This page can be viewed at http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=john_poindexter
Congress passes the second Boland Amendment, which outlaws the use of “third-party nations” to support the Contras. The bill also bars the use of funds by the CIA, the Defense Department, or any intelligence agency for “supporting, directly or indirectly, military or paramilitary operations in Nicaragua by any nation, group, organization or individual.” (PBS 2000) The amendment is largely in response to the efforts of the Reagan administration to get around the restrictions of the first amendment (see December 1982), and the CIA’s mining of three Nicaraguan harbors. This amendment is far more restrictive than the first, saying flatly, “During 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 or which would have the effect of supporting, directly or indirectly, military or paramilitary operations in Nicaragua by any nation, group, organization, movement, or individual.” (New York Times 7/10/1987; House Intelligence Committee 2005; Savage 2007, pp. 53) “There are no exceptions to the prohibition,” says Edward Boland (D-MA), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the primary sponsor of the amemdment. Contra supporters in Congress denounce the bill, with Dick Cheney (R-WY) calling it a “killer amendment” that will force the Contras “to lay down their arms.” After President Reagan signs it into law, Cheney launches a lengthy, determined effort to persuade his colleagues to rescind the amendment. Inside the White House, particularly in the National Security Council, a number of Reagan officials, including National Security Adviser John Poindexter and his aide Colonel Oliver North, begin conspiring to circumvent the amendment with a complex scheme involving selling arms to Iran at inflated prices in exchange for American hostages held by Lebanese militants, and using the profits to fund the Contras. (Savage 2007, pp. 53)
National Security Council officials, led by NSC Director Robert McFarlane, Deputy Director John Poindexter, and senior NSC official Oliver North, develop a two-part strategy to topple the regime of Libyan dictator Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi. The plan is dubbed “Operation Flower,” with its two components called “Operation Tulip” and “Operation Rose,” respectively. Operation Tulip would be a covert CIA strategy using Libyan exiles to move into Tripoli and overthrow al-Qadhafi in a coup d’etat. Operation Rose proposes a joint US-Egyptian military campaign against the Libyan government. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger considers the entire idea “ludicrous,” as do his deputy Richard Armitage and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. However, CIA Director William Casey orders his deputy, Robert Gates, to study the idea. When the CIA produces Gates’s report favoring the idea, the Pentagon develops a military plan deliberately designed to scuttle the idea. The proposed US-Egyptian deployment, the Pentagon strategy says, would require six divisions and 90,000 US troops. Gates says the strategy looks “a lot like the [World War II] invasion of Normandy.” He registers his opposition to such a huge operation, warning that many American citizens as well as US allies would oppose any such overt military campaign. State Department officials concur with Gates’s analysis, and the US ambassador to Egypt, Nick Veliotes, says he believes Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would want nothing to do with the idea, in part because Mubarak has little confidence in the US military’s willingness to fight for an extended period of time, and so it would leave Egyptian forces to fight alone. Although Poindexter and other NSC officials continue to push the plan, even proposing it to an unimpressed Mubarak, no one else in the Reagan administration supports it, and it is never implemented. (Wills 2003, pp. 172-175; Zenko 10/22/2010)
David Kimche, the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, meets secretly with National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane to advise him that Israel may be able to use its influence with Iran (see 1981) to engineer the release of American hostages currently held by Hezbollah. Kimche’s outreach is the final piece in the complex arms-for-hostage deal between the US, Israel, and Iran. (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992) Israel is a logical conduit for arms to Iran, as it has been selling arms to Iran periodically since 1979, originally as part of its efforts to get Iran to allow Iranian Jews to emigrate to Israel. Like the US, Israel hopes to gain influence with Iranian moderates who will presumably take power after the aged, ailing Islamist radical Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini dies. (Earlier attempts to sell US-made arms to Iran had been blocked by the Carter administration.) According to Israeli sources, this Israeli offer began with a group of Israeli businessmen informing Prime Minister Shimon Peres in early July that they had been in contact with Iranian officials, and thought they could facilitate an arrangement to swap US arms for American hostages. The Israelis say that the US point man for the deal is John Poindexter, the deputy national security adviser, and Poindexter tapped National Security Council aide Oliver North to be the US liaison to Israel. Peres quickly authorized the Israeli businessmen to resume their contacts with the Iranians, and the businessmen contacted Saudi arms merchant Adnan Khashoggi. Khashoggi obtained a long list of desired military equipment from the Iranians, including Hawk antiaircraft missiles and radar-guidance equipment for them, antitank missiles, and spare parts for jet fighters. (Church 11/17/1986)
Robert McFarlane resigns as national security adviser. His deputy, Admiral John Poindexter, is appointed to the position. McFarlane will continue working for the administration on an informal basis. (New York Times 11/19/1987)
President Reagan, Secretary of State George Shultz, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, outgoing National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, and McFarlane’s replacement, John Poindexter, all meet at the White House to discuss the government’s arms sales to Iran. Later statements by the participants conflict on key details. Some will say that a consensus is reached to end arms sales to Iran, but Deputy CIA Director John McMahon will recall that no such consensus is reached. (New York Times 11/19/1987)
In a meeting between President Ronald Reagan, Vice President George Bush, Secretary of State George Shultz, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, CIA Director William Casey, and new National Security Adviser John Poindexter, the participants discuss whether to sell 4,000 Israeli-owned, US-made antitank missiles to Iran as another arms-for-hostages deal (see September 15, 1985). Shultz and Weinberger, as they have before, oppose any dealings with Iran. Bush, according to records of the meeting, fails to express any views at all, but Shultz will recall Bush supporting the deal. In 1988, Bush will tell a reporter that he doesn’t remember any such conflict over the arms sales, saying, “I never really heard them that clearly. And the reason is that the machinery broke down—it never worked as it should. The key players with the experience weren’t ever called together… to review the decisions that were made at a lower level.” It is hard to imagine any higher levels of the executive branch of government than what is represented in this meeting. In 1987, Bush will tell the Tower Commission investigating the deal that he didn’t know enough about the arms-for-hostages deals to be able to express an informed opinion about the decision to make the deals, and doesn’t remember the meeting as a “showdown session,” testimony contradicted by both Weinberger and Shultz in their own statements to the commission. (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
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. (Green 2/28/2004)
During a morning intelligence briefing, President Ronald Reagan signs the authorization for the US to allow Israel to sell Iran 4,000 US-made antitank missiles (see January 7, 1986). As they have consistently done before, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Secretary of State George Shultz register their opposition to the arms deals with Iran. National Security Adviser John Poindexter notes in a February 1986 e-mail that Vice President George Bush supports the arms-for-hostages deals with Iran, writing that the “President and VP are solid in taking the position that we have to try.” The reasons the various administration officials have for agreeing to sell arms to Iran are complex. Reagan is motivated by his belief that supporting Iran thwarts Soviet plans for Middle East domination (see May 1985), and by his own personal sorrow over the plight of the hostages. Others have more overtly political motives primarily fueled by the upcoming midterm elections. If, as in 1980, the American hostages currently held by Islamist radicals can be freed before the elections, the Republicans would likely reap the political benefits. Iranian-born arms merchant Albert Hakim, who is involved in the arms deals, will later tell Congress’s Iran-Contra committee, “We had to meet a deadline in releasing hostages, because the elections were coming up.” Even National Security Council aide Oliver North, one of the chief facilitators of the deals with Iran, will admit to the committee, “There are political concerns.” The US insists that before it deliver any of the antitank missiles, all of the hostages must be released. Iran refuses, and a deadlock ensues that will last for months. (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
National Security Council official Oliver North writes to National Security Adviser John Poindexter that his aide, consultant Michael Ledeen, may be illegally profiting from the sale of arms to Iran through Israel (see June 23-25, 1987). (Green 2/28/2004)
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)
After a National Security Planning Group (NSPG) meeting that covered the need for further monetary assistance to the Nicaraguan Contras, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, in a discussion with his boss, Secretary of State George Shultz, broaches the idea of soliciting donations from other nations. Shultz is receptive, but warns Abrams that he does not want donations from a country that receives large amounts of US aid, as such solicitations might appear to be kickbacks from such aid. And Shultz does not want a right-wing dictatorship such as Taiwan or South Korea to contribute because it would create a potentially embarrassing link between those countries and the Contras. Abrams suggests asking the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, for funds. Brunei is a tremendously rich Muslim oil state in Southeast Asia. Shultz is planning on visiting Brunei in late June anyway, and Abrams says the visit is a perfect opportunity for Shultz to ask for donations. Shultz agrees (see June 11, 1986), but will not ultimately ask the Sultan for money during the visit (see June 23-24, 1986). After the discussion, Abrams meets with National Security Council officer Oliver North, and asks where the money should be sent should the Sultan agree to provide funds. North tells Abrams to wait until he can clear the solitication with his boss, NSC chief John Poindexter. North tells Poindexter that he has “the accounts and the means by which this thing [transfer of solicited funds] needs to be accomplished.” Poindexter will approve the solicitation. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
National Security Adviser John Poindexter advises the National Security Council’s Oliver North that the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, will donate an unspecified sum of money to the Contras (see After May 16, 1986). Poindexter says the deal was brokered by Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams; Poindexter has discussed the deal over lunch with Abrams. (New York Times 11/19/1987; Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
National Security Council (NSC) officer Oliver North has become far more outspoken among government officials about his illegal funding of the Nicaraguan Contras (see May 16, 1986). During a meeting of his Restricted Interagency Group (RIG—see Late 1985 and After), CIA official Alan Fiers, a member of the group, is discomfited at North’s straightforward listing of the many activities that he is causing to be conducted on behalf of the Contras, everything from supplying aircraft to paying salaries. Fiers is even less sanguine about North’s frank revelations about using illegally solicited private funding for the Contras (see May 16, 1986). North goes down the list, asking if each activity should be continued or terminated, and, according to Fiers, making it very clear that he can cause his Contra support program (which he now calls PRODEM, or “Project Democracy”) to respond as he directs. North also begins arranging, through Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, for $2 million in stopgap funding for the project. North will confirm the $2 million in an e-mail to NSC Director John Poindexter. North will conduct similar meetings in August and September 1986, at least one of which will include Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Armitage (see July 22, 1987) and other Defense Department officials (see November 13, 1990). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993) It is not until Fiers testifies in 1991 about North’s behaviors that verification of North’s discussion of such specifics about Contra activities and funding will be made public (see July 17, 1991).
Ali Hashemi Bahramani, a high-ranking officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, meets secretly with NSC official Oliver North. Bahramani has a shopping list of arms Iran wants to buy from the US, particularly weapons and other material to defend the country against the recent escalation of Iraqi air strikes (see July 23, 1986). The plan to force Iran to trade US hostages for arms (see July 23, 1986) seems to be working. But for the US the plan has a fatal flaw: as hostages are released, Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group controlled by Iran, simply kidnaps more Americans (see September 9-12, 1986). North’s assistant, Richard Secord, later states that it is evident the Iranians negotiating the release of the hostages are the same ones responsible for ordering the new kidnappings. But North, his boss John Poindexter, and CIA Director William Casey continue with the Iranian initiative regardless. One driving factor, Secord will note, is that by this point, $3.8 million in profits from the Iranian arms sales has been diverted to the Nicaraguan Contras. (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
A meeting of Oliver North’s Restricted Interagency Group (RIG—see Late 1985 and After) takes place in the office of Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Armitage. As in previous RIG meetings, North details the specific activities of the Contras, and asks for approval for each activity (see July 1986 and After). But in this meeting, North makes an extraordinary proposal. Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega has offered to conduct sabotage inside Nicaragua on behalf of the Contras for $1 million in cash. According to later testimony from RIG member Alan Fiers, a senior CIA official (see July 17, 1991), it is clear that the $1 million will not come from duly appropriated US funds, but from North’s so-called “Project Democracy,” which collects private funds from US citizens and other governments to fund the Contras. The sabotage would be conducted by mercenaries. Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams meets with two aides to Secretary of State George Shultz, M. Charles Hill and Nicholas Platt, to discuss the Noriega proposal. Hill’s notes of the meeting read in part: “Noriega offers to do some sabotage (electric pylons) that we training contras to do but which they can’t do for 18 mos. Wd [would] get us on the map fast—by Oct. . Do it via mercenaries who may not know who employers are. Brits. Wd do it for cash (not from USG [US government]). Wants our go-ahead. Ollie will meet him w/approval of Pdx. [John Poindexter, the head of the National Security Council].” Ultimately, the idea is rejected. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
The Reagan administration, led by CIA Director William Casey and National Security Adviser John Poindexter (Robert McFarlane’s replacement), decides to downplay and deny any arms-for-hostages deals as reported in the world press (see November 3, 1986), while maintaining the secret negotiations with Iran. President Reagan accepts their advice. In notes Reagan takes during a clandestine meeting about the situation, he writes, “Must say something because I’m being held out to dry.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 65-66)
Attorney General Edwin Meese undertakes an internal fact-finding investigation focused on President Reagan’s involvement in the November 1985 sale of Hawk missiles to Iran (see 1985). Meese is apparently not interested in finding facts, because he refuses a request to assist from the FBI, and takes no notes during his interviews of administration officials.
'Shredding Party' - Additionally, during his investigation, National Security Council documents are altered or destroyed, including a presidential finding from December 1985 that retroactively authorized US missile sales to Iran (see November 24-25, 1985 and December 5, 1985); National Security Adviser John Poindexter will later admit to destroying this document. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North holds what is later called a “shredding party,” destroying thousands of documents that would likely implicate White House officials in a criminal conspiracy to break the law (see November 21-23, 1986). The Iran-Contra investigative committee will later fault Meese for departing from “standard investigative techniques” during his investigation.
Document Linking Iran Arms Sales, Contra Supplies Survives - Meese also finds a potentially explosive document in the desk of North, the National Security Council staffer who managed the Iran arms deals. The document, an undated memorandum apparently from April 1986, outlined “a planned diversion of $12 million in proceeds from the Iran arms sales to the Nicaraguan contras” (see April 4, 1986). Meese’s investigation now diverges onto two tracks, one a continuation of the Hawk shipments, and the second an investigation into who knew about, and who had approved, the diversion.
Reagan Courting Impeachment? - Meese confirms from North that the $12 million had indeed been given to the Contras, and informs Reagan, Chief of Staff Donald Regan, and Vice President Bush. Reagan is reportedly shocked by the revelation, in part because he knows he could face impeachment for violating the Boland Amendment (see October 10, 1984). Meese informs the cabinet the next day. Apparently Meese does not want to know if any senior White House officials knew of the diversion, because he does not ask them about it. When Poindexter informs Meese that before December 1985, his predecessor Robert McFarlane handled the Iran arms sales “all alone” with “no documentation,” Meese accepts his word. Several White House officials present at the meeting—Reagan, Regan, Bush, Poindexter, Secretary of State George Shultz, and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger—all know that Poindexter is lying, but none correct him. After the meeting, Shultz tells his aide, Charles Hill: “They may lay all this off on Bud [McFarlane].… They [are] rearranging the record.” Investigative counsel Lawrence Walsh will later write: “The Select Committees viewed this as an isolated error. It was not.”
'Case for Deniability' for Reagan - In Walsh’s opinion, Meese is not conducting an investigation at all, but instead is “building a case of deniability for his client-in-fact, President Reagan.” Walsh will characterize Meese’s actions as “an effort to obstruct a congressional inquiry.” In 2006, authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will write, “The two strands of an illegal policy came together in that memo.” The authors refer to the US arms sales to Iran and the diversion of the profits from those sales to the Contras. (New York Times 11/19/1987; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 8/4/1993; PBS 2000; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 66)
Attorney General Edwin Meese announces the results of his internal “investigation” of US arms sales to Iran (see November 21-25, 1986). In the conference, Meese announces that President Reagan did not learn of the US shipments of Hawk anti-aircraft missiles (see 1985, November 24-25, 1985, and August 4, 1986) until February 1986. Investigators for Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh will later conclude that Meese lied; not only did Meese never ask Reagan about his knowledge of the Hawk shipments, he ignored evidence and testimony that proved Reagan did indeed know of the shipments, such as a statement from Secretary of State George Shultz that Reagan had told him that he had known of the Hawk shipments in advance. But Meese will also, reluctantly, admit that the US had illegally diverted between $10 million and $30 million in funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see April 4, 1986). National Security Adviser John Poindexter immediately resigns, and Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North is fired from the National Security Council staff. (New York Times 11/19/1987; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 8/4/1993; PBS 2000)
The Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress’s joint Iran-Contra investigation begin meetings to discuss the logistics of the upcoming public hearings (see May 5, 1987). Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) later recalls that House committee chairman “Lee Hamilton and I bent over backwards to be fair to the Republicans.” Many of the committee Republicans are not predisposed to return the favor. Moderate Republican Warren Rudman (R-NH), the co-chairman of the Senate committee, recalls that deep divides were forming between the committee’s moderate Republicans and the more hardline Republicans led by Dick Cheney (R-WY). “The meetings were very, very intensive,” Rudman will recall. Cheney helps put together the Republican committee members’ staff, and includes a number of hardline Reagan loyalists: the Justice Department’s Bruce Fein; the former assistant general counsel to the CIA, David Addington; and others. Notably, it is during the Iran-Contra hearings where Cheney and Addington form their lasting professional association.
Artificial Deadline - The first battle is over the length of the hearings. Cheney’s hardliners want the hearings over with quickly—“like tomorrow,” one former staffer recalls. Hamilton will recall: “Did I know Dick wanted to shorten it? Yes, I knew that.” Committee Democrats, fearful of extending the proceedings into the 1988 presidential campaign and thusly being perceived as overly partisan, agree to an artificial ten-month deadline to complete the investigation and issue a final report. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write that the deadline is “an invitation to the administration to stall while simultaneously burying the committee under mountains of useless information.” When, in the fall of 1987, the committee receives large amounts of new information, such as White House backup computer files, Cheney’s hardliners will succeed in insisting that the committee adhere to the deadline.
Jousting with the Special Prosecutor - The committee also has trouble co-existing with the special prosecutor’s concurrent investigation (see December 19, 1986). The special prosecutor, Lawrence Walsh, wants a long, intensive investigation culminating in a round of prosecutions. The committee worries that in light of Walsh’s investigation, key witnesses like Oliver North and John Poindexter would refuse to testify before the committee, and instead plead the Fifth Amendment. Rudman and committee counsel Arthur Liman want Walsh to quickly prosecute North for obstruction of justice based on North’s “shredding party” (see November 21-25, 1986). Rudman believes that he can get his Republican colleagues to agree to defer their investigation until after North’s trial. But Walsh declines. Rudman later says: “Walsh might have been more successful if he had followed our suggestion.… But he had this grand scheme of conspiracy.” As such, the committee has a difficult choice: abort the investigation or grant North immunity from prosecution so he can testify. Cheney and his hardliners, and even some Democrats, favor not having North testify in deference to his upcoming prosecution. “People were all over the place on that one,” Rudman will recall. Hamilton is the strongest proponent of immunity for North. “He believed that North had information no one else had,” a staffer will recall. Hamilton and the moderate Republicans are more interested in finding the details of the Iran-Contra affair rather than preparing for criminal prosecutions. The committee eventually compromises, and defers the testimony of North and Poindexter until the end of the investigation. Another committee staffer later recalls, “Hamilton was so fair-minded and balanced that in order to get agreements, he gave ground in areas where he shouldn’t have.”
North Deal 'Dooms' Investigation - Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The deal the committee struck with North’s canny lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, doomed Walsh’s investigation and the hearings.” The committee offers North “use immunity,” a guarantee that his testimony cannot be used against him in future prosecutions. The committee also agrees, unwisely, to a series of further caveats: they will not depose North prior to his testimony, his testimony will be strictly limited in duration, the committee will not recall North for further testimony, and he will not have to produce documents to be used in his testimony until just days before his appearance. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 70-72, 77)
Former National Security Adviser John Poindexter (see November 25, 1986) testifies before the joint House-Senate Iran-Contra investigative committee. Poindexter says that he never told President Reagan of the diversion of funds from the Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). He says he never told Reagan in order to preserve the president’s “plausible deniability.” (New York Times 11/19/1987)
Former National Security Adviser John Poindexter is indicted on seven felony counts relating to his participation in the Iran-Contra affair. Poindexter is named with fellow Iran-Contra conspirators Oliver North, Richard Secord, and Albert Hakim as part of a 23-count, multi-defendant indictment. The charges are based on evidence that shows all four defendants conspired to defraud the United States and violate federal law by secretly providing funds and supplies to the Nicaraguan Contras. The cases will soon be severed and each defendant will be tried separately (see May-June, 1989). (FINAL REPORT OF THE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL FOR IRAN/CONTRA MATTERS: Chapter 3: United States v. John M. Poindexter 8/4/1993; PBS 2000)
President Reagan declares that he believes the four defendants in the Iran-Contra trial (see March 16, 1988) are not guilty of any crimes. Two former National Security Council officials, John Poindexter and Oliver North, and two arms dealers, Richard Secord and Albert Hakim, face multiple charges in the indictments. Reagan says he thinks of North as a hero and has difficulty believing the Iran-Contra affair was a scandal. “I just have to believe that they’re going to be found innocent because I don’t think they were guilty of any lawbreaking or any crime,” he says. “I still think Ollie North is a hero. On the other hand, any talk about what I might do about pardons and so forth, I think, with the case before the courts, that’s something I can’t discuss now.” Law professor Burt Neuborne says that Reagan’s comments are “inappropriate.” Neuborne says: “When you have people charged with a serious violation of the law it is inappropriate for the president to applaud them and call them heroes.… If you have a president who is not willing to enforce the law, you would never be able to enforce it without the special prosecutor.” An administration official says that in the aftermath of Reagan’s remarks, some White House aides are probably “all cringing.” A senior White House official says, “The rest of us have been told not to comment on the indictments.” Reagan’s domestic policy adviser Gary Bauer says that Reagan’s remarks reflect “what a good number of Americans still believe.… Clearly, it was something from the heart.” Vice President Bush has joined Reagan in expressing his admiration for North, saying, “I think anybody who sheds blood for his country and wins a Purple Heart, three of them, and a Silver Star, deserves whatever accolades one gets for that kind of stellar, heroic performance.” According to recent polls, only 21 percent of Americans believe North is a hero. (Johnson 3/26/1988)
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; Johnston 9/17/1991) North’s conviction will indeed be overturned by an appeals court (see September 17, 1991).
In connection with the Iran-Contra scandal, former National Security Adviser John Poindexter (see March 16, 1988) is convicted of five felonies, including conspiring to obstruct official inquiries and proceedings, two counts of obstructing Congress, and two counts of lying to Congress. Poindexter is sentenced to six months in prison. Instead of serving his jail time, he will win a reversal in federal appeals court. (FINAL REPORT OF THE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL FOR IRAN/CONTRA MATTERS: Chapter 3: United States v. John M. Poindexter 8/4/1993) The New York Times will write during Poindexter’s sentencing hearing that, though Poindexter had a brilliant career before becoming Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser, he should go to jail because he is not only clearly guilty of the felonies he is convicted of, but he has shown a total lack of remorse or contrition. “The admiral disagreed with [the] fundamental rule of law and apparently still does,” the Times will write, noting that Poindexter apparently feels that if he views the law as incorrect or overly constraining, he is well within his rights to break that law. (New York Times 6/11/1990)
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the NSA awards $64 million in research contracts for a program called Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD). (Markoff 5/21/2003; Harris 1/20/2006) NIMD is one of several cutting-edge data mining technologies that not only has the capability of finding keywords among millions of electronically monitored communications, but can find hidden relationships among data points, and even critique the thinking and biases of a particular analyst and suggest alternative hypotheses differing from the human analysts’ conclusion. Like other data-mining technologies, the NSA will steadfastly refuse to discuss whether NIMD is used to analyze data from domestic surveillance operations. NIMD is designed as an preliminary sort program, to keep human analysts from becoming overwhelmed by raw data. In essence, NIMD is an early-warning system. “NIMD funds research to…help analysts deal with information-overload, detect early indicators of strategic surprise, and avoid analytic errors,” according to the “Call for 2005 Challenge Workshop Proposals” released by the Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA). ARDA was founded in 1998 to create, design, and field new technologies for US intelligence agencies, particularly the NSA. A selected few Congressional lawmakers (see January 18, 2006) were informed that the warrantless surveillance program authorized by President George W. Bush (see Early 2002) was designed to be an early-warning system for possible terrorist attacks or plans. Assistant Attorney General William Moschella will inform the top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate Intelligence committees in December 2002 that the “president determined that it was necessary following September 11 to create an early-warning detection system” to prevent more attacks. He will justify the use of programs such as NIMD by claiming, as NSA director Michael Hayden and other administration officials have repeatedly claimed, that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows the government to obtain warrants to conduct domestic eavesdropping or wiretapping, “could not have provided the speed and agility required for the early-warning detection system.” Many experts outside of the Bush administration feel that NIMD and other programs do not have to operate outside of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) because of limitations in the law, but because of the fact that the programs cannot meet the law’s minimum requirements for surveillance. FISA requires that any such surveillance must have a probable cause that the target is a terrorist. NIMD has no such threshold. Steven Aftergood, an expert on intelligence and government secrecy with the Federation of American Scientists, will say in 2006, “Logistically speaking, the early-warning approach may involve a significant increase in the number of surveillance actions. It may be that neither the Justice Department nor the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves wiretapping warrants] is prepared to prepare and process several thousand additional FISA applications per year, beyond the 1,700 or so approved in 2004.” (Harris 1/20/2006) Some experts will later express the opinion that NIMD is the controversial Total Information Awareness program in a slightly different form (see February 2003 and September 2002).
Vice Admiral John Poindexter begins running a shadowy new government agency called the Information Awareness Office. (Markoff 2/13/2002; Caterinicchia 10/17/2002) Poindexter, formerly President Reagan’s National Security Adviser, is known for his five felony convictions of lying to Congress, destroying documents, and obstructing Congress in its investigation of his role in the mid-1980s Iran-Contra affair. Later his convictions were overturned on a technicality. (Turley 11/17/2002) Far from apologizing, Poindexter said it was his duty to lie to Congress. (Newsday 12/1/2002) The New York Times notes that his new agency “is developing technologies to give federal officials instant access to vast new surveillance and information-analysis systems.” The new office is part of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Poindexter was also known for his controversial role in shifting control of computer security to the military in the 1980s. Says Marc Rotenberg, former counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee, “It took three administrations and both political parties over a decade to correct those mistakes.” (Markoff 2/13/2002) Surprisingly, Poindexter’s appointment is little noticed until later in 2002 when the Total Information Awareness program is revealed (see March 2002; November 9, 2002). Incidentally, several others involved in the Iran-Contra affair also find jobs in the Bush Administration, including Elliott Abrams, John Negroponte, and Otto Reich. (Observer 12/8/2002)
The NSA’s enormous data mining program, Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD—see After September 11, 2001), closely resembles another data mining program, the Defense Department’s Total Information Awareness program (see March 2002). TIA, which will be suspended in 2003 after outcries from citizens and legal experts concerned over that program’s refusal to comply with fundamental Constitutional guarantees of privacy, was also designed as an early-warning system that not only compiled intelligence data, but mined through private financial databases for credit-card and other financial transactions. Six of the corporations and research institutions who win NIMD contracts also held contracts for the earlier TIA project. Much of their work with TIA duplicated the same aspects and protocols to be used by NIMD, including challenging analytic assumptions and building prototype data-mining devices. Both TIA and NIMD attempt to second-guess human analysts’ conclusions over a particular data schema by creating a database of what TIA creator John Poindexter once called “plausible futures,” or likely terrorism scenarios. NIMD is a creation of the Advanced Research and Development Activity agency (ARDA); another ARDA project, the Advanced Capabilities for Intelligence Analysis (ACIA) also envisions a similar database (see 2005). Though TIA focused more on counterterrorism than the more sweeping NIMD, the two projects coordinated closely with one another, according to former program manager Tom Armour, who worked in Poindexter’s office.
NIMD Survives In Other Agencies - Congress will eliminate funding for TIA and other Poindexter projects, but many of those projects, and related projects such as NIMD, do not disappear. Many are instead transferred to intelligence agencies such as the NSA. Although information about these projects is strictly classified, a former Army intelligence analyst familiar with the programs will confirm in 2006 that large elements of TIA were transferred to other agencies, where they will continue to be researched and implemented. It is highly likely that NIMD is an offshoot and outgrowth of TIA. Armour will say the two programs are specifically designed to analyze large amounts of phone and e-mail traffic: “That’s, in fact, what the interest is.” (Harris 1/20/2006)
Government 'Shell Game' - Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists says in 2004, “The whole congressional action looks like a shell game. There may be enough of a difference for them to claim TIA was terminated while for all practical purposes the identical work is continuing.” (Associated Press 2/23/2004) Aftergood will note that NIMD has thrived in the shadows where TIA died of exposure: “Pursued with a minimal public profile and lacking a polarizing figure like Admiral Poindexter to galvanize opposition, NIMD has proceeded quietly even as TIA imploded.” (Lowe 9/26/2003)
The New York Times exposes the existence of John Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness data collection program, begun in early 2002 (see Mid-January 2002; March 2002). (Markoff 11/9/2002) Conservative columnist William Safire writes, “If the Homeland Security Act is not amended before passage, here is what will happen to you: Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend—all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as ‘a virtual, centralized grand database.’ To this computerized dossier on your private life from commercial sources, add every piece of information that government has about you—passport application, driver’s license and bridge toll records, judicial and divorce records, complaints from nosy neighbors to the FBI, your lifetime paper trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance—and you have the supersnoop’s dream: a ‘Total Information Awareness’ about every US citizen.” (Safire 11/14/2002) Poindexter says it will take years to realize his vision, but his office has already begun providing some technology to government agencies. (O'Harrow 11/12/2002) The existence of this program, and the fact that Poindexter is running it, causes concern for many on both the left and right. (Shapiro 1/16/2003) It is regularly called Orwellian, conjuring visions of 1984’s Big Brother, and even supporters admit it sounds Orwellian. (Getz 11/15/2002; Turley 11/17/2002; Goldenberg 11/23/2002; Newsday 12/1/2002; Hertzberg 12/9/2002; Webb 12/12/2002; Mittelstadt 12/16/2002; Baer 1/5/2003) The New York Times suggests, “Congress should shut down the program pending a thorough investigation.” (New York Times 11/18/2002) Experts question not only its civil liberties implications, but also if it is even feasible. If it does work, would its database be swapped with errors that could not be removed? (see March 2002) (Puzzanghera 12/26/2002) However, many newspapers fail to report on the program at all, and ABC is the only network to report the story on prime time television. (ABC News 11/16/2002; ABC News 11/25/2002) Despite so many objections, the program is included in the Homeland Security bill (see November 25, 2002), and only later somewhat curbed by Congress (see January 23, 2003).
Veteran AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009) becomes convinced that the “secure facility” being constructed at an AT&T facility in San Francisco (see Summer 2002 and Fall 2002) has some connection to the Bush administration’s “Total Information Awareness” program (see Mid-January 2002 and March 2002). The press has recently begun reporting on the program (see November 9, 2002). In 2007, Klein will tell a reporter: “You might recall there [around this time] was a big blowup in the news about the Total Information Awareness [TIA] program, led by Admiral [John] Poindexter, which caused the big upsetness in Congress, because what Poindexter was proposing to do was draw in databases from everywhere… draw in Internet data, bank records, travel records, everything into one big conglomeration which could be searchable by the government so they could find out everything about what anybody’s doing at any time of day. And all this would be done without any warrants.” Klein and other AT&T employees begin speculating that the “secure facility” might have some connection to Poindexter’s TIA program. “[T]he Total Information Awareness program is involved with the NSA [National Security Agency] and with DARPA, which is the Defense [Advanced Research] Projects Agency,” he will tell the reporter. “So I began to connect the two, because it seemed quite logical at least that if they are looking for large amounts of Internet data to sift through and vacuum up, what would be a perfect place? It would be in the Internet room at a place like AT&T. And lo and behold, the NSA guy shows up. Then I started learning that it’s not only a new room; it’s a room that all the technicians cannot go into. Only the one guy—a management guy, no union people—a management field specialist with security clearance obviously given to him by the NSA, only he could go into this room, which was being built on the sixth floor, right next door to the phone switch room. So I got very worried about that. What does this mean? What are they doing there?” In 2009, Klein will write, “Gradually I started to connect the TIA program with the curiously simultaneous appearance of the NSA at our office, and the more I learned about what they were installing, and where, the more I was convinced the two were connected.” (PBS Frontline 5/15/2007; Klein 2009, pp. 25-26)
Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists says that he is not sure that Congress’s public termination of the Total Information Awareness (TIA) project (see January 23, 2003) was as real and outrage-driven as it seemed at the time. “The whole congressional action looks like a shell game,” Aftergood says. “There may be enough of a difference for them to claim TIA was terminated while for all practical purposes the identical work is continuing.” While Congress terminated TIA with visible indignation, it also quietly funded the “National Foreign Intelligence Program,” and never identified which intelligence agency would do the work—which was also kept from the public eye. Congress did say that none of the research would be used against US citizens. No one in Congress will discuss how many of Poindexter’s programs survived, but knowledgeable sources will confirm that some 18 data-mining programs known as Evidence Extraction and Link Discovery in Poindexter’s research were preserved after TIA’s termination. These programs may well include the sprawling data mining program known as Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD) (see After September 11, 2001), though this cannot be confirmed. Former TIA chief John Poindexter’s vision of the technology behind NIMD envisioned software that can quickly analyze “multiple petabytes” of data. A single petabyte would fill the Library of Congress space for 18 million books more than 50 times, or could hold 40 pages of text for each of the more than 6.2 billion humans on Earth. Poindexter and his colleagues envisioned the program as handling a petabyte or more of data a month. (Associated Press 2/23/2004) Concerns about the privacy rights of US citizens being damaged by the program are rife. “If they were to stick to strictly military-related research and development, there is less of an issue, but these technologies have much broader social implications,” says Barbara Simons, a computer scientist who is past president of the Association of Computing Machinery, an organization that has expressed concerns about TIA. (Markoff 5/21/2003) At least one Senator is uncomfortable with the apparent resurgence of TIA. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) will write Vice President Dick Cheney in June 2003 after receiving a briefing on the various secret surveillance programs (see July 17, 2003). Rockefeller will write, “As I reflected on the meeting today, John Poindexter’s TIA project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveillance.” (Harris 1/20/2006)
John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, learns of the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program against US citizens (see Early 2002) in a secret briefing for himself, the chairman of the committee, and the chairman and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. Hours later, Rockefeller sends a handwritten letter to Vice President Cheney expressing his concerns about the potential illegality of the program, concerns he apparently expressed in the briefing as well. Rockefeller will not release the letter publicly until December 19, 2005, four days after the New York Times publishes an article revealing the program’s existence (see December 15, 2005). Disturbed both by the information he was given and the information that was obviously being withheld, Rockefeller writes in part: “Clearly the activities we discussed raise profound oversight issues.… Given the security restrictions associated with this information, and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own [Cheney had prohibited Rockefeller and the three other lawmakers in the briefing from consulting with their staff experts], I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities. As I reflected on the meeting today, and the future we face, John Poindexter’s TIA [Total Information Awareness (see March 2002)] project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveillance. Without more information and the ability to draw on any independent legal or technical expertise, I simply cannot satisfy lingering concerns raised by the briefing we received.” (Rockefeller 12/19/2005; Savage 2007, pp. 115) Rockefeller also notes that he is not at liberty to do anything about his concerns, since he is legally bound to obey the secrecy rules the White House has invoked, but he wants his concerns noted. (Savage 2007, pp. 116) It is unclear whether Rockefeller ever receives a reply. Rockefeller is apparently unaware of evidence showing that domestic surveillance may have begun well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).