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Context of 'February 26, 1987: Tower Commission Finds NSC Staff Conducted Rogue Iran-Contra Operation, Reagan Largely Unaware'

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August 20, 1985: Israel Sends Arms to Iran

Israel sends 96 TOW anti-tank missiles to Iran (see May 3, 1985). [New York Times, 11/19/1987] No American hostages are freed in return. [PBS, 2000]

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, the National Security Council staffer who facilitates the secret Iran arms deals, helps divert $12 million in money from those arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras. The deal is documented in a memorandum located in North’s desk by investigators for Attorney General Edwin Meese (see November 21-25, 1986). Meese will inform President Reagan and top White House officials of the memo, but many of the cabinet members and top officials he will inform already know of the transaction. [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 8/4/1993] National Security Adviser John Poindexter, the recipient of the memo, will later testify that President Reagan never saw the memo. Reagan will deny knowing anything about the diversion of arms profits to the Contras until November 1986 (see November 10, 1986 and After and November 13, 1986). [New York Times, 11/19/1987]

Entity Tags: John Poindexter, Edwin Meese, Contras, Oliver North, Ronald Reagan, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Barbara Walters, in a 1988 photo.Barbara Walters, in a 1988 photo. [Source: Raul Vega / Corbis]ABC News reporter Barbara Walters covertly provides the White House with documents from Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar, according to a Wall Street Journal article published in March 1987. The documents, prepared by Walters and given to the White House at Ghorbanifar’s request, report that Ghorbanifar believed, correctly, that National Security Council staffer Oliver North diverted profits from the sale of arms to Iran to Nicaragua’s Contra insurgents (see April 4, 1986). Walters will provide the White House with further documents on the arms sales in January 1987. The documents are given to Walters either just before or just after her interviews with Ghorbanifar and Saudi businessman and arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi for the ABC News program 20/20. The documents will eventually be turned over to the Tower Commission (see February 26, 1987). The White House will claim that the documents contain little more than reiterations of Ghorbanifar’s comments to Walters in the interview. ABC News will say that Walters’s actions—essentially acting as an information peddler or middleman between the Arab arms merchants and the US government—are “in violation of a literal interpretation of news policy.… ABC policy expressly limits journalists cooperating with government agencies unless threats to human lives are involved.… Ms. Walters believed that to be the case.” ABC does not explain why Walters believes “threats to human lives” were involved; this assertion also contradicts ABC’s assertions that the documents contained little more that what was said in the interview. [New York Times, 3/17/1987; Nation, 3/28/1987]

Entity Tags: Barbara Walters, Contras, Manucher Ghorbanifar, Oliver North, Reagan administration, Adnan Khashoggi, ABC News

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

President Reagan testifies before the Tower Commission. His chief of staff, Donald Regan, had previously told the commission that the US had not given its approval for the August 1985 sale of TOW missiles to Iran via Israel (see August 6, 1985 and August 20, 1985), but Reagan shocks both Regan and White House counsel Peter Wallison by admitting that he had indeed approved both the Israeli sale of TOWs to Iran and had agreed to replenish the Israeli stocks. Reagan uses the previous testimony of former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane as a guide. After Reagan’s testimony, Regan attempts to refocus Reagan’s memories of events, going through the chain of events with Reagan and asking questions like, “Were you surprised” when you learned about the TOW sales? Reagan responds, “Yes, I guess I was surprised.” Regan hammers the point home: “That’s what I remember. I remember you being angry and saying something like, ‘Well, what’s done is done.’” Reagan turns to Wallison and says, “You know, I think he’s right.” [Cannon, 1991, pp. 630-631]

Entity Tags: Tower Commission, Donald Regan, Peter Wallison, Robert C. McFarlane, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

President Reagan testifies for a second time to the Tower Commission (see January 26, 1987). His testimony is incoherent and confused; some observers outside the White House begin speculating that Reagan suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or senile dementia. Commission investigators note that while the Meese investigation claimed Reagan did not know of the August 1985 shipment of missiles to Iran (see August 20, 1985 and November 21-25, 1986), Reagan himself claimed in his previous testimony he did know of the shipments. When asked to clarify the inconsistency, Reagan shocks onlookers by picking up a briefing memo he had been given and reading aloud, “If the question comes up at the Tower Board meeting, you might want to say that you were surprised.” [PBS, 2000] White House counsel Peter Wallison is stunned. “I was horrified, just horrified,” he later recalls. “I didn’t expect him to go and get the paper. The purpose of it was just to recall to his mind before he goes into the meeting” what he, Wallison, and Chief of Staff Donald Regan had agreed was the proper chain of events—that Reagan had not known of the shipments beforehand, and had been surprised to learn of them. [Cannon, 1991, pp. 631-632]

Entity Tags: Peter Wallison, Tower Commission, Ronald Reagan, Donald Regan

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

President Reagan sends a memo to the Tower Commission in an attempt to clarify his previous rambling and incoherent testimony (see January 26, 1987 and February 2, 1987). The memo does not improve matters. It reads in part: “I don’t remember, period.… I’m trying to recall events that happened eighteen months ago, I’m afraid that I let myself be influenced by others’ recollections, not my own.… The only honest answer is to state that try as I might, I cannot recall anything whatsoever about whether I approved an Israeli sale in advance or whether I approved replenishment of Israeli stocks around August of 1985 (see August 20, 1985). My answer therefore and the simple truth is, ‘I don’t remember, period.’” [PBS, 2000]

Entity Tags: Tower Commission, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

The Tower Commission issues its final report about the Iran-Contra affair. Among its conclusions, it finds that President Reagan’s top advisers were responsible for creating the “chaos” that led to the affair. It also finds that Reagan was largely out of touch and unaware of the operations conducted by his National Security Council (NSC) staff, and allowed himself to be misled by his closest advisers (see February 20, 1987). Reagan had failed to “insist upon accountability and performance review,” thus allowing the NSC process to collapse. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; PBS, 2000]

Entity Tags: Tower Commission, Ronald Reagan, National Security Council

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

President Reagan tells a national television audience that he has made mistakes on Iran-Contra, and claims he has had massive memory failures. “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages,” he says (see February 2, 1987 and February 20, 1987). “My heart and my best intentions tell me that’s true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower Board reported (see February 26, 1987), 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. There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake.” Reagan’s sympathetic message resonates with US viewers; his popularity rebounds to over 50 percent in national polls. [White House, 3/4/1987; White House, 3/4/1987; PBS, 2000]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, Tower Commission

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

The Internet news site Raw Story learns that Iranian exile and arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar (see December 9, 2001) attempted to peddle a fabricated story of stolen uranium to US and other Western governments in the spring and summer of 2003 (see March 7, 2003 and After). The story comes from US and foreign intelligence sources, and is confirmed by former CIA station chief Bill Murray. Ghorbanifar’s story, of an Iranian intelligence team infiltrating Iraq just before the March 2003 invasion and stealing enriched uranium to use in Iran’s nuclear weapons program, was apparently designed to earn him money as well as to embroil both Iran and Iraq in a spurious WMD plot. It is possible that a June 2003 meeting between Ghorbanifar and two US officials was part of his attempt to peddle the story (see June 2003). Ghorbanifar was extensively involved in the Iran-Contra scandal as a middleman between Iranian government officials and members of the Reagan administration (see July 18, 1985, July 25, 1985, December 8, 1985, and December 1986). [Raw Story, 1/11/2006]

Entity Tags: Raw Story, Bill Murray, Manucher Ghorbanifar

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

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