As for Israel, Begin was pleased to find the Reagan administration far less demanding about peace deals with the Arabs, giving Israel time to expand its West Bank settlements. Reagan and his team also acquiesced to Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, a drive north that expelled the Palestine Liberation Organization but also led to the slaughters at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.
And, behind the scenes, Reagan's administration gave a green light to Israeli weapons shipments to Iran (which was fighting a war with Israel's greater enemy, Iraq). The weapons sales helped Israel rebuild its contacts inside Iran and to turn large profits, some of which were plowed into financing West Bank settlements.
In another important move, Reagan credentialed a new generation of pro-Israeli American ideologues known as the neoconservatives, a move that would pay big dividends for Israel in the future as these bright and articulate operatives fought for Israeli interests both inside the U.S. government and through their opinion-leading roles in the major American news media.
In other words, if the disgruntled CIA Old Boys and the determined Likudniks did participate in an October Surprise scheme to unseat Jimmy Carter, they got much of what they were after.
Yet, while motive is an important element in solving a mystery, it does not constitute proof by itself. What must be examined is whether there is evidence that the motive was acted upon, whether Menachem Begin's government and disgruntled CIA officers covertly assisted the Reagan campaign in contacting Iranian officials to thwart Carter's hostage negotiations.
On that point the evidence is strong though perhaps not ironclad. Still, a well-supported narrative does exist describing how the October Surprise scheme may have gone down with the help of CIA personnel, Begin's government, some right-wing intelligence figures in Europe, and a handful of power-brokers in the United States.
Angry Old Boys
Even before Iran took the American hostages on Nov. 4, 1979, disgruntled CIA veterans had been lining up behind the presidential candidacy of their former boss, George H.W. Bush. Casting off their traditional cloak of non-partisanship, they were volunteering as foot soldiers in Bush's campaign. One joke about Bush's announcement of his candidacy on May 1, 1979, was that "half the audience was wearing raincoats."
Bill Colby, Bush's predecessor as CIA director, said Bush "had a flood of people from the CIA who joined his supporters. They were retirees devoted to him for what he had done" in defending the spy agency in 1976 when the CIA came under heavy criticism for spying on Americans, assassination plots and other abuses. Reagan's foreign policy adviser Richard Allen described the group working on the Bush campaign as a "plane load of disgruntled former CIA" officers who were "playing cops and robbers."
All told, at least two dozen former CIA officials went to work for Bush. Among them was the CIA's director of security, Robert Gambino, who joined the Bush campaign immediately after leaving the CIA where he oversaw security investigations of senior Carter officials and thus knew about potentially damaging personal information.
Besides the ex-CIA personnel who joined the Bush campaign, other pro-Bush intelligence officers remained inside the CIA while making clear their political preference. "The seventh floor of Langley was plastered with 'Bush for President' signs," said senior CIA analyst George Carver, referring to the floor that housed top CIA officials.
Carter administration officials also grew concerned about the deep personal ties between the former CIA officers in Bush's campaign and active-duty CIA personnel who continued to hold sensitive jobs under Carter.
For instance, Gambino, the 25-year CIA veteran who oversaw personnel security checks, and CIA officer Donald Gregg, who served as a CIA representative on Carter's National Security Council, "are good friends who knew each other from the CIA," according to an unpublished part of a report by a House task force that investigated the October Surprise issue in 1992. [I found this deleted section -- still marked "secret" -- in unpublished task force files in 1994.]
Perhaps most significantly, Bush quietly enlisted Theodore Shackley, the legendary CIA covert operations specialist known as the "blond ghost." During the Cold War, Shackley had run many of the CIA's most controversial paramilitary operations, from Vietnam and Laos to the JMWAVE operations against Fidel Castro's Cuba.
In those operations, Shackley had supervised the work of hundreds of CIA officers and developed powerful bonds of loyalty with many of his subordinates. For instance, Donald Gregg had served under Shackley's command in Vietnam.