"It was clear to me after my conversations with people on high that indeed we had agreed that the Israelis could trans-ship to Iran some American-origin military equipment," Veliotes said.
In checking out the Israeli flight, Veliotes came to believe that the Reagan camp's dealings with Iran dated back to before the 1980 election. "It seems to have started in earnest in the period probably prior to the election of 1980, as the Israelis had identified who would become the new players in the national security area in the Reagan administration," Veliotes said. "And I understand some contacts were made at that time."
When I re-interviewed Veliotes on Aug. 8, 2012, he said he couldn't recall who the "people on high" were who had described the informal clearance of the Israeli shipments but he indicated that "the new players" were the young neoconservatives who were working on the Reagan-Bush campaign, many of whom later joined the administration as senior political appointees.
In the mid-1980s, many of the same October Surprise actors became figures in the Iran-Contra scandal of 1985-86, another secret arms-for-hostages scheme in which Israel served as the middleman in U.S. arms shipments to Iran.
According to official Iran-Contra investigations, the plot to sell U.S. weapons to Iran in 1985-86 for its help in freeing American hostages then held in Lebanon involved Cyrus Hashemi, John Shaheen, Theodore Shackley, William Casey, Donald Gregg, Robert Gates, Robert McFarlane, George Cave, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush -- not to mention various Israeli officials.
In 1993, I took part in an interview with former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in Tel Aviv during which he said he had read Gary Sick's 1991 book, October Surprise, which made the case for believing that the Republicans had intervened in the 1980 hostage negotiations to disrupt Carter's reelection.
With the topic raised, one interviewer asked, "What do you think? Was there an October Surprise?"
"Of course, it was," Shamir responded without hesitation. "It was." Later in the interview, Shamir, who succeeded Begin as prime minister in the 1980s, seemed to regret his frankness and tried to backpedal on his answer, but his confirmation remained a startling moment.
Three decades after leaving office, former President Carter told an interviewer that he still hadn't made up his mind on whether Ronald Reagan's campaign secretly sabotaged his negotiations with Iran to gain release of the American hostages.
In an interview for a book, Conversations with Power by Brian Michael Till, Carter expressed uncertainty about the old political mystery, but he said he had discussed the matter with his ex-national security aide Gary Sick, who embraced the suspicions in a 1991 book, October Surprise.
"I have never taken a position on that because I don't know the facts," Carter told Till. "I've seen explanations that were made by George H.W. Bush and the Reagan people, and I've read Gary Sick's book and talked to him about it. I don't really know."
Still, Carter said he remains curious as to why the Iranians waited until immediately after Reagan was sworn in on Jan. 20, 1981, to allow the hostages to fly out of Tehran:
"The thing that I do know is that after they [the Iranians] decided to hold the hostages until after the election, I did everything I could to get them extracted, and the last three days I was president, I never went to bed at all. I stayed up the whole time in the Oval Office to negotiate this extremely complex arrangement to get the hostages removed and to deal with $12 billion in Iranian cash and gold.
"And I completed everything by six o'clock on the morning that I was supposed to go out of office. All the hostages were transferred to airplanes and they were waiting in the airplanes. I knew this -- so they were ready to take off -- and I went to the reviewing stand when Reagan became president.
"Five minutes after he was president, the planes took off. They could have left three or four hours earlier. But what, if any, influence was used on the Ayatollah [Ruhollah Khomeini] to wait until I was out of office. I don't know."
Yet, for the past three decades, Carter has seemed more concerned about being accused of sour grapes than learning the truth about whether a Republican dirty trick helped sink his presidency.