This page can be viewed at http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=reagan_administration
Although the entire “Team B” intelligence analysis experiment (see Early 1976, November 1976, and November 1976) is supposed to be classified and secret, the team’s neoconservatives launch what author Craig Unger will call “a massive campaign to inflame fears of the red menace in both the general population and throughout the [foreign] policy community—thanks to strategically placed leaks to the Boston Globe and later to the New York Times.” Times reporter David Binder later says that Team B leader Richard Pipes is “jubilant” over “pok[ing] holes at the [CIA]‘s analysis” of the Soviet threat. Team B member John Vogt calls the exercise “an opportunity to even up some scores with the CIA.” (Unger 2007, pp. 57) Team member George Keegan tells reporters, “I am unaware of a single important category in which the Soviets have not established a significant lead over the United States… [This] grave imbalance in favor of Soviet military capability had developed out of a failure over the last 15 years to adjust American strategic thinking to Soviet strategic thinking, and out of the failure of the leadership of the American intelligence community to ‘perceive the reality’ of the Soviet military buildup.” Keegan’s colleague William van Cleave agrees, saying that “overall strategic superiority exists today for the Soviet Union,” and adds, “I think it’s getting to the point that, if we can make a trade with the Soviet Union of defense establishments, I’d be heartily in favor of it.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 95)
Used to Escalate Defense Spending - The experiment is far more than a dry, intellectual exercise or a chance for academics to score points against the CIA. Melvin Goodman, who heads the CIA’s Office of Soviet Affairs, will observe in 2004: “[Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld won that very intense, intense political battle that was waged in Washington in 1975 and 1976. Now, as part of that battle, Rumsfeld and others, people such as Paul Wolfowitz, wanted to get into the CIA. And their mission was to create a much more severe view of the Soviet Union, Soviet intentions, Soviet views about fighting and winning a nuclear war.” Even though Wolfowitz’s and Rumsfeld’s assertions of powerful new Soviet WMD programs are completely wrong, they use the charges to successfully push for huge escalations in military spending, a process that continues through the Ford and Reagan administrations (see 1976) (Hartmann 12/7/2004; BBC 1/14/2005) , and resurface in the two Bush administrations. “Finally,” Unger will write, “a band of Cold Warriors and neocon ideologues had successfully insinuated themselves in the nation’s multibillion-dollar intelligence apparatus and had managed to politicize intelligence in an effort to implement new foreign policy.” (Unger 2007, pp. 57-58)
Kicking Over the Chessboard - Former senior CIA official Richard Lehman later says that Team B members “were leaking all over the place… putting together this inflammatory document.” Author and university professor Gordon R. Mitchell will write that B’s practice of “strategically leaking incendiary bits of intelligence to journalists, before final judgments were reached in the competitive intelligence exercise,” was another method for Team B members to promulgate their arguments without actually proving any of their points. Instead of participating in the debate, they abandoned the strictures of the exercise and leaked their unsubstantiated findings to the press to “win” the argument. (Mitchell 5/2006 )
'One Long Air Raid Siren' - In 2002, defense policy reporter Fred Kaplan will sardonically label Team B the “Rumsfeld Intelligence Agency,” and write: “It was sold as an ‘exercise’ in intelligence analysis, an interesting competition—Team A (the CIA) and Team B (the critics). Yet once allowed the institutional footing, the Team B players presented their conclusions—and leaked them to friendly reporters—as the truth,” a truth, Team B alleges, the pro-detente Ford administration intends to conceal. Kaplan will continue, “The Team B report read like one long air-raid siren: The Soviets were spending practically all their GNP on the military; they were perfecting charged particle beams that could knock our warheads out of the sky; their express policy and practical goal was to fight and win a nuclear war.” Team B is flatly wrong across the board, but it still has a powerful impact on the foreign policy of the Ford administration, and gives the neoconservatives and hardliners who oppose arms control and detente a rallying point. Author Barry Werth will observe that Rumsfeld and his ideological and bureaucratic ally, White House chief of staff Dick Cheney “drove the SALT II negotiations into the sand at the Pentagon and the White House.” Ford’s primary opponent, Ronald Reagan, and the neocons’ public spokesman, Senator Henry Jackson, pillory Ford for being soft on Communism and the Soviet Union. Ford stops talking about detente with the Soviets, and breaks off discussions with the Soviets over limiting nuclear weapons. Through Team B, Rumsfeld and the neocons succeed in stalling the incipient thaw in US-Soviet relations and in weakening Ford as a presidential candidate. (Werth 2006, pp. 341)
Neoconservatives Albert Wohlstetter and his protege, Richard Perle, work within the US and Israeli defense establishments to promote Turkey as a key US and Israeli strategic ally (see 1979). This effort is in part motivated by concerns raised by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Perle and other officials in the Reagan administration play a key role in promoting an alliance between Israel and Turkey. (Evriviades 1999; Perle 9/1999; Vest 8/23/2002) This alliance is also strongly supported by “conservative Jewish-American groups working with the Turkish legation in Washington and a number of prominent Turkish-American businessmen with business and blood connections with Turkish Jews in Istanbul and those who had settled in Israel.” (Evriviades 1999)
Representative Michael Barnes (D-MD) is targeted by the NSA’s Echelon satellite surveillance program on orders from Reagan administration officials. Barnes, an outspoken opponent of Reagan’s Central American policies, had phone conversations with Nicaraguan officials intercepted and recorded, including one conversation between Barnes and the foreign minister of Nicaragua. Barnes learns of the surveillance after White House officials, apparently attempting to discredit Barnes, leaks transcripts of the taped conversations to reporters. CIA director William Casey shows Barnes a Nicaraguan embassy cable reporting a meeting between embassy staff and one of Barnes’s aides; Casey demands that Barnes fire the aide. Barnes refuses, noting that the aide had visited the embassy on legitimate business concerning international affairs. Barnes will say in 1995, “I was aware that NSA monitored international calls, that it was a standard part of intelligence gathering. But to use it for domestic political purposes is absolutely outrageous and probably illegal.” Former senator Dennis DeConcini (R-AZ) says he worries about the NSA spying on US citizens: “It has always worried me. What if that is used on American citizens? It is chilling. Are they listening to my private conversations on my telephone?” (Poole 8/15/2000)
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)
On a trip to New York, Pakistani dictator Muhammad Zia ul-Haq meets with former US President Richard Nixon. The meeting is to discuss the Soviet-Afghan War, but Pakistan’s nuclear program also comes up. General Khalid Mahmud Arif, who accompanies Zia, will later say that Nixon makes it clear he is in favor of Pakistan gaining nuclear weapons capability. Nixon does not say that he is acting for Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, but, according to authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clarke, “his comments signal […] the way ahead,” as the future Reagan administration will enable Pakistan to continue work on its nuclear weapons program without being sanctioned. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 76)
Advisers to presidential candidate Ronald Reagan obtain stolen confidential briefing books that were meant to prepare opponent Jimmy Carter for an upcoming debate. The documents are allegedly passed from campaign manager and future CIA Director William Casey to top Reagan campaign aide James Baker. Reagan and his advisers presumably use the materials to gain an advantage over Carter in the nationally televised debate on October 28, 1980. Some of those behind the theft will reportedly form a secret parallel government after Reagan is elected president (see January 1980-July 1987). The theft will become publicly disclosed in 1983, causing internal strife and finger-pointing within the administration. (Margolis and Rowley 6/10/1983; Chardy 7/5/1987)
Israeli officials secretly ask Reagan administration officials for authorization to transfer arms of US origin to Iran. Officials in the Departments of Defense and State have known of Israeli arms sales to Iran that predate Reagan’s installation as president and the freeing of the American hostages, and since Reagan’s ascension to power, plans for US arms sales to Iran have been in the works (see January 28, 1981). Secretary of State Alexander Haig tells Israel that it is acceptable “in principle” for Israel to sell only F-4 fighter plane parts, and the US must approve specific arms-sales lists in advance. It shortly becomes evident, according to State Department documents leaked years later to the press, that Israel is not submitting lists for approval, and is selling US-made arms to Iran far in excess of spare parts for a specific model of fighter jet. (By the mid-1980s, officials will acknowledge that several billion dollars’ worth of ammunition and parts worth would flow from Israel to Iran each year.) Little oversight is exercised on the arms sales; one US ambassador to the region will say in 1992, “[I]t is probable that those who were to serve as their proxies—Israel and private international arms dealers—had agendas of their own, and the end result was that more arms were shipped than anyone in the administration wanted.” The Israeli arms transfers also violate the Arms Export Control Act, which requires written permission from the US for a nation to transfer US-made arms to a third party, and requires the president to immediately inform Congress when such transfers take place. (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
The Reagan administration provides covert support to Iraq in an effort to prevent Iran from overrunning the oil-rich states of the Persian Gulf. (Tyler 8/18/2002; Hiro 8/26/2002; Dobbs 12/30/2002)
US Air Force officers are secretly deployed to Iraq to assist their counterparts in the Iraqi military. (Hiro 8/26/2002)
The US provides satellite photography to Iraq revealing the movements of the Iranian forces. (Woodward 12/15/1986; Tyler 8/18/2002 Sources: senior military officers with direct knowledge of the program, Unnamed informed sources interviewed by reporter Bob Woodward)
The US provides Iraq with intelligence gathered by Saudi-owned AWACS operated by the Pentagon. (Hiro 8/26/2002)
Iraq uses US-supplied military intelligence “to calibrate attacks with mustard gas on Iranian ground troops….” (see 1984) (Woodward 12/15/1986)
“[M]ore than 60 officers of the Defense Intelligence Agency…. secretly [provide] detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning for battles, plans for airstrikes and bomb-damage assessments for Iraq.” (Tyler 8/18/2002)
President Reagan and Vice President George Bush personally deliver military advice to Saddam Hussein, both directly and through intermediaries (see 1986). (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 ; Dobbs 12/30/2002)
The US closely monitors “third country arms sales to Iraq to make sure Iraq [has] the military weaponry required.” (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 ; Dobbs 12/30/2002)
According to the censured portion of Iraq’s December 7, 2002 declaration to the UN (see December 7, 2002) (see December 19, 2002), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories help train Iraqi nuclear weapons scientists and provide nonfissile material for Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. (Pimentel 1/26/2003)
The incoming Reagan administration marginalizes the State Department’s Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA). Its director is supposed to be the primary advisor to the president on non-proliferation issues, but, according to authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, he is “kept out of Reagan’s way.” In addition, many staffers are fired. Richard Barlow, an intern who will go on to have a long career in intelligence, will say that the firings greatly damaged the agency’s morale, commenting, “There were grown men crying around me in the office.” One reason for this may be that ACDA had kept former President Jimmy Carter well informed of Pakistan’s attempts to build a bomb, leading to sanctions against that country. However, the Reagan administration now wants to get close to Pakistan, whose support is viewed as necessary for the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 78)
The newly installed Reagan administration publicly maintains a hard line against Iran, a nation vastly unpopular among Americans who have not forgiven that nation for holding 52 of its citizens hostage for well over a year and murdering a CIA station chief. (Years later, Vice President Bush will call it “an understandable animosity, a hatred, really,” and add, “I feel that way myself.”) President Reagan’s secretary of state, Alexander Haig, says bluntly, “Let me state categorically today there will be no military equipment provided to the government of Iran.” Yet within weeks of taking office, Reagan officials will begin putting together a continuing package of secret arms sales to Iran. (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
Harold Brown, a nuclear physicist and former secretary of defense under President Carter, warns of overconfidence regarding the ability of the US, and the world, to survive a nuclear holocaust, as many in the incoming Reagan administration seem to espouse (see Early 1981 and After). “The destruction of more than 100 million people in each of the United States, the Soviet Union, and the European nations could take place during the first half-hour of a nuclear war,” Brown writes. “Such a war would be a catastrophe not only indescribable but unimaginable.… It would be unlike anything that has taken place on this planet since human life began.” (Halloran 3/2008)
In conjunction with his huge peacetime military buildup (see Early 1981 and After), President Reagan strongly opposes any sort of arms control or limitation discussions with the Soviet Union.
Rostow to ACDA - As a member of the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD—see 1976), Reagan had spoken out against the SALT II arms control treaty with the USSR (see June 18, 1979-Winter 1979), calling it “fatally flawed.” He has opposed every significant arms limitation agreement since 1963, no matter whether it was negotiated by Republican or Democratic administrations. To continue his opposition, Reagan appoints Eugene Rostow to head the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA). Rostow, a fellow CPD member, is flatly opposed to any sort of arms control or disarmament agreement with the Soviet Union, and had led the CPD fight against the SALT II agreement. “Arms control thinking drives out sound thinking,” he told the Senate. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 118-120) During his confirmation hearings, Rostow tells Senate questioners that the US could certainly survive a nuclear war, and gives World War II-era Japan as an example—that nation “not only survived but flourished after a nuclear attack.” When asked if the world could survive a full nuclear attack of thousands of nuclear warheads instead of the two that Japan had weathered, Rostow says that even though the casualties might be between “ten million… and one hundred million… [t]he human race is very resilient.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 126) Rostow’s aide at the ACDA, Colin Gray, says that “victory is possible” in a nuclear war provided the US is prepared to fight. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 127)
Burt to State Department - Reagan names Richard Burt to head the State Department’s Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs, the State Department’s primary liaison with the Defense Department. Burt, a former New York Times reporter, is one of the few journalists synpathetic to the CPD, and recently called the SALT agreement “a favor to the Russians.” Just before joining the Reagan administration, Burt called for reductions in nuclear arms controls: “Arms control has developed the same kind of mindless momentum associated with other large-scale government pursuits. Conceptual notions of limited durability, such as the doctrine of mutual assured destruction [MAD], have gained bureaucratic constituencies and have thus been prolonged beyond their usefulness. There are strong reasons for believing that arms control is unlikely to possess much utility in the coming decade.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 118-120; US Department of State 2008)
Perle to Defense Department - Perhaps the most outspoken opponent of arms control is neoconservative Richard Perle, named as assistant defense secretary for international security affairs. Perle, until recently the national security adviser to Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA—see Early 1970s), will quickly become, in author J. Peter Scoblic’s words, “the administration’s chief arms control obstructionist, dubbed ‘the Prince of Darkness’ by his enemies.” Perle once said: “The sense that we and the Russians could compose our differences, reduce them to treaty constraints… and then rely on compliance to produce a safer world. I don’t agree with any of that.” Now Perle is poised to act on his beliefs. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 118-120)
Vice President Bush - Although seen as a pragmatist and not a hardline conservative (see January 1981 and After), Vice President George H. W. Bush is also optimistic about the chances of the US coming out on top after a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. During the 1980 campaign, he told a reporter: “You have a survivability of command and control, survivability of industrial potential, protection of a percentage of your citizens, and you have a capability that inflicts more damage on the opposition tham it inflicts on you. That’s the way you can have a winner.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 126-127)
Other Appointees - Perle’s immediate supervisor in Defense is Fred Ikle, who headed ACDA in 1973 and helped battle back part of the original SALT agreement. Ikle will be primarily responsible for the Pentagon’s “five-year plan” that envisions a “protracted nuclear war” as a viable option (see March 1982). Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger considers the standoff between the US and the Soviet Union akin to the situation between Britain and Nazi Germany in 1938, with himself and his ideological confreres as Britain’s Winston Churchill and any attempt at arms control as nothing but appeasement. Energy Secretary James B. Edwards says of a hypothetical nuclear war, “I want to come out of it number one, not number two.” Pentagon official Thomas Jones tells a reporter that the US could handily survive a nuclear exchange, and fully recover within two to four years, if the populace digs plenty of holes, cover them with wooden doors, and bury the structures under three feet of dirt. “If there are enough shovels to go around, everybody’s going to make it,” he says. Reagan’s second National Security Adviser, William Clark, will, according to Reagan official and future Secretary of State George Shultz, “categorically oppos[e] US-Soviet contacts” of any kind. Some of the administration’s more pragmatic members, such as Reagan’s first Secretary of State Alexander Haig, will have limited access to Reagan and be cut off from many policy-making processes by Reagan’s more hardline senior officials and staffers. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 118-120, 127; Halloran 3/2008)
Reagan administration officials decide to revive the Nixon-era scheme to use the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to purge the federal bureaucracy of “dissidents” and replace them with loyal conservatives (see 1970 and After). As part of the plan, President Reagan issues an executive order requiring all agencies to submit proposed new policies to the OMB for review before they can be put into effect. (Savage 2007, pp. 304-305)
Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin calls televangelist and nascent political ally Jerry Falwell (see 1980) and says: “Tomorrow you’re going to read some strange things about what we’re going to do. But our safety is at stake. I wanted you, my good friend, to know what we are going to do.” Israel is preparing to use US-provided F-16s to destroy Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor (see June 7, 1981). Begin is concerned that the US will object to Israel’s use of the aircraft for non-defensive purposes. Falwell tells Begin, “I want to congratulate you for a mission that [makes] us very proud that we manufactured those F-16s.” Many Reagan officials are not happy that Israel violated the agreement with the US over use of the warplanes, but even though Vice President Bush and Chief of Staff James Baker both believe that Israel should be punished, Begin has provided himself cover on the Christian right. (Unger 2007, pp. 109-110)
Reagan officials reopen the stalled Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) arms limitation talks with the Soviet Union, against the advice of President Reagan’s more hardline officials (see January 1981 and After). The talks center on the Soviets’ SS-20 missile, designed to strike European targets. In return, then-President Carter had agreed to deploy US intermediate-range nuclear missiles—Pershing II’s and Tomahawks—in West Germany and Italy by 1983. According to author J. Peter Scoblic, the missiles have little real military value, as American ICBMs, submarine-based nuclear missiles, and long-range bombers could destroy Soviet targets with near-impunity. They do, however, have some political significance, mostly in helping tie European security to US security. Carter had agreed to open talks with the Soviets to get rid of the SS-20s entirely.
Hardliners Sabotage Talks - The more pragmatic Reagan officials succeed in reopening the talks; Reagan hardliners, thwarted in stopping the talks, set about sabotaging them in any way available. When arguments in favor of delays and “further study” finally fail, they pressure Reagan to offer an agreement they know the Soviets will refuse: the so-called “zero option,” which originates with Defense Department official Richard Perle (see Early 1981 and After). Perle says that the Soviets should remove all of the SS-20s, and in return, the US will not deploy its Pershings and Tomahawks—in essence, having the Soviets concede something for essentially nothing. State Department officials suggest a fallback position in case the Soviets reject Perle’s offering; in his turn, Perle appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee and compares anyone who opposes his zero-sum offering to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler in 1938.
'Walk in the Woods' - When the Soviets reject Perle’s option, Reagan hardliners argue that the government should accept no compromise. The head of the INF negotiation team, Paul Nitze—a Cold War figure who has come out against arms control (see January 1976) but is not fully trusted by the hardline ideologues because of his history as an arms negotiator—wants a compromise. In official negotiations, he sticks to the all-or-nothing position of Perle, but opens private, informal negotiations with his Soviet counterpart, Yuli Kvitsinsky. One afternoon in 1982, Nitze and Kvitsinsky go for what later becomes known as their “walk in the woods.” Sitting together on a log during an afternoon rainstorm, the two hammer out an agreement that greatly favors the US—mandating a 67 percent reduction in Soviet SS-20s and allowing the US to deploy an equal number of Tomahawks. Not only would the Soviets have to reduce their already-deployed contingent of missiles and the US be allowed to deploy missiles, because the Tomahawks carry more independent warheads than the SS-20s, the US would have a significant advantage in firepower. The deal also sets limits on SS-20 deployments in Asia, and forbids the Soviets from developing ground-launched cruise missiles. In return, the US would agree not to deploy its Pershing missiles.
Hardliners Block Agreement - Perle and his hardline allies in the Reagan administration succeed in blocking acceptance of the Nitze-Kvitsinsky agreement. As author J. Peter Scoblic later writes, “Perle’s ideological obstructionism—concisely conveyed in his disparagement of Nitze as ‘an inverterate problem-solver’—reached fantastic heights.” Perle first tried to block Reagan from even learning the details of the agreement, and lied to Reagan, asserting falsely that the Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed the agreement. Perle, in conjunction with Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, eventually convinces Reagan to stick to the “zero option.” Perle argues against pressure from key US allies such as Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, telling Reagan, “We can’t just do something; we’ve got to stand there—and stand firm.” In 1983, Perle tells Weinberger that it would be better for the US to deploy no missiles at all than to accept the agreement. Scoblic will write: “In other words, he argued that foregoing deployment in return for nothing was better than foregoing deployment in exchange for something. The position made no sense, but the Reagan team held firm to it, once again preventing the adoption of a viable arms control deal.” When the US deploys Pershing missiles in Europe in November 1983, the Soviets walk out of the talks. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 120-123)
Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, a vehement opponent of the US’s arms sales to Iran (see 1981 and December 20, 1983), concludes that if Iraq doesn’t receive military aid, it will lose its war with Iran (see September 1980). Weinberger arranges the secret swap of a Soviet T-72 tank given to the Iraqi military in return for four US howitzers. Some Pentagon intelligence officials covet the Soviet tank for the information they can glean about Soviet weaponry, but, according to two highly placed officials in the Reagan administration, Weinberger sees the deal as an opportunity to begin direct US arms shipments to Iraq. A Pentagon official explains in 1992, “Cap’s view was that once the first arms shipments to Iraq were authorized by the President, the first bite of the forbidden apple had been taken, and other direct covert arms sales to Iraq would follow.” However, the exchange falls through when the Iraqis, fearful that the Soviet Union will terminate its own military aid program, withdraws from the deal. A subsequent Iraqi offer to exchange a Soviet HIND helicopter also falls through when the Pentagon expresses its concerns over the criminal record of the middleman, a Lebanese-born international arms trafficker. However, Reagan and Defense Department officials continue to find ways to secretly supply arms to Iraq (see October 1983). Later, Weinberger will call the Iranian arms deals “insanity. How could you send arms to the Ayatollah when he was sworn to destroy us?” But Weinberger will be much less forthcoming about the US’s arms sales to Iraq, summed up under the sobriquet of “Iraqgate.” Weinberger will later claim that he is not involved in any arms deals with Iraq, and will say, “The little that I know was that it was all handled by the CIA. There might have been a role by some people in the Pentagon. But I didn’t keep a hand in that.” He will refuse to acknowledge the accuracy of Pentagon memos from 1982 and 1983 sent directly to him that outline proposals to arm Iraq. In a 1992 news article, reporters Murray Waas and Craig Unger note that Weinberger will repeatedly lie “without compunction” about his involvement in arms sales to Iraq over the coming years, and observe, “Whenever his credibility is questioned, Weinberger routinely invokes concerns for national security and hides behind a veil of secrecy.” (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
The Reagan administration—despite stern objections from Congress—removes Iraq from the US State Department’s list of states sponsoring terrorism (see 1979). (Freudenheim, Slavin, and Rhoden 2/28/1982; Dobbs 12/30/2002; arsenal 12/31/2002) This clears the way for future US military aid to that country. (Phythian 1997)
The Reagan administration asks Congress for $4.3 billion for what the 1980 GOP campaign platform called a “civil defense which would protect the American people against nuclear war at least as well as the Soviet population is protected.” The funding request is for a program, based on the platform plank, that the administration says will protect 80 percent of Americans in case of a massive Soviet nuclear strike. President Reagan’s chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Louis Giuffrida, says of nuclear war, “It would be a terrible mess, but it wouldn’t be unmanageable.” FEMA’s head of civil defense, William Chipman, says that most civilians would not only survive a nuclear onslaught, but would rebuild society in short order: “As I say, the ants eventually build another anthill.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 130)
The Pentagon’s long-term Defense Guidance plan, which presents “protracted nuclear war” with the Soviet Union as a viable option (see March 1982), is made part of the official Reagan administration policy in the issuance of National Security Decision Directive 32. The directive states, “The modernization of our strategic nuclear forces… shall receive first priority.” It continues, “The United States will enhance its strategic nuclear deterrent by developing a capability to sustain protracted nuclear conflict.” (Halloran 3/2008)
John Brinkeroff, deputy for national preparedness programs at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), outlines plans for implementing martial law in the event of a national emergency. In a memorandum later obtained by the Miami Herald, Brinkeroff describes how FEMA and the military would take over the country in the event of a crisis. According to the Herald, the plans include “suspension of the Constitution, turning control of the United States over to FEMA, appointment of military commanders to run state and local governments, and declaration of martial law during a national crisis.” Although the term “national crisis” is not defined, the Herald will later report that it is understood to mean anything from nuclear war to “violent and widespread internal dissent or national opposition against a military invasion abroad.” A source will tell the Herald the contingency plan is authorized by an “executive order or legislative package that [President] Reagan would sign and hold within the NSC [National Security Council] until a severe crisis arose.” This may refer to emergency legislation drafted by the Reagan administration to amend the 1950 Defense Resources Act (see September 25, 1984) and proposed updates to Executive Order 11490 (see August 2, 1984). The Brinkeroff memo resembles a paper written in 1970 by the current head of FEMA, Louis O. Giuffrida, in which he advocated the roundup and transfer of at least 21 million “American Negroes” to “assembly centers or relocation camps” in the event of an emergency (see 1970). (Chardy 7/5/1987)
The first of three so-called “Boland amendments” becomes law. Named for Representative Edward Boland (D-MA), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, the amendment is part of a larger appropriations bill. The amendment restricts US humanitarian aid to the Contras, and prohibits the use of US funds “for the purpose of overthrowing the government of Nicaragua.” The Reagan administration gets around the amendment by saying that its actions in support of the Contras are merely designed to force the Sandinistas to come to a peace agreement with the Contras, not to bring down the Nicaraguan government. (House Intelligence Committee 2005; Savage 2007, pp. 53)
Disgusted with the Reagan administration’s failure to make even the most basic progress in the START arms negotiations with the Soviet Union (see May 1982 and After), and viewing the administration’s position as not only untenable but dangerous, Congress steps in and threatens to withhold funding for the MX missile (see 1981) if something is not done. In return, President Reagan appoints a blue-ribbon panel to study the negotiations and recommend alternatives (see January 1983-April 1983). (Scoblic 2008, pp. 124)
A “considerable illicit traffic” in US arms sales to the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Iran has developed by this time to assist Iran in the war with Iraq. South Korean and Israeli companies are used as intermediaries. According Alan A. Block, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, many of these sales are known of and approved by the CIA and the Reagan administration. Block points out that these arms sales precede the hostage incidents which, it is later claimed, are the motivation for the arms sales to Iran. (Preece 1984, pp. 25; Block 2000)
The Reagan administration approves the sale of 60 civilian Hughes helicopters to Iraq, even though it is widely understood that the helicopters can be weaponized with little effort. Critics will regard the sale as military aid cloaked as civilian assistance. (Phythian 1997, pp. 37-38)
As part of the resurgence of the Cold War promulgated by the Reagan administration, Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY), an obstinate enemy of the Soviet union and a relentless advocate of an expanded US nuclear arsenal (see 1981), is part of a delegation sent by Reagan officials to Moscow as part of the reopened arms negotiations between the two countries (see May 1982 and After). It is not Cheney’s first “codel,” or Congressional delegation, but this particular trip is memorable, and not just because it is the first time a House delegation has visited the Soviet Union since 1979.
No Negotiations on Arms - Cheney, the ranking Republican on the trip, meets with Soviet marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, the deputy chief of the Soviet general staff. The meeting is also attended by Cheney’s House colleague, Thomas Downey (D-NY). Akhromeyev astonishes Downey by proposing that the Soviets would consider reopening discussion of mutual weapons cuts in Europe, and accept a one-year testing ban on testing its new SS24 ballistic missile, if the US would ban testing the MX. Downey is elated. In his mind, the proposal is clear evidence of a thaw in US-Soviet relations, and a signal that the Soviets want to move forward with strategic arms talks. Akhromeyev says, according to Downey, “If such a proposal is put forth, it would be considered at the negotiations” between the two governments’ most senior negotiators. But Cheney refuses to listen. “Cheney did not want to allow the Russians to appear in any way reasonable,” Downey later recalls. “He doesn’t believe in negotiations. He’s completely rigid, states his position, and concedes nothing. There could be no negotiations when his position was: It’s my way or the highway.” Cheney later denies that Akhromeyev even made such an offer. Downey, who considers Cheney a friend even though they disagree on virtually everything, recalls saying after the meeting: “I said, ‘You can’t expect them to accept all our terms? You can’t expect them to surrender?’ He said, ‘Yeah, yes I can.’”
'Standing at Ground Zero' - Downey recalls one chilling Moscow moment with Cheney. The two are strolling in Red Square one evening. Downey later recalls: “It was a spectacular night and we walked over to Red Square. There were just the two of us and I asked him what he was thinking. He said, ‘I think we’re standing at Ground Zero.’” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 52-53)
President Reagan’s blue-ribbon panel to examine the failure of the US-Soviet START arms negotiations (see May 1982 and After and Late 1982) finds that the Reagan administration’s recalcitrance, obduracy, and downright insulting behavior towards the Soviet negotiators is the primary reason why the negotiations have made no progress. The panel, headed by foreign policy “pragmatists” such as President Nixon’s Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, President Ford’s Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, President Carter’s Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, and Nixon security and defense aide Brent Scowcroft, calls for a revamped approach to the arms control negotiations. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 124-125) The panel’s recommendations will be ignored (see April 1983-December 1983).
The Reagan administration ignores the recommendations of a panel of experts named, at Congress’s behest, to provide alternatives to the stalled START arms reduction talks with the Soviet Union (see January 1983-April 1983). Spurred by hardliners in the administration, President Reagan instead instructs his negotiators to offer, not one unacceptable alternative, as initially offered to the Soviets (see May 1982 and After), but two unacceptable alternatives: either accept drastic limits on “throw weights,” or payloads, of their nuclear missiles, or accept harsh reductions in the number of ICBMs they can deploy, which will also reduce Soviet throw weight. The Soviets retort that the US is again trying to force them to disarm without agreeing to any reductions in their own nuclear arsenal. One Soviet official observes, “Your idea of ‘flexibility’ is to give a condemned man the choice between the rope and the ax.”
'Firing' the Executive Branch - Congressional leaders have had enough of the administration’s obstructionism, and brings in panel leader Brent Scowcroft to craft an alternative. In his 1984 book Deadly Gambits, future State Department official Strobe Talbott will write, “The Legislative Branch had, in effect, fired the Executive Branch for gross incompetence in arms control.” Scowcroft writes a proposal that enables both the US and USSR to reduce their nuclear arsenals with a measure of equivalence, taking into account the disparities between the two.
Misrepresenting the Proposal - The administration accepts Scowcroft’s proposal with some minor amendments, but the Soviets balk at the agreement, in part because chief US negotiator Edward Rowny, a hardliner who opposes arms negotiations on ideological grounds, misrepresents the proposal to his Soviet colleagues. The “basic position of this administration has not changed,” Rowny declares. In turn, the Soviets declare, “Ambassador Rowny is not a serious man.” When the talks come to their scheduled end in December 1983, the Soviets depart without setting a date for resumption.
More 'Sophisticated' Obstructionism - In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write of the negotiations: “The conservative position had by now become far more sophisticated. By never rejecting negotiations outright, the administration could always claim that it was pursuing them with vigor, and if critics complained that its proposals were nonnegotiable, it could simply, if disingenuously, claim that it wanted to substantively reduce nuclear arsenals, not just perpetuate the status quo.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 124-125)
The Supreme Court rules in INS v. Chadha that Congress has no right to issue what it calls “legislative vetoes,” essentially provisions passed by Congress giving the executive branch specific powers but with Congress reserving the right to veto specific decisions by the executive branch if it does not approve of the decisions made by the executive. Congress had relied on such “legislative vetoes” for years to curb the expanding power of the president. The Court strikes down hundreds of these “legislative vetoes” throughout federal law. Congress quickly schedules hearings to decide how to respond to the Court’s ruling. White House attorney John Roberts (see September 29, 2005), a young, fast-rising conservative, is one of a team of lawyers assigned to review the administration’s upcoming testimony before Congress. Some of the lawyers want to push Congress to place independent agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under White House control—part of the evolving “unitary executive” theory of presidential power (see April 30, 1986). Roberts writes: “With respect to independent agencies… the time may be ripe to reconsider the existence of such entities, and take action to bring them back within the executive branch.… I agree that the time is ripe to reconsider the Constitutional anomaly of independent agencies… More timid souls may, however, desire to see this deleted as provocative.” (Savage 2007, pp. 256-257)
A Soviet Su-15 fighter plane fires two missiles into a Korean Airlines 747 passenger plane, KAL 007. The plane, en route from Alaska to Seoul, South Korea, had strayed into Soviet air space, had not responded to radio communications, and had either ignored or not seen warning shots fired at it. The 747 crashes into the Sea of Japan, killing all 269 passengers, including conservative House Representative Larry McDonald (D-GA) and 62 other Americans. The Soviets insist that the passenger plane was deliberately sent into their airspace to test their military readiness; later investigation shows that a US spy plane had just left the area, agitating Soviet radar units, and, according to their own radio transmissions, the Soviets had honestly believed the 747 was another spy plane, most likely an American RC-135. Though it has definitely strayed into Soviet airspace at least twice, and flown over a sensitive Soviet airbase on the Kamchatka Peninsula, it is most likely shot down in international airspace. (Fischer 3/19/2007; Scoblic 2008, pp. 131)
Angry White House Officials Respond - Reagan administration officials are furious. Secretary of State George Shultz, dubbed “The Sphinx” by journalists for his remote demeanor, rails at the Soviets in a press conference called just four hours after the White House learns of the incident. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 131) Four days later, Reagan will denounce the Soviets in a primetime televised speech (see September 5, 1983).
Massive PR Campaign against USSR - The US will use the shootdown to mount a tremendous public relations campaign against the Soviets, focusing on the Soviet civilian leadership as well as Soviet international business interests; for example, the US will demand a global boycott of the Soviet airline Aeroflot. According to a memo issued to the Politburo by the Defense Ministry and the KGB, the Soviets well understood the political ramifications of the shootdown: “We are dealing with a major, dual-purpose political provocation carefully organized by the US special services. The first purpose was to use the incursion of the intruder aircraft into Soviet airspace to create a favorable situation for the gathering of defense data on our air defense system in the Far East, involving the most diverse systems including the Ferret satellite. Second, they envisaged, if this flight were terminated by us, [the US would use] that fact to mount a global anti-Soviet campaign to discredit the Soviet Union.” In its own counter-propaganda efforts, Soviet leader Yuri Andropov will say that an “outrageous military psychosis” has taken over US foreign policy. He adds, “[T]he Reagan administration, in its imperial ambitions, goes so far that one begins to doubt whether Washington has any brakes at all preventing it from crossing the point at which any sober-minded person must stop.” (Fischer 3/19/2007)
Exacerbating Tensions - After the shootdown and its aftermath, according to the Soviet ambassador to the US, Anatoly Dobrynin, both sides go “a little crazy.” The shootdown gives the US hard evidence of its worst-case assumptions about the Soviets. For the Soviets, the US reaction gives them hard evidence of their own assumptions about the US’s attempts to provoke the USSR into some sort of confrontation (see 1981-1983) and to embarrass the Soviet Union in the eyes of the world. Reagan’s use of the KAL 007 incident to ask Congress for more defense funding is, in the Soviets’ eyes, proof that the entire incident was engineered by the Americans for just such an outcome. (Fischer 3/19/2007)
Alternative Accounts - A number of alternative accounts about the incident spring up, in particular concerning McDonald. (Maier 4/16/2001)
A week after President Reagan publicly denounced the Soviet Union for shooting down a Korean Airlines passenger jet (see September 1, 1983 and September 5, 1983), Secretary of State George Shultz meets with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. Gromyko later recalls the conversation as “the sharpest exchange I ever had with an American secretary of state, and I have had talks with 14 of them.” The Reagan administration will deny Gromyko permission to fly into New York City, where he is scheduled to attend the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 131)
Soviet leader Yuri Andropov issues an unusual “declaration” on US-Soviet relations that demonstrates the tension and mistrust between the two countries since the KAL 007 shootdown (see September 1, 1983). “The Soviet leadership deems it necessary to inform the Soviet people, other peoples, and all who are responsible for determining the policy of states, of its assessment of the course pursued in international affairs by the current US administration,” Andropov says. “In brief, it is a militarist course that represents a serious threat to peace.… If anyone had any illusion about the possibility of an evolution for the better in the policy of the present American administration, recent events have dispelled them completely.” According to the Soviet ambassador to the US, Anatoly Dobrynin, the last phrase is the key: the word “completely” was carefully chosen to express the Soviet consensus that the USSR cannot hope to reach any sort of understanding with the Reagan administration. In the following months, a “war scare” mentality engulfs the Soviet populace, fed by Soviet-generated propaganda, until it becomes so widespread that the Kremlin, fearing the agitation will get out of hand, takes steps in early 1984 to calm the fears it has helped generate. (Fischer 3/19/2007)
Young White House attorney John Roberts (see September 29, 2005), an advocate of expanded presidential powers (see June-July 1983), is selected to respond to a letter from retired Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg. The former justice is commenting on the Reagan administration’s decision to unilaterally invade the tiny Caribbean island nation of Grenada. Goldberg wrote that President Reagan probably did violate the Constitution by sending troops to Grenada without Congressional approval, and in that sense has left himself open to impeachment. However, he added, the invasion had succeeded in establishing democracy in that nation. Therefore Reagan’s actions should be compared to those of President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, because, like Lincoln, he “acted in good faith and in the belief that this served our national interest” (see April 12 - July 1861). Drafting the letter for Reagan’s signature, Roberts thanks Goldberg for his defense of Reagan but insists that the invasion was perfectly legal. The president, Roberts writes, has “inherent authority in international affairs to defend American lives and interests and, as commander in chief, to use the military when necessary in discharging these responsibilities.” (Savage 2007, pp. 257)
The made-for-TV movie The Day After airs on ABC. It tells the story of a group of Americans in Lawrence, Kansas—the geographical center of the continental United States—who survive a nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union, and the harrowing days and weeks of their existence afterwards, as they slowly die from radiation poisoning and a lack of food and water. “Bootleged” copies of the movie have been available for months, adding to the anticipation and the controversy surrounding it.
Concerns of 'Anti-Nuclear Bias' from White House - The movie, described by Museum of Broadcast Communications reviewer Susan Emmanuel as “starkly realistic,” caused concern in the White House because of what it saw as its “anti-nuclear bias.” (The production had taken place without the cooperation of the Defense Department, which had insisted on emphasizing that the Soviet Union had started the exchange depicted in the movie. The filmmakers did not want to take a political stance, and preferred to leave that question unclear.) To address the White House’s concerns, ABC distributed a half-million viewers’ guides to schools, libraries, and civic and religious groups, and organized discussion groups around the country. It will also conduct extensive social research after the broadcast to judge the reactions among children and adults. A discussion group featuring Secretary of State George Shultz takes place immediately after the broadcast. Its original broadcast is viewed by roughly 100 million viewers, an unprecedented audience. It is shown three weeks later on Britain’s ITV network as part of a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament recruitment drive. Emmanuel will later write, “Not since then has the hybrid between entertainment and information, between a popular genre like disaster, and the address to the enlightened citizen, been as successfully attempted by a network in a single media event. ” (Lometti 1992; Scoblic 2008, pp. 133; Emmanuel 1/26/2008) Even though the filmmakers tried to remain politically neutral—director Nicholas Meyer says his film “does not advocate disarmament, build-down, buildup, or freeze”—proponents of the “nuclear freeze” movement hail the movie and conservatives call it a “two hour commercial for disarmament.” (ABC’s social research later shows that the film does not have a strong impact on viewers either for or against nuclear disarmament.) Conservative evangelist Jerry Falwell threatens, but does not execute, a boycott of the commercial sponsors of the film. Some Congressional Democrats ask that the movie be made available for broadcast in the Soviet Union. (Lometti 1992)
Powerful Impact on President Reagan - The movie has a powerful impact on one viewer: President Reagan. He will reflect in his memoirs that the film leaves him “greatly depressed” and makes him “aware of the need for the world to step back from the nuclear precipice.” Author J. Peter Scoblic will later write: “If it seems vaguely ridiculous for a Cold War president to reach this conclusion only after watching a made-for-TV movie, remember that Reagan biographers have long noted that his connection to film was often stronger than his connection to reality. He also became far more intellectually and emotionally engaged when presented with issues framed as personal stories, rather than as policy proposals.” Reagan’s visceral reaction to the film heralds a fundamental shift in his approach to the US-Soviet nuclear arms race. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 133)
The US launches Operation Staunch, advising other countries not to sell weapons to Iran to force a negotiated settlement to the Iran-Iraq war. (PBS 2000)
US Special Envoy Donald Rumsfeld—formerly the Secretary of Defense and now the CEO of the pharmaceutical company, GD Searle and Co.—personally meets with Saddam Hussein for 90 minutes in an attempt to reestablish diplomatic relations with Iraq. Rumsfeld also discusses US interest in the construction of the Iraq-Jordan Aqaba oil pipeline [to be built by Bechtel (see December 2, 1983)]. (US Department of State 12/10/1983 ; Iraqi television 12/20/1983; US Department of State 12/21/1983 ; Windrem 8/18/2002; Dickey and Thomas 9/23/2002; Dobbs 12/30/2002; arsenal 12/31/2002; Vallette 3/24/2003; Herbert 4/14/2003) Rumsfeld does not raise the issue of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons with Saddam. (US Department of State 12/21/1983 ) Rumsfeld also delivers a letter to Hussein from Reagan administration officials declaring that for Iraq to be defeated by Iran (see September 1980) would be “contrary to United States interests.” Rumsfeld’s visit represents one side of the somewhat double-edged US foreign policy in the region: the US has allowed Israel to sell US-made arms to Iran for use against Iraq (see 1981). By this time, the US has already started clandestinely providing arms to Iraq as well (see October 1983). (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992) After his meeting with the Iraqi president, Rumsfeld meets with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz. They agree that “the US and Iraq… [share] many common interests.” Rumsfeld briefly mentions US concerns about Iraq’s chemical weapons, explaining that US “efforts to assist [Iraq]… [are] inhibited by certain things that made it difficult for us….” (US Department of State 12/21/1983 ) On September 19, 2002, almost two decades later, Rumsfeld will be questioned in Congress about this visit (see September 19, 2002). (US Congress 9/20/2002)
Congress passes the Competition in Contracting Act. President Reagan signs the bill but issues a signing statement instructing the executive branch that a portion of the bill is unconstitutional, and directs agencies not to obey the law created by that section. A losing bidder who would have won a contract under that portion of the bill files a lawsuit, and a federal judge rules that the Reagan administration has no choice but to follow the entirety of the law. Attorney General Edwin Meese insists that the executive branch has the inherent power to interpret the Constitution as it sees fit, and declares the administration will not obey the judge’s ruling. An appeals court upholds the judge’s ruling and criticizes the Reagan administration for trying to seize a sort of line-item veto power without going through Congress. The House Judiciary Committee votes to cut off funding for Meese’s office unless the White House obeys the court rulings, and Meese withdraws his objections. (Savage 2007, pp. 231-232)
Young conservative White House lawyer John Roberts (see September 29, 2005), an advocate of expanded presidential powers (see June-July 1983 and October 1983), advises senior Reagan officials that the White House should challenge the 1978 Presidential Records Act. To Roberts’s mind, the law goes much too far in requiring that presidential papers be considered government property and should, with some exceptions, be released to the public 12 years after a president leaves office. The law infringes on the right of a president to keep information secret, Roberts argues. Later, he will argue that the 12-year rule is far too brief and, as it would “inhibit the free flow of candid advice and recommendations within the White House,” is unconstitutional. (Savage 2007, pp. 258)
Donald Rumsfeld travels to Baghdad to meet with Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz. While in Iraq, Rumsfeld discusses the proposed Iraq-Jordan Aqaba pipeline [to be built by Bechtel (see December 2, 1983)], relays an Israeli offer to help Iraq in its war against Iran, and expresses the Reagan administration’s hope that Iraq will obtain Export-Import Bank credits. (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 ; American Gulf War Veterans Association 9/10/2001; Scahill 8/2/2002; Vallette 3/24/2003)
Young conservative White House lawyer John Roberts (see September 29, 2005), an advocate of expanded presidential powers (see June-July 1983 and October 1983), expands on his previous argument that the president’s papers and documents should remain secret and unavailable to the public (see February 13, 1984). Roberts writes that the Reagan administration should oppose a bill pending in Congress that would make the National Archives a separate agency, independent of the White House. Roberts writes that the “legislation could grant the archivist [the head of the National Archives] some independence from presidential control, with all the momentous constitutional consequences that would entail.” Others in the White House disagree with Roberts, and the administration does not oppose the bill. Roberts suggests that President Reagan attach a signing statement to the bill making it clear that Reagan has the power to fire the archivist if he/she tries to disobey the White House in releasing a presidential document. (Savage 2007, pp. 258)
In a letter to National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, Attorney General William French Smith strongly objects to martial law plans developed by the National Security Council and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Smith learns the full extent of the plans upon reviewing a proposal by the Reagan administration to change Executive Order 11490 (see October 28, 1969). The Reagan administration is holding the drafted changes, along with standby legislation to amend the 1950 Defense Resources Act (see September 25, 1984), in preparation for any emergency that may require a military-style takeover of the nation’s resources and population. The plans cover a range of crisis situations, including a nuclear attack, natural disasters, and civil unrest. Smith writes: “I believe that the draft executive order raises serious substantive and public policy issues that should be further addressed before this proposal is submitted to the president. In short I believe that the role assigned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on the revised executive order exceeds its proper function as a coordinating agency for emergency preparedness.” Smith continues: “This department and others have repeatedly raised serious policy and legal objections to the creation of an ‘emergency czar’ role for FEMA. Specific policy concerns regarding recent FEMA initiatives include the abandonment of the principle of ‘several’ agency responsibility and the expansion of the definition of severe emergencies to encompass ‘routine’ domestic law enforcement emergencies. Legal objections relate to the absence of presidential or Congressional authorization for unilateral FEMA directives which seek to establish new federal government management structures or otherwise task cabinet departments and other federal agencies.” Despite the objections of the Justice Department, FEMA and the Reagan administration will not abandon the emergency doctrine. Before leaving office, Reagan will dramatically expand the government’s emergency powers and officially override Executive Order 11490 with Executive Order 12656 (see November 18, 1988). (Chardy 7/5/1987; Reynolds 1990)
The Reagan administration prepares a reserve emergency bill to amend the 1950 Defense Resources Act. The legislation, which would be presented to Congress in the event of a crisis, would suspend the Constitution and give the president and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) unprecedented powers to combat a disaster. Nationally syndicated columnist Jack Anderson comments, “Since FEMA’s draft legislation is a standby proposal, it will not be offered to Congress ahead of time—when it could be thoroughly debated—but only in the event of a national emergency, when Congress would supposedly be panicked into voting for a dictatorship.” The bill covers a range of emergencies, including nuclear war, natural disasters, financial crises, and civil disturbances. It would grant the government the authority to ration goods and resources, take control of the nation’s manufacturing base, and require all citizens to work in “activities essential to the national health, safety, or interest.” The bill would outlaw striking by workers, and those refusing to work or caught lying about the availability of manpower would be heavily fined or thrown in jail. It would grant the government the authority to seize real estate and personal property considered “necessary for the national defense purpose.” Datamation magazine says the plans would lead to a military takeover of the computer industry. The bill would give the government “unlimited powers to seize computers and plants of high-technology industries and would establish an Office of Censorship to control telecommunications leaving the United States, making it a crime for companies to use secret codes.” (Anderson 9/25/1984; Evening Independent 10/17/1984)
The Reagan and Bush administrations’ Commerce Departments allow US companies and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to export chemical and biological agents as well as other dual-use items to Iraq, despite the country’s known record of using chemical weapons. According to government regulations, the Commerce Department must send applications for export licenses which involve items related to national security to the appropriate US government agencies for review. Reviewing agencies include the State Department, Department of Defense, Energy Department, and Subgroup on Nuclear Export Coordination. But in many cases, the Commerce Department either does not send national security-related applications to these agencies for review, or if it does, it overrides a review agency’s recommendation not to grant a license, allowing the item to be exported anyway. (Timmerman 1991, pp. 202, 410; Jentleson 1994, pp. 79) According to two Senate Committee Reports that will be completed in 1994, one on May 25 and another on October 7, dual-use chemical and biological agents exported to Iraq from the US significantly contributed to the country’s weapons arsenal. The initial May report will say the agents “were not attenuated or weakened and were capable of reproduction” and the October report will reveal that the “microorganisms exported by the United States were identical to those the United Nations inspectors found and removed from the Iraqi biological warfare program.” The 1994 investigation also determines that other exports such as plans and equipment also contributed significantly to Iraq’s military capabilities. “UN inspectors had identified many United States manufactured items that had been exported from the United States to Iraq under licenses issued by the Department of Commerce, and established] that these items were used to further Iraq’s chemical and nuclear weapons development and its missile delivery system development program,” Donald Riegle, the chairman of the committee, will explain. He also says that between January 1985 and August 1990, the “executive branch of our government approved 771 different export licenses for sale of dual-use technology to Iraq.” (US Congress 5/25/1994; US Congress 5/25/1994; US Congress 10/7/1994; Blum 8/20/2002; Mackay and Arbuthnot 9/8/2002; arsenal 12/31/2002)
Biological and chemical agents -
Bacillus Anthracis, cause of anthrax. (Blum 8/20/2002; Mackay and Arbuthnot 9/8/2002)
Clostridium Botulinum, a source of botulinum toxin. It was sold to Iraq right up until 1992. (Blum 8/20/2002; Mackay and Arbuthnot 9/8/2002)
Histoplasma Capsulatam, cause of a disease attacking lungs, brain, spinal cord and heart. (Blum 8/20/2002)
Brucella Melitensis, a bacteria that can damage major organs. (Blum 8/20/2002; Mackay and Arbuthnot 9/8/2002)
Clotsridium Perfringens, a highly toxic bacteria causing systemic illness, gas gangrene. (Blum 8/20/2002; Mackay and Arbuthnot 9/8/2002)
Clostridium tetani, highly toxigenic. (Blum 8/20/2002; Mackay and Arbuthnot 9/8/2002)
Also, Escherichia Coli (E.Coli); genetic materials; human and bacterial DNA. (Blum 8/20/2002)
VX nerve gas. (Mackay and Arbuthnot 9/8/2002)
Pralidoxine, an antidote to nerve gas which can also be reverse engineered to create actual nerve gas. This was sold to Iraq in March 1992, after the end of the Gulf War. (Mackay and Arbuthnot 9/8/2002)
Other exports -
Chemical warfare-agent production facility plans and technical drawings. (Bazzi 12/13/2002)
Chemical warfare filling equipment. (Bazzi 12/13/2002)
Missile fabrication equipment. (Bazzi 12/13/2002)
Missile system guidance equipment. (Bazzi 12/13/2002)
Graphics terminals to design and analyze rockets. (Auerbach 3/11/1991)
Machine tools and lasers to extend ballistic missile range. (US Congress 7/2/1991)
Computers to develop ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. (US Congress 7/2/1991)
$1 million in computers, flight simulators and other technology products that went to Saad 16 research center in Iraq (see November 1986). (Auerbach 3/11/1991)
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)
The Reagan administration formally restores diplomatic relations with Iraq. The US had broken off relations with Iraq in 1967. Administration officials, who are already involved in secretly supplying military aid to Iraq for use against Iran (see October 1983), ignore allegations that Iraq is using lethal chemical weapons against Iranian troops, including mustard gas and fungal poisons. Administration officials will later claim that no one had any idea that those allegations were true, but according to a government official, the administration has indeed known of the Iraqis’ use of chemical weapons for over a year by this time. Officials have privately chided Iraq for its use of such weapons, but Reagan officials continue to press forward with the administration’s agenda of increased economic and military cooperation even though the Iraqis ignore the US’s protests against the use of chemical weapons. (Gwertzman 3/6/1984; Waas and Unger 11/2/1992; Battle 2/25/2003)
A company called SCT attempts to purchase Inslaw, which designed the PROMIS database and search application. SCT is assisted by the New York investment bank Allen & Co., which helps with the finance for the proposed deal. The attempt fails, but, according to Inslaw’s founder William Hamilton, in the process a number of Inslaw’s customers are warned by SCT that Inslaw will soon go bankrupt and will not survive reorganization. Wired magazine will say that Allen & Co. has “close business ties” to Earl Brian, a businessman who is said to be interested in PROMIS software and who is well-connected inside the Ronald Reagan administration. (Fricker 3/1993)
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decides that the Fairness Doctrine, in place since 1949 (see 1949 and 1959), is no longer needed to control political discussions on American broadcasts. The Fairness Doctrine requires that broadcasters provide “reasonable opportunities” for the presentation of differing views on controversial public issues. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 45) The FCC’s leadership is now populated largely with Reagan administration political appointees, conservatives who have a strong interest in deregulating the broadcast industry. First among these appointees is FCC chairman Mark Fowler, formerly a broadcast lawyer who has little patience for the idea that broadcasters have a unique role or bear special responsibilities to ensure broad discourse. “The perception of broadcasters as community trustees should be replaced by a view of broadcasters as marketplace participants,” Fowler says. In 1983, he said that television is “just another appliance—it’s a toaster with pictures.” He endorses near-complete deregulation, having said in 1983, “We’ve got to look beyond the conventional wisdom that we must somehow regulate this box.” The only regulations Fowler supports are those that help corporations manage frequency licensing. Fowler came into the FCC vowing to repeal the Fairness Doctrine, and spends his time as chairman working towards that goal, arguing that the doctrine violates broadcasters’ First Amendment rights. Though the doctrine remains law, the FCC stops enforcing it. (Rendell 2/12/2005)
Buoyed by recent breakthroughs in dialogue with the Soviet Union (see February 23, 1984), the US and USSR resume arms control talks, these combining both the INF (see September 1981 through November 1983) and START (see May 1982 and After) talks into a single set of discussions. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 139)
The Reagan administration takes another step in attempting to “purge” the federal bureaucracy of those who disagree with its policies (see February 1981 and After). President Reagan issues an executive order requiring agencies to annually submit a cost-benefit analysis of their proposed new rules to the White House, giving administration officials the chance to object to, delay, and block regulations it opposes for ideological reasons. Reagan attorney Douglas Kmiec will later write that this scheme is a major part of the Reagan administration’s attempt to implement the “unitary executive” theory of executive power (see April 30, 1986). Kmiec will write that though White House objections have no legal weight because Congress has given the agencies the power to make rules by law, the White House often wins the argument anyway. (Savage 2007, pp. 304-305)
Quoting a French intelligence report posted by PBS Frontline, The New Yorker reports, “During the nineteen-eighties, when the Reagan administration secretly arranged for an estimated $34 million to be funneled through Saudi Arabia to the Contras in Nicaragua, [Osama’s eldest brother] Salem bin Laden aided in this cause.” (PBS Frontline 2001; Mayer and Szechenyi 11/5/2001)
Secretary of State George Shultz offers prominent neoconservative and State Department official Elliott Abrams (see Early 1970s) the position of assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs (ARA), overseeing the department’s South and Central American issues and initiatives, as well as those for the Caribbean. Abrams accepts and, according to State Department notes of the meeting, promises to “manage the emergence of EA [Abrams] as King of LA [Latin America].” Abrams begins his duties in July 1985, and quickly becomes one of the State Department’s most vocal supporters of Nicaragua’s Contra movement, often appearing before Congress as an emissary of the Reagan administration to ask for funds for the insurgent group. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
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)
Michael Ledeen, a neoconservative author who consults for the National Security Council (see Late 1984), meets informally with Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Ledeen tells Peres that the Reagan administration will quietly support Israeli arms shipments to Iran. (New York Times 11/19/1987)
Reagan officials admit the administration’s policy of sponsoring armed insurgencies against Soviet-backed governments in developing nations. This policy is soon labeled the “Reagan doctrine” (see October 1983) (PBS 2000) and credited with helping bring about the fall of the Soviet Union. However, author J. Peter Scoblic will later write that the “Reagan doctrine” never really existed.
Aid to Anti-Soviet Insurgencies Far Less than Generally Thought - It is true, he will observe, that the US under President Reagan gave some assistance to countries with popular uprisings against Soviet-backed governments, but only in one—the “geostrategically insignificant” Grenada—did he send American troops to overthrow a Cuban-backed government and install a puppet government favorable to the US. In other countries such as Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Poland, and Angola, the US supported anti-communist or anti-socialist movements by funding and supplying arms to insurgents. But there is far more going on with these countries than conservatives will acknowledge. In Afghanistan, for example, the anti-Soviet mujaheddin were backed not only by the Carter administration, but by Chinese communists who opposed Soviet expansion into Central Asia. And Reagan’s support is, in Scoblic’s words, “equivocal”; by the time Reagan officials admit their administration’s policy of supporting anti-Soviet insurgencies, it has already rolled back many of the Carter-era sanctions against the USSR even though Soviet troops still occupied Afghanistan. In 1981, when the USSR ordered the Polish government to crack down on the labor movement Solidarity, the US did little except briefly impose economic sanctions on high-tech goods. And though many Reagan officials and conservatives outside the administration called for military intervention against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, the US never sends troops into that country, even though the idea of Soviet expansionism in Central America—the US’s geopolitical “back yard”—is anathema to most Americans. (Reagan once complained to his chief of staff Donald Regan, “Those sons of b_tches [presumably administration hardliners] won’t be happy until we have 25,000 troops in Managua, and I’m not going to do it.” And it was certainly not in line with conservative thought to sell arms to Iran, even if it was to obtain the release of American hostages.
No Actual Analysis of Support Strategies - Reagan’s National Security Adviser, Robert McFarlane, will later say: “Doctrines are things which come from thoughtful analysis of problems, threats, possible ways of dealing with them.… Not one nanosecond went into any [analysis] associated with the support of pro-democracy insurgent elements through the world.” The Reagan administration reacted to events rather than followed thought-out guidelines laying out a plan of action against Soviet expansionism.
Term Created by Neoconservative Columnist - The term “Reagan doctrine” was actually coined in April 1985 by neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, an obdurate advocate of the Nicaraguan Contras and for escalated US support of anti-Soviet insurgencies. He later explained that he “hoped that a ‘doctrine’ enshrining the legitimacy of overthrowing nasty communist governments would obviate the need for rhetorical ruses… and keep the debate—and the administration—honest.” Scoblic will later write, “In other words, he knew that the administration was not naturally inclined to such an aggressive strategy.”
Policies Aligned with Predecessors - The Reagan policies towards the Soviet Union are actually much in line with those of his predecessors, stretching all the way back to Harry Truman, Scoblic will write. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 145-149)
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)
After Hezbollah takes two more Americans hostage in Lebanon, Ronald Reagan angrily charges that Iran (the sponsor of Hezbollah) is a member of what he calls a “confederation of terrorist states… a new, international version of Murder Incorporated.” He asserts, “America will never make concessions to terrorists.” But unbeknownst to the public, a group of senior White House officials are working to begin providing military aid to Iran (see May 1985). (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
Despite the passage of two amendments dealing with Pakistan’s nuclear program in August 1985 (see August 1985 and August 1985), the Reagan and Bush administrations will fail to keep Congress properly informed of incidents related to Pakistan’s acquisition of components for its nuclear program, even though such notification is required by law. Senator John Glenn (D-OH), chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, and Congressman Stephen Solarz (D-NY), Chairman of the House Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, will later say that they are not formally briefed about any significant Pakistani procurement, with the exception of one case (see July 1987 or Shortly After), during this period. For example, Glenn will later say he should have been briefed about a nuclear scare involving Pakistan and India in 1990 (see January-May 1990) (Hersh 3/29/1993)
Former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, an emissary of the Reagan administration, takes 23 tons of weapons to Iran. (PBS 2000)
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 first arms-for-hostage deal between Iran and the US is completed (see August 6, 1985). On August 30, Israel sold over 500 US-made TOW anti-tank missiles to Iran. Now Iran frees the Reverend Benjamin Weir, an American kidnapped over a year before in Lebanon. White House officials hope for further hostage releases, but none are forthcoming. (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992) Ronald Reagan will telephone Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres to thank him for Israel’s help in securing Weir’s freedom. The TOW missiles will be delivered to Iran on September 20, in the cargo hold of a DC-8 transport plane once owned by a Miami-based air transport company; the aircraft took off from Tabriz, Iran, disappeared from radar screens over Turkey, made what was supposed to be a “forced landing” in Israel and later returned to Iran by a circuitous route. (Church 11/17/1986)
Ralph Tarr, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, drafts a memo explaining how the White House has issued signing statements up until now (see August 23, 1985 - December 1985), and makes recommendations on how to improve the process. Tarr, acting at the behest of an aide to Attorney General Edwin Meese, issues what author Charlie Savage will call “a prescient seven-page manifesto.” Tarr writes that signing statements are “presently underutilized and could become far more important as a tool of presidential management of the agencies, a device for preserving issues of importance in the ongoing struggle for power with Congress, and an aid to statutory interpretation for the courts.” Tarr writes that signing statements have the potential to be used as a threat “with which to negotiate concessions from Congress.” The statements can also be used to tell executive branch agencies how to interpret a law: “The president can direct agencies to ignore unconstitutional provisions or to read provisions in a way that eliminates constitutional or policy problems. This direction permits the president to seize the initiative in creating what will eventually be the agency’s interpretation.” (Savage 2007, pp. 232-233)
Actor Rock Hudson, a close friend of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, dies of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The virus was identified in 1983, but until now has been ignored by the Reagan administration. With the death of Hudson, Reagan will call AIDS research a “top priority” for his administration. However, Reagan immediately proposes spending cuts that would slash funding for such research. (PBS 2000)
The US ships another 500 TOW anti-tank missiles to Iran via Israel. (PBS 2000)
Robert McFarlane resigns as national security adviser. His deputy, Admiral John Poindexter, is appointed to the position. McFarlane will continue working for the administration on an informal basis. (New York Times 11/19/1987)
A federal appeals court agrees with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that the Fairness Doctrine, which mandates that broadcasters provide opportunities for different sides of controversial political and social issues (see 1949 and 1959), is no longer needed (see 1985). (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 45) In the case Meredith Corp. v. FCC, the court rules 2-1—with Reagan administration appointees Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia overriding the third judge—that Congress had not actually made the Fairness Doctrine an actual law. Bork writes, “We do not believe that language adopted in 1959 made the Fairness Doctrine a binding statutory obligation” because the doctrine was imposed “under,” not “by,” the Communications Act of 1934. In Bork’s opinion, the 1959 amendment established that the FCC could apply the doctrine, but is not legally obliged to do so. Therefore, the FCC can retain or drop the rule as it likes. According to the Media Access Project, “The decision contravened 25 years of FCC holdings that the doctrine had been put into law in 1959.” (Rendell 2/12/2005; Museum of Broadcasting 1/27/2008)
Attorney General Edwin Meese becomes directly involved in the Reagan administration’s secret plan to sell arms to Iran, when he is asked to render a legal opinion supporting the plan. (United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 8/4/1993) Months later, Meese will conduct an “investigation” of the Iran-Contra affair (see November 21-25, 1986), a possible conflict of interest in light of his legal opinion to justify the arms sales.
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)
Ronald Reagan secretly authorizes Saudi Arabia to transfer US-origin bombs to Iraq, in an attempt to induce the Iraqis to make more effective use of their air force against the Iranians. Reagan officials also encourage the Saudis to provide Iraq with British fighter planes. Saudi Arabia shortly transfers 1,500 MK-84 bombs to Iraq, but the Iraqis will, in the US view, fail to use them effectively. (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
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)
After Islamic militants bomb a Berlin discotheque, killing two American soldiers (see April 5, 1986 and After), the White House blames Libyan dictator Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi and prepares to attack Libya in retaliation. Some members of Congress, including Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sam Nunn (D-GA), question the appropriateness of the Reagan administration committing what may well be an act of war without consulting Congress. Others say the White House should make public its case against Libya before launching what in essence is the opening salvo in a war, instead of insisting that the evidence against Libya must remain classified. However, Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) staunchly defends the White House’s unilateral action. He tells a PBS reporter that “if the president of the United States reviews it and feels it’s adequate,” then the nation should trust what he says about classified intelligence. “It seems to me that this is a clear-cut case where the president as commander in chief… is justified in taking whatever action he deems appropriate and discussing the details with us after the fact.” (Savage 2007, pp. 52)
European public opinion begins to turn after the US launches a deadly strike against Libya, in retaliation for the bombing of a Berlin disco in which two American servicemen died (see April 5, 1986 and After). The CIA therefore works to spread the idea that the Libyans intend to plant another bomb in Berlin, a propaganda operation designed to reshape European public opinion. According to a CIA officer involved in the operation, the first step is “to convince German intelligence and police there was a terrorist cell.” To achieve this, a Lebanese CIA asset named Jamal Hamdan, who helps the US in various ways around this time, makes a series of phone calls from an apartment in Cyprus to suspected terrorists in Germany. Hamdan also tells a relative living in West Berlin that his brother Ali and a friend will enter the city carrying a package, which, it is implied, is a bomb. Ali Hamdan and the friend then enter West Berlin illegally from the east and are arrested by German police, who wrongly believe that they actually have a bomb and the plot is real. Word of the plot is leaked to the US press, enabling the Reagan administration to quell criticism of the attack on Libya. The CIA then steps in and has the two men held in Germany released. (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 89-90)
Attorney General Edwin Meese receives a report, “Separation of Powers: Legislative-Executive Relations.” Meese had commissioned the report from the Justice Department’s Domestic Policy Committee, an internal “think tank” staffed with hardline conservative scholars and policy advisers.
Recommendations for Restoring, Expanding Executive Power - The Meese report approvingly notes that “the strong leadership of President Reagan seems clearly to have ended the congressional resurgence of the 1970s.” It lays out recommendations for restoring the power taken from the executive branch after Watergate and Vietnam, and adding new powers besides. It recommends that the White House refuse to enforce laws and statutes that “unconstitutionally encroach upon the executive branch,” and for Reagan to veto more legislation and to use “signing statements” to state the White House’s position on newly passed laws. It also assails the 1972 War Powers Resolution and other laws that limit presidential power.
Reinterpreting the Separation of Powers and the Concept of 'Checks and Balances' - Perhaps most importantly, the Meese report claims that for 200 years, courts and scholars alike have misunderstood and misinterpreted the Founders’ intentions in positing the “separation of powers” system (see 1787 and 1793). The belief that the Constitution mandates three separate, co-equal branches of government—executive, judicial, and legislative—who wield overlapping areas of authority and work to keep each of the other branches from usurping too much power—a concept taught in school as “checks and balances”—is wrong, the report asserts. Instead, each branch has separate and independent sets of powers, and none of the three branches may tread or encroach on the others’ area of responsibility and authority. “The only ‘sharing of power’ is the sharing of the sum of all national government power,” the report claims. “But that is not joint shared, it is explicitly divided among the three branches.” According to the report, the White House should exercise total and unchallenged control of the executive branch, which, as reporter and author Charlie Savage will later explain, “could be conceived of as a unitary being with the president as its brain.” The concept of “checks and balances” is nothing more than an unconstitutional attempt by Congress to encroach on the rightful power of the executive. This theory of presidential function will soon be dubbed the “unitary executive theory,” a title adapted from a passage by Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers. (Savage 2007, pp. 47-48) Charles Fried, Reagan’s solicitor general during the second term, will later write that though the unitary executive theory displays “perfect logic” and a “beautiful symmetry,” it is difficult to defend, because it “is not literally compelled by the words of the Constitution. Nor did the framers’ intent compel this view.” (Savage 2007, pp. 50)
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)
Five hundred and eight TOW anti-tank missiles, and 240 spare parts for Hawk anti-aircraft missiles, are shipped to Israel for transfer to Iran. (New York Times 11/19/1987)
Unaware of the White House machinations with Iran and the Nicaraguan Contras (see 1984, May 1984, October 10, 1984, November 19, 1985, December 6, 1985, Mid-1980s, April 4, 1986, May 29, 1986, and June 11, 1986), Congress approves a $100 million appropriation for military and non-arms aid to the Contras. (New York Times 11/19/1987)
CIA Director William Casey introduces a plan to break the stalled arms-for-hostages deal with Iran that has been moribund for over a month (see Late May, 1986). Like his boss President Ronald Reagan, Casey has a powerful Cold War mentality and a love of covert operations; like Reagan, Casey believes that building relations with Iran is a way to counter Soviet expansionism. Casey’s plan appears on the agenda of a meeting of the Contingency Pre-Planning Group (CPPG), an inter-agency committee consisting of mid-level representatives of the National Security Council, the Departments of State and Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the CIA. The meeting focuses on Iraq’s failures in its long, dismal war against Iran. Casey believes that if Iraq escalates its air attacks on Iran, Iran will need more and more arms from the US, and that will force it to conclude the stalled arms-for-hostages deal on favorable terms. And Casey, ever the espionage aficionado, is playing the two opposing factions—one pro-Iran, one pro-Iraq—within the administration (see January 14, 1984) against one another, according to two CIA aides who work closely with him. Those aides, who speak to reporters in 1992 after leaving the agency, will say he even keeps some White House officials ignorant of the “double nature of his plan.” In furthering his own murky strategies, Casey is also enlisting the support of State and Defense Department officials who fear an imminent Iranian victory. Casey believes that the war will continue as a stalemate for several years, but he deliberately slants his intelligence assessments to paint a graver picture of Iraq’s imminent defeat (Iraq’s fortunes in the war are grim enough to require little embellishment).
CPPG Unable To Find Solutions for Iraq - The CPPG is tasked with shoring up the US’s commercial and financial relationships with Iraq, a chore for which the group cannot find an immediate solution. The CPPG has also considered using Jordan as a conduit for arms to Iraq, similar to the way Israel has served as a conduit for US arms to Iran (see 1981), but the group rejects that idea because, according to a memo from the meeting, “any such transfer has to be notified to the Congress and thus made public.”
Iraq's Antiquated War Strategies - The group finally discusses a matter that plays into Casey’s plan, Iraq’s failure to fight the war in a modern fashion. Iraq uses its powerful air force extremely poorly, at times seemingly afraid to commit planes on missions that might put a single aircraft at risk. Former ambassador Richard Murphy will say of Iraq, “The Iraqis were fighting the way Germans might have in the First World War. They were good at holding a defense line, which is useful in holding back the human waves of Iranians. But when it came to their air force they were inept. On bombing missions, in particular, the Iraqis were so afraid to lose planes that they often didn’t undertake missions, and when they did they did only things that were safe.” Reagan has already issued secret authorizations for Saudi Arabia to transfer US-origin bombs to Iraq, to induce it to use its air force more effectively (see February 1986), to little avail. Now the CPPG says that Vice President George Bush might help out; Bush is making a trip to the Middle East as Reagan’s “peace envoy” (see July 23, 1986). The CPPG decides that Bush might suggest to Jordan’s King Hussein and Egypt’s President Mubarak that the two “sustain their efforts to convey our shared views to Saddam regarding Iraq’s use of its air resources.” The CPPG is not sanguine about the likelihood of Bush’s success, considering the distrust Saddam Hussein maintains for the US. The CPPG recommends that the White House send “a senior US emissary” to confer directly with Hussein; the CPPG is apparently unaware that Casey has already spoken privately with Bush and asked him to meet in secret with Hussein (see July 23, 1986). (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)
The US sends Iran a shipment of spare parts for its Hawk anti-aircraft missiles. (New York Times 11/19/1987)
The Reagan administration’s Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) pressures several countries—under threat of sanctions—to open their markets to American cigarettes: Japan in September 1986, Taiwan in late 1986, and South Korea in May 1988. By 1991, sales of American cigarettes in these new markets are 600 percent higher than they would have otherwise been without US intervention, according to the Boston-based National Bureau of Economic Research. The Bureau also notes that American tobacco companies’ cheap prices and sophisticated advertising campaigns increased average cigarette consumption per capita by nearly 10 percent in the targeted countries. Much of the new demand for cigarettes was created among women and young people. (Frankel 11/17/1996; Singh 8/8/2000)
Negotiations between Iran and the US for more arms sales hit another snag, with the Iranians merely releasing some American hostages and kidnapping more (see September 19, 1986). CIA Director William Casey decides to reprise the earlier strategy of exhorting Iraq to escalate its air strikes against Iran, thus forcing Iran to turn to the US for more military aid (see July 23, 1986). Casey secretly meets with two high-level Iraqi officials, Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz and Iraq’s ambassador to the US, Nizaar Hamdoon, to urge that the Iraqis once again intensify their bombing runs deep into Iranian territory. The Iraqis comply. But the Iranians’ return to the bargaining table is complicated by the October 5 shooting down of a CIA transport plane in Nicaragua, and the capture by the Sandinistas of the lone survivor, a cargo hauler named Eugene Hasenfus, who tells his captors of the US involvement with the Nicaraguan Contras (see October 5, 1986). Soon after, the Iranians release a single American hostage, but the Hasenfus revelation is followed by that of the Iran-US arms-for-hostages deals by a Lebanese newspaper, Al Shiraa (see November 3, 1986), and similar reports by US news organizations. With the public now aware of these embarrassing and potentially criminal acts by the Reagan administration, support for Iran within the administration collapses, most of the pro-Iranian officials leave government service, and the pro-Iraqi wing of the executive branch, led by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Secretary of State George Shultz, wins out. The closing months of the Reagan administration will feature a marked tilt towards Iraq in the war between Iraq and Iran. The Reagan administration will, in coming months, provide Iraq with a remarkable amount of military and economic aid, including technology to develop long-range ballistic missiles, chemical weapons, and even nuclear weapons. (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992) Interestingly, one of the terrorist groups holding American hostages, the Islamic Jihad Organization (a group closely affiliated with Hezbollah and not the group led by Ayman al-Zawahiri), who released American captive David Jacobson in early November, urged the US to “proceed with current approaches that could lead, if continued, to a solution of the hostages issue.” Reagan officials publicly deny that anyone in the US government has made any “approaches” to Iran or anyone else. As a side note, the release of Jacobson also shows the efforts of Terry Waite, the Archbishop of Canterbury and a former hostage himself, to facilitate the release of the hostages in a different light. Waite’s untiring efforts have obviously been sincere, but never as effective as publicly portrayed. Instead, both the US and Iran have used Waite’s efforts as cover for their secret negotiations. One Israeli official calls Waite’s efforts the “cellophane wrapping” around the hostage releases. He says: “You cannot deliver a gift package unwrapped. That is why there will be no more hostage releases until he returns to the region.” (Waite has temporarily suspended his attempts to free the hostages, complaining about being used as a pawn in international power games.) (Church 11/17/1986)
A CIA C-123 transport plane (see November 19, 1985) is shot down in southern Nicaragua by a Sandinista soldier wielding a surface-to-air missile. The transport plane left an airfield in El Salvador with arms and other supplies intended for the Nicaraguan Contras. Three crew members—US pilots William Cooper and Wallace Sawyer, Jr, and an unidentified Latin American—die in the crash, but one, a “cargo kicker” named Eugene Hasenfus, ignores CIA orders and parachutes to safety—and capture by the Sandinistas. Hasenfus is a construction worker from Wisconsin who signed on to do temporary work with CIA contractors, and has no intention of “going down with the plane.” The next day, newspapers around the world run stories with Hasenfus’s face peering out from their front pages.
Reveals US's Arming of Contras - The Hasenfus shoot-down will break the news of the Reagan administration’s secret arming of the Contras in their attempt to bring down the democratically elected Socialist government of Nicaragua. (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; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 64)
Damage Control - Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see Late 1985 and After) is the designated US spokesman on the Hasenfus shootdown. Abrams coordinates with his fellow Contra supporters, the NSC’s Oliver North and the CIA’s Alan Fiers, and with the US Ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin Corr, on how to handle the situation. Between the three, they coordinate a denial from the Salvadoran military about any Salvadoran or US involvement in the Hasenfus flight. As for themselves, they agree not to flatly lie about anything, because they cannot be sure of what Hasenfus will say, but they agree to remain as quiet as possible and hope the media sensation surrounding Hasenfus dies down with little long-term effect. According to notes taken by Corr during one meeting, everyone knows that a leak—“eventually someone in USG [the US government] will finally acknowledge some ‘winking.’ Salv role now more public”—is inevitable. It is eventually decided that the Contras themselves will take all responsibility for the flight. Fiers worries that the flight will be connected to previous humanitarian aid supplied to the Contras (see October 1985). They also confirm that Felix Rodriguez, North’s liaison to the Contras in Central America (see Mid-September 1985), is in Miami, hiding from the press. Hasenfus will later acknowledge making at least ten supply flights into Nicaragua (see October 9, 1986). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
The Reagan administration, 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.”
The Reagan administration, led by CIA Director William Casey and National Security Adviser John Poindexter (Robert McFarlane’s replacement), decides to downplay and deny any arms-for-hostages deals as reported in the world press (see November 3, 1986), while maintaining the secret negotiations with Iran. President Reagan accepts their advice. In notes Reagan takes during a clandestine meeting about the situation, he writes, “Must say something because I’m being held out to dry.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 65-66)
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)
President Reagan appoints former Senator John Tower (R-TX) to head a commission to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. The so-called “Tower Commission” will issue its final report three months later (see February 26, 1987). (PBS 2000) Tower left the Senate in 1985 and attempted to win the position of defense secretary for Reagan’s second term. Instead, Reagan appointed him to lead the US team of arms reduction negotiators in Geneva. Tower also became very rich very quickly lobbying for a variety of defense contractors. Between his overt lobbying for the defense industry and his notoriously libertine lifestyle—even consorting with prostitutes known to be KGB agents—Tower was unable to secure the position of defense secretary. But he is a Reagan loyalist, and well-known to the White House from their thorough vetting of his background and private life; perhaps this makes Tower a good administration choice to lead the investigative commission. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 85-86)
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)
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)
In the first day of testimony before the Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee (see May 5, 1987), General Richard Secord (see September 19, 1986) testifies that CIA Director William Casey was one of the driving forces behind the illegal sales of arms to Iran, and the equally illegal diversion of profits from those arms to the Nicaraguan Contras. Secord, the leadoff witness, testifies that in addition to Casey, CIA and State Department officials aided in the efforts to provide the Contras with weapons and funds. Secord says he spoke with Casey about arming the Contras three times. He does not go into detail about what specific information he received from Casey during these conversations, but says the quality and amount of information was disappointing: “I was never able to get the professional intelligence I was accustomed to having.” Secord testifies that under Casey, high-ranking CIA agents in Honduras and Costa Rica gave him intelligence and other assistance. (Pace 5/7/1987)
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee reports that the US faces a dire choice if Iran is victorious in its war with Iraq. The choice, the committee reports, is “between permitting Iran to dominate the West’s oil supply in the Persian Gulf, and direct US military intervention… .” The report warns that the US, having agreed to protect Kuwaiti shipping in the Persian Gulf from Iranian attacks, “seriously risks being drawn into war” against Iran, and notes that Gulf nations believe the US is siding with Iraq in the war, “and the expanded US naval presence is likely to invite more Iranian attacks of increasing severity.… American naval forces in the Gulf are now, in effect, hostage to Iraqi war policy.” The Senate is debating whether to invoke the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which requires Congress to either declare war in the region or withdraw funding for the US military presence in the Gulf. The Reagan administration opposes the move, and it is doubtful a majority in Congress will vote to invoke the resolution. The report calls the US policy of escorting Kuwaiti tankers “dangerously nebulous.” The Reagan administration agreed to protect the tankers after Kuwait threatened to turn to the Soviets for help if the United States refused. Most Gulf nations believe Kuwait’s threat to ask for Soviet help is nothing more than a “feint” to involve the US in the war; few believe Kuwait is serious about turning to the Soviets for assistance. The report says that although “the flow of oil is not in serious jeopardy,” “shipping in the gulf now appears less safe than before the US naval buildup began.” Iran has recently sown Gulf waters with mines, posing a threat to Kuwaiti and other shipping in the area. Interestingly, though the report is critical of Reagan administration policy in the Gulf, it does not recommend reversing course. The US cannot retreat from its promise to protect Kuwaiti shipping without risking “great cost to US credibility in the region.” Claiborne Pell (D-RI) says, “This report shows that the danger of a possible Iraqi collapse is greater than commonly understood, and that the perils for us in the Gulf are certain to increase.” The report notes that because of the White House’s secret arming of Iran (see 1981), Iraq faces the real possibility of defeat in the war, with potentially catastrophic results for the US. “US policy in the Persian Gulf has been shaped as much by a short-term desire to restore credibility lost in the Iran-Contra affair as by any careful assessment of US interests and objectives.” (Kaplan 10/19/1987; Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
Congress’s joint Iran-Contra investigative committee issues its final majority report. (New York Times 11/19/1987) The Republican minority has largely refused to join the majority report, which was watered down time and again to entice the Republicans to join in the issuance of a unanimous report (see November 16-17, 1987). Still, the watered-down report finds that the “clandestine financing operation undermined the powers of Congress as a coequal branch and subverted the Constitution.” The Reagan administration had violated a key belief of the Constitution’s framers: “the purse and the sword should never be in the same hands.” Regardless of the majority report’s findings, no significant reforms will come from the Iran-Contra investigation. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 81-82)
According to several accounts, Iraq uses US-supplied Bell helicopters to deploy chemical weapons during its campaign to recapture lost territories in its war with Iran. One of the towns that is within the conflict zone is the Kurdish village of Halabja, with a population of about 70,000. Between 3,200 and 5,000 Halabja civilians are reportedly killed by poison gas (see August 25, 1988). Other accounts, however, suggest that Iranian gas is responsible for the attack on Halabja, a version that is promoted by the Reagan administration in order to divert the blame away from Iraq. Some believe the US version of the Halabja massacre is “cooked up in the Pentagon.” A declassified State Department document “demonstrate[s] that US diplomats received instructions to press this line with US allies, and to decline to discuss the details.” (US Department of the Navy 12/10/1990; Weinstein and Rempel 2/13/1991; Auerbach 3/11/1991; Hiltermann 1/17/2003; Pelletiere 1/31/2003)
In a 7-1 ruling, the Supreme Court rules that the independent counsel law is Constitutional and valid. The ruling overturns a recent appeals court ruling striking down the law because it conflicts with the “unitary executive” theory of government (see January 1988). The ruling stuns the Reagan administration, who had fiercely argued against the independent counsel law, in part because conservative justice William Rehnquist authors the majority opinion. Only Reagan appointee Antonin Scalia votes in favor of the unitary executive. (Savage 2007, pp. 46-49)
The US Senate unanimously passes the Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988, which makes Iraq ineligible to receive US loans, military and non-military assistance, credits, credit guarantees and items subject to export controls. It also makes it illegal for the US to import Iraqi oil. (US Congress 9/8/1988; Jentleson 1994, pp. 78) Immediately after the bill is passed by the Senate, the Reagan administration launches a campaign to prevents its passage in the House. With the help of its allies in the House, the administration succeeds in killing the bill on the last day of the legislative session. (Jentleson 1994, pp. 78; Sciolino 2/13/2003)
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal (see February 1989), is convicted of three counts of falsifying and destroying documents (see November 21-25, 1986 and March 16, 1988), of obstructing a Congressional investigation, and of illegally receiving a gift of a security fence around his home. He is acquitted of nine other counts. Though facing up to ten years in prison and a $750,000 fine, North receives an extremely lenient sentence: three years’ suspended, two years’ probation, community service, and a $150,000 fine. He also has his Marine service pension suspended. During the trial, North admits he lied repeatedly to Congress during his testimony (see July 7-10, 1987), but says that his superiors, including National Security Adviser John Poindexter, ordered him to lie under oath. North contends that he was made a scapegoat for the Reagan administration. “I knew it wasn’t right not to tell the truth about these things,” he says, “but I didn’t think it was unlawful.” US District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell calls North a “low-ranking subordinate who was carrying out the instructions of a few cynical superiors,” and says to North: “I believe you still lack understanding of how the public service has been tarnished. Jail would only harden your misconceptions.” North, who had been staunch in justifying his actions in the Iran-Contra hearings, now expresses remorse over his crimes, saying, “I recognize that I made many mistakes that resulted in my conviction of serious crimes… and I grieve every day.” North, who is a popular speaker with conservative organizations, can pay off his fine with six speaking engagements. Nevertheless, he says he will appeal his conviction. (BBC 7/5/1989; Johnston 9/17/1991) North’s conviction will indeed be overturned by an appeals court (see September 17, 1991).
In connection with the Iran-Contra scandal, former National Security Adviser John Poindexter (see March 16, 1988) is convicted of five felonies, including conspiring to obstruct official inquiries and proceedings, two counts of obstructing Congress, and two counts of lying to Congress. Poindexter is sentenced to six months in prison. Instead of serving his jail time, he will win a reversal in federal appeals court. (FINAL REPORT OF THE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL FOR IRAN/CONTRA MATTERS: Chapter 3: United States v. John M. Poindexter 8/4/1993) The New York Times will write during Poindexter’s sentencing hearing that, though Poindexter had a brilliant career before becoming Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser, he should go to jail because he is not only clearly guilty of the felonies he is convicted of, but he has shown a total lack of remorse or contrition. “The admiral disagreed with [the] fundamental rule of law and apparently still does,” the Times will write, noting that Poindexter apparently feels that if he views the law as incorrect or overly constraining, he is well within his rights to break that law. (New York Times 6/11/1990)
Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike