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How Robert Gates' Lies and Cover-Ups Earned Him a Long, Prestigious Career -- At the Expense of the American People

Two decades ago, U.S. history could have taken a very different course if Gates and his cohorts had faced real accountability and their secrets had been exposed.

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After Teicher provided the affidavit to a federal court in Miami, it was classified a state secret and Teicher's credibility was attacked. Prosecutors saw the affidavit as disruptive to their case against a private company, Teledyne Industries, and one of its salesmen, Ed Johnson, for selling explosives to Cardoen, who then fashioned them into cluster bombs for Iraq. (With Teicher’s affidavit kept from the jury, Johnson was convicted and sent to prison.)

An Israeli's Testimony

In 1991, Boren and his committee staff also swatted away Ben-Menashe's accounts of Gates as the point man for the CIA's covert supplying of Iraq in the 1980s.

In interviews with me, Ben-Menashe described a personal relationship with Gates dating back to the 1970s when both men were aspiring intelligence officers working for their respective governments. Ben-Menashe claimed that his mother even made meals for Gates when he was visiting Israel.

When Ben-Menashe began talking to the press in 1990 after he was arrested in the United States on charges of selling planes to Iran, Israeli authorities deemed him as an impostor who never worked for the government, but had to back track when I obtained documentary evidence showing that Ben-Menashe had served as an operations officer for a unit of Israeli military intelligence from 1977 to 1987.

Though Israel had to recant its initial lie — and Ben-Menashe won acquittal on the plane-sale charges in late 1990 – his credibility continued to be assailed, especially by neoconservatives in the U.S. press apparently upset that Ben-Menashe was exposing closely guarded secrets, including speaking with investigative reporter Seymour Hersh about Israel's nuclear-weapons program. [See Hersh's  The Sampson Option.]

U.S. journalists with close ties to the Israeli Right, such as Steven Emerson, began parroting Israel's fallback position on Ben-Menashe, that he was only a "low-level translator." That talking point gained currency even though well-placed Israeli officials privately dismissed it as just another cover story.

But Ben-Menashe's claimed relationship with Gates represented a real test of his credibility. Some well-respected journalists, including Hersh, doubted Ben-Menashe's story about knowing Gates because Gates had been a Soviet analyst during his early career at the CIA and thus, presumably, would have no reason to become operationally involved with an Israeli intelligence officer.

I, too, was skeptical of Ben-Menashe's claims about Gates. But I later learned from Gates's CIA co-workers that his duties as a Soviet analyst involved Moscow's policies toward the Middle East, offering a plausible reason for Gates to have spent time meeting intelligence officials in Israel.

It also struck me as odd that Ben-Menashe would have dredged up Gates's name during interviews with me and other journalists in 1990 because by then Gates had slipped back into relative obscurity as a deputy director at Bush-41's National Security Council staff. If the Israeli had wanted to puff himself up about knowing someone important in the U.S. government, why pick Gates?

Tripping Up a Source

My trying to disprove Ben-Menashe's claims about Gates - and thus punch a major hole in the Israeli's credibility - became a regular feature in my periodic contacts with Ben-Menashe.

Once when I met Ben-Menashe's aging mother during a visit to the United States, I popped a question about whether she recalled making meals for Robert Gates. Her eyes immediately brightened and she responded in the affirmative. "Yes, Bobby Gates," she said.

I thought I had Ben-Menashe tripped up another time after he insisted he had met with Gates in April 1989 during a trip to Paramus, New Jersey. I even pinned the time down, to the afternoon of April 20, 1989 because Ben-Menashe had been under Customs surveillance that morning.

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