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Context of 'September 4, 1985: State Department Official Learns of North’s Illegal Funding of Contras, Tasked to ‘Monitor’ North'

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Secretary of State George Shultz offers prominent neoconservative and State Department official Elliott Abrams (see Early 1970s) the position of assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs (ARA), overseeing the department’s South and Central American issues and initiatives, as well as those for the Caribbean. Abrams accepts and, according to State Department notes of the meeting, promises to “manage the emergence of EA [Abrams] as King of LA [Latin America].” Abrams begins his duties in July 1985, and quickly becomes one of the State Department’s most vocal supporters of Nicaragua’s Contra movement, often appearing before Congress as an emissary of the Reagan administration to ask for funds for the insurgent group. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]

Entity Tags: George Shultz, Contras, Reagan administration, US Department of State, Elliott Abrams

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Summer 1985: Costa Rica Allows Contra Airstrip

Lewis Tambs becomes the US Ambassador to Costa Rica. Tambs is under orders to open what is called a “southern front” for the Nicaraguan Contras; a small force of Contras is striking into southern Nicaragua from northern Costa Rica, and the Costa Rican government wants them out of their territory. Tambs believes that the orders for the “southern front” come from National Security Council (NSC) officer Oliver North, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, and their Restricted Interagency Group (RIG—see Late 1985 and After). Tambs, with the assistance of North’s liaison in Central America, Felix Rodriguez (see Mid-September 1985), secures permission from the Costa Rican government to build an airstrip for use by the Contras in northern Costa Rica, as long as it is not close enough to the border to allow the Contras to use it as a staging area for ground raids. One of Abrams’s first questions to North after being tasked to “monitor” the NSC officer (see September 4, 1985) is why the Costa Ricans are allowing the airstrip. The airstrip will be built at Santa Elena, Costa Rica, by the Udall Corporation, one of the private firms controlled by North’s partner, retired General Richard Secord (see November 19, 1985 and February 2, 1987), and will be called “Point West.” Abrams will later testify, falsely, that no US officials were involved in securing permission to build the airstrip. Notes taken by the US Ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin Corr, about discussions concerning the airstrip, will prove that Abrams lies under oath about the airstrip. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]

Entity Tags: Felix Rodriguez, Contras, Edwin Corr, Elliott Abrams, Richard Secord, Lewis Tambs, Udall Corporation, Restricted Interagency Group, Oliver North

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, Iran-Contra Affair

Newly ensconsced Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see April 19, 1985 and After) meets with Secretary of State George Shultz, Shultz’s executive assistant Charles Hill, and Shultz’s executive secretary Nicholas Platt. In this meeting, Abrams learns that National Security Council official Oliver North is conducting covert actions to support the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). According to Abrams’s notes from the meeting, Shultz tasks him to “monitor Ollie.” Abrams will later testify to the Iran-Contra investigative committee (see May 5, 1987) about this meeting, saying that he asks, “All these accusations about Colonel North, you want me to try to find out whether they are true and what he is up to, or do you want me to sort of leave?” Shultz replies, “No, you have got to know.” During the meeting, Abrams notes that Shultz does not want White House officials to know too much about North’s activities in funding the Contras. Abrams notes that Shultz says to him: “We don’t want to be in the dark. You [are] suppose[d] to be mgr [manager] of overall CA [Central America] picture. Contras are integral part of it. So y[ou] need to know how they [are] getting arms. So don’t just say go see the WH [White House]. It’s very risky for WH.” Platt, too, takes notes of the meeting. According to his notes, Shultz says: “What is happening on other support for Contras for lethal aid etc.—E. Abrams doesn’t have the answer. Stayed away let Ollie North do it. Fundraising continuing—weapons stocks are high. We have had nothing to do with private aid. Should we continue? Hate to be in position, [Shultz] says, of not knowing what’s going on. You are supposed to be managing overall Central American picture. Ollie can go on doing his thing, but you, [Abrams], should know what’s happening.” The notes from Abrams and Platt, and Abrams’s own testimony all confirm that Abrams is aware of North’s activities by September 1985, though he will subsequently lie to Congress about possessing such knowledge (see November 25-28, 1986). Abrams will later testifz that he has a very good idea about North’s activities from working with North in an interagency group (see Late 1985 and After). [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]

Entity Tags: Elliott Abrams, Charles Hill, Contras, Reagan administration, Nicholas Platt, National Security Council, George Shultz, Oliver North

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

The first meeting of the State Department’s Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office (NHAO) is held. Two aides to Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see April 19, 1985 and After and September 4, 1985) attend the meeting. During the meeting, National Security Council (NSC) officer Oliver North offers the services of former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez to assist in distributing the $27 million in humanitarian aid recently approved for the Contras (see August 1985). Rodriguez is helping North channel illegal funds to the Contras (see Mid-September 1985). The agreement is to channel the funds to the Contras through El Salvador’s Ilopango Air Base, Rodriguez’s center of operations. By early 1986, the legal NHAO fund distribution will merge with the illegal North fund distribution (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993] Some of the $27 million is never used for humanitarian purposes, but instead used to buy weapons, both for the Contras and for the mujaheddin in Afghanistan. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 12/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Oliver North, Elliott Abrams, Felix Rodriguez, Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office, Contras, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see April 19, 1985 and After) joins the National Security Council (NSC)‘s Oliver North and the CIA’s Central American Task Force chief Alan Fiers as the principal members of a Restricted Interagency Group (RIG) which works on Central American affairs for the Reagan administration. Abrams, a staunch supporter of Nicaragua’s Contras, becomes aware of North’s machinations to divert US funds to the Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986) in spite of Congress’s prohibition on such funding (see October 10, 1984). Abrams will also become directly involved in secret, illegal efforts to secure funding for the Contras from other nations (see June 11, 1986). [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]

Entity Tags: Restricted Interagency Group, Contras, Oliver North, Elliott Abrams, Alan Fiers

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Oliver North, the National Security Council staffer who handles the Iran-Contra dealings, tells Israeli Defense Ministry officials that he plans to use profits from future arms sales to Iran to fund the Nicaraguan Contras. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] North will not inform his supervisor, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, for five more months (see May 29, 1986).

Entity Tags: Oliver North, Robert C. McFarlane

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

CIA and State Department officials begin learning, to their dismay, about the illegal merging of legitimate Congressional funding of the Nicaraguan Contras with the illegal funding operation driven by National Security Council (NSC) official Oliver North (see October 1985). A senior CIA official in Central America cables Washington reporting the emergency landing of one of North’s Caribou transport planes on a road in El Salvador, and the potential embarrassment of reports from United Press International (UPI) about the plane. The official reports that North’s liaison in El Salvador, former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez (see Mid-September 1985), is “‘coordinating’ all of this with Ollie North (one supposes on open phone). [I] had to say, honestly, that [I] knew nothing of this Caribou and indeed had not heard anything from [CIA official Alan Fiers—see Late 1985 and After ] on the subject for two weeks. Rodrigues [sic] has just called [an embassy official] to advise that UPI is on the downed Caribou and wants a story. Charge’s position is that he has no knowledge re this A/C [aircraft]. God knows what Felix Rodrigues [sic] is saying.” William Walker, the deputy for Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see September 4, 1985), discusses the matter with the US Ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin Corr, expressing the same concerns. Walker says that “Ollie and Max,” referring to North and Rodriguez (by his pseudonym, “Max Gomez”), “are to have nothing to do w/humanitarian assistance deliveries, etc.” Walker tells Corr to “impress on Fiers that we cannot proceed in this ‘fouled up manner.’ This is the 3d recent screw up & Washington being surprised by unknown & uncoordinated activities.” It is unclear as to what other “screw ups” Corr is referring. Walker will later testify, falsely, that he had never heard of Felix Rodriguez until August 1986. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]

Entity Tags: William Walker, US Department of State, Alan Fiers, Central Intelligence Agency, United Press International, Contras, Elliott Abrams, Felix Rodriguez, Edwin Corr, Oliver North

Congress narrowly defeats a measure pushed by, among others, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see September 4, 1985), for $100 million in military and other aid for the Nicaraguan Contras. Abrams, National Security Council officer Oliver North (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986), and senior CIA official Alan Fiers (see Late 1985 and After) quickly fly to Central America to reassure Contra officials that they will continue to receive funding from the Reagan administration. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993] Congress will approve the funding three months later (see June 16, 1986).

Entity Tags: Elliott Abrams, Contras, Oliver North, Reagan administration, Alan Fiers

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

Senior White House officials attend a National Security Planning Group (NSPG) meeting on the subject of Central America. Attending the meeting are President Reagan, Vice President Bush, Secretary of State George Shultz, Treasury Secretary James Baker, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, CIA Director William Casey, and White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan. The interests of the Nicaraguan Contras are represented by Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see September 4, 1985), NSC officer Oliver North (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986), and senior CIA official Alan Fiers (see Late 1985 and After). According to minutes of the meeting, North reminds the group that under the 1986 Intelligence Authorization Bill, the State Department can legally approach other countries for non-military funding for the Contras. During the ensuing discussion, Reagan asks, according to the minutes: “What about the private groups who pay for ads for the contras? Have they been contacted? Can they do more than ads?” This indicates that Reagan is well aware of the private, illegal funding being channeled to the Contras. Fiers will later give a somewhat different version of events in his testimony to the Iran-Contra grand jury (see July 17, 1991), recalling Reagan asking about “Ollie’s people” working with the Contras and asking if they could help with funding. Fiers will recall the question causing tension among the group, and then someone quickly responding, “that’s being worked on.” After the meeting, North becomes more outspoken in his descriptions of his illegal funding of the Contras. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]

Entity Tags: William Casey, Contras, Caspar Weinberger, Alan Fiers, Donald Regan, Ronald Reagan, Elliott Abrams, James Baker, George Herbert Walker Bush, George Shultz, Oliver North, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see Late 1985 and After and September 4, 1985) testifies three times to Congress that the Contra resupply operation, exposed by the downing of a CIA transport plane (see October 5, 1986 and October 9, 1986), is not a US government operation. There is no coordination whatsoever from any government official (see Summer 1985, Mid-September 1985, October 1985, Late 1985 and After, February 7-8, 1986, May 16, 1986, July 1986 and After, September 19-20, 1986, September 25, 1986, and January 9, 1986), and no one in the government knows who organized or paid for the transport flight that was shot down.
'Not Our Supply System' - Abrams tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that while he and other government officials are aware of the Contra resupply operation, “[i]t is not our supply system. It is one that grew up after we were forbidden from supplying the resistance, and we have been kind of careful not to get closely involved with it and to stay away from it.… We do not encourage people to do this. We don’t round up people, we don’t write letters, we don’t have conversations, we don’t tell them to do this, we don’t ask them to do it. But I think it is quite clear, from the attitude of the administration, the attitude of the administration is that these people are doing a very good thing, and if they think they are doing something that we like, then, in a general sense, they are right.” In testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, Abrams is asked by Chairman Lee Hamilton (D-IN), “Can anybody assure us that the United States government was not involved, indirectly or directly, in any way in supply of the contras?” Abrams responds: “I believe we have already done that, that is, I think, the president has done it, the secretary has done it [Secretary of State George Shultz], and I have done it.… Now again, this normal intelligence monitoring is there, but the answer to your question is yes.” Abrams and CIA officials Clair George and Alan Fiers tell the same falsehoods to a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. “We don’t know,” Abrams asserts, “because we don’t track this kind of activity.”
No Knowledge of 'Gomez' - He also claims under questioning not to know the identity of “Max Gomez,” who he well knows is former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez (see Mid-September 1985). Senator John Kerry (D-MA) asks, “You don’t know whether or not [Gomez] reports to the vice president of the United States?” (see October 10, 1986). Both George and Abrams deny any such knowledge, though Abrams is highly aware of Rodriguez’s activities in El Salvador (he does not inform the committee of those activities). During the Congressional sessions, media reports identify Gomez as Rodriguez. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]

Entity Tags: Lee Hamilton, Elliott Abrams, Contras, Clair George, Alan Fiers, Felix Rodriguez, George Herbert Walker Bush, George Shultz, House Intelligence Committee, Ronald Reagan, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, House Foreign Affairs Committee

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams testifies to the House Intelligence Committee about his knowledge of the Iran-Contra affair (see Mid-October, 1986). Like CIA official Alan Fiers (see November 25, 1986), Abrams testifies that neither he nor his superiors at the State Department knew anything of the illegal diversion of funds to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986); like Fiers, Abrams is lying (see Late 1985 and After). Several days later, Abrams testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Thomas Eagleton (D-MO) accuses Abrams of lying during the first session, and Abrams replies, “You’ve heard my testimony.” Eagleton retorts, “I’ve heard it, and I want to puke.” [Time, 7/22/1991; Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993] Abrams will later admit to lying to both the House and Senate (see October 7, 1991).

Entity Tags: House Intelligence Committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Thomas F. Eagleton, US Department of State, Alan Fiers, Elliott Abrams

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says that before the Iran-Contra revelations of October 1986 (see October 5, 1986, October 10-15, 1986, and October 11-14, 1986) he had never even heard of CIA agent Felix Rodriguez, the liaison between the Nicaraguan Contras and the National Security Council (see Mid-September 1985). As he has done so many times before, Abrams is lying. When he took his position in July 1985 (see April 19, 1985 and After), Rodriguez was already working out of the Ilopango airfield in El Salvador. Notes taken by the US Ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin Corr, indicate that Abrams knew of Rodriguez by September 1985 at the latest (see September 4, 1985). During that month, Abrams and Corr discussed Rodriguez in at least one meeting. (Corr will later say he cannot recall any such meeting.) Rodriguez was also a frequent topic of discussion in meetings held in late 1985 by the Restricted Interagency Group (RIG—see Late 1985 and After) chaired by Abrams. And Abrams was aware of concerns within the government about Rodriguez’s involvement in disbursing humanitarian funds allocated by the US Congress to the Contras (see October 1985). [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]

Entity Tags: Elliott Abrams, Contras, Edwin Corr, Restricted Interagency Group, Felix Rodriguez, National Security Council, House Foreign Affairs Committee

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Richard Secord receives whispered advice from his attorney, Thomas Green, during his testimony.Richard Secord receives whispered advice from his attorney, Thomas Green, during his testimony. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Public testimony begins in the joint House and Senate investigations of the Iran-Contra affair. General Richard Secord (see November 19, 1985) is the first witness (see May 5, 1987). [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
'Hero's Angle' - The televised hearing area in Room 325 of the Senate Office Building, built to accommodate over two dozen committee members, their staff, witnesses, lawyers, and television reporters and camera operators, features a series of two-tiered stages. Film director Steven Spielberg will later tell Senate counsel Arthur Liman that from a visual viewpoint, the staging is a terrible mistake; the witnesses appear on television “at the hero’s angle, looking up as though from a pit at the committees, who resembled two rows of judges at the Spanish Inquisition.” Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will note with some sardonicism that the committee’s two lawyers could not have been better choices to play television villains. Liman is “a nasal-voiced New York ethnic with ‘spaghetti hair,’” and House counsel John Nields is “a balding lawyer with long locks down to his collar who couldn’t keep his distaste for the witnesses from creeping into his voice.”
Opening Statements; Cheney Blames Congress, Not the White House - The hearings open with the usual long-winded opening statements from the various committee members. Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY), the leader of the Republican hardline contingent, makes it clear from the outset where he intends to go in the investigation. “Some will argue that these events justify the imposition of additional restrictions on presidents to prohibit the possibility of similar occurrences in the future,” he says. “In my opinion, this would be a mistake. In completing our task, we should seek above all to find ways to strengthen the capacity of future presidents and future Congresses to meet the often dangerous and difficult challenges that are bound to rise in the years ahead.” He then introduces his counter-argument: Congress’s dithering, not the Reagan administration’s clear violation of the law, is the crux of the problem with the Iran-Contra affair. “One important question to be asked is to what extent did the lack of a clear-cut policy by the Congress contribute to the events we will be exploring in the weeks ahead?” Cheney and his colleagues will argue that because Congress had supported the Contras in the past, its decision not to continue that support was an unforgivable breach, “a form of actionable negligence,” in Dubose and Bernstein’s words, that made it necessary for the Reagan administration to establish “a parallel support network as a ‘bridging’ mechanism until Congress could be brought around to a sensible policy.” Oliver North will echo this concept in his own testimony (see July 7-10, 1987), driving committee Vice Chairman Warren Rudman (R-NH) to retort: “The American people have the Constitutional right to be wrong. And what Ronald Reagan thinks, or what Oliver North thinks or what I think or what anybody else thinks makes not a whit if the American people say, ‘Enough.’” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 72-75]

Entity Tags: Richard Secord, John Nields, Jake Bernstein, Contras, Arthur Liman, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Reagan administration, Lou Dubose, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Steven Spielberg, Oliver North

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

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