NYT Catches Up to Parry But Still Falls Short on October Surprise

No matter how much evidence Robert Parry produced over the years poking holes in the official story, the establishment media declined to re-examine the case or treat it seriously, writes Nat Parry.

Ronald Reagan at his inauguration, the day the U.S. hostages were released after his campaign struck deal with Iran. (Public domain/Picryl)

By Nat Parry
Special to Consortium News

Four decades after allegations initially surfaced of a secret mission by Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential election campaign to derail President Jimmy Carter’s re-election bid by sabotaging his efforts to free 52 American hostages being held in Iran, the New York Times is finally giving the story the attention it deserves by publishing a front-page story on Saturday that features fresh claims of a Republican ploy.

The allegations are startling and provide one more puzzle piece to solving the mystery, going a long way toward removing any lingering doubt that the plot did happen – suggesting, indeed, that the Reagan era may have been ushered in by an act of treason that extended the hostages’ harrowing ordeal by several months.

It has been more than four decades,” the Times says, “but Ben Barnes said he remembers it vividly. His longtime political mentor invited him on a mission to the Middle East. What Mr. Barnes said he did not realize until later was the real purpose of the mission: to sabotage the re-election campaign of the president of the United States.”

The mentor that Barnes was accompanying was John B. Connally Jr., a former Democrat who ran in the Republican primaries in 1980 and then, after losing the nomination, threw in his lot with the campaign of Ronald Reagan. Connally was committed to help Reagan beat Carter and hoped to win a cabinet post in a new administration.

What happened next Mr. Barnes has largely kept secret for nearly 43 years,” according to the Times. “Mr. Connally, he said, took him to one Middle Eastern capital after another that summer, meeting with a host of regional leaders to deliver a blunt message to be passed to Iran: Don’t release the hostages before the election. Mr. Reagan will win and give you a better deal.”

In the lengthy and well-researched article, Times reporter Peter Baker notes that records at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in Austin, Texas confirm part of Barnes’s story, namely an itinerary found in Connally’s files that showed that in the summer of 1980 he did, in fact, travel to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel. The itinerary showed he departed Houston on July 18, 1980, returning on Aug. 11, and lists Barnes as an accompanying person.

A Pattern

Robert Parry receiving the 2017 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in London on June 28, 2017. Also, from left to right, are Victoria Brittain, John Pilger and Vanessa Redgrave.

The allegations also mesh with previous reporting done on the subject by my late father, Robert Parry. As Baker notes, while Barnes’s claims of a Connally-led trip are new, they are bolstered by documents uncovered by my dad, and fit into a pattern of other alleged trips in the summer and fall of 1980 to prevent Carter from reaching a deal to free the hostages.

Earlier attempts to debunk the October Surprise relied on a dubious alibi for Reagan’s campaign director William Casey, who was long suspected of participating in a key meeting with Iranians in Madrid in late July 1980. Although a 1992 congressional investigation led by House Democrat Lee Hamilton dismissed this allegation as unfounded, a White House memo from 1991 reported the existence of “a cable from the Madrid [U.S.] embassy indicating that Bill Casey was in town, for purposes unknown.”

That memo, produced by one of President George H.W. Bush’s lawyers, “was not turned over to Mr. Hamilton’s task force and was discovered two decades later by Robert Parry, a journalist who helped produce a ‘Frontline’ documentary on the October surprise,” Baker reports in the Times piece.

Barnes’s claims of a whirlwind trip to the Middle East also fit in well with what is known about Connally. As my father reported more than a quarter-century ago, Connally was among the most gung-ho of Reagan’s backers, and just before the election in 1980, he had troubling news for the campaign.


While on the campaign trail, my dad wrote in Consortium News, the publication he founded, that Republican vice presidential nominee George H.W. Bush got a call from Connally, telling him that “the oil-rich Middle East was buzzing with rumors that President Carter had achieved his long-elusive goal of a pre-election release of 52 American hostages held in Iran. If true, Ronald Reagan’s election was in trouble.”

Bush then called Richard Allen, a senior Reagan foreign policy adviser who was keeping track of Carter’s hostage progress, tasking him to find out what he could about Connally’s tip. My dad found Allen’s notes in early 1993 in an obscure Capitol Hill storage room. These were the “X-files” from the 1992 congressional investigation – documents that didn’t support the official narrative and were thus omitted from the final report.

Geo Bush,” Allen’s notes began, “JBC [Connally] – already made deal. Israelis delivered last wk spare pts. via Amsterdam. Hostages out this wk. Moderate Arabs upset. French have given spares to Iraq and know of JC [Carter] deal w/Iran. JBC [Connally] unsure what we should do. RVA [Allen] to act if true or not.”

Then-Vice President George H.W. Bush with CIA Director William Casey at the White House on Feb. 11, 1981. (Reagan Library)

It was after this that Casey and Bush allegedly shuttled to Paris to meet face-to-face with Iranian mullahs on Oct. 19, 1980, in order to block any last-minute deal with Carter.

As my father reported, “Four French intelligence officials, including France’s spy chief Alexandre deMarenches in statements to his biographer, placed Casey at the Paris meeting. But two other witnesses, a pilot named Heinrich Rupp and Israeli intelligence official Ari Ben-Menashe, also claimed to have seen Bush in Paris that day. Ben-Menashe testified that Casey and Bush were accompanied by active-duty CIA officers.”

The new reporting by The New York Times mentions this alleged meeting in passing, noting that “Casey was alleged to have met with representatives of Iran in July and August 1980 in Madrid leading to a deal supposedly finalized in Paris in October in which a future Reagan administration would ship arms to Tehran through Israel in exchange for the hostages being held until after the election.”

In the next paragraph, however, Baker effectively dismisses the claims by pointing out that congressional investigations debunked them. “The bipartisan House task force, led by a Democrat, Representative Lee H. Hamilton of Indiana, and controlled by Democrats 8 to 5, concluded in a consensus 968-page report that Mr. Casey was not in Madrid at the time and that stories of covert dealings were not backed by credible testimony, documents or intelligence reports,” Baker reports.

Undeserved Credulity

Entrance to The New York Times. (Niall Kennedy, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

The credulity with which the Times treats the Hamilton-led investigation is woefully undeserved. As my father reported in the 1990s, the congressional task force that looked into the October Surprise allegations suppressed credible evidence and relied on alibis for Casey and other key figures that were frankly absurd.

One of these alibis was the fact that a Republican operative wrote Casey’s phone number down on a particular day, which satisfied the congressional investigators that Casey must have been at home – even though no phone call was apparently placed.

The faith that Baker places in this investigation, however, is par for the course for The New York Times. On Jan. 24, 1993, the paper published an op-ed by Hamilton, entitled “Case Closed.” It cited Casey’s alibis as key reasons why his task force’s findings “should put the controversy to rest once and for all.” With this high-profile article, the Times contributed to a significant degree in making the story toxic for any fair-minded journalist who dared to continue following the leads.

While the newfound attention on the case by the Times is certainly welcome and timely, especially considering President Carter’s imminent passing, it is a shame that the reporting perpetuates some of the longstanding flaws in the media’s handling of this story.

Not only is it overly credulous when it comes to the “congressional investigations [that] debunked previous theories of what happened,” but the Times also goes out of its way to denigrate previous sources “who fueled previous iterations of the October surprise theory,” claiming that they tended to be “shady foreign arms dealer[s] with questionable credibility.”

Although some sources for the October Surprise story were in fact arms dealers (which would make sense considering that a central component of the story was the illegal transfer of weapons to the Iranian regime), there are quite a few other sources that corroborate their claims. Among the individuals that have gone on record about the deal were Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, Iran’s first post-revolution president.

In his 1991 memoir, My Turn to Speak, Bani-Sadr wrote that “in late October 1980, everyone was openly discussing the agreement with the Americans on the Reagan team.” He claimed that “Carter was no longer in control of U.S. foreign policy and had yielded the real power to those who … had negotiated with the mullahs on the hostage affair.”

The Russian Report

Classified documents uncovered by my father, which were never meant to see the light of day, also bolstered the claims. A 1992 secret report from the Russian government, for instance, asserted that “William Casey, in 1980, met three times with representatives of the Iranian leadership … in Madrid and Paris.”

In Madrid and Paris,” the Russians explained, “the representatives of Ronald Reagan and the Iranian leadership discussed the question of possibly delaying the release of 52 hostages from the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Teheran.”

Casey’s alibi of supposedly being at the Bohemian Grove in California when a key meeting was allegedly taking place with Iranians in Madrid was also shattered when my father discovered a group photo from the Bohemian Grove in which Casey was conspicuously absent.

But no matter how much evidence was produced over the years that poked holes in the official story, the establishment media declined to re-examine the case or treat it seriously.

In fact, it was largely due to the media’s disinterest in covering this story honestly that my father decided to launch his independent media project in 1995, including the Consortium News website, a newsletter and magazine, as well as a small book publishing house. The first book published was The October Surprise X-Files, which made public much of the evidence establishing that a conspiracy did in fact take place.

The Times’ newfound interest in the story is welcome, but at the same time, it shouldn’t be forgotten how the media failed the American people when it mattered most.

To receive a copy of Robert Parry’s book on the October Surprise, Trick or Treason, and of his PBS documentary on the story, please write to [email protected] with “October Surprise” in the subject line. 

Nat Parry is the editor of the recently published collection of Robert Parry’s journalism spanning five decades, American Dispatches: A Robert Parry Reader, which contains much of the original reporting on the October Surprise story. He is also the co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush and author of How Christmas Became Christmas: The Pagan and Christian Origins of the Beloved Holiday.

15 comments for “NYT Catches Up to Parry But Still Falls Short on October Surprise

  1. Andrew Nichols
    March 24, 2023 at 03:24

    If we survive WW3 will the NYT in 40 yrs time finally admit that Seymour Hersh was right and America did (as we all know they did) blow up the Nordstream pipelines?

  2. Eric
    March 23, 2023 at 06:42

    The New York-based weekly Guardian, particulary in reporting by Jack Colhoun, was also focused on the October Surprise (and later Contragate).

  3. ks
    March 23, 2023 at 01:45

    As with any NYT story, you have to ask, ‘why now’? What impression are they trying to create by bringing this up now? An association of Republicans with fraudulent elections? A distraction from the Democratic Party’s own underhanded methods? I can’t honestly believe they just thought it was time to tell the truth.

    • robert e williamson jr
      March 24, 2023 at 09:30

      ks, the story was already out, this is simply a ruse to make the MSM appear to be diligent when in fact they have been ordered to try and dull the impact of a large amount of news coming out already.

      I’m not trying to be arrogant or engage in one-ups-man-ship but if you have followed these stories for years the obvious, was, well obvious. I have read, by now a dozen of so books, good informative information packed books, concerning the “low lifes” in American government and the first real interesting info on this topic I found in Lock Johnson’s A SEASON OF INQUIRY – REVISITED, Chapter Seven page 80, in his re-write or amended 2015 version f his earlier work that include much more detailed info.

      This info was a harbinger of other facts that have come to the surface thaks to investigative journalist who work to expose the dirty truth. Robert Parry was one of the best at this.

      Thanks CN

  4. robert e williamson jr
    March 22, 2023 at 18:31

    Jimmy Carter was used by the system and the parasites who run it, to simply “mark time” while the “good ole boys club” got their next project planned. A guy who was described continuously as an outsider. He was just too nice of a guy, with all respect from me, an ex-Navy who wanted no waves. End of story.

    Take a good look around, a good look.

    Really, being that way was Not really such a bad thing when you stop and think about it.

    I need to be reading, Thanks CN

  5. Brent
    March 22, 2023 at 17:15

    Carter made clear he intended to advance “Palestinian autonomy” in his second term having been stymied at Camp David.

    Conventional wisdom was if Carter got the hostages out, he’d win, if not, lose.

    Here was my theory. Casey to Reagan, “Mr. Predident I didn’t tell you…. but they own us as they can leak we traded the hostage’s well-being for the Presidency”. The neocons were established into administration positions, except State. Kirkpatriic at UN, Bennette at Education, Perles and team at Defense. A neocon takeover

    When Rodgers made an effort at peace, Begin told him to forget it saying he had no intention of discussing it. (American policy is still owned.)

    This held till Reagan entered his fourth quarter when he faced no more election pressure. The next day an obscure Lebanese paper, followed by major papers, grabbed back Reagan’s independence with Iran Contra.

  6. Paula
    March 22, 2023 at 17:01

    “In fact, it was largely due to the media’s disinterest in covering this story honestly that my father decided to launch his independent media project in 1995, including the Consortium News website, a newsletter and magazine, as well as a small book publishing house. The first book published was The October Surprise X-Files, which made public much of the evidence establishing that a conspiracy did in fact take place.”

    And there is more to cover. You have a father worthy of following. Please keep on. The public, rich or poor and many of us are the latter, need truthful coverage. Somehow, truth got to a man in DC where Fauci visited. Keep your news organization open to the poor because that is most of us, if you want regime change. I think most know there is no representation on either side.

  7. Martin
    March 22, 2023 at 13:51

    using hanging out in the bohemian grove as an alibi, tss … dog whistling to the congressional investigators?

  8. Daniel Bartley
    March 22, 2023 at 12:15

    I have been reading the recent NYT articles with a bit of incredulity myself. I found myself harkening back to Robert Parry’s stories from the late 1990’s, and thinking even today, they are playing down this story, despite what Barnes was “revealing.” Then this week, Jonathan Alter was interviewed about the story, and commented as if these were all brand new, never before revealed, allegations. When even someone as “progressive” as Alter, refuses to acknowledge, and credit, Robert Parry, I just want to scream.

  9. Robert Sinuhe
    March 22, 2023 at 11:32

    This puts into focus what was evident at the time, which calls into question the value of truth in journalism. It doesn’t matter what the truth is. The Ukrainian war has the same flavor. Thanks to the internet and the dedication of journalists with integrity more people know about the lies perpetrated by the U.S. These people are not enough to achieve a critical mass to affect any change in the behavior of our government. President Carter was a decent man who proved it over the years after his presidency. In the present state of our government this is not enough. We need a son-of- a- bitch who has the foresight to smell out palace intrigues and enough political strength and savvy to force change when needed. This quality has only been exhibited piecemeal in our elected leaders.

  10. Jonathan Gates
    March 22, 2023 at 11:15

    There is an article in the Daily Kos by Mark Sumner, published 3/18/23 that quotes Ben Barnes admitting this as fact.

  11. Henry Smith
    March 22, 2023 at 10:14

    No surprises, no repercussions or consequences, no change – SNAFU !
    The Dems currently playing similar games to undermine Trump, and the beat goes on …

  12. Alan Ross
    March 22, 2023 at 08:19

    “…largely due to the media’s disinterest in covering this story honestly…”

    I like this article very much. At the same time I wish there was not this soft-pedaling. The NYT was not disinterested. It was against the truth coming out until long after it could make a difference. If we ever have an honest history of the world, the very ordinary people that make up the management of the NYT will be described as among the most evil collections of mediocrities that assisted in the causing of the deaths of millions of innocent human beings.

    • Nat Parry
      March 22, 2023 at 10:29

      Thanks Alan, that’s a fair point. When it comes to the October Surprise, I think it is clear that what happened in the 80s and early 90s was that there was a moment during which journalists were really pursuing this story but things changed and it was all intentionally swept under the rug.

      Some of the early reporting, particularly by Nightline, in 1991 was actually very good. They pursued all the leads and were genuinely interested in finding out the truth. But then, the Reagan people, the neocons and the intelligence community decided that this story had to be contained. They put out a couple of debunking stories in Newsweek and The New Republic, then the congressional task force tried to cover it up with a deeply flawed bipartisan “investigation,” and the mainstream media all went along with the whitewashing. The conventional wisdom was firmly set in place and what had been a legitimate story quickly became radioactive. The few who were courageous enough to challenge the conventional wisdom saw their careers suffer.

      Now, it seems, there is a bit of an opening to correct the record, which should be welcomed but at the same time we shouldn’t forget how they abdicated their responsibilities to the American people when it really mattered and effectively participated in a cover-up for decades.

      • Paula
        March 22, 2023 at 17:08

        Beautiful followup. Yes, so often we do not follow the leads, but take for granted as truth by those who are espousing truth. I am so thankful for you, your father, and CN with Joe Lauria as editor. It is a publication I can believe is telling truth to best of ability.

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