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Context of 'August 20, 1985: Neoconservative NSC Consultant Loses Security Clearance'

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About 500 Iranian students take over the American Embassy in Tehran and hold 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) is one of the groups that supports the take-over. [US Department of State, 4/30/2003; PBS, 1/15/2006]

Entity Tags: People’s Mujahedin of Iran

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iran-Contra Affair

Neoconservative academic Michael Ledeen is brought into the Defense Department as a consultant on terrorism, via the auspices of Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle, a fellow neoconservative. Ledeen’s supervisor, Noel Koch, is troubled by Ledeen’s frequent visits to his office to read classified documents. When Koch and Ledeen journey to Italy on Pentagon business, Koch learns that Ledeen is considered an “agent of influence” for a foreign government: Israel. After returning from Italy, Ledeen asks Koch to help him obtain two highly classified CIA reports which he says are being held by the FBI. Ledeen gives Koch the reports’ “alpha numeric designators”—numbers as highly classified as the reports themselves. Koch is at a loss to understand how Ledeen obtained such information. Koch tells his executive assistant to stop allowing Ledeen to access the classified materials in his office. In return, Ledeen stops coming to work. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004] Shortly thereafter, Ledeen will begin “consulting work” for the National Security Council (see Late 1984).

Entity Tags: Michael Ledeen, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Defense, Richard Perle, Noel Koch

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Neoconservative academic Michael Ledeen, who left the Defense Department under suspicion of engaging in espionage on behalf of Israel (see 1983), gains a position at the National Security Council. His boss is Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North (see July 7-10, 1987 and May-June, 1989). According to Iran-Contra investigators, it is Ledeen who suggests to North “that Israeli contacts might be useful in obtaining release of the US hostages in Lebanon” (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). Ledeen is granted high-level security clearance. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Ledeen, National Security Council

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair, Neoconservative Influence

NSC Middle East analyst Donald Fortier writes to his boss, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, of his concerns that NSC consultant Michael Ledeen (see Late 1984) might be a risk for passing classified information to Israel (see 1983). According to Fortier, NSC staffers agree that Ledeen’s role in the secret hostage negotiations with Iran should be limited to ferrying messages to Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres regarding Israel’s role in the negotiations, and Ledeen should specifically not be entrusted to ask Peres for detailed operational information. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Ledeen, Robert C. McFarlane, National Security Council, Donald Fortier

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair, Neoconservative Influence

Michael Ledeen, a neoconservative author who consults for the National Security Council (see Late 1984), meets informally with Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Ledeen tells Peres that the Reagan administration will quietly support Israeli arms shipments to Iran. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, National Security Council, Shimon Peres, Michael Ledeen

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair, Neoconservative Influence

Secretary of State George Shultz writes to National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane that “Israel’s record of dealings with Iran since the fall of the Shah and during the hostage crisis [shows] that Israel’s agenda is not the same as ours.” Referring to the plan concocted by NSC staffer Oliver North and North’s consultant, neoconservative and likely Israeli spy Michael Ledeen (see 1983), to seek Israeli help in freeing the American hostages in Lebanon (see Late 1984 and April 9, 1985), Shultz writes, “Consequently doubt whether an intelligence relationship such as what Ledeen has in mind would be one which we could fully rely upon and it could seriously skew our own perception and analysis of the Iranian scene.” [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Robert C. McFarlane, George Shultz, Oliver North, Michael Ledeen

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair, Neoconservative Influence

Neoconservative author and likely Israeli spy Michael Ledeen (see April 9, 1985), a consultant for the National Security Council (see Late 1984), has his security clearance downgraded by the Department of Defense. Ledeen formerly held “Top Secret-SCI” clearance; he now holds only “Secret” clearance. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Ledeen, US Department of Defense, National Security Council

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Defense Department official Noel Koch arranges to discuss a matter of potential espionage with the FBI. Koch is worried that his former aide, neoconservative Michael Ledeen, has access to highly classified information in his role as a National Security Council consultant (see Late 1984 and May 3, 1985). Koch feels that Ledeen had possibly given classified information to Israel during his tenure at the Defense Department (see 1983). Koch is debriefed for two hours by FBI investigators, who tell him that they are only worried about possible Soviet espionage. Koch wonders at this, considering that Naval intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard had been arrested just months before and charged with espionage on behalf of Israel. A frustrated Koch writes up his knowledge of Ledeen’s actions at the Defense Department and sends the report to Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Nothing concrete comes from Koch’s attempts to alert the FBI and Congress to potential espionage by Ledeen. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Jonathan Pollard, Charles Grassley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Defense, Michael Ledeen, National Security Council, Noel Koch

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

National Security Council official Oliver North tells National Security Adviser John Poindexter that his consultant, neoconservative Michael Ledeen, is no longer trustworthy. Ledeen has long been suspected of operating as a spy for Israel (see April 9, 1985 and August 20, 1985). North tells Poindexter that “for [the] security of the Iran initiative,” Ledeen should be asked to take periodic polygraph examinations. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]

Entity Tags: John Poindexter, National Security Council, Oliver North, Michael Ledeen

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair, Neoconservative Influence

Oliver North testifying before the Iran-Contra Committee.Oliver North testifying before the Iran-Contra Committee. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North testifies before the joint House-Senate Iran-Contra investigative committee. During the course of his testimony, he says he does not know if President Reagan had any knowledge of the diversion of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). North also testifies that William Casey, the recently deceased CIA director (see May 6, 1987), knew of and approved the diversion of funds to the Contras. North admits that the Iranian arms sales were initially designed to help facilitate the release of the American hostages being held by Hezbollah. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Tour de Force - North’s testimony is a “tour de force,” in the words of authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, that allows Republicans the opportunity to reverse the field of the hearings and go on the offensive instead of defending the conduct of the Reagan administration. North, a Marine lieutenant colonel, wears his full-dress Marine uniform throughout his entire testimony with rows of ribbons festooning his chest. Handsome and full of righteous patriotism, he is striking on television, and contrasts well with the nasal, disdainful committee lawyers (see May 5, 1987) who spend four days interrogating him.
Need to Free Hostages Trumps Law - For the first two days, North and House counsel John Nields spar for the cameras. North says that Casey had directed him to create the so-called “Enterprise” (see November 19, 1985 and February 2, 1987), the clandestine organization that supported the Nicaraguan Contras with money, weapons, and sometimes US personnel. North admits to shredding untold amounts of evidence after the operation came to light (see November 21-25, 1986). He also admits to lying to Congress in previous testimony. But all of his actions are justified, he says, by the need to get Iran to free the American hostages. “I’d have offered the Iranians a free trip to Disneyland if we could have gotten Americans home for it,” he declares in response to one question about US arms sales to Iran. Senate counsel Arthur Liman will later write, “He made all his illegal acts—the lying to Congress, the diversion [of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Contras], the formation of the Enterprise, the cover-up—seem logical and patriotic.”
Targeting Covert Operations - Nields’s preferred line of questioning—covert operations—makes many committee members uncomfortable. Some House Democrats want to use the investigation to further their own goals of limiting covert actions, and others simply want the truth to be revealed. In contrast, House Republicans are united in opposition to any details of covert operations being revealed on national television and thus hampering the president’s ability to conduct future operations as needed. After the first day of North’s testimony, committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) exults on PBS that North “probably was as effective as anybody we’ve had before the committee in coming forward very aggressively and stating what he did, saying why he did it, arguing that he was in fact authorized to take the activities that he did.”
Leaky Congress Unfit to Know of Covert Ops, North Contends - North echoes Cheney’s position that the question is not whether White House officials broke the law, but whether Congress was fit to consider the question of national security at all. North goes so far as to question the propriety of the hearings themselves: “I believe that these hearings, perhaps unintentionally so, have revealed matters of great secrecy in the operation of our government, and sources of methods of intelligence activities have clearly been revealed, to the detriment of our security.” North’s message is clear: Congress is not fit to handle covert operations or, by and large, to even know about them. Best for the legislature to allow the White House and the intelligence community to do what needs doing and remain quiet about it. North’s contention that Congress has leaked vital national security information is shot down by Senate committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who not only forces North to admit that he has no evidence of his contention, but that the White House, not Congress, is the main source of leaked classified information. Indeed, North himself has leaked information (see July 7-10, 1987). Inouye’s co-chair, Warren Rudman (R-NH) will later say: “The greatest leaks came out of the White House. North and company were the biggest leakers of all during that period.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 75-78] Nields, addressing North’s implication that the NSC has no obligation to tell the truth to Congress, says towards the end of his session with North: “We do believe in a democracy in which the people, not one lieutenant colonel, decide important policy issues, don’t we? … You denied Congress the facts North had admitted to lying about the government’s involvement with the Hasenfus plane. You denied the elected representatives of the people the facts.” [Boston Globe, 7/9/1987]
Impact on Public Opinion - Results will differ on North’s popularity with viewers (see July 9-31, 1987).

Entity Tags: William Casey, Warren Rudman, Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Arthur Liman, Bush administration (41), Contras, Daniel Inouye, Hezbollah, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Nields, Jake Bernstein, Lou Dubose

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal (see February 1989), is convicted of three counts of falsifying and destroying documents (see November 21-25, 1986 and March 16, 1988), of obstructing a Congressional investigation, and of illegally receiving a gift of a security fence around his home. He is acquitted of nine other counts. Though facing up to ten years in prison and a $750,000 fine, North receives an extremely lenient sentence: three years’ suspended, two years’ probation, community service, and a $150,000 fine. He also has his Marine service pension suspended. During the trial, North admits he lied repeatedly to Congress during his testimony (see July 7-10, 1987), but says that his superiors, including National Security Adviser John Poindexter, ordered him to lie under oath. North contends that he was made a scapegoat for the Reagan administration. “I knew it wasn’t right not to tell the truth about these things,” he says, “but I didn’t think it was unlawful.” US District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell calls North a “low-ranking subordinate who was carrying out the instructions of a few cynical superiors,” and says to North: “I believe you still lack understanding of how the public service has been tarnished. Jail would only harden your misconceptions.” North, who had been staunch in justifying his actions in the Iran-Contra hearings, now expresses remorse over his crimes, saying, “I recognize that I made many mistakes that resulted in my conviction of serious crimes… and I grieve every day.” North, who is a popular speaker with conservative organizations, can pay off his fine with six speaking engagements. Nevertheless, he says he will appeal his conviction. [BBC, 7/5/1989; New York Times, 9/17/1991] North’s conviction will indeed be overturned by an appeals court (see September 17, 1991).

Entity Tags: John Poindexter, Reagan administration, Oliver North, Gerhard Gesell

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

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