Few op-ed pieces prove to be as popular or long-lived as the one Gary Sick wrote for The New York Times last April. He claimed that in October 1980 officials in Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign made a secret deal with Iran to delay the release of the American hostages until after the election. In return, the United States purportedly arranged for Israel to ship weapons to Iran. The charges of an `October Surprise' weren't new. They had been circulating in the press since 1987. But Sick, who had served on Jimmy Carter's National Security Council staff and is the author of the acclaimed All Fall Down (1985), an account of the 1980 Iran hostage crisis, gave new impetus to the story. So did a show the following day by PBS's `Frontline,' in which Sick was featured.

When Sick first wrote about the release of the hostages in his book, he explained that there were several reasons they were freed in January 1981: Iranian enmity for Carter, the complications of unfreeing Iranian assets, the disorganization of the Iranian regime, and the protracted nature of U.S.-Iranian negotiations. But in his oped piece, Sick wrote that in preparation for a new book on Iran, October Surprise (to be published this month), he interviewed `hundreds of people' who told him about a secret Reagan-Bush hostage deal in 1980. What finally persuaded him was `the absence of contradictions on the key elements of the story' provided by his sources. Sick became convinced that William Casey, then Reagan's campaign manager, had met secretly in Madrid in the summer of 1980 with Iranian intermediaries to negotiate a secret deal, and that Casey and other officials met in Paris in October 1980, after which Iran broke off negotiations with the Carter administration. Sick also wrote that three of his sources saw then Vice President George Bush in Paris as well, but that `in the absence of further information, I have not made up my mind about this allegation.'

The Sick piece and the `Frontline' story prompted a spate of alarmed editorials, an indignant request from former President Carter for a `blue-ribbon panel' to investigate the charges, and congressional inquiries into the October Surprise.

But the truth is, the conspiracy as currently postulated is a total fabrication. None of the evidence cited to support the October Surprise stands up to scrutiny. The key sources on whose word the story rests are documented frauds and imposters. Representing themselves as intelligence operatives, they have concocted allegations that are demonstrably false, and their stories, full of internal inconsistencies, are also contradictory. Almost every primary source cited by Sick or `Frontline' has been indicted or was the subject of a federal investigation prior to claiming to be a `participant' in the October Surprise. Finally, evidence we have uncovered shows that William Casey and George Bush could not have been present at the meetings alleged by the sources.

The term `October Surprise' was actually coined by Reagan campaign aides who worried in the fall of 1980 that Carter would launch an operation to free the hostages in order to win the election. Thus in the fall of 1980 members of the Reagan campaign team often met to discuss developments regarding the hostages. There was concern that Carter would do something to exploit the hostage situation, and some of the things the Republicans did--such as stealing Carter's debate book--were sleazy. But they certainly did not amount to treason, as proponents of the October Surprise have charged.

The conspiracy theory began to catch on in April 1987. On the front page of the Miami Herald, Alfonso Chardy reported on a secret meeting in early October 1980 with Richard Allen and Laurence Silberman, then foreign policy advisers to Reagan, and Robert McFarlane, then an aide to Senator John Tower on the Senate Armed Services Committee. The article said they `met secretly' at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C., with a `man who said he represented the Iranian government and offered to release to candidate Reagan 52 American hostages being held in Tehran.' Allen told the House Foreign Affairs Committee last May that he went at the `insistence' of McFarlane, who only indicated that the meeting was about the Middle East. Although the article quoted Allen as saying that he rejected the man's offer as `absurd' and told him to deal directly with the Carter administration, the article strongly implied that this meeting was part of a new scandal linked to the Iran-contra affair. Allen's decision not to inform Carter officials of the meeting fueled suspicion about the story.

Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, the president of Iran from January 1980 through June 1981, was quoted as claiming that he `learned in 1981' that Iranian leaders Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammed Beheshti had collaborated with Reagan campaign aides to release the hostages. (Beheshti and Rafsanjani, bitter political opponents of Bani-Sadr, had forced him from power. Beheshti was later killed by a bomb in 1981, and Rafsanjani is now president of Iran.) Bani-Sadr also charged that the Reagan officials had promised Iran that it would receive weapons for its war with Iraq. But Bani-Sadr stipulated that the promises of weapons were not linked to the release of the hostages--and furthermore, he didn't know if any weapons were eventually shipped.

In early July 1987 the October Surprise got a big push from the Nation with Christopher Hitchens's charge that the Reagan campaign assured the Iranians that `if they kept the American hostages until after the election,' the Iranians would be rewarded with arms. Hitchens quoted Barbara Honegger, a Reagan campaign researcher and low-level worker in the Reagan White House, as saying that in late October 1980 she had overheard an unidentified `staffer' say, `We don't have to worry about an `October Surprise.' Dick cut a deal,' presumably a reference to Richard Allen.

As these charges began circulating, Bani-Sadr's memory improved dramatically. On August 3 Flora Lewis reported in a New York Times column, based on an interview, that Bani-Sadr now held without doubt that the `Reagan campaign offered arms if the hostages were not released until after the 1980 election.' He also asserted that in October 1980 his `aides found out` that Rafsanjani and Beheshti had delayed the release of the hostages, that there was a meeting between Beheshti and a `Reagan campaign official' in Paris, and that he `learned later' that Allen, Silberman, and McFarlane met with an Iranian envoy in Washington.

Bani-Sadr's memory continued to improve. On August 9, 1987, Miami Herald reporter Chardy quoted him as now saying that `secret contacts between Reagan and Khomeini representatives' had fixed a deal in October 1980 to free the hostages. (Note that according to Sick in a 1988 Los Angeles Times story, `Bani-Sadr had nothing to do with the negotiations. He was completely out of it.') The article also reported that the Reagan administration approved of, or at least condoned, Israeli arms sales to Iran in 1981. All the ingredients for the cabal were now in place.

Then, in an August 1987 interview with Leslie Cockburn for her book Out of Control, Bani-Sadr said that he knew ahead of time that Rafsanjani and Beheshti sent an Iranian envoy to meet with Allen and Silberman and that he even protested to Rafsanjani and Khomeini that it was `dangerous' to renege on the negotiations with Carter. Remember that initially he claimed to have no prior knowledge of any such meeting. Later he said he `learned' about the meeting in 1981. Now he was saying that he knew of the meeting ahead of time.

It got better. The following year, in a September 1988 article in Playboy by Abbie Hoffman and Jonathan Silvers, which painted the most comprehensive October Surprise conspiracy to date, Bani-Sadr said definitively that George Bush was the Reagan campaign official who met in Paris with Beheshti in October 1980. (A year later Bani-Sadr said he had a `document' showing that Bush was present at the meeting--but he could not disclose the document because `the life of the writer . . . and the lives of many people would fall into danger.') Bani-Sadr's accusations about Bush prompted an editorial in The Washington Post--not especially disposed to defending Bush in general--in October 1988 that noted Bani-Sadr's motivation in `smearing Bush.' The Post wrote, `Bani-Sadr has to hope that U.S.-Iranian relations will continue to be antagonistic if the Iranian opposition is ever to have a chance of gaining important American support. His effort to smear Bush betrays concern about tensions lessening if the Republicans stay in power.'

Emboldened by the eager response to his allegation by international journalists, Bani-Sadr wrote his memoirs, which went beyond even the October Surprise conspiracy. In My Turn To Speak: Iran, the Revolution & Secret Deals with the U.S. (published in France in 1989, and in the United States in 1991), Bani-Sadr portrayed himself as a man victimized by the double dealings of the Khomeni regime and the Reagan campaign.

At the same time a new `source' emerged--who was fortuitously able to confirm Bani-Sadr's allegations. His name was Richard Brenneke, an Oregon businessman, and he surpassed even Bani-Sadr in his ability to recall events that he had admitted earlier he knew nothing about.

Brenneke claimed to have worked for the CIA and FBI in addition to the Mossad and the French, Italian, and other intelligence services. His first surfaced in late November 1986, immediately after the official disclosure of the `Iran-contra affair, when he claimed that he personally had informed then Vice President Bush's office in February 1986 of secret details of the Iran-contra affair. Reporters flocked to Brenneke as he began propounding incredible tales of U.S. and other covert operations. For example, he was a primary source for a front-page New York Times story on February 2, 1987, about the `Demavand project,' a purportedly classified CIA-Pentagon operation to ship billions of dollars of sophisticated weapons, including tanks, bombers, and helicopters to Iran. Brenneke, the article reported, had provided the Times with `documents and telexes' including a letter of reference, dated June 20, 1979, which stated that he had been employed for the CIA for thirteen years and that the CIA `found him to be thorough, competent, and very trustworthy.'

The CIA and the Defense Department issued categorical denials of the story. Other reporters at the Times began looking into Brenneke's allegations and his background. Both began to collapse. According to a veteran New York Times reporter, `We soon found out that Brenneke was . . . an absolute liar. Even the documents he gave us were forged, including the CIA letter of reference.'

At The Portland Oregonian, reporters were amused at Brenneke's celebrity status: the paper had reported weeks earlier that Brenneke had greatly `exaggerated' his role in arms sales, that he had said he couldn't remember if he worked at the CIA, that none of his international arms dealing ever came to fruition, and that he had been the subject of an FBI investigation for his suspected role in a check-kiting scheme and a forged airplane title report years earlier.

For the most part, however, the press was willing to suspend disbelief. ABC News quickly ran a series of `investigative' stories based on new Brenneke allegations. In April 1988 the network aired a report based on a `confidential source'--who the network later admitted to be Brenneke--alleging that in 1983 the United States, working with Israeli intelligence, secretly flew weapons to the contras and used the planes on their way back to transport drugs into the United States.

Newsweek followed up with a story by Robert Parry that provided even more details about Brenneke's allegations, including the charge that Donald Gregg, Vice President Bush's national security adviser (now ambassador to South Korea), was part of the drugs-for-weapons operation. Parry suggested that he had independent confirmation of the ABC allegations, but Brenneke was the only named source for both news organizations. Over the next five months Brenneke's claims were the focus of more than 200 national news stories and columns. (One of the few reporters to raise questions about Brenneke was Mark Hosenball, who wrote an article for TNR in June 1988 saying that Parry and ABC had uncritically bought the story of an unreliable witness.)

It seemed there wasn't anything Brenneke did not know. He told The Los Angeles Times that he supplied explosives to a PLO training camp located in western Oregon, a camp about which Oregon law enforcement knew nothing. He told the Seattle Times of his knowledge of Israelis training Colombian drug cartel hit squads. He told the Detroit Free Press that he supplied U.S. intelligence with information from an Iranian military officer that included maps of Qaddafi's headquarters two months before the United States bombed Libya in April 1986. He quickly discovered that it was possible to get away with any allegation in the national security arena: if an intelligence agency, already suspect in the public's mind, denied something, that merely reinforced the authenticity of the charges.

By late September 1988 Brenneke, having never mentioned anything about the October Surprise, suddenly emerged as the primary source of the conspiracy in the United States. His disclosures came right after he met Honegger, the former Reagan campaign aide, in August 1988. Honegger had become one of the leading champions of the October Surprise. She claimed to have her own intelligence and confidential sources who `confirmed' the conspiracy and began working on a book called October Surprise, published in 1989.

Honegger herself was no stranger to controversy. A believer in paranormal events (she has an unusual master's degree in `parapsychology'), she claimed a `source' with her voice contacted her in early 1980 to tell her she would get a job with the Reagan administration. She said that an intelligence officer told her that U.S. satellites parted the clouds during Reagan's inauguration to let the sun shine only on Reagan. When she resigned from the Reagan White House, she told a reporter that she had been guided by insights that she described as `channeled information . . . as if it were from the future.'

Honegger says in her book that she met Brenneke on August 22, 1988, in Washington. At the meeting, Brenneke told her that he had learned from his `Iranian contacts' that a secret meeting was held at the Raphael Hotel in Paris on October 19, 1980, between William Casey, Donald Gregg, Iranian arms dealer Cyrus Hashemi, and Iranian merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar. Brenneke told Honegger that he was not present at the Paris meeting, but that he had been in the city that weekend and that his presence there was purely `coincidental.'

Honegger, who had been in touch with Bani-Sadr and was eager to substantiate his story about Bush attending the secret Paris meeting, recounted the allegations. What could Brenneke tell her about `Bush's possible participation'? she asked. Brenneke said he would `make a few phone calls to see the `lay of the land,' and would get back to her.

A week later the Playboy article hit the stands.

On September 23, 1988, Brenneke suddenly recalled that he had attended at least one of the meetings in Paris in October 1980, that there were a total of three meetings held on October 19 and 20, 1980, and that he had played a pivotal role in the October Surprise deal. Brenneke was appearing that day as a character witness at a Denver court for the sentencing of his friend Heinrich Rupp. Trained as a Nazi pilot, Rupp was a Colorado gold dealer who had been convicted of bank fraud and sentenced to forty-one years in jail. Brenneke told the court that Rupp had been prosecuted to shut him up about his involvement in flying Reagan campaign aide to Paris in October 1980

Brenneke testified that on October 18, 1980, Rupp participated, at the request of the CIA, in a flight taking Bush, Casey, Allen, and Gregg to a meeting in Paris with Iranian representatives to work out a deal to delay the release of American hostages until after the election. He said that Rupp had been a long-time CIA pilot, and that Rupp personally flew Casey to France. Brenneke also said that he attended the third meeting, at which Casey and Cyrus Hashemi (both men were dead by the time of Brenneke's testimony) and Gregg also participated.

Brenneke went on to say that a CIA officer named Robert Kerritt had given him instructions to go to Paris. And as a result of the meetings with Casey and Bush, he claimed that he witnessed an agreement over the `logistics of transferring $40 million [in U.S. funds] for the purchase of weapons [for Iran].' Asked whether he ever played a `role in conveying or transferring that money,' Brenneke said, `I don't believe so.'

After the February 1987 New York Times article had appeared, Brenneke had been contracted by Jack Blum, special investigator for the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations, headed by Senator John Kerry. He met with Brenneke for hundreds of hours, and a year and a half later Brenneke began telling newspapers that Blum and the other staffers corroborated his allegations about the October Surprise. Moreover, Brenneke testified under oath in the Rupp hearing that he had provided the October Surprise information to the Senate subcommittee and that it was later confirmed by the staffers.

Yet according to Blum and other Senate staffers, not only did Brenneke never mention the October Surprise; the subcommittee found him to be an outright liar. The committee obtained thousands of pages of documents from law enforcement and intelligence agencies and discovered, says Blum, `that nothing he said was true--he had made it up based on what he read in the newspaper or what he was told.'

The Senate subcommittee released a 1,166-page report December 1988, in which two pages are devoted to Brenneke. Among the conclusions: `The records show that Brenneke was never officially connected to U.S. intelligence.' The report noted that Brenneke `began telling his stories about his `secret' life as a spy' after being stopped by the U.S. Customs Service on his way back from Europe and asked about documents relating to arms deals. `His response was to offer to become a Customs informant,' stated the report. Customs declined the offer. The report also noted that `Brenneke applied for a job with the CIA when he finished school but his application was rejected.'

By May 1989 Brenneke's stories began to catch up with him. A Denver grand jury indicted him for perjury for making false declarations under oath to a federal judge in the Rupp hearing. Brenneke's trial took place in Portland, Oregon, in April 1990. A CIA official testified that not only had Brenneke and Rupp never worked for the CIA; the agency had never heard of anyone named Robert Kerritt--Brenneke's supposed contact. Secret Service agents testified that Bush had not left the country in the two weeks before the election; two of Casey's secretaries said the same thing about their boss. Then Gregg testified that on the weekend of October 18 and 19, 1980, rather than being at the Paris meetings as Brenneke claimed, he was on vacation at a beach in Delaware; on Monday October 20, he said he was back at work at the Old Executive Office building. He recalled that the weather was cloudy and produced a photograph of himself and his daughter on the beach. The back of the photo is stamped `October 1980' from the processing lab. The photo showed a hazy but partly sunny sky.

In response, Brenneke's lawyers produced Robert Lynott, a retired Portland TV weatherman who testified that his review of the weather reports showed there were overcast and rainy conditions most of that weekend in Delaware--and that therefore the photo must have been taken at a different time. This turned out to be the key piece of evidence on which the jury concentrated.

Following a three-week trial, Brenneke was acquitted, thanks to the prosecution's incompetence and overconfidence and the defense's success in shrouding Brenneke in the smoke and mirrors of the intelligence world. The prosecution was roundly criticized for not asking for or admitting any documentary evidence. The Secret Service agents didn't bring records to the trail, which made them vulnerable on cross examination. Casey's two secretaries admitted that Casey kept secrets from them, which rendered their testimony questionable in the minds of jurors.

Prosecutors did not introduce into evidence Gregg's datebook, which has the word `beach' penned on the October 18 weekend, or the four computerized White House memoranda that he sent from and received in his office on October 20. Thus the jury became preoccupied with the questions raised by the defense about the alleged date of the photograph. Three jurors later admitted that their `doubt' about the photograph was the main reason they had acquitted Brenneke.

Despite the litany of Brenneke's inconsistencies, October Surprise supporters touted his acquittal as proof of his veracity. Sick says: `Brenneke had the courage of his conviction in taking on the U.S. government on three key allegations [about the presence of Bush, Casey, and Gregg at the Paris meetings], and he was acquitted. . . . The evidence on George Bush not being in Paris is less persuasive than that of Donald Gregg. The way Bush has dealt with this is very suspicious. There is not a single shred of evidence that Bush was where he said he was.' `Frontline' embraced Brenneke's trail defense that the weather conditions on the Delaware shore on October 20, 1980, were incompatible with the Gregg photo, claiming that `U.S. government documents show the weather was cold and cloudy that weekend on the Delaware shore.' In fact, detailed hourly weather maps of that weekend from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that on Sunday afternoon weather conditions were compatible with the picture Gregg produced.

`Frontline,' Sick, and October Surprise conspiracy supporters also rely on the `eyewitness testimony' of Brenneke's good friend Rupp. Weeks after Sick published his op-ed piece, in which he indirectly cited Brenneke and Rupp (though not by name), when questioned by reporters skeptical about Brenneke's credibility, he disclaimed any reliance on him. Rupp, however, was still a primary source. He has maintained that his involvement in a loan fraud, which led to the collapse of the Aurora Bank in Colorado in 1985, was actually due to the CIA, for whom he said he was working, as part of a `national security operation' related to Iran-contra.

Like Bani-Sadr and Brenneke, Rupp's sudden recall of the October Surprise came about belatedly. Only after his conviction for bank fraud, Rupp began telling newspapers and TV stations that he flew Casey to Paris on October 18, 1980, and insisted that Bush was present on the tarmac at the French airport. There are numerous inconsistencies in Rupp's account. He was unable to produce any proof that he worked for the CIA, and the plane he said he piloted to Paris that weekend, according to leasing company records, was actually parked in California. Furthermore, Rupp's passport (and Brenneke's too, for that matter) shows no exit from the United States or entry into France in October 1980. Rupp told reporters he didn't know who his passengers were at the time of the flight to Paris. He claims only to have recognized the `Old Professor' six years later when Casey was shown `testifying on television' about the Iran-contra scandal (a dubious detail, seeing that Casey had a stroke a day before the televised hearings). Rupp also said it was only years later that he recognized the `tall man with the crooked eyes'--the person at the Paris airport--as George Bush. Is it conceivable that Rupp would not have recognized Bush or Casey when he saw them? After all, he claims to be a long-time CIA employee and pilot--and Bush was head of the CIA four years before. Moreover, Brenneke says that Rupp was one of `Casey's favorite pilots.'

As for the allegations about Bush's presence in Paris on October 19 and 20, Secret Service records and contemporaneous news accounts of Bush's speeches show indisputably that he is publicly accounted for almost hourly--in numerous campaign stops--from October 15 through the late evening of October 18. On Sunday morning, October 19, according to information obtained by Gordon Crovitz of the Wall Street Journal, Bush had a private lunch with Judge Potter Stewart at the Chevy Chase Country Club. And Secret Service records show that agents went to the club to provide protection for Bush that Sunday morning. On the evening of October 19 Bush spoke to at a campaign event at the Washington Hilton, which is substantiated by newspaper accounts. On Monday, October 20, according to a schedule released by the White House and confirmed by newspaper and wire service reports, Bush campaigned the entire day in several cities in Connecticut.

When confronted with this information, October Surprise buffs either claim that the Secret Service records were fabricated or maintain that Bush could have flown to Paris on the Concorde and technically returned eight hours later. But it he did fly via Concorde (or any other high-speed plane), it conflicts with all of the statements made by Rupp and Brenneke, who said that Bush and Casey had flown to Paris on October 18 on a BAC-111. Nor is it compatible with any of the statements made by the other key sources used by `Frontline' and Sick.

By any measure of honest reporting, the October Surprise conspiracy should have died long ago. But like a version of the child's game `telephone,' the story had taken on a life of its own, changing and expanding as it went from source to source. More and more `eyewitnesses' began emerging who often appropriated elements of the conspiracy, swapped lies among themselves or were prodded by journalists, and then wove new tales inserting themselves as minor or major characters. Though Bani-Sadr has consistently claimed to have his own proof of the conspiracy, for his book his only evidence was excerpts from Brenneke's court statements in the Rupp hearing. An October Surprise cult emerged, fueled by entrepreneurial journalists who had made the allegations into a lucrative cottage industry. PBS's `Frontline' documentary, for example, cost about $200,000 to $250,000 to produce, paid partially by taxpayer funds.

`Frontline' touted Brenneke's acquittal on perjury charges, declaring that `the government tried and failed to prove that William Casey was not in Paris.' `Frontline' and Sick did not tell the public about Brenneke's numerous misstatements, discrepancies, and prevarications, which cast doubt on the credibility of the entire October Surprise scenario. On `Frontline' Brenneke said again that Gregg and Casey traveled secretly to Paris in October 1980. (Allen has produced a videotape of his October 19 appearance on `Meet the Press,' so his name did not come up this time.) But Brenneke changed his story once again. In September 1988 he testified that he did not play a role in the transfer of $40 million in weapons to Iran: on `Frontline' he said that he was instructed by Casey at the meeting to launder the $40 million through a Mexican bank and that he did so.

Rather than rely exclusively on Brenneke, Sick and `Frontline' featured new sources who they said `confirmed' each other's accounts. These included Hoshang Lavi, Ari Ben-Menashe, and Jamshid Hashemi. Lavi, an Iranian-born arms dealer, claimed he was the unidentified Iranian emissary who met with Allen, McFarlane, and Silberman in Washington in early October 1980 at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel. `Frontline' quoted Lavi as saying that he witnessed Khomeini's representatives being allowed to enter NATO bases in Europe and `pick whatever they want' for shipment back to Iran.

What `Frontline' and Sick did not reveal was the following: (1) Lavi's claim to have met the three Reagan supporters has been denied by McFarlane, Allen, and Silberman. (2) The only independent record of Lavi's meeting with anyone in 1980 are memoranda from the John Anderson campaign showing that he approached Anderson campaign officials on October 2 offering to secure the release of the hostages if the United States would unfreeze Iranian assets and provide F-14 spare parts. The campaign referred him to the State Department. (3) Lavi implied that he was acting on behalf of Bani-Sadr, but the State Department, according to 1980 department documents, found that he `had no authority to speak on behalf of Bani-Sadr,' that he was a `self-appointed middleman' who was trying to broker a deal by going back to each party showing he had lined them up, and that `Lavi was a thoroughly disreputable character.' (4) American and European defense and intelligence officials say it is ludicrous to believe that Iranians were escorted to NATO bases to play a military version of `supermarket sweep.' (5) Since 1988, when Lavi was `discovered' by Honegger, he has made a series of unsubstantiated allegations, including that Customs Service agents assassinated an informant (Cyrus Hashemi) by pumping poison gas into his hospital room.

Even more than Lavi, `Frontline' and Sick relied heavily on the statements of Ari Ben-Menashe, an October Surprise source who only surfaced in 1990. `Frontline' described Ben-Menashe as a `former Israeli intelligence officer' and aired his claim to be `one of half a dozen Israelis sent to Paris at Casey's request to help coordinate arms deliveries' to Iran. `Frontline' reported that Ben-Menashe `saw a man [he] believed to be Bush' in Paris. Sick used Ben-Menashe as one of his major sources in proving that the October Surprise happened, that Casey was a key participant, and that Israel shipped weapons as part of the `deal.'

Apparently emboldened by the acceptance of his allegations on `Frontline' and by Sick, last spring Ben-Menashe told several Australian newspapers and In These Times that he saw Bush arrive at a meeting on October 17 or 18, 1980, at a `top-floor conference room' in Paris, shake hands with Mehdi Karrubi, a leading Iranian cleric, and `close the door.' But none of the other `eyewitnesses' and `sources' had ever mentioned Ben-Menashe's presence in Paris or that of any other Israelis, or of Mehdi Karrubi. Moreover, all of the reported sightings of Bush took place on October 19 or 20--not on October 17 or 18. Ben-Menashe has also claimed that Israel shipped more than $82 billion in arms to Iran since 1980--more than thirty-five times Israel's defense imports and domestic weapons production!

In an interview with In These Times last April, Ben-Menashe claimed that it was he--not Lavi--who met to discuss the hostages in early October at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel with Allen, McFarlane, and Silberman.

Without providing any evidence--despite repeated promises to reporters and to congressional officials to hand over `documents'--Ben-Menashe has belatedly become a key insider on other topical issues. He has claimed to have detailed inside knowledge of the Inslaw case. He said that he met many times with Robert Gates in Chile and the United States, and even that he transferred a suitcase containing $16 million to Gates at one point. (The CIA and the National Security Council provided documents to the Senate Intelligence Committee showing that Gates was meeting elsewhere at the time of every meeting cited by Ben-Menashe.) Ben-Menashe has said that McFarlane was a paid Israeli agent since 1978, had received `millions of dollars' from Israel, and was the secret `Mr. X' in the Jonathan Pollard spy case. He even says that the United States, through Israel, shipped `billions of dollars of arms' to Iraq. He has become an `expert' on Israel's nuclear program--despite the fact that he never had any connection to it. He has claimed that in 1981 he planted the homing device at the Osirak reactor before it was bombed by Israeli planes, but records show he wasn't out of the country then. He has told Israelis and journalists that he was even offered to be head of the Mossad, Israel's secret intelligence service, but that he declined.

Sympathetic reporters uncritically portray Ben-Menashe as a `senior Israeli intelligence officer' and a `national security adviser' and `special emissary' to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. In a recent interview, Sick said: `I am satisfied that Ben-Menashe knows a great deal. He has told me three or four things that I was able to corroborate. He told me he was an officer in a sigint [signal intelligence] unit. I have made no attempt to corroborate any of his other information [beyond allegations of 1980].' Seymour Hersh's new book, The Samson Option, which describes Israel's nuclear program and intelligence activities, uses Ben-Menashe as the primary source. Hersh said in an interview that Ben-Menashe was in sigint, that he was a `key player,' and that `the Israelis want to hurt him bad' for his leaks of high-level classified information. But Hersh didn't interview Ben-Menashe until April, and he told The New York Times that he did not go to Israel to investigate Ben-Menashe's allegations or credibility. Hersh claims, incorrectly, that he would have been subject to Israeli censorship. What's more, according to U.S. and Israeli government documents and officials, Ben-Menashe was never in sigint, and the Israelis have never even attempted to initiate legal proceedings against Ben-Menashe, an act they would have obviously pursued if he were the source of important leaks. The closest access Ben-Menashe ever had to intelligence was his work as a low-level translator for the Israel Defense Forces External Relations Department from 1977 through 1987. Contrary to Hersh's assertion that the department is one of the most sensitive branches of military intelligence, it is in fact, compared with other branches, one of the most insignificant.

Ben-Menashe's responsibilities included translating letters and reports between the Israeli military and foreign military attaches. They did not include any translations of cables, though Israeli officials acknowledge that he did have access to minimally classified information, including a report in 1986 prepared for the United States discussing Israel's request to replenish weapons that it supplied to Iran as part of the Iran-contra operation. This alerted him to Israeli involvement in the affair, and to Iran's desperate search for weapons.

Like others before him, Ben Menashe's recall of the October Surprise came about belatedly--after he was arrested in 1989, imprisoned for a year, tried, and ultimately acquitted in 1990 on charges of illegally trying to export planes to Iran. According to his own letter of resignation, he left in 1987 because he had not received a promotion in many years. (Ben-Menashe has told reporters that he was fired for leaking a covert operation.) His personnel file notes that he was denied a special security clearance at one point because he was considered `delusional.' It also says that he had begun trying to peddle weapons in scams in Chile (where he impersonated an Israeli embassy official), Singapore, and Sri Lanka (where he impersonated a Hebrew University professor). Since 1987 he has periodically charged foreigners with being Mossad agents, without any evidence. The most recent and notorious of these claims, which appears in Hersh's new book, it against media giant Robert Maxwell, who has sued.

In 1989 Ben-Menashe was arrested in California along with two Americans. A U.S. Customs agent, posing as a buyer for Iran, tape-recorded some of the conversations in which the men offered to ship the military transport planes to Iran, using a false end-user certificate, for $12 million apiece. Ben-Menashe was going to obtain the transport planes from Israel. The trial of Ben-Menashe and one of the Americans was held in 1990 in New York (the other was tried in California); Ben-Menashe was eventually acquitted. Most of the evidence that the prosecution introduced was directed against his co-defendant, and the evidence submitted against Ben-Menashe was insufficient to convict him.

Yet the court records and information provided by prosecutors show how wildly inconsistent Ben-Menashe's story has been. In 1988 he told a Time reporter that he was involved in a `secret operation' to free American hostages in Lebanon by arranging the sale of planes to Iran through Israel. But a short while later Ben-Menashe told a U.S. Customs undercover agent that since 1987 he had been `self-employed as a journalist and a translator and a political writer doing a lot of traveling * * * [and] that he had no ties with the Ministry of Defense.' the undercover agent also testified that Ben-Menashe revealed to him that he was trying to obtain planes from Israel to be sold to an arms buyer. At pretrial, however, Ben-Menashe told attorneys that he became involved in plane sales to Iran because he wanted to expose Israel's covert operations. Ben-Menashe said he was acting as an `undercover journalist gathering information for a book' to `expose the ugly role of Israel and the United States in weapons sales.'

During and after the trial, Ben-Menashe contends that he was one of the leading intelligence agents in Israel: Ben-Menashe's lawyer told the court that only three people in Israel were `privy to what was going on with Iran-contra'--Shamir, Israeli counterterrorism official Amiram Nir, and Ben-Menashe. Ben-Menashe claimed that Shamir dispatched him personally to carry out an operation to investigate who was trying to sell planes to Iran. According to sworn affidavits, Israeli officials in the office of the prime minister, including Shamir himself, never heard of Ben-Menashe.

Despite his brazen claims of being a `senior intelligence officer,' Ben-Menashe went to extraordinary lengths to prevent the prosecution from obtaining his personnel records. He refused to sign a waiver authorizing the Israeli government to release his records to the U.S. court, telling his lawyers and the prosecutor that to do so would constitute a violation of the `Official Secrets Act in Israel,' punishable `by death.' In fact, there is no such thing as an `Official Secrets Act' in Israel, and there is no death penalty for releasing classified information--nor for that matter has Israel ever invoked its death penalty, with the notable exception of the execution of Adolf Eichmann. The judge compelled Ben-Menashe to sign the waiver. The records were then produced, which showed he was just a translator.

As a final defense, Ben-Menashe supporters claim that he must be credible because he knew of the Israel arms sales to Iran before they became public. But Israeli officials note that this knowledge can be explained both by his work translating letters to the United States in 1986 and by the fact that rumors of Israeli arms sales to Iran had circulated routinely throughout the Israeli Ministry of Defense. Ben-Menashe supporters also cite the numerous trips abroad he made from 1980 through 1987, evidence, they claim, that he was a secret agent. Yet his trips were on non-paid leave, and were recorded in his civilian passport. He never possessed a diplomatic passport as he claimed.

The last `new' primary source used by `Front-line' and Sick was Jamshid Hashemi, an Iranian middleman. His account added a new dimension to the October Surprise: he claimed that, in addition to the meetings in Paris in October 1980, there were earlier meetings in July and August of 1980, which Casey attended and at which the `deal' was actually made to delay release of the hostages.

In interviews on `Frontline' and with Sick, Jamshid said that in July 1980 he and his brother Cyrus (who died in 1986) met secretly in Madrid with Casey, a `senior CIA officer,' and Iranian cleric Mehdi Karrubi. Jamshid said that Casey urged that `the Iranians hold the hostages until after the election,' and that he, Cyrus, and Karrubi attended a second meeting with Casey in August in Madrid, where `Karrubi expressed acceptance ... the hostages would be released after Carter's defeat.' In his op-ed piece, Sick accepted uncritically Jamshid's claims that he and his brother helped put the final touches on an agreement between Casey and Iran that weapons would be supplied if Iran delayed the release of the hostages.

Missing from Sick's and `Frontline's' recounting are revelations of Cyrus's and Jamshid's backgrounds that show their credibility problems to be even worse than those of Brenneke and Ben-Menashe.

Cyrus Hashemi was a typical Iranian middleman, trying to marry up business deals between Iran and other countries by inflating his importance to each side. According to declassified CIA documents and American intelligence officials, in early 1980 he offered his services to the Carter administration in getting the hostages released in return for spare parts for Iran. His lawyer, former Attorney General Elliot Richardson, put him in touch with the State Department. During the abortive attempt to free the hostages in April 1980, Cyrus offered to organize assistance from supporters in Tehran. The State Department even supplied him with funds, through the CIA, to assist him. But Cyrus failed to demonstrate that he had any connections in Tehran, and the CIA concluded that `his offers were part of a scam.' All contact was dropped with Cyrus.

Cyrus was only one of several self-anointed Iranian intermediaries who purported to speak for Iran in dangling the freedom of the hostages in exchange for military weapons. Sick himself observed as much several years ago, in a chapter for the 1985 Council of Foreign Relations Anthology American Hostages in Iran: The Conduct of a Crisis: `Throughout the late summer and fall of 1980, the Carter administration had been approached by private individuals claiming to speak for Iranian authorities ... the evidence strongly suggested that these were private entrepreneurs who saw the possibility of some lucrative business for themselves.'

In mid-1984 Cyrus, Jamshid, and a third brother, Reza, were indicted for their illegal efforts from October 21, 1980, through November 1981 to ship tens of millions of dollars of military equipment to Iran. After learning about the Hashemis' secret contacts with Iranian arms procurement officials in September 1980, FBI agents wiretapped Cyrus's office and temporary apartment in Manhattan. According to a transcript of one conversation on October 21, 1980, Cyrus and several Americans discussed plans to fulfill a request from Iranian officials for Cyrus (who had told them that he could obtain badly needed weapons) to arrange the exporting of arms. In the conversations Cyrus admitted that the project was illegal and suggested various ways of avoiding detection. That was the day after Brenneke had said Cyrus was in Paris meeting with Casey. In a subsequent interview with ABC's `Nightline,' Jamshid made another startling claim; that starting up in August 1980, after the deal' was concluded with Casey, tens of millions of dollars of American-made weapons were shipped by boat to Iran from Israel. No evidence exists to support the claim, but if it is true, why would the Hashemis have worked so feverishly to obtain weapons in October through what they knew were illegal means?

Reza pleaded guilty, but Cyrus and Jamshid fled to Europe to avoid arrest. Cyrus retained several lawyers, including Richardson, who asked Casey, unsuccessfully, for special dispensation for his client in light of his earlier `assistance' to the United States in 1980, referring to his secret work with the State Department. When that failed, Cyrus attempted, again unsuccessfully, to negotiate for charges against him to be dropped in return for his cooperation in interceding with Iranian officials to secure the release of the hostages in Lebanon. Throughout this period neither Cyrus nor Reza nor Jamshid ever revealed to their attorneys or to U.S. government officials their alleged secret meetings with Casey in 1980. Is it conceivable that these men, who were desperate to get the charges against them dropped and were threatening, according to memorandums of conversations between Justice and CIA officials at the time, to reveal anything they knew, would not have threatened to disclose the most damaging information they possessed--a secret deal between Casey and Iran in 1980?

According to court records, in 1985 Cyrus, still a fugitive from justice, became involved with a group of international arms dealers, including Americans and Israelis, trying to sell arms to Iran. Cyrus then asked his attorney to relay to the Justice Department his offer to serve as an informant in the arms transaction in return for dropping the charges. The U.S. government agreed only to be `lenient' with Cyrus. He accepted. Soon thereafter the Customs agents, as part of a giant sting operation, began working with Cyrus overseas and in the United States to record secretly his conversations with the arms dealers.

Cyrus died on July 21, 1986, in London. A coroner's report attributed his death to a virulent strain of leukemia, which had been diagnosed only days before. A U.S. Customs Service agent attended the autopsy and concurred in its conclusions. Nevertheless, Hashemi's supporters, including attorney William Kunstler (who represents one of the arms dealers) and `Frontline's Parry have stated that his death was `mysterious,' that Cyrus was murdered to shut him up about what he knew about the October Surprise, and that the U.S. government has covered up his murder. Kunstler, who says that `there are suspicious needle pricks on both elbows' about the case, points out the The Village Voice is seriously considering paying for an exhumation. If anyone had in incentive to kill Cyrus, however, it was the arms dealers. After all, it was Cyrus's death that forced the government to drop its case against these men.

On July 20, after Sick and `Frontline' had aired Jamshid's charges, ABC's `Nightline' picked up on them. In an off-camera interview Jamshid described the meetings in Madrid at which the deal was allegedly arranged. At the first of them, which he said covered two consecutive days in `late July,' Casey and two unidentified Americans first proposed the deal to Mehdi Karrubi, a `close associate' of Khomeini. The Hashemis allegedly served as interpreters. According to Jamshid, the parties met in Madrid again two weeks later, when Karrubi conveyed khomeini's approved of Casey's offer. `Nightline' and The Financial Times of London investigated Jamshid's charges and claimed to have found evidence that corroborated the story.

Among the `evidence' was the fact that hotel records indicate a Jamshid Halaj and an A. Hashemi checked into the Madrid Plaza in late July, and an Ali Balnean in August. These names allegedly confirmed Jamshid's recollection that he and his brother often used aliases. Jamshid even furnished `Nightline' with a business card using the name Ali Balnean. (`Nightline' also said that the name Robert Gray was in the hotel records. Robert Gray is a Washington public relations executive who served as Casey's top deputy in the 1980 campaign. He supplied `Nightline' with his passport, which indicated that he had not left the country in July or August 1980.) Even if one were to believe that the records were not altered with the Hashemis running around the globe attempting to broker arms deals it would hardly be surprising that they had been in Madrid during the time Jamshid is talking about. Casey, however, was not.

`Nightline' said that Hashemi's accounts of the meetings were supported by the fact that William Casey was unaccounted for in the public record between August 8 and August 13, as well as July 27 to July 29. It is true that Casey was absent from the public record for a week in August, but it is surely more likely that he was busy with the Reagan campaign than flying off to Madrid. `Nightline' offered more `evidence' in support of the July absence: an unrelated article from The New York Times on July 30, 1980, about the complaints of a right-to-life group over Bush's selection as vice president, quoting a Reagan spokesman as saying Casey would deal with the group, `when he returns [today] from his trip abroad . (In a side note, `Nightline' did report that Jamshid Hashemi said Bush did not attend the alleged October Paris meetings as claimed by a number of others.)

However, `Nightline' had failed to find out that Casey was not in Madrid, but in London, at the Anglo-American Conference on the Second World War. So at the end of an unrelated show a week later, having been contacted by some of those who had attended the conference with Casey, `Nightline' provided a brief update on their previous report. They said that it has been confirmed that Casey had presented a paper on special operations in France during World War II on the morning of July 29, and showed a picture of Casey with some others taken at a reception on the evening of July 28. Ted Koppel said this would leave July 27 and early on July 28 for Casey to have met in Madrid (it is a ninety-minute flight from Madrid to London.

But `Nightline' was wrong again. Jonathan Chadwick, the secretary of the British planning committee for the conference, showed us documents from the conference, which chart the attendance of each participant at each session as well as their accommodations. Casey is not only accounted for in the evening of July 28 and the morning of July 29, but also for the night of July 27 and all day, except for a brief absence, on July 28. This makes Jamshid's story of two consecutive days of meetings impossible.

Not surprising, after the `Frontline' and Sick airing of the October Surprise, new `sources' emerged to tell of their dealings with Bush and Casey. Gunther `Russ' Russbacker claimed that he was the `smoking gun' in the October Surprise conspiracy. He told Marc Cooper of The Village Voice, in a story published this past August, that as instructed by his `big boss' at the CIA, he--along with `co-pilot' Richard Brenneke--flew Bush and Gregg back and forth to Paris in October 1980. What's more, Russbacker claimed that he flew back to the United States in a SR-71 supersonic high altitude spy plane in a flight that lasted ninety minutes. `Sitting next to me was George Bush, `throughout the flight.

Russbacher gave his interview to The Village Voice from prison, where he is serving a twenty-one-month sentence for impersonating a federal officer. Yes, he too claims that he was framed by the CIA to shut him up. But he would not be silenced. And as noted by the Voice, Russbacher `has already become a sought-after guest on the radio talk show circuit (from a phone inside the prison) and his story has elicited queries from ABC `Nightline,' NBC, CBS, The New York Times, Newsday, USA Today, San Diego Union, San Jose Mercury News, Dallas Morning News, and other publications.'

The Voice revealed that Russbacher had a lengthy relationship with federal authorities, going back to 1965 when he was arrested for impersonating a U.S. marshal, to his army desertion in 1967, his false claim that he was an Army major, and his escape from prison in 1975. In 1987 he pleaded guilty to securities fraud.

For believers in the October Surprise, no doubt there are other `sources' out there, waiting to provide their own testimony. Yet the story has finally begun to unravel--and at least one star witness seems to have caught himself in his own web of lies. The Voice, which had been a proponent of the conspiracy, published a piece in September declaring that Brenneke `was nowhere near the alleged conspirators' meetings in Madrid and Paris in 1980, where he claims he helped Republican big-wigs negotiate a secret hostage deal behind Jimmy Carter's back.' The author, Frank Snepp, had obtained Brenneke's diaries and credit card receipts, which showed that between 1980 and 1982 Brenneke `was never away from his favorite Portland restaurants and shopping malls for more than a few days at a time'--despite his sworn testimony that he personally flew planeloads of arms to Iran for `four to five weeks at a time' and his claim to have met with Bush, Gregg, and Iranian intermediaries during the same period.

Brenneke had originally given his financial documents to a writer named Peggy Adler Robohm after she signed a contract with Brenneke and his agent last year to write his story. Initially an ardent believer in Brenneke, after scrutinizing his personal records Robohm found credit card bills and personal calendar notations that showed indisputably that he had lied, and she volunteered her information to Snepp. Snepp, who had reported Brenneke's allegations as truthful for ABC News for several years, now admits that his `apparent October Surprise fabrications undercut the credibility of everything he touched.' He also concedes that Brenneke's own letters `trace the evolution of his public allegations, showing how tips from journalists and other sources prompted him to change this or that date, or modify a particular story line.'

Still, cospiratorialists are not easily dissuaded. Although Snepp no longer believes that Bush or Gregg went to Paris in October 1980, he believes that Casey met with Iranian officials in Madrid in July 1980 to negotiate a secret deal with the Iranians. As for Brenneke, Snepp questions whether he was deliberately planted to `sidetrack and sabotage the investigation.' Nevertheless, it is important to note that despite the irrefutable evidence that Brenneke never participated in any meetings, none of the other key sources has ever disassociated himself from Brenneke.

Meanwhile, with Brenneke largely discredited, Ben-Menashe has emerged as the main source. The October issue of Esquire features an article by Craig Unger that rehashes many of the earlier allegations and Ben-Menashe's most fantastic stories about the conspiracy. Not to be outdone, Newsweek has hired Unger to be a special consultant to help promote its own October Surprise investigation, although it recently published a piece raising serious questions about Ben-Menashe's credibility.

Bani-Sadr himself seems to be tripping over misstatements he has made over the past several years. In an interview with The New Republic in September 1991 at his home in Versailles, he recanted key allegations. Asked whether he still affirmed his charge in Playboy that Bush led the American side in secret Paris meetings with the Iranians and at least three arms dealers whom he also named, Bani-Sadr said, `No, that information had been given to me. So I gave the information so that it could be checked to see if they were there. For me, their presence does not matter. I have never guaranteed that those people were really those who had negotiated.'

Pressed on his allegation in his book and in Playboy about Bush's presence in Paris, which he had said came from `intelligence,' Bani-Sadr now backed away: `I have always repeated that I wasn't sure.' He went on to say: `As a matter of fact, I am a sociologist. I do not deal with names; I deal with relations. And morally also I cannot really say if these people or other people were there because I am not sure. . . . I received names from Iran and I transmitted them; some proved to be true through research and others did not.' Still, Bani-Sadr had a novel explanation for why he had raised the Bush charge: `It is said that Bush himself and his entourage initiated this information so they could later refute it and brand it all lies.'

In the end, October Surprise believers point to their final fall-back argument: Casey was capable of doing anything. Indeed, Casey was capable of doing a lot of nasty things--as demonstrated by the Iran-contra disclosures. But no evidence has ever emerged that shows Casey at a secret meeting in Madrid or involved in any scheme to delay the release of the hostages.

On October 20, the very day that Brenneke and Ben-Menashe claim that Casey was in Paris, campaign records show that Casey had an 8 a.m. appointment at the Metropolitan Club in Washington and that he had two other appointments that day. Moreover, Richard Allen's personal telephone log shows that Casey made a telephone call to him on October 20 at 7:30 a.m., which Allen recalls as being local.

Proponents of the October Surprise theory, including Sick, cite as circumstantial evidence of a Reagan-Khomeini deal the facts that promising negotiations with the Carter administration in the fall of 1980 were broken off and that the Iranians dropped arms from their list of demands. Even here, however, the events do not support the conclusion. According to all accounts of the crisis, far from breaking off, the negotiations continued intensely through January. In September 1980 Khomeini sent his associate Sadegh Tabatabai to meet with the American negotiator, Warren Christopher, in Germany. `The first meetings were very promising,' Christopher told The Los Angeles Times in October 1988. Tabatabai presented a set of moderate demands, including a U.S. non-intervention commitment, the unfreezing of Iranian assets in the United States, and the return of the Shah's wealth to Iran. In addition, Tabatabai asked for the delivery of some $350 million in arms and other military equipment that the Shah had purchased. Although Sick and other conspiratorialists remain surprised at the dropping of this demand, Christopher, who should know, notes: `I discouraged it, and it never came back. . . .' As he explained to The Los Angeles Times, `The issue of arms stayed on the table only briefly, I think they were just testing us.'

In September 1980 Iraq invaded Iran. The Iraqi invasion preoccupied the Iranians, interrupting the negotiations. It was not until November 2, after they had stabilized the front, that the Iranians were able to return to the negotiating table. It was too late to reach a deal before the November 4 election. Both Christopher and Lloyd Cutler, counsel to President Carter accept this explanation. As Christopher said: `It is an interesting question why the promising meetings we had in September ended so abruptly. . . . But I've always felt that the outbreak of the war seemed a sufficient explanation.' In an op-ed piece in The New York Times, Cutler wrote that it was not until later in the fall that Hashemi Rafsanjani consolidated power, and any earlier deal would have made him vulnerable to attack from the more radical, anti-U.S. mullahs, including Bani-Sadr, who opposed the January deal with Carter as being too favorable to the United States. It was for this reason also that the Iranians rejected an October 11 offer from President Carter to provide, in exchange for the release of hostages, $150 million in arms that had been purchased by the Shah but held in the United States after the revolution. The release was in fact delayed, but it was done so unilaterally by the Iranians for their own motives--not least their enmity for Carter.

One of Sick's and `Frontline's major claims is that Israel served as a conduit for weapons immediately after release of the hostages. Yet none of their sources even remotely agrees on what arms were allegedly traded as a result of a deal, or how they were traded. Ben-Menashe's assertion that Israel sold $82 billion in arms to Iran over six years, mostly transported by plane, is contradicted by Jamshid Hashemi's statement that his brother arranged for the shipment of $150 million in arms by boat in four round trips from Israel to Iran between August 1980 and January 1981. Houshang Lavi declared that he witnessed Iranian officials select arms on NATO bases in 1981, and Richard Brenneke claimed that he laundered $40 million to Iran for arms purchases. And Bani-Sadr can't even get his own story straight. In In These Times he said that Iran received between $50 million and $100 million in arms during his administration. In his book and in our interview, however, Bani-Sadr denied that any large arms shipments were received when he was president, and that those promised as a result of the 1980 `deal' are continuing today.

Israel did in fact deliver arms, most probably with Reagan administration approval, in February 1981. However, State Department documents and interviews with Israeli and U.S. intelligence officials show that the amount was no more than $70 million. Moreover, the shipments were anything but an aberration. They were the resumption of what had been Israeli policy toward Iran prior to the crisis and the arms embargo, a policy that had often diverged from American interests. Israel had even continued some shipments during the embargo, but when Prime Minister Begin retroactively asked President Carter for his approval, Carter angrily refused, and no more equipment was traded. Shipments were resumed only after Carter himself, as part of a final agreement before he left office, lifted most sanctions on Iran on January 19, 1981.

Meanwhile, Sick has plunged even further into the depths of conspiracy. Several journalists say that earlier this year he told them that Gates was part of the October Surprise in 1980, and that the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, David Boren, would not investigate because he was being `blackmailed' by the White House, which threatened to leak derogatory allegations about his personal life. According to Sick: `I never said I had personal knowledge of that. It was being told to me by other journalists.' As for the bigger story, Sick says: `The whole October Surprise was a professionally managed covert action, and I'm frankly surprised that I have as much evidence as I do.'

Sick's stubborn perpetuation of the story is all the more surprising given the scorn with which he greeted the Repbulicans' allegations in 1980 that Carter was planning an `October Surprise' to win the election. Six years ago, writing in the Council of Foreign Relations anthology, he declared: `In the last few months before the presidential elections, there were spurious reports that the Carter administration was planning a spectacular military operation against Iran. This so-called `October Surprise' allegedly would be intended to win votes for the president. The story was a total fabrication. It was promptly denied by the White House, and a number of responsible newspapers refused to print it. Nevertheless, the story received widespread attention and soon developed a life of its own.'