Conspiracy theories, by their very nature, should not simply debunked. It’s onerous to show definitively that one thing did not occur. Conspiracies involving politics will be particularly murky. Tough-and-tumble presidential campaigns usually do characteristic soiled methods for electoral benefit, however false accusations of such skullduggery are arguably much more routine.
Which, then, is the case with the hoary “October Shock”? This conspiracy concept alleges that within the 1980 presidential marketing campaign, Ronald Reagan’s camp surreptitiously urged revolutionary Iran to delay releasing American diplomats, intelligence officers, and marines taken hostage the year before till after the November election. This could deprive President Jimmy Carter of the political increase that the freed captives would offer. Their detention for 444 days transfixed the world, empowered Iran, and humiliated america.
The time period “October Shock” first originated with the Reagan marketing campaign’s fear that Carter would wait till October, mere weeks earlier than the election, to announce the discharge of the hostages and thus safe his re-election. The later emergence of the conspiracy concept flipped this time period, the place in former Carter employees member Gary Sick’s book of the identical identify it turned the alleged effort by the Reagan camp to steer Iran to delay the hostage launch till after the election, purportedly in trade for a U.S. promise to promote arms to Iran as soon as Reagan turned president.
Regardless of in depth multi-year investigations by Congress, an unbiased counsel, and numerous journalists and students, there has but to emerge a single piece of concrete proof supporting the allegation. It has nonetheless endured within the precincts of political gossips, Center East conspiracism, social media, and even the occasional severe e book, resembling Kai Chook’s latest biography of Carter.
And final month the conspiracy concept resurfaced on the front page of the New York Occasions in an article by veteran journalist Peter Baker.
Now, the aged however nonetheless energetic Texas political icon and Democratic lobbyist Ben Barnes claims to the nation’s most prestigious newspaper that his fellow Texas political icon John Connally intrigued to spice up the Reagan presidential marketing campaign in 1980 by attempting to entice Iran to carry the American hostages till after the November election. In Barnes’ telling, he accompanied Connally on a surreptitious journey that summer time to 6 Center Japanese international locations, making the identical enchantment in every capital, excluding Israel: that their leaders ship a message to Tehran interesting that the discharge of the hostages be delayed till after the election.
If true, this isn’t simply one other marketing campaign soiled trick. Moderately, it’s a treasonous betrayal of 52 imperiled People. It’s the gravest of costs to stage. And it is usually virtually definitely false.
Barnes claims that, in every of 5 Arab nations (Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia), Connally delivered the identical message to the highest management. In Barnes’ words it was:
Look, Ronald Reagan’s going to be elected president and you have to get the phrase to Iran that they’re going to make a greater cope with Reagan than they’re Carter… It might be very good so that you can go the phrase to the Iranians to attend till after this common election is over.
Barnes’ story has a seductive enchantment. In Barnes and Connally, the Texas-sized story options two charismatic Texan politicians, each with colourful pasts and outsized personalities. Their narrative additionally gives a political balm to Carter as he faces his twilight days. It traffics within the intrigue and messiness of U.S. international coverage within the Center East. It feeds human nature’s urge for food for conspiracies and provides easy-to-digest explanations for complicated historic occasions.
But listed here are many good causes to doubt Barnes’ account. It stays a concept searching for info.
In Lewis Carroll’s basic e book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the queen tells Alice that “typically I’ve believed as many as six inconceivable issues earlier than breakfast.” Accepting Barnes’ account requires an analogous set of virtually inconceivable steps into the surreal. Particularly, in trusting Barnes’ story, one must consider the next six inconceivable issues:
- Not less than 5 Arab governments knew about Connally’s scheme for over 4 a long time however none of their officers has ever breathed a phrase of it.
- Though these 5 Center Japanese governments knew about Connally’s entreaty, the complete U.S. diplomatic and intelligence equipment within the Center East did not learn about it, though Connally interacted with embassy employees in a number of international locations and the Carter administration adopted his whereabouts.
- Connally, a Republican, knowingly made these entreaties within the presence of Barnes, a lifelong Democrat with shut pals serving on the Carter marketing campaign and inside the senior ranks of the Carter administration, and but trusted that Barnes wouldn’t breathe a phrase of it to his Democratic colleagues.
- Whereas Connally’s journey was supposedly of the utmost significance to the Reagan marketing campaign and of intense private curiosity to marketing campaign supervisor Invoice Casey, one way or the other Connally and Barnes waited a complete month after their return from the area to temporary Casey on their journey.
- The Islamic Republic of Iran, a sworn enemy of america, refused to leak, reveal, or in any other case disclose these entreaties from Connally, regardless of each the facility of such revelations to humiliate and probably destroy the Reagan presidency, and the willingness of Iranian leaders to disclose Reagan’s arms-for-hostages gambit within the Iran-Contra scandal six years later.
- Along with investigating Iran-Contra, the House and Senate spent 1000’s of hours reviewing hundreds of thousands of pages of paperwork, subpoenaing and interviewing a whole lot of witnesses with even the remotest attainable connection to the allegations, and one way or the other had by no means encountered details about a two-week journey by the previous Texas governor, secretary of the Treasury, and presidential candidate, because the supposed actual architect of the plot.
As with all conspiracy theories, this one begins with bits of reality. It’s true that the Reagan marketing campaign obsessed that Carter may pull an “October Shock” by engineering the discharge of the hostages simply weeks earlier than the election. Paranoid although Reagan and his staff (particularly Casey) had been, their fears had been not entirely groundless. A couple of months earlier, Carter had confronted a spirited challenge for the Democratic nomination from Sen. Ted Kennedy. On the morning of the pivotal state of Wisconsin’s main election day of April 1, simply earlier than the polls opened, Carter appeared on nationwide tv to announce a “optimistic improvement” in negotiations with Iran and hinted that the hostages may quickly be launched. Within the coming days it turned clear that no such breakthrough had taken place, however Carter received the Wisconsin main, and his marketing campaign management believed that the Iran announcement boosted their votes.
It is usually true that the discharge of the hostages earlier than the election would have offered Carter with a considerable political profit — simply because the captivity of the hostages had broken Carter politically, and simply as any optimistic coverage developments profit incumbent presidents. For anybody within the Reagan or Carter marketing campaign groups to state these info out loud might have been impolitic, however not unfaithful.
It might have been one other matter altogether of treachery and betrayal for the Reagan marketing campaign to attempt to delay the discharge of the hostages, as Barnes and different conspiracists allege. Starting with the individuals themselves, Barnes’ account doesn’t maintain up below nearer scrutiny. Connally was ambitious and ruthless. He was, nonetheless, neither treasonous nor silly — and he would have needed to be each to have interaction within the absurd plot that Barnes now claims.
As for Casey, the previous CIA director was able to chicanery and responsible of many different political transgressions. For instance, he virtually definitely stole Carter’s marketing campaign debate briefing book, to not point out that he was investigated for financial misdealing in his private-sector enterprise, and performed a key role within the Iran-Contra scandal. Nonetheless, there isn’t any onerous proof of his guilt on the 1980 Iran hostage case.
Any clandestine endeavors to go alongside a deal to Iran in 1980 would have been troublesome to maintain secret. If a distinguished American like Connally had been to go to the area and make such calls for, the American diplomats, navy attaches, and intelligence officers stationed in every nation would have instantly heard about it from their native counterparts. They’d have, in flip, promptly disclosed the knowledge to their respective headquarters in Washington, to not point out later to congressional investigators. If Connally offered “a greater cope with Reagan” to Tehran by means of Center Japanese leaders, it strains credulity to consider that U.S. intelligence assortment belongings wouldn’t choose up indications of his scheme, nor would Center Japanese officers ultimately disclose his supply — particularly Syrian and Jordanian leaders who detested the Reagan administration.
Take Beirut, for instance. A declassified State Division cable positioned within the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library paperwork Connally’s journey. On July 30, 1980, Secretary of State Edmund Muskie obtained an replace from John Gunther Dean, the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, wherein Dean described contacts between Connally and the U.S. embassy. In the cable, Dean studies to Muskie on the trade between embassy employees and Connally, whose aide invited U.S. officers to the airport for a gathering. There, Deputy Chief of Mission Robert South Barrett obtained a private briefing from Connally about his interactions with the management of Lebanon earlier than the previous Texas governor departed for Saudi Arabia. Connally knowledgeable Barrett that he held a gathering with Overseas Minister Fouad Boutros, outgoing Prime Minister Selim Hoss, and President Elias Sarkis, throughout which they mentioned the dire political scenario in Lebanon and the urgent want for additional U.S. engagement within the fragile nation.
If Connally made overtures to Iran, his go to to Lebanon supplied ample alternative. Iran’s relationship with Lebanon throughout this era made the nation’s leaders the almost definitely conduits if Connally had been looking for to go a message alongside to Tehran. Dean’s closeness to the Lebanese management signifies that, had Connally offered a secret deal from the Reagan camp, Dean would have heard about it.
As an skilled diplomat, Dean had cast an in depth relationship with Sarkis, visiting Baabda Palace a number of instances every week to play bridge with the Lebanese president. Dean additionally spoke privately with Hoss at size on a routine foundation, together with in the days after Connally’s visit. And, in the midst of his duties, the U.S. ambassador maintained shut relations with Johnny Abdo, Lebanon’s intelligence chief. Years later, Dean revealed that he even held the countersignature required for releasing the reserves of the Nationwide Financial institution of Lebanon. In brief, as a Beirut insider, Dean would assuredly have detected any secret overtures from Connally and Barnes.
The Carter administration was not solely following Connally’s actions, but additionally centered substantial intelligence sources on something associated to the hostage disaster. The Nationwide Safety Company and CIA devoted an array of assortment belongings to the Center East throughout the hostage disaster. And, due to Operation Rubicon, because the Washington Put up has reported, Iran unwittingly used Crypto AG, a CIA-owned company, to encrypt its communications. In consequence, the Carter administration intently adopted the deliberations of Iranian management and its internet of contacts within the Center East and Europe all through the hostage disaster. Iran harbored few secrets and techniques from its American enemy.
Accepting Barnes’ account requires believing that Connally offered a deal to Iran by means of Center Japanese leaders and but one way or the other the U.S. intelligence group picked up no indicators of their interactions, though the Carter administration managed to seize practically each different secret communication within the area.
Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, then director of the Nationwide Safety Company, served as considered one of Carter’s leads on monitoring the hostage disaster, together with Iranian communications in addition to indicators and message site visitors all through the Center East. Inman aided Carter in his negotiations with Iran utilizing the intelligence collected by means of Crypto AG and from different sources and strategies. Certainly, Inman was so central to the disaster that it fell to him to inform Carter on Reagan’s inauguration day that, whereas Tehran had agreed to launch the hostages, they might not be allowed to depart Iran till moments after Reagan took the presidential oath. As historian H. W. Brands and a few former hostages themselves have pointed out, such was the animus of the Iranian revolutionaries towards Carter that Tehran didn’t intend to launch the hostages till Carter had left workplace. Which is exactly what occurred in a remaining act of humiliation delivered by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
As Inman previously testified to Congress, and this month reconfirmed to us personally, he “judges with the very best stage of confidence” that nobody related to the Reagan marketing campaign ever tried to steer the Iranians to delay the discharge of the hostages.
Nor does Inman have any motive to exonerate Casey. Whereas Inman later served below Casey as CIA deputy director, the 2 had a famously difficult relationship, such that Casey’s different moral lapses influenced Inman’s choice to resign from CIA in 1982.
However one doesn’t should take Inman’s phrase alone. After the Senate Particular Counsel for the October Shock completed its investigation and located no proof, the Home of Representatives October Surprise Task Force carried out an much more thorough examination of probably the most delicate information of the U.S. authorities. The duty drive reviewed greater than 100,000 recordsdata from the State Division, over 5,000 pages of paperwork from the CIA, and a number of other thousand pages of unredacted indicators intelligence from the Nationwide Safety Company. Connally’s treasonous deal of the century is nowhere to be discovered on this extremely categorised materials.
Barnes’ different claims equally wilt below nearer scrutiny. He instructed the New York Occasions that Connally “wasn’t freelancing as a result of Casey was so curious about listening to as quickly as we obtained again to america.” But, by Barnes’ personal account and journey information, he and Connally returned to america on Aug. 11, and didn’t meet with Casey in Dallas to debrief on their journey till Sept. 10, a full month later. Within the crucible of a presidential marketing campaign, when daily counts and each choice issues, on a matter of such intense curiosity because the hostage disaster, it once more tortures credulity to consider that Casey waited a complete month to acquire a report on a vitally essential mission that he had allegedly commissioned. (And whereas there may be strong proof that Barnes and Connally visited Dallas on Sept. 10, there isn’t any unbiased affirmation that Casey was additionally in Dallas that day).
Nor has any proof for the Texan’s alleged gambit emerged within the historic document because the congressional investigation. In newer years, a number of U.S. authorities official historians have seemed extensively by means of State Division and intelligence group information, together with many nonetheless categorised, for any proof of the October Shock allegations. No such paperwork have been discovered. (This contains the long-rumored cable from the U.S. embassy in Madrid in July 1980 noting that Casey had visited town. The cable almost definitely doesn’t exist.) Furthermore, as we will attest firsthand, one is not going to discover any onerous proof to buttress Barnes’ story within the 1980 Reagan marketing campaign papers housed within the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford College.
As a substitute, some info within the story will be simply defined as extra benign than sinister. What of Baker’s point out of Nancy Reagan’s telephone message from the Reagan ranch to Connally on July 21 saying that her husband “needs to speak to you about being in on technique conferences”? It was virtually definitely simply that. The presidential conference in Detroit had ended 4 days earlier. Connally, who had additionally run for the Republican nomination, was disappointed that Reagan had picked George H. W. Bush as his operating mate. As the brand new nominee, Reagan wished to unite the occasion and be certain that all of his former main rivals, together with Connally, backed his marketing campaign. Reagan had simply hired a few of Connally’s marketing campaign employees, together with press secretary James Brady. Reagan additionally genuinely valued Connally’s recommendation and hoped that the Texan, who wielded a formidable fundraising network, would share his assist base and political insights with the marketing campaign — particularly as a result of Reagan’s marketing campaign technique in opposition to Carter centered on successful Connally’s dwelling state of Texas, a then-key swing state which had narrowly voted for Carter in 1976. It made eminent sense for Reagan to name Connally and invite him to take part in marketing campaign technique conferences.
For that matter, why did Connally take the journey to the Center East within the first place? It was virtually definitely because of this: Having endorsed Reagan’s candidacy, he was attempting to burnish his international coverage credibility in hopes of touchdown a senior cupboard place, resembling secretary of state or secretary of protection, in a Reagan administration. And Connally selected the Center East for his journey (as a substitute of one other area like Europe or Asia) partly to treatment the self-inflicted harm from a significant speech that he had given a number of months earlier on Center East coverage wherein he appeared to downplay Israel’s safety whereas additionally upsetting some Arab states by calling for an even bigger American navy presence within the area. The speech had resulted in weeks of criticism and national ridicule. Visiting the Center East gave Connally the chance to restore his picture and audition for a nationwide safety job.
Certainly, Connally’s need to display his Center East coverage experience additionally casts additional doubt on Barnes’ claims that Connally requested leaders in Sunni international locations, resembling Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to function intermediaries with Iran. Iran’s revolutionary leaders detested Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, particularly for his choice to host the exiled Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran, who coincidentally died of most cancers in Cairo on July 27, amid Connally’s journey. The shah received a state funeral three days later in Egypt, a lot to Khomeini’s ire. Tehran additionally seen the Saudis as distrusted enemies. Connally knew this. It might have been far-fetched for him to make himself seem like a international coverage newbie with such ham-handed requests to Iran’s Sunni foes.
Simply as there isn’t any proof from 1980 information for Barnes’ allegations, subsequent occasions make the costs seem much more outlandish. Take, for instance, the Iran-Contra affair, the Reagan presidency’s largest scandal that captured the world’s consideration six years later in 1986. In Iran-Contra, the Reagan administration secretly bought arms to Iran in trade for Tehran’s settlement to launch American hostages held in Lebanon by Iranian-sponsored terrorist teams (the “Contra” a part of the scandal entailed diverting funds from the arms sale gross sales to assist the Contras combating in opposition to Nicaragua’s Soviet-sponsored Sandinista authorities — in violation of the Boland Modification). Iran-Contra, on the floor, may make the October Shock state of affairs seem believable, solely as a result of Iran-Contra included the identical fundamental components of the Reagan staff providing to commerce arms to Iran as a part of a deal for releasing American hostages. The October Shock conspiracy story has the identical principal figures and international locations working below an analogous settlement and framework.
But as a substitute, the historic document of Iran-Contra solely additional undermines any case for the October Shock.
To start, no participant in Iran-Contra — both in america, Iran, or Israel — ever muttered a phrase about Connally’s alleged 1980 deal transpiring. From Casey to Iranian senior official Hashemi Rafsanjani, these concerned within the scandal had many causes and auspicious events to reference the alleged precursor to the arms-for-hostages offers undertaken within the Reagan administration. Casey and Reagan, for his or her half, agonized over Hizballah’s kidnapping of CIA Station Chief William Buckley in 1984, whom Casey had personally dispatched to Lebanon. Each the president and the CIA director had been traumatized by firsthand accounts of Buckley’s torture. Reagan himself apprehensive in regards to the different hostages each day, fixated on their plight. But, as a substitute of drawing on any facet of the alleged association of 1980 to free Buckley and different U.S. hostages, the ill-conceived Iran-Contra scheme used shady middlemen motivated by revenue, resembling Adnan Khashoggi, a Saudi businessman, and Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms vendor. The arms-for-hostages offers proceeded comically and disastrously, and shortly turned public. If the Reagan marketing campaign had lower a secret cope with Iran in 1980, the huge historic document of Iran-Contra doesn’t include any proof of previous cooperation between adversaries. Moderately, it demonstrates operational difficulties and deep mistrust between bitter enemies — partly as a result of neither facet had ever earlier than tried such a careless gambit.
Even when Iranian leaders didn’t reference the October Shock within the wake of Iran-Contra, they might have had each incentive to take action in its aftermath. Within the final two years of the Reagan administration, the connection between america and Iran devolved into open battle throughout the “tanker wars.” In 1988, Reagan launched Operation Praying Mantis in opposition to Iran, destroying many of the tiny Iranian navy. Hostilities reached the purpose of tragedy, resulting in the USS Vincennes mistakenly taking pictures down the civilian Iran Air Flight 655 in July 1988. Throughout this battle Iranian leaders had sturdy incentives to reveal proof of any secret overtures from the 1980 marketing campaign. But, regardless of a primary alternative to humiliate Reagan, they by no means did so.
The Iran hostage disaster was a horrible episode in American historical past. It was a punishing trial for Carter, and a extreme trauma for the hostages themselves. But it surely was not a treasonous betrayal by Connally or the Reagan marketing campaign.
William Inboden is Govt Director of the Clements Middle for Nationwide Safety and Affiliate Professor on the LBJ College of Public Affairs, each on the College of Texas at Austin. He’s the writer of The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink.
Joseph Ledford is an America in the World Consortium Postdoctoral Fellow on the Henry A. Kissinger Middle for World Affairs on the Johns Hopkins College of Superior Worldwide Research. He’s at present finishing a brand new historical past of the Iran-Contra affair.
Picture: National Archives