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Iran Contra Scandal

Iran Contra Scandal

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  • Richard L. Armitage
  • William Francis Buckley
  • George H. W. Bush
  • Guillermo Novo
  • Frank Nugan
  • Thomas G. Clines
  • Luis Posada
  • Rafael Quintero
  • Walter Raymond
  • Ronald Reagan
  • Felix I. Rodriguez
  • Richard Secord
  • Richard Helms
  • Bernie Houghton
  • John F. Hull
  • Carl E. Jenkins
  • Edward Bennett Williams
  • Orlando Bosch
  • Ricardo Morales Navarrete
  • William Casey
  • Frank Castro
  • Robert Owen
  • William Colby
  • Michael Deaver
  • Robert Gates
  • Donald P. Gregg
  • Albert Hakim
  • Michael Hand
  • Ted Shackley
  • John Singlaub
  • John Tower
  • Rafael Villaverde
  • Jeane Kirkpatrick
  • Edwin Wilson
  • Jack Anderson
  • Joel Bainerman
  • Robert Parry
  • Robin Ramsay
  • Peter Dale Scott
  • Daniel Sheehan
  • Michael K. Deaver
  • Evan Thomas
  • Joseph Trento
  • Gene Wheaton
  • Jonathan Kwitny
  • Pete Brewton
  • Anton Chaitkin
  • Leslie Cockburn
  • David Corn
  • John Heinz
  • Seymour Hersh
  • Barbara Honegger
  • Daniel Hopsicker

The most well-known and politically damaging of the scandals came to light since Watergate was in 1986, when Ronald Reagan conceded that the United States had sold weapons to the Islamic Republic of Iran, as part of a largely unsuccessful effort to secure the release of six U.S. citizens being held hostage in Lebanon. It was also disclosed that some of the money from the arms deal with Iran had been covertly and illegally funneled into a fund to aid the right-wing Contras counter-revolutionary groups seeking to overthrow the socialist Sandinista government of Nicaragua. The Iran–Contra affair, as it became known, did serious damage throughout the Reagan presidency. The investigations were effectively halted when Reagan's vice-president and successor, George H. W. Bush pardoned Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger before his trial began. [2]

    , United States Secretary of Defense, was pardoned before trial produced by George H. W. Bush agreed to cooperate with investigators and in return was allowed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges instead of facing possible felony indictments. He was sentenced to two years' probation and one hundred hours of community service. He was also pardoned by Bush on December 24, 1992 along with five other former Reagan Administration officials who had been implicated in connection with Iran–Contra. [3]
  1. National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane, pleaded guilty to four misdemeanors and was sentenced to two years' probation and 200 hours of community service and was ordered to pay a $20,000 fine. [3] He was also pardoned by Bush. was the Chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's Central American Task Force. He pleaded guilty in 1991 to two counts of withholding information from Congress and was sentenced to one year of probation and one hundred hours of community service. He was also pardoned by Bush. [3][4] – Partner with Oliver North in IBC, an Office of Public Diplomacy front group, convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States. [3][5] was Chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's Division of Covert Operations under President Reagan. George was convicted of lying to two congressional committees in 1986. He was pardoned by Bush. [3][4][6] was indicted on nine felony counts of lying to Congress and pleaded guilty to a felony charge of lying to Congress. [3][7] was convicted of four counts of tax-related offenses for failing to report income from the Iran/Contra operations. [3][8] – Office of Public Diplomacy, partner in International Business- first person convicted in the Iran/Contra scandal, pleaded guilty of one count of defrauding the United States [3][5] , Reagan's national security advisor, was found guilty of five criminal counts including lying to Congress, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. His conviction was later overturned on grounds that he did not receive a fair trial (the prosecution may have been influenced by his immunized testimony in front of Congress.) [3][9] was indicted on sixteen charges in the Iran–Contra affair and found guilty of three—aiding and abetting obstruction of Congress, shredding or altering official documents and accepting a gratuity. His convictions were later overturned on the grounds that his immunized testimony had tainted his trial. [3][10] also pardoned before trial by Bush pleaded guilty to supplementing the salary of North indicted on four counts of obstruction and false statements case dismissed when Attorney General Richard L. Thornburgh refused to declassify information needed for his defense

The HUD rigging scandal occurred when Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Samuel Pierce and his associates rigged low income housing bids to favor Republican contributors to Reagan's campaign as well as rewarding Republican lobbyists such as James G. Watt Secretary of the Interior. [11] Sixteen convictions were eventually handed down, [12] including the following:

    , Reagan's Secretary of the Interior was indicted on 24 felony counts and pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor. He was sentenced to five years' probation, and ordered to pay a $5000 fine. [13] – Assistant HUD Secretary. Pleaded guilty to one count of scheming to give illegal gratuities [14] pardoned by President Bill Clinton, November, 2000 [15]
  1. Thomas Demery – Assistant HUD Secretary – pleaded guilty to steering HUD subsidies to politically connected donors. Found guilty of bribery and obstruction of justice [14] – executive assistant to Secretary Pierce – indicted on thirteen counts, three counts of conspiracy, one count of accepting an illegal gratuity, four counts of perjury, and five counts of concealing articles. She was convicted on twelve. She appealed and prevailed on several counts but the convictions for conspiracy remained. [14] , Special Assistant to the Secretary of HUD, convicted for accepting payments to favor Puerto Rican land developers in receiving HUD funding. [16] convicted of perjury and bribery. [14] , the Treasurer of the United States from 1989 to 1993 [17]

Secretary Pierce, the "central person" in the scandal, was not charged because he made "full and public written acceptance of responsibility." [17]

Retired Federal Judge Arlin Adams served as independent counsel in the first five years of the prosecution, through 1995. [14] and Larry Thompson completed the work 1995–98. [17]

When an administration staff member leaves office, federal law governs how quickly one can begin a lobbying career.

    , Reagan’s Chief of Staff, was convicted of lying to both a congressional committee and to a federal grand jury about his lobbying activities after he left the government. He received three years' probation and was fined $100,000 after being convicted for lying to a congressional subcommittee. [18] Reagan's Press Secretary was convicted on charges of illegal lobbying after leaving government service in Wedtech scandal. His conviction was later overturned. [19]

A number of scandals occurred at the Environmental Protection Agency under the Reagan administration. Over twenty high-level EPA employees were removed from office during Reagan's first three years as president. [20] Additionally, several Agency officials resigned amidst a variety of charges, ranging from being unduly influenced by industry groups to rewarding or punishing employees based on their political beliefs. [21] Sewergate, the most prominent EPA scandal during this period, involved the targeted release of Superfund grants to enhance the election prospects of local officials aligned with the Republican Party.

    , an administrator at the EPA, misused Superfund monies and was convicted of perjury. She served three months in prison, was fined $10,000 and given five years' probation. [22] , the controversial head of the EPA. Burford, citing "Executive Privilege," refused to turn over Superfund records to Congress. [23] She was found in Contempt, whereupon she resigned.

Savings and loan crisis in which 747 institutions failed and had to be rescued with $160 billion in taxpayer dollars. [24] Reagan's "elimination of loopholes" in the tax code included the elimination of the "passive loss" provisions that subsidized rental housing. Because this was removed retroactively, it bankrupted many real estate developments which used this tax break as a premise, which in turn bankrupted 747 Savings and Loans, many of whom were operating more or less as banks, thus requiring the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to cover their debts and losses with taxpayer money. This with some other "deregulation" policies, ultimately led to the largest political and financial scandal in U.S. history to that date, the savings and loan crisis. The ultimate cost of the crisis is estimated to have totaled around $150 billion, about $125 billion of which was directly subsidized by the U.S. government, which further increased the large budget deficits of the early 1990s. See Keating Five.

As an indication of this scandal's size, Martin Mayer wrote at the time, "The theft from the taxpayer by the community that fattened on the growth of the savings and loan (S&L) industry in the 1980s is the worst public scandal in American history. Teapot Dome in the Harding administration and the Credit Mobilier in the times of Ulysses S. Grant have been taken as the ultimate horror stories of capitalist democracy gone to seed. Measuring by money, [or] by the misallocation of national resources . the S&L outrage makes Teapot Dome and Credit Mobilier seem minor episodes." [25]

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith called it "the largest and costliest venture in public misfeasance, malfeasance and larceny of all time." [26]

    was a three-year investigation launched in 1986 by the FBI into corruption by U.S. government and military officials, and private defense contractors.
    , appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1981 by Republican President Ronald Reagan, [27] was found to have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes. He pleaded guilty to bribery and served four years in prison. [28] , Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy, took over when Paisley resigned his office. [29] Gaines was convicted of accepting an illegal gratuity and theft and conversion of government property. He was sentenced to six months in prison. [30] , Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, was the 50th conviction obtained under the Ill Wind probe when he pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and conspiring to defraud the government. [31]
    Wedtech Corporation convicted of bribery for Defense Department contracts
    Attorney General, resigned but never convicted. [32] White House Press Secretary, whose conviction of lobbying was overturned. [33] sentenced to 2½ years. [34] sentenced to 2½ years. [35]

Debategate involved the final days of the 1980 presidential election and briefing papers that were to have been used by President Jimmy Carter in preparation for the October 28, 1980, debate with Reagan had somehow been acquired by Reagan's team. This fact was not divulged to the public until late June 1983, after Laurence Barrett published Gambling With History: Reagan in the White House, an in-depth account of the Reagan administration's first two years.

James Baker swore under oath that he had received the briefing book from William Casey, Reagan's campaign manager, but Casey vehemently denied this. The matter was never resolved as both the FBI and a congressional subcommittee failed to determine how or through whom the briefing book came to the Reagan campaign. [36]


In 1984, U.S. officials began receiving reports of Contra cocaine trafficking. Three officials told journalists that they considered these reports "reliable." Former Panamanian deputy health minister Dr. Hugo Spadafora, who had fought with the Contra army, outlined charges of cocaine trafficking to a prominent Panamanian official. Spadafora was later found murdered. The charges linked the Contra trafficking to Sebastián González Mendiola, who was charged with cocaine trafficking on November 26, 1984, in Costa Rica. [2]

In 1985, another Contra leader "told U.S. authorities that his group was being paid $50,000 by Colombian traffickers for help with a 100-kilo cocaine shipment and that the money would go 'for the cause' of fighting the Nicaraguan government." A 1985 National Intelligence Estimate revealed cocaine trafficking links to a top commander working under Contra leader Edén Pastora. [2] [3] [4] Pastora had complained about such charges as early as March 1985, claiming that "two 'political figures' in Washington told him last week that State Department and CIA personnel were spreading the rumor that he is linked to drug trafficking in order to isolate his movement." [5]

On December 20, 1985, these and other additional charges were laid out in an Associated Press article after an extensive investigation, which included interviews with "officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Customs Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Costa Rica's Public Security Ministry, as well as rebels and Americans who work with them". Five American Contra supporters who worked with the rebels confirmed the charges, noting that "two Cuban-Americans used armed rebel troops to guard cocaine at clandestine airfields in northern Costa Rica. They identified the Cuban-Americans as members of Brigade 2506, an anti-Castro group that participated in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Several also said they supplied information about the smuggling to U.S. investigators." One of the Americans said "that in one ongoing operation, the cocaine is unloaded from planes at rebel airstrips and taken to an Atlantic coast port where it is concealed on shrimp boats that are later unloaded in the Miami area." [2]

On March 16, 1986, the San Francisco Examiner published a report on the "1983 seizure of 430 pounds of cocaine from a Colombian freighter" in San Francisco it said that a "cocaine ring in the San Francisco Bay area helped finance Nicaragua's Contra rebels." Carlos Cabezas, convicted of conspiracy to traffic cocaine, said that the profits from his crimes "belonged to . the Contra revolution." He told the Examiner, "I just wanted to get the Communists out of my country." Julio Zavala, also convicted on trafficking charges, said "that he supplied $500,000 to two Costa Rican-based Contra groups and that the majority of it came from cocaine trafficking in the San Francisco Bay area, Miami and New Orleans." [6]

In April 1986, Associated Press reported on an FBI probe into Contra cocaine trafficking. According to the report, "Twelve American, Nicaraguan and Cuban-American rebel backers interviewed by The Associated Press said they had been questioned over the past several months [about contra cocaine trafficking] by the FBI. In the interviews, some covering several days and being conducted in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Colorado and California, several of the Contra backers told AP of firsthand knowledge of cocaine trafficking." [7]

On April 17, 1986, the Reagan administration released a three-page report stating that there were some Contra-cocaine connections in 1984 and 1985, and that these connections occurred at a time when the rebels were "particularly hard pressed for financial support" because aid from the United States had been cut off. [8] The report said: "We have evidence of a limited number of incidents in which known drug traffickers have tried to establish connections with Nicaraguan resistance groups" and that the drug activity took place "without the authorization of resistance leaders." [8]

— Former contract analyst for the CIA David MacMichael [9]

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations, chaired at the time by Senator John Kerry, held a series of hearings from 1987 to 1988 on drug cartels and drug money laundering in South and Central America and the Caribbean.

The Subcommittee's final report, issued in 1989, said that Contra drug links included:

  • Involvement in narcotics trafficking by individuals associated with the Contra movement.
  • Participation of narcotics traffickers in Contra supply operations through business relationships with Contra organizations.
  • Provision of assistance to the Contras by narcotics traffickers, including cash, weapons, planes, pilots, air supply services and other materials, on a voluntary basis by the traffickers.
  • Payments to drug traffickers by the U.S. State Department of funds authorized by the Congress for humanitarian assistance to the Contras, in some cases after the traffickers had been indicted by federal law enforcement agencies on drug charges, in others while traffickers were under active investigation by these same agencies. [1]

According to the report, the U.S. State Department paid over $806,000 to "four companies owned and operated by narcotics traffickers" to carry humanitarian assistance to the Contras. [1]

From August 18–20, 1996, the San Jose Mercury News published the Dark Alliance series by Gary Webb, [10] [11] which claimed:

For the better part of a decade, a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. [This drug ring] opened the first pipeline between Colombia's cocaine cartels and the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles [and, as a result,] the cocaine that flooded in helped spark a crack explosion in urban America. [12]

To support these claims, the series focused on three men: Ricky Ross, Oscar Danilo Blandón, and Norwin Meneses. According to the series, Ross was a major drug dealer in Los Angeles, and Blandón and Meneses were Nicaraguans who smuggled drugs into the U.S. and supplied dealers like Ross. The series alleged that the three had relationships with the Contras and the CIA and that law enforcement agencies failed to successfully prosecute them largely due to their Contra and CIA connections.

Response Edit

African Americans, especially in South Central Los Angeles where the dealers discussed in the series had been active, responded with outrage to the series' charges. [13] [14]

California senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein also took note and wrote to CIA director John Deutch and Attorney General Janet Reno, asking for investigations into the articles. [15] Maxine Waters, the Representative for California's 35th district, which includes South-Central Los Angeles, was also outraged by the articles and became one of Webb's strongest supporters. [16] Waters urged the CIA, the Department of Justice, and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to investigate.

By the end of September, three federal investigations had been announced: an investigation into the CIA allegations conducted by CIA Inspector-General Frederick Hitz, an investigation into the law enforcement allegations by Justice Department Inspector-General Michael Bromwich, and a second investigation into the CIA by the House Intelligence Committee.

On October 3, 1996, LA County Sheriff Sherman Block ordered a fourth investigation into Webb's claims that a 1986 raid on Blandón's drug organization by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department had produced evidence of CIA ties to drug smuggling and that this was later suppressed. [17]

Coverage in other papers Edit

In early October, 1996, a front-page article in The Washington Post [18] by reporters Roberto Suro and Walter Pincus, argued that "available information" did not support the series's claims, and that "the rise of crack" was "a broad-based phenomenon" driven in numerous places by diverse players. The article also discussed Webb's contacts with Ross's attorney and prosecution complaints of how Ross's defense had used Webb's series. [19]

The New York Times published two articles on the series in mid-October, both written by reporter Tim Golden. One described the series' evidence as "thin" [14] the second, citing interviews with current and former intelligence and law-enforcement officials, questioned the importance of the drug dealers discussed in the series, both in the crack cocaine trade and in supporting the Nicaraguan Contras' fight against the Sandinista government. [20]

The Los Angeles Times devoted the most space to the story, developing its own three-part series called The Cocaine Trail. The series ran from October 20–22, 1996, and was researched by a team of 17 reporters. The three articles in the series were written by four reporters: Jesse Katz, Doyle McManus, John Mitchell, and Sam Fulwood. The first article, by Katz, developed a different picture of the origins of the crack trade than "Dark Alliance" had described, with more gangs and smugglers participating. [21] The second article, by McManus, was the longest of the series, and dealt with the role of the Contras in the drug trade and CIA knowledge of drug activities by the Contras. [22] McManus found Blandón and Meneses's financial contributions to Contra organizations to be significantly less than the "millions" claimed in Webb's series, and no evidence that the CIA had tried to protect them. The third article, by Mitchell and Fulwood, covered the effects of crack on African Americans and how it affected their reaction to some of the rumors that arose after the Dark Alliance series. [23]

Mercury News response Edit

Surprised by The Washington Post article, Mercury News executive editor Jerome Ceppos wrote to the Post defending the series. [24] The Post ultimately refused to print his letter. [25] Ceppos also asked reporter Pete Carey to write a critique of the series for publication in The Mercury News, and had the controversial website artwork changed. [24] Carey's critique appeared in mid-October and went through several of the Post criticisms of the series, including the importance of Blandón's drug ring in spreading crack, questions about Blandón's testimony in court, and how specific series allegations about CIA involvement had been, giving Webb's responses. [26]

When the Los Angeles Times series appeared, Ceppos again wrote to defend the original series. He also defended the series in interviews with all three papers. [27] The extent of the criticism, however, convinced Ceppos that The Mercury News had to acknowledge to its readers that the series hadn't been subjected to strong criticism. [28] He did this in a column that appeared on November 3, defending the series, but also committing the paper to a review of major criticisms. [29]

Ceppos' column drew editorial responses from both The New York Times and The Washington Post. An editorial in the Times, while criticizing the series for making "unsubstantiated charges," conceded that it did find "drug-smuggling and dealing by Nicaraguans with at least tentative connections to the Contras" and called for further investigation. [30]

The Post response came from the paper's ombudsman, Geneva Overholser. [31] Overholser was harshly critical of the series, "reported by a seemingly hotheaded fellow willing to have people leap to conclusions his reporting couldn't back up." But while calling the flaws in the series "unforgivably careless journalism," Overholser also criticized the Post's refusal to print Ceppos' letter defending the series and sharply criticized the Post's coverage of the story. Calling the Post's overall focus "misplaced", Overholser expressed regret that the paper had not taken the opportunity to re-examine whether the CIA had overlooked Contra involvement in drug smuggling, "a subject The Post and the public had given short shrift."

In contrast, the series received support from Steve Weinberg, a former executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors. In a long review of the series' claims in The Baltimore Sun, Weinberg said: "I think the critics have been far too harsh. Despite some hyped phrasing, 'Dark Alliance' appears to be praiseworthy investigative reporting." [32]

After the series' publication, the Northern California branch of the national Society of Professional Journalists had voted Webb "Journalist of the Year" for 1996. [33] Despite the controversy that soon overtook the series, and the request of one board member to reconsider, the branch's board went ahead with the award in November.

End of the series Edit

After Ceppos' column, The Mercury News spent the next several months conducting an internal review of the story. The review was conducted primarily by editor Jonathan Krim and reporter Pete Carey, who had written the paper's first published analysis of the series. Carey ultimately decided that there were problems with several parts of the story and wrote a draft article incorporating his findings. [34]

The paper also gave Webb permission to visit Central America again to get more evidence supporting the story. [35] By January, Webb filed drafts of four more articles based on his trip, but his editors concluded that the new articles would not help shore up the original series' claims. [36] The editors met with Webb several times in February to discuss the results of the paper's internal review and eventually decided to print neither Carey's draft article nor the articles Webb had filed. [37] Webb was allowed to keep working on the story and made one more trip to Nicaragua in March.

At the end of March, however, Ceppos told Webb that he was going to present the internal review findings in a column. [36] After discussions with Webb, the column was published on May 11, 1997. [38] In the column Ceppos continued to defend parts of the article, writing that the series had "solidly documented" that the drug ring described in the series did have connections with the Contras and did sell large quantities of cocaine in inner-city Los Angeles.

But, Ceppos wrote, the series "did not meet our standards" in four areas. 1) It presented only one interpretation of conflicting evidence and in one case "did not include information that contradicted a central assertion of the series." 2) The series' estimates of the money involved was presented as fact instead of an estimate. 3) The series oversimplified how the crack epidemic grew. 4) The series "created impressions that were open to misinterpretation" through "imprecise language and graphics." [39]

Ceppos noted that Webb did not agree with these conclusions. He concluded: "How did these shortcomings occur? . I believe that we fell short at every step of our process: in the writing, editing and production of our work. Several people here share that burden . But ultimately, the responsibility was, and is, mine."

Justice Department report Edit

The Department of Justice Inspector-General's report [40] was released on July 23, 1998. According to the report's "Epilogue", the report was completed in December 1997 but was not released because the DEA was still attempting to use Danilo Blandón in an investigation of international drug dealers and was concerned that the report would affect the viability of the investigation. When Attorney General Janet Reno determined that a delay was no longer necessary, the report was released unchanged. [41]

The report covered actions by Department of Justice employees in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the DEA, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and U.S. Attorneys' Offices. It found that "the allegations contained in the original Mercury News articles were exaggerations of the actual facts." After examining the investigations and prosecutions of the main figures in the series, Blandón, Meneses and Ross, it concluded: "Although the investigations suffered from various problems of communication and coordination, their successes and failures were determined by the normal dynamics that affect the success of scores of investigations of high-level drug traffickers . These factors, rather than anything as spectacular as a systematic effort by the CIA or any other intelligence agency to protect the drug trafficking activities of Contra supporters, determined what occurred in the cases we examined." [42]

It also concluded that "the claims that Blandón and Meneses were responsible for introducing crack cocaine into South Central Los Angeles and spreading the crack epidemic throughout the country were unsupported." Although it did find that both men were major drug dealers, "guilty of enriching themselves at the expense of countless drug users", and that they had contributed money to the Contra cause, "we did not find that their activities were responsible for the crack cocaine epidemic in South Central Los Angeles, much less the rise of crack throughout the nation, or that they were a significant source of support for the Contras."

The report called several of its findings "troubling." It found that Blandón received permanent resident status "in a wholly improper manner" and that for some time the Department "was not certain whether to prosecute Meneses, or use him as a cooperating witness." Regarding issues raised in the series' shorter sidebar stories, it found that some in the government were "not eager" to have DEA agent Celerino Castillo "openly probe" activities at Ilopango Airport in El Salvador, where covert operations in support of the Contras were undertaken, and that the CIA had indeed intervened in a case involving smuggler Julio Zavala. It concluded, however, that these problems were "a far cry from the type of broad manipulation and corruption of the federal criminal justice system suggested by the original allegations."

CIA report Edit

The CIA Inspector-General's report was issued in two volumes. The first one, "The California Story", was issued in a classified version on December 17, 1997, and in an unclassified version on January 29, 1998. [43] The second volume, "The Contra Story," was issued in a classified version on April 27, 1998, and in an unclassified version on October 8, 1998. [44]

According to the report, the Inspector-General's office (OIG) examined all information the agency had "relating to CIA knowledge of drug trafficking allegations in regard to any person directly or indirectly involved in Contra activities." It also examined "how CIA handled and responded to information regarding allegations of drug trafficking" by people involved in Contra activities or support. [45]

The first volume of the report found no evidence that "any past or present employee of CIA, or anyone acting on behalf of CIA, had any direct or indirect dealing" with Ross, Blandón, or Meneses or that any of the other figures mentioned in "Dark Alliance" were ever employed by or associated with or contacted by the agency. [46]

It found nothing to support the claim that "the drug trafficking activities of Blandón and Meneses were motivated by any commitment to support the Contra cause or Contra activities undertaken by CIA." It noted that Blandón and Meneses claimed to have donated money to Contra sympathizers in Los Angeles, but found no information to confirm that it was true or that the agency had heard of it. [46]

It found no information to support the claim that the agency interfered with law enforcement actions against Ross, Blandón or Meneses. [46]

In the 623rd paragraph, the report described a cable from the CIA's Directorate of Operations dated October 22, 1982, describing a prospective meeting between Contra leaders in Costa Rica for "an exchange in [the United States] of narcotics for arms, which then are shipped to Nicaragua." [44] [ non-primary source needed ] The two main Contra groups, US arms dealers, and a lieutenant of a drug ring which imported drugs from Latin America to the US west coast were set to attend the Costa Rica meeting. The lieutenant trafficker was also a Contra, and the CIA knew that there was an arms-for-drugs shuttle and did nothing to stop it. [47]

The report stated that the CIA had requested the Justice Department return $36,800 to a member of the Meneses drug ring, which had been seized by DEA agents in the Frogman raid in San Francisco. The CIA's Inspector General said the Agency wanted the money returned "to protect an operational equity, i.e., a Contra support group in which it [CIA] had an operational interest." [47]

The report also stated that former DEA agent Celerino Castillo III alleged that during the 1980s, Ilopango Airport in El Salvador was used by Contras for drug smuggling flights, and "his attempts to investigate Contra drug smuggling were stymied by DEA management, the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador, and the CIA". [48]

During a PBS Frontline investigation, DEA field agent Hector Berrellez said, "I believe that elements working for the CIA were involved in bringing drugs into the country."

"I know specifically that some of the CIA contract workers, meaning some of the pilots, in fact were bringing drugs into the U.S. and landing some of these drugs in government air bases. And I know so because I was told by some of these pilots that in fact they had done that." [49]

Testimony of the CIA Inspector General Edit

Six weeks after the declassified and heavily censored first volume of the CIA report was made public, Inspector General Frederick Hitz testified before a House congressional committee. [47] Hitz stated that:

Volume II . will be devoted to a detailed treatment of what was known to CIA regarding dozens of people and a number of companies connected in some fashion to the Contra program or the Contra movement that were the subject of any sort of drug trafficking allegations. Each is closely examined in terms of their relationship with CIA, the drug trafficking activity that was alleged, the actions CIA took in response to the allegations, and the extent of information concerning the allegations that was Shared with U.S. law enforcement and Congress. As I said earlier, we have found no evidence in the course of this lengthy investigation of any conspiracy by CIA or its employees to bring drugs into the United States. However, during the Contra era, CIA worked with a variety of people to support the Contra program. These included CIA assets, pilots who ferried supplies to the Contras, as well as Contra officials and others. Let me be frank about what we are finding. There are instances where CIA did not, in an expeditious or consistent fashion, cut off relationships with individuals supporting the Contra program who were alleged to have engaged in drug trafficking activity or take action to resolve the allegations. [50] [51]

Also revealed was a letter between the Attorney General William French Smith and the CIA that omitted narcotics violations among the list of crimes agency officers were required to report. In a follow up letter later Smith stated "I have been advised that a question arose regarding the need to add all narcotics violations to the list of "non-employee" crimes. ". Citing existing federal policy on narcotics enforcement, Smith wrote: "In light of these provisions and in view of the fine cooperation the Drug Enforcement Administration has received from CIA, no formal requirement regarding the reporting of narcotics violations has been included in these procedures." [52]

This agreement, which had not previously been revealed, came at a time when there were allegations that the CIA was using drug dealers in its controversial covert operation to bring down the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. [51] In 1986, the agreement was modified to require the CIA to stop paying agents who it believed were involved in the drug trade. [47]

House committee report Edit

The House Intelligence Committee issued its report in February 2000. [53] According to the report, it used Webb's reporting and writing as "key resources in focusing and refining the investigation." Like the CIA and Justice Department reports, it also found that neither Blandón, Meneses, nor Ross were associated with the CIA. [54]

Examining the support that Meneses and Blandón gave to the local Contra organization in San Francisco, the report concluded that it was "not sufficient to finance the organization" and did not consist of 'millions', contrary to the claims of the "Dark Alliance" series. This support "was not directed by anyone within the Contra movement who had an association with the CIA," and the Committee found "no evidence that the CIA or the Intelligence Community was aware of these individuals' support." [54] It also found no evidence to support Webb's suggestion that several other drug smugglers mentioned in the series were associated with the CIA, or that anyone associated with the CIA or other intelligence agencies was involved in supplying or selling drugs in Los Angeles. [54]


The United States was the largest seller of arms to Iran under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and the vast majority of the weapons that the Islamic Republic of Iran inherited in January 1979 were American-made. [14] To maintain this arsenal, Iran required a steady supply of spare parts to replace those broken and worn out. After Iranian students stormed the American embassy in Tehran in November 1979 and took 52 Americans hostage, U.S. President Jimmy Carter imposed an arms embargo on Iran. [14] After Iraq invaded Iran in September 1980, Iran desperately needed weapons and spare parts for its current weapons. After Ronald Reagan took office as President on 20 January 1981, he vowed to continue Carter's policy of blocking arms sales to Iran on the grounds that Iran supported terrorism. [14]

A group of senior Reagan administration officials in the Senior Interdepartmental Group conducted a secret study on 21 July 1981, and concluded that the arms embargo was ineffective because Iran could always buy arms and spare parts for its American weapons elsewhere, while at the same time the arms embargo opened the door for Iran to fall into the Soviet sphere of influence as the Kremlin could sell Iran weapons if the United States would not. [14] The conclusion was that the United States should start selling Iran arms as soon as it was politically possible to keep Iran from falling into the Soviet sphere of influence. [14] At the same time, the openly declared goal of Ayatollah Khomeini to export his Islamic revolution all over the Middle East and overthrow the governments of Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the other states around the Persian Gulf led to the Americans perceiving Khomeini as a major threat to the United States. [14]

In the spring of 1983, the United States launched Operation Staunch, a wide-ranging diplomatic effort to persuade other nations all over the world not to sell arms or spare parts for weapons to Iran. [14] This was at least part of the reason the Iran–Contra affair proved so humiliating for the United States when the story first broke in November 1986 that the US itself was selling arms to Iran.

At the same time that the American government was considering their options on selling arms to Iran, Contra militants based in Honduras were waging a guerrilla war to topple the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) revolutionary government of Nicaragua. Almost from the time he took office in 1981, a major goal of the Reagan administration was the overthrow of the left-wing Sandinista government in Nicaragua and to support the Contra rebels. [15] The Reagan administration's policy towards Nicaragua produced a major clash between the executive and legislative branches as Congress sought to limit, if not curb altogether, the ability of the White House to support the Contras. [15] Direct U.S. funding of the Contras insurgency was made illegal through the Boland Amendment, the name given to three U.S. legislative amendments between 1982 and 1984 aimed at limiting U.S. government assistance to Contra militants. Funding ran out for the Contras by July 1984, and in October a total ban was placed in effect. The second Boland Amendment, in effect from 3 October 1984 to 3 December 1985, stated:

During the fiscal year 1985 no funds available to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense or any other agency or entity of the United States involved in intelligence activities may be obligated or expended for the purpose of or which may have the effect of supporting directly or indirectly military or paramilitary operations in Nicaragua by any nation, organization, group, movement, or individual. [15]

In violation of the Boland Amendment, senior officials of the Reagan administration continued to secretly arm and train the Contras and provide arms to Iran, an operation they called "the Enterprise". [16] [17] As the Contras were heavily dependent upon U.S. military and financial support, the second Boland amendment threatened to break the Contra movement and led to President Reagan in 1984 to order the National Security Council (NSC) to "keep the Contras together 'body and soul'", no matter what Congress voted for. [15]

A major legal debate at the center of the Iran–Contra affair concerned the question of whether the NSC was one of the "any other agency or entity of the United States involved in intelligence activities" covered by the Boland amendment. The Reagan administration argued it was not, and many in Congress argued that it was. [15] The majority of constitutional scholars have asserted the NSC did indeed fall within the purview of the second Boland amendment, though the amendment did not mention the NSC by name. [18] The broader constitutional question at stake was the power of Congress versus the power of the presidency. The Reagan administration argued that because the constitution assigned the right to conduct foreign policy to the executive, its efforts to overthrow the government of Nicaragua were a presidential prerogative that Congress had no right to try to halt via the Boland amendments. [19] By contrast congressional leaders argued that the constitution had assigned Congress control of the budget, and Congress had every right to use that power not to fund projects like attempting to overthrow the government of Nicaragua that they disapproved of. [19] As part of the effort to circumvent the Boland amendment, the NSC established "the Enterprise", an arms-smuggling network headed by a retired U.S. Air Force officer turned arms dealer Richard Secord that supplied arms to the Contras. It was ostensibly a private sector operation, but in fact was controlled by the NSC. [18] To fund "the Enterprise", the Reagan administration was constantly on the look-out for funds that came from outside the U.S. government in order not to explicitly violate the letter of the Boland amendment, though the efforts to find alternative funding for the Contras violated the spirit of the Boland amendment. [20] Ironically, military aid to the Contras was reinstated with Congressional consent in October 1986, a month before the scandal broke. [21] [22]

As reported in The New York Times in 1991, "continuing allegations that Reagan campaign officials made a deal with the Iranian Government of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the fall of 1980" led to "limited investigations." However "limited," those investigations established that "Soon after taking office in 1981, the Reagan Administration secretly and abruptly changed United States policy." Secret Israeli arms sales and shipments to Iran began in that year, even as, in public, "the Reagan Administration" presented a different face, and "aggressively promoted a public campaign. to stop worldwide transfers of military goods to Iran." The New York Times explains: "Iran at that time was in dire need of arms and spare parts for its American-made arsenal to defend itself against Iraq, which had attacked it in September 1980," while "Israel [a U.S. ally] was interested in keeping the war between Iran and Iraq going to ensure that these two potential enemies remained preoccupied with each other." Maj. Gen. Avraham Tamir, a high-ranking Israeli Defense Ministry in 1981, said there was a "oral agreement" to allow the sale of "spare parts" to Iran. This was based on an "understanding" with Secretary Alexander Haig (which a Haig adviser denied). This account was confirmed by a former senior American diplomat with a few modifications. The diplomat claimed that "[Ariel] Sharon violated it, and Haig backed away. ". A former "high-level" CIA official who saw the reports of arms sales to Iran by Israel in the early 1980s estimated that the total was about 2 billion a year. But also said that "The degree to which it was sanctioned I don't know." [4]

On 17 June 1985, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane wrote a National Security Decision Directive which called for the United States of America to begin a rapprochement with the Islamic Republic of Iran. [14] The paper read:

Dynamic political evolution is taking place inside Iran. Instability caused by the pressures of the Iraq-Iran war, economic deterioration and regime in-fighting create the potential for major changes inside Iran. The Soviet Union is better positioned than the U.S. to exploit and benefit from any power struggle that results in changes from the Iranian regime . The U.S should encourage Western allies and friends to help Iran meet its import requirements so as to reduce the attractiveness of Soviet assistance . This includes provision of selected military equipment. [23]

Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger was highly negative, writing on his copy of McFarlane's paper: "This is almost too absurd to comment on . like asking Qaddafi to Washington for a cozy chat." [24] Secretary of State George Shultz was also opposed, stating that having designated Iran a State Sponsor of Terrorism in January 1984, how could the United States possibly sell arms to Iran? [24] Only the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency William Casey supported McFarlane's plan to start selling arms to Iran. [24]

In early July 1985, the historian Michael Ledeen, a consultant of National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, requested assistance from Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres for help in the sale of arms to Iran. [25] Having talked to an Israeli diplomat David Kimche and Ledeen, McFarlane learned that the Iranians were prepared to have Hezbollah release American hostages in Lebanon in exchange for Israelis shipping Iran American weapons. [24] Having been designated a State Sponsor of Terrorism since January 1984, [26] Iran was in the midst of the Iran–Iraq War and could find few Western nations willing to supply it with weapons. [27] The idea behind the plan was for Israel to ship weapons through an intermediary (identified as Manucher Ghorbanifar) to the Islamic republic as a way of aiding a supposedly moderate, politically influential faction within the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini who was believed to be seeking a rapprochement with the United States after the transaction, the United States would reimburse Israel with the same weapons, while receiving monetary benefits. [28] McFarlane in a memo to Shultz and Weinberger wrote:

The short term dimension concerns the seven hostages the long term dimension involves the establishment of a private dialogue with Iranian officials on the broader relations . They sought specifically the delivery from Israel of 100 TOW missiles . [24]

The plan was discussed with President Reagan on 18 July 1985 and again on 6 August 1985. [24] Shultz at the latter meeting warned Reagan that "we were just falling into the arms-for-hostages business and we shouldn't do it." [24]

The Americans believed that there was a moderate faction in the Islamic republic headed by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful speaker of the Majlis who was seen as a leading potential successor to Khomeini and who was alleged to want a rapprochement with the United States. [29] The Americans believed that Rafsanjani had the power to order Hezbollah to free the American hostages and establishing a relationship with him by selling Iran arms would ultimately place Iran back within the American sphere of influence. [29] It remains unclear if Rafsanjani really wanted a rapprochement with the United States or was just deceiving Reagan administration officials who were willing to believe that he was a moderate who would effect a rapprochement. [29] Rafsanjani, whose nickname is "the Shark" was described by the British journalist Patrick Brogan as a man of great charm and formidable intelligence known for his subtlety and ruthlessness whose motives in the Iran–Contra affair remain completely mysterious. [29] The Israeli government required that the sale of arms meet high-level approval from the United States government, and when McFarlane convinced them that the U.S. government approved the sale, Israel obliged by agreeing to sell the arms. [25]

In 1985, President Reagan entered Bethesda Naval Hospital for colon cancer surgery. Reagan’s recovery was nothing short of miserable, as the 74-year-old President admitted having little sleep for days in addition to his immense physical discomfort. While doctors seemed to be confident that the surgery was successful, the discovery of his localized cancer was a daunting realization for Reagan. From seeing the recovery process of other patients, as well as medical “experts” on television predicting his death to be soon, Reagan’s typical optimistic outlook was dampened. These factors were bound to contribute to psychological distress in the midst of an already distressing situation. [30] Additionally, Reagan’s invocation of the 25th amendment prior to the surgery was a risky and unprecedented decision that smoothly flew under the radar for the duration of the complex situation. While it only lasted slightly longer than the length of the procedure (approximately seven hours and 54 minutes), this temporary transfer of power was never formally recognized by the White House. It was later revealed that this decision was made on the grounds that “Mr. Reagan and his advisors did not want his actions to establish a definition of incapacitation that would bind future presidents.” Reagan expressed this transfer of power in two identical letters that were sent to the speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, and the president pro tempore of the senate, Sen. Strom Thurmond. [31]

While the President was recovering in the hospital, McFarlane met with him and told him that representatives from Israel had contacted the National Security Agency to pass on confidential information from what Reagan later described as the "moderate" Iranian faction headed by Rafsanjani opposed to the Ayatollah's hardline anti-American policies. [28] The visit from Macfarlane in Reagan’s hospital room was the first visit from an administration official outside of Donald Reagan since the surgery. The meeting took place five days after the surgery and only three days after doctors gave the news that his polyp had been malignant. The three participants of this meeting had very different recollections of what was discussed during its 23-minute duration. Months later, Reagan even stated that he “had no recollection of a meeting in the hospital in July with Macfarlane and that he had no notes which would show such a meeting.” This does not come as a surprise considering the possible short and long-term effects of anesthesia on patients above the age of 60, in addition to his already weakened physical and mental state. [30]

According to Reagan, these Iranians sought to establish a quiet relationship with the United States, before establishing formal relationships upon the death of the aging Ayatollah. [28] In Reagan's account, McFarlane told Reagan that the Iranians, to demonstrate their seriousness, offered to persuade the Hezbollah militants to release the seven U.S. hostages. [32] McFarlane met with the Israeli intermediaries [33] Reagan claimed that he allowed this because he believed that establishing relations with a strategically located country, and preventing the Soviet Union from doing the same, was a beneficial move. [28] Although Reagan claims that the arms sales were to a "moderate" faction of Iranians, the Walsh Iran/Contra Report states that the arms sales were "to Iran" itself, [34] which was under the control of the Ayatollah.

Following the Israeli–U.S. meeting, Israel requested permission from the United States to sell a small number of BGM-71 TOW antitank missiles to Iran, claiming that this would aid the "moderate" Iranian faction, [32] by demonstrating that the group actually had high-level connections to the U.S. government. [32] Reagan initially rejected the plan, until Israel sent information to the United States showing that the "moderate" Iranians were opposed to terrorism and had fought against it. [35] Now having a reason to trust the "moderates", Reagan approved the transaction, which was meant to be between Israel and the "moderates" in Iran, with the United States reimbursing Israel. [32] In his 1990 autobiography An American Life, Reagan claimed that he was deeply committed to securing the release of the hostages it was this compassion that supposedly motivated his support for the arms initiatives. The president requested that the "moderate" Iranians do everything in their capability to free the hostages held by Hezbollah. [36] Reagan always publicly insisted after the scandal broke in late 1986 that the purpose behind the arms-for-hostages trade was to establish a working relationship with the "moderate" faction associated with Rafsanjani to facilitate the reestablishment of the American–Iranian alliance after the soon to be expected death of Khomeini, to end the Iran–Iraq war and end Iranian support for Islamic terrorism while downplaying the importance of freeing the hostages in Lebanon as a secondary issue. [37] By contrast, when testifying before the Tower Commission, Reagan declared that hostage issue was the main reason for selling arms to Iran. [38]

The following arms were supplied to Iran: [34] [39]

  • First arms sales in 1981 (see above)
  • 20 August 1985 – 86 TOW anti-tank missiles
  • 14 September 1985 – 408 more TOWs
  • 24 November 1985 – 18 Hawk anti-aircraft missiles
  • 17 February 1986 – 500 TOWs
  • 27 February 1986 – 500 TOWs
  • 24 May 1986 – 508 TOWs, 240 Hawk spare parts
  • 4 August 1986 – More Hawk spares
  • 28 October 1986 – 500 TOWs

First arms sale Edit

The first arms sales to Iran began in 1981, though the official paper trail has them beginning in 1985 (see above). On 20 August 1985, Israel sent 96 American-made TOW missiles to Iran through an arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar. [40] Subsequently, on 14 September 1985, 408 more TOW missiles were delivered. On 15 September 1985, following the second delivery, Reverend Benjamin Weir was released by his captors, the Islamic Jihad Organization. On 24 November 1985, 18 Hawk anti-aircraft missiles were delivered.

Modifications in plans Edit

Robert McFarlane resigned on 4 December 1985, [41] [42] stating that he wanted to spend more time with his family, [43] and was replaced by Admiral John Poindexter. [44] Two days later, Reagan met with his advisors at the White House, where a new plan was introduced. This called for a slight change in the arms transactions: instead of the weapons going to the "moderate" Iranian group, they would go to "moderate" Iranian army leaders. [45] As each weapons delivery was made from Israel by air, hostages held by Hezbollah would be released. [45] Israel would continue to be reimbursed by the United States for the weapons. Though staunchly opposed by Secretary of State George Shultz and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, the plan was authorized by Reagan, who stated that, "We were not trading arms for hostages, nor were we negotiating with terrorists". [46] In his notes of a meeting held in the White House on 7 December 1985, Weinberger wrote he told Reagan that this plan was illegal, writing:

I argued strongly that we have an embargo that makes arms sales to Iran illegal and President couldn't violate it and that 'washing' transactions through Israel wouldn't make it legal. Shultz, Don Regan agreed. [47]

Weinberger's notes have Reagan saying he "could answer charges of illegality but he couldn't answer charge that 'big strong President Reagan' passed up a chance to free hostages." [47] Now retired National Security Advisor McFarlane flew to London to meet with Israelis and Ghorbanifar in an attempt to persuade the Iranian to use his influence to release the hostages before any arms transactions occurred this plan was rejected by Ghorbanifar. [45]

On the day of McFarlane's resignation, Oliver North, a military aide to the United States National Security Council (NSC), proposed a new plan for selling arms to Iran, which included two major adjustments: instead of selling arms through Israel, the sale was to be direct at a markup and a portion of the proceeds would go to Contras, or Nicaraguan paramilitary fighters waging guerrilla warfare against the Sandinista National Liberation Front#1984 election Sandinista government, claiming power after an election full of irregularities.[See Washington Post at the time.] The dealings with the Iranians were conducted via the NSC with Admiral Poindexter and his deputy Colonel North, with the American historians Malcolm Byrne and Peter Kornbluh writing that Poindexter granted much power to North ". who made the most of the situation, often deciding important matters on his own, striking outlandish deals with the Iranians, and acting in the name of the president on issues that were far beyond his competence. All of these activities continued to take place within the framework of the president's broad authorization. Until the press reported on the existence of the operation, nobody in the administration questioned the authority of Poindexter's and North's team to implement the president's decisions". [48] North proposed a $15 million markup, while contracted arms broker Ghorbanifar added a 41% markup of his own. [49] Other members of the NSC were in favor of North's plan with large support, Poindexter authorized it without notifying President Reagan, and it went into effect. [50] At first, the Iranians refused to buy the arms at the inflated price because of the excessive markup imposed by North and Ghorbanifar. They eventually relented, and in February 1986, 1,000 TOW missiles were shipped to the country. [50] From May to November 1986, there were additional shipments of miscellaneous weapons and parts. [50]

Both the sale of weapons to Iran and the funding of the Contras attempted to circumvent not only stated administration policy, but also the Boland Amendment. Administration officials argued that regardless of Congress restricting funds for the Contras, or any affair, the President (or in this case the administration) could carry on by seeking alternative means of funding such as private entities and foreign governments. [51] Funding from one foreign country, Brunei, was botched when North's secretary, Fawn Hall, transposed the numbers of North's Swiss bank account number. A Swiss businessman, suddenly $10 million richer, alerted the authorities of the mistake. The money was eventually returned to the Sultan of Brunei, with interest. [52]

On 7 January 1986, John Poindexter proposed to Reagan a modification of the approved plan: instead of negotiating with the "moderate" Iranian political group, the United States would negotiate with "moderate" members of the Iranian government. [53] Poindexter told Reagan that Ghorbanifar had important connections within the Iranian government, so with the hope of the release of the hostages, Reagan approved this plan as well. [53] Throughout February 1986, weapons were shipped directly to Iran by the United States (as part of Oliver North's plan), but none of the hostages were released. Retired National Security Advisor McFarlane conducted another international voyage, this one to Tehran – bringing with him a gift of a bible with a handwritten inscription by Ronald Reagan [54] [55] and, according to George Cave, a cake baked in the shape of a key. [54] Howard Teicher described the cake as a joke between North and Ghorbanifar. [56] McFarlane met directly with Iranian officials associated with Rafsanjani, who sought to establish U.S.-Iranian relations in an attempt to free the four remaining hostages. [57]

The American delegation comprised McFarlane, North, Cave (a retired CIA officer who worked in Iran in the 1960s–70s), Teicher, Israeli diplomat Amiram Nir and a CIA translator. They arrived in Tehran in an Israeli plane carrying forged Irish passports on 25 May 1986. [58] This meeting also failed. Much to McFarlane's disgust, he did not meet ministers, and instead met in his words "third and fourth level officials". [58] At one point, an angry McFarlane shouted: "As I am a Minister, I expect to meet with decision-makers. Otherwise, you can work with my staff." [58] The Iranians requested concessions such as Israel's withdrawal from the Golan Heights, which the United States rejected. [57] More importantly, McFarlane refused to ship spare parts for the Hawk missiles until the Iranians had Hezbollah release the American hostages, whereas the Iranians wanted to reverse that sequence with the spare parts being shipped first before the hostages were freed. [58] The differing negotiating positions led to McFarlane's mission going home after four days. [59] After the failure of the secret visit to Tehran, McFarlane advised Reagan not to talk to the Iranians anymore, advice that was disregarded. [59]

Subsequent dealings Edit

On 26 July 1986, Hezbollah freed the American hostage Father Lawrence Jenco, former head of Catholic Relief Services in Lebanon. [59] Following this, William Casey, head of the CIA, requested that the United States authorize sending a shipment of small missile parts to Iranian military forces as a way of expressing gratitude. [60] Casey also justified this request by stating that the contact in the Iranian government might otherwise lose face or be executed, and hostages might be killed. Reagan authorized the shipment to ensure that those potential events would not occur. [60] North used this release to persuade Reagan to switch over to a "sequential" policy of freeing the hostages one by one, instead of the "all or nothing" policy that the Americans had pursued until then. [59] By this point, the Americans had grown tired of Ghobanifar who had proven himself a dishonest intermediary who played off both sides to his own commercial advantage. [59] In August 1986, the Americans had established a new contact in the Iranian government, Ali Hashemi Bahramani, the nephew of Rafsanjani and an officer in the Revolutionary Guard. [59] The fact that the Revolutionary Guard was deeply involved in international terrorism seemed only to attract the Americans more to Bahramani, who was seen as someone with the influence to change Iran's policies. [59] Richard Secord, an American arms dealer, who was being used as a contact with Iran, wrote to North: "My judgment is that we have opened up a new and probably better channel into Iran". [59] North was so impressed with Bahramani that he arranged for him to secretly visit Washington D.C and gave him a guided tour at midnight of the White House. [59]

North frequently met with Bahramani in the summer and fall of 1986 in West Germany, discussing arms sales to Iran, the freeing of hostages held by Hezbollah and how best to overthrow President Saddam Hussein of Iraq and the establishment of "a non-hostile regime in Baghdad". [59] In September and October 1986 three more Americans – Frank Reed, Joseph Cicippio, and Edward Tracy – were abducted in Lebanon by a separate terrorist group, who referred to them simply as "G.I. Joe," after the popular American toy. The reasons for their abduction are unknown, although it is speculated that they were kidnapped to replace the freed Americans. [61] One more original hostage, David Jacobsen, was later released. The captors promised to release the remaining two, but the release never happened. [62]

During a secret meeting in Frankfurt in October 1986, North told Bahramani that: "Saddam Hussein must go". [59] North also claimed that Reagan had told him to tell Bahramani that: "Saddam Hussein is an asshole." [59] Behramani during a secret meeting in Mainz informed North that Rafsanjani "for his own politics . decided to get all the groups involved and give them a role to play." [63] Thus, all the factions in the Iranian government would be jointly responsible for the talks with the Americans and "there would not be an internal war". [63] This demand of Behramani caused much dismay on the American side as it made clear to them that they would not be dealing solely with a "moderate" faction in the Islamic Republic, as the Americans liked to pretend to themselves, but rather with all the factions in the Iranian government – including those who were very much involved in terrorism. [63] Despite this the talks were not broken off. [63]

After a leak by Mehdi Hashemi, a senior official in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Lebanese magazine Ash-Shiraa exposed the arrangement on 3 November 1986. [64] The leak may have been orchestrated by a covert team led by Arthur S. Moreau Jr., assistant to the chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, due to fears the scheme had grown out of control. [65]

This was the first public report of the weapons-for-hostages deal. The operation was discovered only after an airlift of guns (Corporate Air Services HPF821) was downed over Nicaragua. Eugene Hasenfus, who was captured by Nicaraguan authorities after surviving the plane crash, initially alleged in a press conference on Nicaraguan soil that two of his coworkers, Max Gomez and Ramon Medina, worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. [66] He later said he did not know whether they did or not. [67] The Iranian government confirmed the Ash-Shiraa story, and ten days after the story was first published, President Reagan appeared on national television from the Oval Office on 13 November, stating:

My purpose was . to send a signal that the United States was prepared to replace the animosity between [the U.S. and Iran] with a new relationship . At the same time we undertook this initiative, we made clear that Iran must oppose all forms of international terrorism as a condition of progress in our relationship. The most significant step which Iran could take, we indicated, would be to use its influence in Lebanon to secure the release of all hostages held there. [7]

The scandal was compounded when Oliver North destroyed or hid pertinent documents between 21 November and 25 November 1986. During North's trial in 1989, his secretary, Fawn Hall, testified extensively about helping North alter and shred official United States National Security Council (NSC) documents from the White House. According to The New York Times, enough documents were put into a government shredder to jam it. [49] Hall also testified that she smuggled classified documents out of the Old Executive Office Building by concealing them in her boots and dress. [68] North's explanation for destroying some documents was to protect the lives of individuals involved in Iran and Contra operations. [49] It was not until 1993, years after the trial, that North's notebooks were made public, and only after the National Security Archive and Public Citizen sued the Office of the Independent Counsel under the Freedom of Information Act. [49]

During the trial, North testified that on 21, 22 or 24 November, he witnessed Poindexter destroy what may have been the only signed copy of a presidential covert-action finding that sought to authorize CIA participation in the November 1985 Hawk missile shipment to Iran. [49] U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese admitted on 25 November that profits from weapons sales to Iran were made available to assist the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. On the same day, John Poindexter resigned, and President Reagan fired Oliver North. [69] Poindexter was replaced by Frank Carlucci on 2 December 1986. [70]

When the story broke, many legal and constitutional scholars expressed dismay that the NSC, which was supposed to be just an advisory body to assist the President with formulating foreign policy had "gone operational" by becoming an executive body covertly executing foreign policy on its own. [71] The National Security Act of 1947, which created the NSC, gave it the vague right to perform "such other functions and duties related to the intelligence as the National Security Council may from time to time direct." [72] However, the NSC had usually, although not always, acted as an advisory agency until the Reagan administration when the NSC had "gone operational", a situation that was condemned by both the Tower commission and by Congress as a departure from the norm. [72] The American historian James Canham-Clyne asserted that Iran–Contra affair and the NSC "going operational" were not departures from the norm, but were the logical and natural consequence of existence of the "national security state", the plethora of shadowy government agencies with multi-million dollar budgets operating with little oversight from Congress, the courts or the media, and for whom upholding national security justified almost everything. [72] Canham-Clyne argued that for the "national security state", the law was an obstacle to be surmounted rather than something to uphold and that the Iran–Contra affair was just "business as usual", something he asserted that the media missed by focusing on the NSC having "gone operational." [72]

In Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981–1987, journalist Bob Woodward chronicled the role of the CIA in facilitating the transfer of funds from the Iran arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras spearheaded by Oliver North. According to Woodward, then-Director of the CIA William J. Casey admitted to him in February 1987 that he was aware of the diversion of funds to the Contras. [73] The controversial admission occurred while Casey was hospitalized for a stroke, and, according to his wife, was unable to communicate. On 6 May 1987, William Casey died the day after Congress began public hearings on Iran–Contra. Independent Counsel, Lawrence Walsh later wrote: "Independent Counsel obtained no documentary evidence showing Casey knew about or approved the diversion. The only direct testimony linking Casey to early knowledge of the diversion came from [Oliver] North." [74] Gust Avrakodos, who was responsible for the arms supplies to the Afghans at this time, was aware of the operation as well and strongly opposed it, in particular the diversion of funds allotted to the Afghan operation. According to his Middle Eastern experts, the operation was pointless because the moderates in Iran were not in a position to challenge the fundamentalists. However, he was overruled by Clair George. [75]

On 25 November 1986, President Reagan announced the creation of a Special Review Board to look into the matter the following day, he appointed former Senator John Tower, former Secretary of State Edmund Muskie, and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft to serve as members. This Presidential Commission took effect on 1 December and became known as the Tower Commission. The main objectives of the commission were to inquire into "the circumstances surrounding the Iran–Contra matter, other case studies that might reveal strengths and weaknesses in the operation of the National Security Council system under stress, and the manner in which that system has served eight different presidents since its inception in 1947". The Tower Commission was the first presidential commission to review and evaluate the National Security Council. [76]

President Reagan appeared before the Tower Commission on 2 December 1986, to answer questions regarding his involvement in the affair. When asked about his role in authorizing the arms deals, he first stated that he had later, he appeared to contradict himself by stating that he had no recollection of doing so. [77] In his 1990 autobiography, An American Life, Reagan acknowledges authorizing the shipments to Israel. [78]

The report published by the Tower Commission was delivered to the president on 26 February 1987. The Commission had interviewed 80 witnesses to the scheme, including Reagan, and two of the arms trade middlemen: Manucher Ghorbanifar and Adnan Khashoggi. [77] The 200-page report was the most comprehensive of any released, [77] criticizing the actions of Oliver North, John Poindexter, Caspar Weinberger, and others. It determined that President Reagan did not have knowledge of the extent of the program, especially about the diversion of funds to the Contras, although it argued that the president ought to have had better control of the National Security Council staff. The report heavily criticized Reagan for not properly supervising his subordinates or being aware of their actions. A major result of the Tower Commission was the consensus that Reagan should have listened to his National Security Advisor more, thereby placing more power in the hands of that chair.

In January 1987, Congress announced it was opening an investigation into the Iran–Contra affair. Depending upon one's political perspective, the Congressional investigation into the Iran–Contra affair was either an attempt by the legislative arm to gain control over an out-of-control executive arm, a partisan "witch hunt" by the Democrats against a Republican administration or a feeble effort by Congress that did far too little to rein in the "imperial presidency" that had run amok by breaking numerous laws. [79] The Democratic-controlled United States Congress issued its own report on 18 November 1987, stating that "If the president did not know what his national security advisers were doing, he should have." [3] The congressional report wrote that the president bore "ultimate responsibility" for wrongdoing by his aides, and his administration exhibited "secrecy, deception and disdain for the law". [80] It also read that "the central remaining question is the role of the President in the Iran–Contra affair. On this critical point, the shredding of documents by Poindexter, North and others, and the death of Casey, leave the record incomplete".

Reagan expressed regret regarding the situation in a nationally televised address from the Oval Office on 4 March 1987, and in two other speeches. [81] Reagan had not spoken to the American people directly for three months amidst the scandal, [82] and he offered the following explanation for his silence:

The reason I haven't spoken to you before now is this: You deserve the truth. And as frustrating as the waiting has been, I felt it was improper to come to you with sketchy reports, or possibly even erroneous statements, which would then have to be corrected, creating even more doubt and confusion. There's been enough of that. [82]

Reagan then took full responsibility for the acts committed:

First, let me say I take full responsibility for my own actions and for those of my administration. As angry as I may be about activities undertaken without my knowledge, I am still accountable for those activities. As disappointed as I may be in some who served me, I'm still the one who must answer to the American people for this behavior. [82]

Finally, the president acknowledged that his previous assertions that the U.S. did not trade arms for hostages were incorrect:

A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages. This runs counter to my own beliefs, to administration policy, and to the original strategy we had in mind. [82]

To this day, Reagan's role in these transactions is not definitively known. It is unclear exactly what Reagan knew and when, and whether the arms sales were motivated by his desire to save the U.S. hostages. Oliver North wrote that "Ronald Reagan knew of and approved a great deal of what went on with both the Iranian initiative and private efforts on behalf of the contras and he received regular, detailed briefings on both. I have no doubt that he was told about the use of residuals for the Contras, and that he approved it. Enthusiastically." [83] Handwritten notes by Defense Secretary Weinberger indicate that the President was aware of potential hostage transfers [ clarification needed ] with Iran, as well as the sale of Hawk and TOW missiles to what he was told were "moderate elements" within Iran. [6] Notes taken by Weinberger on 7 December 1985 record that Reagan said that "he could answer charges of illegality but he couldn't answer charge [sic] that 'big strong President Reagan passed up a chance to free hostages'". [6] The Republican-written "Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran–Contra Affair" made the following conclusion:

There is some question and dispute about precisely the level at which he chose to follow the operation details. There is no doubt, however, . [that] the President set the US policy towards Nicaragua, with few if any ambiguities, and then left subordinates more or less free to implement it. [84]

Domestically, the affair precipitated a drop in President Reagan's popularity. His approval ratings suffered "the largest single drop for any U.S. president in history", from 67% to 46% in November 1986, according to a The New York Times/CBS News poll. [85] The "Teflon President", as Reagan was nicknamed by critics, [86] survived the affair, however, and his approval rating recovered. [87]

Internationally, the damage was more severe. Magnus Ranstorp wrote, "U.S. willingness to engage in concessions with Iran and the Hezbollah not only signaled to its adversaries that hostage-taking was an extremely useful instrument in extracting political and financial concessions for the West but also undermined any credibility of U.S. criticism of other states' deviation from the principles of no-negotiation and no concession to terrorists and their demands." [88]

In Iran, Mehdi Hashemi, the leaker of the scandal, was executed in 1987, allegedly for activities unrelated to the scandal. Though Hashemi made a full video confession to numerous serious charges, some observers find the coincidence of his leak and the subsequent prosecution highly suspicious. [89]

In 1994, just five years after leaving office, President Reagan announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. [90] Lawrence Walsh, who was appointed Independent Council in 1986 to investigate the transactions later implied Reagan's declining health may have played a role in his handling of the situation. However, Walsh did note that he believed President Reagan's “instincts for the country’s good were right". [91]

Indictments Edit

    , Secretary of Defense, was indicted on two counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice on 16 June 1992. [92] Weinberger received a pardon from George H. W. Bush on 24 December 1992, before he was tried. [93] , National Security Adviser, convicted of withholding evidence, but after a plea bargain was given only two years of probation. Later pardoned by President George H. W. Bush. [94] , Assistant Secretary of State, convicted of withholding evidence, but after a plea bargain was given only two years probation. Later pardoned by President George H. W. Bush. [95] , Chief of the CIA's Central American Task Force, convicted of withholding evidence and sentenced to one year probation. Later pardoned by President George H. W. Bush. , Chief of Covert Ops-CIA, convicted on two charges of perjury, but pardoned by President George H. W. Bush before sentencing. [96] , member of the National Security Council was indicted on 16 charges. [97] A jury convicted him of accepting an illegal gratuity, obstruction of a congressional inquiry, and destruction of documents. The convictions were overturned on appeal because his Fifth Amendment rights may have been violated by use of his immunized public testimony [98] and because the judge had incorrectly explained the crime of destruction of documents to the jury. [99] , Oliver North's secretary, was given immunity from prosecution on charges of conspiracy and destroying documents in exchange for her testimony. [100]
  • Jonathan Scott Royster, Liaison to Oliver North, was given immunity from prosecution on charges of conspiracy and destroying documents in exchange for his testimony. [101]
  • National Security Advisor John Poindexter was convicted of five counts of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, perjury, defrauding the government, and the alteration and destruction of evidence. A panel of the D.C. Circuit overturned the convictions on 15 November 1991 for the same reason the court had overturned Oliver North's, and by the same 2 to 1 vote. [102] The Supreme Court refused to hear the case. [103] . An ex-CIA senior official, he was indicted in November 1991 on seven counts of perjury and false statements relating to a November 1985 shipment to Iran. Pardoned before trial by President George H. W. Bush. [104][105] . Former Air Force major general, who was involved in arms transfers to Iran and diversion of funds to Contras, he pleaded guilty in November 1989 to making false statements to Congress and was sentenced to two years of probation. As part of his plea bargain, Secord agreed to provide further truthful testimony in exchange for the dismissal of remaining criminal charges against him. [106][16] . A businessman, he pleaded guilty in November 1989 to supplementing the salary of North by buying a $13,800 fence for North with money from "the Enterprise," which was a set of foreign companies Hakim used in Iran–Contra. In addition, Swiss company Lake Resources Inc., used for storing money from arms sales to Iran to give to the Contras, plead guilty to stealing government property. [107] Hakim was given two years of probation and a $5,000 fine, while Lake Resources Inc. was ordered to dissolve. [106][108] . A former CIA clandestine service officer. According to Special Prosecutor Walsh, he earned nearly $883,000 helping retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord and Albert Hakim carry out the secret operations of "the Enterprise". He was indicted for concealing the full amount of his Enterprise profits for the 1985 and 1986 tax years, and for failing to declare his foreign financial accounts. He was convicted and served 16 months in prison, the only Iran-Contra defendant to have served a prison sentence. [109]

The Independent Counsel, Lawrence E. Walsh, chose not to re-try North or Poindexter. [110] In total, several dozen people were investigated by Walsh's office. [111]

George H. W. Bush's involvement Edit

On 27 July 1986, Israeli counterterrorism expert Amiram Nir briefed Vice President Bush in Jerusalem about the weapon sales to Iran. [112]

In an interview with The Washington Post in August 1987, Bush stated that he was denied information about the operation and did not know about the diversion of funds. [113] Bush said that he had not advised Reagan to reject the initiative because he had not heard strong objections to it. [113] The Post quoted him as stating, "We were not in the loop." [113] The following month, Bush recounted meeting Nir in his September 1987 autobiography Looking Forward, stating that he began to develop misgivings about the Iran initiative. [114] He wrote that he did not learn the full extent of the Iran dealings until he was briefed by Senator David Durenberger regarding a Senate inquiry into them. [114] Bush added the briefing with Durenberger left him with the feeling he had "been deliberately excluded from key meetings involving details of the Iran operation". [114]

In January 1988 during a live interview with Bush on CBS Evening News, Dan Rather told Bush that his unwillingness to speak about the scandal led "people to say 'either George Bush was irrelevant or he was ineffective, he set himself outside of the loop.'" [115] Bush replied, "May I explain what I mean by 'out of the loop'? No operational role." [115] [116]

Although Bush publicly insisted that he knew little about the operation, his statements were contradicted by excerpts of his diary released by the White House in January 1993. [115] [117] An entry dated 5 November 1986 stated: "On the news at this time is the question of the hostages. I'm one of the few people that know fully the details, and there is a lot of flak and misinformation out there. It is not a subject we can talk about. " [115] [117]

Pardons Edit

On 24 December 1992, after he had been defeated for reelection, lame duck President George H. W. Bush pardoned five administration officials who had been found guilty on charges relating to the affair. [118] They were:

Bush also pardoned Caspar Weinberger, who had not yet come to trial. [119] Attorney General William P. Barr advised the President on these pardons, especially that of Caspar Weinberger. [120]

In response to these Bush pardons, Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh, who headed the investigation of Reagan Administration officials' criminal conduct in the Iran–Contra scandal, stated that "the Iran–Contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed." Walsh noted that in issuing the pardons Bush appears to have been preempting being implicated himself in the crimes of Iran–Contra by evidence that was to come to light during the Weinberger trial, and noted that there was a pattern of "deception and obstruction" by Bush, Weinberger and other senior Reagan administration officials. [110] [11] [12]

Modern interpretations Edit

The Iran–Contra affair and the ensuing deception to protect senior administration officials (including President Reagan) was cast as an example of post-truth politics by Malcolm Byrne of George Washington University. [121]

The 100th Congress formed a Joint Committee of the United States Congress (Congressional Committees Investigating The Iran-Contra Affair) and held hearings in mid-1987. Transcripts were published as: Iran–Contra Investigation: Joint Hearings Before the Senate Select Committee on Secret Military Assistance to Iran and the Nicaraguan Opposition and the House Select Committee to Investigate Covert Arms Transactions with Iran (U.S. GPO 1987–88). A closed Executive Session heard classified testimony from North and Poindexter this transcript was published in a redacted format. The joint committee's final report was Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran–Contra Affair With Supplemental, Minority, and Additional Views (U.S. GPO 17 November 1987). The records of the committee are at the National Archives, but many are still non-public. [122]

Testimony was also heard before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and can be found in the Congressional Record for those bodies. The Senate Intelligence Committee produced two reports: Preliminary Inquiry into the Sale of Arms to Iran and Possible Diversion of Funds to the Nicaraguan Resistance (2 February 1987) and Were Relevant Documents Withheld from the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran–Contra Affair? (June 1989). [123]

The Tower Commission Report was published as the Report of the President's Special Review Board (U.S. GPO 26 February 1987). It was also published as The Tower Commission Report by Bantam Books (ISBN 0-553-26968-2).

The Office of Independent Counsel/Walsh investigation produced four interim reports to Congress. Its final report was published as the Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters. Walsh's records are available at the National Archives. [124]

Iran–Contra affair

The Iran-Contra affair was a scandal that happened from August 1985 to March 1987. The scandal involved the United States Government selling weapons to Iran in exchange for hostages and to fund the Nicaraguan Contras. [1] It happened under President Ronald Reagan's government. When 1,500 missiles were shipped three hostages were released but those three hostages were soon replaced with three more hostages. Secretary of State George Shultz called it “a hostage Bazaar” [2]

Oliver North was tried in court for the affair because he took the blame instead of Reagan. The court found North to be not guilty.

On March 4, 1987, Reagan himself apologized to the American people and said it was all his fault. George H. W. Bush later pardoned anyone who was involved in the affair.

While President Ronald Reagan was a supporter of the Contra cause, [3] the evidence is unclear as to whether he knew about the scandal. [4] [5]

On November 25, 1986, President Reagan announced the creation of a Special Review Board to look into the matter the following day, he appointed former Senator John Tower, former Secretary of State Edmund Muskie, and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft to serve as members. This commission was called the Tower Commission. Towards the end, the committee said that there was no evidence to say that Reagan had anything to do with the affair.

What Does William Barr Have to Do With Iran Contra?

Jeffrey J. Matthews is a professor of leadership and American history at the University of Puget Sound and the author of &ldquoColin Powell: Imperfect Patriot&rdquo (University of Notre Dame, 2019).

Donald Trump&rsquos nomination of William Barr to become attorney general has recast the spotlight on the presidency of George H.W. Bush. Barr served as attorney general in the Bush administration from late 1991 to early 1993. Most notably, Barr railed publicly against a long running independent counsel investigation of the Reagan-Bush administration and he fully supported President Bush&rsquos last minute pardon of Caspar Weinberger, Reagan&rsquos former defense secretary. Weinberger had been indicted on five felony charges, including accusations that he obstructed federal investigations and lied to Congress about the Iran-Contra affair.

In the wake of Bush&rsquos recent death, innumerable editorials have heaped praise on the late president for his prudent and polite leadership. Far too little attention has been paid to his role in the Iran-Contra scandal.

No writer has been more generous to Bush than journalist Jon Meacham, the author of The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush. In a New York Times editorial assessing Bush&rsquos legacy, Meacham lauded the nation&rsquos forty-third vice president and forty-first president for being especially principled and pragmatic a leader whose &ldquolife offers an object lesson in the best that politics&hellipcan be.&rdquo Bush, Meacham noted admiringly, saw politics as a noble pursuit, a means to faithfully serve the public, &ldquonot a vehicle for self-aggrandizement or self-enrichment.&rdquo

But the history of Bush&rsquos involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal is not one of nobility and virtue. The object lesson, in fact, is that even our most revered leaders are fallible human beings subject to making unethical decisions out of misdirected loyalties or self-preservation.

There is no doubt that Bush, as a loyal vice president, was aware of and endorsed the Reagan administration&rsquos covert policies in the Middle East and Central America. Specifically, he knew of the illicit program of selling arms to Iran, a U.S. designated terrorist state, in hopes of recovering American hostages in Lebanon. And, he knew of the illegal program of suppling aid to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. Years later when running for reelection as president, Bush admitted to his diary that, &ldquoI&rsquom one of the few people that know fully the details [of Iran-Contra]&hellip.It is not a subject we can talk about.&rdquo

It is also clear that Reagan and his senior staff, Bush included, understood that the Iran and Contra programs were illegal. At one point, in regard to the arms-for-hostages initiative, Reagan informed his advisers that he would risk going to prison because the American people would want him to break the law if it meant saving the lives of hostages. &ldquoThey can impeach me if they want,&rdquo Reagan said, and then he quipped &ldquovisiting days are Wednesday.&rdquo

Shortly after the Iranian weapons deals became public, Bush tried to distance himself from the Iran-Contra scandal by telling reporters that it was &ldquoridiculous to even consider selling arms to Iran.&rdquo Knowledge of Bush&rsquos involvement could jeopardize his plans to succeed Reagan. Such deceptive maneuvering was galling to Reagan&rsquos secretary of state, George Shultz, who knew all too well that Bush had supported the Iran project. Shultz told a friend: &ldquoWhat concerns me is Bush on TV,&rdquo because he risks &ldquogetting drawn into a web of lies&hellip.He should be very careful how he plays the loyal lieutenant.&rdquo

Bush did become president and his eventual pardon of Weinberger, just weeks before leaving office, was not an act of virtuous public service even Reagan had refused to grant pardons to those involved with Iran-Contra. Bush&rsquos decision was a self-serving one as a trial examining Weinberger&rsquos role in Iran-Contra, including the administration&rsquos orchestrated cover-up, risked exposing the outgoing president&rsquos complicity.

Hearing of Weinberger being pardoned, Judge Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel investigating Iran-Contra, issued a statement of condemnation: &ldquoPresident Bush&rsquos pardon&hellipundermines the principle that no man is above the law. It demonstrates that powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes in high office&mdashdeliberately abusing the public trust without consequence."

Among the lessons of Iran-Contra is that a healthy democracy must have robust checks on executive authority in order to minimize abuses of power. A quarter century ago, the president&rsquos attorney general, William Barr, staunchly opposed the independent counsel&rsquos investigation of wrongdoing in the White House, and he also firmly supported Bush&rsquos use of pardons as a means of self-protection. Are we to believe that Barr&rsquos relationship with President Trump will be any different?

If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out Dr. Matthews forthcoming book:

Iran-Contra Scandal

An illegal, international arms deal involving drug trafficking (ignored by mainstream accounts) and defying US congress to supply weapons to the Nicaraguan &ldquoContras&rdquo. Professor Lance deHaven-Smith has suggested that the operation arose from Bill Casey&rsquos October Surprise conspiracy. Even the name, &ldquoIran-Contra&rdquo, is disingenuous, ignoring as it does the drug dealing, which was never fully exposed. The abundance of evidence of this has been obscured if not from the public record, then largely from public consciousness. Drawing a parallel with the Watergate Coup, Mark Gorton suggests that Iran-Contra was a limited hangout orchestrated by George H. W. Bush to try to get Ronald Reagan to resign, but that Reagan loyalists Edwin Meese and George Schulz were able to fight off the coup attempt. Tosh Plumlee, Bo Abbott and Edward Cutolo have all testified under oath to involvement in US government/CIA sanctioned drug trafficking.

Originally coined &ldquoIran-Contra&rdquo (in reference to illegal arms sales to Iran in exchange for American hostages in Lebanon and arms to the Contra &ldquofreedom fighters&rdquo in Nicaragua), the moniker hides the fact that it became a massive and permanent criminal business and political machine that went far beyond then-current political concerns.

In The Conspirators: Secrets of an Iran-Contra Insider, Al Martin describes the Iran-Contra Enterprise that a vast operation that included (and was not limited to) drugs, weapons, terrorism, war, money laundering, criminal banking and securities fraud, currency fraud, real estate fraud, insurance fraud, blackmail, extortion, and political corruption that involved countless Washington politicians of both Republican and Democratic parties.

&ldquoIran-Contra itself is a euphemism for the outrageous fraud perpetrated by government criminals for profit and control. Offhandedly, this inaccurate term entered history as shorthand for the public scandals of illicit arms sales to Iran coupled with illicit weapons deals for Nicaragua. The real story, however, is much more complex&hellipWhen George Bush, [CIA Director] Bill Casey and Oliver North initiated their plan of government-sanctioned fraud and drug smuggling, they envisioned using 500 men to raise $35 billion&hellip.they ended up using about 5,000 operatives and making over $35 billion.&rdquo In addition, the operation became &ldquoa government within a government, comprising some thirty to forty thousand people the American government turns to, when it wishes certain illegal covert operations to be extant pursuant to a political objective&rdquo with George [H.W.] Bush &ldquoat the top of the pyramid&rdquo.

The operation&rsquos insiders and whistleblowers place George H.W.Bush as one of its top architects, and its commander. It was carried out by CIA operatives close to Bush since his CIA directorship and even stretching back to the Bay of Pigs. These included Oliver North, Ted Shackley, Edwin Wilson, Felix Rodriguez, and others. Iran-Contra was a replication of the CIA&rsquos Golden Triangle drug trafficking in Southeast Asia (operations also connected to Bush) but on a larger scale and sophistication, greater complexity, and far-reaching impact that remains palpable to this day.

In George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography, Webster Tarpley wrote that, &ldquomany once-classified documents have come to light, which suggest that Bush organized and supervised many, or most, of the criminal aspects of the Iran-Contra adventures.&rdquo

Tarpley further points out that George H.W. Bush created new structures (&ldquospecial situation group&rdquo, &ldquoterror incident working group&rdquo etc.) within the Reagan administration&mdashand that

&ldquoall of these structures revolved around [creating] the secret command role of the then-Vice President, George Bush&hellipThe Bush apparatus, within and behind the government, was formed to carry out covert policies: to make war when the constitutional government had decided not to make war to support enemies of the nation (terrorists and drug runners) who are the friends and agents of the secret government.&rdquo

This suggests that George H.W.Bush not only ran Iran-Contra, but much of the Reagan presidency. Then-White House press secretary James Baker said in 1981,

&ldquoBush is functioning much like a co-president. George is involved in all the national security stuff because of his special background as CIA director. All the budget working groups, he was there, the economic working groups, the Cabinet meetings. He is included in almost all the meetings.&rdquo

Hundreds of insiders, witnesses and investigators have blown the lid off of the Iran-Contra Enterprise in exhaustive fashion. These include the investigations of Mike Ruppert (From The Wilderness, Crossing the Rubicon), Al Martin (The Conspirators: Secrets of an Iran-Contra Insider), Gary Webb (Dark Alliance), Rodney Stich (Defrauding America, Drugging America), Terry Reed (Compromised: Clinton, Bush and the CIA), Stew Webb (and here), Dois &ldquoChip&rdquo Tatum (The Tatum Chronicles) (summarized here), Pete Brewton (The Mafia, the CIA and George Bush), among others. The accounts of Barry Seal, Edward Cutolo, Albert Carone, Bradley Ayers, Tosh Plumley, Bill Tyree, Gunther Russbacher, Celerino Castillo, Michael Levine, Trenton Parker, Russell Bowen, Richard Brenneke, Larry Nichols, William Duncan, Russell Welch and dozens more implicate the Bushes, the Clintons and the CIA.

As described by Mike Ruppert (image left):

&ldquoIt stood, and still stands today, isolated and immune from the operating principles of democracy. It is autonomous and it operates through self-funding via narcotics and weapons trafficking. To quote [former CIA director] William Casey it is &lsquoa completely self-funding, off-the-shelf operation.&rsquo It, in fact, dictates a substantial portion of this country&rsquos foreign, economic and military policy from a place not accessible to the will of a free people properly armed with facts.&rdquo

CIA deep cover agent pilot Chip Tatum, a key Iran-Contra player who flew drugs into Mena and Little Rock in Arkansas, worked alongside CIA pilot and drug smuggler Barry Seal. It is believed that Seal was subsequently murdered by the Medellin Cartel, on order of Oliver North and the Bushes, to prevent him from testifying about his activities. Before he was killed, Seal provided Tatum a list of Iran-Contra &ldquoBoss Hogs&rdquo who allegedly controlled the drug trade. The Pegasus File summaries Tatum&rsquos activities, and features the &ldquoBoss Hog&rdquo list.

The Iran-Contra apparatus was byzantine, comprised of a network of connected government agencies, subsidiaries, and shell companies and corporations can be seen in the diagram provided by whistleblower Stew Webb:

Why is Iran-Contra still relevant today?

The Iran-Contra Enterprise&rsquos overseers, criminal associates and beneficiaries, to this day, remain at large, with most enjoying massive illegally-obtained wealth, privilege, and highest political and corporate positions. The imperial positions of the Bush and Clinton clans exemplify this.

The operation, in essence, evolved and metastasized into ever-more modern and sophisticated incarnation with even more global reach. New names, new banks, new drugs, new wars, same blueprint. It is not a &ldquodeep state&rdquo or a &ldquoshadow state&rdquo but a Criminal State that operates &ldquoin broad daylight&rdquo. It is the playbook of the New World Order. It is globalization at its finest.

All attempts to prosecute were largely unsuccessful&mdashblocked, stalled, or given a &ldquolimited hangout&rdquo treatment. As written by Ruppert, one of many Iran-Contra whistleblowers, in Crossing the Rubicon:

&ldquo[In Congress] Iran-Contra was effectively &lsquomanaged&rsquo by Lee Hamilton in the House [of Representatives] and John Kerry (among others) in the Senate throughout the late 1980s to conceal the greatest crimes of the era, crimes committed by a litany of well-known government operatives.&rdquo

Iran-Contra was also managed on both the operational and all-important judicial &ldquolegal&rdquo end by none other than William Barr. In his books Drugging America: A Trojan Horse and Defrauding America: Dirty Secrets of the CIA and other Government Operations, whistleblower Rodney Stich exposed in exhaustive detail the firsthand accounts of whistleblowers and insiders, who participated in the many criminal operations that stretched across the Bush and Clinton presidencies.

Some of the shocking evidence exposes Barr acting simultaneously as a hands-on covert operative, and as Bush&rsquos judicial/political fixer:

Reed&rsquos CIA contact, William Barr, known at that time by his alias Robert Johnson, told Reed that Attorney General Edwin Meese had appointed Michael Fitzhugh to be US Attorney in Western Arkansas, and that he would stonewall any investigation into the Mena, Arkansas drug-related activities. This obstruction of justice by Justice Department officials did occur.

William Barr, who Bush appointed to be the top law enforcement officer in the United States&mdashUS Attorney General&mdashplayed a key role in the smuggling of drugs into the United States. [CIA pilot Chip] Tatum&rsquos statements about reaching Barr at Southern Air Transport in Miami through the name of Robert Johnson confirmed what [CIA operative] Terry Reed, author of the book Compromised, had told me and had written. Nothing like having members of felony drug operations hold the position of US Attorney General&mdashin control of the United States Department of Justice&mdashand a vice president of the United States [Bush]. With this type of influence, no one needs fear being arrested. And don&rsquot forget the Mafia groups working with the CIA who also receive Justice Department protection that is not available to US citizens.

According to Stich, Tatum also detailed to him meetings that took place in which he was present for meetings and telephone conversations between Bush, [NSC Colonel] Oliver North and Barr, discussing not only operations but the skimming of drug money by the Clintons.

The purpose of the meeting was to determine who was responsible for stealing over $100 million in drug money on the three routes from Panama to Colorado, Ohio, and Arkansas. This theft was draining the operation known as the &ldquoEnterprise&rdquo&hellipThe first call was made by [CIA agent Joseph] Fernandez to Oliver North, informing North that the theft was occurring on the Panama to Arkansas route, and &ldquothat means either [CIA pilot Barry] Seal, Clinton, or [Panamanian General Manuel] Noriega&rdquo&hellipFifteen minutes later, the portable phone rang, and Vice President George Bush was on the line, talking to William Barr. Barr said at one point, referring to the missing funds, &ldquoI would propose that no one source would be bold enough to siphon out that much money, but it is more plausible that each are siphoning a portion, causing a drastic loss.&rdquo..Barr told Bush that he and Fernandez were staying in Costa Rica until the following day after first visiting [CIA operative] John Hull&rsquos ranch. Barr then handed the phone to Tatum, who was instructed by Bush to be sure that Noriega and [Mossad operative Michael] Harari boarded Seal&rsquos plane and departed, and for Tatum to get the tail number of Seal&rsquos plane&hellip.Tatum said that Barr dialed another number, immediately reaching then-governor Bill Clinton. Barr explained the missing money problem to Clinton&hellipBarr suggested that Clinton investigate at the Arkansas end of the Panama to Arkansas route, and that he and North would continue investigating the Panama end of the connection, warning that the matter must be resolved or it could lead to &ldquobig problems&rdquo&hellip(This description of missing drug money provided support to a subsequent meeting in Little Rock, described by Terry Reed, during which William Barr accused Clinton of siphoning drug money and that this had to stop.)

Tatum also described to Stich a March 15, 1985 flight, during which &ldquoTatum met with Barr, Harari, and Buddy Young (head of Governor Bill Clinton&rsquos security detail). Barr represented himself as an emissary of Vice President George Bush, who would be arriving soon. Tatum would note on his flight book &ldquoBush visit/meet with Barr and had dinner at German restaurant&rdquo.

Description: What happened in the 80s doesn&rsquot stay in the 80s. Iran-Contra was an historical moment that reaches forwards and backwards in time to connect some of the key political players of the past 50 years&hellipand exposes the shadow government that has been in operation for decades. The Corbett Report replaces the Orwellian con/text of history by putting Iran-Contra history in context. (Starts around 10:45 in the audio below):

The Iran-Contra scandal : the declassified history

Part 1 : The Contras. The Contra War : abroad and at home -- Third-country quid pro quos -- The Contra resupply operations -- "Damage control" : covering up the resupply operations -- Part 2 : Iran: arms for hostages. The Iran initiative : presidential authorization -- Dealing in arms and hostages -- "Damage control" : covering up arms for hostages -- Part 3 : The aftermath : history and accountability

"National security archive document reader." Contains a complete summary of every known relevant fact connected with the Iran-Contra scandal

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Oliver North

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Oliver North, in full Oliver Laurence North, (born October 7, 1943, San Antonio, Texas, U.S.), U.S. Marine Corps officer, conservative political commentator, and author who was involved in the Iran-Contra Affair in the 1980s.

North graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served in the Vietnam War. In 1981 he was assigned to the National Security Council, where his work focused on Central America. Embracing the cause of the Nicaraguan contras, he raised private donations for them. In 1986, after Congressional investigation of the Iran-Contra Affair, he was reluctantly dismissed by then president Ronald Reagan. In 1988 North was indicted for conspiracy to defraud the government and resigned from the Marine Corps. At his 1989 trial, he was found guilty of obstructing the U.S. Congress, destroying documents, and accepting an illegal gratuity and was sentenced to two years’ probation. In 1991, after a prosecution witness claimed that his testimony had been tainted, all charges against North were dropped.

North ran unsuccessfully for a U.S. Senate seat in Virginia in 1994. In the mid-1990s he began hosting a conservative radio talk show. He also cowrote a number of books, including a thriller series. The memoir Under Fire: An American Story (cowritten with William Novak) was published in 1991. North was named president of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in 2018. He later became involved in a power struggle with NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre as regulators investigated the organization’s tax-exempt status amid allegations of financial improprieties. In 2019 North announced that he was resigning as president, noting that the NRA was in the midst of a “clear crisis.”

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy Tikkanen, Corrections Manager.


Origins Edit

The Contras were not a monolithic group, but a combination of three distinct elements of Nicaraguan society: [8]

  • Ex-guardsmen of the Nicaraguan National Guard and other right-wing figures who had fought for Nicaragua's ex-dictator Somoza[8] —these later were especially found in the military wing of the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN). [9] Remnants of the Guard later formed groups such as the Fifteenth of September Legion, the Anti-Sandinista Guerrilla Special Forces, and the National Army of Liberation. [citation needed] Initially however, these groups were small and conducted little active raiding into Nicaragua. [10]
  • Anti-Somozistas who had supported the revolution but felt betrayed by the Sandinista government [8] – e.g. Edgar Chamorro, prominent member of the political directorate of the FDN, [11] or Jose Francisco Cardenal, who had briefly served in the Council of State before leaving Nicaragua out of disagreement with the Sandinista government's policies and founding the Nicaraguan Democratic Union (UDN), an opposition group of Nicaraguan exiles in Miami. [12] Another example are the MILPAS (Milicias Populares Anti-Sandinistas), peasant militias led by disillusioned Sandinista veterans from the northern mountains. Founded by Pedro Joaquín González (known as "Dimas"), the Milpistas were also known as chilotes (green corn). Even after his death, other MILPAS bands sprouted during 1980–1981. The Milpistas were composed largely of campesino (peasant) highlanders and rural workers. [13][14][15][16]
  • Nicaraguans who had avoided direct involvement in the revolution but opposed the Sandinistas. [8]

Main groups Edit

The CIA and Argentine intelligence, seeking to unify the anti-Sandinista cause before initiating large-scale aid, persuaded 15 September Legion, the UDN and several former smaller groups to merge in September 1981 as the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (Fuerza Democrática Nicaragüense, FDN). [17] Although the FDN had its roots in two groups made up of former National Guardsmen (of the Somoza regime), its joint political directorate was led by businessman and former anti-Somoza activist Adolfo Calero Portocarrero. [18] Edgar Chamorro later stated that there was strong opposition within the UDN against working with the Guardsmen and that the merging only took place because of insistence by the CIA. [19]

Based in Honduras, Nicaragua's northern neighbor, under the command of former National Guard Colonel Enrique Bermúdez, the new FDN commenced to draw in other smaller insurgent forces in the north. [ citation needed ] Largely financed, trained, equipped, armed and organized by the U.S., [20] it emerged as the largest and most active contra group. [21]

In April 1982, Edén Pastora (Comandante Cero), one of the heroes in the fight against Somoza, organized the Sandinista Revolutionary Front (FRS) – embedded in the Democratic Revolutionary Alliance (ARDE) [22] – and declared war on the Sandinista government. [23] Himself a former Sandinista who had held several high posts in the government, he had resigned abruptly in 1981 and defected, [23] believing that the newly found power had corrupted the Sandinista's original ideas. [22] A popular and charismatic leader, Pastora initially saw his group develop quickly. [23] He confined himself to operate in the southern part of Nicaragua [24] after a press conference he was holding on 30 May 1984 was bombed, he "voluntarily withdrew" from the contra struggle. [22]

A third force, Misurasata, appeared among the Miskito, Sumo and Rama Amerindian peoples of Nicaragua's Atlantic coast, who in December 1981 found themselves in conflict with the authorities following the government's efforts to nationalize Indian land. In the course of this conflict, forced removal of at least 10,000 Indians to relocation centers in the interior of the country and subsequent burning of some villages took place. [25] The Misurasata movement split in 1983, with the breakaway Misura group of Stedman Fagoth Muller allying itself more closely with the FDN, and the rest accommodating themselves with the Sandinistas: On 8 December 1984 a ceasefire agreement known as the Bogota Accord was signed by Misurasata and the Nicaraguan government. [26] A subsequent autonomy statute in September 1987 largely defused Miskito resistance. [27]

Unity efforts Edit

U.S. officials were active in attempting to unite the Contra groups. In June 1985 most of the groups reorganized as the United Nicaraguan Opposition (UNO), under the leadership of Adolfo Calero, Arturo Cruz and Alfonso Robelo, all originally supporters of the anti-Somoza revolution. After UNO's dissolution early in 1987, the Nicaraguan Resistance (RN) was organized along similar lines in May.

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  • .50 caliber machine guns. sniper rifle sniper rifle. sniper rifle.

In front of the International Court of Justice, Nicaragua claimed that the contras were altogether a creation of the U.S. [30] This claim was rejected. [30] However, the evidence of a very close relationship between the contras and the United States was considered overwhelming and incontrovertible. [31] The U.S. played a very large role in financing, training, arming, and advising the contras over a long period, and the contras only became capable of carrying out significant military operations as a result of this support. [32]

Political background Edit

The US government viewed the leftist Sandinistas as a threat to economic interests of American corporations in Nicaragua and to national security. US President Ronald Reagan stated in 1983 that "The defense of [the USA's] southern frontier" was at stake. [33] "In spite of the Sandinista victory being declared fair, the United States continued to oppose the left-wing Nicaraguan government." [34] [35] and opposed its ties to Cuba and the Soviet Union. [36] [37] Ronald Reagan, who had assumed the American presidency in January 1981, accused the Sandinistas of importing Cuban-style socialism and aiding leftist guerrillas in El Salvador. [38] The Reagan administration continued to view the Sandinistas as undemocratic despite the 1984 Nicaraguan elections being generally declared fair by foreign observers. [39] [40] [41] Throughout the 1980s the Sandinista government was regarded as "Partly Free" by Freedom House, an organization financed by the U.S. government. [42]

On 4 January 1982, Reagan signed the top secret National Security Decision Directive 17 (NSDD-17), [38] giving the CIA the authority to recruit and support the contras with $19 million in military aid. The effort to support the contras was one component of the Reagan Doctrine, which called for providing military support to movements opposing Soviet-supported, communist governments.

By December 1981, however, the United States had already begun to support armed opponents of the Sandinista government. From the beginning, the CIA was in charge. [43] The arming, clothing, feeding and supervision of the contras [44] became the most ambitious paramilitary and political action operation mounted by the agency in nearly a decade. [45]

In the fiscal year 1984, the U.S. Congress approved $24 million in contra aid. [44] However, since the contras failed to win widespread popular support or military victories within Nicaragua, [44] opinion polls indicated that a majority of the U.S. public was not supportive of the contras, [46] the Reagan administration lost much of its support regarding its contra policy within Congress after disclosure of CIA mining of Nicaraguan ports, [47] and a report of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research commissioned by the State Department found Reagan's allegations about Soviet influence in Nicaragua "exaggerated", [48] Congress cut off all funds for the contras in 1985 by the third Boland Amendment. [44] The Boland Amendment had first been passed by Congress in December 1982. At this time, it only outlawed U.S. assistance to the contras for the purpose of overthrowing the Nicaraguan government, while allowing assistance for other purposes. [49] In October 1984, it was amended to forbid action by not only the Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency but all U.S. government agencies.

Nevertheless, the case for support of the contras continued to be made in Washington, D.C., by both the Reagan administration and The Heritage Foundation, which argued that support for the contras would counter Soviet influence in Nicaragua. [50]

On 1 May 1985 President Reagan announced that his administration perceived Nicaragua to be "an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States", and declared a "national emergency" and a trade embargo against Nicaragua to "deal with that threat". [51] It "is now a given it is true", the Washington Post declared in 1986, "the Sandinistas are communists of the Cuban or Soviet school" that "The Reagan administration is right to take Nicaragua as a serious menace—to civil peace and democracy in Nicaragua and to the stability and security of the region" that we must "fit Nicaragua back into a Central American mode" and "turn Nicaragua back toward democracy," and with the "Latin American democracies" "demand reasonable conduct by regional standard." [52]

Soon after the embargo was established, Managua re-declared "a policy of nonalignment" and sought the aid of Western Europe, who were opposed to U.S. policy, to escape dependency on the Soviet Union. [53] Since 1981 U.S. pressures had curtailed Western credit to and trade with Nicaragua, forcing the government to rely almost totally on the Eastern bloc for credit, other aid, and trade by 1985. [54] In his 1997 study on U.S. low intensity warfare, Kermit D. Johnson, a former Chief of the U.S. Army Chaplains, contends that U.S. hostility toward the revolutionary government was motivated not by any concern for "national security", but rather by what the world relief organization Oxfam termed "the threat of a good example":

It was alarming that in just a few months after the Sandinista revolution, Nicaragua received international acclaim for its rapid progress in the fields of literacy and health. It was alarming that a socialist-mixed-economy state could do in a few short months what the Somoza dynasty, a U.S. client state, could not do in 45 years! It was truly alarming that the Sandinistas were intent on providing the very services that establish a government's political and moral legitimacy. [55]

The government's program included increased wages, subsidized food prices, and expanded health, welfare, and education services. And though it nationalized Somoza's former properties, it preserved a private sector that accounted for between 50 and 60 percent of GDP. [7]

Atrocities Edit

The United States began to support Contra activities against the Sandinista government by December 1981, with the CIA at the forefront of operations. The CIA supplied the funds and the equipment, coordinated training programs, and provided intelligence and target lists. While the Contras had little military successes, they did prove adept at carrying out CIA guerrilla warfare strategies from training manuals which advised them to incite mob violence, "neutralize" civilian leaders and government officials and attack "soft targets" — including schools, health clinics and cooperatives. The agency added to the Contras' sabotage efforts by blowing up refineries and pipelines, and mining ports. [7] [56] [57] Finally, according to former Contra leader Edgar Chamorro, CIA trainers also gave Contra soldiers large knives. "A commando knife [was given], and our people, everybody wanted to have a knife like that, to kill people, to cut their throats". [58] [59] In 1985 Newsweek published a series of photos taken by Frank Wohl, a conservative student admirer traveling with the Contras, entitled "Execution in the Jungle":

The victim dug his own grave, scooping the dirt out with his hands. He crossed himself. Then a contra executioner knelt and rammed a k-bar knife into his throat. A second enforcer stabbed at his jugular, then his abdomen. When the corpse was finally still, the contras threw dirt over the shallow grave — and walked away. [60] [61]

The CIA officer in charge of the covert war, Duane "Dewey" Clarridge, admitted to the House Intelligence Committee staff in a secret briefing in 1984 that the Contras were routinely murdering "civilians and Sandinista officials in the provinces, as well as heads of cooperatives, nurses, doctors and judges". But he claimed that this did not violate President Reagan's executive order prohibiting assassinations because the agency defined it as just 'killing'. "After all, this is war—a paramilitary operation," Clarridge said in conclusion. [62] Edgar Chamorro explained the rationale behind this to a U.S. reporter. "Sometimes terror is very productive. This is the policy, to keep putting pressure until the people cry 'uncle'". [63] [64] The CIA manual for the Contras, Tayacan, states that the Contras should gather the local population for a public tribunal to "shame, ridicule and humiliate" Sandinista officials to "reduce their influence". It also recommends gathering the local population to witness and take part in public executions. [65] These types of activities continued throughout the war. After the signing of the Central American Peace Accord in August 1987, the year war related deaths and economic destruction reached its peak, the Contras eventually entered negotiations with the Sandinista government (1988), and the war began to deescalate. [7]

By 1989 the US backed Contra war and economic isolation had inflicted severe economic suffering on Nicaraguans. The US government knew that the Nicaraguans had been exhausted from the war, which had cost 30,865 lives, and that voters usually vote the incumbents out during economic decline. By the late 1980s Nicaragua's internal conditions had changed so radically that the US approach to the 1990 elections differed greatly from 1984. A united opposition of fourteen political parties organized into the National Opposition Union (Unión Nacional Oppositora, UNO) with the support of the United States National Endowment for Democracy. UNO presidential nominee Violeta Chamorro was received by President Bush at the White House.

The Contra war escalated over the year before the election. The US promised to end the economic embargo should Chamorro win. [66]

The UNO scored a decisive victory on 25 February 1990. Chamorro won with 55 percent of the presidential vote as compared to Ortega's 41 percent. Of 92 seats in the National Assembly, UNO gained 51, and the FSLN won 39. On 25 April 1990, Chamorro assumed presidency from Daniel Ortega. [66]

Illegal covert operations Edit

With Congress blocking further aid to the Contras, the Reagan administration sought to arrange funding and military supplies by means of third countries and private sources. [67] Between 1984 and 1986, $34 million from third countries and $2.7 million from private sources were raised this way. [67] The secret contra assistance was run by the National Security Council, with officer Lt. Col. Oliver North in charge. [67] With the third-party funds, North created an organization called The Enterprise, which served as the secret arm of the NSC staff and had its own airplanes, pilots, airfield, ship, operatives, and secret Swiss bank accounts. [67] It also received assistance from personnel from other government agencies, especially from CIA personnel in Central America. [67] This operation functioned, however, without any of the accountability required of U.S. government activities. [67] The Enterprise's efforts culminated in the Iran–Contra Affair of 1986–1987, which facilitated contra funding through the proceeds of arms sales to Iran.

According to the London Spectator, U.S. journalists in Central America had long known that the CIA was flying in supplies to the Contras inside Nicaragua before the scandal broke. No journalist paid it any attention until the alleged CIA supply man, Eugene Hasenfus, was shot down and captured by the Nicaraguan army. Similarly, reporters neglected to investigate many leads indicating that Oliver North was running the Contra operation from his office in the National Security Council. [68]

According to the National Security Archive, Oliver North had been in contact with Manuel Noriega, the military leader of Panama later convicted on drug charges, whom he personally met. The issue of drug money and its importance in funding the Nicaraguan conflict was the subject of various reports and publications. The contras were funded by drug trafficking, of which the United States was aware. [69] Senator John Kerry's 1988 Committee on Foreign Relations report on Contra drug links concluded that "senior U.S. policy makers were not immune to the idea that drug money was a perfect solution to the Contras' funding problems". [70]

The Reagan administration's support for the Contras continued to stir controversy well into the 1990s. In August 1996, San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb published a series titled Dark Alliance, alleging that the contras contributed to the rise of crack cocaine in California. [71]

Gary Webb's career as a journalist was subsequently discredited by the leading U.S. papers, The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. An internal CIA report, entitled, "Managing a Nightmare", shows the agency used "a ground base of already productive relations with journalists" to help counter what it called "a genuine public relations crisis." [72] In the 1980s, Douglas Farah worked as a journalist, covering the civil wars in Central America for the Washington Post. According to Farah, while it was common knowledge that the Contras were involved in cocaine trafficking, the editors of the Washington Post refused to take it seriously:

If you're talking about our intelligence community tolerating — if not promoting — drugs to pay for black ops, it's rather an uncomfortable thing to do when you're an establishment paper like the Post. If you were going to be directly rubbing up against the government, they wanted it more solid than it could probably ever be done. [73]

An investigation by the United States Department of Justice also stated that their "review did not substantiate the main allegations stated and implied in the Mercury News articles." Regarding the specific charges towards the CIA, the DOJ wrote "the implication that the drug trafficking by the individuals discussed in the Mercury News articles was connected to the CIA was also not supported by the facts." [74] The CIA also investigated and rejected the allegations. [75]

Propaganda Edit

During the time the US Congress blocked funding for the contras, the Reagan government engaged in a campaign to alter public opinion and change the vote in Congress on contra aid. [76] For this purpose, the NSC established an interagency working group, which in turn coordinated the Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean (managed by Otto Reich), which conducted the campaign. [76] The S/LPD produced and widely disseminated a variety of pro-contra publications, arranged speeches and press conferences. [76] It also disseminated "white propaganda"—pro-contra newspaper articles by paid consultants who did not disclose their connection to the Reagan administration. [77]

On top of that, Oliver North helped Carl Channell's tax-exempt organization, the National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty, to raise $10 million, by arranging numerous briefings for groups of potential contributors at the premises of the White House and by facilitating private visits and photo sessions with President Reagan for major contributors. [78] Channell in turn, used part of that money to run a series of television advertisements directed at home districts of Congressmen considered swing votes on contra aid. [78] Out of the $10 million raised, more than $1 million was spent on pro-contra publicity. [78]

International Court of Justice ruling Edit

In 1984 the Sandinista government filed a suit in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against the United States (Nicaragua v. United States), which resulted in a 1986 judgment against the United States. The ICJ held that the U.S. had violated international law by supporting the contras in their rebellion against the Nicaraguan government and by mining Nicaragua's harbors. Regarding the alleged human rights violations by the contras, however, the ICJ took the view that the United States could be held accountable for them only if it would have been proven that the U.S. had effective control of the contra operations resulting in these alleged violations. [79] Nevertheless, the ICJ found that the U.S. encouraged acts contrary to general principles of humanitarian law by producing the manual Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare (Operaciones sicológicas en guerra de guerrillas) and disseminating it to the contras. [80] The manual, amongst other things, advised on how to rationalize killings of civilians [81] and recommended to hire professional killers for specific selective tasks. [82]

The United States, which did not participate in the merits phase of the proceedings, maintained that the ICJ's power did not supersede the Constitution of the United States and argued that the court did not seriously consider the Nicaraguan role in El Salvador, while it accused Nicaragua of actively supporting armed groups there, specifically in the form of supply of arms. [83] The ICJ had found that evidence of a responsibility of the Nicaraguan government in this matter was insufficient. [84] The U.S. argument was affirmed, however, by the dissenting opinion of ICJ member U.S. Judge Schwebel, [85] who concluded that in supporting the contras, the United States acted lawfully in collective self-defence in El Salvador's support. [86] The U.S. blocked enforcement of the ICJ judgment by the United Nations Security Council and thereby prevented Nicaragua from obtaining any actual compensation. [87] The Nicaraguan government finally withdrew the complaint from the court in September 1992 (under the later, post-FSLN, government of Violeta Chamorro), following a repeal of the law requiring the country to seek compensation. [88]

Americas Watch, which subsequently became part of Human Rights Watch, accused the Contras of: [89]

  • targeting health care clinics and health care workers for assassination [90]
  • kidnapping civilians [91]
  • torturing civilians [92]
  • executing civilians, including children, who were captured in combat [93]
  • raping women [90]
  • indiscriminately attacking civilians and civilian houses [91]
  • seizing civilian property [90]
  • burning civilian houses in captured towns. [90]

Human Rights Watch released a report on the situation in 1989, which stated: "[The] contras were major and systematic violators of the most basic standards of the laws of armed conflict, including by launching indiscriminate attacks on civilians, selectively murdering non-combatants, and mistreating prisoners." [94]

In his affidavit to the World Court, former contra Edgar Chamorro testified that "The CIA did not discourage such tactics. To the contrary, the Agency severely criticized me when I admitted to the press that the FDN had regularly kidnapped and executed agrarian reform workers and civilians. We were told that the only way to defeat the Sandinistas was to. kill, kidnap, rob and torture. " [95]

Contra leader Adolfo Calero denied that his forces deliberately targeted civilians: "What they call a cooperative is also a troop concentration full of armed people. We are not killing civilians. We are fighting armed people and returning fire when fire is directed at us." [96]

Controversy Edit

U.S. news media published several articles accusing Americas Watch and other bodies of ideological bias and unreliable reporting. It alleged that Americas Watch gave too much credence to alleged Contra abuses and systematically tried to discredit Nicaraguan human rights groups such as the Permanent Commission on Human Rights, which blamed the major human rights abuses on the Contras. [97]

Three weeks ago, Americas Watch issued a report on human rights abuses in Nicaragua. One member of the Permanent Commission for Human Rights commented on the Americas Watch report and its chief investigator Juan Mendez: "The Sandinistas are laying the groundwork for a totalitarian society here and yet all Mendez wanted to hear about were abuses by the contras. How can we get people in the U.S. to see what's happening here when so many of the groups who come down are pro-Sandinista?" [98]

Human Rights Watch, the umbrella organization of Americas Watch, replied to these allegations: "Almost invariably, U.S. pronouncements on human rights exaggerated and distorted the real human rights violations of the Sandinista regime, and exculpated those of the U.S.-supported insurgents, known as the contras. The Bush administration is responsible for these abuses, not only because the contras are, for all practical purposes, a U.S. force, but also because the Bush administration has continued to minimize and deny these violations, and has refused to investigate them seriously." [94]

By 1986 the contras were besieged by charges of corruption, human-rights abuses, and military ineptitude. [99] A much-vaunted early 1986 offensive never materialized, and Contra forces were largely reduced to isolated acts of terrorism. [3] In October 1987, however, the contras staged a successful attack in southern Nicaragua. [100] Then on 21 December 1987, the FDN launched attacks at Bonanza, Siuna, and Rosita in Zelaya province, resulting in heavy fighting. [101] ARDE Frente Sur attacked at El Almendro and along the Rama road. [101] [102] [103] These large-scale raids mainly became possible as the contras were able to use U.S.-provided Redeye missiles against Sandinista Mi-24 helicopter gunships, which had been supplied by the Soviets. [101] [104] Nevertheless, the Contras remained tenuously encamped within Honduras and were not able to hold Nicaraguan territory. [105] [106]

There were isolated protests among the population against the draft implemented by the Sandinista government, which even resulted in full-blown street clashes in Masaya in 1988. [107] However, a June 1988 survey in Managua showed the Sandinista government still enjoyed strong support but that support had declined since 1984. Three times as many people identified with the Sandinistas (28%) than with all the opposition parties put together (9%) 59% did not identify with any political party. Of those polled, 85% opposed any further US aid to the Contras 40% believed the Sandinista government to be democratic, while 48% believed it to be not democratic. People identified the war as the largest problem but were less likely to blame it for economic problems compared to a December 1986 poll 19% blamed the war and US blockade as the main cause of economic problems while 10% blamed the government. [108] Political opposition groups were splintered and the Contras began to experience defections, although United States aid maintained them as a viable military force. [109] [110]

After a cutoff in U.S. military support, and with both sides facing international pressure to bring an end to the conflict, the contras agreed to negotiations with the FSLN. With the help of five Central American Presidents, including Ortega, the sides agreed that a voluntary demobilization of the contras should start in early December 1989. They chose this date to facilitate free and fair elections in Nicaragua in February 1990 (even though the Reagan administration had pushed for a delay of contra disbandment). [111]

In the resulting February 1990 elections, Violeta Chamorro and her party the UNO won an upset victory of 55% to 41% over Daniel Ortega. [112] Opinion polls leading up to the elections divided along partisan lines, with 10 of 17 polls analyzed in a contemporary study predicting an UNO victory while seven predicted the Sandinistas would retain power. [113] [114]

Possible explanations include that the Nicaraguan people were disenchanted with the Ortega government as well as the fact that already in November 1989, the White House had announced that the economic embargo against Nicaragua would continue unless Violeta Chamorro won. [115] Also, there had been reports of intimidation from the side of the contras, [116] with a Canadian observer mission claiming that 42 people were killed by the contras in "election violence" in October 1989. [117] This led many commentators to conclude that Nicaraguans voted against the Sandinistas out of fear of a continuation of the contra war and economic deprivation. [114]

Iran Contra Scandal - History

The Iran-Contra Affair 20 Years On

Documents Spotlight Role of Reagan, Top Aides

Pentagon Nominee Robert Gates Among Many
Prominent Figures Involved in the Scandal

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 210

Posted - November 24, 2006

For more information contact:
Malcolm Byrne - 202/994-7043
Peter Kornbluh - 202/994-7116
Thomas Blanton - 202/994-7000

Related links

The Iran-Contra Scandal:
The Declassified History

A National Security Archive Documents Reader
Edited by Peter Kornbluh and Malcolm Byrne
Order from Amazon.com

The Iran-Contra Affair: The Making of a Scandal, 1983-1988

A major microfiche set now available on-line as part of the "Digital National Security Archive" through ProQuest Information and Learning

  • Elliott Abrams - currently deputy assistant to President Bush and deputy national security advisor for global democracy strategy, Abrams was one of the Reagan administration's most controversial figures as the senior State Department official for Latin America in the mid-1980s. He entered into a plea bargain in federal court after being indicted for providing false testimony about his fund-raising activities on behalf of the Contras, although he later accused the independent counsel's office of forcing him to accept guilt on two counts. President George H. W. Bush later pardoned him.
  • David Addington - now Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, and by numerous press accounts a stanch advocate of expanded presidential power, Addington was a congressional staffer during the joint select committee hearings in 1986 who worked closely with Cheney.
  • John Bolton - the controversial U.N. ambassador whose recess appointment by President Bush is now in jeopardy was a senior Justice Department official who participated in meetings with Attorney General Edwin Meese on how to handle the burgeoning Iran-Contra political and legal scandal in late November 1986. There is little indication of his precise role at the time.
  • Richard Cheney - now the vice president, he played a prominent part as a member of the joint congressional Iran-Contra inquiry of 1986, taking the position that Congress deserved major blame for asserting itself unjustifiably onto presidential turf. He later pointed to the committees' Minority Report as an important statement on the proper roles of the Executive and Legislative branches of government.
  • Robert M. Gates - President Bush's nominee to succeed Donald Rumsfeld, Gates nearly saw his career go up in flames over charges that he knew more about Iran-Contra while it was underway than he admitted once the scandal broke. He was forced to give up his bid to head the CIA in early 1987 because of suspicions about his role but managed to attain the position when he was re-nominated in 1991. (See previous Electronic Briefing Book)
  • Manuchehr Ghorbanifar - the quintessential middleman, who helped broker the arms deals involving the United States, Israel and Iran ostensibly to bring about the release of American hostages being held in Lebanon, Ghorbanifar was almost universally discredited for misrepresenting all sides' goals and interests. Even before the Iran deals got underway, the CIA had ruled Ghorbanifar off-limits for purveying bad information to U.S. intelligence. Yet, in 2006 his name has resurfaced as an important source for the Pentagon on current Iranian affairs, again over CIA objections.
  • Michael Ledeen - a neo-conservative who is vocal on the subject of regime change in Iran, Ledeen helped bring together the main players in what developed into the Iran arms-for-hostages deals in 1985 before being relegated to a bit part. He reportedly reprised his role shortly after 9/11, introducing Ghorbanifar to Pentagon officials interested in exploring contacts inside Iran.
  • Edwin Meese - currently a member of the blue-ribbon Iraq Study Group headed by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, he was Ronald Reagan's controversial attorney general who spearheaded an internal administration probe into the Iran-Contra connection in November 1986 that was widely criticized as a political exercise in protecting the president rather than a genuine inquiry by the nation's top law enforcement officer.
  • John Negroponte - the career diplomat who worked quietly to boost the U.S. military and intelligence presence in Central America as ambassador to Honduras, he also participated in efforts to get the Honduran government to support the Contras after Congress banned direct U.S. aid to the rebels. Negroponte's profile has risen spectacularly with his appointments as ambassador to Iraq in 2004 and director of national intelligence in 2005. (See previous Electronic Briefing Book)
  • Oliver L. North - now a radio talk show host and columnist, he was at the center of the Iran-Contra spotlight as the point man for both covert activities. A Marine serving on the NSC staff, he steadfastly maintained that he received high-level approval for everything he did, and that "the diversion was a diversion." He was found guilty on three counts at a criminal trial but had those verdicts overturned on the grounds that his protected congressional testimony might have influenced his trial. He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate from Virginia in 1996. (See previous Electronic Briefing Book)
  • Daniel Ortega - the newly elected president of Nicaragua was the principal target of several years of covert warfare by the United States in the 1980s as the leader of the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front. His democratic election in November 2006 was not the only irony -- it's been suggested by one of Oliver North's former colleagues in the Reagan administration that North's public statements in Nicaragua in late October 2006 may have taken votes away from the candidate preferred by the Bush administration and thus helped Ortega at the polls.
  • John Poindexter - who found a niche deep in the U.S. government's post-9/11 security bureaucracy as head of the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness program (formally disbanded by Congress in 2003), was Oliver North's superior during the Iran-Contra period and personally approved or directed many of his activities. His assertion that he never told President Reagan about the diversion of Iranian funds to the Contras ensured Reagan would not face impeachment.
  • Otto Reich - President George W. Bush's one-time assistant secretary of state for Latin America, Reich ran a covert public diplomacy operation designed to build support for Ronald Reagan's Contra policies. A U.S. comptroller-general investigation concluded the program amounted to "prohibited, covert propaganda activities," although no charges were ever filed against him. Reich paid a price in terms of congressional opposition to his nomination to run Latin America policy, resulting in a recess appointment in 2002 that lasted less than a year. (See previous Electronic Briefing Book)

Robert Gates faced intense investigative scrutiny in the aftermath of Iran-Contra over his knowledge of, and forthrightness about, North's role in the Contra resupply effort. Gates has maintained that he was unaware of the NSC aide's operational activities in support of the rebels. However, two of his former colleagues believe that he was aware, according to the Iran-Contra independent counsel's final report, which notes several pieces of evidence that appear to support that conclusion. Among them are these three documents, which relate to North's campaign to get the CIA to buy various assets his "Enterprise" had acquired in the course of working with the Contras.

The first document, from Vincent Cannistraro, a career CIA official then on the NSC staff, specifically mentions "Ollie's ship," a vessel North and his associates used to ferry arms to the rebels, and indicates the subject will come up at Poindexter's next meeting with CIA Director Casey and DDCI Gates. Cannistraro later concluded from the discussion that followed that Gates was aware of the ship's use in the resupply operations and of North's connection to it.

The second and third documents are e-mails between North and Poindexter. In his note, North says it appears the NSC (and possibly Poindexter himself) has instructed the CIA not to buy "Project Democracy's" assets. Poindexter's response, which is difficult to read, states: "I did not give Casey any such guidance. I did tell Gates that I thought the private effort should be phased out. Please talk to Casey about this. I agree with you."

Document 7: NSC, Diagram of "Enterprise" for Contra Support, July 1986

Oliver North sketched this organizational flow chart of the private sector entities that he had organized to provide ongoing support for the Contra war, after Congress terminated official assistance. The diagram identifies the complex covert "off-the-shelf" resource management, financial accounting, and armaments and paramilitary operational structures that the NSC created to illicitly sustain the Contra campaign in Nicaragua.

Document 8: U.S. Embassy Brunei, Cables, "Brunei Project," SECRET, August 2, 1986 & September 16, 1986

In preparation for a secret mission by an emissary -- Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America Elliott Abrams - to seek secret funds for the Contra war from the Sultan of Brunei, the U.S. Ambassador in Brunei sent a cable stating that a meeting time had been organized during the Sultan's upcoming trip to London. Abrams used the alias "Mr. Kenilworth" in his meetings, and arranged for the Sultan to secretly transfer $10 million into a bank account controlled by Oliver North. "I said that we deeply appreciate his understanding our needs and his valuable assistance," Abrams cabled on September 16th, after the secret meeting. (The Sultan was given a private tour of the USS Vinson as a token of appreciation.) The funds were lost, however, because the account number Abrams provided was incorrect. Eventually Abrams was forced to plead guilty to charges of misleading Congress after testimony such as: "We're not, you know, we're not in the fund-raising business."

Document 9: NSC, Diaries, North Notebook Entries on Manuel Noriega, August 24 & September 22, 1986

In one of the most controversial efforts to enlist third country support for the Contra war, Oliver North arranged to meet Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega in a London hotel in September 1986. In return for ending U.S. pressure on Panama for Noriega's drug smuggling operations and helping to "clean up" his image, Noriega proposed to engage in efforts to assassinate the Sandinista leadership. With authorization from National Security Advisor John Poindexter, North met with Noriega in a London hotel on September 22 and discussed how Panama could help with sophisticated sabotage operations against Nicaraguan targets, including the airport, oil refinery and port facilities. According to notes taken by North at the meeting, they also discussed setting up training camps in Panama for Contra operatives.

Document 10: CIA, Memorandum for the record from Robert M. Gates, "Lunch with Ollie North," TOP SECRET/EYES ONLY, October 10, 1986

Robert Gates faced additional criticism for attempting to avoid hearing about the Iran and Contra operations as they were unfolding, instead of taking a more active role in stopping them. As Gates testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee in October 1986, his approach was to keep the agency's distance from the so-called private Contra resupply operation. ". [W]e have, I think, conscientiously tried to avoid knowing what is going on in terms of any of this private funding . we will say I don't want to hear anything about it." In this memo for the record, Gates, clearly continuing to protect the CIA, relates that North told him the "CIA is completely clean" on the private resupply matter. The independent counsel's report later commented that "Gates recorded North's purportedly exculpatory statement uncritically, even though he was by then clearly aware of the possible diversion of U.S. funds through the 'private benefactors.'"

Document 11: Independent Counsel, Court Record, "U.S. Government Stipulation on Quid Pro Quos with Other Governments as Part of Contra Operation," April 6, 1989

The most secret part of the Iran-Contra operations were the quid pro quo arrangements the White House made with countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Israel and other governments who were enlisted to support the Contra war. As part of his defense, Oliver North attempted to "grey mail" the U.S. government by insisting that all top secret documents on the quid pro quos should be declassified for trial. Instead, the government agreed to the "stipulation" - a summary of the evidence in the documents -- presented here.

This comprehensive synopsis reveals the approaches to, and arrangements with, numerous other governments made by the CIA and NSC in an effort to acquire funding, arms, logistics and strategic support for the Contra war. The effort ranged from CIA acquisitions of PLO arms seized by Israel, to Oliver North's secret effort to trade favors with Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. In the case of Saudi Arabia, President Reagan personally urged King Fahd to replace funds cut by the U.S. Congress. In the end, the Saudis contributed $32 million dollars to finance the Contra war campaign.


Document 12: CIA, Memorandum, "Subject: Fabricator Notice - Manuchehr ((Gorbanifar))," SECRET, July 25, 1984

One of the key figures in the disastrous arms-for-hostages deals with Iran was weapons broker Manuchehr Ghorbanifar. Despite the CIA's dismissal of him as a "fabricator," by 1985 Ghorbanifar managed to persuade senior officials in three governments -- the United States, Iran and Israel -- to utilize him as their middleman. The parallels with Iraq in 2003 are apparent: American officials (in this case) lacking a fundamental understanding of, information about, or contacts in the country in question allowed themselves to rely on individuals whose motives and qualifications required far greater scrutiny. Ironically, press reports featuring interviews with former officials indicate that Ghorbanifar has met with Pentagon representatives interested in his take on current Iranian politics. (See also the reference to Ghorbanifar in the Introduction to this briefing book.)

Document 13: CIA, Draft Presidential Finding, "Scope: Hostage Rescue - Middle East," (with cover note from William J. Casey), November 26, 1985

Of the six covert transactions with Iran in 1985-1986, the most controversial was a shipment of 18 HAWK (Homing-All-the-Way-Killer) anti-aircraft missiles in November 1985. Not only did the delivery run afoul -- for which the American operatives blamed their Israeli counterparts -- but it took place without the required written presidential authorization. The CIA drafted this document only after Deputy Director John McMahon discovered that one had not been prepared prior to the shipment. It was considered so sensitive that once Reagan signed off retroactively on December 5, John Poindexter kept it in his office safe until the scandal erupted a year later -- then tore it up, as he acknowledged, in order to spare the president "political embarrassment." The version presented here is a draft of the one Poindexter destroyed.

Document 14: Diary, Caspar W. Weinberger, December 7, 1985

The disastrous November HAWK shipment prompted U.S. officials to take direct control of the arms deals with Iran. Until then, Israel had been responsible for making the deliveries, for which the U.S. agreed to replenish their stocks of American weapons. Before making this important decision, President Reagan convened an extraordinary meeting of several top advisers in the White House family quarters on December 7, 1985, to discuss the issue. Among those attending were Secretary of State Shultz and Secretary of Defense Weinberger. Both men objected vehemently to the idea of shipping arms to Iran, which the U.S. had declared a sponsor of international terrorism. But in this remarkable set of notes, Weinberger captures the president's determination to move ahead regardless of the obstacles, legal or otherwise: "President sd. he could answer charges of illegality but he couldn't answer charge that 'big strong President Reagan passed up chance to free hostages.'"

Document 15: White House, John M. Poindexter Memorandum to President Reagan, "Covert Action Finding Regarding Iran," (with attached presidential finding), January 17, 1986

While the Finding Reagan signed retroactively to cover the November 1985 HAWK shipment was destroyed, this Finding and cover memo from which Reagan received a briefing on the status of the Iran operation survived intact. It reflects the president's personal authorization for direct U.S. arms sales to Iran, a directive that remained in force until the arms deals were exposed in November 1986.

Document 16: NSC, Oliver L. North Memorandum, "Release of American Hostages in Beirut," (so-called "Diversion Memo"), TOP SECRET/SENSITIVE, April 4, 1986

At the center of the public's perception of the scandal was the revelation that the two previously unconnected covert activities -- trading arms for hostages with Iran and backing the Nicaraguan Contras against congressional prohibitions -- had become joined. This memo from Oliver North is the main piece of evidence to survive which spells out the plan to use "residuals" from the arms deals to fund the rebels. Justice Department investigators discovered it in North's NSC files in late November 1986. For unknown reasons it escaped North's notorious document "shredding party" which took place after the scandal became public.

Document 17: White House, Draft National Security Decision Directive (NSDD), "U.S. Policy Toward Iran," TOP SECRET, (with cover memo from Robert C. McFarlane to George P. Shultz and Caspar W. Weinberger), June 17, 1985

The secret deals with Iran were mainly aimed at freeing American hostages who were being held in Lebanon by forces linked to the Tehran regime. But there was another, subsidiary motivation on the part of some officials, which was to press for renewed ties with the Islamic Republic. One of the proponents of this controversial idea was National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, who eventually took the lead on the U.S. side in the arms-for-hostages deals until his resignation in December 1985. This draft of a National Security Decision Directive, prepared at his behest by NSC and CIA staff, puts forward the argument for developing ties with Iran based on the traditional Cold War concern that isolating the Khomeini regime could open the way for Moscow to assert its influence in a strategically vital part of the world. To counter that possibility, the document proposes allowing limited amounts of arms to be supplied to the Iranians. The idea did not get far, as the next document testifies.

Document 18: Defense Department, Handwritten Notes, Caspar W. Weinberger Reaction to Draft NSDD on Iran (with attached note and transcription by Colin Powell), June 18, 1985

While CIA Director William J. Casey, for one, supported McFarlane's idea of reaching out to Iran through limited supplies of arms, among other approaches, President Reagan's two senior foreign policy advisers strongly opposed the notion. In this scrawled note to his military assistant, Colin Powell, Weinberger belittles the proposal as "almost too absurd to comment on . It's like asking Qadhafi to Washington for a cozy chat." Richard Armitage, who is mentioned in Powell's note to his boss, was an assistant secretary of defense at the time and later became deputy secretary of state under Powell.

Document 19: George H. W. Bush Diary, November 4-5, 1986

Then-Vice President George H.W. Bush became entangled in controversy over his knowledge of Iran-Contra. Although he asserted publicly that he was "out of the loop -- no operational role," he was well informed of events, particularly the Iran deals, as evidenced in part by this diary excerpt just after the Iran operation was exposed: "I'm one of the few people that know fully the details . " The problem for Bush was greatly magnified because he was preparing to run for president just as the scandal burst. He managed to escape significant blame -- ultimately winning the 1988 election -- but he came under fire later for repeatedly failing to disclose the existence of his diary to investigators and then for pardoning several Iran-Contra figures, including former Defense Secretary Weinberger just days before his trial was set to begin. As a result of the pardons, the independent counsel's final report pointedly noted: "The criminal investigation of Bush was regrettably incomplete."

Document 20: Caspar W. Weinberger Memorandum for the Record, "Meeting . with the President . in the Oval Office," November 10, 1986

This memo is one of several documents relating to the Reagan administration's attempts to produce a unified response to the growing scandal. The session Weinberger memorializes here was the first that included all the relevant senior officials and it is notable as much for what it omits as for what it describes. For example, there is no mention of the most damaging episode of the Iran initiative -- the November 1985 HAWK missile shipment -- and the absence of an advance presidential finding to make it legal. This issue was at the center of administration political concerns since it, along with the matter of the "diversion," were the most likely to raise the prospect of impeachment.

1. For more complete collections of primary documents, see Peter Kornbluh and Malcolm Byrne, The Iran-Contra Scandal: The Declassified History, (New York: The New Press, 1993), and the National Security Archive's major microfiche set, The Iran-Contra Affair: The Making of a Scandal, 1983-1988 (Alexandria, VA: Chadwyck-Healey, 1989), now available on-line as part of the "Digital National Security Archive" through ProQuest Information and Learning.

Watch the video: Iran Contra Scandal (May 2022).