Dec 26, 1993

Inman’s telling record of silence: The spymaster kept quiet at key times | by Jerry Meldon | Published in The Boston Globe Sunday Focus, December 26, 1993


The good news about last week’s exposes about retired Adm. Bobby Ray Inman is we now know why he should not be secretary of defense. The bad news is the revelations are unlikely to derail President Clinton’s nomination of the former spymaster.

It is particularly bad because of the daunting challenges that await Les Aspin’s successor: hotspots in Haiti, the former Yugoslavia and Somalia; simmering confrontations in the Middle East; instability in the former Soviet Union; insidious linkage between Third World conflicts and Pentagon-sponsored arms sales; and pressure to shrink defense spending, which remains bloated despite the Cold War’s end.

Although Congressional leaders have been falling all over each other in the rush to endorse Inman, largely because of his great intellect, experience and forthright and cordial manner, after the Reagan/Bush era of illegal intelligence operations and Pentagon corruption, the national security apparatus needs someone to help clean house, and Inman’s tarnished record suggests he is not the one.

To his credit, in early 1976, while director of naval intelligence during the Carter administration, Inman fired rogue agent Edwin Wilson, a member of a top-secret task force that set up businesses worldwide as covers for intelligence operations, had amassed a personal fortune from the business fronts. Wilson now is serving a 52-year sentence for crimes committed after his dismissal, including supplying explosives to Libya.

In addition, Inman, while director of the National Security Agency in the late 1970s, did away with a policy of firing homosexuals.

Later, in March 1982, Inman resigned after 16 months as deputy director of the CIA. William Casey’s management style and several of the director’s policies, including plans for intelligence gathering in the United States, had gnawed at Inman. Casey, who died in 1986, is widely regarded as the mastermind of covert operations in support of the Nicaraguan contras and the arms-for-hostages deals with Iran.

While Inman’s resignation is regarded as another feather in his cap, the circumstances surrounding it are murky. At a press briefing two weeks earlier, Inman had presented aerial photographs to establish that Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista-government was in the midst of a big military buildup. The photos purportedly demonstrated the lengthening of runways to accommodate Soviet MIG fighters – thus supporting Reagan administration claims that Nicaragua was becoming a base for Soviet penetration of this hemisphere, starting with nearby El Salvador, where the White House was embracing a brutal, right-wing, military-dominated government in a civil war.

The briefing was part of an elaborate Reagan administration p.r. effort for its bankrolling of the contras’ guerrilla war against the Nicaraguan government. CIA analysts later concluded that the Soviets were not going to send MIGs to Central America. But to avoid embarrassing Inman, Casey and the agency, the conclusion was suppressed by Casey’s top assistant, Robert Gates. Inman would later repay the favor.

Five years later, President Reagan nominated Gates to head the CIA, but Gates withdrew because he was tainted with the fresh stench of Iran-contra. When President Bush nominated him again in 1991, Gates was slammed with new charges that he had suppressed intelligence reports unfavorable to Reagan’s and Bush’s policies, and that he had played an important role in the Bush administration’s coddling of Saddam Hussein in the years before the Gulf War.

But Gates was confirmed by a timid Congress, because the truth about the White House support for Iraq, both during its eight-year war with Iran until 1988 and afterward, has emerged only in dribs and drabs over the last two years. And Inman spoke out in Gates’ support. Inman could be expected to sympathize with his fellow spook, since his closet contained several skeletons of his own.

After resigning from the CIA in 1982, Inman served as a consultant to the House Intelligence Committee during a particularly sensitive period. Congressional authorization of military aid to El Salvador had been made contingent upon improvement in the Salvador armed forces’ respect for civil rights, and the committee was investigating reports that US-trained troops had massacred hundreds of unarmed civilians in the Salvadoran village of El Mozote.

The House committee issued a report blasting the State Department for a lackadaisical investigation. (State found no evidence of a massacre.) Inman then resigned as the Committee’s consultant and, according to a report last week in The New York Times, told a group of retired intelligence officers he had not been consulted on the report, which he characterized as deeply flawed.

Ten years later, after locating hundreds of skeletal remains, mostly of women and children, the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador confirmed the massacre in El Mozote.

Inman’s spat with the Intelligence Committee may have been simply a difference of opinion. Much more sinister is his connection to James Guerin, a former electronics and arms manufacturer now serving a 15-year federal sentence for a $1 billion fraud and transfer of military technology to South Africa and Iraq.

In the mid to late ‘70s, Inman served successively as director of naval intelligence, vice director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and director of the NSA. According to “Spider’s Web” by Alan Friedman, a reporter for the Financial Times during that period, Inman’s spy agencies encouraged Guerin’s company, International Signal and Control, based in Lancaster, Pa., to ship advanced electronic sensors, optics and related military equipment to South Africa, despite a UN embargo that Washington officially respected. The justification: The equipment was to be used to monitor Soviet shipping traffic off the Cape of Good Hope.

When Inman left the CIA, he became a paid member of International Signal and Control’s proxy board of directors. Since ISC was a Pentagon contractor, and its stock was controlled by British investors, US law required such a board to guarantee the security of classified information.

Among the contracts the board authorized was one in 1983 to manufacture cluster bombs, a particularly lethal form of land-clearing weaponry whose export is normally tightly controlled. With the tacit approval of Inman’s proxy board and Reagan administration intelligence officials, the cluster bombs eventually wound up in the hands of Saddam Hussein’s forces.

According to Friedman’s careful reconstruction of events, ISC in 1984 entered into a cooperative agreement with Chilean arms manufacturer Carlos Cardoen to divide the global cluster bomb market and to teach Cardoen’s people how to improve their own bombs. Cardoen, in turn, became Iraq’s cluster bomb supplier. This required Washington to waive secretly its restrictions on the export of cluster bomb technology, its embargo on arms shipments to the Chile of dictator Augusto Pinochet, and its official neutrality in the Iran-Iraq war. Inman kept his mouth shut.

And that – not his failure to pay his housekeeper’s Social Security tax or his dismal record as a top executive with several defense contractors in the last 10 years – is why Inman should not be put in charge of the Pentagon.


Nov 14, 1993

The truth, the whole truth: Even fully revealed, US involvement in Iraq, Salvador only half disturbs us | by Jerry Meldon | The Boston Globe Sunday Focus, November 14, 1993


The slow wheel of truth has been grinding – to the chagrin of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, whose assorted coverups are coming undone. And the reluctance of the Clinton administration to make them accountable leaves one wondering whether things will ever change.

Ten days ago, the State Department, Pentagon and CIA released thousands of documents confirming long-standing charges that the two former presidents were unfazed by intelligence reports of atrocities ordered and committed by Salvadoran governments, which Washington bankrolled during a decade-long civil war.

Then, on Tuesday, Christopher Drogoul, the former manager of the Atlanta branch of the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro of Italy, confirmed to the House Banking Committee that BNL had been used by the Bush administration to funnel $5.5 billion in unauthorized loans to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the years before the Gulf War.

Neither story is new. The Reagan and Bush eras were punctuated regularly by news reports of civilian murders carried out by Salvadoran army battalions and government sponsored death squads. Nonetheless, Washington sent $1 billion in military aid to El Salvador between 1980 and 1991, winning congressional authorization by disingenuously certifying progress by the Salvadoran government in curtailing human rights abuses by its forces.

Similiarly, President Bush’s popularity was riding a postwar wave of euphoria and self-congratulation in early 1991, when reports began filtering out of Washington that Saddam Hussein’s military dictatorship had been propped up by billions in illegal loans that had been financed by US taxpayers and mostly went belly up.

Yet public outrage was for the most part muted given that the news in the ‘80s was about Nicaragua and Iran – not El Salvador and Iraq.

Similarly, the Reagan administration demonized Libya’s Moammar Khadafy and Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini as international terrorists, while overlooking Saddam Hussein. The truth was that in Iran’s war with Iraq, Reagan and Bush both sought to ensure that neither country would dominate the region’s oil reserves – and so secretly supported both with arms. But the public learned only about Ollie North and the secret deals with Iran and Nicaragua’s contras.

After peace was renegotiated with El Salvador, a United Nations “Truth Commission” traced the record of human rights violations by both sides in the civil war. The commission pinned most abuses on the Salvadoran military – and fingered the State Department for misleading reports about the culprits. Under pressure from Congress, President Clinton ordered the department to examine its own files. The result was a whitewash.

In July, a 3-member panel appointed by Secretary of State Warren Christopher acknowledged that abuses had been committed by our Salvadoran allies, and that Washington had made “mistakes” in one or two cases. But the panel devoted most of its report to supporting its claim that the State Department had “performed creditably … in advancing human rights in El Salvador.”

A less rosy portrait is painted by 12,000 files released Nov. 5 by the State Department, Defense Department and CIA. The documents prove that the Reagan and Bush administrations turned a blind eye to atrocity. They show that Vice President Bush was well aware of the role played by cashiered Salvadoran army Major Robert D’Aubuisson in the 1981 assassination of the Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Arnulfo Romero – and that Bush stonewalled when Congress inquired. Similarly, Washington played dumb on the involvement of Salvadoran government agents and soldiers in the 1981 massacre of 800 civilians in a village, the 1980 rape and murder of three US nuns and a lay co-worker and the storming a university dormitory in 1989 during which six Jesuit priests were murdered.

Following the same nonpartisan pattern of denial and coverup, allegations of Washington’s coddling of Saddam Hussein in the years leading up to the Gulf War were met with denials by the Bush administration. This spawned another Clinton coverup.

Soon after the changing of the guard, Clinton’s Justice Department investigated the long-standing charges. In April, it decided not to prosecute, despite solid evidence.

Then, in August, federal prosecutor John Hogan concluded there was no evidence of conspiracy by President Bush and senior aides to cover up their actions in support of Saddam Hussein’s government. Federal district judge Marvin Shoob, who presided over the only big court case involving illegal loans to Iraq, characterized Hogan’s conclusion as possible only “in never-never land.” He appears to have been on the mark.

On Tuesday, Drogoul, who in September pleaded guilty before Judge Shoob to charges of bank fraud, testified before the House Banking Committee. Drogoul stated that when he was interrogated by Bush Justice Department officials about the billion-dollar loans, his efforts to cooperate “were frustrated by their continual unwillingness to allow me to tell them the truth.”

The truth, according to Drogoul, is that the Bush administration engaged in a scheme to secretly arm Iraq against Iran in their eight-year war between 1980 and 1988.

In an excerpt from his new book, “Spider’s Web: The Secret History of How the White House Illegally Armed Iraq,” printed in last Sunday’s New York Times, journalist Alan Friedman says that “after Mr. Bush took office, he turned the previous tilt to Baghdad into a bear hug.” National Security Directive 26, signed by Bush in October 1989, “stepped up military aid to Saddam Hussein even though the Iran-Iraq war had ended more than a year before.”

Reagan and Bush saw no problem in supporting government by death squad in El Salvador, or propping up Saddam Hussein before turning on him. President Clinton, all so naturally, covered up – as if he owed it to his predecessors.

What is at the heart of this nonpartisan, amoral and invariably boneheaded conduct of foreign policy?



Apr 4, 1993

Route to truth? | by Jerry Meldon | Published in The Boston Globe, April 4, 1993

 When did John Aloysius Farrell decide that quoting lawyers representing Reagan administration indictees was the route to truth on Iran/Contra (March 28)?

And doesn’t he contradict himself by repeating Republican claims, on the one hand, that Americans are tired of hearing about the affair and on the other that those same Americans voted Bush out of office in no small way because of it?