January 25 2021 — In the evening of January 25 1988, Vice President George Bush and Dan Rather, the CBS News anchor, shouted at each other in a 10-minute interview about the Iran-contra affair on live national television. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY
RELATED POST: Meet Trump’s new Iran Man: CIA Michael D’Andrea
RELATED POST: On This Day — The Iran-Contra Scandal (November 3, 1986)
Lockerbie — Three Decades of Lies: J’Accuse…!
QUICK NOTES — To make it easier for the readers to retrieve various chapters of my book, I have created a special page “Lockerbie” where all the links to the chapters will be listed with a brief description. You can access that page directly as it appears at the far right of the top bar of this blog.
Lockerbie — Three Decades of Lies: J’Accuse…!
UPDATE (January 25 2021) — Secrecy and diplomacy… A week before it was announced (Jan 11 2021) that Biden had picked William Burns to run the CIA, I predicted that the choice would be “all about Iran.”
On January 3 2021, I wrote:
“According to credible sources, the Biden transition team is no longer considering Mike Morell as CIA Director. Until now, all US media have explained this decision as a consequence of Morell being a “torture apologist”. This is nonsense. Rather, I believe that Morell is simply not compatible with Biden’s new policy towards Iran. Time will tell…”
And indeed, as I wrote on January 11 2021,
“Burns is an expert on the “Iran nuclear deal.” He worked closely with the Obama Administration on this project. I expect that this matter will be one of the first priorities of the Biden’s presidency.”
On January 25 2021, Bloomberg posted a story: Biden’s Nominee for CIA Director Is All About Iran.
The whole article is certainly worth reading, and I will return to it soon. But today, I wish to emphasize just three paragraphs.
In 2012, Burns pursued the first secret talks with Iranian officials through the offices of the late Sultan Qaboos of Oman that led to the 2013 interim nuclear agreement that preceded the one negotiated in 2015. One of the more remarkable elements of that effort was that the diplomacy with Iran never leaked to the press, or even to allies.
In his memoir, Burns describes how he and Jake Sullivan (now Biden’s pick for national security advisor) boarded flights without passenger manifests to Oman, and how they took service elevators in grand hotels to avoid being spotted by reporters and other diplomats.
The secrecy of those talks was necessary not only to avoid political friction in Washington, but also as a signal to the Iranians. Early on, Burns’ Iranian interlocutors warned that if the fact of these talks ever got out, the Iranian side would walk away. When U.S. officials finally did brief America’s allies, most were annoyed but understanding.
One exception was Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Burns writes in his memoir that the Israelis likely knew about the talks from their own intelligence service. Nonetheless, he writes that Netanyahu “saw our back channel as a betrayal.”
In the Fall of 1988, the US and Iran held a series of meetings so secret that neither Washington nor Tehran has ever acknowledged those talks and their purpose.
Why on earth not? Because that time around, secrecy was not just about diplomacy… And yes, Israel Intelligence was perfectly aware of those meetings!
1988 — Secret Meetings in Montreux, Switzerland [Iran Air flight 655 – July 3 1988]
In the summer of 1988, members of the Bush Presidential campaign team have revealed that Bush was actually shocked by the ovation he received from the crowd for stating that, no matter the facts, he would never apologize for the shoot-down of Iran Air flight 655.
At the time, Bush was trailing his opponent (Michael Dukakis) by about 10 points in the polls. Having grasped the political value of the issue, Bush will go on to repeat, again and again, his stance on the tragedy. The memory of the hostages held in Tehran was still quite fresh in American minds.
But behind the scene, a very different story was developing…
In late August 1988, a meeting between US citizen Richard Lawless (and at least one more US official whose name is known to this author) and Iranian negotiators took place at Glyon, near Montreux, Switzerland.
At least, two other meetings occurred in September and a fourth meeting took place in early October 1988.
The Iranian negotiators were Mohammad Javad Larijani, Mahmoud Jamali, Nasrollah Kazemi Kamyab and Abolghasem Mesbahi. All of them are quite well known senior officials and worked for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, except Mesbahi who was representing Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Among the top Tehran officials, the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, Hashemi Rafsanjani, was alone to advocate a peaceful solution. Rafsanjani suggested that a condemnation by the UN Security Council would be sufficient. Why would that be?
In the course of these secret meetings, Bush and Rafsanjani came to an agreement. Bush would help Rafsanjani to gain power in Tehran, and both men would collaborate to ensure that the full scale of their involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal is never revealed. And the rest is History…
PS — On Christmas Eve 1992, President Bush ended the Iran-Contra investigation by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh. Bush pardoned all those involved, including Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, whose trial was about to begin. William Barr, Bush’s Attorney General at the time, did not oppose the pardons. In effect, Bush had found a way to pardon the only man the Constitution does not allow the US President to pardon: himself.
END of UPDATE
At the time, Bush claimed that he had not been aware at the start that arms were being sold to Iran in exchange for the release of Americans held hostage in Lebanon, and that he had not heard of opposition to the Iran arms deals from other top officials.
The exchanges became so heated that the vice president and the anchorman often talked at the same time.
One of the most tense moments came at the end, when Rather asked Bush if he would submit to a news conference before the Iowa caucuses on the issue.
When Bush said he had held 86 news conferences since March, Rather closed by saying:
“I gather that the answer is no. Thank you very much for being with us, Mr. Vice President.”
Beyond the television drama
The vice president’s answers to Rather also raised new questions and highlighted contradictions about his role in the Iran arms sales.
For example, Bush has repeatedly said he did not learn until December 1986 about the arms-for-hostages nature of the clandestine shipments to Iran.
Rather pointed out that the arms-for-hostages deals were described explicitly in the July 29, 1986, meeting Bush had with Amiram Nir, counterterrorism adviser to then-Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
Bush’s chief of staff, Craig L. Fuller, wrote a memo at the time recounting the discussion.
“I was told what they were doing, and not what we were doing,” Bush said, referring to the Israelis.
According to Fuller’s account, Nir told Bush that Israel’s role was: “We activated the channel; we gave a front to the operation; provided a physical base; provided aircraft.”
This was to “make sure the U.S. will not be involved in logistical aspects.”
The Israeli then went on to describe later phases in the operation involving U.S. officials, including the failed mission by former national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane to Iran in May.
Dan Rather – George Bush Showdown (January 25 1988)
Rather’s Questioning of Bush Sets Off Shouting on Live Broadcast — NYT (Jan 26 1988)
On This Day — CBS Dan Rather and Vice President Bush Clash Over Iran-contra Affair (January 25 1988)
On This Day — CBS Dan Rather and Vice President George Bush Clash Over Iran-contra Affair (January 25 1988) 
On This Day — CBS Dan Rather and Vice President George Bush Clash Over Iran-contra Affair (January 25 1988) [UPDATE: CIA William Burns : Between Diplomacy and Necessity]