The Bush-Casey CIA team had Iran "cover story" prepared in SS Poet affair
After secretly sending weapons to the Iranian regime of Ayatollah Khomeini in a deal to ensure U.S. hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran were kept there until after the November 1980 election, the secret team of George H. W. Bush and William Casey and a number of current and former CIA clandestine services officers prepared a cover story prior to Ronald Reagan's January 20, 1981 inauguration in the event the transport ship, the SS Poet, was identified as being in Iranian waters during the transition phase from Jimmy Carter to Reagan.
The SS Poet departed Philadelphia on October 24, 1980, on an official voyage to Port Said, Egypt with a declared cargo of corn but it was transporting arms and war plane spare parts to Iran and its route went around the Cape of Good Hope instead of through the Straits of Gibraltar. WMR previously reported the Poet was sunk by an Israeli covert military team in order to wipe out any trace of the ship and its crew of 34. Tetra Tech International, a CIA front company with offices in the same 1911 North Fort Myer Drive, Rosslyn, Virginia address as Universal Shipping Company, the Poet's charter agent, had full control over the security of Oman's Masandam peninsula. The Poet would have had to sail past the peninsula and through the Strait of Hormuz, after delivering its weapons cache to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.
In a January 18, 1981 Associated Press story datelined Camden, New Jersey and titled "Report Says Freighter May Have Been Hijacked To Iran," the wire service reported on a story the same day in the Courier Post of Cherry Hill, New Jersey that stated that Britain's Scotland Yard and "several" U.S. agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), were "investigating the possibility that a missing American freighter was hijacked as part of a deal by New Jersey mobsters to buy Iranian heroin."
The report stated: "classified cables between the DEA and Scotland Yard indicate . . . investigations began secretly about Dec. 12, four days after the Coast Guard declared the Poet officially missing and its crew 'presumed dead.'"
The report continued: " On Dec. 12, the Central Drug Intelligence Unit of Scotland Yard informed the DEA's London Office by cable that the Poet might have been part of a bizarre high seas hijacking, the story says. 'We are investigating the disappearance of the Poet as it is possibly related to drug trafficking,' said James Judge, a spokesman for the DEA regional office in New York. The probe centers on an exotic plot by organized crime figures to exchange the Poet's cargo of 13,500 tons of corn bound for Port Said, Egypt, for a large shipment of heroin, the report says. Investigators from the United States and Europe told reporters they strongly suspect the Poet was seized by drug smugglers while en route to Egypt, according to the report, a joint effort by the Courier-Post and Gannett News Service. The ship's communication system was destroyed and with a name change and forged documents, the vessel was diverted to Iran, the investigators reportedly said. DEA and Scotland Yard officials say family members of the late reputed South Jersey mob boss Carlo Gambino masterminded the drug deal, according to the report. Neither the Gambinos nor their lawyer could be reached for comment. Scotland Yard officials would neither confirm nor deny reports of their investigation. Spokesmen for the FBI, Coast Guard, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and U.S. Commerce Department have acknowledged only that separate probes are underway."
The involvement of Scotland Yard indicates that the group behind the Poet's shipment of weapons to Iran solicited the support of the Margaret Thatcher government in providing a cover story if the Poet were to have been identified in Persian Gulf waters. The report also does not state that the Khomeini regime cracked down on the heroin trade and was meting out the death penalty to drug dealers, which makes the alleged drug connection with the Poet's disappearance laughable. The involvement of the Coast Guard, DEA, NTSB, FBI, and Commerce Department in the "drug investigation" also indicates that they were all co-opted by the incoming Reagan team to support the Poet cover story if it was necessary.
Lloyd's of London, which later paid out a $1 million insurance claim on the Poet, scoffed at the story about the ship being hijacked to Iran by drug dealers. Lloyd's crack insurance investigators would have checked out such a report thoroughly in their claims investigation.
The Coast Guard later concluded the Poet simply vanished in the mid-Atlantic without a trace and without an SOS. On December 9, 1980, at a Coast Guard-NTSB board hearing in Philadelphia, William Seiger, representing the Radio Officers Union in New York, stated that "even a severe storm [that officials suspect sank the freighter in the Atlantic Ocean] shouldn't have interfered with the radio transmission." He told the board, "High waves, heavy rains, even lightning wouldn't affect a ship's ability to transmit on high radio frequencies." Seiger said such a transmission would have only taken 30 to 40 seconds to send. A former Poet captain, Capt. Lyle N. Clemens, who sailed it as late as August 1980 said the ship was "very good for its age," adding, "I was quite happy with the Poet." Clemens had sailed the vessel to the Dominican Republic, Egypt, and Israel. The Poet was the largest U.S. ship to have disappeared in modern times without a trace.
In a November 26, 1980, article in The Washington Post by Eugene Meyer, reported that at a marine board hearing in Philadelphia, the families of the crew of the Poetsuspected that Poet owner Henry Bonnabel was covering up details of the Poet's actual mission. Bonnabel was the owner of Hawaiian Eugenia Corporation, owner of the Poet. Bonnabel also had a financial stake in a number of other shipping firms. Bonnabel said he was not concerned when the Poet failed to make its radio reports every 48-hours as required. However, given that the Poet was on a secret mission arranged for by Bush, Casey, and CIA officers, it would have maintained radio silence. According to the Post, one of the lawyers representing the families shouted to Bonnabel after his statement on the lack of radio contact with the ship, "You knew where this vessel was all along! . . . You knew the route and you knew where it was and you did nothing." Family members said their telegrams to the Carter White House had gone unanswered. Keeping his report within the bounds of CIA spin, for which the Post is infamous, Meyer reported: "Families, grasping at straws, speculated that one of the steamer's holds, whose hatch the inspectors couldn't open, contained secret weapons. But according to testimony and other evidence, that hold was empty."
Arms for Iran were loaded into the aft number 4 cargo hold.
WMR has reported that the hold in question, the aft number four cargo hold, was laden with weapons and aircraft spare parts at the Girard Point marine terminal in Philadelphia. The hatch to the hold had been welded shut to keep U.S. Customs cargo inspectors from examining it prior to departure.
The Coast Guard delayed a search for the ship until ten days after the ship failed to transit the Straits of Gibraltar. The Poet was due at Port Said on November 9. The Coast Guard did not begin its search for the ship until November 8.
President Jesse Calhoon of the National Marine Engineers Beneficial Association of the AFL-CIO sent a letter to President-elect Reagan on December 1, 1980, concerning the Poet. In a press release, the union stated:
"'[the Coast Guard is guilty of] . . . shameful nonfeasance - if not criminal negligence' in its delay of 14 days to start a search for the missing ship S.S. Poet,enroute in late October from Delaware to Egypt. Calhoon requested of the president-elect that 'at the earliest possible time after becoming our nation's chief executive you direct your secretary of transportation to initiate a thorough-going survey and overhaul of the Coast Guard.'
Calhoon said the families of officers and men of the missing S.S. Poet 'will hail your action in putting the coast guard back on a course of service to the people whom they are legally required to help.' The Coast Guard,Calhoon added, 'should be, but for too long has failed to be, an alert, responsive and totally reliable branch of the governmental service.'
The union president wrote to Mr. Reagan that the MEBA 'is outraged' at the failure of the Coast Guard to recognize or act upon the absence of any regular communication from the S.S. Poet to the coast guard's Amver Wireless Service. The last report from the ship was on October 28 [in fact, it was October 24] when it cleared Cape Henlopen, Delaware, and headed into the Atlantic. The first Coast Guard search planes flew out on November 8, only after complaints by MEBA.
Calhoon added that 'our bitterness over this bureaucratic lethargy' was compounded by 'propaganda pictures on the network television news shows of the U.S. Coast Guard entering the air space of the Bahamas to drop food packages to a group of Haitians who had become stranded while seeking illegal entry into the United States.'
MEBA was told, Calhoon added, that Coast Guard airplanes could not be assigned to the 'search for survivors of the S.S. Poet, who are American citizens, because of the use of air rescue apparatus for a group of non-American citizens.'
The MEBA President predicted that 'nothing is apt to come out' of the Coast Guard's hearing on the case of the S.S. Poet because the process is one in which "the coast guard is prosecuting attorney, judge and jury."
For obvious reasons, the union never heard back from the Reagan transition team or the later Reagan administration.
In September 1982, two large shipping companies, Sea/Land Services, Inc. and United States Lines, challenged the award by the U.S. Navy of a Military Sealift Command contract to American Coastal Lines of New York, a new company that had been formed by a Texas firm that had its business license revoked for non-payment of taxes. The two companies also cited a Defense Contract Administrative Service report that questioned the financing behind American Coastal. One od American Coastal's founders was John O'Hara, Merchants Terminal Management Corp. (MTMC), of Fort Worth, Texas. MTMC had its Texas business license pulled in February 1982 for non-payment of taxes. O'Hara then set up Merchants Terminal Corp. as a Delaware corporation to take MTMC's place as an American Coastal partner.
At the time American Coastal first bid on the U.S. Navy contract, the President of American Coastal was one Henry Bonnabel, who was President of International Cargo and Ship Cartering Consultants Inc. in addition to being the President of Hawaiian Eugenia Corporation, the owner of the Poet. Edward Sheppard, American Coastal's Washington-based lawyer, told the Washington Post that as far as Bonnabel was concerned, "he's a decent, honorable guy . . . ships go down all the time. He came out of that incident [the Poet incident] without any fault being found."