"Carter, I say, was not a stupid man," Copeland said, adding that Carter had an even worse flaw: "He was a principled man."
These attitudes of "the CIA within the CIA" and the Likudniks appear to stem from their genuine beliefs that they needed to protect what they regarded as vital interests of their respective countries. The CIA Old Boys thought they understood the true strategic needs of the United States and Likud believed fervently in a "Greater Israel."
However, the lingering October Surprise mystery is whether these two groups followed their strongly held feelings into a treacherous bid, in league with Republicans, to prevent Carter from gaining the release of 52 hostages then held in Iran and thus torpedoing his reelection hopes.
Carter's inability to resolve that hostage crisis did set the stage for Ronald Reagan's landslide victory in November 1980 as American voters reacted to the long-running hostage humiliation by turning to a candidate they believed would be a tougher player on the international stage.
Reagan's macho image was reinforced when the Iranians released the hostages immediately after he was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 1981, ending the 444-day standoff.
The coincidence of timing, which Reagan's supporters cited as proof that foreign enemies feared the new president, gave momentum to Reagan's larger agenda, including sweeping tax cuts tilted toward the wealthy, reduced government regulation of corporations, and renewed reliance on fossil fuels. (Carter's solar panels were pointedly dismantled from the White House roof.)
Reagan's victory also was great news for CIA cold-warriors who were rewarded with the choice of World War II spymaster (and dedicated cold-warrior) William Casey to be CIA director. Casey then purged CIA analysts who were detecting a declining Soviet Union that desired de'tente and replaced them with people like the young and ambitious Robert Gates, who agreed that the Soviets were on the march and that the United States needed a massive military expansion to counter them.
Further, Casey again embraced old-time CIA swashbuckling in Third World countries and took pleasure in misleading or bullying members of Congress when they insisted on the CIA oversight that had been forced on President Gerald Ford and had been accepted by President Carter. To Casey, CIA oversight became a game of hide and seek.
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 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, which were then used to help finance 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 surely 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-Bush 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 other powerbrokers 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 and anonymity, they were volunteering as foot soldiers in Bush's campaign.