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Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North uses a sophisticated brand of software known as PROMIS to track potential security threats in the United States. Intelligence officials will later tell Wired magazine that North has a command center connected to a larger Justice Department facility utilizing the software. “According to both a contractor who helped design the center and information disclosed during the Iran-Contra hearings,” North maintains a “similar, but smaller, White House operations room… connected by computer link to the [Justice Department]‘s command center.” According to Wired, North uses computers in his operations center to track “dissidents and potential troublemakers within the United States as part of a domestic emergency preparedness program.” North is assigned to work with FEMA on the secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program from 1982 to 1984 (see 1982-1984). Wired will later report, “Using PROMIS, sources point out, North could have drawn up lists of anyone ever arrested for a political protest, for example, or anyone who had ever refused to pay their taxes.” Compared to PROMIS, Wired notes, “Richard Nixon’s enemies list or Sen. Joe McCarthy’s blacklist look downright crude.” (Fricker 3/1993)
Members of the Reagan administration run a secret shadow government that operates outside of official channels and circumvents Congressional oversight. The Miami Herald reports in July 1987: “Some of President Reagan’s top advisers have operated a virtual parallel government outside the traditional cabinet departments and agencies almost from the day Reagan took office, Congressional investigators and administration officials have concluded.” Figures involved in the secret structure include Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, National Security Adviser William Clark, CIA Director William Casey, and Attorney General Edwin Meese. Secret contacts throughout the government act on the advisers’ behalf, but do not officially report to them. The group is reportedly involved in arming the Nicaraguan rebels, the leaking of information to news agencies for propaganda purposes, the drafting of martial law plans for national emergencies, and the monitoring of US citizens considered potential security risks. The secret parallel government is tied to the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program, originally designed to keep the government functioning in times of disaster. From 1983 to 1986, North reportedly leads the parallel structure from his office in the Old Executive Office Building across from the White House. Sources tell the Miami Herald that North’s influence within the shadow government is so great that he can alter the orbits of surveillance satellites to monitor Soviet activity, launch spy aircraft over Cuba and Nicaragua, and “become involved in sensitive domestic activities,” which apparently include monitoring US citizens with sophisticated surveillance software (see 1980s). The existence of the secret structure is uncovered during investigations into the Iran-Contra affair, but the details of the shadow government are never fully disclosed. During the hearings, Representative Jack Brooks (D-TX) is prevented from questioning North regarding his involvement (see 1987). In a secret memo to the chairmen of the Iran-Contra committee, Arthur Liman, chief counsel to the panel, writes that behind the arms scandal is a “whole secret government-within-a-government, operated from the [Executive Office Building] by a lieutenant colonel, with its own army, air force, diplomatic agents, intelligence operatives, and appropriations capacity.” Some officials interviewed by the Miami Herald believe the group of advisers first formed during the late stages of Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign (see October 1980). (Chardy 7/5/1987)
Throughout the 1980s, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are key players in one of the most highly classified programs of the Reagan administration. Presently, Cheney is working as a Republican congressman, while Rumsfeld is head of the pharmaceutical company G. D. Searle. At least once per year, they both leave their day jobs for periods of three or four days. They head to Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, and along with 40 to 60 federal officials and one member of the Reagan Cabinet are taken to a remote location within the US, such as an underground bunker. While they are gone, none of their work colleagues, or even their wives, knows where they are. They are participating in detailed planning exercises for keeping government running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
Unconstitutional 'Continuity of Government' - This highly secret “Continuity of Government” (COG) program is known as Project 908. The idea is that if the US were under a nuclear attack, three teams would be sent from Washington to separate locations around the US to prepare to take leadership of the country. If somehow one team was located and hit with a nuclear weapon, the second or third team could take its place. Each of the three teams includes representatives from the State Department, Defense Department, CIA, and various domestic-policy agencies. The program is run by a new government agency called the National Program Office. Based in the Washington area, it has a budget of hundreds of million dollars a year, which grows to $1 billion per year by the end of Reagan’s first term in office. Within the National Security Council, the “action officer” involved in the COG program is Oliver North, who is a key figure in the mid-1980s Iran-Contra scandal. Reagan’s Vice President, George H. W. Bush, also supervises some of the program’s efforts. As well as Cheney and Rumsfeld, other known figures involved in the COG exercises include Kenneth Duberstein, who serves for a time as President Reagan’s chief of staff, and future CIA Director James Woolsey. Another regular participant is Richard Clarke, who on 9/11 will be the White House chief of counterterrorism (see (1984-2004)). The program, though, is extraconstitutional, as it establishes a process for designating a new US president that is nowhere authorized in the US Constitution or federal law. After George H. W. Bush is elected president in 1988 and the effective end of the Soviet Union in 1989, the exercises continue. They will go on after Bill Clinton is elected president, but will then be based around the threat posed by terrorists, rather than the Soviet Union (see 1992-2000). According to journalist James Mann, the participation of Rumsfeld and Cheney in these exercises demonstrates a broader truth about them: “Over three decades, from the Ford administration onward, even when they were out of the executive branch of government, they were never too far away; they stayed in touch with its defense, military, and intelligence officials and were regularly called upon by those officials. Cheney and Rumsfeld were, in a sense, a part of the permanent, though hidden, national security apparatus of the United States.” (Mann 2004, pp. 138-145; Mann 3/2004; Kurtz 4/7/2004; Cockburn 2007, pp. 85)
No Role for Congress - According to one participant, “One of the awkward questions we faced was whether to reconstitute Congress after a nuclear attack. It was decided that no, it would be easier to operate without them.” Thus the decision is made to abandon the Constitutional framework of the nation’s government if this plan is ever activated. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 198)
Reactivated after 9/11 - The plan they rehearse for in the COG exercises will be activated, supposedly for the first time, in the hours during and after the 9/11 attacks (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Gellman and Schmidt 3/1/2002) Mann subsequently comments, “The program is of particular interest today because it helps to explain the thinking and behavior of the second Bush Administration in the hours, days, and months after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.” (Mann 3/2004)
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North works with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to develop plans for implementing martial law in the event of a national emergency. The plans are developed under the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is designed to ensure the survival of the federal government in times of disaster. As a member of the National Security Council (NSC), North is assigned to the Emergency Mobilization Preparedness Board (EMPB), formed by President Reagan to coordinate civil defense planning among the NSC, FEMA, and White House (see December 29. 1981). According to the Miami Herald, the martial law plans would “suspend the Constitution in the event of a national crisis, such as nuclear war, violent and widespread internal dissent, or national opposition to a US military invasion abroad.” Sources will claim North is involved in a major domestic surveillance operation as part of the COG program (see 1980s and 1980s or Before). During investigations into the Iran-Contra affair, Representative Jack Brooks (D-TX) will be barred from asking North about his involvement with the plans and the secret program (see 1987). (Chardy 7/5/1987; Reynolds 1990; Ketcham 5/2008)
Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy writes a potentially explosive classified memo about arming Iraq. Murphy, along with his boss George Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, are strong proponents of supporting Iraq in its war with Iran (National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane and two of his staffers, Howard Teicher and Oliver North, support arming Iran; the argument is causing deep divides within the administration). Murphy’s memo is so sensitive that its recipients are ordered to destroy it and to keep records of its destruction. Murphy suggests that the US can arm Iraq with “dual use” items—nominally civilian items that also have military use, such as heavy trucks, armored ambulances, and communications gear. Murphy also advocates helping Iraq build a new oil pipeline that will pump oil to the Jordanian port of Aqaba, on the Israeli border, which will allow Iraq to circumvent the Iranian blockade of Iraq’s Persian Gulf ports. Murphy also mentions the State Department’s desire to fund a number of projects in Iraq through the US Export-Import bank (EXIM), chaired by Reagan appointee William Draper. Murphy writes, in part: “Liberalizing export controls on Iraq: we are considering revising present policy to permit virtually all sales of non-munitions list dual use equipment to Iraq…. Egyptian tank sales: in the context of recommending ways to improve our relations with Iraq, Egypt has suggested that we provide it additional M-60 tanks beyond those we are now providing under FMS [Foreign Military Sales]. Egypt would use the additional M-60s to replace used Soviet T-63s, which it would sell to Iraq…. EXIM financing: [Under-Secretary of State Lawrence] Eagleburger has written EXIM director Draper to urge EXIM financing of US exports to and projects in Iraq…. Such major EXIM financing could boost Iraq’s credit rating, leading to increased commercial financing for Iraq. However, EXIM does not favor involvement in Iraq.” Murphy warns that Congress might begin sniffing around the State Department’s secret policy of arming Iraq. He advocates fobbing off Congress with background briefings that emphasize “our efforts to deter escalation and bring about a cessation of hostilities.” (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
Duane Clarridge, a CIA officer who has cultivated contacts with Nicaraguan rebels, introduces National Security Council staffer Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North to the leaders of the Nicaraguan “Contras,” currently operating out of Honduras. The Contras are dedicated to the overthrow of the Socialist, democratically elected Sandinista government. Because the US government views the Sandinistas as aligned with the Communist government of Cuba, it too opposes the Sandinistas, and views the Contras as a band of “freedom fighters” worthy of support. Clarridge tells the Contra leaders that if Congress cuts off aid to the Contras in light of recent revelations that the CIA mined Nicaraguan harbors, North will continue working with them on a covert basis. (New York Times 11/19/1987)
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)
Donald Gregg, Vice President Bush’s national security and foreign policy adviser and one of the architects of the secret plan to fund the Nicaraguan Contras (see March 17, 1983), introduces his partner Felix Rodriguez to Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North of the National Security Council (NSC). North will head the NSC’s Contra resupply and funding operations. (Spartacus Schoolnet 12/28/2007)
During a flight to La Cieba, Honduras, CIA operative D.G. “Chip” Tatum is instructed to make contact with Major Felix Rodriguez, assigned by Oliver North as Tatum’s local handler. Upon arrival in La Cieba, Tatum meets Rodriguez, who then takes the crew to a CIA safe house for the night. Following dinner, Tatum and Rodriguez plan their four-month support calender. Tatum is scheduled to leave Honduras in June 1985. Tatum is instructed that in addition to flying normal MEDEVAC missions, his duties will include a covert group of missions, the control word for these missions being Pegasus, and with Pegasus missions to take priority over normal medical evacuations. Rodriguez also instructs Tatum as to his chain of command. Missions could be ordered by any of the following:
Oliver North (assistant national security advisor to the White House);
Amiram Nir (former Israeli intelligence officer (Mossad) and advisor to Vice President Bush);
Felix Rodriguez (CIA). (Tatum 1996)
The US tilts ever more sharply towards Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, even though the Reagan administration continues to maintain a posture of overt neutrality in the conflict. The administration has provided covert military aid for both sides in the struggle (see 1981 and October 1983), and has been divided over which regime to support (see January 14, 1984). It is already involved in “Operation Staunch,” a program designed by Secretary of State George Shultz to stem the flow of weapons to Iran. Now, some officials are arguing that it is time to reverse that course. Graham Fuller, the CIA’s national intelligence officer for the Middle East, writes two controversial secret memos advocating that the administration begin providing support for Iran against Iraq. Fuller is presenting a position long held by national security director Robert McFarlane and two of McFarlane’s aides, Oliver North and Howard Teicher. This pro-Iran group has recently been joined by CIA director William Casey. Both McFarlane and Casey are supportive of Fuller’s memo. Fuller writes in a May 17 memo, “Our tilt to Iraq was timely when Iraq was against the ropes and the Islamic revolution was on a roll. The time may now have to come to tilt back.” Fuller argues that the US should once again authorize Israel to ship US arms to Iran. Ironically, this is the mirror image of Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger’s argument in favor of supporting Iraq: the US must counter one covert policy with another (see Early 1982). The pro-Iranian coalition within the administration gives scant consideration to the hostage-taking of seven Americans by Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shi’ite militant group with strong ties to Iran’s theocratic regime. On May 20, Fuller circulates a second memo, called a “Special National Intelligence Estimate” (SNIE), that is only read by a handful of senior White House officials (Ronald Reagan is one of the recipients; George Bush is not). Fuller’s memo is written almost entirely for Reagan’s benefit, and in its arguments, becomes a basis for renewed arms sales to Iran and the resulting Iran-Contra scandal. Fuller evokes one of Reagan’s favorite themes, the trouncing of the Soviet Union in the global arena: “We know that the USSR views Iran as ‘the prize’ in the Gulf. Moscow will improve relations when and where it can… until it gains major influence in that state. The disturbing possibility is that the USSR is far more likely than the US to be first in finding opportunities to improve its ties to Iran.” Interestingly, in 1991, during Robert Gates’s Senate hearings on becoming the director of the CIA, it is learned that Fuller’s memo contradicts the views of career Soviet analysts at the agency, who believe that the Soviet Union has no real hope of making inroads into the Iranian regime. The USSR is the chief arms supplier for Iraq, Iran’s bitter enemy and current opponent in a long and bloody war. Iran is arming the Afghan mujaheddin, the Islamist resistance fighters viewed as a threat by Saddam Hussein. Several CIA analysts will later testify that they believe Fuller deliberately slanted his memo for political reasons. In 1992, Fuller himself will admit that he was wrong, but will deny any politicization. Regardless, Fuller’s memo becomes a critical document shaping the Reagan policy to arm Iran. It is not clear whether Vice President Bush ever saw the memo, but whether he did or not, beginning in 1985 he takes part in numerous White House meetings where the arming of Iran is discussed. If he has objections to the policy, he never voices them. (Church 11/17/1986; Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
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)
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.” (Green 2/28/2004)
Fawn Hall, the secretary to National Security Council officer Oliver North, asks North if she can borrow money from him. North gives her $60 in traveler’s checks drawn on a Central American bank, and says, as Hall will later testify to Congress (see December 19, 1986): “Make sure you return—pay back the money. It is not mine.” The money is part of the illegal funds raised by North and others for the Nicaraguan Contras. (United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 12/13/2007)
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)
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)
The National Security Council’s Oliver North persuades former CIA officer Felix Rodriguez to help him divert funds and weapons to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). Rodriguez agrees to set up the servicing of CIA transport planes and other aircraft at the Ilopango Air Base in San Salvador, El Salvador. Rodriguez works out of Ilopango, helping the Salvadoran Air Force in its own counter-insurgency activities. Rodriguez was placed at Ilopango by Donald Gregg, a former CIA agent who now serves as the foreign policy adviser to Vice President Bush (see March 17, 1983). While in El Salvador, Rodriguez uses the alias “Max Gomez.” (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
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)
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a mid-level National Security Council staff member, is put in charge of the upcoming shipment of US Hawk anti-aircraft missiles to Iran (see November 24-25, 1985). (PBS 2000)
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)
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).
Outgoing National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane and National Security Council staffer Oliver North fly to London to meet with Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms merchant. Also present at the meeting are David Kimche, of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and Israeli arms dealer Yaacov Nimrodi. McFarlane tells Ghorbanifar that the US wants to end arms sales to Iran, though the US wants to continue pursuing diplomatic relations. (New York Times 11/19/1987) The US will in actuality continue selling arms to Iran (see January 7, 1986 and January 17, 1986).
On December 12, 1985, shortly after takeoff from Gander, Newfoundland, Arrow Air Flight 1285 stalls and crashes about half a mile from the runway. All 256 passengers and crew on board are killed, including 248 US soldiers. The plane was coming from Egypt and refueling in Newfoundland before continuing on to the US. At the time, the crash is widely reported to be an accident, caused by icing on the airplane wings. Official US and Canadian investigations will also support that conclusion. However, information will later come out suggesting the crash was not an accident:
Members of Islamic Jihad, a branch of the Hezbollah militant group (and not to be confused with the Islamic Jihad group headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri), immediately take credit for the crash. In one call to the Reuters news agency in Beirut, the caller knows details of the plane flight not yet mentioned in the press.
Within hours of the crash, Maj. Gen. John Crosby arrives at the crash site and reportedly tells maintenance workers he wants to “bulldoze over the crash site immediately.” The White House also quickly publicly claims there is “no evidence of sabotage or an explosion in flight,” despite the fact that Hezbollah had just taken credit for the crash and the investigation is just beginning. While the site is not bulldozed, there is no effort to meticulously sift the wreckage for clues, which is standard procedure for such air crashes.
An FBI forensic team flies to Newfoundland within hours of the crash, but then merely sits in a hotel room. After 36 hours, the team accepts a declaration that terrorism was not involved and returns home. The FBI will later claim the Canadian government did not allow their team to visit the site. (Rowan 4/27/1992)
In 1988, the nine-member Canadian Aviation Safety Board will issue a split verdict. Five members will attribute the crash to ice formation, and four members claim it was an explosion. A former Canadian supreme court justice is appointed to decide if there should be a new investigation. He concludes that the available evidence does not support ice on the wings as being a cause, let alone a probable cause, of the crash. But he also rules against a new investigation, saying it would cause more pain to the victims’ families. (Rowan 4/27/1992; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 12/12/2005)
Later declassified autopsy reports show that soldiers had inhaled smoke in the moments before they died, indicating there had been a fire on board before the plane hit the ground. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 12/12/2005)
Five witnesses in the remote location where the plane crash will sign sworn statements that they saw the plane burning before it fell.
An examination of the fuselage will show outward holes, indicating an explosion from within.
Four members of the refueling crew will later assert there was no icing problem before the plane took off. The plane crashed about one minute after take off.
Six heavy crates had been loaded into the plane’s cargo bay in Egypt without military customs clearance. Witnesses will later claim that weapons, including TOW antitank missiles, were being stockpiled in Egypt near where the plane took off. At the time, the US was secretly selling these types of missiles to Iran as part of an arms for hostages deal.
In the wake of public exposure of the Iran-Contra Affair, it will be revealed that Arrow Air is a CIA front company and was regularly used by Lt. Col. Oliver North to ship arms.
Most of the crash victims were US Airborne troops returning from multinational peacekeeping duties in Egypt, but more than 20 Special Forces personnel were also on board. They were from elite counterterrorist units often used on hostage rescue missions.
Just days before the crash, Iranian officials threatened to retaliate after North sent them a shipment of the wrong missiles. North wrote three days earlier that he was determined to continue to arms shipments. “To stop now in midstream, would ignite Iranian fire. Hostages would be our minimum losses.” One theory is that Iran used militant surrogates connected to Hezbollah to punish North for sending the wrong missiles. (Rowan 4/27/1992)
Gene Wheaton, a private investigator hired by victims’ relatives unsatisfied with the official explanation, later claims that a duffel bag stuffed with US currency was found in the wreckage. Two men in civilian clothes, who other personnel at the crash cite believe were from the CIA, took custody of the money. Neither the money nor the heavy crates will be mentioned by the official investigation.
In the early 1990s, two Time magazine reporters will be writing a book about the BCCI bank scandal. They will develop a reliable source, a private arms dealer using the alias Heinrich. Heinrich tells the reporters that a large amount of cash was on the Gander flight, and he tells them this before any accounts of cash being on the plane are reported in the media. Heinrich, who takes part in numerous arms deals with high-level BCCI officials, will tell the reporters: “This money on the plane was money that [BCCI founder Agha Hasan] Abedi, money that the bank had provided US intelligence for covert operations. The money was being used by the American military. I have no idea what for. You don’t ask these kinds of questions of these people.…. One of the bank men—perhaps I should call him an associate of the bank men—was a little angry about this money. He believed it was being, ah, appropriated, by some of the special forces soldiers. Someone else thought perhaps it was being diverted to another operation. I only know that the subject of the Gander crash came up, and these people talked about BCCI money going down with it.” (Beaty and Gwynne 1993, pp. 231-233)
Months before the National Security Council (NSC)‘s Oliver North sets up his network to illegally divert funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986), the NSC uses the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI—see July 22, 1991) to channel money to the Contras. This money is sent from White House-controlled funds to Saudi Arabia to “launder” its origins, then deposited into a BCCI bank account controlled by Contra leader Adolfo Calero. (Lacayo, Beaty, and van Voorst 7/22/1991)
National Security Council officer Oliver North, running the secret and illegal network that diverts funds from US-Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986), has a phone conversation with CIA official Alan Fiers (see Summer 1986). A diary entry by North documenting the conversation reads in part, “Felix talking too much about V.P. connection.” “Felix” is CIA agent Felix Rodriguez, a key member of North’s network (see May 27, 1987). It is not clear whether the “V.P.” notation refers to Vice President George H. W. Bush or to former CIA official Donald Gregg, now Bush’s foreign policy adviser and a liaison to Rodriguez. In later testimony before the Iran-Contra Congressional committee (see May 5, 1987), Gregg will deny that Bush’s office was involved in recruiting Rodriguez to work with North. (Lacayo, Beaty, and van Voorst 7/22/1991) Gregg has a long and clandestine relationship with Rodriguez, going back as far as 1959, when the two were involved in “Operation 40,” a CIA-led attempt to overthrow Cuba’s Fidel Castro. (Spartacus Schoolnet 2/3/2008) Gregg also worked with Rodriguez in covert operations during the Vietnam War. (Spartacus Schoolnet 12/28/2007)
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)
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)
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).
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)
Gene Wheaton, a former Marine and CIA asset who served as a counter-terrorism adviser to the Shah of Iran and the current co-owner of a cargo airline called National Air, had agreed to help the Reagan administration run supplies and arms to the Nicaraguan Contras. However, Wheaton sours on the deal when he learns that retired General Richard Secord is heading that portion of the operation (see November 19, 1985). Wheaton formed a poor opinion of Secord and Secord’s colleague, the National Security Council’s Oliver North, during a 1985 attempt to win federal contracts to supply humanitarian aid to insurgents such as the Contras and the mujaheddin of Afghanistan. Wheaton reveals his knowledge of the secret Contra supply program to William Casey, the head of the CIA. But Casey says the government is not involved in the program, and refuses to take action. Wheaton will discuss his limited knowledge of the program with reporters from the San Francisco Examiner, resulting in embarrassing questions for Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. (Spartacus Schoolnet 12/28/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet 12/29/2007)
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)
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)
A delegation secretly sent to Iran by the White House to break the arms-for-hostages deadlock (see November 3, 1986) returns to Iran. The two countries have been at an impasse since January, when President Reagan authorized the sale of 4,000 antitank missiles to Iran but US officials insisted that all of the American hostages held by Hezbollah be freed before the missiles would be delivered, a condition the Iranians have refused (see January 17, 1986). The US delegation—actually the third such delegation to secretly visit Tehran—includes former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane; McFarlane’s longtime supporter and current National Security Council member Oliver North; CIA expert George Cave; and North’s NSC colleague, Howard Teicher. Israel, which will facilitate the arms transfer, sends Amiram Nir, a counterterrorism adviser to Prime Minister Shimon Peres. (Church 11/17/1986; Waas and Unger 11/2/1992) McFarlane and North bring with them more spare parts for Iran’s Hawk anti-aircraft missiles. They attempt, and fail, to persuade the Iranians to facilitate the release of all American hostages. (New York Times 11/19/1987) The delegation’s mission has borne no fruit, as the Iranians insisted on “sequencing,” or releasing the hostages two at a time as arms shipments were delivered. Part of the problem surrounds the Iranians’ belief that they are being charged outrageous prices for the missiles, a perception given credence by the fact that profits from the weapons sales are being used to fund Nicaragua’s Contra rebel movement. (Church 11/17/1986; Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
Unusual Negotiation Tactics - Part of the negotiations involves North, the NSC staffer who coordinates the administration’s dealings with the Contras, offering the Iranians a Bible signed by President Reagan and a chocolate cake. In response, the Iranians stall. Hezbollah will release a few US hostages and take others hostage, maintaining the status quo. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 65)
Explicit Briefing of President, Vice President - McFarlane later briefs both Reagan and Vice President Bush on the arms-for-hostage negotiations (see May 29, 1986).
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, the NSC staffer running the Iran-Contra arms deals, informs National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane that money from the sales of arms to Iran is being diverted to the Nicaraguan Contras (see April 4, 1986). (PBS 2000) North informed Israeli officials of the diversion five months before (see December 6, 1985).
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)
To facilitate the donation of funds from the Sultan of Brunei to the Nicaraguan Contras (see After May 16, 1986 and June 11, 1986), Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams obtains bank account information from the National Security Council’s Oliver North, on a card typed by North’s secretary, Fawn Hall. Hall accidentally transposed two numbers in the account, resulting in the eventual transfer of the funds to the wrong account. (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).
Vice President Bush, planning to leave for Iraq on a secret errand to persuade Saddam Hussein to escalate his bombing of Iranian targets in order to increase pressure on Iran to release American hostages (see July 28-August 3, 1986), is briefed by two top National Security Council aides, Oliver North and Howard Teicher, before leaving for the Middle East. Teicher will later recall: “We told him what the status was, that [US] arms had gone to Iran. We were preparing him for a possible briefing by either [Shimon Peres, the prime minister of Israel] or [Amiram] Nir [Peres’s counterterrorism adviser]. We didn’t want him to discuss it with anyone else, for security reasons. He asked us some questions, but he didn’t express any opinions.” While Bush will repeatedly deny ever discussing the Iranian arms sales with William Casey (see July 23, 1986), a former CIA official will say in 1992 that Casey did brief Bush extensively about the program. “Casey felt Bush had a methodical, orderly manner for the task,” the official will say. “[Casey] had great confidence in him to carry it out. He said he briefed Bush in great detail about the initiative to bomb Iran.” (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
Vice President Bush meets with several national leaders during his trip to the Middle East (see July 28-August 3, 1986). Ostensibly Bush is visiting the region to “advance the peace process,” but in reality his trip has three reasons: to raise his own public profile as an experienced hand in foreign relations for his upcoming presidential bid, to negotiate for the release of US hostages held by Iran, and to secretly pressure Iraq to increase its bombing of Iran to aid in those negotiations.
Meeting with the Israelis - Bush meets briefly with Amiram Nir in Jerusalem. Nir, a close friend of Oliver North’s and a counterterrorism adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, meets with Bush at North’s behest. Bush will later characterize his meeting with Nir as “generally about counterterrorism,” and will admit obliquely that the two did have “some discussion of arms sales as a means to ‘reach out to moderate elements’ in the Iranian government. Arms sales would ‘establish bona fides’ with the moderate element, who ‘might use their influence with the people who were holding the hostages.’” However, the meeting is later described very differently by others, including Craig Fuller, Bush’s chief of staff, who is present at the meeting; according to Fuller, the two discuss the arms-for-hostages deal in great detail, including specifics about what arms will be delivered, and both are ready to negotiate with the Islamic radicals of the Khomeini regime who control the American hostages. The hostages are to be released in a group in return for 4,000 US-made antitank missiles. Nir himself reports the contents of the meeting to Peres, and his later account of it is virtually identical to Fuller’s. Nir also notes that his biggest question—how to get the Iranians to release the hostages all at once and not one or two at a time—went unanswered by Bush. “The [vice president] made no commitments nor did he give any direction to Nir,” Fuller notes.
Meeting with King Hussein - Bush then flies to Jordan to meet with King Hussein. Their meeting has an element not divulged to the press: Hussein has often been used as an intermediary between Reagan officials and Iraq. The CIA uses Jordan as a conduit to pass intelligence to Iraq, with the Jordanian involvement providing critical “deniability.” Bush tells the king that Iraq needs to be more aggressive in its war with Iran if it wants to win the war, and tells Hussein to tell the Iraqis to use its air force more expansively. Hussein promises to pass the message along.
Meeting with Mubarak - Bush then jets to Egypt to meet with its president, Hosni Mubarak. Reporters note that Bush tells Mubarak that the US cannot increase aid to Egypt. They are unaware that Bush asks Mubarak to pass along the same message that he has asked of King Hussein: to exhort Iraq to step up its air war against Iran. By the time Bush speaks with Mubarak, the NSA, monitoring Jordanian-Iraqi communications, learns that Hussein has already passed along the message. The talking points for Bush’s meeting with Mubarak are authored by Teicher. (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992; Affidavit. United States v. Carlos Cardoen, et al. [Charge that Teledyne Wah Chang Albany illegally provided a proscribed substance, zirconium, to Cardoen Industries and to Iraq] 1/31/1995 ; Windrem 8/18/2002)
Vice President Bush, secretly planning to ask Iraq to increase its bombing of Iran in order to give the US more leverage in its hostage negotiations with Iran (see July 23, 1986), leaves for the Middle East on July 28. The trip is given a public face as an attempt by Bush to, as he tells reporters, “advance the peace process.” His political handlers, already thinking about the 1988 presidential elections, want to increase his public stature as a potential world leader. Bush is accompanied by his wife Barbara, a platoon of reporters, and a television crew hired by his political action committee to document the trip for future campaign purposes. But his staffers play down the possible impact of the trip. “This is not a trip designed to establish new breakthroughs,” says one Bush adviser. “It’s like tending a garden. If you don’t tend the garden, the weeds grow up. And I think there are a lot of weeds in that garden.” Much of the trip, such as the visit to Jordan, is planned primarily as a series of photo opportunities, with Bush’s PR team even exhorting the Jordanians to feature camels in each shot (camels are few in Jordan).
Hostage Break - Bush learns while still in flight that an American hostage, the Reverend Lawrence Jenco, has just been released by his Hezbollah captors, most likely at the behest of the Iranians (see January 8, 1985). Jenco’s release, according to reporters Murray Waas and Craig Unger, is “a measure of Iran’s deep ambivalence about the negotiations. Iran need[s] weapons and [does] not want the deal to die. At the same time, the Iranians [a]re apoplectic because, according to their estimates, they were being overcharged by six hundred per cent [for US weapons], and they had not yet received parts for two hundred and forty Hawk missiles.” Jenco’s release is in return for the US expediting the shipment of the missile parts. (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992; Affidavit. United States v. Carlos Cardoen, et al. [Charge that Teledyne Wah Chang Albany illegally provided a proscribed substance, zirconium, to Cardoen Industries and to Iraq] 1/31/1995 ; Windrem 8/18/2002)
Effectiveness of the Message - Bush meets with several regional leaders, including Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak (see July 28-August 3, 1986). In the 48 hours following the meeting with Mubarak, Iraq launches 359 air strikes against Iran, including numerous strikes far deeper into Iran than it has done before. Apparently the message was effective. In return, while Bush is still “advancing the peace process,” the CIA begins providing the Iraqis with highly classified tactical information about Iranian military movements and strike targets. Evidently Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, previously suspicious of US motives and advice, felt more confident in the battle strategies advocated by such a high-level US official. When Bush returns to Washington on August 5, he is debriefed by Casey. According to one Casey aide, “Casey kept the return briefing very close to his vest. But he said Bush was supportive of the initiative and had carried out his mission.” (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
Costa Rica’s newly elected president, Oscar Arias Sanchez, a foe of the Nicaraguan Contras, is outraged to learn of the deal made by his predecessor for a Contra airstrip in the northern portion of his country (see Summer 1985). He stops its use for Contra resupply. On September 6, 1986, CIA agent Felix Rodriguez, the liaison for National Security Council officer Oliver North in the region (see Mid-September 1985), informs North and CIA official Alan Fiers that Arias intends to hold a press conference denouncing the airstrip, revealing its construction by North’s partner, retired General Richard Secord, and announcing that its existence is a violation of Costa Rican law. North discusses the impending conference with Fiers, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, and the US Ambassador to Costa Rica, Lewis Tambs. They mull over informing Arias that he will never be allowed in the White House, and will never get any of the $80 million promised to Costa Rica by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) if the airstrip is revealed. Tambs passes along these threats, and the press conference is initially canceled. Fiers later testifies (see July 17, 1991) that he, North, and Abrams are worried that the public revelation of the airstrip will expose the connections between the Contras, North, and the White House. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993) In late September, Costa Rica will publicly reveal the existence of the airstrip (see September 25, 1986).
National Security Council officer Oliver North, who was involved in the solicitation of a secret $10 million donation from Brunei to the Contras (see After May 16, 1986), is puzzled as to why the money is not in the Swiss bank account set up to handle the funds (see August 9-19, 1986). Unbeknownst to North, a transcription error sent the money to the wrong account (see Late June, 1986). North has just received a cable from the US Ambassador to Brunei, Barrington King, stating that “[t]hose on the receiving end here cannot confirm consummation of arrangements. But they tell us that this is not unusual in view of the process involved. If you are asked on this point, we suggest that simply say that the material is apparently still in the pipe-line.” Three days later, White House officials ask King to have Brunei officials ask for a bank trace of the funds. When the money is not receipted to the account by September 26, officials in both Washington and Brunei become concerned, though the Sultan of Brunei tells US officials that “because of the procedures that had been used we might have to wait for a short while more before the transaction is completed.” (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
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)
Costa Rica’s Minister of Public Security holds a press conference and announces the discovery of an illegal airstrip in northern Costa Rica that is being used to resupply the Nicaraguan Contras (see Summer 1985). US government officials have tried unsuccessfully to threaten the Costa Rican government with the loss of US aid if they make their knowledge of the airstrip public (see Early September 1986). But two of the US officials closely involved with the Contras, National Security Council officer Oliver North and CIA officer Alan Fiers, succeed in planting a false cover story about the airstrip for the press conference. The cover story denies any US government involvement in securing the airstrip or having it built, portraying it as a rogue operation by private Contra supporters. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
On the same day that CIA worker Eugene Hasenfus survives the destruction of his transport plane over Nicaragua (see October 5, 1986), Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, the National Security Council staffer who is heavily involved in the secret arming of the Nicaraguan Contras, is on his way to Frankfurt, Germany. North is slated to negotiate with representatives of the Iranian government. But news of Hasenfus’s capture forces North to cut short the negotiations and fly back to Washington for damage control. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 65)
CIA cargo handler Eugene Hasenfus, in the custody of Nicaraguan officials after his transport plane filled with weapons and supplies for the Contras was shot down (see October 5, 1986), publicly states that he had made ten other trips to ferry arms and supplies to the Contras. Six of those were from the Ilopango airfield in El Salvador (see Mid-September 1985). He also states that he worked closely with two CIA agents, “Max Gomez” and “Ramon Medina.” “Gomez” is actually Felix Rodriguez, who serves as the liaison between the Contras and National Security Council officer Oliver North. “Medina” is another CIA operative, Rafael Quintero. Hasenfus says that Gomez and Medina oversaw the housing for the crews, transportation, refueling, and flight plans. The same day as Hasenfus’s public statement, Nicaraguan officials reveal that one of Hasenfus’s crew members, who died in the crash, carried cards issued by the Salvadoran Air Force identifying them as US advisers. And, the Nicaraguans claim, one of the crew members had a business card identifying him as an official with the US’s Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office (NHAO—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; Spartacus Schoolnet 12/29/2007)
The Reagan administration, reeling from the revelation that it has illegally armed the Nicaraguan Contras (see October 5, 1986), attempts to conceal its workings in Nicaragua. In a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, joined by CIA officials, assures committee members that the US government is not involved in supplying the Contras. According to the witnesses, the CIA claims it had nothing to do with Eugene Hasenfus, the cargo handler who survived the recent downing of a CIA transport plane and in doing so revealed the existence of the illegal arms deals. Supposedly, the only involvement by US officials was to offer public encouragement. The committee Democrats do not believe anything Abrams or the CIA officials say, but at least one committee member, Dick Cheney (R-WY) offers his support. According to the summary written by the administration staffer taking notes that day, “Mr. Cheney said he found our ignorance credible.” There is far more going on than the committee Democrats know—or than Cheney will tell them. For years, Cheney has been urging Congress to authorize aid to the Contras, but the majority Democrats have been inconsistent in their support. As authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later characterize the situation, Abrams, a self-described former socialist turned enthusiastic neoconservative, and others in the administration, such as National Security Council staffer Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, have now taken matters into their own hands (see October 5, 1986), in direct violation of US law. Committee Democrats are as yet unaware that Reagan officials such as North have also been negotiating arms-for-hostages deals with Iran, in a covert three-way deal involving Iran, the US, and the Contras (see November 3, 1986). (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 65)
The Lebanese weekly Al Shiraa publishes an article reporting that the US has been sending spare parts and ammunition for US-made jet fighters to Iran in return for Iran facilitating the release of American hostages held by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah (see September 15, 1985). It also reports that national security adviser Robert McFarlane and four other US officials, including his aide Oliver North, visited Tehran in September 1986 and met with several high-level Iranian officials, who asked for more US military equipment (see Late May, 1986). After the meeting, the report says, four C-130 transports airlifted the arms to Iran from a US base in the Philippines. The flight of the transports has never been confirmed, but the rest of the report is essentially factual. It is unclear where Al Shiraa got its information; the publication has close ties to Syrian officials, and it is possible that the Syrians leaked the information in order to destabilize any possible thawing of relations between the US and Iran, perhaps with an eye to increasing Syria’s own influence in Iran. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, quickly confirms McFarlane’s visit, but adds elements to the story that many from all sides of the issue find hard to believe, including claims that McFarlane and his companions used Irish passports to enter Iran, and were posing as the flight crew of a plane carrying military equipment Iran had purchased from international arms dealers. Rafsanjani claims that McFarlane and his companions brought gifts of a Bible signed by Ronald Reagan, a cake shaped like a key (to symbolize an opening of better relations between Iran and the US), and a number of Colt pistols to be given to Iranian officials. Rafsanjani says that he and other Iranian officials were outraged at the visit, kept McFarlane and his party under virtual house arrest for five days, and threw them out, sparking the following complaint from McFarlane: “You are nuts. We have come to solve your problems, but this is how you treat us. If I went to Russia to buy furs, [Mikhail] Gorbachev would come to see me three times a day.” US officials say that Rafsanjani’s embellishments are sheer invention designed to humiliate the US and bolster Iran’s perception around the world. They confirm that McFarlane, North, and two bodyguards did visit Tehran, but bore neither Bible, cake, nor pistols; they did stay in Tehran four or five days, and met with numerous Iranian officials, perhaps including Rafsanjani. The officials are unclear about exactly what was accomplished, though apparently no new deals were concluded.
US Arms Deals with Iran Revealed - Though Rafsanjani’s account may be fanciful in its details, the effect of the Al Shiraa report is to blow the cover off of the US’s complex arms-for-hostage deals with Iran. While Al Shiraa does not mention the hostage deal, Rafsanjani does, saying that if the US and France meet certain conditions—the unfreezing of Iranian financial assets and the release of what he calls political prisoners held “in Israel and other parts of the world,” then “as a humanitarian gesture we will let our friends in Lebanon know our views” about the release of American and French hostages. On November 17, Time magazine will write of the Al Shiraa revelation, “As long as the deep secret was kept—even from most of the US intelligence community—the maneuver in one sense worked. Iran apparently leaned on Lebanese terrorists to set free three American hostages… . But once the broad outlines of the incredible story became known, the consequences were dire. The administration appeared to have violated at least the spirit, and possibly the letter, of a long succession of US laws that are intended to stop any arms transfers, direct or indirect, to Iran. Washington looked to be sabotaging its own efforts to organize a worldwide embargo against arms sales to Iran, and hypocritically flouting its incessant admonitions to friends and allies not to negotiate with terrorists for the release of their captives. America’s European allies, the recipients of much of that nagging, were outraged. Moreover, the US was likely to forfeit the trust of moderate Arab nations that live in terror of Iranian-fomented Islamic fundamentalist revolutions and fear anything that might build up Tehran’s military machine. Finally, the administration seemed to have lost at least temporarily any chance of gaining the release of the missing six US hostages in Lebanon, or of cultivating the Iranian politicians who might sooner or later take over from [the Ayatollah] Khomeini.” (Church 11/17/1986; New York Times 11/19/1987; Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
'Cowboy' Operation in the West Wing - The arms-for-hostages deal is run from the National Security Council by a small group of NSC staffers under the supervision of North; the group is collectively known as the “cowboys.” A government official says in November 1986, “This thing was run out of the West Wing [of the White House]. It was a vest-pocket, high-risk business.”
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)
National Security Council (NSC) officer Oliver North, the prime coordinator of the illegal funding of the Nicaraguan Contras in the Reagan administration, leads a coordinated effort to alter, remove, and destroy critical documents that could prove criminal intent in the burgeoning Iran-Contra investigation (see November 21-25, 1986). The enormity of the destruction of government records earns the incident the sobriquet “Ollie’s shredding party.” A key figure in the document shredding is North’s secretary, Fawn Hall. Hall, whose mother Wilma was the secretary for North’s former NSC boss, Robert McFarlane, will reluctantly become one of the first, and most damning, witnesses for Lawrence Walsh’s independent investigation of the Iran-Contra affair (see December 19, 1986). Hall has been, in the words of Walsh’s prosecutors, “generally aware” of North’s involvement in both providing illegal funds to the Contras and in illegally selling arms to Iran, maintaining his records and typing his memoranda and letters. Though she knows of the illegal activities, because she did not participate in meetings or telephone conversations with other key figures in the affair, she will later be able to testify, “I did not know many of the details relevant to the Iran and Contra initiatives.” Hall’s participation in North’s “shredding party” is her first direct participation in any criminal activities surrounding the Iran-Contra affair. After North learns that the Department of Justice is opening an inquiry into the sale of arms to Iran, North secures a number of documents from NSC files showing that he had violated the Boland Amendment (see October 10, 1984) by aiding the Contras. North marks the documents with handwritten revisions, changing the text to make it seem as if North had not violated the law. He then gives the documents to Hall, asking her to retype them to include his corrections and then replace them in the files. Hall does so, but does not finish the alterations before North calls her in to help him shred documents, including notes and phone records. Hall later estimates that she and North shredded documents in piles of 12-18 pages for close to an hour, shredding in all a stack of documents almost two feet high. The shredding and alterations continue through November 23. She will later testify that she had never shredded such a large quantity of documents. (Reeves 2005, pp. 367; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 12/13/2007)
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)
Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, who has already lied repeatedly under oath to Congress about third-party funding of the Contras (see October 10-14, 1986), lies again to the Senate Intelligence Committee about his knowledge of any such funding (see August 9-19, 1986). Appearing before the committee with senior CIA official Alan Fiers, who has himself lied to Congress about the same activities, Abrams tells the committee: “Well, we—after the Hasenfus shootdown (see October 5, 1986) we were asked about, you know, what did you know about the funding of Hasenfus and his operation. And the answer here is the same answer. That is, that we knew there were private contributions coming in, because they sure weren’t surviving on the money that we were giving them, which at one time was nothing and then the 27 million came along (see August 1985). So there was money coming in. But there was no reason to think it was coming from foreign governments, and I certainly did not inquire as to which individuals it was coming from.” Abrams denies ever discussing third-party funding with anyone on the National Security Council staff, which would include Oliver North, Abrams’s partner in the $10 million Brunei deal (see June 11, 1986). A frankly disbelieving Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) says: “Well, you would say gee, they got a lot of problems, they don’t have any money. Then you would just sit there and say, what are we going to do? They don’t have any money. You never said, you know, maybe we could get the money this way?” Abrams replies: “No.… We’re not—you know, we’re not in the fundraising business.” Two weeks later, Abrams will “correct” his testimony, but will still insist that he knows nothing of any such third-party funding. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
After Oliver North is fired by President Reagan over his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair (see November 25, 1986), North’s secretary Fawn Hall (who was also fired) recalls that she has not finished shredding documents that North had ordered destroyed (see November 21-23, 1986). She also realizes that other documents relating to the Iran arms sales and the Contra funding have not yet been destroyed. Hall is not allowed to remove any documents from the suite of offices used by North and other NSC officers. To avoid detection, Hall conceals documents in her clothing, inserting some inside her boots and others inside the back of her skirt. She receives the assistance of another NSC officer, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Earl, who helps her sneak documents out of the office suite. Earl also helps her adjust the documents so they cannot be seen under her clothes. During the process, Hall telephones North, who is not in the office; fearful of being overheard, she whispers to him that there is a problem with the documents and he needs to come in. He agrees, and says that he will be joined by his lawyer, Thomas Green. After Green and North arrive, the two men help shield Hall as she leaves the building with the documents hidden on her person. After the three get into Green’s car, Hall gives North the documents, and tells him that other potentially incriminating materials are still in the offices. Green drops Hall and North off in a parking lot, and, as Hall is leaving the vehicle, Green asks her what she will say if asked about the shredding. Hall replies that she will say, “We shred every day.” Green responds, “Good.” (United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 12/13/2007)
Two days after sneaking classified documents out of the National Security Council (see November 25, 1986), Oliver North’s secretary, Fawn Hall, downplays the significance of the “shredding party” she and North engaged in days before, when they had worked to destroy evidence of North’s criminal activities surrounding the Iran-Contra affair (see November 21-23, 1986). When asked by Jay Stephens of the White House counsel’s office about reports of her and North shredding documents in North’s office, Hall replies as she has been coached to respond by North’s lawyer, Thomas Green. Hall later testifies, “I told him that we shred every day, and I led him to believe that there was nothing unusual about what had occurred.” (United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 12/13/2007)
Oliver North’s secretary, Fawn Hall, learns that she is to be interviewed by the FBI over her knowledge of North’s illegal activities surrounding Iran-Contra (see November 21-25, 1986). She and two of North’s colleagues at the National Security Council (NSC), Lieutenant Colonel Robert Earl and Commander Craig Coy, discuss the upcoming interview. The three agree that they will not tell the FBI about Hall’s illegal removal of classified documents from NSC offices (see November 25, 1986). (United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 12/13/2007)
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. (Boyd 3/17/1987; Nation 3/28/1987)
During the hearings on the Iran-Contra affair, Representative Jack Brooks (D-TX) puts a question to National Security Council officer Colonel Oliver North about a secret plan he has developed to suspend the constitution and intern people in the event of an emergency (see 1982-1984). Referring to a recent article in the Miami Herald, he asks: “Colonel North, in your work at the NSC, were you not assigned at one time to work on plans for the continuity of government in the event of a major disaster.” However, Senator Daniel Inouye (D-H), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Iran-Contra, immediately cuts Brooks off, saying, “I believe that question touches upon a highly sensitive and classified area, so may I request that you not touch upon that, sir.” Brooks pushes for an answer, saying: “I read in Miami papers and several others that there had been a plan by that same agency [FEMA]… that would suspend the American Constitution. I was deeply concerned about that and wondered if that was the area in which he [North] had worked.” Nevertheless, no answer is allowed to be given. (US Congress 1987; Ketcham 5/2008)
CIA Director William Casey abruptly resigns due to terminal brain cancer (see December 18, 1986). Casey’s illness makes him unavailable to testify before the Congressional Iran-Contra investigation, a huge boon for committee Republicans who are determined to keep the truth of Iran-Contra from being revealed (see January 6-7, 1987). Casey had been one of the prime movers behind the Iran arms sales, and was National Security Council staffer Oliver North’s prime supervisor in what insiders call “the Enterprise”—the ad hoc organization run by North and retired General Richard Secord (see November 19, 1985) that trained, supplied, and even at times fought for Nicaragua’s Contras. North and Secord’s organization managed to evade Congressional oversight and ignore laws passed to limit US involvement in the Nicaraguan insurgency (see October 10, 1984). According to upcoming testimony from North, Casey saw “the Enterprise” as such a success that it should serve as a model for other US covert operations around the globe. It was Casey’s idea to have foreign countries such as Saudi Arabia (see July, 1984) and Brunei (see June 11, 1986) supply money to the Contras, over the objections of White House officials such as Secretary of State George Shultz, who told Casey in reference to the phrase “quid pro quo” that he should remember that “every quid had a quo.” As one Democratic congressmen later puts it, Casey was the “godfather” of the entire Iran-Contra operation, and his unavailability to the committee is a tremendous blow to its ability to find the truth. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 70)
Fawn Hall, who was NSC official Oliver North’s secretary and who helped North destroy critical documents pertaining to the Iran-Contra affair (see November 21-23, 1986), admits lying to the FBI about the removal and destruction of documents. In January, Hall told FBI investigators that she had indeed secretly removed documents from the NSC offices by hiding them in her clothes (see November 25, 1986), but had only taken out computer printouts of North’s notes. Now she admits that she secretly removed some of the original documents that North had ordered her to alter to conceal his criminal activities. (United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 12/13/2007)
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)
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)
Former CIA Director William Casey (see February 2, 1987) dies as a result of his inoperable brain cancer. Casey was a key figure in the Iran-Contra machinations. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later write, “In death he would become a helpful scapegoat for Oliver North and a resting place for missing information that would have filled out the contours of the scandal.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 70) Casey had been named as one of the architects of the scheme to use profits from illegal arms sales to Iran to secretly fund the Nicaraguan Contras (see May 5, 1987). He had been hospitalized since April 25, and unable to testify in the Iran-Contra hearings. The immediate cause of death is what doctors call “aspiration pneumonia,” which may mean that Casey inhaled food or food particles in his lungs that set up a toxic chemical reaction. A physician not involved in Casey’s treatment says that Casey may have had trouble swallowing properly. The hospital in Glen Cove, Long Island refuses to give any more details. Despite the swirling Iran-Contra controversy, President Reagan says of his longtime colleague and friend: “His nation and all those who love freedom honor today the name and memory of Bill Casey. In addition to crediting him with rebuilding America’s intelligence capability, history will note the brilliance of his mind and strategic vision, his passionate commitment to the cause of freedom and his unhesitating willingness to make personal sacrifices for the sake of that cause and his country.” (Pace 5/7/1987)
CIA operative Felix Rodriguez testifies before the Iran-Contra committee (see May 5, 1987). Rodriguez, a Cuban exile and former US Army officer, is notorious for his involvement in the execution of South American revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara in 1967. Rodriguez also ran covert assassination operations for the CIA during the Vietnam War. Rodriguez’s connection to the White House was through Donald Gregg, the national security adviser to Vice President Bush (see March 17, 1983). Gregg had helped station Rodriguez at an airport in El Salvador, where Rodriguez could, under the pseudonym “Max Gomez,” manage the Contra resupply operation for Oliver North and Richard Secord (see Mid-September 1985 and November 19, 1985). CIA cargo handler Eugene Hasenfus (see October 5, 1986) told his Sandinista captors that “Max Gomez” was his contact with the CIA. Rodriguez’s testimony is potentially explosive, but committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) has no interest in eliciting any such infomation. Instead, he invites Rodriguez to launch a well-scripted diatribe against allowing the Soviet Union to establish a Communist foothold in Latin America. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 73-74)
Fawn Hall, the former secretary to fired National Security Council officer Oliver North (see November 25, 1986), defends her illegal actions in helping North destroy evidence of his criminal activities in the Iran-Contra affair (see November 21-23, 1986). Testifying before the House and Senate, Hall says, “There are times when you have to go above the written law.” (Reeves 2005, pp. 400; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 12/13/2007)
Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter listens with horrified fascination as Oliver North testifies to the Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee (see July 7-10, 1987) about the 1985 apprehension of the Arab terrorists who had hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro. North accuses unnamed members of Congress of being untrustworthy by leaking the military details of the hijackers’ capture to the press. Alter is fully aware that North is lying—in fact, North himself leaked the information about the capture to reporters. Alter is sure that North believes he will not be exposed because reporters do not, as a rule, reveal their sources. Though North did not speak to Alter himself about the Achille Lauro capture operation, Alter exposes North as the leaker. Alter will later write: “This didn’t exactly make me Mr. Popularity with my colleagues or with North, who threatened to sue. But I would do it all over again.” (Alter 10/13/2003)
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.” (Siegel 7/9/1987)
Impact on Public Opinion - Results will differ on North’s popularity with viewers (see July 9-31, 1987).
Public opinion is sharply divided on the testimony, believability, and popularity of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North after his testimony before Congress’s Iran-Contra committee (see July 7-10, 1987). A Washington Post/ABC News poll shows 64 percent of those surveyed have a “favorable opinion” of North after watching his testimony. But the “scores of letters received” by the Post was almost exactly opposite, with two-thirds expressing disapproval or reservations about North’s testimony. The Post reports, “Of 130 letters that could be categorized easily as either favorable or unfavorable, 39 were favorable, 91 unfavorable.” One of the unfavorable letters reads in part: “I wish to register an emphatic voice that does not join in the general adulation of… North. He is certainly bright, articulate, sincere and dedicated—but not to the basics of democracy, the rule of law or the tenets of the Constitution.” One favorable letter characterizes North as “the guy we thought we were voting for when we voted for Reagan,” and lauds North for “his endeavor to help release our hostages, get a better relationship with Iran and most of all support the Nicaraguan contras with both military arms and humanitarian supplies.” Many of the letters in support of North chastize the media. One letter writer accuses the Post and the television news media of mocking North throughout his testimony, and concludes that after North’s performance, “the media have, at long last, been hoist on their own petard.” The Post reports that “the mix of letters” is “evidently not so very different from that received at other newspapers across the country,” with “letters editors at the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times all reported more mail against North. USA Today said the mail is now running 50-50 after an initial flurry of mail in North’s favor.” According to Gallup Polls president Andrew Kohut, letter writers are more articulate, more involved in public affairs, and more politicized than people who don’t write. Also, “people who hold intense attitudes tend to write…” (Stearns 7/31/1987) Television news anchors and pundits are equally divided. NBC’s Tom Brokaw says North “performed the congressional equivalent of a grand slam, a touchdown, a hole-in-one, a knockout. You can almost hear his supporters around the country chanting ‘Ol-lie, Ol-lie, Ol-lie.’” But CBS’s Dan Rather asks why North did not do as he had sworn to do and take all the blame for the Iran-Contra machinations: “Whatever happened to the idea that he would take arrows in his chest?” (Siegel 7/9/1987)
On the last day of Oliver North’s testimony to the Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee (see July 7-10, 1987), ranking Republican Dick Cheney handles the questioning. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will observe that the questioning is more of “a duet than an interrogation.”
Praise from Cheney to North - Cheney opens by praising North’s handling of the hearings, saying, “I know I speak for a great many people who have been watching the proceedings, because the Congress has been absolutely buried in the favorable public reaction to your testimony and phone calls and telegrams” (see July 9-31, 1987). North has taken to stacking piles of supportive telegrams on his witness table; what he and Cheney do not tell those watching the hearings is that Western Union is offering a half-price special on pro-North telegrams sent to the committee.
Obvious Orchestration - Dubose and Bernstein later write that Cheney and North’s session is so perfectly carried out that it seems scripted and rehearsed, “complete with programmed queries and answers not available to everyone else.” Committee co-chairman Warren Rudman (R-NH) later says, “It was apparent to me that there was coordination going on.” Bruce Fein, the Republican staff’s chief of research, later admits that there was indeed such collaboration, though he says it was nothing more than “coordinat[ing] strategy.” Cheney and North’s duet paints North as nothing more than a guy who wanted “to cut through red tape” to save Nicaragua from Communism. North takes the opportunity to portray the selfless hero: “Hang whatever you want around the neck of Ollie North… but for the love of God and the love of this nation, don’t hang around Ollie North’s neck the cutoff of funds to the Nicaraguan resistance again. This country cannot stand that, not just because of Nicaragua, but because of all the other nations in the world who look at us and measure by what we do now in Nicaragua, the measure of our whole commitment to their cause. To things like NATO, to things like our commitment to peace and democracy elsewhere in the world.”
'Turnaround from Defense to Offense [Is] Complete' - Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The two men were now in the zone, a parallel radical-right fantasyland, blissfully ignoring the damage to America’s reputation caused by the administration’s support for the Contras and its willingness to barter weapons for hostages with Iran and Hezbollah.” Cheney and North ignore the World Court’s condemnation of the US mining of Nicaraguan harbors, the Contras’ attacks on civilian targets such as medical centers while refusing to engage the Sandinista forces themselves, which had inflamed outrage in Europe, and the ridicule that Iranian hardliners had subjected US attempts to open negotiations. Cheney’s questioning strategy is so successful that he is able to offer North his remaining time to present a slideshow on why funding the Contras is so important. Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The turnaround from defense to offense was complete.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 75-78, 80)
Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage, who has attended some of Oliver North’s Restricted Interagency Group (RIG) meetings (see Late 1985 and After and July 1986 and After), testifies before the Joint House-Senate Committee investigating Iran-Contra (see May 5, 1987). Armitage is asked about RIG meetings in which North recited a list of his activities in coordinating the Contras, discussed the private funding of the Contras, and demanded item-by-item approval from group members: “[D]o you recall, regardless of what dates, regardless of where it was, regardless of whether it had exactly the players he said—because he could have gotten all that wrong—do you recall any meeting at which he did anything close to what his testimony suggests?” Armitage replies, “I do not.” (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 RIG member Alan Fiers, a former CIA official, 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).
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, the former National Security Council member who had been a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal (see July 7-10, 1987), is tried for crimes related to the operation (see March 16, 1988). (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 82)
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).
Interviewed by investigators for Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh (see December 19, 1986), Defense Department official Lieutenant General John Moellering testifies to his participation in Oliver North’s Restricted Interagency Group (RIG) meetings. In several RIG meetings, North asserted his control over the Nicaraguan Contra activities, discussed the private funding of the Contras, and demanded line-by-line approval of each specific activity (see July 1986 and After). Though he was present for at least one of those meetings, Moellering testifies that he has no recollection of any such behaviors or assertions from North. The later discovery of notes taken during Moellering’s “debriefing” for one such meeting by Moellering’s aide, Colonel Stephen Croker, will prove that Moellering either suffers from systemic memory loss or is lying. (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 RIG member Alan Fiers, a former CIA official, 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).
The New York Times reports that Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh (see December 19, 1986) is in possession of tapes and transcripts documenting hundreds of hours of telephone conversations between CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and CIA agents in Central America. The time period of the taped conversations corresponds to the period in which NSC officer Oliver North, retired Air Force General Richard Secord, and arms dealer Albert Hakim were running their secret arms pipeline informally known as either “Airlift Project” or “The Enterprise” (see November 19, 1985 and February 2, 1987). Former Deputy Director for Operations Clair George (see Summer 1986) installed the taping system in the early- to mid-1980s. The contents of the conversations are not known, though it is known that Walsh is using the tapes to force accurate testimony from North and others either standing trial or serving as witnesses in Iran-Contra prosecutions (see March 16, 1988). (Lacayo, Beaty, and van Voorst 7/22/1991)
According to investigators working with Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh (see December 19, 1986), the Iran-Contra affair is closely linked to the burgeoning scandal surrounding the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI—see 1976, 1978-1982, 1981-1991, 1981-1983, 1984-1986, January 1985, December 12, 1985, February 1988-December 1992, March 1991-December 1992, and July 5, 1991.) Former government officials add that the CIA kept secret funds hidden in BCCI accounts, and used the monies to fund covert operations in Nicaragua and elsewhere. Investigators confirm that a US defense intelligence organization used BCCI to maintain a secret “slush fund” for financing covert operations. And, months before National Security Council (NSC) official Oliver North set up his network for diverting funds to the Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986), the NSC used BCCI to divert funds to the Contras (see Early 1986). (Lacayo, Beaty, and van Voorst 7/22/1991)
A federal judge drops all charges against convicted felon Oliver North (see May-June, 1989). A federal appeals court had reversed part of North’s conviction and ordered the case returned to a US District Court for the remainder of the convictions. District Judge Gerhard Gesell, who presided over the original trial that found North guilty of three felonies, drops the charges after special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh says he is forced to abandon the prosecution of North. In order to testify before the Iran-Contra hearings (see July 7-10, 1987), North was granted limited immunity from prosecution, and Walsh says prosecutors will be unable to show that North’s immunity grant did not affect his trial testimony, and the testimony of witnesses in his earlier trials. The decision by Walsh and Gesell brings to an end five years of court proceedings against North, who calls himself “fully, completely” vindicated. Last week, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, North’s former superior and mentor, testified that his testimony in North’s earlier trials had been heavily influenced by North’s testimony before Congress. President Bush says: “He’s been through enough. There was an appeal. He’s been let off. Now that’s the system of justice is working.… I’m very, very pleased.” Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS) says the Walsh investigation should be closed down entirely, saying, “What have American taxpayers received for their $50 million?” referring to some estimates of the cost of the overall inquiry. “A lot of press releases. A lot of rumor and innuendo. But little in terms of justice.” Walsh, who had opposed immunity for North from the start of the investigations in 1987, says: “This is a very, very serious warning that immunity is not to be granted lightly. Now, I have never criticized Congress. I urged them not to grant immunity, but they have the very broad political responsibility for making a judgment as to whether it’s more important that the country hear the facts quickly or that they await a prosecution.” (Johnston 9/17/1991) An outraged New York Times editorial says that North’s claim of complete exoneration is a “wild overstatement” and calls the reversal “a serious setback for another objective of democratic government: promptly to uncover the truth in high-profile cases and to prosecute them when necessary without sacrificing the Constitution’s privilege against compelled self-incrimination.” It concludes: “Mr. North can thank his battling lawyers and a fastidious judiciary for letting him beat the rap. That remains far short, however, of exoneration.” (New York Times 9/17/1991)
The Bush White House alleges that officials and aides from the outgoing Clinton administration vandalized the White House in the last days before Bush officials took over. Conservative news site NewsMax reports that the “slovenly misfits” of the Clinton administration “left the [White House] in a shambles” in the transition between the outgoing Clinton administration and the incoming Bush administration. Clinton aides engaged in “deliberate vandalism,” the report says, and cites a General Services Administration (GSA) official estimating that it may cost up to $250,000 to repair the damage. NewsMax quotes a report by another conservative publication, the American Spectator, which itself quotes “an inspector… called in to assess the vandalism as saying that several executive desks were damaged to the point that they must be replaced, and several more offices must be repainted because of graffiti.” (Kettle 1/26/2001; NewsMax 1/26/2001) Conservative Internet gossip writer Matt Drudge reports that “White House offices [were] left ‘trashed’” and so-called “[p]orn bombs [and] lewd messages” were left behind. No explanation of what Drudge meant by the “porn bomb” allegation is ever given. (Curl 1/27/2001) The allegations of vandalism and theft will prove to be almost entirely false (see February 8, 2001, February 14, 2001, and May 18, 2001).
Gore's Staffers Charged with Worst of Vandalism - British newspaper The Guardian repeats earlier claims that the worst of the damage was found in offices once occupied by staffers for former Vice President Al Gore, and that Gore’s wife, Tipper, has phoned Lynne Cheney, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, to apologize for the damage. The story is false (see January 24, 2001). (Kettle 1/26/2001)
Reports: Cut Phone Lines, Extensive Damage, Pornographic Photos - Both the Washington Post and The Guardian report allegations that computer and telephone lines were “sliced,” voice-mail messages were changed to “obscene remarks and lewd greetings,” desks were overturned, and trash strewn throughout the premises. The reports add that filing cabinets were glued shut with Superglue, pornographic photographs displayed in printers, and “filthy graffiti scrawled on at least one hallway wall.” The Spectator’s inspector adds that “[e]ntire computer keyboards will have to be replaced because the damage to them is more extensive than simply missing keys,” referring to allegations that some White House keyboards had the “W” keys pried off. The Spectator also reports tales of former Clinton staffers reportedly “laughing and giggling about the mess their former colleagues left behind.” A Bush White House official calls the White House “a pigsty” in the aftermath of the transition. “The Gore and Clinton people didn’t ‘clean out’ the place because there was nothing clean about what they did before they left.” The GSA will pursue the former Clinton officials for reimbursement and expenses. The Spectator reports that “investigators” conclude the damage was “the result of a carefully organized campaign of vandalism unlike anything ever seen in the aftermath of a presidential transition.” (NewsMax 1/26/2001; Kettle 1/26/2001; Allen 1/26/2001) The New York Daily News reports, “The destruction was so vast that a telecommunications staffer with more than a quarter-century of service was seen sobbing near his office one night last week.” (DeFrank 1/27/2001) CNN’s Paula Zahn observes: “All right, but this is the White House, for God’s sakes. We’re not talking about people living in a fraternity.” (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 5/21/2001) Fox News is particularly vehement in its coverage. “They trash[ed] the place,” says Fox commentator Sean Hannity. ”$200,000 in furniture [was] taken out.” Fellow Fox commentator Oliver North (see May-June, 1989) adds: “We should expect from white trash what they did at the White House.… I recommend that what the Bush White House do is peel the wallpaper off that they defaced with their graffiti and ship it off to the Clinton Library so people can see it.” Fox host Bill O’Reilly says, “I mean, the price tag right now is about $200,000, so that’s a felony right there.” And O’Reilly guest Tom Schatz says, referring to the famous film about fraternity life, “They turned it into Animal House.” (Goldstein 2/8/2001; Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 5/21/2001)
Air Force One 'Stripped Bare,' Reports Claim - The Guardian also reports that during former President Clinton’s last trip in Air Force One, the presidential jet was subjected to what it calls “an orgy of pilfering” (see January 25-27, 2001). It was “stripped bare” by aides, who reportedly took china, silverware, salt and pepper shakers, and other items, most bearing the presidential seal. (Kettle 1/26/2001) On Fox, Hannity charges, “They strip[ped] Air Force One of the china and everything else that wasn’t bolted down.” (Goldstein 2/8/2001)
Clinton Officials Admit to 'Pranks,' Bush Officials Allege Attempts at Theft - Clinton and Gore officials deny the reports of vandalism, but admit to carrying out pranks such as removing the “W” keys and affixing satirical signs to office doors that read, “Office of Strategery,” “Office of Subliminable Messages,” and “Division of Uniting.” A former Clinton official says, “It’s childish, but it’s also funny.” However, a senior Bush official accuses Clinton staffers of attempting to steal White House paintings and official seals from doors, and attempting to have those items shipped to themselves; Bush officials have ordered that all packages leaving the White House be X-rayed. (Allen 1/26/2001)
Bush Aide Documenting Damages - A Bush White House aide has been delegated to document the vandalism, videos are being taken of the damages, and White House officials are being interviewed. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has confirmed that the administration is reviewing reports of the alleged vandalism. (NewsMax 1/26/2001) Bush himself downplays the reports, saying: “There might have been a prank or two, maybe somebody put a cartoon on the wall, but that’s okay. It’s time now to move forward.” (DeFrank 1/27/2001)
Former Marine colonel and convicted felon Oliver North (see May-June, 1989), now a conservative radio host, is embedded with a Marine unit by Fox News. North reports “rumors” that French officials at the Embassy in Baghdad are destroying documents proving French complicity in Iraq’s chemical—and biological—weapons programs. The report is quickly proven false. Fox spokeswoman Irena Steffen tells a newspaper that North is “a military contributor to Fox. He is neither a reporter nor a correspondent.” (Auletta 5/26/2003)
In an article examining the history and impact of the Fairness Doctrine (see 1949 and 1959), progressive communications law expert Steve Rendell writes that since the doctrine’s repeal (see 1987 and 1988), there has been far less coverage of controversial public issues on the nation’s airwaves. The Media Access Project (MAP) says, “Since the demise of the Fairness Doctrine we have had much less coverage of issues,” with television news and public affairs programming decreasing both locally and nationally. Twenty-five percent of broadcast stations offer no local news or public affairs programming at all. Rendell writes: “The most extreme change has been in the immense volume of unanswered conservative opinion heard on the airwaves, especially on talk radio. Nationally, virtually all of the leading political talkshow hosts are right-wingers: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Oliver North, G. Gordon Liddy, Bill O’Reilly, and Michael Reagan, to name just a few. The same goes for local talkshows. One product of the post-Fairness era is the conservative ‘Hot Talk’ format, featuring one right-wing host after another and little else.” A lawyer in Oregon, Edward Monks, found that his local stations broadcast 80 hours per week of Republican and conservative talk, and none whatsoever of Democratic or liberal/progressive talk. Monks wrote: “Political opinions expressed on talk radio are approaching the level of uniformity that would normally be achieved only in a totalitarian society. There is nothing fair, balanced, or democratic about it.” Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has written, “The FCC [Federal Communications Commission]‘s pro-industry, anti-regulatory philosophy has effectively ended the right of access to broadcast television by any but the moneyed interests.” Rendell concludes that the nation “need[s] a Fairness Doctrine. It’s not a universal solution. It’s not a substitute for reform or for diversity of ownership. It’s simply a mechanism to address the most extreme kinds of broadcast abuse.” (Rendell 2/12/2005)
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