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Ray McGovern and Robert Parry on Truth Unflinching and the Price of Integrity

Michael Collins

(Washington, DC) Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern and investigative journalist Robert Parry spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, DC last night. They were guests of The McClendon Group which holds periodic meetings at the press club featuring investigative reporters and newsmakers. Parry publishes and reports at McGovern is on the steering committee of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

They focused on the risks of integrity in both journalism and government service. Parry had a successful career with AP and Newsweek, where he was a leader in Iran-Contra reporting. McGovern's career in intelligence spanned three decades and put him in front of presidents and cabinet members for daily intelligence briefings by the CIA, among other duties.

Both received awards and acknowledgments for their efforts. Yet both left the beaten path of conformity to establish their own independent critiques of conventional wisdom and establishment mythologies. They chose telling the truth as they knew it and saw it over the comfort of corporate and government perquisites and security.

Truth and Consequences - Parry's Lesson

Robert Parry's investigative reporting was critical to breaking the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980's. Congress had barred President Ronald Reagan from funding the right wing revolutionaries seeking to oust the freely elected leftist government in Nicaragua. An illegal plan was hatched to provide funds through military arms sales to Iran by Israel, with the money going to fund the rightist military effort.

When the scandal broke, there was general shock since just years earlier, Iran had kidnapped U.S. diplomats and held them hostage for well over a year.

Parry said that there simply wasn't the stomach for "another Watergate" among the mainstream press. The tepid leader of the congressional investigation, Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-IN), had one goal - to make everyone happy. There were those who bucked the tide. Parry's reporting made a big difference but full public disclosure was curtailed.

One related charge about Iranian involvement was more inflammatory than the illegal weapons sales. It concerned preelection contact between Reagan campaign and Iranian government officials in 1980. There were charges that representatives of the Reagan campaign struck a deal with Iranian leaders to hold hostages through the end of the presidential election, thus dooming any chance Carter had to win the election. The hostages were released just minutes after Reagan's inauguration. Nothing came of the story.

Fast forward to the Bush-Clinton transition period in 1993. Parry managed to get access to documents related to the Iran Contra affair. He was loosely supervised, which allowed him review secret and top secret documents. In these documents and other information that was emerging at the time, he saw a very strong case for what was called "the October surprise" - that representatives from the Reagan campaign had indeed struck a deal to holding the hostages past Election Day 1980.

The mainstream media was not interested. Even though Parry argued that the documents "change our history," there was no expose.

Parry pointed out that often times there are "so many disincentives that reporters stopped" digging and that "those who didn't were marginalized."

Parry commented on a spin off of the Iran Contra scandal, the investigative reporting by Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury. Webb exposed drug sales by the Contras to domestic markets, most notably Los Angeles (The Dark Alliance). The product was a new one, crack cocaine. The scandal hinged on the fact that the Contras were support by the CIA at the very same time they were starting a crack epidemic in urban areas across the country.

Parry noted that in this instance, it wasn't just the government that held up the free press. It was the press itself. The New York Times and Washington Post ripped into the story. By disputing a few facts not central to the main story, the reporter was discredited and marginalized. Webb ended up unemployed. He died in 2004, allegedly by suicide.

Ray McGovern's Tale of Despair and Hope

Ray McGovern has an advantage that most critics of U.S. foreign policy lack. He witnessed it being made and participated in the process. McGovern has been active as steering committee member for the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). He took on then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in June 2006 accusing him of lying about the certainty of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and false claims about Iraqi ties to terrorists. He is a regular critic of foreign policy fiasco and intelligence matters.

McGovern offered stark reality check on current foreign policy operations. President Obama's appointment of long time intelligence executive General James Clapper as Director of National Intelligence was the case in point. McGovern reminded the audience that Clapper had been head of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency during the Iraq war. Clapper's excuse for finding no WMD (despite all those pictures) was that the Iraqi's had removed them to Syria. McGovern indicated that the people would have no champion for truth telling at the helm of national intelligence.

McGovern made an important point that bears repeating. He argued that leaders of the uniformed military service had gone to great lengths to avoid an Israeli attack on Iran and eventual U.S. involvement in a war that the leaders knew would harm the country. Admiral William Fallon, chief of U.S. forces in the Middle East, was adamant about the folly of an Iran-U.S war, however it started. While it cost him his job, it may have prevented one last desperate act by President Bush at the end of his second term.

McGovern also reported frank talks between the current head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen, and Israeli leaders during which Mullen made a point clearly on an Israeli attack on Iran - don't even think of it!. McGovern said that Mullen added emphasis by noting that he was old enough to recall the unprovoked and uninvestigated attack on the U.S.S. Liberty by Israeli fighters in the 1967 Israeli-Arab war.

Different Paths to the Same Outcome

McGovern argued that government officials have an obligation to tell the truth, even when it is extremely uncomfortable, due to supervening values. The comparative value of preventing a war and all that involves versus a successful government career path leaves no choice but to reveal the truth due to the much higher value of peace.

Parry's explanation was equally straight forward. He said that by not reporting the facts as they emerge, "We're failing to do what we signed on to do." The public, he argued, has a right to know "what they need to know to make democracy work."

Both made it clear that it is the obligation of the press and government officials to state the facts and tell the truth. That's the ultimate supervening value for citizens, as well.
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