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Reagan Years - October Surprise


The October Surprise

"The Bushes appear to be a family that approaches a presidential election as something to be won with a CIA manual, not earned with commitment to Lincolnian precepts or popular sovereignty."
--Kevin Phillips, American Dynasty

In 1980, during Ronald Reagan's presidential run, William Casey was Reagan's campaign manager.  Casey's background was in foreign intelligence.  In World War II, Casey was the head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in London (1943-45).  After the war, he directed U.S. intelligence in Europe and had a love for covert operations.  Reagan's vice presidential nominee George Bush also had an intelligence background--he was director of the CIA from 1976 to 1977.

Strong evidence suggests that both Bush and Casey made a secret deal with Ayatollah Khomeini's Iranian government to delay the release of American hostages until after the 1980 presidential election.  Going into the election, the U.S. government had been deadlocked with Iran for almost a year over the fate of American citizens held by that country.  The impasse had become an albatross around President Carter's neck and CIA-men, Bush and Casey were determined that the hostage issue would not be resolved while Carter was in office.  To this end, Bush and Casey allegedly made a secret arrangement with the Iranians to delay the hostages' release and help ensure Carter's election defeat.

"Another thing I kept quiet about was my horror at how the hostage situation was being discussed inside the Reagan camp.  Since my contact with my father [Ronald] was limited, most of this was filtered through my mother [Nancy].  The phrase 'October Surprise' kept cropping up and was soon campaign rhetoric.  The more I listened, the more I realized that they were actually dreading the thought that the hostages might be released--if it happened at a time they thought would be inconvenient for their election plans."
--Patti Davis (formerly Patricia Ann Reagan), The Way I See It

"[I] think the hostages' release...had to do with a deal, struck before the deal-maker was in office."
--Patti Davis (formerly Patricia Ann Reagan), The Way I See It

"The Iranian parliament was meeting and we had every information from [Iranian President] Bani-Sadr and others that they were going to vote overwhelmingly to let the hostages go.  And at the last minute on Sunday [two days before the election] for some reason they had adjourned without voting....  The votes were there, but the Ayatollah or somebody commanded them to adjourn."
--President Carter, interviewed in The Village Voice

"The CIA Old Boys were reeling.  In the 1970s, exposure of their dirty games and dirty tricks made the Cold Warriors look sinister--and silly.  Then, President Carter ordered a housecleaning that left scores of CIA men out in the cold.  In 1980, the CIA men wanted back in and their champion was former CIA director George Bush.  With Bush and Ronald Reagan in power, the old spies could resume their work with a vengeance.  The temptation was to do to Jimmy Carter what the CIA had done to countless other world leaders--overthrow him."
--Robert Parry, Bush and a CIA Power Play, February 29, 1996


Bush and a CIA Power Play

by Robert Parry

But the pivotal October Surprise question [is] whether Reagan's campaign director Casey and vice presidential nominee Bush met face-to-face with Iranian mullahs in 1980. According to one set of allegations, the pair slipped off to Paris for such a meeting on Oct. 19, 1980.

Four French intelligence officials, including France's spy chief Alexandre deMarenches in statements to his biographer, placed Casey at the Paris meeting. But two other witnesses, a pilot named Heinrich Rupp and Israeli intelligence official Ari Ben-Menashe, also claimed to have seen Bush in Paris that day. Ben-Menashe testified that Casey and Bush were accompanied by active-duty CIA officers.

Rupp, who says he flew Casey from National Airport to Paris, recalled that the flight left very late on a rainy night. The night of Oct. 18 indeed was rainy and sign-in sheets at the Republican headquarters showed Casey stopping at the Operations Center for a 10-minute visit at about 11:30 p.m. The headquarters in Arlington, Va., was only a five-minute drive from National Airport. Casey also had no credible alibi for his whereabouts on that day.

Bush, however, was a different story. He was under Secret Service protection and those confidential records listed him as taking a day off from the campaign at his home in Washington. Yet, there were troubles with Bush's alibi. None of the Secret Service agents could recall the two personal trips that Bush supposedly took in the morning and afternoon of Oct. 19.

Then, the Bush administration blocked access to one family friend listed as receiving a visit from the Bushes in the afternoon. The name was blacked out in the records given to the task force, and the investigators only got the name by promising to keep it secret and to never question the family friend.

In a bipartisan spirit, eager to repudiate the disturbing Bush charges, the House task force acquiesced to these unusual terms. Amazingly, the purported alibi witness was never interviewed. In its first public statement on July 1, 1992, the task force cleared Bush.

That decision meant the investigators found no need to explain another curious fact. At PBS FRONTLINE, we had discovered that on Oct. 18, 1980, a Chicago Tribune reporter named John Maclean told a U.S. foreign service officer, David Henderson, that a Republican source had supplied a fascinating tip -- that Bush was flying to Paris to discuss the hostages with Iranians.

That two strangers -- Maclean and Henderson -- would have discussed a Bush trip to Paris at the precise time that others would allege, years later, that Bush left the country should have raised the task force's eyebrows. At least, the investigators should have questioned the Bush family friend. But they didn't. (Allen's notes for that week reveal a meeting with Maclean, although the reporter has refused to divulge the name of his source.)

To the task force, the possibility that former and current CIA officers conspired with Republicans and foreign intelligence services to unseat a President of the United States was unthinkable. If true, it would have meant that elements of the CIA mounted a silent coup d'etat that undermined American democracy to put in place a President who would unleash the spy agency.

But certainly what followed in the 1980s pleased the CIA's hardliners. Under President Reagan's CIA director William Casey, CIA covert operations proliferated. Dozens of cashiered CIA officers were brought back on contract. Billions of taxpayer dollars were poured into CIA projects. The CIA was also spared Carter's nagging about human rights, as CIA-trained units launched death-squad operations throughout Central America and Africa.

A real politick Zeitgeist took hold in Washington. It tolerated drug smuggling by CIA-connected groups, including the Nicaraguan contras and the Afghan mujahadeen. It watched passively as CIA associates plundered the world's banking system, most notably through the corrupt Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which also had paid off a key Iranian in the October Surprise mystery.


Bill Casey's Theft and Reagan's Debate Performance

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan met in a presidential debate.  Many people were impressed at how well Reagan conducted himself in the debate.  Three years later, the facts behind Reagan's laudable performance came out.

In his 1983 book, Gambling with History, Time magazine correspondent, Laurence Barrett, revealed that Reagan campaign aides "filched" (i.e., stole) President Carter's briefing papers to help prepare Reagan for the 1980 debate.  Chief of Staff James Baker would later say that Reagan's campaign manager William Casey was the thief.

Ronald Reagan did not deny the theft, he defended it.  Using a twisted analogy Reagan said, "It probably wasn't too much different than the press rushing into print with the Pentagon Papers."

After assuming the presidency, Reagan appointed William Casey to head the Central Intelligence Agency.  Casey would later become the chief architect of the Iran-contra conspiracy.


The Ronald Reagan Years - The Real Reagan Record
by Mark Tracy