Controversial envoy picked for top Latin affairs post
BY CAROL ROSENBERG firstname.lastname@example.org
Published Friday, March 23, 2001 in the Miami Herald
President Bush Thursday chose Cuban-American Otto J. Reich to be the State
Department's top diplomat for Latin America -- an appointment that could
resurrect the 1980s partisan divisions in Congress over U.S. policy in
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer announced Bush's choice of Reich to the
key post of Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs amid
nine administration nominations.
Contacted Thursday night, Reich said, ``I know this sounds corny but I feel
very privileged and very humbled to have this kind of confidence placed in
me. It's a very important position, especially with this president, who has
made the Western Hemisphere probably his top regional priority.''
Reich said it was too soon to discuss his personal priorities for the job.
``I cannot take the confirmation process for granted,'' he explained. ``It's
the one thing I've got to start focusing on right now.''
His confirmation may face pitfalls. Democratic Sens. John F. Kerry of
Massachusetts and Chris Dodd of Connecticut already have expressed doubts
about Reich, who was Ronald Reagan's 1986-89 ambassador to Venezuela.
At issue Before he went to Caracas, Reich, 55, ran the State Department's
now defunct Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean
from its inception in June 1983 until January 1986. His role was to rally
the U.S. public behind the Reagan-backed Contras' opposition to Nicaragua's
leftist Sandinista government.
A General Accounting Office report issued in October of 1987 said the office
headed by Reich carried out an illegal propaganda operation by secretly
planting news stories and opinion articles in U.S. media designed to rally
support for the administration policy in Central America.
Reich has denied any wrongdoing. He said in 1987 that his office was ``one
of the most open operations'' at the State Department.
But Kerry said in a statement Thursday ``Otto Reich's nomination raises a
number of questions which need to be thoughtfully examined because of
revelations that his office may have been the genesis of acts of propaganda
not just prohibited in this country, but which reflect a kind of
carelessness about the truth.''
Kerry spokesman David Wade predicted ``tough questions'' from both his boss
and Dodd, who declared himself ``disappointed.''
Dodd said he was ``deeply concerned with Mr. Reich's ability to maintain
bipartisan support and trust for U.S. policy with regard to Colombia and
other important hemispheric issues.''
``I would hope the president would rethink this particular nomination,'' he
Both Dodd and Kerry are members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign
Relations, which must first review the appointment before sending it to the
Marc Thiessen, a spokesman for Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, R-N.C.,
predicted for Reich ``He's going to get through the committee and he's
going to get confirmed.'' He called him ``one of the most qualified people
ever nominated for this position.''
Helms had previously used his chairman's prerogative to block President
Clinton's last choice for the same post, Peter Romero.
A Republican staffer on Capitol Hill predicted that, because the White House
had floated Reich's name for more than a month, the Bush administration had
calculated that opposition to the appointment would be either token or
``This would be a fight with the administration, not with Otto,'' said the
staffer. ``If they want to refight Iran-Contra I don't think that will stick
on Otto. He's not mentioned, by the way, in the Iran-Contra report.''
Another issue that Democrats had been protesting, he said, was the fact that
Reich was Reagan's ambassador to Caracas when Miami's Orlando Bosch was
released from a Venezuelan jail.
Bosch, now 74, was held in a Venezuelan jail for 11 years on charges of
masterminding the October 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed all
73 people on board.
He was released in 1988 after 11 years without conviction or acquittal and
arrived in Miami, where lawyers were able to secure his residency.
But Reich has said that cables on file at the State Department reflect that
he had no role in the release, and ``was very angry'' at the time because
the release was done without his knowledge, the GOP staffer said.
For his part, Florida Democratic Sen. Bob Graham ``is very supportive of the
Reich nomination,'' said spokeswoman Caren Benjamin.
Graham is not a member of the Foreign Relations committee, but junior
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, also a Democrat, does have a seat there and has no
position yet, said spokesman Dan McLaughlin.
``He wants to take a close look at his record and resume and qualifications
for the office,'' he said.
Both of Miami's Republican members of Congress support him.
Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart who had championed Reich, called him ``a brilliant
choice'' who ``will make all Americans proud.''
Otto Juan Reich was born in Havana on Oct. 16, 1945, and came to the United
States in 1960. He was a U.S. Army civil affairs officer in Panama from 1967
A community development coordinator for the City of Miami in 1975 and 1976,
he has been an associate at the Washington Center for Strategic and
International Studies and worked for U.S. AID in Washington.
He is now president of RMA International, a lobbying firm which reportedly
successfully lobbied for January's sale of F-16 fighters to Chile.
He also lobbied in recent years for Bacardi Martini Inc.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said Republicans were ready for opposition ``from
the liberals who are still fighting the Iran-Contra war and who have not
forgiven any of the conservative Reaganites and believers in democracy and
She called Reich ``a man of integrity and a man of principle,'' saying, ``If
there were justice, Ambassador Reich's nomination should sail through the
Senate. But some of the Democrat liberal hacks might have an ax to grind
from the old contra war and because of his strong position in favor of the
U.S. embargo on Castro.''
Otto Reich, a figure in the Iran-Contra scandal, is named to a post with
oversight of Cuba policy.
By PAUL DE LA GARZA and DAVID ADAMS
(c) St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2001
WASHINGTON -- In a bow to conservatives, his brother and the Cuban-American
community in Florida, President Bush on Thursday nominated a controversial
figure from the Reagan White House to a top State Department post with
responsibility over Cuba policy.
The selection of Otto J. Reich, a Cuba hard-liner, for assistant secretary
of state for western hemispheric affairs sets the stage for an acrimonious
battle during his Senate confirmation.
A former ambassador to Venezuela, the Cuban-born Reich played a role in the
Iran-Contra affair, the Reagan administration's most embarrassing foreign
policy initiative. As a result, liberals have threatened to fight Reich's
nomination with the same fervor that they generated against Attorney General
The problem for Reich, 55, who would serve as chief policy diplomat in Latin
America, is his past
He was a key figure in prohibited, covert propaganda activities in the
United States designed to discredit the Marxist government of Nicaragua.
In his current role as a lobbyist, he has worked for companies that benefit
from the American embargo on Cuba, which he helped tighten.
His selection could sour relations with other countries in the hemisphere,
including Canada and Mexico, as well as the European Union, which oppose the
Reich's nomination is a sign of Bush's gratitude to the Cuban-American
community in Florida, which helped put him in office. Meanwhile, Gov. Jeb
Bush is counting on strong Cuban-American support to bolster his own
re-election in 2002.
Gov. Bush told the Times that he considers Reich "a talented and experienced
diplomat." He telephoned his brother to express his support for Reich, who
is also a co-chairman of the Americas Forum, a conservative study group on
Reich has an impressive list of backers. They include Karl Rove, the
president's senior policy adviser; Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., chairman of the
Foreign Relations Committee; and Democratic Sen. Bob Graham of Florida.
Daniel Fisk, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation who is a former
Helms aide, characterized Reich as "an excellent candidate."
"He's qualified," Fisk said. "He knows the hemisphere."
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, hailed Reich's "sense of patriotism."
"Otto Reich is a professional diplomat," said Joe Garcia, executive director
of the Cuban-American National Foundation in Miami. "I think he's a safe bet
for the administration."
Cuban-American critics of the embargo also recognize his talents.
"He's an intelligent man," said Alfredo Duran, a Miami lawyer and head of
the Cuban Committee for Democracy. "He's also pragmatic and a loyal follower
of the Bush dynasty, so I imagine he'll take his guidance from the White
Reich also has a long list of detractors.
"He's very ideological and he's very controversial," said Richard Nuccio, a
former State Department official who advised the Clinton administration on
Cuba. "I prefer a less confrontational choice with Latin America."
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., who serves with Helms on the Foreign
Relations Committee, worries that the appointment will hurt bipartisan
support for U.S. policies elsewhere in the hemisphere, such as Colombia.
He says Reich, described even by critics as bright, articulate and
strong-willed, is not "the right person for the job at this critical time."
Backing the Contras
From the summer of 1983 until late 1986, Reich ran a controversial
government office designed to generate American public support for the
U.S.-backed war in El Salvador and for the U.S.-backed Contra rebels in
In 1987, the U.S. comptroller general found that Reich and associates in the
Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean waged a media
campaign supporting the Contra rebels.
An internal Public Diplomacy memo said the goal was to "concentrate on
gluing black hats on the Sandinistas and white hats" on the Contras.
The office relied on Army psychological-warfare specialists and was accused
of smearing U.S. journalists the administration found especially critical of
its Central America policy.
In a 1985 interview with New York magazine, Reich said reporters were having
sexual relations with heterosexual and homosexual Sandinista agents in
exchange for favorable coverage.
"Ultimately," a 1988 article in the Washington Post reported, "the campaign
came to resemble the sort of covert political operation the CIA runs against
hostile forces overseas but is outlawed from conducting at home."
Reich, who came to the United States when he was 15, was never charged with
a crime, and in previous interviews, has denied any wrongdoing.
"If you drive 55 mph in a 55 mph zone, you are close to the line but
entirely legal," he once said. "I never crossed the line."
Reich is the president of RMA International, a consulting and lobbying firm
in Arlington, Va., where he has worked for six years. He declined a request
for an interview, saying, through his office, that the White House had
advised him not to talk to reporters.
Liberal groups led by the Center for International Policy are whipping up an
"It would be a hugely divisive appointment," said the center's director,
William Goodfellow. "He's been so undiplomatic in his dealings in the past.
You can't believe the people who have come out of the woodwork over this."
Critics also say they will resurrect the Iran-Contra scandal, a secret
operation that helped fund the Contras with arms sales to Iran.
Reich also could face questions about his role in lobbying for the 1996
Helms-Burton Act, which tightened the embargo on Cuba. Under the act, one of
Reich's clients, liquor giant Bacardi-Martini, could benefit because of
provisions allowing suits against foreign companies that do business in
Mark Falcoff, Latin America specialist at the American Enterprise Institute,
said supporters were gearing for a good fight as well.
"They say they are sharpening the knives for Otto," he said. "They act as
though Otto did something illegal. But in Iran-Contra he was never indicted
"This is not about unfitness for the job or moral turpitude. It's just a
question of ideological distaste."
Fisk, a onetime staff member in the Office of Public Diplomacy, said Reich's
role with the group had been "overstated." Reagan administration officials,
he said, did not engage in illegal activity but instead chose to "educate
the American people."
Fisk said he should expect "tough questioning," but, he added, "I think he
will be confirmed."
Asked about Reich's work with the Office of Public Diplomacy, Ros-Lehtinen
said "That's so old. It's time to let bygones be bygones."
-- Times staff writer Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.
Text Bush Nominates Otto Reich as Assistant Secretary of State
(Former U.S. ambassador to head Office of Western Hemisphere Affairs) (230)
President Bush has announced his intention to nominate Otto Reich as
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, the White House
said in a March 22 press release. Reich, a former U.S. ambassador to
Venezuela, is a specialist on Latin America and the Caribbean.
Following is the text of the White House press release
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
March 22, 2001
The President intends to nominate Otto J. Reich to be an Assistant Secretary
of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. He is presently the President of
RMA International Inc. Reich served from 1986 to 1989 as U.S. Ambassador to
Venezuela and received the State Department's Exemplary Service Award and
Superior Honor Award. He was Special Advisor to the Secretary of State from
1983 to 1986, during which time he established and managed the interagency
Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean, and he was
Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development
from 1981 to 1983. He received his bachelor's degree from the University of
North Carolina and a Master's degree from Georgetown University.
Journalist Robert Parry (FOOLING AMERICA, 1992) says that Reagan diplomacy man,
Otto Reich, made a trip to CBS's Washington office to pressure a CBS
correspondent and his bureau chief to stop their critical coverage of Reagan's
Nicaraguan policies. Reich also leaned on National Public Radio's Paul Allen
when NPR criticized the Contras. Allen said, "We understood what Otto Reich's
job was. He was engaged in an effort to alter coverage. It was a special
effort." Parry says that in 1986, ABC News's Karen Burnes met resistance from
network management when she tried to report on Contra misdeeds, including
Contra drug smuggling. Parry and many other reporters were also pressured to
stop doing anti-Contra reports.
One of TBG's top executives happens to be former Miami businessman and
ambassador to Venezuela Otto Reich. During the Reagan administration, the
Cuban-born Reich headed the US state department's Office of Public Diplomacy
(OPD), whose task was to disseminate disinformation about the Sandinistas and
discourage reporting critical of the contras. This outfit, whose operations
were later found to be illegal by the US General Accounting Office, was staffed
with five psychological warfare specialists from the 4th Psychological
Operations Group of Fort Bragg. According to John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton,
"the OPD ... helped spread a scurrilous story that some American reporters had
received sexual favors from Sandinista prostitutes in return for writing slanted
stories". In 1987, after the US Congress shut down the OPD, congressman Jack
Brooks called it "an important cog in the (Reagan) administration's effort to
manipulate public opinion and congressional action".
Interestingly enough, the OPD was conceived at an August 1983 meeting between
then CIA director William Casey and a small group of PR industry executives.
The meeting, whose purpose was to create a propaganda strategy for the
Nicaraguan contras, was attended by B-M senior vice- president Kenneth D.
Huszar and Philip Morris publicist James Bowling, who later moved to B-M. Their
advice to Casey included the creation of a communications function within the
White House, a recommendation that led to the creation of the OPD.
from Fooling America, a talk by Robert Parry given in Santa Monica on March 28,
So we had in place by this '83-84 timeframe, this Public Diplomacy office. And
what it did was escalate the pressure on the journalists who were left, who
were still trying to look at this in a fairly honest way and tell the American
people what they could find out. You had cases, for instance at National Public
Radio, where, in sort of a classic example of this, the Public Diplomacy team
from State began harassing National Public Radio for what they considered
reporting that was not supportive of the American position enough. And finally,
NPR agreed to have a sit-down with Otto Reich - who was head of that office -
and one of his deputies, and they were particularly irate about a story that
NPR had run about a massacre of some coffee pickers in Nicaragua - and the
story was more about their funeral, and how this had really destroyed this
little village in Nicaragua, having lost a number of the men in the town - and
the contras had done it so it didn't look to good, and Otto Reich was furious
and he said 'We are monitoring NPR. We have a special consultant that measures
how much time is spent on things that are pro-Contra and anti-Contra and we
find you too anti-Contra and you'd better change.'
Now, the kind of effect that has is often subtle. In the case of NPR, one thing
that happened was that the foreign editor, named Paul Allen, saw his next
evaluation be marked down, and the use of this story was cited as one of the
reasons for his being marked down and he felt that he had no choice but to
leave NPR and he left journalism altogether. These were the kind of prices that
people were starting to pay, all across Washington. The message was quite clear
both in the region and in Washington that you were not going to do any career
advancement if you insisted on pushing these stories. The White House is going
to make it very, very painful for your editors by harassing them and yelling at
them; having letters sent; going to your news
executives - going way above even your bureau chiefs sometimes - to put the
pressure on, to make sure if these stories were done they were done only in the
most tepid ways. And there also was, in an underreported side of this, there
were these independent organizations, who were acting as sort of the Wurlitzer
effect for the White House attacks. Probably the most effective one from their
side was Accuracy In Media, which we find out, from looking at their internal
documents - the White House internal documents, was actually being funded out
of the White House. There was - in one case we have because we have the
records, the White House organized wealthy businessmen, particularly those from
the news media, from the conservative
news media, to come into the White House to the situation room where Charlie
Wick, who was then head of USIA, pitched them to contribute a total of $200,000
to be used for public diplomacy and the money is then directed to Accuracy In
Media and to Freedom House and a couple of other organizations which then
support the White House in its positions, and make the argument that the White
House is doing the right thing and that these
reporters who are getting in the way must be Sandinista sympathizers or must
not be very patriotic or whatever we were supposed to be at the time.
So you had this effect of what seemed to be independent organizations raising
their voice, but, the more we kept finding out, the more we found at that these
weren't independent organizations at all. These were adjuncts of a White
House/CIA program that had at its very heart the idea of how we reported the
news in Washington and how the American people perceived what was going on in
Perforations Anatomy of a Disinformation Campaign
Anatomy of a Disinformation Campaign
Johan Carlisle is a free-lance journalist based in San Francisco.
The remote jungle shack full of journalists and guerillas exploded suddenly in
a murderous flash. The blast from the metal camera case full of C-4 plastique
which had been carefully set down in front of Eden Pastora devastated the small
group. Seventeen journalists were wounded that evening, May 31, 1984, at La
Penca, Nicaragua, and three eventually died. Pastora, the charismatic
ex-Sandinista hero, and some of his contra rebels were slightly injured. The
wounded journalists were forced to lie unattended in their own blood for hours
before everyone was finally evacuated by canoe and jeep to the nearest hospital
in nearby Costa Rica--an eight hour trip at best. In the confusion of the
understaffed hospital emergency room the bomber slipped away unnoticed and
while his cover identity is known, he has never been found.
Over the next few days, American news reports of the bombing and the identity
of the bomber varied widely. Most news agencies said the identity of the bomber
was unknown and reported the details of the bombing with few speculations about
the sponsor of the tragic event. ABC and PBS, in their evening news broadcasts
on June 1, held forth with a startling announcement that the bombing was the
work of ETA (1) Basque "terrorists" working for Nicaragua's Sandinista
government. Here was another example of Reagan's infamous "terrorist
internationale" in the news only a few months before the 1984 presidential
The ETA story played for about a week until the French authorities said that
the alleged Basque terrorist, Jos Miguel Lujua, had been under house arrest in
southern France for a number of years. By that time the La Penca bombing had
become old news and was forgotten until May of 1986 when the Christic Institute
filed a lawsuit against 28 individuals, on behalf of Tony Avirgan, one of the
injured journalists, and his journalist-wife, Martha Honey. In the course of
investigating the so-called Secret Team (2), it became obvious from new
evidence provided by government documents that the ETA story was a carefully
planned US government disinformation campaign. The ETA cover story provides a
rare opportunity to track the genesis of a covert propaganda operation.
The US government profited greatly from the widespread belief that the
Sandinistas were behind the assassination attempt of Eden Pastora at La Penca.
Col. North had discussed on several occasions provoking the Costa Ricans into
requesting direct US military intervention in the illegal war against
Nicaragua. Linking the Nicaraguans with international terrorism played well at
home and revived Reagan's wilting bouquet of trumped up rationales for
continuing the contra war. Shifting the blame to the Sandinistas for a callous
attack on the international journalist community to eliminate the troublesome
Pastora (3) hit the Sandinistas coming and going. After the assassination
attempt, Eden Pastora faded away as a major player in the Southern Front and
members of Col. North's "off the shelf" covert supply network and "Somocista"
contras moved in.
The disinformation campaign began in a series of articles in the Costa Rican
and Spanish newspapers in September of 1983 (nine months before the bombing)
with the arrest of ETA member Gregorio Jimenez in San Jos, Costa Rica. He was
charged with planning to assassinate Eden Pastora as part of an ETA commando
group assignment. It was later shown that the news reports alleging ETA
activities in Costa Rica aimed at the elimination of Pastora were generated by
the intelligence community and were never substantiated. At the time, Costa
Rican president, Luis Monge was in Spain, as was Nicaraguan Interior Minister,
Toms Borg. Monge was trying to get European support for Costa Rican neutrality
in the contra war, while Borg was attempting to get sorely-needed financial aid
from the socialist government of Spain. As a result of the widely publicized
arrest of Jimenez, a meeting between Monge, Borge and the president of Spain
was cancelled and new tensions were created between Nicaragua and two potential
The fact that the stories started about nine months before the bombing and
continued to appear sporadically with very few facts has fueled speculation
that this was part of an orchestrated campaign. [See Chronology of a
Disinformation Campaign, for more details.]
On March 15, 1984, a little over two months before the bombing, the State
Department's Office of Public Diplomacy (4) (OPD) contracted with a private
consultant, Luis Miguel Torres, to produce a report on ETA terrorism in Central
America. Torres, an associate of Frank Gomez who worked with the various Spitz
Channell organizations (5), produced an interview with a man using the alias
Alejandro Montenegro, a friend of Torres' and an alleged FMLN (Farabundo Marti
Liberacion Nacional) defector. Allegations from this interview were leaked to
the press immediately after the bombing.
Montenegro claimed that ETA had tried numerous bombings in El Salvador, very
similar to the one at La Penca. David MacMichael, a former Central American
analyst for the CIA, says that these events never took place. The Montenegro
interview, it turned out, was the only piece of evidence that OPD was able to
provide in an internal memo/chronology of alleged ETA terrorist activities in
Central America sent to the NSC right after the bombing. Furthermore, the
urgency to complete the Torres report is odd. Otto Reich, the titular head of
OPD, wrote three memos demanding that the report be finished by March 26,
1984--eleven days from contract issuance to completion. Several sources note
that this is an extremely short time for production of a government
report--particularly one of such an obscure nature (6)-- raising the
possibility that it was to be used as a cover for the La Penca bombing. The
report was apparently not completed until May 5, 1984, sixteen days before the
La Penca bombing.
On June 15, 1984, Otto Reich authored a 41-page memo entitlted "Press Reports
on Attempt on Eden Pastora". The memo contains the text of the leaked
Montenegro interview done by Torres, Department of State cables, Foreign
Broadcast Information Service reports, and various press clippings (7). The
last of these articles, written by Roger Fontaine (8) in the Washington Times
on June 11, 1984, cites the Montenegro interview--which would not be
distributed by the OPD for another 4 days--as his principal piece of evidence
supporting the ETA story. Fontaine cites the French government assertion that
the alleged Basque terrorist, Jos Miguel Lujua, was under house arrest in
France at the time of the bombing, but concludes that, "US officials in
Washington and San Jos remain confident, however, that Mr. Lujua or someone
like him with similar terrorist connections was involved in the incident."
[Emphasis added by author.] This is a classic intelligence community
tactic--feeding disinformation to a journalist and then using his story as
evidence which is then fed to other journalists through confidential briefings.
ABC World News Tonight seems to have been the primary outlet for the ETA story.
It remains a puzzle why the rest of the US news establishment declined to use
the ETA story emanating from the US intelligence community and the OPD. A few
journalists said they immediately became suspicious of the story and decided to
wait and see.
ABC Pentagon correspondent, John McWethy apparently harbored no such doubts. He
boldly stated on ABC's evening news program that, "there is growing evidence
the Sandinistas have hired international hit men from a Basque terrorist group
known as ETA to have Pastora killed." He then mentioned the September, 1983,
arrest of Gregorio Jimenez and the January, 1984, deportation of 6 ETA members
from France to Panama. "They end up in Panama . . . later moving to Cuba, then
to Nicaragua. Intelligence reports place a group of half a dozen Basques in
Nicaragua's capitol. They stay at the Camino Real hotel, posing as journalists.
The same hotel occasionally used by some of the journalists who attended the
Pastora press conference 2 days ago."
McWethy's story is so elaborate, complete with fancy maps showing the routes
taken by the "terrorists" that it could be used in journalism school as a
shining example of superhuman investigative reporting. Instead, hidden
propagandists were feeding these lies to him and he was reporting them as
truth. He concluded, "Analysts [...] say the type of explosive used [is]
strikingly similar to many other assassination attempts in Central America. All
of them linked to Basque hit men." An amazing bit of information considering
that the June 15, 1984, OPD memo was unable to reveal any other ETA "hits."
McWethy, when questioned about the sources of his information on the ETA
connection reportedly said that a Department of Defense report, in addition to
CIA information, pointed the finger at ETA. While there is no proof that the
OPD briefed McWethy, it is interesting to note that one of the principal
"official leakers" at the OPD was an Air Force intelligence officer on loan to
OPD named Mark L. Richards, working under the actual head of the OPD, Walter
Raymond, Jr., a CIA psychological warfare expert(9).
MacNeil/Lehrer, the only other major US news organization to carry the ETA
story, was not as dramatic or positive as ABC. The program featured an in-depth
interview with Robert Leiken, a senior associate of the Carnegie Foundation for
International Peace and a neo-conservative who was secretly on the payroll of
the covert Spitz Channell fundraising/propaganda operation at the time. Leiken
was introduced as an expert on Central America without any mention of his
recent conversion from liberalism or his involvement with Channell. Leiken said
that he had heard that Pastora's followers were denying that the CIA was behind
the bombing, and claimed that Basque terrorists connected with the ETA had
instigated it. Actually, Pastora concluded fairly quickly that the
assassination attempt was sponsored by the CIA and the FDN.
Thus, two of the five major US TV networks used information from the Office of
Public Diplomacy and other intelligence sources along with Costa Rican stories
of dubious nature to quickly paint an elaborate scenario blaming the bombing on
the Sandinistas and the Basque ETA. Richard Dyer, publisher of the Costa Rican
English language newspaper, the Tico Times, said, "[The ETA story] didn't make
too much sense, but on the other hand we had no other clues and so for the
moment it was sort of accepted, maybe we were getting somewhere." Derry Dyer,
co-publisher of the Tico Times , which had employed Linda Frazier, the only US
citizen killed at La Penca, said, "It certainly looks like there was an active
disinformation campaign. Certainly there were so many leads that when tracked
down turned out to be completely false. And they served to get everybody off
the trail in the days following the bombing."
The dis-information had additional effects. First, it obscured the identity of
the real killer and arguably contributed to his escape. Second, these stories
inflicted further injury on Tony Avirgan. Following the bombing, ABC News flew
a specially equipped Lear jet to San Jos to transport the severely-injured
reporter, at the time working for ABC, to the US for medical treatment. Because
of his reported links to Basque terrorists, Avirgan was detained for three days
in Costa Rica, while the assassin slipped away.
The horror stories associated with the contra war continue to unfold although
there seems to be a general apathy on the part of mainstream American
investigative journalists. Many analysts think that the purpose of the La Penca
bombing could well have been to inflame the tensions between Nicaragua and
Costa Rica and to provide an excuse to invade Nicaragua with American troops.
Whatever its purpose, the ETA disinformation campaign is typical of CIA
propaganda operations which have preceded successful coups d'etat. In
Guatemala, in 1954, the CIA set the stage with clandestine radio stations and
other types of covert propaganda operations. In Chile, in 1973, the CIA ran one
of its most sophisticated propaganda campaigns against Allende.
The ETA story raises serious questions about US intelligence operations. Should
the intelligence community be prohibited from influencing the media and
Congress? How can this be legislated and monitored, given the failures of the
Congressional oversight committees, the reticence of the Iran-contra
committees, and the ability of a charismatic president to blithely sidestep the
Boland Amendment? Unfortunately, the ETA story is only one of thousands of such
covert operations that has been discovered. Covert intelligence operations are
rarely exposed and even when they are, they are seldom censured. The only
hopeful development in all of this is the beginning of a new movement, partly
generated by the Christic Institute's La Penca lawsuit, to aggressively
challenge the National Security Act of 1947. Many feel that only by rewriting
this original charter for American intelligence operations can the fundamental
cancer creating havoc worldwide be excised.
Research assistance by Sheila O'Donnell and Rick Emrich.
(1) ETA (Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna) translates roughly as Basque Homeland and
Liberty. ETA has been waging a guerilla/terrorist war for independence from
Spain and France for decades.
(2) The Secret Team, named in the civil RICO indictment, includes Gen. Richard
Secord, Gen. John Singlaub, Albert Hakim, Adolfo Calero, Ted Shackley, Thomas
Clines, and Chi Chi Quintero. The lawsuit was dismissed by the Chief Federal
judge in Miami on June 24th, 1988, one working day before the historical trial
was to begin. The Christic Institute and the plaintiffs, Tony Avirgan and
Martha Honey, are appealing in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
(3) Pastora had called the La Penca press conference, at the insistence of
Costa Rican security officials, to announce an end to years of conflict with
the Somocista contras in Honduras who, along with the CIA, had been pressuring
him to join forces with them, and thus, present a unified image to Congress.
Ironically, the front page of the New York Times, June 1, 1984, carried the
bombing story prominently while underneath was a small story about Pastora
cutting all ties with the FDN and denouncing the CIA.
(4) The OPD was created to influence the public and Congress on the contra war
and other Reagan administration covert wars around the world. OPD was found
guilty of conducting "white propaganda" efforts by the Government Accounting
Office in 1987, and quickly became the only casualty of the Iran-contra affair.
For further information, see two articles by Peter Kornbluh "Reagan's
Propaganda Ministry", Propaganda Review #2, and the Washington Post, 9/4/88, p.
(5) Carl R. ("Spitz") Channell raised money, legally and illegally, for the
contras from 1985 until 1987 when he pled guilty to defrauding the IRS and the
US Treasury. At one point, Channell controlled an elaborate network of
non-profit organizations and consultants.
(6) The "Ultimate Destination" for the 25 page report was The Official
Coordinator for the U.N. Conference on Scientific and Technological
Development. The director of this office denied ever commissioning or seeing
(7) The State Department refused to turn over the OPD memo in response to
subpoena served in the Christic Institute lawsuit. In fact, State has released
only one document under subpoena to the Christic attorneys, the cover sheet to
a January 20, 1987 twenty-page report on the Christic lawsuit with a
handwritten note at the top by a State Department official named Peter Olson.
The note says, "Delib. CIA effort to throw people off track of real
(8) Fontaine is a close associate of Gen. Singlaub and one of the principal
WACL (World Anti-Communist League) creators of the contra war. He served as
Special Assistant for Central American Affairs on the NSC in the early '80s and
works for the Georgetown Institute for Strategic Studies in addition to writing
for the Washington Times.
(9) Virtually all of the specialized personnel at the OPD were officially "on
loan" from other agencies. This helped to obscure the true nature of the OPD.
Thus, while Otto Reich, a political appointee, was the titular head, Walter
Raymond was the actual operational director.
from Democrats' Dilemma Deeper than Al Gore, August 4, 1999
With Ronald Reagan's election in 1980, the conservative movement gained a
powerful new momentum. The fledgling conservative magazines and expanding think
tanks also had a new clear-cut goal to advance the interests of the Reagan
On one level, the conservative infrastructure supplied an intellectual veneer
to many of Reagan's policies. Other times, conservatives harassed mainstream
journalists who created difficulties.
In early 1982, when the New York Times’ Raymond Bonner revealed the Salvadoran
army's massacre of nearly 1,000 men, women and children at El Mozote, Irvine's
Accuracy in Media -- along with the Wall Street Journal's editorial page -- led
a harsh counterattack against Bonner.
The Reagan administration also rewarded its friends by pumping money into the
conservative infrastructure. Inside the National Security Council, former CIA
propagandist Walter Raymond Jr. coordinated plans for enlisting private
organizations into wide-ranging "public diplomacy" operations.
Raymond's operation -- initially called "Project Truth" and later "Project
Democracy" -- enlisted foundations in a novel public-private strategy. Typical
was a planning paper prepared for Raymond that I discovered in his declassified
files at the Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif.
Dated June 14, 1982, and entitled "Project Democracy Proposals for Action," a
draft proposal spelled out plans for drawing non-governmental organizations
into the process. The plan also called for harnessing financial resources from
a "coalition of wealthy individuals"; U.S. defense contractors; and private
foundations, such as the Twentieth Century Fund.
"Hold a White House meeting of top U.S. business and philanthropic figures to
elucidate need and stimulate will to give urgently," stated the proposal. The
paper recommended reaching out beyond the base of conservative funders to
include more moderate and even liberal foundations, such as the Ford
Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, MacArthur Foundation and the Rockefeller
The administration also earmarked $200 million in federal money for "political
action proposals," ranging from expanded broadcasting to the development of new
magazines and the sponsoring of international conferences.
A chart, marked Appendix A and also dated June 14, 1982, identified Freedom
House and the Atlantic Institute as important "instruments" for research and
contacts with universities.
The chart also included boxes for "elite groups" that would be drawn into the
operation, including the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group and the
Chamber of Commerce. The Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberg Group are
secretive organizations that sponsor closed-door policy discussions involving
leading international businessmen, bankers, politicians and media moguls.
The Project Democracy proposal enjoyed the discreet support, too, of CIA
director William J. Casey, who wrote an undated letter to then-White House
counsel Edwin Meese III. Casey stated that the plan "has significant merit" and
offered to make "suggestions" about who might serve on a working group "to
refine the proposal."
Casey added, however, that "obviously, we here should not get out front in the
development of such an organization, nor do we wish to appear to be a sponsor
or advocate. Nevertheless, the needs appear real and I believe our national
fabric for dealing with many issues and problems would be well served by such
Like several other documents in Raymond's file, the Casey letter had been torn
in half as if Raymond were planning to discard it but later changed his mind.
An archivist at the library said she pieced a number of Raymond's torn letters
back together and put them in plastic casing for their protection.
On other occasions, the Reagan administration directly solicited support for
its political allies.
According to one National Security Council memo dated May 20, 1983, U.S.
Information Agency director Charles Z. Wick brought private donors to the White
House Situation Room for a fund-raiser. The event collected $400,000 for
Accuracy in Media, Freedom House and other groups assisting the "public
As the domestic side of the program moved forward, one of Raymond's recurring
concerns was Casey's insistence that he keep his oar in the water. Given its
clear goal of influencing U.S. politics and policies, Raymond fretted about the
legality of Casey's continued involvement in what amounted to domestic
Raymond confided in one memo that it was important "to get [Casey] out of the
loop." But Casey would not back off.
During this same period, another major source of conservative media money came
on line. In 1982, drawing on his shadowy resources in Asia and apparently South
America, Rev. Moon launched a daily newspaper, The Washington Times. The
right-wing paper soon became President Reagan's favorite as it promoted his
policies and denounced his opponents.
As the years wore on, Raymond sought more resources for "public diplomacy." On
Dec. 20, 1984, Raymond submitted a secret action proposal to national security
adviser Robert C. McFarlane. It urged an even greater commitment of manpower in
"I have attempted to proceed forward with a whole range of political and
information activities," Raymond wrote. "There are a raft of ties to private
organizations which are working in tandem with the government in a number of
areas ranging from the American Security Council to the Atlantic Council, to
the nascent idea of a ‘Peace Institute.’
Among the examples of his "specific activities," Raymond listed "significant
expansion of our ability to utilize book publication and distribution as a
public diplomacy tool. (This is based on an integrated public-private
strategy). The development of an active PSYOP strategy. Regular meetings with
the German political foundations concerning programming. Meetings (ad hoc)
with selected CIA operational people to coordinate and clarify lines between
overt/covert political operations on key areas. Examples Afghanistan, Central
America, USSR-EE [Eastern Europe] and Grenada.
To reinforce Reagan’s "war of ideas," the administration even assigned real
warriors. The Pentagon cut transfer orders for a half dozen psychological
warfare experts from U.S. Special Forces.
One, Lt. Col. Daniel "Jake" Jacobowitz, served as executive officer inside the
chief "public diplomacy" office located at the State Department. Later, the
White House transferred in another five psychological warfare specialists from
the 4th Psychological Operations Group at Fort Bragg, N.C.
The main job of the psy-ops specialists was to pick out incidents in Central
America that would rile the U.S. public. In a memo dated May 30, 1985,
Jacobowitz explained that the military men were scouring embassy cables
"looking for exploitable themes and trends, and [would] inform us of possible
areas for our exploitation."
Raymond's public diplomacy teams also exacted a high price from mainstream
reporters whose work challenged the administration's assertions about Central
America and other international hot spots. By 1986, a chastened Washington
press corps was falling into line on the contra war and other controversial
In March 1986, Otto Reich, a senior public diplomacy official, reported that
his office was taking "a very aggressive posture vis-à-vis a sometimes hostile
press" and "did not give the critics of the policy any quarter in the debate."
REAGAN'S PROPAGANDA MINISTRY
San Francisco, CA
Number 2, Summer 1988
By Peter Kornbluh
"All we have done is make the facts available," stated the director of the
Office of Public Diplomacy (OPD) as Congress was shutting its doors in late
1987. But documents and depositions released by the Iran/contra committee
show that the Reagan Administration's concept of public diplomacy involved
very few facts. Instead, OPD's activities constituted what one official
called a "vast psychological warfare operation" aimed at Congress and the
Early in Reagan's tenure, officials recognized the battle for "hearts and
minds" at home and abroad as a critical front in Washington's
counter-insurgency and pro-insurgency wars in Central America. An April
1982 "Top Secret" National Security Planning Group report on Central
America strategy noted, "We continue to have serious difficulties with US
public and congressional opinion, which jeopardizes our ability to stay the
To address this problem, President Reagan signed a directive called
"Management of Public Diplomacy Relative to National Security" on January
13, 1983.2 The directive mandated the institutionalization of a propaganda
capability within the national security bureaucracy. It authorized a new
infrastructure, starting with the creation of a Special Planning Group in
the National Security Council (NSC), to be "responsible for the overall
planning, direction, coordination and monitoring of implementation of
public diplomacy activities."
Although the CIA's own charter explicitly prohibits it from engaging in
domestic propaganda activities, CIA officials were heavily involved in
carrying out Reagan's orders. CIA director William Casey was a key
proponent of what he called, in classified memoranda, the need "for more
effective governmental instrumentalities to deal with public diplomacy and
informational challenges." Walter Raymond, a veteran CIA psychological
operations specialist, was transferred to the NSC to become the "public
diplomacy coordinator," even as he continued to play a role in
policy-making for the covert war in Nicaragua. Among Raymond's
responsibilities was the so-called "Thursday morning group"--a weekly
interagency meeting on Central America propaganda activities attended by
Lt. Colonel Oliver North and officials from the CIA, State Department, and
United States Information Agency (USIA).
In May 1983, Raymond advised that the "office of the Central American
public diplomacy coordinator must be strengthened" and recommended that
Otto Reich, an anti-Castro Cuban, be given "a White House cachet" to direct
these operations. Reich assumed his position as head of OPD in July 1983
and received NSC authorization to recruit personnel from other national
security agencies, including Defense, State, and USIA.
Within a year, OPD had a staff of twenty and an annual budget of $1
million. Officially, it operated as a State Department office. In reality,
as Congress member Dante Fascell complained to Secretary of State George
Shultz during the Iran/contra hearings, "the whole thing was being run by
North out of the NSC."
The activities of the Office of Public Diplomacy can be divided into four
categories. The first might be called public information activities--the
legal dissemination to the public and the press of the Administration's
line on Central America. The second category is media management, a task of
selectively leaking tips to and applying pressure on the print and
broadcast media. Third is what's called in the trade "white
propaganda"--illegally planting stories and op-ed pieces in the media.
Finally, OPD mounted a massive lobbying and public relations campaign,
jobbing out the grunt work to private PR firms.
The Propaganda Mill
During his Iran/contra deposition, OPD director Otto Reich testified that
the principal activity of the office was "producing documents, speeches,
publications, [and] background papers" for dissemination to the public and
press. Indeed, OPD issued a steady stream of vituperative White Papers and
pamphlets, with titles such as "The Managua Connection The Sandinistas and
Middle Eastern Terrorists" and "Revolution Beyond Our Borders."
These documents, which Reich and his staff presented to hundreds of civic
groups, rotary clubs, and university audiences, were invariably filled with
innuendo, rhetoric, and misinformation meant to cast the Sandinistas in the
worst possible light and the contras in the best. "Revolution Beyond Our
Borders," for example, portrays a statement by Nicaraguan Interior Minister
Tomas Borge that the revolution "goes beyond our borders" as proof that the
Sandinistas intended to promote subversion in Central America. Conveniently
omitted are Borge's following sentences "This does not mean we export our
revolution. It is sufficient that they follow our example."
Another OPD pamphlet contains flagrantly deceptive denials that the contras
engage in terrorism. According to the document, "the armed opposition has
attacked very few economic targets and has sought to avoid civilian
casualties"--a statement contradicted by every reputable international
human rights organization. Reports to the contrary, stated the pamphlet,
are attributable to a Sandinista "propaganda campaign."
Managing the Media
OPD devoted considerable effort to influencing media coverage of Central
American issues. One commonly used tactic was to leak tidbits of classified
material to favored journalists at propitious times. "[O]ften office
staffers would merely read secret cables to reporters or show them
documents still bearing the 'secret' label," the Miami Herald reported on
October 16, 1986.
Leaks were supplemented by intimidation. Reich personally brought pressure
to bear on television, print, and radio news personnel to air stories that
conformed with the Administration's view. After National Public Radio's All
things Considered broadcast a story on a contra massacre of civilians,
Reich demanded a meeting with NPR's top editors and producers to protest
their "biased" coverage and made it clear that OPD monitored and analyzed
all NPR stories on Central America. According to a participant in the
meeting, Reich bragged that "he had made similar visits to other unnamed
newspapers and major television networks [and] had gotten others to change
some of their reporters in the field because of a perceived bias, and that
their coverage was much better as a result."4
In its effort to manipulate the media and the public mindset, OPD employed
a tactic the CIA frequently uses in foreign countries planting articles
and stories in the press under the names of third parties. Known in the
intelligence community as "white propaganda," these activities were
conducted inside the United States with the full knowledge of the White
In a "confidential" March 13, 1985 memorandum, OPD deputy director Jonathan
Miller informed Patrick Buchanan, Assistant to the President for
Communications, of "five illustrative examples of the Reich White
Propaganda operation" an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal attributed
to an academic but actually written by OPD staff; a positive NBC news story
on the contras; two opinion pieces written by OPD "consultants" but
published under the names of contra leaders (one in the New York Times and
another in the Washington Post); and briefings for contra leader Alfonso
Robelo, arranged by a "cutout" at the Post, Newsweek, and USA Today. "I
will not attempt in the future to keep you posted on all activities,"
Miller wrote Buchanan, "since the work of our operation in ensured by our
office's keeping a low profile. I merely wanted to give you a flavor of
some of the activities that hit our office on any one day."
At the request of Congress, the General Accounting Office investigated the
Office of Public Diplomacy and ruled that these operations were illegal.
Investigators concluded that OPD had "engaged in prohibited, covert
propaganda activities designed to influence the media and the public to
support the Administration's Latin American policies."
The Contra Lobby
One of the Reagan Administration's unique contributions to the manipulation
of the public has been its reliance on the private sector to conduct
propaganda, lobbying, and fundraising operations that would otherwise be
illegal for the executive branch. Again, CIA director Casey was the driving
force behind this plan to foster a "public-private partnership."
Congressional investigators reviewed a series of contracts between OPD and
a public relations firm known as International Business Communications
(IBC). Between 1984 and 1986, OPD gave IBC over $440,000--including one
contract for $276,000 that was classified "secret"--to conduct various
contra-related services. (During the same period, IBC played a key role in
Oliver North's illegal contra supply operations.)
In short, IBC helped to develop and carry out a sophisticated lobbying and
public relations campaign for the contras. In testimony during the
Iran/contra investigation, IBC president Richard Miller (who in April 1987
pled guilty to defrauding the US treasury by illegally raising money for
guns and funneling it into Lt. Col. North's Geneva bank account) testified
that his company "set up interviews and press conferences. We arranged
television appearances...we provided text for op-eds, editorials, letters
to the editor, articles, translations of publications outside the United
States that were then distributed by the Office...We helped draft reports
on public-affairs strategies. We helped edit texts for speeches." And so on.
Internal company memoranda show that IBC also acted as an intermediary in
an illicit NSC lobbying operation to garner votes--as opposed to guns--for
the contra forces. In specifically targeted swing districts, IBC took
contra leaders to meet the press, arranged for broadcasts of pro-contra
advertisements, and ran ads attacking Congress members who voted against
contra aid. Trained lobbyists were paid to walk the halls of Capitol Hill.
The Fate of the Propaganda Ministry
In April 1986, the State Department bestowed a Meritorious Honor Award upon
the Office of Public Diplomacy for "superior performance" in support of of
US policy in Central America. "Public diplomacy is a new, non-traditional
activity for the United States Government," the award justification
intoned. Thus, OPD's "staff have been pioneers in forging a new tool for
the implementation of foreign policy."
A year and a half later, however, Congress was characterizing this "tool"
as an institutionalized propaganda ministry. Indeed, the Office of Public
Diplomacy became the only government institution to be sacrificed in the
aftermath of the Iran/contra scandal.
But OPD may be gone in name only. As Congress forced it to shut its doors,
State Department officials let it be known that they would "simply
reorganize the office, distributing its functions to other parts of the
Peter Kornbluh is an information analyst at the National Security Archive,
a documentation center in Washington, DC. (The views expressed here are not
necessarily those of NSA.) Kornbluh is the author of Nicaragua The Price
of Intervention (Washington, DC Institute for Policy Studies, 1987) and
co-editor of Low Intensity Warfare Counterinsurgency, Proinsurgency and
Anti-Terrorism in the Eighties (New York Pantheon, 1988).
1. In government documents, the Office of Public Diplomacy is variously
referred to as S/LPD, LPD and the Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin
America and the Caribbean.
2. This document was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the
National Security Archive.
3. Kornbluh, Nicaragua The Price of Intervention, p. 171.
4. Ibid., p. 164.
5. "Shut and Open," New York Times, December 30, 1987.
CIA'S PERCEPTION MANAGEMENT
By Robert Parry, December 9, 1996
WASHINGTON -- William J. Casey was a quick study, always looking for an
edge whether in business or in the ideological struggles that consumed the
last years of his life. So in early August 1983, the balding CIA director
hunched over a desk at the old Executive Office Building and scribbled down
notes from five public relations experts who were brainstorming how to sell
Ronald Reagan's Central American policies to the American people.
Earlier that day, a national security aide had warmed the P.R. men to their
task with dire predictions that leftist governments would send waves of
refugees into the United States and cynically flood America with drugs. The
P.R. executives jotted down some thoughts over lunch and then pitched their
ideas to the CIA director in the afternoon.
"Casey was kind of spearheading a recommendation" for better public
relations for Reagan's Central America policies, recalled William I.
Greener Jr., one of the ad men. Two top proposals arising from the meeting
were for a high-powered communications operation inside the White House and
private money for an outreach program to build support for U.S.
The ideas from that session and other meetings held during the Reagan
administration's first years still resonate today. Through the mid-1980s,
Casey's domestic propaganda campaign would descend into scandal-generation
and disinformation against opponents, tactics that are now generic to
But few Americans know about Casey's "public diplomacy" apparatus which
refined this approach in the 1980s -- or that the operation was overseen by
CIA propagandists and military psychological warfare experts steeped in an
Orwellian concept called "perception management."
Scores of documents about this operation poured out during the Iran-contra
scandal. The documents made clear that the driving force behind these
aggressive P.R. tactics was Casey, the World War II spymaster who
understood the power of information and the value of deception. But the
documents received little attention in the mainstream press.
As the Washington media grew bored with the Iran-contra story, articles
focused on the celebrity of Lt. Col. Oliver North and narrow questions,
such as who authorized a diversion of Iran arms sales profits to the
Nicaraguan contra rebels. Yet, the "public diplomacy" campaign was a
dramatic tale, too. It was the story of how the top level of the CIA had
circumvented law and manipulated U.S. public opinion in support of CIA
covert operations in Central America. Although the CIA is legally barred
from influencing domestic politics, no one was held accountable for the
apparent violations of law.
At the start of the Reagan administration, Casey's challenge had seemed
daunting. The administration saw Sandinista-ruled Nicaragua as another Cuba
and Daniel Ortega as another Castro. But in late 1980, the American people
saw El Salvador's right-wing military engaged in a bloodbath against
leftist political opponents. To make matters worse, Salvadoran soldiers
even raped and murdered four American churchwomen. The public also retained
fears of "another Vietnam."
So, Reagan's initial strategy of bolstering the Salvadoran army required
defusing the negative publicity and somehow rallying the American people to
the anti-communist cause. As deputy assistant secretary to the Air Force,
J. Michael Kelly, put it, "the most critical special operations mission we
have ... is to persuade the American people that the communists are out to
Hounding the Press
At the same time, the White House worked to weed out American reporters who
uncovered facts that undercut the desired images. As part of that effort,
the administration attacked New York Times correspondent Raymond Bonner for
disclosing the massacre of about 800 men, women and children in the village
of El Mozote in northeast El Salvador in December 1981. Accuracy in Media
and conservative news organizations, such as The Wall Street Journal's
editorial page, joined in pummeling Bonner, who was soon ousted from his
The administration also made sure to reward its friends. According to one
National Security Council memo dated May 20, 1983, U.S. Information Agency
director Charles Wick brought private donors to the White House situation
room for a fund-raiser which collected $400,000 for AIM and a few other
By then, "public diplomacy" was becoming Casey's new code word for
influencing the opinions of the American people as well citizens of foreign
countries. "The overall purpose" behind Casey's initiative "would be to
sell a 'new product' -- Central America -- by generating interest
across-the-spectrum," another NSC document stated.
A "public diplomacy strategy paper," dated May 5, 1983, summed up the
problem. "As far as our Central American policy is concerned, the press
perceives that the USG [U.S. government] is placing too much emphasis on a
military solution, as well as being allied with inept, right-wing
governments and groups. ...The focus on Nicaragua [is] on the alleged
U.S.-backed 'covert' war against the Sandinistas. Moreover, the opposition
... is widely perceived as being led by former Somozistas."
The administration's difficulty with most of these press perceptions was
that they were correct. But the strategy paper recommended ways to
influence various groups of Americans to "correct" the impressions anyway,
what another planning document would call "perceptional obstacles." "Themes
will obviously have to be tailored to the target audience," the strategy
So, with Casey personally consulting experts, a "public diplomacy"
apparatus took shape to carry out this "perception management." The
operation was based in the NSC and was directed by Walter Raymond Jr., the
CIA's top propaganda expert until transferring to the NSC in 1982.
A le Carre Spy
Raymond, a 30-year veteran of CIA clandestine services, was a slight,
soft-spoken New Yorker who reminded some of a character from a John le
Carre spy novel, an intelligence officer who "easily fades into the
woodwork," according to one acquaintance. Raymond formally resigned from
the CIA in April 1983 so, he said, "there would be no question whatsoever
of any contamination of this."
But from the beginning, Raymond fretted about the legality of Casey's
involvement. Raymond confided in one memo that it was important "to get
[Casey] out of the loop," but Casey never backed off and Raymond continued
to send progress reports to his old boss well into 1986.
It was "the kind of thing which [Casey] had a broad catholic interest in,"
Raymond shrugged during his Iran-contra deposition. He then offered the
excuse that Casey undertook this apparently illegal interference in
domestic politics "not so much in his CIA hat, but in his adviser to the
Raymond also understood that the administration's hand in the P.R. projects
must stay hidden, because of other legal bans on executive-branch
propaganda. "The work down within the administration has to, by definition,
be at arms length," Raymond noted in an Aug. 29, 1983, memo.
Repeatedly, Raymond lectured his subordinates on the chief goal of the
operation "in the specific case of Nica[ragua], concentrate on gluing
black hats on the Sandinistas and white hats on UNO [the contras' United
Nicaraguan Opposition]." There was no space for the fact that both sides
wore gray hats. So Reagan's speechwriters dutifully penned descriptions of
Sandinista-ruled Nicaragua as a "totalitarian dungeon" and the contras as
the "moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers."
As one NSC official told me, the campaign was modeled after CIA covert
operations abroad where a political goal is more important than the truth.
"They were trying to manipulate [U.S.] public opinion ... using the tools
of Walt Raymond's trade craft which he learned from his career in the CIA
covert operation shop," the official admitted.
Another administration official gave a similar description to The Miami
Herald's Alfonso Chardy. "If you look at it as a whole, the Office of
Public Diplomacy was carrying out a huge psychological operation, the kind
the military conduct to influence the population in denied or enemy
territory," that official explained.
The operation's most visible arm was a new office at the State Department
called the Office of Public Diplomacy. It was headed by Cuban exile Otto
Reich, whose job included selecting "hot buttons" that would anger
Americans about the Sandinistas. He also browbeat correspondents who
produced stories that conflicted with the administration's "themes." Reich
once bragged that his office "did not give the critics of the policy any
quarter in the debate."
Another part of the office's job was to plant "white propaganda" in the
news media through op-eds secretly financed by the government. In one memo,
Jonathan Miller, a senior public diplomacy official, informed White House
aide Patrick Buchanan about success placing an anti-Sandinista piece in The
Wall Street Journal's friendly pages. "Officially, this office had no role
in its preparation," Miller wrote.
Other times, the administration put out "black propaganda," outright
falsehoods. In 1983, one such theme was designed to anger American Jews by
portraying the Sandinistas as anti-Semitic because much of Nicaragua's
small Jewish community fled after the revolution in 1979. However, the U.S.
embassy in Managua investigated the charges and "found no verifiable ground
on which to accuse the GRN [the Sandinista government] of anti-Semitism,"
according to a July 28, 1983, cable. But the administration kept the cable
secret and pushed the "hot button" anyway.
The administration's public diplomacy also followed up on one idea heard by
the P.R. men who met with Casey in August 1983 -- to promote the theme that
leftist governments would ship narcotics to the United States. The obstacle
to that argument, however, was that the Drug Enforcement Administration
knew of no drugs which had transited Nicaragua since the Sandinistas took
The reason was simple it made little sense for traffickers to smuggle
drugs through a country with almost no trade with the United States while
the CIA was monitoring all planes leaving Nicaraguan air space. The Reagan
administration solved that P.R. problem by arranging a "sting" operation
overseen by Oliver North and the CIA.
In 1984, convicted narcotics trafficker Barry Seal, who was cooperating
with the DEA, arranged for a plane to fly a load of cocaine into Nicaragua.
But the plane was shot down by Sandinista air defenses. Seal then flew in a
second plane, a C-123 transport. He snapped some grainy photos of men,
supposedly Nicaraguans and Colombians, loading bales of cocaine onto the
plane. Seal then flew the load back to the United States where the story
was leaked to The Washington Times and quickly spread onto front pages
across America. The desired image was achieved.
Poisoning America's Youth
In a TV address, President Reagan then accused top Sandinistas of
"exporting drugs to poison our youth." Even today, Seal's photos are cited
by conservative journalists to counter evidence of cocaine smuggling by the
contras, the guys in the glued-on white hats.
Yet, in the Seal-Sandinista drug case, only one Nicaraguan, a shadowy
figure named Federico Vaughan, was ever indicted. Vaughan supposedly worked
for the Nicaraguan Interior Ministry. But strangely, Vaughan had been
calling his American drug contacts from a phone located at either the U.S.
or other Western embassies. It was never clear for whom Vaughan was
working. DEA officials stated that they had no evidence that any other
Nicaraguan official, besides Vaughan, had participated in drug smuggling.
The DEA also complained that the White House blew the smuggling
investigation prematurely to embarrass the Sandinistas before a contra aid
vote. The bigger fish sought by the DEA had included the leaders of the
Medellin drug cartel. But the administration had sacrificed that probe to
gain a propaganda edge.
A year later, in 1985, the evidence would build that the contras were
engaged in real drug trafficking. In reaction, the administration again
would put P.R. ahead of law enforcement. The public diplomacy team would
activate, to attack the journalists and investigators who revealed this
Even after the Iran-contra scandal unraveled in 1986-87 and Casey died of
brain cancer, the Republicans fought to keep secret the remarkable story of
this public diplomacy apparatus. As part of a deal to get three moderate
Republican senators to join Democrats in signing the Iran-contra report,
Democratic leaders dropped a draft chapter on the CIA's domestic propaganda
The American people were thus spared the chapter's troubling conclusion
that a covert propaganda apparatus had existed, run by "one of the CIA's
most senior specialists, sent to the NSC by Bill Casey, to create and
coordinate an inter-agency public-diplomacy mechanism [which] did what a
covert CIA operation in a foreign country might do. [It] attempted to
manipulate the media, the Congress and public opinion to support the Reagan
administration's policies." It had succeeded.
THE CONSORTIUM FOR INDEPENDENT JOURNALISM
Suite 102-231, 2200 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22201
The Mother of All Interviews
By Don Menn
From A Definitive Tribute to Frank Zappa (Best of Guitar Player, 1994)
Transcribed by Román García Albertos (email@example.com)
FZ. It's more than just contempt. The people who make these decisions don't
even care about the public at all. It's beyond contempt for them. They have a
special agenda, anything status quo, which means maintaining the current
administration. They'll put up with whatever they can handle in Congress, but
the idea is to subjugate the population. All ideas have to be subjugated,
behavior has to be subjugated. And the problem is
if it were an ingenious policy and somebody found an ingenious way to inflict
the policy, then everything might be sort of okay. But what you've got is a
really stupid policy with an ingenious way of inflicting it. They're much
better at the methodology of inflicting suppression than they are in coming up
with a creative policy that is worth inflicting on the public.
Q. What my naïveté prevents me from understanding is how this mechanism
evolved, and what the breeding process is that gives us the officials or
bureaucrats or politicians that enforce and perpetuate it.
FZ. For one thing, there was this entity created by Ronald Reagan called the
Department of Domestic Diplomacy. If you look in the Iran-Contra manual, you'll
Q. This is not a joke.
FZ. It's not a joke. The guy that he put in charge of running this thing had
no address, no phone number. You couldn't call the Washington directory and get
the number of the Department of Domestic Diplomacy. The guy who ran it was Otto
Reich, who used to be the head of dis-information for the CIA. You should get
the Iran-Contra thing and look it up in the table of contents. I had heard a
rumor about this thing. I couldn't believe that it was real. I went on C-SPAN and
talked about it. And I started getting phone calls from people saying, "Yeah, it
is real." And one guy faxed me the actual pages from the Iran-Contra book that had
the whole story of this thing in there. And as far as I know, it was never disbanded.
The thing still exists, unless there's been a miracle. It's just like Cointelpro under
Nixon. Cointelpro was what they were trying to hide with Watergate. It wasn't just
breaking into the Democratic headquarters. What they're trying to cover up is
the fact that Nixon had decided to create a secret police. There was no legal
authority to spy on U.S. citizens. He felt he had enemies everywhere, so he created
a program called Cointelpro. It was all the domestic spying on political groups,
people he perceived as enemies. And since it couldn't exist under law, it had to be
financed by a slush fund.
Q. He went out to investors?
FZ. There were plenty of investors for Nixon. For example, a lot of people
don't realize that Marcos gave him 15 million dollars. If you've got a
right-wing fascist idea, there's plenty of people who will give you money to
pull it off.
Q. Was this going to operate somehow under Nixon or under the CIA, or the FBI?
FZ. I think that it was a stand-alone operation, but under the jurisdiction of
the Justice Department. It was so corrupt, and it was such an affront to
democracy, and most people don't realize it already happened. The other thing
that happened under Reagan is that in the early part of his administration, he
signed a presidential order, a presidential finding, a directive that finally
gave the CIA legal permission to spy on U.S. citizens.
Q. Is this still in effect?
FZ. Yes. It was done as part of the war of drugs.