The October Surprise Revisited

As the world prepares to mark the anniversary of one of history’s great turning points, we would be remiss if we failed to make our contribution to the sad memorials. And so, with heavy heart, we return to that fateful moment when the forces of violent extremism struck a cowardly and deceitful blow against the cause of freedom.

We refer, of course, to the weekend of Oct. 18-19, 1980, when a former and future head of the CIA met in Paris with representatives from a terrorist regime to plot the cynical manipulation of an American presidential election.

It is an act of treason for private American citizens to negotiate political deals with foreign governments without official authorization. But that didn’t stop George Herbert Walker Bush and William Casey from sitting down with the Ayatollah Khomeini’s mullahs to discuss a matter of mutual interest: making sure the 52 American hostages being held by Iran stayed locked up until after the November election contest between President Jimmy Carter and Republican challenger Ronald Reagan.

The Republicans were terrified of an “October Surprise”–a move by the Carter government to free the hostages before the vote. So ex-CIA chief Bush–now Reagan’s vice-presidential candidate–and Casey were dispatched to Paris to offer the Iranians a covert deal to keep the Americans in chains until Reagan was safely in office. The proposed payoff? A newly-elected Reagan-Bush administration would supply Khomeini’s military with a secret supply of American weapons.

The deal provoked furious debate in Teheran. The secular revolutionaries who helped topple the U.S.-backed tyranny of the Shah wanted to wash their hands of the hostages, who had been seized by Khomeini’s fanatical talibs. But the religious extremists who held ultimate power liked the cut of that Reagan-Bush jib.

And why not? The mullahs had much in common with the American archconservatives. Both groups hated Western modernity in almost all its forms (except technology– especially military technology, which they embraced with fervor). They despised modernity’s personal freedoms, its social upheavals, its sexual openness, its questioning of traditional authority, and its many blasphemies against the primitive sky-god that both groups blindly worshiped.

The ayatollah cast his lot with Reagan and Bush. He held the American captives until the very minute that Reagan– victorious over the hapless Carter, who’d been pilloried for “failing to free the hostages”–was inaugurated as President. The CIA–hamstrung by Carter’s reforms and his intermittent commitment to human rights–was back in business. They had their boy Bush in Reagan’s White House; their old pal Casey was the new CIA boss.

Iran got its payoff, too: sophisticated U.S. weaponry flowed to the extremist regime, often using Israeli intelligence as a middleman. The conduit proved valuable a few years later, when the Reagan-Bush White House skimmed profits from secret Iranian arms sales to pay for their drug-running operations and terrorist camps in Latin America: the infamous Iran-Contra scam.

But like the American people, the Iranian mullahs were also suckered. While shipping arms to Teheran, Reagan and Bush quietly embraced the mullah’s mortal enemy, Saddam Hussein. They gave him weapons, supported his invasion of Iran, and supplied military intelligence to guide him while he sprayed Iranian soldiers and innocent civilians with poison gas. When Bush ascended to the Oval Office, he moved tons of dual-use technology to Iraq, allowing Hussein to expand his biochemical and nuclear weapons capabilities. If–and it’s a big if–Iraq poses any nuclear or biochemical threat today, it’s in part because George Bush and his cronies fiddled the 1980 election and foisted a “shadow government” dedicated to covert war and death-dealing treachery on the American people, and the world.

A few tendrils of these dark truths emerged during the last days of half-hearted Congressional investigations into Iran-Contra. The treasonous Republican intervention with the mullahs was confirmed by several credible sources, foreign and domestic, including two national leaders: Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, who as president of Iran in 1980 had full knowledge of the negotiations; and future Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin. At the time of the probe, Stepashin was head of the Supreme Soviet’s Defense and Security Issues Committee. At the request of the investigators, he carried out an extensive review of Soviet intelligence files and sent Congress a remarkably detailed report on the Reagan-Khomeini connection.

Several witnesses (and Stepashin’s report) put Bush on the scene for at least one day of the Paris sessions. Although Bush had unaccountably disappeared from the campaign trail on the date in question, he told Congress that he’d “taken a day off”–in the final push of a heated presidential campaign–to visit two family friends. However, one friend –the widow of a Supreme Court justice–said the purported visit never happened. Bush adamantly refused to identify the second friend–unless Congress promised “not to interview them at all.”

Meekly, Congress agreed. There were no subpoenas, no grand juries, no Starr warriors set loose to dissect Bush’s claims: just a quiet agreement among the elite to look out for their own. Stepashin’s report was disregarded; even Bani-Sadr’s direct knowledge was derided as a “secondary account.” The testimonies were buried in obscure archives until investigative reporter Robert Parry hunted them down and published them in his invaluable journal,

So yes, on Sept. 11, let’s remember the victims of violent extremism, and the heroes who died fighting to save them. But let’s also remember October 1980, and the cynical operators who helped create a world where such insanity can thrive.

Chris Floyd is a columnist for the Moscow Times and a regular contributor to CounterPunch. He can be reached at:

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Chris Floyd is a columnist for CounterPunch Magazine. His blog, Empire Burlesque, can be found at His twitter feed is @empireburlesque. His Instagram is