I was in a meeting with Bill Casey not long after he became head of the CIA. I had been the State Department representative working on NIE-11-12-80 (CIA link to it is here – http://www.foia.cia.gov/document/0000261310) regarding Soviet military science and technology. Reagan was elected more or less while we were working on it. The chief CIA honcho was a guy named Jan Herring, who is apparently still around (link – http://www.academyci.com/jan-herring/). He and CIA deputy director Admiral Bobby Inman quit abruptly about the time of the election and the naming of Bill Casey to be CIA director.
There were of course many military types working on the NIE (National Intelligence Estimate), and I was the lone working level State Department rep. After a while I got concerned that the hawks were going nuts finding new technological ways the Soviets were going to kill us in our beds, and I started to push back and say that we can’t be sure that this unusual frequency or substance is being developed to use as a super weapon. And I found the CIA was supporting me, although they wouldn’t take the lead in opposing the military. However, after Jan Herring left and Casey came in, there was no hope of toning down the Estimate. In addition the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research usually is headed by a senior Foreign Service officer, but at this time it was headed by a senior CIA official on loan. He was not about to take a stand against the new man who was going to be his boss when he returned to the CIA. So, at the big, final meeting with Casey to approve the NIE (which I attended), he did not make any waves about State Department concerns. Casey really did mumble; I could not understand a lot of what he said. I would like to think some of the “alternative view” language in the NIE was due to me, but after 35 years, who knows where it came from.
Anyway, I like to think that Reagan’s election was orchestrated by the Iranian ayatollahs, rather than the ayatollahs being manipulated by the Reagan campaign. There is a movie about the “Manchurian Candidate.” I think Reagan was the “Iranian Candidate.” The Iranians hated Carter for letting the Shah come to the US for medical treatment when he was dying. They wanted “anybody but Carter.” If Carter had rescued the hostages there is some chance that he might have been elected, because he would have appeared a stronger, rather than a weaker (“malaise”) President. Reagan probably would have won anyway, but who knows?
I saw Carter recently when he came to Denver to sign copies of his new book, “A Full Life.” I bought one and he signed it. Recently someone asked him if he had any regrets, and he said one was the failed rescue mission, because if it had not failed, he might have been re-elected. The Iranian hostages were a major factor in the election. Incidentally, one of the hostages was a classmate of mine in the A-100 class. This is the group of 40 or 50 officers that you come in with and there is a 6 or 9 month orientation, and then you can kind of keep track of your classmates to see who becomes the first ambassador, who goes the highest, etc. Several of my classmates became ambassadors, but I didn’t make it.