Walt Disney’s “National Treasure” is the
imaginative tale of a search for a treasure hidden by America’s Founding
Fathers to keep it away from the British monarchy. To find the treasure
more than two centuries later, the hero – played by Nicolas Cage –
travels from city to city in pursuit of complicated clues, including
some concealed in invisible ink on the back of the Declaration of
The search for the truth behind the October
Surprise mystery has seemed almost as unlikely at times, except the
narrative is nearly the opposite: today’s American rulers destroy clues
that otherwise might lead to knowing whether the democratic process –
arguably the greatest national treasure – was stolen in plain sight.
At the center of this October Surprise “treasure
hunt in reverse” has been the creation of bogus or dubious alibis for
key participants in alleged meetings between Republicans and Iranians in
1980 when Iran’s Islamic fundamentalist government was holding 52
American hostages and President Carter was desperately seeking their
Understandably, the suggestion that Ronald Reagan
and George H.W. Bush may have secretly collaborated with the Iranians
drew angry denials from Republicans. Even centrist Democrats and the
mainstream news media were eager to bury the ugly suspicions once and
So, when the October Surprise mystery belatedly
came under investigation in the early 1990s, there was an eagerness to
accept whatever alibis were offered for key Republicans even if the
facts pointed in the opposite direction.
Some of the most extraordinary alibis were devised
to “disprove” the participation of the late William J. Casey, who ran
Ronald Reagan’s campaign in 1980 and then became Reagan’s first CIA
director. (Casey died in 1987 as the Iran-Contra Affair – another
arms-for-hostage scandal – was engulfing the Reagan-Bush
Casey’s whereabouts on the last weekend of July
1980 was particularly important to the October Surprise mystery because
one witness, Iranian businessman Jamshid Hashemi, placed Casey in Madrid
at a secret meeting with senior Iranian cleric Mehdi Karrubi. If Casey
could be shown to have been elsewhere, Hashemi could be dismissed as a
In the early 1990s, Republicans and some media
allies sought to disprove this allegation by citing an alibi that placed
Casey at a historical conference in London at times that would have
precluded his presence in Madrid. When first published in The New
Republic in 1991, this so-called London alibi seemed to debunk the
October Surprise case and fueled public ridicule of the allegations as a
sham conspiracy theory.
But the London alibi turned out to be wrong. It
collapsed when credible witnesses, including historian Robert Dallek,
came forward to say that Casey missed the morning session of the
conference, arriving late in the afternoon and thus leaving him time for
a side trip to Madrid.
Bohemian Grove Alibi
Rather than publicly correct the erroneous London
alibi, however, the October Surprise debunkers simply went to work
quietly creating a new alibi to replace the old one. From the
stranger-than-fiction category, this new alibi put Casey at the Bohemian
Grove, an exclusive – and secretive – summer retreat for powerful men.
Under this alibi, Casey supposedly spent the last
weekend of July 1980 at the Bohemian Grove in northern California before
flying to London, arriving late for the historical conference but
without enough time for a Madrid side trip. That would mean that Jamshid
Hashemi was still a liar and the October Surprise case could be
In late 1992, the Bohemian Grove alibi was embraced
by a House task force that had been assigned to investigate the October
Surprise allegations. From the start, the task force had approached its
job as if its primary duty was to spare the nation the unpleasant
divisions that would have followed a finding that Reagan and the senior
George Bush had consorted with American enemies to win an election.
Still, under any serious scrutiny, the Bohemian
Grove alibi fell apart, contradicted by the available documentary
evidence collected by the House task force itself. That evidence showed
that Casey had actually attended the Bohemian Grove encampment on the
first weekend of August 1980, not the last weekend of July.
[You can find a thorough
explication of why the Bohemian Grove alibi is false in either my new
book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from
Watergate to Iraq, or my 1993 book, Trick or Treason: The October
Surprise Mystery, both available at
In brief, the
task force’s Bohemian Grove alibi held that Casey flew from Los Angeles
to San Francisco on Friday, July 25, 1980, with his host, Republican
operative Darrell Trent. Casey then supposedly drove with Trent to the
Bohemian Grove, arriving sometime late Friday evening.
According to the alibi, Casey stayed at the
Grove’s Parsonage camp until Sunday morning, July 27, when he went to
San Francisco, boarded a British Airways flight, flew all night, and
landed about lunchtime the next day, Monday, July 28, in London, an
itinerary that would have left no time for a side trip to Spain.
But that’s not what the
evidence actually showed. According to Grove records obtained by the
House investigators, Casey’s host, Darrell Trent, was already at the
Grove on Friday, July 25, while Casey was still in Washington attending
to campaign business. So they could not have traveled together from Los
Further, the task force found a plane ticket for a flight that Casey did
take that day. But it was not to the West Coast. It was a ticket for the
Washington-to-New York shuttle. A Casey calendar entry then showed a
meeting on Saturday morning, July 26, with a right-to-life activist who
said she met Casey at his home in Roslyn Harbor, N.Y.
Other records made clear that Casey did go to the Bohemian
Grove the following weekend. According to Republican campaign
records, Casey traveled to Los Angeles on Aug. 1, 1980, and met Darrell
Trent at a campaign strategy meeting. By that evening, Grove financial
records documented Casey and Trent making purchases at the Grove.
In addition, there was a
diary entry from Matthew McGowan, one of the Grove members at the
Parsonage cottage. He wrote on Aug. 3, 1980, that “we had Bill Casey,
Gov. Reagan's campaign mgr., as our guest this last weekend.”
Another piece of documentary evidence –
contradicting the Bohemian Grove alibi – was the formal group photo of
the men staying at the Parsonage on the last weekend of July 1980. The
photo, which I found in unpublished House task force files, shows
Casey’s host, Darrell Trent, and 15 other Grove attendees, but Casey is
not among them.
[To view the Bohemian Grove photograph, which we
have posted on the Internet for the first time as part of our new
document archive, click here, for PDF
version, or here, for JPEG version To read an earlier Consortiumnews.com
story about the Bohemian Grove alibi, click
here. For the latest account of the October Surprise evidence, see
Secrecy & Privilege.]
But the House task force didn’t stop with its
indefensible Bohemian Grove alibi for Casey’s whereabouts. The task
force also presented an unbelievable alibi for Casey on another key
date, Oct. 19, 1980, when some witnesses placed Casey in Paris for a
final meeting with Iranians.
For the Oct. 19 date, the House task force accepted
a recollection of Casey’s nephew, Larry Casey, that his late father had
called Bill Casey and found him at work at the Reagan-Bush campaign
headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. Though Larry Casey had no
corroboration for that memory, the task force still cited it as
“credible,” thus proving that Bill Casey had not traveled to Paris.
However, Larry Casey’s recollection was anything
but “credible.” In 1991, a year earlier, I had interviewed Larry Casey
for a PBS “Frontline” documentary. At that point, he had offered a
completely different alibi for his uncle, Bill Casey, on that date.
Larry Casey insisted that he vividly remembered his
parents having dinner with Bill Casey at the Jockey Club in Washington
on Oct. 19, 1980. ”It was very clear in my mind even though it was 11
years ago,” Larry Casey said.
But then I showed Larry Casey the sign-in sheets
for the Reagan-Bush campaign headquarters. The entries recorded Larry
Casey’s parents picking up Bill Casey for the dinner on Oct. 15, four
days earlier. Larry Casey acknowledged his error, and indeed an American
Express receipt later confirmed Oct. 15 as the date of the Jockey Club
In 1992, however, Larry Casey testified before the House task force and
offered the substitute “phone call alibi,” which he had not mentioned in
the “Frontline” interview. Though I notified the House task force about
this serious discrepancy, the task force was undeterred. It still used
the “phone call alibi” to debunk the Paris allegations.
Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., the chairman of the
House October Surprise task force, wrote an Op-Ed article for the New
York Times, entitled “Case Closed.” It cited the supposedly solid Casey
alibis as key reasons why the task force findings “should put the
controversy to rest once and for all.” [NYT, Jan. 24, 1993.]
More than a decade later, Washington’s conventional
wisdom remains largely dismissive of the October Surprise tale, but the
actual evidence points increasingly toward the likelihood that key
Republicans – aided and abetted by other powerful interests – did
conduct their own negotiations with Iran behind Carter’s back.
That evidence, however, never got a fair hearing in
the early 1990s because of the extraordinary pressures that were brought
to bear by then-President George H.W. Bush and his many allies.
Instead of following the clues toward a conclusion,
the opposite occurred. The clues were replaced by absurd alibis. Rather
than aggressively following the evidence wherever it led, a safe answer
was accepted that protected the reputations of recent American leaders.
As fanciful as Disney’s “National Treasure” may be,
perhaps its clearest departure from reality occurs when the movie shows
Cage and other characters caring about finding the truth. In real-life
Washington, the truth, it seems, is supposed to stay buried.
[For other recent October Surprise-related stories,
see Consortiumnews.com’s “A
Lawyer & National Security Cover-ups” and “David
Rockefeller & ‘October Surprise’ Case.”]