Project refund revisited


By Bill Taylor

It seems to me that one of the hazards of writing a weekly opinion column is the time offset between when a column is submitted to the newspaper and when it’s published.

This column is submitted on Wednesday for publication the following Tuesday and this delay rarely causes any difficulty. However, I submitted my little opinion piece on a subject of current interest on a recent Wednesday and doncha know the very next day there was a major news break on the same subject. Yep, The Wall Street Journal, arguably the best newspaper in the country, broke details about the $400 million cash payment to Iran and the simultaneous release of several hostages.

My take on this situation, which I dubbed “project refund,” focused on what an impressive accomplishment this was. I wrote, “After all, putting together such a undertaking — likely required lots of planning and cooperation among a bunch of US agencies as well as some foreign governments and organizations.”

Well, that was pretty accurate but the Journal reporters came up with additional information that contrasted with that I had available at the time.

I wrote, “Once the cash was inventoried and packaged there was still the problem of getting the money to Iran. Delivery by air was the obvious choice, but the sheer bulk of the money would require a fairly large airplane. Fed Ex likely wasn’t an option nor was any of our military cargo airplanes — so what news reports described as an ‘unmarked’ aircraft was used.

There is some speculation that a CIA airplane was employed, but there was one report that an Air France passenger airliner with the seats and external markings removed was selected. Complicating matters a bit more was the challenge of arranging the flight of an unmarked airplane through the heavily monitored and controlled airspace from takeoff all the way to Iran and back. I imagine that took a bit of coordination and international cooperation to make happen.”

Well, the Journal report cleared up this question by identifying the hostage rescue airplane as a Swiss Air Force airplane and the airplane carrying the cash as an Iranian cargo aircraft. Flight plans between Geneva and Teheran shouldn’t have been difficult to arrange, but getting the Swiss and Iranian governments to cooperate in this venture must have been a diplomatic challenge.

Another variance was that the freed hostages reported they were forced to wait at the airport in Iran for “another airplane” – supposedly the “unmarked” airplane carrying the cash – to arrive before they were permitted to depart. The Journal, however, found the US wouldn’t release the cash until word was received that the Swiss Air Force airplane with the hostages aboard had departed Teheran. Only then was Iran given control of the money which was later flown from a Geneva airport to Iran.

Quite dissimilar stories in that the original take was that the Iranians held the advantage in the operation but the Journal’s revelation showed the US used its “leverage”to ensure Iran didn’t renege once it got the cash. The Journal’s report also cleared up the question of where the cash was apparently assembled – what a better place than neutral Switzerland, an international banking center.

We still don’t know just how getting together $400 million in hard currency was accomplished, but Swiss banks have a reputation of secrecy and may well have played a role, possibly counting and packaging the several pallet loads of Euros, Swiss francs and other currencies.

I still find the idea of the US presenting the Swiss with checks or wire transfers for $400 million requesting they be honored in cash a bit far fetched, but who knows? The Swiss aren’t likely to say anything. As often happens new revelations lead to additional questions — such as why this operation should not be considered a ransom in that the US held the back the cash until the hostages were on the way. That argument will keep politicians busy for a while.

What I find more interesting is the report that the US has made an additional payment to Iran of over $1 billion as part of a legal settlement.

So far the Administration has not revealed how this money was paid so I guess we’ll have to rely on The Wall Street Journal to find out and tell us. Well, one thing for sure – regardless of the specific details, it’s obvious that we have some mighty accomplished people in our government who can move large amounts of money around efficiently and quietly.

Yep, as I said before this was an impressive achievement and we have to give credit where credit is due. At least that’s how it seems to me.

Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at [email protected].

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