Thu, 12 Jan 2017 17:01 UTC
In 1980, vice presidential candidate George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan's campaign manager William Casey met with Iranian government officials and worked out a covert plan for Iran to keep 52 Americans hostage in Tehran until after the November 4, 1980, election. In return, the Reagan team promised to secretly ship U.S. weapons and spare parts to Iran on a Central Intelligence Agency-contracted U.S. merchant vessel before the election as a down payment to Iran with more weapons following after Reagan was sworn into office on January 20, 1981. The "weapons-for-hostages" plan worked for the Reagan team. President Jimmy Carter was defeated and the 52 hostages in Iran were freed the very moment Ronald Reagan raised his right hand to be sworn in as president.
The Reagan conspirators included Casey, Bush, Robert Gates, the CIA's mole inside the Carter National Security Council; and Donald Gregg, a Bush loyalist and another CIA mole within the Carter NSC. Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, not happy with Carter's human rights stance, may have given a "wink and a nod" to the treason. The entire caper was conducted without the knowledge of Stansfield Turner, Carter's friend and U.S. Naval Academy classmate who served as CIA director.
The ship that delivered the military equipment to Iran was the SS Poet, a World War II-era U.S. merchant vessel. Little has been written about the fate of the vessel because the CIA arranged to have it sunk while outbound from the Persian Gulf after it delivered its weapons cache to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. The ship was officially listed as "lost at sea" somewhere in the mid-Atlantic after departing from Philadelphia's Girard Point marine pier #3 on October 24, 1980. The ship was ostensibly bound with a cargo of corn for Port Said, Egypt, but, in reality, with weapons in its rear number four cargo to be delivered to Iran. The crew of 34 were declared "missing at sea" by a U.S. Coast Guard board of inquiry, which was under heavy pressure from the CIA to cover up the ship's fate in the Gulf.
The CIA's cover story, dutifully echoed by the Coast Guard, was that the Poet sank without a trace in three minutes and without a distress call. One of the Poet's previous trips, in the months prior to sailing to Iran, was to Israel. The vessel had been chartered by Hawaiian Eugenia Corporation, the Poet's owner and a firm with murky CIA links, to sail to Israel. There is a strong possibility that the Israelis rigged the ship with explosives that would be detonated after its delivery of weapons to Iran on behalf of the CIA and Reagan-Bush campaign plotters.
There was a feeble attempt by certain remaining pro-Carter elements within the CIA and Justice Department to investigate the involvement of a foreign power—Iran—in the 1980 election. A March 16, 1981, memo written by then-unconfirmed Associate Attorney General Giuliani to the Acting Criminal Division chief John Keeney, which was titled "CIA Referral—Alleged Foreign Government Interference With 1980 Presidential Election,' suggests that the CIA referred to the Justice Department certain evidence that there was criminal activity involving a foreign power in the 1980 presidential election.
Keeney and Giuliani agree to draft a letter from Deputy Attorney General Edward C. Schmults to the CIA to ask for a full report on the criminal referral that would be available to Justice personnel on a strict need-to-know basis.
The investigation was stopped dead in its tracks. The attorney general at the time of the Giuliani memo was Reagan confidante William French Smith. Smith's special assistant at the time was David Hiller, who later became the publisher, president, and CEO of the Los Angeles Times. Hiller's fellow special assistant for Smith was John G. Roberts, Jr., later nominated by George W. Bush to the Supreme Court as associate justice, followed by chief justice.
Turner was not as lucky. In January 2000, Turner and his wife were flying in a Taxi Aero Centroamericano Czech-made LET410 aircraft that crashed shortly after takeoff from San Jose, Costa Rica. Turner's wife, Eli Karen, was killed in the crash that also injured Turner.
WMR recently interviewed a family member of one of the crew of the Poet. For the first time, we can report on why the ship took on a dangerous mission to deliver weapons to Iran, especially during the open warfare in the Gulf between Iraq and Iran that saw a number of merchant ships sent to the bottom. The source revealed that only three of the ten officers on board the Poet would have known that the ship was destined for Iran and not Egypt. They would have been the captain, first mate, and radio officer. There are indications that the CIA, acting through a front company, offered the three officers a large sum of money to carry out the mission. One of the officers signed on to the mission even though his wife was in hospital dying of stage four cancer. Another had recently contracted to buy a large tract of land in Maine. However, none would live long enough to collect their large bonuses. The radio officer, a recent Czechoslovak naturalized citizen, inexplicably possessed a NATO Top Secret Crypto clearance. Lower ranking seamen on the Poet had reported that the ship often departed for destinations that were unknown to most of the crew.
The Poet's official charter to sail to Port Said in October 1980 was oddly appended with a "war risk" clause, even though Egypt was not in a state of war. The only state of war that existed at the time was in the Gulf between Iran and Iraq. The charter also involved Universal Shipping Company, a CIA front company headquartered in Rosslyn, Virginia, along with other firms controlled by CIA weapons smuggler Edwin Wilson. Later convicted and imprisoned for smuggling weapons to Libya, Wilson, a "retired" CIA operative, contended all of his operations were carried out with the approval of the CIA.
There is an interesting current news peg to the story of the 1980 election and the Poet. The Iran side in the "arms-for-hostages" conspiracy was led by the then-speaker of the Iranian parliament, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who would later become a key cog in the Iran-contra scandal that wracked the Reagan administration. Rafsanjani died over this past weekend at the age of 82. Considered a leading Iranian moderate, Rafsanjani traveled widely throughout the United States prior to the Iranian revolution in 1979 and he may have served as a deep cover CIA asset. With his death disappears from the scene another witness to the treachery involving the disappearance of the SS Poet.