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Trick or Treason: The October Surprise Mystery.

In January 1993, the October Surprise Task Force of the U.S. House of Representatives concluded there was "no credible evidence" to support allegations that officials of the 1980 campaign to elect Ronald Reagan and George Bush cut an arms-for-hostages deal with representatives of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. With that verdict, the House officially laid to rest allegations that Republican operatives conspired to keep the fifty-two American hostages held in Iran until after the election, to ensure the defeat of President Jimmy Carter.

Buried less than a year, the October Surprise scandal came back to life last fall with Trick or Treason: The October Surprise Mystery, an engaging journalistic whodunit by Robert Parry. In the 1980s, Parry--a Washington reporter for the Associated Press and later Newsweek--made a name for himself as the first journalist to expose the CIA's contra assassination manuals, the White House's covert propaganda operation, and the Oliver North network. As the 1980s neared their end, Parry and his Newsweek editors began to clash. Parry wanted to give the Iran-contra scandal a deeper look. Newsweek editors opted for the overlook. In June 1990, Parry resigned.

Two months later, the PBS documentary program Frontline asked Parry to delve into the October surprise. Parry had his doubts.

"Already," he writes, "my career had been damaged by insisting that the Washington press corps had too readily accepted the Iran-contra cover story blaming the scandal on North and some of his expendable colleagues. Examining an even riskier set of allegations would alienate my mainstream-press colleagues even more." But Parry accepted the assignment, reasoning that if he did not take it he would be guilty of the spineless timidity he had criticized in his Washington colleagues.

So Parry set out to get to the bottom of the scandal. He discovered that those who knew Reagan/Bush campaign chief William Casey best had no doubt that he was capable of making under-the-table deals with Iran.

Casey's wife, Sophia, told Parry, "Oh, he would talk to Iranians, sure. He had no reason not to." When asked if she knew whether he had spoken to Iranians before the election, she responded, "I really don't know, but I say he would do it, I'm sure." She swore, however, that her husband never would have done anything to delay the hostages' release.

Sophia Casey provided Parry with an unpublished paper her husband had written about the 1980 campaign. Casey wrote in part, "In 1980, everyone [in Reagan's camp! agreed that Jimmy Carter had to be removed from office in order to save the nation from economic ruin and international humiliation."

If that was true, anyone who derailed Carter's re-election would positively deserve a medal of honor. But demonstrating that Reagan's camp had the tendency and the motive to conspire does not prove it did. What is the evidence? Did Casey negotiate a deal with the Iranians?

The House Task Force claims Casey could not have made such a deal. The investigators argue that Casey's schedule proves he could not have attended preelection meetings in Madrid and Paris on the weekends when he is alleged to have negotiated the October Surprise. But the evidence reported by the Task Force itself indicates that the investigators contorted the facts of the case to provide Casey with alibis--alibis that would support their conclusion of "no credible evidence." In Trick or Treason, Parry gives us step-by-step the recipe that Task Force investigators used to cook the evidence. The failure of the mainstream press to examine the Task Force findings troubles Parry.

"My faith in the profession of journalism had been shaken. Nearly all my Washington colleagues stayed away from the October Surprise story as if it were a new strain of the plague," he writes. "Journalism--the daily chaotic pursuit of the facts and the news--had been a central part of my adult life and a profession that I considered more a public trust than a job. I believed that honest reporting was vital to a democratic system. It was the means of conveying information to the public so voters could hold elected officials accountable. Too often in this era, my profession has fallen woefully short."

Trick or Treason hits the mark, both as an expose of a scandal that official Washington has tried to suppress and as an indictment of a national press whose members have chosen to protect careers rather than report unpleasant truths.
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Author:Bleifuss, Joel
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 1994
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