Scandals / October Surprise

Honegger, Barbara. October Surprise. New York: Tudor, 1989. 323 pages.

California-based Barbara Honegger worked as a researcher at the Hoover Institution, then joined the Reagan team as a researcher and policy analyst in 1980. By 1983 she had become disillusioned and resigned, but her "love" for Reagan kept her from pursuing this story until after he left office. Actually she began leaking the story in mid-1987 after Iran-contra had become a household word; one suspects that it wouldn't have gotten far before then. "October Surprise" refers to the evidence that the Reagan campaign cut a secret (and treasonous) deal with Iran to delay the release of the American hostages, in order to keep President Carter from arranging a surprise release in October and winning the November election.

This book broke considerable ground on this story, which became much richer in detail over the following years. As this is being written in May 1992, new sources have come forward (Ari Ben-Menashe), other sources have been discredited (Richard Brenneke), and Congress is investigating. Honegger and her loose circle of supporters (which includes the LaRouche organization) have made a definite contribution, but by now they may be victims -- either of their own success or of deliberate disinformation or both. October Surprise sources comprise a who's who of sleaze and spookery; paranoia and suspicion abound and it becomes difficult to know whom or what to believe. It's a tall order for anyone, especially the U.S. Congress.


Parry, Robert. Trick or Treason: The October Surprise Mystery. New York: Sheridan Square Press, 1993. 350 pages.

Robert Parry was a reporter for the Associated Press in Washington from 1980-1987. He was the first to put Oliver North's name into print, and then pursued the contra drug angle to the dismay of his editors. After three years with Newsweek, which he also found frustrating, he began reporting for the PBS Frontline show. This allowed him to trot around the globe with a cameraman in pursuit of the October Surprise story. Many witnesses, some flaky and some credible, have claimed that in 1980 the Reagan campaign cut a deal with Iran regarding the release of the hostages. For someone like Parry, who believes that the U.S. holds democratic elections and reporters serve the public interest, this amounts to treason. For the rest of us, who gave up voting long ago, it's pretty much a dog-bites-man yawner. The best line in the book is when Alexander Haig tells Parry, "Come on. Jesus! God! You know, you'd better get out and read Machiavelli or somebody else because I think you're living in a dream world!"

This book suggests that forces are at work to muddy the record when citizens get too curious. Flaky witnesses bearing half-truths are dispatched, and the Parrys are kept chasing their tails. Now this is the real story. But just try to prove it. As one spook put it, "It's not true if it can't be proven." And good luck proving anything when the stakes are this high.


Sick, Gary. October Surprise: America's Hostages in Iran and the Election of Ronald Reagan. New York: Times Books - Random House, 1991. 278 pages.

Gary Sick spent 24 years in the navy as an analyst and served on the National Security Council staff under Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan. His book "All Fall Down: America's Tragic Encounter with Iran" (1985) is highly rated. He was a White House aide for Iran during the hostage crisis of 1979-81, and by 1991 was a professor at Columbia University.

"October Surprise" refers to the scenario that certain Reagan campaign officials, William Casey for one, may have arranged to delay the release of the hostages, thereby insuring that Carter would be unable to tilt the election with a "surprise" release in October 1980. This was proposed by Barbara Honegger in 1987 (see the annotation for her book), whereupon Joel Bleifuss of In These Times picked away at it in column after column. In October 1988 Abbie Hoffman wrote about it in Playboy, but still this isn't considered respectable. In April 1991 the New York Times ran an op-ed piece by Sick, who was beginning to get very interested in the issue, and "Frontline" did a show on PBS on April 16. Now the networks and Congress took notice. By late 1992, however, many observers considered some of the sources for the story to be unreliable, and almost everyone lost interest.


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