If the hot on-screen political conspiracy these days is Oliver Stone's JFK, its literary equivalent is former National Security Council staffer Gary Sick's October Surprise: America's Hostages in Iran and the Election of Ronald Reagan. Sick, an adviser to Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan, and a former deputy director of the Ford Foundation, is an unlikely candidate for a conspiracy theorist. He speaks of himself, accurately, as ''a very establishmentarian type.'' And yet, even before the publication of his book, Sick was denounced as a major crank with tainted sources by both Newsweek and The New Republic.
Where had this straight arrow gone wrong? Principally by making himself the most prominent proponent of the view that the 1980 Reagan-Bush campaign sought to prevent a surge in Carter's popularity that would surely follow his bringing the hostages home (the so-called October surprise) bying up a secret arms pipeline with Iran in exchange for a delay in the hostages' release. That view and the prominence of Sick's new book expressing it have drawn a lot of political fire. But it has also got him the attention of Hollywood producer Jon Peters, who has reportedly paid $300,000 for the rights to a film of October Surprise.
As Carter's point man during the 1980 hostage crisis, Sick describes himself as a reluctant convert to the idea of the conspiracy. ''In 1981,'' he says, ''if someone had told me that after spending 440 days trying to get our people out of Iran we couldn't because another group of Americans, for political purposes, intervened with the Iranians, I wouldn't have believed them. But then Iran-contra happened and I saw that these people were capable of doing things that were hair-raising. I've really put my professional career on the line with this book, but I think it's an important cautionary tale. It tells people that sometimes your vote doesn't count and you should be aware of that.''
Sick does not see himself in the role of an embattled truth seeker like Jim Garrison, but he is wry enough to respond when asked who should play him in the movie, ''Oh, either Kevin Costner or Woody Allen.''