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CIA Finally Answers a 20-Year-Old FOIA Request: The Analyst’s View

November 2, 2009

It’s been so long since the subject of these records—Iran-Contra—was on everyone’s mind that we’ve had to dust off our old files from the 1980s to figure out what whether there was anything significant in this new release.  All of the documents have to do with Manucher Ghorbanifar, a key figure in the Iran arms-for-hostages exchanges who actually got the deals with Tehran started in 1985.   Four of the documents contain no more than the text of newspaper articles that by definition were already in the public domain.  Notably, one cable was actually released in 1987 as part of the congressional Iran-Contra probe—with fewer redactions back then than in the version we just got.

Two versions of a Department of State cable from 1985. The first version (top) was released in 1987 as part of the congressional Iran-Contra probe. The State Department redacted more information in the second version, released in October 2009 (bottom).

A couple of the other cables are somewhat more interesting,  revealing that after Ghorbanifar had scorched his own credibility with his American patrons in 1986, he managed to insinuate himself into efforts to free French and Swiss hostages from Lebanon in 1989 and 1990.  This is remarkable considering his track record of untrustworthiness which had made world headlines starting in late 1986.  As one of the released cables puts it, he was already “well-known to the USG as a talented fabricator” before Iran-Contra—a reference to his repeated attempts to peddle his services to the CIA until they put out a “burn notice” on him for failing a couple of lie detector tests.

Years later, Ghorbanifar surfaced yet again during the Bush 43 administration when press reports revealed that he had met with Pentagon officials in Europe to talk about re-establishing a relationship with the US government.

To read the FOIA Coordinator’s view on this FOIA request, click here.

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