Investigative Reporter and Author Robert Parry Plumbs
History, Unearths the Roots of the Bush Dynasty
Bush was allowed essentially to walk off into the
sunset with his reputation intact -- when there was a potential from
all four of these investigations to have implicated the Senior Bush
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW | Part 1 | Part 2
America lives in a historical vacuum, empty of context
and devoid of truthful reporting, especially when it comes to contemporary
events. The corporate media cares little about actions or words from
the past. As a result, Americans are left with a disjointed view of reality
-- with no context.
But a new book by veteran journalist Robert Parry, Secrecy & Privilege:
The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, gathers the fragmented
pieces of the past into a disturbing picture of how the Bush family figures
in the major scandals of the past 30 years. Robert Parry, an award-winning
Washington journalist for 27 years, broke many of the stories now known as
the Iran-Contra Affair while reporting for the Associated Press and Newsweek
in the 1980s. His well-researched and "just the facts ma'am" style
prose connects the dots on the Bushes -- many of which will surprise you.
If you ever ask yourself, "How did America get here?" then you simply
must read this book. It gives the clearest, most concise history of contemporary
politics -- including Watergate, the October Surprise, the Iran-Contra Affair,
the arming of Saddam Hussein, U.S. support of death squads in Latin and South
America, the birth of the right-wing media, the witch hunt of Bill Clinton,
Al Gore’s unfair shake from the press, Bush’s failure on September
11th and Bush's lies to invade Iraq.
In 1995, Robert Parry started Consortium for Independent Journalism, Inc.,
and consortiumnews.com, the Internet’s
first investigative magazine where he continues to research and write in-depth
articles as editor. Parry also maintains an astonishing archive and clearinghouse
for information on the Bush Family and a running list of scandals and corruption
long forgotten by most of the media.
Robert Parry epitomizes the eloquent quote from Czech writer Milan Kundera: "The
struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting."
We are pleased to bring you Part 1 of our interview.
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BuzzFlash: Your new book is called Secrecy & Privilege,
The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq. It traces
George Herbert Walker Bush and George W. Bush’s rise to power
in the context of major scandals and events over the last 30 years.
You state at one point that American politics has fundamentally changed
because of the two Bush administrations, and the most important thing
is -- I like this quote -- “how information, the sustenance of
democracy, is rationed to the American people, and how the government
leads the people." In other words, there’s a disconnect
between what the Bushes say and what they do.
Robert Parry: Right. The book tries to show how the U.S. got where it is
today in terms of its dysfunction with information, with the use of fear, and
the incredible use of dishonesty in the political debates. It shows, going
back 30 years to the period of Watergate, how that has evolved.
At the time of Watergate, at the time of The Pentagon Papers, right after the
Vietnam War, there was a more skeptical, more vibrant Washington press corps.
The public seemed more alert in terms of deceptions that the executive branch,
in particular, could bring to bear in getting the country to war. What happened?
How come 30 years later we’re at a point where a president could lead
the nation to war using information that even he now admits was wrong? Why
wasn’t there a more skeptical press? Why wasn’t the public more
alert to these kinds of deceptions?
The book goes back and starts following mostly the senior George Bush. I went
back to Watergate. I also was able to show how some of these patterns began.
Richard Nixon saw in the senior George Bush someone who would be very useful.
The senior Bush had connections both to the Eastern establishment -- the New
York, Wall Street crowd -- and to Texas oil -- two very important bases of
political power. He’s also very presentable. He’d gone to the right
schools. He could move in these different worlds.
So Nixon picked him out as someone he wanted to groom. Nixon provided Bush
support in the 1970 Senate race in Texas, which actually was described somewhat
as a forerunner to Watergate. There was an operation called the Townhouse Affair,
where money was dispensed to candidates that Nixon wanted to get into office.
The largest recipient of that slush fund was George H.W. Bush. But Bush was
unable to win the Senate race for various reasons. But Nixon saw him as someone
whom he wanted to work with and make use of.
After the Watergate period in '72, Nixon turns to George H.W. Bush in early
'73 and makes him the chairman of the Republican National Committee, to essentially
bury the Watergate scandal.
Bush had some pretty good success there, except that there was enough information
and there were enough conflicting political viewpoints, that even with Bush
collaborating with Bob Strauss, Chairman of the DNC, the two chairmen of the
two parties were not able to put Watergate behind them. Other Democrats insisted
on accountability. The press got involved, and eventually Nixon was caught
up on his own obsession of having taped himself, making admissions of crimes.
So even though Bush tried hard, he was not able to bail Nixon out. Bush then
briefly is sent off to China to be President Ford’s emissary there. But
Ford brings him back in '76 for similar reasons. Right after the Watergate
period ends, the press then turns aggressively to looking at the CIA scandals.
Nixon used the CIA partly to try to help contain Watergate. And after Nixon
fell, the press kept looking at it. Some people in the CIA were cooperative
in putting out some of the scandals and in disclosing some of the information.
That, in turn, led to a great deal of political embarrassment for President
Ford and looked like it might jeopardize his chances of getting elected on
his own in 1976. Then he brings back George H.W. Bush to do similar work, which
is to see if he can get the CIA out of the papers. It's quite an important
year in terms of the CIA. It's a year where there's a change in terms of how
the agency is being used. The goal is to offer some limited cooperation with
Congress through some narrow oversight fashion, but to essentially sweep as
much under the rug as possible.
BuzzFlash: One of the problems is that we live in a complete vacuum, historically
speaking, with regards to the press coverage. It's difficult to even understand
how someone who is the head of a political party would later head the CIA.
Even today, Porter Goss, the new head of the CIA, has taken a lot of heat about
where his true loyalty would be -- and deservedly so. Give us some historical
context -- was there a lot of criticism or questions about how Bush Sr. would
manage the Central Intelligence Agency as Director since he was a former Chairman
of the Republican National Committee?
Robert Parry: Secrecy & Privilege also looks at how the Democrats
operate. I figure there are two basic groups of Democrats. There are the accountability
Democrats who want to hold Republicans and other officials accountable. And
there are the accommodating Democrats who just try to want to make things work
the best they can and not push too hard.
We saw that same breakdown in that period. There were Democrats like Senator
Church, for instance, who said it's really wrong to have someone who was head
of the Republican Party -- a political figure like that -- become head of the
CIA, which is supposed to, in its analysis, be very objective and non-partisan.
It also has to do very sensitive operations for the executive branch, and those
two should not be politicized. So there were Democrats who raised these objections,
and they turned out to be very much prescient.
Even though Bush got in as CIA Director and was confirmed by the Senate, he
did operate in a very political way. One of his most significant acts was to
allow a group called Team B into the analytical division. And Team B was made
up of conservative activists, including Paul Wolfowitz, who resurfaces later.
These folks wanted to make it appear that the Soviet Union was on the rise,
that it was the emerging super power, and it was eclipsing the United States.
Therefore there had to be a major response to that by the United States with
a military buildup, more aggressive policies in Third World conflicts, et cetera.
However, that was not the CIA's position.
The CIA analysts had done a pretty good job historically in terms of
telling the truth, even if it was information that presidents didn't
want to hear. They were saying that the Soviet Union was struggling --
that it was not this grand emerging power that the conservatives wanted
to make it. It set up a key battle line between the analysts at the CIA
and these ideological figures who wanted to use the CIA's analytical
division for political purposes. Bush allowed that to happen.
In September of '76 when the Chilean government sponsored the worst terrorist
attack at that time on U.S. soil -- the bombing murder of a dissident Chilean,
Orlando Letelier, and an American co-worker, Ronni Moffitt -- Bush basically
covered up the evidence that existed in the CIA that this was an operation
carried out by the Chilean Secret Service. If that had come out at the time
-- in September-October of 1976 -- it would have been a huge embarrassment
to the Ford administration and would have likely caused Ford to lose votes.
As it turned it, Ford almost overcame a very big lead that Jimmy Carter had
had, but still lost in a fairly close election.
So at that point, Bush goes out of office. But the point is well taken that
having a former RNC chairman running the CIA set up a precedent of politicizing
the agency. Later, when Bush and Reagan come back in 1981, with Casey as CIA
Director -- Casey was, of course, Reagan’s campaign manager -- the politicization
of the CIA goes even further.
And we see this remarkable behind-the-scenes story of how the CIA analytical
division was essentially broken in the early 1980s. They were forced to accept
this bogus notion that the Soviet Union was an ascendant power. They were pressured
to accept that the Soviet Union was supposedly behind all acts of terrorism,
which they didn’t agree with, but that was sort of shoved down their
throats, too. And this propaganda that was now being generated by the CIA was
then very useful to the Reagan administration for its policies, both its military
buildup and for supporting military operations in Central America, Afghanistan
But what the American people got was essentially a propagandized analysis out
of the CIA. Since they were not getting objective information, the entire process
was being routed with essentially exaggerated or false information. And that
trend, which was never corrected, continues to this day and is an important
fact to understand when trying to figure out how the CIA did so badly when
it was being pressured again in the early part of the Bush administration to
pretend that Iraq was some huge looming threat, far bigger than it was. The
agency had already done the same thing back in the 1980s in exaggerating a
BuzzFlash: You stated that in order to understand the two Bush family
administrations, we have to understand the Watergate scandal, Nixon’s
resignation, and also the Vietnam catastrophe. What would you say are the
most important things to know about these events that contributed to the
Republican and right-wing takeover of American politics? Many forces on the
right saw these losses as an opportunity to build a right-wing infrastructure.
At first it was meant as more of a defensive strategy -- to build think tanks,
alternative media, public relations specialists, pressure groups -- to not
let the fallout of Watergate continue. But eventually it would lead to a
coordinated and sophisticated machine that could go on the attack.
Robert Parry: If you go back to the Watergate period, and the period
right after the Vietnam War, you had a very demoralized Republican Party.
And you had an essentially shattered conservative movement. They had lost
not just the White House; they were the minority in the House and the Senate.
They’d lost a lot of seats in the '74 election in particular. They’d
been faced with a popular movement there that they could not really deal
with, and they felt it undercut them. They felt that the press was hostile
to them. But they decided the world they saw was a very weak environment.
Now what they did about it is very important. They started building in their
own institutions. A person who was the Treasury secretary under Nixon, William
Simon, plays an important role here. He starts pulling together these conservative
and right-wing foundations, and they begin making strategic investments in
media, in think tanks, in attack groups. They build effectively their own establishment
in Washington and make it heavily focused in Washington, which is their key
So they begin to counteract very aggressively what they see as this hostile
situation. It starts relatively modestly by some standards. It's in the tens
of millions of dollars, but then it accelerates. After the Reagan-Bush victory
in 1980, the Executive Branch gets behind this effort.
There is coordination that we find in documents that came out -- especially
during Iran Contra hearings -- about the role of the Reagan-Bush White House
in helping to build this infrastructure. So you had this development of this
counter-establishment that has more and more magazines, more and more commentators
and supporters, larger and larger think tanks. And suddenly Washington begins
to react to it. And reporters who try or tried to do their jobs in disclosing
some of the negative information that existed about the Reagan-Bush operation
-- those reporters find themselves under heavy pressure.
And I think traditionally newspapers and news organizations have been more
Republican-oriented than Democrat. Historically, far more publishers endorse
Republican candidates than Democratic.
But this got darker and more difficult for reporters to deal with. There was
also an effort to do what'’s called "perception management" which
is a concept that really comes out of the Central Intelligence Agency, that
is then applied increasingly to the domestic political operations in the United
Because of the Vietnam demonstrations, and the opposition to the war generally,
the conservatives came to see the American people as the strategic threat.
Their response to that was to develop these mediums to do what they called
perception management. They felt that if they could control how the American
people perceived events, especially overseas, then they could keep the American
people in line in supporting the policies that the Reagan-Bush Administration
wanted to carry out.
So in other words, if the right-wing could make the American people really
angry about the Nicaraguan Sandinista government, then that would help build
support for the contra operations to attack and undermine it. If the White
House could minimize or contain the information about atrocities being committed
in El Salvador and Guatemala by security forces, then again the Reagan Administration
would have a freer hand in sending weapons to those security forces that are
carrying out these mass blood baths.
So the idea was, if you could control how Americans perceived events, and use
essentially CIA tactics to do it, then you could make these policies work.
There was a combining of these different factors. There was a growing infrastructure
that was essentially a conservative echo chamber. There was an ability to beat
down reporters or other people who were coming up with information that said
otherwise. There were these new strategies for putting in place propaganda
to manage the perceptions of the American people. And that’s what evolved
in the 1980s. And sadly, it was remarkably effective.
BuzzFlash: Let’s skip ahead a little bit. When President Clinton
took office in 1993, you listed four major scandals and high crimes that Clinton
could have and should have pursued against the Bush Sr. Administration as new
evidence surfaced. They included the October Surprise, the Iran-Contra Affair,
Iraqgate, and Passportgate. The decision by Clinton to not pursue legitimate,
important national security scandals and crimes had enormous consequences to
the Clinton presidency and to international affairs. Explain what those four
scandals were, and how the right wing, instead of being put on the defensive
for those crimes and scandals, turned into attack mode and went on the offensive
Robert Parry: During the '80s and into the early '90s, the Republican conservative
machine was largely built for defensive reasons. It was to prevent another
Watergate. It was to protect Ronald Reagan and, to a degree, George H.W. Bush.
And despite all the efforts that they had made, there were still scandals that
managed to break out.
It was hard to get them out. I was involved as a reporter, as you know, in
Iran-Contra. The Associated Press, where I was working at the time, came under
a lot of pressure not to run my stories. But we got a lot of stories out including
the first story on the operations -- the first stories about some of the contra
units being caught up with drug traffickers. These were stories that were not
welcomed at the White House. And when the Iran-Contra scandal finally broke
in the fall of '86, there were efforts immediately to contain the damage --
to essentially shift the blame to relatively low-level people like Colonel
Oliver North or even John Poindexter, the National Security Advisor. Again,
all of this to protect Reagan and Bush, from evidence that they were directly
involved in many of the key points of these scandals.
BuzzFlash: Would you say at all costs?
Robert Parry: All costs -- it was a huge priority. We now know, based on
the work later that Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh conducted, that there
was a major cover-up put into place -- a criminal cover-up. Meanwhile, there
also were elements of the news media that didn’t want to pursue this
because it was too complicated, and because they discounted it in the first
Later when I moved over to Newsweek -- which is owned by the Washington
Post-Company and had been involved in investigating the Watergate scandal --
Katherine Graham, the late owner and publisher of the Post, did not really
want another Watergate on her hands. There was not really the stomach in some
of these institutions to go through that again.
These combined factors lead to a willingness to accept a lesser version of
the story. And the Democrats -- the accommodation Democrats -- decided that
they would simply agree that Oliver North did it, Reagan was just inattentive,
and Bush really wasn’t involved. They kind of bought the cover story.
And that cover story basically held for quite a while, until Lawrence Walsh
was able to break through and find out that there had been this major cover-up,
which doesn’t occur really until 1991 or so.
Another scandal breaking out in 1991 after the Persian Gulf War was known as
Iraqgate. And Iraqgate was in a sense the opposite side of the coin from Iran-Contra
because, while one part of the Reagan Administration was helping the Iranians
in the mid-'80s, another part was helping the Iraqis, who were at war with
the Iranians. Essentially the United States was playing both sides in providing
sophisticated equipment, including material that could be used for weapons
of mass destruction, to Saddam Hussein. Now this was also an embarrassing set
of facts that George H.W. Bush did not want to have out. He had been calling
Saddam Hussein worse than Hitler at that point. And so the idea that he had
been secretly involved in a program in the 1980s to assist Saddam Hussein was
information that they wanted to keep under board.
During that same time, I was asked by "Frontline" to look at these
tangled allegations that had existed for a while over arming Saddam Hussein.
While doing research, evidence and leads were uncovered that suggested more
damning information about the October surprise. The October Surprise was whether
or not back in 1980, the Republicans had secretly made contact with the Iranians
behind Jimmy Carter’s back to delay the release of the 52 Americans held
hostage until after the election. It was a major issue in the 1980 campaign.
The question was, did the Republicans, in any way, obstruct Carter’s
negotiations to get the hostages out?
You also had, in the 1992 campaign, another scandal, which was directly involving
George H.W. Bush -- it became known as Passportgate. Going into the fall of
1992, with Bill Clinton ahead, George H.W. Bush was rather desperate. They
were looking for what they called a silver bullet to take out Bill Clinton.
The outgrowth of this pressure was to search Bill Clinton’s passport
file to see if there had been some possible letter denouncing his citizenship.
That was the rumor. There was no such letter, but they found a tear in the
corner of the passport file. And from that, the Bush Administration formulated
a criminal referral to the FBI and then leaked it. The Senior Bush began using
that to raise suggestions that he was unpatriotic. And Clinton’s numbers
started to fall. It was a very effective dirty trick.
But there were Democrats who were checking into this, and they were able to
find out how flimsy the case was. And they sort of spun it back on the Republicans.
The FBI looked at this, too, and said this is ridiculous. There is no case
here. And they rejected their criminal referral. So it became a sort of a scandal
that bounced back on the Bush campaign in 1992, and led to the appointment
of a Special Prosecutor.
But after Clinton won in 1992, he and other winning Democrats basically decided
to not help or shelve those investigations. At that point, we forget that Lawrence
Walsh, the Independent Counsel who was a Republican, wanted to pursue George
H.W. Bush because he had found out that George H.W. Bush had been withholding
documents that had been long requested for the investigation. Bush also refused
to submit to a second interview, which Walsh had postponed until after the
'92 election, so Bush would not be distracted. But then after Bush got voted
out, he issued pardons for six of the Iran-Contra defendants, which effectively
crippled Walsh’s investigation.
Bush was allowed essentially to walk off into the sunset with his reputation
intact-- when there was a potential from all four of these investigations to
have implicated the Senior Bush in misconduct -- his alleged involvement in
the October surprise, his involvement in Iran-Contra, his involvement in Iraqgate,
and his involvement in the Passportgate affair. But Clinton and other Democrats
felt that it was important to try not to stir things up, to see if they could
work with the Republicans cooperatively and with the new Administration coming
in. It turned out to be a gross misunderstanding of the situation.
BuzzFlash: You broke many of the Iran contra stories as a reporter
for AP and then later Newsweek. And it must have been surreal for
you to hear Vice President Dick Cheney state in the recent Vice Presidential
debate that El Salvador was a model of how U.S. policy can bring democracy
to another country. And of course, that policy included funding and supporting
death squads, not only in El Salvador but also other Latin American countries.
So as someone who fought to print those stories while it was happening back
in the '80s, what was your response to what amounted to a throw-away comment
Robert Parry: Well, the real problem here is that we have essentially a
false history that has been created for the American people. And it's somewhat
a reassuring history, but it's not real. It's a history that has the United
States seem like it was always doing the right thing during this era. It has
whitewashed the very bloody, horrible experiences that people in Central America
went through. It has tried to justify everything by supposedly winning the
Cold War. The reality was that the Soviet Union was heading toward collapse
according to folks inside the CIA, which I think is now historically proven.
But we had this false history created. And it's very difficult to go back and
correct it. The press corps didn't want to take on that responsibility. Many
popular historians, as we saw after Reagan's death this past June, ended up
just wanting to go with the flow of sentiment, not trying to ask the hard questions
or point out the hard facts.
So the outcome of this is that people like Dick Cheney can cite events that
really didn't happen. I was down there with him at that time in '82 during
the El Salvador election, and I don't recall any attacks on polling places
which he suggested. And the bigger picture was that there were 75,000 people,
as you said, who were killed. But they were killed overwhelmingly by government
security forces who dragged people out of their houses and murdered them. And
in Guatemala, there were 200,000 people who were killed. And when a truth commission
investigated the Guatemalan case in the late '90s, it was concluded that a
genocide had occurred against the Indian populations in the highlands. This
was all covered up in the 1980s. And as a nation, we have not wanted to go
back and look at the American role in this in any serious way.
So I think the problem is, and what Secrecy & Privilege tries to
address, is to tell a different and more honest -- I hope as honest as possible
-- version of the history that actually happened. The false history that we
are forced to deal with has contributed to a weakened democratic system.
BuzzFlash: We’ll continue the conversation with Part 2. Thank you
for speaking with us.
Robert Parry: My pleasure.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
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Robert Parry’s web site Consortium News
Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, by
Robert Parry (A BuzzFlash Premium)