Iran: First it was ‘October Surprise’ – now it’s No Surprise By William Bowles

20 June 2003

History is a great teacher but often, you’ve got to dig deep to find out what’s really going on and as the US propaganda machine gets into gear for ‘regime change’ in Iran, it’s already obvious that unlike the Iraqi invasion, the technique of the Big Lie is not working the way the White House would like it to. The coming Iran ‘adventure’, as with earlier essays I’ve penned, was triggered by names that I’ve had the dubyaous pleasure of typing before, most notably Michael Ledeen, doyen of the ultra-right, whose role on Iran-Contra and the October Surprise of the late 70s and eighties, was he hoped, lost in the mist of time, especially to our current, historically-challenged populace. As with DNA testing, it’s now possible to exhume events long thought dead, with the hope that this time round, we can get a conviction.

Our cast of characters

There are three major players in the current and evolving story of the Middle East; the US, Israel and Iran. There are also a number of ‘bit parts’ and walk-ons scattered throughout the story. The connections go back a long way, in fact back to when the Shah Pavlevi was the US’s main man in Iran. In order to bring the story up-to-date, it’s necessary to unpack the events leading up to the present, how they interact and the role of the Bush ‘dynasty’ in the entire, sordid story. Over almost twenty years, the same names appear, occupying different roles but always with the same objective, furthering US strategic and economic aims.

It’s also a complicated story that requires an understanding of broader US and Israeli strategic objectives, as well as a recognition that many people, especially Americans, may find it difficult to swallow the fact that the leaders of the US were and are, quite prepared to sacrifice the lives of their own citizens, subvert the Constitution, break international laws, engage in acts that are in direct contradiction of its own publicly stated policies as well as US domestic laws including, assassinations, illegal trafficking in drugs, illegal sales of weapons, money laundering, suppression of evidence and misleading and lying to Congress in order to achieve its goals. The following account is well documented and can be backed up with the facts. None of the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

The Contra War

The story starts with the Reagan government’s illegal war against Nicaragua and when the US Congress passed a law (the Boland Amendment) prohibiting the sale of arms to the Nicaraguan Contras. In the words of Secretary of State George Shultz, at a June 1984 meeting where ‘third country’ funding was proposed:

‘I would like to get money for the contras also, but … Jim Baker said that if we go out and try to get money from third countries, it is an impeachable offense.’

Ollie North’s notes of a June 25, 1984 meeting in the White House revealed that then-Chief of Staff James Baker considered such a clear attempt to circumvent the Boland Amendment as an impeachable offense. Reagan himself ordered third country aid kept secret because, if the story came out, ‘we’ll all be hanging by our thumbs in front of the White House.’ In order to circumvent this law, it was necessary to set up a covert network with which to supply the Contras, a network which needed a lot of cash in order to carry out its mission.

Drugs for Guns

This cash came initially from the sale of cocaine, supplied by the Colombian Medellin cartel, smuggled from a private airfield in Costa Rica owned by a US citizen, John Hull, a CIA agent and flown to the US for distribution. The Nicaraguan Contras, Costa Rican government officials, Cuban-Americans from the days of the Bay of Pigs invasion, US nationals and many others, were involved in the chain of supply. The weapons purchased from the sale of cocaine came from more than 11 countries including Israel, South Korea, Chile, China, Panama, Saudi Arabia, and El Salvador. Administration members who were involved in one or more of these arrangements included Vice President George Bush, Secretary of State George Shultz, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, Assistant Secretary Elliott Abrams, and CIA Director William Casey.

Hull was later charged by the Costa Rican government with the murder of three people, two Costa Ricans and an American, although the intended victim was Eden Pastora, renegade Nicaraguan Contra leader. It was Pastora’s refusal to unite his Contra forces with those led by other Contra leaders, and his efforts to clean up drug trafficking on the ‘Southern Front’ which led to the La Penca bombing.

La Penca Bombing

Although the bombing itself took place just inside Nicaragua at a place called La Penca, all the planning and preparation took place in Costa Rica, the US, Honduras, and Panama.

After an extensive investigation by the Costa Rican government it was determined that the bombing was the work of Nicaraguan contras, the CIA and Panamanian General Manual Noriega. The report recommended that first-degree murder charges be filed against Hull and another CIA operative Filipe Vidal and that charges of ‘illicit enrichment’ be filed against nearly a score of Costa Rican security officials who were secretly on the CIA payroll. (See the Hull Chronology for a fuller account.)

Although George Bush Snr maintains he was ‘out of the loop’ during the Iran-Contra affair, administration memos indicate that in March 1985 Bush personally delivered the details of the quid pro quo agreement to Honduran President Robert Suazo. Ironically, George Bush himself stated earlier that third country solicitation would be a ‘problem (if the U.S.) promised something in return.’

However, the proceeds of the sale of drugs for guns wasn’t enough and another source had to be found. Enter the October Surprise.

The October Surprise

(Note: I’ve included a file I compiled back in 1988 for those of you interested in knowing what went on in more detail, although since putting it together, much more information has come to light, some of which is included in this current essay. WB.)

Both the Carter administration and the Reagan-Bush campaign were conducting secret negotiations with the Iranians over the release of the hostages. The Iranians were desperate to do a deal, they badly needed spares for their US-supplied weapons in their war with Iraq, bought while the Shah was still in power. However, Carter did not know about the parallel Reagan-Bush negotiations which were being conducted in secret.

‘Reagan’s top pollster predicted a Carter victory if the White House could pull off an ‘October Surprise’ and gain the hostages’ release before the election.’

‘According to the New York Times and a congressional report, the Reagan-Bush campaign established an ‘October Surprise Group’ – an ‘intelligence operation’ headed by Reagan-Bush campaign aide Richard Allen – to monitor the Carter administration’s hostage negotiations and formulate counter moves.’ Source: In These Times, April 17-23, 1991.The guns for drugs saga is linked to the October Surprise, because some of the proceeds from the sale of weapons to Iran (via Israel) were diverted to illegally obtain weapons for the Nicaraguan Contras.

‘Lake Resources, Inc., in which Hakim was the principal shareholder, pleaded guilty to a corporate felony of theft of Government property through the diversion of Iranian arms sales proceeds to the Nicaraguan contras. The judge ordered that the company be dissolved. Under an agreement with the independent counsel, however, Hakim retains $1.7 million of the proceeds from the sale of arms.

Robert McFarlane, the former national security adviser to President Reagan, pleaded guilty in March 1988 to four misdemeanor charges of withholding information from Congress. He was sentenced to two years probation, 200 hours of community service and a $20,000 fine.

Richard Miller, head of a Washington public relations firm that promoted the contras, and Carl ‘Spitz’ Channell, the conservative fundraiser for the National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty, both pleaded guilty to one-count of conspiracy to defraud the United States Government of tax money by using non-profit corporations to raise more than $2 million to arm the Nicaraguan contras. Each was sentenced to two years probation and a $50 fine.’ Source: In These Times, April 17-23, 1991.The Israel Connection In 1990 ‘The U.S. government…charged Ari Ben-Menashe with attempting to sell in April 1989 three military transport planes, which belonged to Israel, to a man who claimed to represent Iran but who actually was a U.S. customs agent. In court, Ben-Menashe claimed he was an Israeli agent working for Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.’ And indeed, evidence emerged that confirmed this. An April 16 1991, PBS ‘Frontline’ programme confirmed that ‘[Menashe] worked for the External Relations Department of the Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence (IDFMI).

With the fall of the Shah and the ascendancy of Ayotollah Khomeini to power, even though Iran would be anti-Israeli it would also be an anti-Arab regime, at least this was the assessment of Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and his intelligence agencies. Then in late 1979, according to Ben-Menashe Israel received intelligence that indicated Iraq was mobilizing its military for an attack on Iran. At this point, the interests of the Republican Party and the Israeli government coincided. However, Israel’s ability to support Iran by providing badly needed American military spare parts was complicated on Nov. 4, 1979, when radical Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy in Teheran, taking 52 American diplomats hostage.

In April 1980, Ari Ben-Menashe says he helped arrange the sale to Iran of US-made F-4 jet tires owned by Israel.

But following the hostage taking, the Carter administration imposed an arms embargo on Iran in April 1980. Former President Carter’s press secretary, Jody Powell, told Frontline, ‘There had been a rather tense discussions between President Carter and Prime Minister Begin in the spring of 1980 in which the president made it clear that the Israelis had to stop that, and that we knew they were doing it, and that we would not allow it to continue.’ Begin, under pressure from the Carter administration, stopped all such arms deals between Israeland the Iranians. However, this arrangement didn’t last long.

Who is Ari Ben-Menashe?
In 1977, when he was 26, Ben-Menashe says he joined the Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence (IDFMI) as a civilian. Previously, he had helped crack the shah of Iran’s secret intelligence code while doing his military service in the Signals Intelligence Unit. According to Ben-Menashe, at IDFMI he worked in the exclusive External Relations Department, the branch of Israeli intelligence that controlled relations between Israeli and foreign intelligence communities.

From 1977 to 1979, Ben-Menashe says, he worked on an External Relations desk handling ‘foreign flow of intelligence and material.’ His specialty was Iran, and during those years he says he frequently traveled to Teheran, where he met with his counterparts in Iranian intelligence. In total, from 1979 to 1983, the USsold over $2 billion dollars-worth of weapons and spares to the Iranians.

The guns for hostages deal
The US presidential elections were to be held in November of 1980. If Carter could get the hostages released by then, he was almost assured of reelection. According to Ben-Menashe, both the Carter administration and the Republicans who hoped to capture the White House that November wanted to make a deal with the Iranians to get the American hostages released. The Carter administration asked Iranian arms dealer Cyrus Hashemi and his two brothers to serve as intermediaries between the Carter administration and Iran.

‘But Carter and his boys were doing all the wrong things,’ says Ben-Menashe. ‘The Hashemi brothers were basically frauds. They had enough connections to sell arms to the Iranians, but they didn’t have the connections to get the hostages out. They needed real connections to Khomeini and the approval of different factions in the Supreme Council.’

Parallel to this and secretly working on behalf of the Republicans, says Ben Menashe, were intelligence officers in the Carter administration who had worked with George Bush when he was CIA director from 1976 to 1977, including CIA director Stansfield Turner who Carter had replaced Bush with. The other two were Donald Gregg and Robert Gates, both of whom held prominent positions under Carter and later under Reagan.

In early 1980 two Republican campaign representatives approached Iran about striking a deal. One was Robert McFarlane. Ben-Menashe, in a recent sworn deposition for an ongoing federal case, stated that McFarlane had a ‘special [paid] relationship’ with Israel since 1978.

According to Ben-Menashe, the other Republican representative was Earl Brian, a former secretary of health and welfare for California under Gov. Reagan who left public service in 1974 to deal arms to the Shah’s Iran. Brian, says Ben-Menashe, was well connected to Iranian Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan, who resigned the day after the American hostages were taken in Teheran but continued to play a prominent role in Iran’s government. Both men, says Ben-Menashe, ‘worked very closely’ with Gates, who at the time was an aide to CIA Director Turner.

In February 1980, McFarlane and Brian traveled to Tehran and met with Bazargan to arrange a series of meetings between Casey and representatives of Khomeini.

In August of 1980 and without Carter’s knowledge, a deal was struck between Casey, Gates et al and the Iranians, on one condition, that the hostages not be released before the November elections. Re-enter the Israeli government.

Again, according to Menashe, Begin wrote a directive that said Israel would help gain the release of the American hostages by supporting ‘the efforts made by various Americans who are not necessarily members of the present administration.’ This was an extremely dangerous move on the part of the Israelis as it could be interpreted as ‘subverting a legal government in the US.’

”The alleged deal that Casey had pursued during his meetings in Spain with the ayatollah’s representative Karrubi was finalized at a gathering of Americans, Israelis and Iranians in Paris on Oct. 18-22, 1980, says Ben-Menashe.

Ben-Menashe told Frontline, ‘The Iranians were basically willing to release the hostages immediately. The Americans were saying, ‘We cannot release the money so quickly …. Keep the hostages until January. It will take time to release the money. Let’s set a date in January for the release.’ The Iranians were saying, ‘Just give us the money and you can get your guys.” Source: In These Times, April 17-23, 1991.The hostages were released twenty minutes after Reagan’s inauguration as president.

The US, Iraq and Iran

The US position on Iraq and Iran had been one of total opportunism driven by two, sometimes conflicting needs. On the one hand, by the oil and on the other, by the Cold War. As always, if it meant backing both sides, so be it. Whilst the Shah was in power, the US knew that it had both a strategic ally in its ‘war’ with the Soviet Union and guaranteed access to Iranian oil. At the same time, the US support of Israel was part of its strategic role in the Middle East. Iraq, which had nationalised US oil interests in the early 1970s and as an enemy of Israel, was on the US list of ‘terrorist nations’. But in 1982, Reagan removed Iraq from this list and finally reestablished diplomatic relations with Baghdad in November 1984.

‘In late 1983, high-level American officials began to travel to Baghdad. And in 1984, the U.S. started supporting the Iraqi war effort against Iran by supplying intelligence to Iraq. In May 1984, Saddam Hussein publicly stated that Iraqwas using intelligence provided by AWACS flown by American pilots based in Saudi Arabia…. It was also around this time that Saddam Hussein publicly announced that he was willing to join the Camp David peace process.’

‘According to Ben-Menashe, the U.S. attempted to empower Iraq by allegedly supplying it through third parties such as Chile with chemicals it needed to make chemical weapons. ‘The Americans saw giving chemicals to Iraq as a way to maintain a balance of terror and convince Israel that it couldn’t last with just military might. This way they could force the Israelis into a peace plan. That was the deal,’ he says.” Source: In These Times, April 17-23, 1991.

But by 1987, the situation had changed yet again. It was clear that Saddam Hussein was no longer ‘their man’ and again, according to Menashe:

”One assignment I had at the end of 1987 was to stop the flow of chemicals to Iraq,’…. He says he traveled to Santiago, Chile, in the fall of 1988 and tried to financially induce Carlos Carduen, owner of Carduen Industries, to stop selling Iraq chemicals that were used in the production of chemical weapons. According to Ben-Menashe, then CIA Deputy Director Gates was the architect of this policy and the official charged with executing it.”

Why was Menashe arrested in 1989?

”There is the theory that I was probably arrested because they were sick and tired of me fucking around with them,’ says Ben-Menashe. He maintains he was framed…for leaking the 1986 Iran-contra story to the media and for trying in 1988 to interfere with U.S. indirect sales of chemicals to Iraq.’

What goes around, comes around This essay started out because I noticed that many of the same names involved in the Iran-Contra/October Surprise events, were once more in the news including Ollie North, Michael Ledeen, Robert Armitage, Otto Reich and others (see ‘Frauds ‘R’ Us’).

One of the leading proponents of ‘taking on Iran next’ is Michael Ledeen. And who is Michael Ledeen? Not surprisingly, Ledeen was one of the linchpins of the Iran-Contra affair and now a leading thinker among the so-called neo-conservatives driving Bush’s foreign policy. Ledeen called the Iraq invasion, ‘a war to remake the world’ and ‘just one battle in a broader war, and that Iran is…the mother of modern terrorism.’

It’s probably trite but ‘what goes around, comes around’ when it comes to Ledeen. Says Ledeen:

”I think we’re going to be obliged to fight a regional war, whether we want to or not,’ says Ledeen, a pivotal thinker within the neo-conservative group. The logic of the global war on terrorism – and a conviction that a democratic revolution can be encouraged to sweep across the Middle East will take the US into confrontation with other countries, argues Ledeen, since ‘we are going to face the whole terrorist network’ and ‘the terror masters’, Syria, Iran and even Saudi Arabia.” Source:

Along with Colonel ‘Ollie’ Oliver North, Ledeen did some of the dirty work of setting up the ‘October Surprise’:

‘In spring 1985, Michael Ledeen, a part-time consultant to Reagan’s N.S.C., and McFarlane, Reagan’s then-N.S.C. adviser and a man whom Ben-Menashe alleges had a ‘special relationship” with Israelthat dates from 1977, introduced Oliver North, Reagan’s N.S.C. operative, to Nir, Nimrodi and Schwimmer. They helped North and others in the Reagan White House set up the 1985 and 1986 arms-for-hostages deals to win the release of the Americans held in Lebanon.’

‘After all, who would have imagined that private individuals in the Republican Party would conspire to manipulate not only the 52 hostages held in Iran to secure their own purposes but also the American democratic process?’

Who indeed? But we know today even better than we did back in 1991, that the US elite will stop at nothing to achieve their ends and not for the first time, will they manipulate and subvert the democratic process.

‘Those alleged negotiations arguably set the standard for White House politics throughout the ’80s.’ Source: In These Times, April 17-23, 1991Not only throughout the 80s but also the 90s and into the 21st century!

Breakfast in Baghdad — lunch in Tehran and dinner in Pyongyang?

In late March 2003, the leading ideologues of the ‘New American Century’, Richard Perle, William Kristol and Michael Ledeen, author of the ‘Terror Masters’ and all ‘fellows’ of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) met over breakfast to crow over Bush Junior’s invasion of Iraq but:

‘Kristol bewailed the failure of Bush’s father to take Baghdad. This resulted in a regrettable ‘lack of awe’ among Arabs, said he. Perle joked that there were more anti-war demonstrators in San Francisco than Iraqis willing to fight for their country. Ledeen said France and Germany had reached ‘new lows of disgustingness’ by ‘shoring up tyrannical regimes.’ Then he went into his mantra about the need for ‘a longer war.’

‘Kristol urged that we split Germany off from France but noted that such ‘intelligent diplomacy may be too much to hope for from the State Department.’ When Perle declared that ‘Americans are not vindictive,’ Ledeen interrupted to say that, in the case of France, he certainly hoped we would be.’

Where do we go after Iraq? The logic of the Bush Doctrine — ‘We will not permit the world’s worst dictators to threaten us with the world’s most dangerous weapons’ — points to a clash with Iran. Iran is also the preferred target of Ariel Sharon, who seems frustrated he has not been invited to do target acquisition for the U.S. Air Force.’ Source: words are uttered by the most unlikely of all people, Patrick J. Buchanan, (former?) right-wing ideologue and ardent supporter of Ronald Reagan, and appeared in article on March 26, 2003 titled, ‘What’s next, after Baghdad? Bush Ideologues Reshape the World Over Breakfast.’

In article by Jim Lobe that appeared in Asia times we read that:

”Iran is ready to blow sky-high,’ wrote AEI scholar Michael Ledeen back in November 2001. ‘The Iranian people need only a bright spark of courage from the United States to ignite the flames of democratic revolution.’

‘Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA officer and Ledeen’s AEI colleague, argued last August in the neo-conservative Weekly Standard that the mere presence of US troops in Iraq would bring about revolution next door.

‘Popular discontent in Iran tends to heat up when US soldiers get close to the Islamic Republic,’ he wrote. ‘An American invasion could possibly provoke riots in Iran – simultaneous uprisings in major cities that would simply be beyond the scope of regime-loyal specialized riot-control units.’

Ledeen and co, live in hope but lacking any kind of rationale for an outright invasion, it’s all they can hope for, right now. We can be sure however, that the CIA as well as elements of the Israeli intelligence are operating inside Iran.

‘But the intensity and frequency of the campaign against Tehran picked up dramatically earlier this month. On May 5, Standard Editor William Kristol, whose office is six floors below the AEI, wrote that the United States was ‘already in a death struggle with Iran over the future of Iraq’ and that ‘the next great battle – not, we hope, a military battle – will be for Iran’.

The very next day, the AEI hosted an all-day conference entitled ‘The Future of Iran: Mullahcracy, Democracy and the War on Terror’, whose speakers included Ledeen, Sobhani, Gerecht, Morris Amitay of the neo-conservative Jewish Institute for National Security Studies and Uri Lubrani from the Israeli Defense Ministry.

The convenor, Hudson Institute Middle East specialist Meyrav Wurmser (whose husband David worked as her AEI counterpart until joining the administration), set the tone: ‘Our fight against Iraq was only one battle in a long war,’ she said. ‘It would be ill-conceived to think that we can deal with Iraq alone … We must move on, and faster.’

‘It was a grave error to send [Khalilzad] to secret meetings with representatives of the Iranian government in recent weeks,’ Israeli-born Wurmser said, complaining that, ‘rather than coming as victors who should be feared and respected rather than loved, we are still engaged in old diplomacy, in the kind of politics that led to the attacks of September 11.’

Just days later, the Khalilzad channel was abruptly closed, and a Christian Right ally of the neo-conservatives, Senator Sam Brownback, introduced the ‘Iran Democracy Act’ that sets as US policy the goal of ‘an internationally monitored referendum to allow the Iranian people to peacefully change their system of government’. Source: Jim Lobe,

However, unlike Iraq, direct invasion of Iran is unlikely, at least in the immediate future, far better to foment internal dissent and hope that a pro-western government comes out of the chaos. Iran is three times the size of Iraq and with a population that is also three times as large. Any direct intervention would be political suicide for the Bush administration and there is very little likelihood that poodle Blair will be willing to commit himself to yet another military adventure aside from the fact that the UK simply doesn’t possess the military means to carry it out.

But how realistic is it to expect a compliant, pro-western, pro-Israeli government to emerge in Iran? James Akins, former political officer at the US Embassy in Baghdad and former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia is not so sure even though Akins, who was fired from the US diplomatic service in 1976 after confrontations with then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger over US aspirations in the Gulf says,

‘In normal circumstances, I would say there is no question of these things happening – attacks on Syria or Iran…. But these are not normal circumstances. These people can always find some Syrian atrocity – the Israelis attack, then we attack. The dragons have taken over now; you never know what these people will do and how far they will go.

‘[T]here is one problem,’ says Akins. ‘Whatever makes them think free elections in Syria or Saudi Arabia will produce pro-Western governments wanting peace with Israel? They would produce anti-Western governments committed to the destruction of Israel.’

”Fareed Zakaria, former editor of Foreign Affairs, believes the administration is ‘wrong, if it believes a successful war will make the world snap out of a deep and widening distrust and resentment of American policy. What worries people around the world above all else is a world shaped and dominated by one country – the United States.” Source:,3858,4647248,00.html

But it’s also clear that the so-called neo-cons have a very slippery grasp on reality perhaps because, still besotted with their ‘pushover’ in Iraq, they have illusions about their power and their ability to dictate to a world still reeling from the events of March-April 2003. But let’s not allow ourselves to become complacent. The Ledeens, Perles et al are extremely dangerous people, which the experiences of the last two decades should have taught us. From La Pencato Baghdad, is a short hop in a F-16 and even shorter one from Baghdad to Tehran.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.