Tuesday, March 13, 2007

March 13

If he were still living, William Joseph Casey would be enjoying his 94th birthday. Head of the SEC under Nixon and the CIA under Ronald Reagan, Casey died of pneumonia -- abetted by a malignant brain tumor and prostate cancer -- in May 1987.

Wiliam Casey directed Ronald Reagan's election campaign in 1980 and was rewarded with the directorship of an agency whose reputation had taken a severe and well-earned pounding in the post-Watergate years. On matters of foreign policy, William Casey was devoted to the “Reagan Doctrine,” which called on the US to fund insurrections along the margins of the so-called “Communist world,” including Afghanistan, Angola, and Nicaragua. After the US Congress voted in 1984 to suspend all American financial assistance to the contra rebels in Nicaragua, officials in the CIA and on the National Security Council were furious, that elected officials dared to interfere with their global ideological struggle against the Red Menace in all its guises.

Rather than accept defeat graciously, they instead devised a plan to continue funding the war, first by recruiting South Korean, Saudi and South African financial assistance, then by diverting revenue to the Central American fighters -- revenue derived, as it turned out, from illegal arms sales to Iran. Although Chief of Staff James Baker had warned that such efforts might constitute “an impeachable offense,” Casey and the rest pressed forward in 1985 and 1986. Casey introduced Oliver North to various CIA assets in Central America, contacts that enabled North to organize the illegal financial transfers that were intended to bring millions of dollars into the Nicaraguan civil war. The project was bungled, however. In a beautiful twist of fate, the illegal covert operations were disclosed on the verge of Congressional approval of $100 million in aid to the contras.

Casey took ill in December 1986 and was dead by early May. At the time this seemed like a wise move, as the prime movers in the Iran-Contra scandal all appeared to be headed for lengthy prison terms; in retrospect, Casey might have put forth more of an effort to survive the beastly disease, since even the most deserving among the conspirators emerged without too many legal blemishes. Despite the pardons and vacated convictions and short prison terms that spared these men lasting indignity, history will not be nearly so kind to Casey and others who subverted the Constitution, funded terror, retained the services of drug traffickers, and helped prolong brutal conflicts that siphoned off tens of thousands of lives on two continents.