October Surprise

From Academic Kids

October Surprise is the allegation (as well as the title of a book on the subject by Gary Sick) that representatives of the 1980 Ronald Reagan presidential campaign arranged the Iran-Contra deal well in advance of the 1980 election in which Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter.

The alleged conspiracy was to postpone the release of the hostages held by Iran until after the election, thus preventing an "October surprise" that would have aided Carter, the incumbent. The most public face of the story is that in October 1980, an agreement was reached, after long negotiations, to unfreeze Iran's monetary assets for the safe return of the hostages - but not until after Reagan's inauguration on January 20, 1981. In the event, the hostages were released minutes after Reagan was sworn in as President.

The phrase October surprise also refers to any last minute trick by a party to sway an election, as US elections are traditionally held at the beginning of November.



Proponents of the theory, such as Barbara Honegger, a researcher and policy analyst with the 1980 Reagan/Bush campaign (interviewed in link), allege that William Casey and other representatives of the Reagan presidential campaign made a deal at two sets of meetings in July and August at the Ritz Hotel in Madrid with Iranians to delay the release of Americans held hostage in Iran until after the November 1980 presidential elections. The idea was that Reagan's opponent, the incumbent President Jimmy Carter, whose team had been negotiating, wouldn't gain a popularity boost (an 'October Surprise') before election day. The allegations included a date-specific allegation that William Casey met with an Iranian cleric in Madrid, Spain, and much of the tardy investigations have centered on whether, at the weekend in question he was actually at a Bohemian Grove retreat in California. Though William Casey was probably in London following the alleged meetings, critical pages of his daybook diary were unaccountably missing when the investigators came to look for them over a decade later.

Carter was at the time dealing with the Iran hostage crisis and the hostile regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Those who assert that a deal was made allege that certain Republicans with CIA connections, including George H. W. Bush, arranged to have the hostages held through October, until Reagan could defeat Carter in early November, and then be released. The hostages were in fact released on the very day of Reagan's inauguration, twenty minutes after his inaugural address. The timing of the release did not spark much press attention at the time.

Two months earlier, in a campaigning interview, Ronald Reagan had said that he had a "secret plan" involving the hostages. "My ideas require quiet diplomacy," he had responded when pressed, "where you don't have to say what it is you're thinking of doing."

A 1981 Congressional probe into the Reagan campaign's theft of White House briefing books on the eve of a presidential debate disclosed that Reagan campaign manager William Casey (later appointed as Director of Central Intelligence in the Reagan administration) was receiving highly classified reports on closely-held Carter administration intelligence on the Carter campaign and the Democratic president's efforts to liberate the hostages.



  • Sept. 22 (1980): Iraq invades Iran.
  • Oct. 15-20: Meetings are held in Paris between emissaries of the Reagan-Bush campaign, with Mr. Casey as "key participant," and "high-level Iranian and Israeli representatives."
  • Oct. 21: Iran, for reasons not explained, abruptly shifts its position in secret negotiations with the Carter administration and disclaims "further interest in receiving military equipment."
  • Oct. 21-23: Israel secretly ships F-4 fighter-aircraft tires to Iran, in violation of the U.S. arms embargo, and Iran disperses the hostages to different locations.


A PBS 'Frontline' documentary in 1990 brought a sound bite unavoidably to the surface in detail, as did a 15 April 1991 New York Times article by Gary Sick. In 1991, while playing golf with George Bush in Palm Springs, Ronald Reagan gave reporters a sound bite. In 1980, he had "tried some things the other way," that is, to free the hostages, he told them. When pressed he said that the details remained "classified." The remark was widely publicized and linked to Reagan's 1980 campaign remark undisclosed "secret plan" to free the hostages, with the unanswered question of how a Presidential candidate in 1980 had received "classified" information [1] (http://www.carpenoctem.tv/cons/october.html).

Separate House and Senate investigations were further delayed until 1992. William Casey, the alleged go-between, was dead by then, and it seemed impossible to account for all his moves during the summer of 1980, when he is said to have conferred with agents representing the Ayatollah Khomeini's government.

If the allegations are true, some believe that dealing with a hostile foreign government to achieve the defeat of a domestic administration would have been an act of treason.

According to Sick's theory, Oliver North was the administration's scapegoat, taking responsibility in order to conceal the "treason" of Reagan and Bush. A PBS documentary, "The Secret Government," hosted by Bill Moyers, detailed the "off the shelf, self-financing, independent covert operations" entity mentioned by North, and tracing it to its cold war beginnings won an Emmy for best documentary film.

See also


  • Abbie Hoffman and Johnathan Silvers, "An election held hostage," Playboy Magazine, October 1988
  • Barbara Honegger, 1989. October Surprise. New York: Tudor. ISBN 0944276466.
  • Robert Parry, 1993. Trick or Treason: The October Surprise Mystery. ISBN 187982308X.
  • Robert Parry, 1996. The October Surprise X-Files: The Hidden Origins of the Reagan-Bush Era.
  • Kevin Phillips, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush.
  • Gary Sick. 1991. October Surprise: America's Hostages in Iran and the Election of Ronald Reagan. New York: Random House. ISBN 0812919890.
  • The "October Surprise" allegations and the circumstances surrounding the release of the American hostages held in Iran: Report of the Special Counsel ... eign Relations, United States Senate (S. prt). For sale by the U.S. G.P.O., Supt. of Docs., Congressional Sales Office; (1992)
  • Joint report of the Task Force to Investigate Certain Allegations Concerning the Holding of American Hostages by Iran in 1980 ("October Surprise Task Force") (SuDoc Y 1.1/8:102-1102) by U.S. Congressional Budget Office
  • Rules of the Task Force to Investigate Certain Allegations Concerning the Holding of American Hostages by Iran in 1980 ("October Surprise Task Force") by United States

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