BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Gary Sick, author of the book “October Surprise,” in the introduction you say that “a book such as this can only serve as a cautionary tale.” Why’d you write that?
GARY SICK, AUTHOR, "OCTOBER SURPRISE: AMERICA'S HOSTAGES IN IRAN AND THE ELECTION OF RONALD REAGAN": Because that’s exactly the way I feel about it. That you can’t go back and refight the election of 1980. You can’t charge Bill Casey. He’s dead. You can’t really do much of anything about it, except to warn people that this sort of thing goes on and that they should watch out for it. And I think that that’s the important part of the book. It obviously has political significance and other things, but fundamentally, it’s to warn people that if the democratic process is going to work, you have to be careful.
LAMB: In the event that somebody's been hiding under a rock over the last couple of months, "October Surprise" is about what?
GARY SICK This book is about the attempt by the Reagan-Bush campaign to meet with the Iranians and delay the release of the American hostages until after the election and have them delivered to Ronald Reagan instead of Jimmy Carter to try to affect the outcome of the election in 1980.
LAMB: Why did you write it?
SICK: It's an easy question and it's a long answer. I didn't know I was going to write this book, even three years ago when I started doing the research. I set out to write a book about the Reagan administration's involvement with Iran, and I thought I was going to deal primarily with the Iran-Contra affair. As time went along, I started working on the book and I decided that to really talk about the Iran-Contra affair and to talk about the Reagan dealings with Iran, you had to look at what happened in 1980. That was where it all began. As I started doing the research on this, and I thought that would be rather quick and easy, I found that that was a story in itself. It just got bigger and bigger until finally I had to make a decision, do I go ahead and write the book I intended to write or do I write something else? I finally decided I had to go ahead and write this other book. So this is a mistake. This was never intended to happen.
LAMB: I noticed in either the introduction or the close that you signed this off in September of 1991. This is only a couple of months later. How did this book come out so fast?
SICK: It really is pretty amazing. I wrote an Op-Ed article for the New York Times on April 15, 1991, and it attracted a good deal of attention. Random House came to me in May and said they would like to do the book, and so in mid-May we sat down and had a discussion about what I could do. Unfortunately, I had not written the book before I wrote the article. I should have, of course. A terrible mistake. So they said, "Okay, how quickly could you write this book?" I took a very deep breath and I said, "August." They said, "All right. We'll lay down a schedule and we will go ahead and plan for production, and everything else, to get the book out in January." And so I started writing furiously. I disappeared from sight from May 15 until literally the end of August.
Finally I surfaced again with a full manuscript. I gave it to the people at Random House/Times Books. They gave me two superb editors who took the book and spent about two weeks tearing it apart and putting it back together again. Then we had negotiations over that, and when I signed off on that in September, that was when we had put the final touches on that manuscript. But even after that we went ahead making changes and fixes into October, and then they put it straight into the press. It came out then on November 11 -- actually the first books came of the press. I actually held one in my hand on November 6, which was really only a month after we had stopped making final changes to the thing. So it's an extraordinary piece of work, and they clearly decided to go quickly because the story keeps moving and they didn't want a lot of the story to get away before the book came out. As it turned out, the timing was really remarkable.
LAMB: Did you actually write it yourself?
SICK: I certainly did, every word.
LAMB: What do you do for a living?
LAMB: Where is home?
SICK: I live in Manhattan. I have an apartment. I was gainfully employed up until about three or four years ago when my kids graduated from college and I decided that since I'd been spending most of my money on their very expensive educational habits, I was now free to either start accumulating some of that money or to do without it. I decided to do without it; I would go to work for myself, researching, writing and doing what I wanted to do. I never made a better decision in my life. I have a little, tiny study about the size of this table in my home. I go in; I have my computer there -- the world's shortest commute from the bedroom to my little study -- and that's where I work. I've got a modem, I've got a telephone, I've got a fax machine, I've got everything I need. I can communicate with the rest of the world. I sit, I research, I write and I have a very good time.
LAMB: Do you work for any other institution now?
SICK: I'm an adjunct professor of Middle East politics at Columbia, and this semester that means I'm teaching a class once a week.
LAMB: Is this a political book? In other words, did this book come out because you want to affect the process or did it come out because you want to make money?
SICK: Well, I never have any objection to making money. That's perfectly acceptable, and I think any author that says they don't want to make money on their book has got to be crazy. I was in the White House when this happened, when the election of 1980 took place, and I had a chance to witness these things first-hand. I wrote another book called "All Fall Down" about the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis and the way it looked from my vantage point. When I started going through this again, what I had to do in this book was actually to go back and re-examine a whole body of history that I thought I had known. It was like tearing the peel off an onion -- you kept pulling it back and saying, "Wait a minute. I thought I knew what happened at that time," and then discovering that in fact you only know part of the story.
So it was a discovery process. It was a mystery story. I am an analyst by vocation. I spent 24 years in the Navy as an intelligence analyst -- naval intelligence -- and I ended up as a Navy captain. I spent a lot of my life -- in fact, all of my life for all practical purposes -- one way or another putting together complex puzzles. This is perhaps the most complex puzzle I'd ever run into, and so there was a real challenge in doing this. Then finally as I got into the material and came to have a serious grasp of this massive stuff, I think I felt a certain obligation. If people carry out this sort of nefarious political activity and they get away with it and they win elections and nobody ever calls them on it, what that means to a democratic system is that we're going to have more of that. They're going to do it again, and the word in Washington among the insiders who know these things will be, "This works. Try it, you will like it." So I felt that the least I could do was to put the thing out in public and say, "Here it is. Here's the evidence that's persuaded me. See if it will persuade you," and if so at least holding that up as a warning signal to other people to say, "Wait a minute. Maybe you can't get away with it next time."
LAMB: As you know, there have been a couple of publications that have worked this whole theory over pretty good. One of them is a cover story in the November 18 New Republic. People have probably seen this on the newsstand. The question is, "What October Surprise?" Let me just read one paragraph: "Almost every primary source cited by Sick or 'Frontline' has been indicted or was the subject of a federal investigation prior to claiming to being a participant in the October Surprise. Finally, evidence we have uncovered shows that William Casey and George Bush could not have been present at the meetings alleged by the sources."
SICK: First of all, remember that Steve Emerson wrote that piece -- although it says November 18 on the cover, in the peculiar world of magazine publishing in fact it was published a full week before my book came out on the 11th. I read it a week before. Emerson interviewed me for this, and I said, "Look, my book is going to deal with these issues in some detail, and the use of sources that you're alleging in this article simply aren't true." He chose not to use my information and not to wait for the book. So, this was written before the book came out and does not in any way reflect what I have done in the book because he didn't know what I was doing in the book other than what I had just told him in the interview.
As a result, the article was kind of odd in a sense because what it does is it creates a sort of hypothetical conspiracy theorist who believes in this story and says, "Here is this mythical individual, and if they believe in this they must believe in the tooth fairy because there is this and there is that," and it sets up a whole array of straw men and then knocks them down. But as I told Steve in our interview before he published this, many of the sources -- the first five or six pages of this article -- are devoted to one source, Richard Brenneke. I don't use him at all. In fact, with all due modesty, I believe that I debunk Richard Brenneke more effectively than Steve Emerson does.
So this debunking effort, I think, was slightly misguided and off the mark. But the charge in there about the sources indicate that Casey could not possibly have been in Madrid are just simply false. Emerson had talked to a guy in London who said that Casey was at a conference. We have known that Casey was at a conference in London, and he was there for about a day and a half. The records are a little fuzzy, but let's call it a day and a half that he was in London. He was missing for four to five days. He had left the States on Friday or Saturday night and came back on Wednesday.
LAMB: Now, you are talking about October of 1980?
SICK: This is July of 1980, and the allegation that I make, and the source that I talked to who was an eyewitness who was there at the meetings, said that Casey was in Madrid during this period of time. We had actually traced Casey's movements outside the country, and nobody had ever admitted that Casey was outside the country before.
LAMB: He was in Madrid meeting with ...?
SICK: That he was in Madrid meeting with an Iranian representative, Mehdi Karrubi who at the time was an associate of Khomeini's. Today he is the speaker of the Majles, the parliament in Iran.
LAMB: Doing what?
SICK: Making a deal. But this was where, in fact, the deal began that resulted in the delay of the hostages and the release of the hostages to the Reagan administration. So, my source had talked about this. We had traced Casey out of the country, and they say, "Well, he was in London." He was in London. There is absolutely no doubt about it. He was in London for a day and a half; all day Monday and half of Tuesday. He left on Friday or Saturday, he didn't get back until Wednesday. There was plenty of time. Madrid is 90 minutes from London by plane, and was used routinely as a shuttle point to go back and forth to Madrid for these people that were operating on this operation. So I just don't agree with the article at all, and I do wish that the article -- that and the Newsweek article -- had waited until after the book came out so that they could have, in fact, dealt with what I said, not with this mythical individual who supposedly is a believer in a conspiracy theory. I don't identify with the individual that they create.
LAMB: You can see the Newsweek cover now, "Making of a Myth: The October Surprise," which is also a debunking of your book?
SICK: Exactly. In fact, the two articles came out the same day and are really quite similar.
LAMB: You know a lot of people are accusing you of all kinds of things in writing this book.
LAMB: Let's go back to these articles, and I want to ask you what's the motive of the New Republic, which is owned by Marty Peretz, and what's, in your opinion, the motive of Newsweek, which is owned by the Washington Post company?
SICK: I don't think it's my business to examine their motives. They are examining mine. They say I have been taken to the cleaners by these people, that they think that I'm being used for political purposes, and so forth. All I can say is that the articles came out together, quite similar, one week. As far as I know they didn't work on these things together -- well, I take that back. In fact, the Newsweek article refers to Emerson's article and so forth, so they were in contact with each other before this time. They use exactly the same pieces of evidence, they've talked to the same people, and they go about it in very much the same way. Presumably their motive is that they didn't believe the story. I find it difficult to believe in it.
The part that really bothers me about both of these stories is that if you look at the end of the Newsweek story it ends up saying that maybe this whole thing began with a big misunderstanding, and what if the people that were talking in London to the American representative -- the Carter representative -- thought they were really talking to the Republicans and this was all just a case of mistaken identity. This is just wildly speculative. I was in the government at the time. I know about the meeting that went on with the American representative, and definitely there was no case of mistaken identity. I told them that also, but they seemed to like this theory and they ran with it. I honestly don't understand what was going on here.
LAMB: Let me ask you this, and maybe you don't want to deal with it. Marty Peretz is an avowed Zionist. He believes very strongly in the State of Israel. He's said it on this network. Any suspicions that one of the reasons they would pick this line is because one of the things you accuse Israel of doing is being an intermediary in the weapons?
SICK: Well, it's a legitimate question. Again, I can't examine their motives. It is true that this book is not very flattering to Israel, and I would anticipate that people who feel strongly that way would feel a need. But as I say, the articles in both cases are not really directed at the book as much as they are at the general story. Neither one of them claim that they actually have read this book or are responding to what it says. They are simply saying in advance what they think is going to happen. It may, in fact, be more of a reaction in some respects to the Sy Hersch book that had come out just a few weeks earlier which uses one of the same sources that I do -- Ari Ben-Menashe who is a former Israeli intelligence operative and who plays a prominent role in my book as well as in Sy Hersch's book, and he is saying things that the Israelis are very, very unhappy about. So the fact, for instance, that Steve Emerson got access to personnel records from the intelligence division in Israel, personnel records of Ari Ben-Menashe which nobody else had been able to lay their hands on, suggests that at least the Israelis were prepared to cooperate with him on this. When he interviewed me he was in Israel. That's where he was doing his research and that's where he called me to do the interview.
LAMB: Did you sense, by the way, when Steve Emerson called you, that he was going to come out against what you had written?
SICK: Oh, yes. I mean, it was very clear.
LAMB: Do you know him?
SICK: I had known him; we had talked at various times in the past. I was aware of various stories that he had done and research that he had done. We had not known each other well, just in passing.
LAMB: This may be really stretching things, but Newsweek is owned by the Washington Post company and you first wrote your article in the New York Times on April 15 this year where you laid all this out. Is there any sense that there is a competitive thing here?
SICK: I have no reason to believe that the Washington Post inspired them to do this. No, I really don't think that was the issue. The Washington Post, however, has been quite hostile to the story and from the very beginning has not been very receptive to the idea. Again, I can't explain the motives of that either. My impression is that John Barry, the chief reporter who did this, once he got the information about Casey in London he quit looking and quit thinking that there was anything else to look for. That disproved everything.
LAMB: John Barry is British.
SICK: He is British, that is correct.
LAMB: So his connection was in Britain for the information that he ...
SICK: He's British but he works in the United States.
LAMB: In know, but was his information, his source, British?
SICK: His source was British, as a matter of fact, yes. Mr. [Jonathan] Chadwick at the Royal Army Medical College of the Royal War Museum was the person who provided the information about Casey being in London. We had known about Casey being in London before. In my book there is a photograph of Casey in London. That was put out before these articles were written. So the fact that Casey was in London certainly didn't come as a surprise to me. It was in the book, it was described, and there is a picture of Casey during this conference that he was holding in London. So that didn't come as a surprise to me at all. But there is a sense that once that information was found, once that was located, that John Barry simply decided that everything about this story was false. I think they just didn't look hard enough because that, in my view, does not mean that this could not have taken place.
LAMB: Maybe I shouldn't say this, but in order to understand this story you've got to read it, and maybe that's not fair. In other words, to understand the intricacies -- I tried to figure out how I was going to ask you questions about all the ...
SICK: It really is true, and that in one sense is why I wrote it, because dealing with this subject, among the people that work with it, there's a kind of shorthand -- Hashemi says this, and you know what that's talking about; at the first Madrid meeting this happened, and you go on and on. For a normal, even well-informed, individual, it's impossible to know what this shorthand is talking about, and you need some kind of a guide. This book, among other things, is an attempt to create a guide that will easily take a reader through this very complex story, and I hope show what the motives would be of the individuals involved, what the evidence is as it now exists, something about the sources -- who they are, where they come from, what their background is, why they would or would not have access to certain information. So I hope that the book will at least lift the level of discourse so that anybody who wants to talk about this subject in the future at least will have a sort of set of guideposts set out for them that you could then know at least what the baseline of information is and can go on from there.
LAMB: Let me talk about the journalism of this whole thing with you, if we can. It seems that different people have chosen up sides on this.
SICK: Yes, it's really true.
LAMB: How about the networks? I noticed on page 236 you say, "Three of the journalists were particularly generous and helpful." Then you mention, "Tara Sonnenshine of ABC-TV's 'Nightline' took an early interest in the story, introduced me to some key sources, and with her superb team of researchers broke several parts of the story." Did they then have an interest in it once they got to working with you?
SICK: Tara had started working on this story before I ever met her and had done a lot of independent research. One of the interesting things about working on this story was that I was working on my own. I don't have a research staff; I don't even have a secretary. It's just me, and I go do my thing. A lot of the other reporters and other people had become interested in this story over time, for one reason or another, mostly because they thought there was really something there and that had been overlooked and covered up and it needed a lot more digging. Those reporters were often working on their own time. They had very little institutional support. They had no bureaus to draw on. They had no research support, for the most part, but they were interested.
We didn't have the luxury of fighting among ourselves in terms of, "I go first," and, "I'm going to get this scoop." Basically everybody that was involved in the story was interested in the story and was interested in getting it out and was interested in finding out what really happened. It was a rare and unusual set of circumstances, but it was a pleasure -- an absolute joy -- to work on the story from that point of view that we didn't have to feel that somebody was just milking you and they were going to run off and publish behind your back or they were going to be telling stories about you or something else.
It was a good group, a smart group, and we did pursue this thing, sharing information among ourselves, helping each other out, sharing sources. If I suddenly found that there was a lead out on the West Coast some place that I couldn't pursue, there was a guy that I worked with out on the West Coast that I would call and say, "Hey, if you have a chance could you talk to so- and-so," and he would do that and call me back and send me a transcript of the interview or say there was nothing there and so forth. We shared among ourselves. So, Tara was one of the people who I shared information with, and others are named in the book as well. Does that mean that "Nightline" has a stake in it? I don't think so. It meant that "Nightline" was ahead of the game. They had more information, faster, than any of the other networks. If there is a professional jealousy there, I think that may be one of the sources of it.
LAMB: Were you ever on the ABC payroll for this?
SICK: I've not been on any payroll of any organization for this, except for the Twentieth Century Fund, which provided me a grant to do this book. No, I have not worked as a consultant for ABC, ever.
LAMB: Who is the Twentieth Century Fund?
SICK: The Twentieth Century Fund is a non-profit organization in New York which has been around for many years. What they specialize in is giving grants for single-author books on policy issues, and they have been doing it for years.
LAMB: Are they political?
SICK: No, they are not.
LAMB: Are they partisan?
SICK: No, they cover the waterfront.
LAMB: Do you think they were interested in your book because they knew the slant it would take?
SICK: The proposal that I wrote for them was not for this book. It was for a much more general book that was really examining the relationship between the Reagan administration and Iran. So, they couldn't have known what they were going to get. What I did was, about the fall of 1989 -- maybe '90 -- I went back to them and I said, "Look, I gave you a proposal. I promised to write you a certain kind of a book," and I had a chapter outline and everything. I said, "I'm not going to write that book right now. You don't owe me a thing. If you want me to, I'm going to just put that aside for the moment and I'll come back and write that book for you later. I owe it to you and I'm prepared to do that. The book that I'm going to write is going to be very controversial, very messy and is likely to get certainly me in trouble, but it could get you in trouble, too. You are quite free to just drop out at this point and tell me to go off and do my own thing, and then when I come back we can do this other book together."
They thought seriously about that and said, "Go ahead and write it," and gave me full support to continue pursuing the subject. They don't necessarily endorse it; I mean, in the sense of saying that this is their thesis, but they thought that it was an important policy issue and it needed to be looked at and that's, after all, what they were there for. Richard Leone, the president of the foundation is, I just think, a terrific guy. I had great support from them all the way through. They didn't have to do this, and it's a risky thing for them as well -- for any non-profit institution -- but they took it.
LAMB: Where do they get their money?
SICK: It's an endowment. It was given to them. I wish I knew the name of their founder; they'll shoot me for not being able to say that publicly. But some years ago a gentleman, very wealthy, gave them money for this very purpose, and the institution has been going on for I don't know how many years.
LAMB: Are you aware of any other projects that they've been involved in that the audience might be familiar with?
SICK: Gee, I wish I'd done a little more homework. They put out, I think, eight books or more a year. I shouldn't be talking just off the cuff like this because I really haven't done the research, but they put out a considerable range of books that they publish every year. What they do is they take an author on just as if they were giving him an advance and say, "We give you so much time. You write a book for us." Then when they get the book, they own it. They take the book and then they go to the publishers -- just as if they were an agent almost -- and try to place the book. If they can't place the book, then they become a publisher and they publish the book themselves. But they publish a wide range of things on European policy, on Social Security, on health care, on foreign policy. Most of it is domestic policy, though. Most of their books focus on domestic policy rather than on foreign policy, but there are a number of foreign policy books.
LAMB: Is this the only book you've done for them?
LAMB: Your "Frontline" connection, there's a Bob Perry, I believe?
SICK: Bob Perry and Robert Ross.
LAMB: Is he the same Bob Perry that used to be with Newsweek?
SICK: That's correct.
LAMB: Who has done our show many times here.
LAMB: The reason I bring that up -- it's interesting -- had he still been with Newsweek, he might have been involved in this other story.
SICK: That's right. Bob Perry has been interested in this story for a long, long time, and he's been working on it on his own. He couldn't get support at Newsweek, in fact, to work on this story. He's been working on it on his own -- freelancing -- and then, as I understand it, he proposed this idea of a special to PBS and hooked up with Robert Ross, who is a television producer, who also speaks Persian, as it turns out, which is very convenient in this particular thing, and who lived in Iran for a while. They set to work, the two of them, to go out and do a television version of what I was doing, basically, in print.
LAMB: This may sound like it's not all that important, but it just seems to be a thread through all this. Going back to the Newsweek piece, I found it interesting that John Barry's piece led off by saying, "The outlet was hardly prestigious" -- this is for the first part of this whole story -- "the Executive Intelligence Review," which is a LaRouche publication. Did you read that?
SICK: I read the Newsweek article, yes.
LAMB: Then it points out that when the story got its next boost in April of '87 it was in the Miami Herald, and then it moves from there since nobody paid much attention to it then. "The Herald story didn't get much play. But when Bani Sadr next spoke to Flora Lewis of the New York Times in August of '87 the story grew." The only reason I mention this is that you had access to the Op-Ed page of the New York Times on April 15 of this year, and then the "Frontline" story ran, what, the next day?
SICK: That's correct.
LAMB: How does all this work?
SICK: The timing of this?
LAMB: No, why all of a sudden in order to get the attention it had to get to the New York Times first?
SICK: It's an interesting point because inevitably in a complicated or highly controversial political issue, by the time the story breaks in a big way and comes to a lot of people's attention, it has already been covered by the alternative media. That's not at all unusual that alternative presses, smaller newspapers, are covering these stories, doing the real investigative reporting. Very frequently the big newspapers are busy reporting sort of what is happening, sort of reporting history, whereas the littler presses are hungry, they're enthusiastic and they're energetic and they're out there digging like crazy and they're coming up with stuff -- some of it bad and some of it very good.
Usually you will find that any big story that you look at, often there was a subterranean press that covered it first, and some reporters that were out there digging who often in the end don't get full credit for what they do. This is simply another example, that people were out there digging around. The mainstream press are very slow to pick up on these things. I've found the mainstream press to be really quite timid in dealing with a tough, political issue -- one that really goes to the bone, that isn't just sort of cosmetic. A little scandal -- somebody misusing funds, somebody sleeping with somebody else in the political arena -- but really goes to the heart of the thing. Maybe that's what it means to be mainstream is that you're extremely conservative about making accusations or carrying things on. So was your question how did I get to Op-Ed page of the New York Times?
LAMB: Why did they buy your piece?
SICK: The way it happened was that in the spring of 1990 an editor at the Op-Ed page of the New York Times called me up and said, "I've been hearing about this October Surprise theory," and she said she thought there was quite a story there and if it was real it was one of the biggest stories of the decade -- of all time. She thought it really ought to be looked at and wondered what I was doing. I said I was working on it; she knew I was working on it. She said, "Would you write something for us on the thing?" I said, "No, I'm definitely not ready yet. I've done a lot of research, but I'm nowhere near ready to write the story. There's just so much that I don't know and I'm missing."
She said, "Well, let's stay in touch. Do you have anybody else to suggest?" I suggested two or three other people that I said they could contact that might be one to write a story for them. She called me back and said, "Well, let's stay in touch on this thing. There's no immediate rush on the thing." So we did, for a year. We would talk every month or two and she would say, "How are you doing?" I'd say, "Well, I'm making some progress." "Are you ready to write?" I'd say, "No," and that was that.
Finally, from January 1991 on, the tempo of this really picked up very dramatically. We had a bunch of new sources, new things were coming together. Bob Perry and Robert Ross had been out scouring territory. They had new interview material. I had interviewed Jamshid Hashemi and he had given me a whole new dimension of this story, carrying it on to Madrid and the meetings with Karrubi, and there was a sense of momentum and even excitement about the way the story was developing. Suddenly, after all this time of grubbing around with little, tiny details, suddenly there was a modest breakthrough.
And so they said their documentary was getting put together, and they were getting ready to go on the air with it. We agreed very clearly that it probably would be very useful to have something in print to go along with the television show. So I figured at some point I was going to have to write about this and that seemed to be the moment to do it because we now had all of this together. I called my friend at the Op-Rd page and I said, "I'm ready; are you ready?" She said, "Let's see what you've got." I wrote them a piece that I thought was three times too long but I said, "It's hard to compress this story into a few sentences. Take a look at it and see if you can edit it down to make something out of it."
They thought about it for several days, called me back and said, "We're prepared to go with it but we need it to be a little longer. We've got to have answers to this and that." Then we went into an intensive editing phase, word by word, phrase by phrase, that went on for what seemed like a good part of a week. They knew that "Frontline" was coming out on Tuesday, and the New York Times, not wanting to be scooped, said they would make room for it on Monday and, much to my amazement, gave me almost the entire Op-Ed page for this article. It was amazing.
LAMB: And did "Frontline" care? Did they like the idea you were going to hit the New York Times first?
SICK: I think they had mixed emotions. On one hand, I think they were happy to have a mainstream publication coming out with the same story at the same time they were. It lent real credibility and real punch to the story. It got people's attention. I think a lot of people looked at the "Frontline" story that would not have. I mentioned it in the Op-Ed page, so the Op-Ed piece mentions the fact that "Frontline" is going to be doing this the next day. On the other hand, like all journalists, I think there were those who thought that it would be great if they were out there first. But I can't speak for "Frontline." I thought they were basically pretty happy with the result. They got tremendous numbers on that show in terms of listeners tuning in.
LAMB: On the last page where you sign off in your book, you make this statement, "Barbara Honneger deserves special mention." Why?
SICK: As I said -- to read on from there -- that I didn't agree with Barbara on many, many issues. We didn't work together at all. She was not part of this little group that worked together. But Barbara Honneger wrote a book, also called "October Surprise."
LAMB: By the way, how could you do that?
SICK: You could have 15 books by the same name in the same year if you want to. You can't copyright a book title. In fact, there often are two or three books by the same title. That was an editorial decision on the ground that this phrase has come to simply represent this story, and that trying to come up with a more elegant title -- in effect people wouldn't know what they were talking about. Somebody looks at that cover, they know what the book is about. It's truth in advertising, if nothing else. But in any case, she had written the book -- it came out in 1989 -- called October Surprise. I disagreed with many of the things in that book, but she had been absolutely dogged in her pursuit of this story and she had uncovered a number of sources and uncovered an amount of information and kept the story alive at a time when absolutely nobody believed in it at all. So I thought that at a minimum she deserved credit for the work that she has done for which, in many cases, she has not gotten much appreciation, even from me.
LAMB: I'm not sure it's fair to ask you this, but why is it that the Executive Intelligence Review, a LaRouche publication, was just kind of cast aside, Barbara Honneger's book was even made fun of by people, and then all of a sudden Gary Sick is bought by the New York Times and "Frontline" and your book is out there?
SICK: Maybe it's not a fair question to ask me because you'd need to ask somebody else why they did that. Let's face it, I'm a fairly mainstream person. I was a retired Navy captain, I have 24 years of Navy intelligence work, I was in the Defense Department for a number of years, I was in the White House for six years, I worked for three different Presidents in the White House. I got out, I worked for a very conservative organization; I mean, I worked for the Ford Foundation doing program work for them. I had done work on the Middle East and so forth. It's a very, sort of conservative, mainstream kind of -- it's not necessarily a routine kind of CV, but it is at least one that people can look at and say, "Well gee, this guy at least is not a crazy coming out of left field."
I had written for the New York Times before. I had written three or four different Op-Ed pieces for them at various times in the past. I had also written for the Washington Post, and I had done commentary on national television at the time of the Gulf War. I had done a lot of work, so my name was known to a lot of people and I think that people who would have said, "That's ludicrous; that story is unbelievable; I will have nothing to do with it," if they said, "If he's buying this maybe -- just maybe -- it deserves another look just to see." I think there was a sort of mixture there. In the end, who knows what the outcome of this will be. But initially it seems to me that's what motivated people to give me, if you like, a second reading.
LAMB: Getting back to the premise of the book, on page 146 you say, "None of the principals involved have ever spoken publicly about what happened, and there will never be a full account of the discussions until that happens," and on the same page you say that in this meeting there were six Israelis, 16 Iranians and 12 Americans. Why haven't any of those people spoken up, and have you talked to any of them?
SICK: I said principals because some of the people there have, in fact, spoken up, but very few of them -- very, very few. I have tried very hard to talk to specific individuals who had reason either to know what was going on or to have been there. In my view this was a covert, political action. Covert actions are done in secrecy. People are pledged to keep their mouths shut, and for the most part they do. People take those pledges very seriously, partly because they sort of take a secrecy oath that beyond that they know that they're going to be implicated in the thing. So they have every reason in the world to keep their mouths shut unless, as some of the people who have served as sources for this, they really have nothing left to lose.
They've been indicted, they're in trouble, they feel that they've been deserted by the people that they worked with, or they were very marginal characters who really had no part in the major part of the thing. And so you get a little piece of the puzzle. It's not surprising that the sources that show up for this are not Boy Scouts and Sunday School teachers. I mean, that's not the kind of people that they used for the thing, and those are not the kind of people that are now ready go to public. The principals, I think, have not talked, and my feeling is the only way you are ever going to get the principals to talk -- and even that is not going to be easy -- is with some kind of congressional investigation that has subpoena power. That is the necessary element to get beyond this. That doesn't mean that you solve all of your problems immediately, but it does mean at least you're in a position to begin dealing with them.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
SICK: Kansas. I was born in Russell, Kansas, the same hometown as Bob Dole and Arlen Specter, as a matter of fact. Arlen grew up there and went to high school.
LAMB: Were you in the same class?
SICK: No, neither one of them. We didn't know each other in Russell; none of the three of us did. But I think it's kind of interesting, this little town of 6,000 people right out on the bare plains of Kansas. It's a lovely spot, and the book is dedicated to my mother. I make a point of getting out to Kansas as often as I can, and I always enjoy getting back. But it's a tiny little town, and I went to the University of Kansas. I basically lived my whole life there, and only later on did I leave. The Navy provided my mobility, I guess, to leave Kansas.
LAMB: What did you study?
SICK: I was a French major in college -- French literature, as a matter of fact. My specialty was 19th century French poetry -- 19th and early 20th century -- most of which I have now forgotten, though not the French. After college I got a fellowship and went to France for a year, lived with a French family. Again studied literature, but mostly studied France. I traveled around for a year, and then went into the Navy and went to the Middle East -- a lot of time in the Persian Gulf, North Africa and the Mediterranean.
LAMB: What was your first year in the Navy?
SICK: My first year in the Navy was in the flagship in the Persian Gulf.
LAMB: What year?
LAMB: Did you ask for that assignment?
SICK: Well, I was interested in intelligence work. It appealed to me because this sort of putting puzzles together was something that I really enjoyed doing, and I thought I would enjoy the work, and that was the only place that there was an intelligence job available. When I was assigned to the flagship in the Persian Gulf, I didn't know where the Persian Gulf was. I had to get out a map and find out where it was. I had a great geography lesson in a year of sailing around the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf -- places that were wonderfully exotic and colorful. In a sense, for a small-town boy from Kansas, it was sort of "join the Navy and see the world," and I've seen an awful lot of the world.
LAMB: Where did you go after that first year?
SICK: From the Persian Gulf I went, curiously enough, for a period in Paris with some language training, and then went down to Morocco. There was a naval installation and Navy base in Morocco that put out a monthly magazine on political events in the Middle East. It was like a year of being a reporter on a magazine, and I learned a lot about the Middle East in the course of that year. I read a lot and wrote a lot, and I enjoyed writing. It was a great joy to be able to turn out articles every two weeks or something like that.
LAMB: Were you coming on to be a full lieutenant pretty soon?
SICK: At that point I was -- I guess I was. I made lieutenant, I guess, while I was in Morocco.
LAMB: Where from there? What were the steps?
SICK: I got married while I was in Morocco. My wife had been at Kansas University with me, and we went back and got married. Traveled through France for a wonderful month, and then came back to the States. I had a series of assignments in Washington. I went to the naval intelligence school here in Washington, and then later went out to Fort Mead, Md., and was watching Soviet missiles and naval activities from that vantage point, and then went off to Cairo as the assistant naval attach‚. I was in Cairo from '65 to '67. I was there at the beginning of the Arab-Israel war -- the Six Day War. I watched it from the other end -- the receiving end -- and stood on the roof of the embassy in Cairo and watched the Israeli planes coming in to hit the desert sites, literally within sight, flying around on the outskirts of the city, shrapnel falling on your head from above as they were firing off flack guns, trying to knock down these airplanes. I was one of the people who was involved in setting up the evacuation of Americans from Egypt. I drove down to Cairo and tried to organize an evacuation. A very exciting period of time. I loved Egypt. I still do, and I have been back a few times since that time. My daughter was born in Egypt.
LAMB: How many kids?
SICK: Two. I have a son and a daughter.
LAMB: After Cairo, what, in the Navy?
SICK: We were evacuated from there, spent a short time in Greece and ended up in Italy with the 6th Fleet and, again, was stationed in Naples. Loved Italy. My daughter loved it so much that she's gone back and she now lives in Italy and has become an Italian actually. Her Italian is just perfect. We left there and came back. I went to the Naval War College, and then after that I got a master's degree in international relations while I was at the War College, and then went to Columbia. The Navy has this wonderful program that a few a people a year are funded to get Ph.D.'s. I was lucky enough to be one of those, and went to Columbia for three years, did all the course work and the dissertation, finished my Ph.D., came down to Washington. I wrote my dissertation on great power politics in the Indian Ocean, and that got me a job in the office of the secretary of defense working on the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean issues.
LAMB: What year was this now?
SICK: That was in 1973 to '76.
LAMB: And the Secretary of Defense is ...
SICK: James Schlesinger came in while I was there. It was basically Schlesinger's time. That's the guy I worked for most. There were other people before, but it was really Schlesinger. I wrote some stuff for him and was involved with him.
LAMB: Were you a commander in the Navy at this point?
SICK: Yes, I was a commander at that time. Then I went from there, because of my work in the secretary of defense's circle -- assistant for security affairs -- I got to know a number of people in the White House in the National Security Council, and when President Ford was facing an election, as often happens, people jump ship. They get out while their Rolodex is still hot and go to work for a consulting firm or something, and then after the election people flood back in again. There are always a lot of holes over there in the White House staff during that six months to a year. And so I was invited to come over to the NSC staff, and I thought that was a pretty bad offer. I'd go over there, work for six months, get kicked out when the new people come in -- whichever way the election goes -- and then I'd be out of a job and I'd have to go scrambling. But I did it anyway. I thought it would be a great place to watch an election from, and it turned out to be a great place to watch the election from. The Carter people came in after the election. I thought I would be sent back over to the Department of Defense but they said, "Stay on."
LAMB: Were you a captain yet?
SICK: I was not, but before the end of the Carter administration I was promoted to captain.
LAMB: And that's the rank you left the Navy.
SICK: That's the rank I left the Navy.
LAMB: How many people were on the NSC staff at that point?
SICK: As I recall, around 50 professionals. Pretty small.
LAMB: You write in the conclusion, "Although I was a Democrat, I had served nearly half of my career under Republican presidents." Why did you feel the need to put that in the book?
SICK: Because I know that I am going to be accused of political partisanship. People are going to say this is a political hatchet job, that I am just going after George Bush, that I want to embarrass him, it's a political season, etc., and there is no way I can avoid that. I mean, I know that charge is going to go with it. The way I actually got into this book was not a carefully plotted event, but it does come at a political time. It is going to be seen as a political document, and so I at least want to make my position clear that this is where I am. I have always been a Democrat, and though I have never worked in political campaigns -- I have never been an activist -- I think most people, at least until this book came out, probably regarded me as generally non-partisan. I'd never really participated in partisan political activities. This book is likely to be used in a partisan way. It's not written in a partisan way, but it's likely to be used in a partisan way, and there is really nothing I can do about that.
LAMB: Did you find many Democrats in the Navy in the officer corps?
SICK: We didn't talk politics.
LAMB: You didn't?
SICK: Seriously, no. We really didn't talk politics very much, and I honestly couldn't answer your question. I know that some people were Democrats and some people were Republicans, but to say that I met a lot of them -- I simply didn't identify people that I worked with as Republicans or Democrats.
LAMB: You say in the book, "I would not be human if I did not confess that I have at one time or another awakened in the middle of the night with the thought, what if all these people are lying to me? Is it possible that all these accounts are themselves a conspiracy and lies?" Why did you put that in the book?
SICK: Because it's true. You can't work on a story this big, this complicated and this dangerous -- dangerous to your own professional career and to your own reputation -- without asking yourself that question. I must say that I have answered that question to my own satisfaction, that when I finally decided that I was going to write this book and in the course of writing the book, I believed that the number of coincidences that occur in this story, that if you are going to show that this was a conspiracy of lies you have to invent another massive conspiracy theory to say that all of these people have been secretly exchanging information among themselves, that they have got some motive which is not easy to determine.
Why they would all be going to this immense effort to put out this story? It's not clear that any of them are benefitting from it. In fact, many of them have been really seriously hurt by this story and the fact that it came out. Personally vilified? No. They have lost jobs, in many cases lost money, in some cases have been threatened with court cases. I mean, Richard Brenneke was subjected to a perjury trial. It's not clear that they had much to gain from doing this. But you have to come up with a theory. What do they all have to gain? How was it all put together? How were these people planted?
Jamshid Hashemi, for instance, the source that I used probably as much as anyone in the book, didn't come to me and volunteer his story. It took me a year and a half of dealing with him before he would finally begin to tell me his story. He had to really trust me first and decide that I could be trusted to deal with this. You know, how did somebody plant him there and have him go on for a year and a half without telling me the story if this was all part of a plot to deceive me? It's pretty damn well done, I'll say that, if the plot was done, and finally I get to the point where the coincidences are so extraordinary that to explain them away, the conspiracy theory has to be bigger than the real conspiracy. Finally you get to a point and you say, "I believe it."
LAMB: The author of the book is Gary Sick. The title is "October Surprise." Thank you for joining us.
SICK: It was a great pleasure.
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