As the Official Story of the 1980 October Surprise case crumbles with new revelations that key evidence was hidden from investigators of a congressional task force and that internal doubts were suppressed history must finally confront the troubling impression that remains: that disgruntled elements of the CIA and Israel's Likud hardliners teamed up to remove a U.S. president from office.
Indeed, it is this disturbing conclusion perhaps even more than the idea of a Republican dirty trick that may explain the longstanding and determined cover-up of this political scandal.
Too many powerful interests do not want the American people to accept even the possibility that U.S. intelligence operatives and a longtime ally could intervene to oust a president who had impinged on what those two groups considered their vital interests.
To accept that scenario would mean that two of the great fears of American democracy had come true George Washington's warning against the dangers of "entangling alliances" and Harry Truman's concern that the clandestine operations of the CIA had the makings of an "American Gestapo."
It is far easier to assure the American people that no such thing could occur, that Israel's Likud whatever its differences with Washington over Middle East peace policies would never seek to subvert a U.S. president, and that CIA dissidents no matter how frustrated by political constraints would never sabotage their own government.
But the evidence points in that direction, and there are some points that are not in dispute. For instance, there is no doubt that CIA Old Boys and Likudniks had strong motives for seeking President Jimmy Carter's defeat in 1980.
Inside the CIA, Carter and his CIA Director Stansfield Turner were blamed for firing many of the free-wheeling covert operatives from the Vietnam era, for ousting legendary spymaster Ted Shackley, and for failing to protect longtime U.S. allies (and friends of the CIA), such as Iran's Shah and Nicaragua's dictator Anastasio Somoza.
As for Israel, Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin was furious over Carter's high-handed actions at Camp David in 1978 forcing Israel to trade the occupied Sinai to Egypt for a peace deal. Begin feared that Carter would use his second term to bully Israel into accepting a Palestinian state on West Bank lands that Likud considered part of Israel's divinely granted territory.
Former Mossad and Foreign Ministry official David Kimche described Begin's attitude in his 1991 book, The Last Option, saying that Israeli officials had gotten wind of "collusion" between Carter and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat "to force Israel to abandon her refusal to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state."
Kimche continued, "This plan prepared behind Israel's back and without her knowledge must rank as a unique attempt in United States' diplomatic history of short-changing a friend and ally by deceit and manipulation."
However, Begin recognized that the scheme required Carter winning a second term in 1980 when, Kimche wrote, "he would be free to compel Israel to accept a settlement of the Palestinian problem on his and Egyptian terms, without having to fear the backlash of the American Jewish lobby."
In his 1992 memoir, Profits of War, Ari Ben-Menashe, an Israeli military intelligence officer who worked with Likud, agreed that Begin and other Likud leaders held Carter in contempt.
"Begin loathed Carter for the peace agreement forced upon him at Camp David," Ben-Menashe wrote. "As Begin saw it, the agreement took away Sinai from Israel, did not create a comprehensive peace, and left the Palestinian issue hanging on Israel's back."
So, in order to buy time for Israel to "change the facts on the ground" by moving Jewish settlers into the West Bank, Begin felt Carter's reelection had to be prevented. A different president also presumably would give Israel a freer hand to deal with problems on its northern border with Lebanon.
CIA Within the CIA
As for the CIA Old Boys, legendary CIA officer Miles Copeland told me that "the CIA within the CIA" the inner-most circle of powerful intelligence figures who felt they understood best the strategic needs of the United States believed Carter and his naÃ¯ve faith in American democratic ideals represented a grave threat to the nation.
"Carter really believed in all the principles that we talk about in the West," Copeland said, shaking his mane of white hair. "As smart as Carter is, he did believe in Mom, apple pie and the corner drug store. And those things that are good in America are good everywhere else. "