Nicaragua, which were a Third World countries that were very much on the defensive and they were presented as threats to the United States. This was a systematic falsification of U.S. Intelligence and occurred at the C.I.A. The analytical division of the C.I.A. was virtually destroyed during that period of the 1980’s under Bill Casey and Robert Gates. This was very important because before then, there was much more independence within the C.I.A.'s analytical division. Afterwards, there became — the C.I.A. basically became a conveyor belt for propaganda. We have seen that reoccur now with the Iraq situation when again, intelligence was falsified, and the threats were exaggerated, and then policies were put together to respond to those exaggerated threats. We have just seen the continuation of some very deceptive approaches to government and many of the people that took part in them has — I think the first caller mentioned and Dr. Chomsky mentioned were the same people involved today. And they just continued to follow the same policies. It was also an important element of this, which goes to the idea of perception management, which was a concept that was put in place during the early 80's and the basic idea was that if you managed the perceptions to the American people about various event, particularly foreign events, that you can taken take actions that would not be supported by the American people, if seen in their full context. What we have seen with that is the idea if the people of the United States perceive Nicaragua to be a threat to their security, they would support the sending of weapons and the supporting the contras. If they saw the Sandinistas as being what they were, a struggling little government in Nicaragua, they probably wouldn’t. The problem has often been that in the case of these kinds of events, perception management became the role. That’s continued to today with Iraq.

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