On November 4, 1979, Iranian students seized the embassy in Tehran and detained more than 50 Americans, ranging from the Chargé d’Affaires to the most junior members of the staff, as hostages.
Six American diplomats who evaded capture when the mob stormed the US embassy were rescued by a joint CIA–Canadian effort on January 27, 1980. The Iranians held the remaining American diplomats as hostages for 444 days.
Gary Sick, a former naval intelligence officer who served on the National Security Council staff under Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan, chronicled in a 1991 book how the Reagan-Bush campaign made a secret deal with Iran to delay the release of the American hostages until after the 1980 election but new evidence has emerged to show that in July of 1980, former Texas Governor John Connally executed that agreement during a trip to the Middle East.
President Jimmy Carter called the hostages “victims of terrorism and anarchy” and referred to their capture as an act of “blackmail” but until now, none of the actual participants in the scheme have come forward to confess.
An attempt to rescue the hostages in July 1980 failed when US Army helicopters carrying special forces crashed, killing eight of the soldiers assigned to bring the diplomats home.
Former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, 84, went to the Middle East with Connally, and he has now revealed that the trip was intended to delay the release of American hostages in Iran in order to help Ronald Reagan win the presidency.
Barnes admitted that he has personal knowledge of efforts by Reagan allies to delay the release of US hostages until after the 1980 election.
Barnes said he was motivated to reveal the truth by news that America’s longest living president entered hospice care at age 98.
“After a series of short hospital stays, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter today decided to spend his remaining time at home with his family and receive hospice care instead of additional medical intervention,” said a statement from the Carter Center, a charity created by the former president and his wife Rosalynn in 1982.
Connally’s involvement in the affair was a secret until March 2023, when the New York Times published an account of the story as told by Barnes, the youngest state lawmaker to ever serve as Texas speaker of the house and Connally’s protégé.
Barnes told the New York Times he wants explain his part in the secret operation against President Carter.
Peter Baker, the Times’ chief White House correspondent, authored the bombshell report, “A Four-Decade Secret: One Man’s Story of Sabotaging Carter’s Re-Election.”
Connally, a Reagan ally, delivered the message that Iran should wait until after the election to release the hostages.
The hostage crisis was a key issue in the 1980 presidential race, but Reagan feared that if the hostages were released before the election, Carter would get a big boost in the polls.
Carter was troubled by inflation, unemployment and other things that were undermining his candidacy so gaining the release of the hostage may not have changed the election result, but a lot of people believe that had Carter freed them in September or October, that would have made a difference.
Barnes revealed Connally was committed to stalling the negotiations and invited him on a trip to several Middle Eastern capitals to urge leaders not to release the hostages because Reagan would offer a better deal, the Times reported.
Barnes’ claims echoes those of the so-called October Surprise Theory, in which Carter supporters have long alleged pro-Reagan Republican agents had secretly influenced the outcome of the 1980 election by betraying US interests during the Iran hostage crisis.
Aside from Barnes and Sick, the allegation of Reagan’s effort to prevent the release of the US hostages has been confirmed by former Iranian President Abulhassan Banisadr, former CIA operations officer and Iran-Contra figure Duane Clarridge and Barbara Honegger, a former campaign staffer and White House analyst for Reagan and his successor, George H. W. Bush.
High level Republicans involved with the 1980 campaign put partisan victory above patriotism and human decency, but Barnes said that he doesn’t know for sure if Reagan knew about his operatives extending the captivity of the American hostages.
William ‘Bill’ Casey, who was Reagan’s campaign manager, filled him in about it after the trip. Casey later became the Central Intelligence Agency director and has been at the center of a lot of suspicions over the years about interactions between the Reagan camp and the Iranians.
It is not the only time that Reagan—or those close to him—committed a criminal transgression tantamount to treason.
One of the biggest foreign policy scandals of the last half-century was the Iran-Contra affair, in which the Reagan administration, prodded by Casey in concert with the National Security Council’s Vice Admiral John M. Poindexter, USN, and his deputy, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, USMC, secretly arranged for an illegal arms-for-hostage deal with the subject of an arms embargo in the Middle East.
Reaganites orchestrated a scheme in which Israel sold weapons from the U.S. to Iran, which had been designated a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984, in exchange for the release of American hostages held by Hezbollah, Iran’s ally, in Lebanon.
Reagan administration officials then funneled profits from the arms sales into yet another illegal venture, a secret plan to support the Contras, the militants in Nicaragua who committed numerous human rights violations and used terrorist tactics to oppose the communist Sandinistas.
The Sandinistas came to power peacefully instituting a policy of mass literacy while devoting significant resources to health care, after the dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle fled with most of the nation’s wealth in 1979. The Sandinistas ultimately proved their commitment to democracy when they were voted out of power in 1990, and voted back in 16 years later in 2006.
The secret Reagan administration plan was in direct contravention of the Boland Amendments, which Congress had passed from 1982-84, specifically prohibiting U.S. support of the Contra terrorists.
Many Americans harbor ill will toward Iran, which is a Shia Islamic theocracy formed following the overthrow of Iran’s millennia-long monarchy.
In 1953, the CIA and MI6 helped Iranian royalists depose elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in a military coup d’état codenamed Operation Ajax, allowing the Shah to return to power.
Before his removal from power, Mosaddegh introduced a range of social and political measures such as social security, land reforms and higher taxes on the rich. His government’s most significant policy was the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry, which since 1913 had been controlled by a company now known as British Petroleum (BP).
After the Iranian Revolution, Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, whose brutal regime was overthrown in 1979, was granted asylum and admitted to the U.S. for cancer treatment.