The Campaign Spot

Terry McAuliffe, True Believer in the 1980 ‘October Surprise’ Conspiracy Theory

Terry McAuliffe strongly believes that Ronald Reagan’s campaign conspired with the Iranian ayatollahs to prevent the release of the hostages in 1980:

Reagan’s Inauguration hit us all like a kick in the gut, and not just for the obvious reasons. President Carter was racing the clock trying to free the hostages before Reagan was inaugurated, and it didn’t look as if he would make it. Then Inauguration Day came and exactly five minutes after Reagan was sworn in, the U.S. hostages were finally released after 444 days in captivity. A former National Security Council (NSC) staffer named Gary Sick spent years investigating and put together a strong case that a deal had occurred between Reagan’s people and the Iranians to sway the elections by delaying the release of the hostages — and in return for helping Reagan, the Iranians would be rewarded with weapons shipments from Israel.

Let me tell you why I’m sure the Reagan people had a hand in this. First of all, the arms transfers from Israel to Iran began almost immediately after Reagan became president. Second, the main defense of the Reagan people was that it would have been too terrible a crime for Reagan to cook up secret deals with the Iranians in violation of U.S. law, but that is just what the Reagan administration did when it sold arms to the Iranians and used the profits to illegally fund the contra rebels in Nicaragua.

Finally, the key to Reagan’s deal on the Iranian hostages was Bill Casey, a swashbuckling Cold War spy master who served Reagan as campaign manager and CIA Director. Sick’s sources told him that Casey met with the Iranians in a Madrid hotel in July 1980 and again several months later, and made the deal.

What a Party! pp. 35–36

The first advocate of the “October Surprise” theory was Lyndon LaRouche.

The Israeli-arms-to-Iran deal beginning in 1981 described by McAuliffe was Operation Seashell, an Israeli operation designed to prevent Iran from losing to Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War, not an American operation. French and Portuguese arms dealers were the intermediaries, not American ones.

Daniel Pipes pointed out that Sick used the “I refused to believe this theory until recently” line in 1991, while publicly espousing it in 1988.

The House of Representatives formed a special task force to invesigate the “October Surprise,” spending $1.3 million and looking at the issue for ten months, looking at tens of thousands of documents, conducting more than 230 formal interviews in ten countries. Indiana representative Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, chaired the task force and concluded that it “found no truth to the accusations that members of the Reagan presidential campaign conspired in 1980 to delay the release of the American hostages in Iran until after the November election.”


The overall conclusion of the task force is that there is no credible evidence to support the central October Surprise allegations. We found, first, wholly insufficient evidence that officials of the Reagan presidential campaign secretly met with Iranian officials in 1980; no credible evidence that members of the Reagan presidential campaign conspired to delay the release of the hostages;a and no credible evidence that the Reagan administration provided directly, or indirectly through Israel, arms in exchange for a delay in the release of the hostages.

The task force concluded that “nearly all of the individuals claiming firsthand knowledge of the October Surprise allegations were either wholesale fabricators or were impeached by documentary evidence.”

Finally, Newsweek back in 1991:

NEWSWEEK has found, after a long investigation including interviews with government officials and other knowledgeable sources around the world, that the key claims of the purported eyewitnesses and accusers simply do not hold up. What the evidence does show is the murky history of a conspiracy theory run wild.

Casey’s whereabouts during the July “window” are convincingly established by contemporary records at the Imperial War Museum in London. Casey, it turns out, took a three-day breather from the campaign to participate in the Anglo-American Conference on the History of the Second World War. As a veteran of the Office of Strategic Services — the forerunner of the CIA — Casey delivered a paper on OSS operations in Europe during the war. He went to a reception for conference participants on the evening of July 28, and he was photographed there. He delivered his paper on the morning of July 29.

ABC News acknowledged these facts in an update later in June — but still maintained that Casey had enough time on July 27 and 28 to fly to Madrid to meet with the Iranians. A close examination of the conference records by NEWSWEEK, however, demonstrates that Casey in fact was present at the conference sessions in London on July 28. Historian Jonathan Chadwick, who organized the conference, kept a precise, day-by-day and session-by-session record of who was present and who was not. According to Chadwick’s records, Casey was present at 9:30 a.m on the 28th, stayed for the second morning session, leaving after lunch and returning at 4 p.m.

The truth is out there, Terry. Maybe the cigarette-smoking man got to everyone else!

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