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The CIA secretly provides Iraqi intelligence with instructions on how to “calibrate” its mustard gas attacks on Iranian troops. [Washington Post, 12/15/1986]
Vice-President George H.W. Bush becomes involved in the Reagan administration’s covert arming of Iraq, an operation which eventually comes to be known as “Iraqgate.” There is no evidence to show that Bush knew about the Pentagon’s efforts to arm Iraq through third parties (see October 1983), but subsequent aspects of the operation go through the National Security Planning Group, of which Bush is a member. According to participants in the group’s meetings, Bush is a strong advocate of the Aqaba pipeline project (see January 14, 1984) and other aspects of the Reagan administration’s covert tilt towards Iraq. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
Following a March 1985 directive signed by President Reagan that sharply escalates US covert action in Afghanistan, the Pakistani ISI begins training Afghans to launch strikes directly into Soviet territory. Apparently the idea originated with CIA Director William Casey who first proposed harassing Soviet territory in 1984 (see October 1984). According to Graham Fuller, a senior US intelligence official, most top US officials consider such military raids “an incredible escalation” and fear a large-scale Soviet response if they are carried out. The Reagan administration decides not to give Pakistan detailed satellite photographs of military targets inside the Soviet Union. [Washington Post, 7/19/1992] Mohammad Yousaf, a high-ranking ISI officer, will later claim that the training actually began in 1984. “During this period we were specifically to train and dispatch hundreds of mujaheddin up to 25 kilometers deep inside the Soviet Union. They were probably the most secret and sensitive operations of the war.” He notes that, “By 1985, it became obvious that the United States had got cold feet. Somebody at the top in the American administration was getting frightened.” But, he claims, “the CIA, and others, gave us every encouragement unofficially to take the war into the Soviet Union.” [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 286-287] Casey will approve of such attacks and the first attack inside the Soviet Union will take place in 1985 (see 1985-1987).
Richard Murphy. [Source: Richard W Murphy.org]Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy writes a potentially explosive classified memo about arming Iraq. Murphy, along with his boss George Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, are strong proponents of supporting Iraq in its war with Iran (National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane and two of his staffers, Howard Teicher and Oliver North, support arming Iran; the argument is causing deep divides within the administration). Murphy’s memo is so sensitive that its recipients are ordered to destroy it and to keep records of its destruction. Murphy suggests that the US can arm Iraq with “dual use” items—nominally civilian items that also have military use, such as heavy trucks, armored ambulances, and communications gear. Murphy also advocates helping Iraq build a new oil pipeline that will pump oil to the Jordanian port of Aqaba, on the Israeli border, which will allow Iraq to circumvent the Iranian blockade of Iraq’s Persian Gulf ports. Murphy also mentions the State Department’s desire to fund a number of projects in Iraq through the US Export-Import bank (EXIM), chaired by Reagan appointee William Draper. Murphy writes, in part: “Liberalizing export controls on Iraq: we are considering revising present policy to permit virtually all sales of non-munitions list dual use equipment to Iraq…. Egyptian tank sales: in the context of recommending ways to improve our relations with Iraq, Egypt has suggested that we provide it additional M-60 tanks beyond those we are now providing under FMS [Foreign Military Sales]. Egypt would use the additional M-60s to replace used Soviet T-63s, which it would sell to Iraq…. EXIM financing: [Under-Secretary of State Lawrence] Eagleburger has written EXIM director Draper to urge EXIM financing of US exports to and projects in Iraq…. Such major EXIM financing could boost Iraq’s credit rating, leading to increased commercial financing for Iraq. However, EXIM does not favor involvement in Iraq.” Murphy warns that Congress might begin sniffing around the State Department’s secret policy of arming Iraq. He advocates fobbing off Congress with background briefings that emphasize “our efforts to deter escalation and bring about a cessation of hostilities.” [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
Entity Tags: Oliver North, Export-Import Bank, Caspar Weinberger, George Shultz, Lawrence Eagleburger, US Department of Defense, Robert C. McFarlane, William Draper, Howard Teicher, US Department of State, Richard W. Murphy
Timeline Tags: US-Iraq 1980s
Secretary of State George Shultz announces that the State Department has designated Iran as a state sponsor of international terrorism. [PBS, 2000] As of mid-2008, Iran is still designated as a terrorism sponsor.
Tariq Aziz. [Source: BBC]Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy, the author of a secret policy memo detailing the administration’s new and covert military support for Iraq (see January 14, 1984), meets with Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Tariq Aziz, in Baghdad. Murphy later describes Aziz as wearing olive-green fatigues, clenching a Cuban cigar between his teeth, and sporting a pearl-handled revolver. Aziz welcomes the covert arms supplies from the US, and is particularly interested in the proposed construction of an oil pipeline to run from Iraq to Jordan, very near the Israeli border. However, mindful of the recent destruction of Iraq’s nuclear facility at Osirak by the Israelis (see June 7, 1981), Aziz insists that the US help finance the pipeline, both with government funds and private participation. Murphy agrees that the project is invaluable both in a geopolitical and an economic sense, and says he will so inform his Washington superiors. Murphy gingerly raises the question of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops (see 1982), but Aziz denies any such usages. Murphy doesn’t press the issue, but says that Iraq must, according to Murphy, “eliminate doubts in the international community by making their positions and explanations as clear and understandable to the international public as the allegations have been.” [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
Western journalists reporting on the war between Iraq and Iran verify the use of chemical weapons. [New York Times, 2/13/2003]
President Reagan’s new tone of reconciliation with the Soviet Union (see December 1983 and After) wins a positive response from Soviet Premier Konstantin Chernenko, a pragmatist who has just replaced the far more ideologically hardline Yuri Andropov. Chernonko writes that he sees an “opportunity to put our relations on a more positive track.” The National Security Council and State Department both begin moving to renew serious dialogue with the Soviets. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 139]
The United Nations dispatches experts to the conflict zone in the war between Iran and Iraq who document Iraq’s use of chemical weapons. [Jentleson, 1994, pp. 76]
Lt. Col. William Buckley. [Source: Arlington Cemetery (.net)]William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut, is kidnapped by militants who claim to be part of a mysterious organization they call Islamic Jihad. Buckley will die in June 1985, after 15 months of captivity, neglect, and torture. The CIA will not acknowledge his death until 1987. His body will not be returned to the US until December 1991. Buckley’s captivity, and that of at least five other American hostages, will be cited as one of the precipitating factors in the Iran-Contra arms deals. [PBS, 2000; Arlington Cemetery (.net), 4/23/2006] (Note: Some sources cite the date of his capture as March 16, not March 3.) [New York Times, 11/19/1987] It remains unclear exactly who Buckley’s captors are. This “Islamic Jihad” organization is not the same group as is later led by Sunni militant Ayman al-Zawahiri, nor is it the Palestinian organization of the same name. In the 2001 book Sacred Rage, author Robin B. Wright notes that a group spokesman claims, “We are neither Iranians, Syrians nor Palestinians, but Muslims who follow the precepts of the Koran.” Wright calls the organization “a mysterious group about which nothing was known” except for its “pro-Iranian” ideology, probably “more of an information network for a variety of cells or movements rather than a cohesive or structured independent group of extremists.” [Wright, 2001, pp. 73, 85] New Yorker reporter Jeffrey Goldberg later writes that he believes the organization is either a precursor to the Lebanese militant organization Hezbollah or a more violent adjunct to that organization. [New Yorker, 10/14/2002]
George Shultz. [Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology]US Secretary of Defense Lawrence Eagleburger meets with Iraqi diplomat Ismet Kattani to minimize the damage that the State Department’s March 5 condemnation (see March 5, 1984) of Iraqi chemical warfare has caused to US-Iraqi relations. Secretary of State George Shultz is also present and later sends a cable to embassies in the Middle East with a summary of the meeting. “Eagleburger began the discussion by taking Kittani aside to emphasize the central message he wanted him to take back: our policy of firm opposition to the prohibited use of CW [chemical weapons] wherever it occurs necessitated our March 5 statement condemning Iraq’s use of CW,” the note explains. “The statement was not intended to provide fuel for Khomeini’s propaganda war, nor to imply a shift in US policy toward Iran and Iraq. The US will continue its efforts to help prevent an Iranian victory, and earnestly wishes to continue the progress in its relations with Iraq. The Secretary [Shultz] then entered and reiterated these points.” [US Department of State, 3/1984 ; New York Times, 12/23/2003]
Iran presents a draft resolution to the UN which condemns Iraq’s use of chemical weapons. The US delegate to the UN is instructed to push for a “no decision” on the resolution, or if not possible, cast an abstaining vote. Iraq’s ambassador meets with the US ambassador to the UN, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and asks for “restraint” in responding to the issue of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons. [Battle, 2/25/2003]
US intelligence officials says they have “incontrovertible evidence that Iraq has used nerve gas in its war with Iran and has almost finished extensive sites for mass-producing the lethal chemical warfare agent.” [New York Times, 3/30/1984]
The US State Department briefs Donald Rumsfeld, who is preparing to make another visit to Baghdad (see March 26, 1984). In a memo to Rumsfeld, Secretary of State George Shultz laments that relations with Iraq have soured because of the State Department’s March 5 condemnation (see March 5, 1984) of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons and expresses considerable concern over the future of the Aqaba pipeline project [to be built by Bechtel (see December 2, 1983)] which the US is pushing. Shultz writes: “Two event have worsened the atmosphere in Baghdad since your last stop there in December: (1) Iraq has only partly repulsed the initial thrust of a massive Iranian invasion, losing the strategically significant Majnun Island oil fields and accepting heavy casualties; (2) Bilateral relations were sharply set back by our March 5 condemnation of Iraq for CW [chemical weapons] use, despite our repeated warnings that this issue would emerge [as a public issue] sooner or later. Given its wartime preoccupations and its distress at our CW statement, the Iraqi leadership probably will have little interest in discussing Lebanon, the Arab-Israeli conflict, or other matters except as they may impinge on Iraq’s increasingly desperate struggle for survival. If Saddam or Tariq Aziz receives you against consider, and to reject, a pending application from Westinghouse to participate in a $160 million portion of a $1 billion Hyundai thermal power plant project in Iraq, this decision will only confirm Iraqi perceptions that ExIm [Export-Import Bank] financing for the Aqaba pipeline is out of the question. Eagleburger tried to put this perception to a rest, however, emphasizing to Kittani the administration’s firm support for the line (see March 15, 1984). The door is not yet closed to ExIm or other USG [US government] financial assistance to this project….” At the very end of the cable, it is noted that “Iraq officials have professed to be at a loss to explain our actions as measured against our stated objectives. As with our CW statement, their temptation is to give up rational analysis and retreat to the line that US policies are basically anti-Arab and hostage to the desires of Israel.” [US Department of State, 3/24/1984 ; Vallette, 3/24/2003]
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; Common Dreams, 8/2/2002; Vallette, 3/24/2003]
During a meeting in Jordan, Iraqi diplomat Kizam Hamdoon and US diplomat James Placke discuss a proposed draft resolution that Iran presented to the UN Security Council (see Mid-March 1984) calling on the international body to condemn Iraq’s use of chemical weapons. Hamdoon tells Placke that Iraq would prefer a Security Council presidential statement in lieu of a resolution, adding that the statement should (1) “mention former resolutions of the war”; (2) include a “strong call for progress toward ending the war through ceasefire or negotiations”; and (3) not identify any specific country as responsible for chemical weapons use. Placke says that he will honor the request but asks that Iraq halt its purchasing of chemical weapons from US suppliers so as not to “embarrass” the US. Placke also warns that the US would be implementing licensing requirements on five chemical compounds for both Iraq and Iran. Placke says that the US does not want to be the “source of supply for anything that could contribute to the production of CW,” but adds reassuringly that the US does “not want this issue to dominate our bilateral relationship.” [US Department of State, 4/6/1984 ; Vallette, 3/24/2003]
During a State Department press conference, reporters raise the issue of US relations with Iraq and the latter’s use of chemical weapons. A reporter asks, “Has there been any export of these chemicals [referring to agents used for the production of chemical weapons] from the US to Iran or Iraq at all in the past, in the recent past?” The spokesperson responds, “No, we do not have reason to believe that exports from the United States have been used by either Iran or Iraq in this connection.” Later in the press briefing, a reporter asks, “In light of your finding that Iraq has used nerve gas and/or other forms of chemical warfare, does this have any effect on US recent initiatives to expand commercial relationships with Iraq across a broad range, and also a willingness to open diplomatic relations?” The spokesperson answers, “No. I’m not aware of any change in our position. We’re interested in being involved in a closer dialogue with Iraq.” [US Department of State, 3/31/1984 ]
The United Nations Security Council issues a presidential statement condemning the use of chemical weapons without a specific reference to Iraq, despite Iran’s insistence that the Security Council pass a binding resolution condemning Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iran. Interestingly, the previous day (see March 29, 1984), Iraqi diplomat Kizam Hamdoon and US diplomat James Placke had met and Hamdoon had stated Iraq’s preference that no resolution be passed and that any statement avoid referring directly to Iraq. As a State Department memo by James Placke notes, “The statement, by the way contains all three elements Hamdoon wanted.” [US Department of State, 3/30/1984 ; Battle, 2/25/2003]
US President Ronald Reagan issues presidential directive NSDD 139, titled, “Measures to improve US posture and readiness to respond to developments in the Iran-Iraq War.” The directive stresses the importance of ensuring US access to military facilities in the Gulf region and preventing “an Iraqi collapse.” Though the directive says that the US should maintain its policy of “unambiguous” condemnation of chemical warfare—without mentioning Iraq—the document also emphasizes that the US should “place equal stress on the urgent need to dissuade Iran from continuing the ruthless and inhumane tactics which have characterized recent offensives.” The directive does not suggest ending or reducing US support for Iraq. [US Department of State, 3/30/1984 ; Battle, 2/25/2003]
Representatives from Bell Helicopter meet with Department of State officials in the Baghdad interests section to discuss a possible deal with Iraq involving the sale of 20-25 helicopters to Iraq’s Ministry of Defense. A State Department document summarizing the meeting says that the “Bell reps are fully aware that any helicopters they sell the Iraqis can not be in any way configured for military use.” [US Department of State, 3/1984 ; Washington Post, 12/15/1986]
Duane Clarridge, a CIA officer who has cultivated contacts with Nicaraguan rebels, introduces National Security Council staffer Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North to the leaders of the Nicaraguan “Contras,” currently operating out of Honduras. The Contras are dedicated to the overthrow of the Socialist, democratically elected Sandinista government. Because the US government views the Sandinistas as aligned with the Communist government of Cuba, it too opposes the Sandinistas, and views the Contras as a band of “freedom fighters” worthy of support. Clarridge tells the Contra leaders that if Congress cuts off aid to the Contras in light of recent revelations that the CIA mined Nicaraguan harbors, North will continue working with them on a covert basis. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
The Reverend Benjamin Weir, a US citizen, is kidnapped by Hezbollah in Beirut. He will be held hostage for over a year [New York Times, 11/19/1987] until his release in September 1985, concurrent with covert Israeli arms sales to Iran (see September 15, 1985).
A Department of State memo from the special adviser to the secretary on nonproliferation policy and nuclear energy affairs titled “US Dual-Use Exports to Iraq: Specific Actions,” states that the government is reviewing its policy for “the sale of certain categories of dual-use items to Iraqi nuclear entities” and the review’s “preliminary results favor expanding such trade to include Iraqi nuclear entities.” [Department of State, 5/9/1984 ]
Reagan meets with Contra leaders in the Oval Office. NSC staffer and Contra “handler” Oliver North is at the far right; when this photo is released to the public, North will be cropped out. [Source: National Security Archives]President Reagan tells the nation in a televised address that the US must help the Nicaraguan Contras. “The Sandinista rule is a Communist reign of terror,” Reagan says. “Many of those who fought alongside the Sandinistas saw their revolution betrayed. They were denied power in the new government. Some were imprisoned, others exiled. Thousands who fought with the Sandinistas have taken up arms against them and are now called the Contras. They are freedom fighters.” [PBS, 2000]
Bechtel official H.B. Scott informs his colleagues in a memo that “US government officials at the highest level in Washington know of the [Aqaba pipeline] project and the president supports the concept…. I cannot emphasize enough the need for maximum Bechtel management effort at all levels of the US government and industry to support this project. It has significant geopolitical overtones… The time may be right for this project to move promptly with very significant rewards to Bechtel for having made it possible.” [Vallette, 3/24/2003]
On June 12, Charles Hill, the executive secretary to Secretary of State George Shultz, sends a confidential memo to Vice President George Bush. The memo suggests that Bush telephone William Draper, the chairman of the US Export-Import Bank, and press for the bank to agree to finance the construction of an oil pipeline from Iraq into Aqaba, Jordan (see January 14, 1984). The bank had previously refused to extend any credit to Iraq for the pipeline, holding that the war-ravaged nation could not meet the bank’s legal requirement of providing a “reasonable assurance of repayment.” Bush went to Yale with Draper; that and his position in the White House makes him an ideal person to influence Draper. Bush is to use the “talking point” prepared for him, that the loan affects the US’s vital interests, and the US’s primary goal in the Iran-Iraq War is “to bring the war to a negotiated end in which neither belligerent is dominant.” The pipeline is key to accomplishing a negotiated peace, Bush is told to argue: “At present time, Iran is the intransigent party, unwilling to negotiate in part because it believes it can win in a war of attrition. We must therefore seek a means to bolster Iraq’s ability and resolve to withstand Iranian attacks as well as to convince Iran that continuing hostilities are useless.” Bush makes the call, and Draper immediately reverses his position on financing the pipeline. Because of an inability to obtain insurance, the pipeline will never be built, but Bush’s pressuring of Draper may be his first active role in the covert US policy of supporting Iraq. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
Saudi Arabia begins making secret monthly payments of $1 million to the Contras. The money is deposited into a secret Cayman Islands account owned by Contra leader Adolfo Calero. [PBS, 2000]
During a sound check prior to a radio broadcast, Ronald Reagan jokes into the microphone that he has ordered the bombing of the USSR: “My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” The gaffe, replayed during news broadcasts for days, cuts heavily into Reagan’s campaign poll lead over Democratic challenger Walter Mondale. [PBS, 2000]
National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane asks US government agencies to reassess their policies towards Iran. The government currently considers Iran a sponsor of terrorism (see January 20, 1984) and officially has no dealings with its government. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
A Defense Intelligence Agency report concludes that Iraq will probably “continue to develop its formidable conventional and chemical capability, and probably pursue nuclear weapons.” [US Department of State, 3/31/1984 ]
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; CounterPunch, 8/20/2002; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/8/2002; London Times, 12/31/2002]
Biological and chemical agents -
Bacillus Anthracis, cause of anthrax. [CounterPunch, 8/20/2002; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/8/2002]
Clostridium Botulinum, a source of botulinum toxin. It was sold to Iraq right up until 1992. [CounterPunch, 8/20/2002; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/8/2002]
Histoplasma Capsulatam, cause of a disease attacking lungs, brain, spinal cord and heart. [CounterPunch, 8/20/2002]
Brucella Melitensis, a bacteria that can damage major organs. [CounterPunch, 8/20/2002; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/8/2002]
Clotsridium Perfringens, a highly toxic bacteria causing systemic illness, gas gangrene. [CounterPunch, 8/20/2002; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/8/2002]
Clostridium tetani, highly toxigenic. [CounterPunch, 8/20/2002; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/8/2002]
Coli (E.Coli); genetic materials; human and bacterial DNA. [CounterPunch, 8/20/2002]
VX nerve gas. [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 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. [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/8/2002]
Other exports -
Chemical warfare-agent production facility plans and technical drawings. [Newsday, 12/13/2002]
Chemical warfare filling equipment. [Newsday, 12/13/2002]
Missile fabrication equipment. [Newsday, 12/13/2002]
Missile system guidance equipment. [Newsday, 12/13/2002]
Graphics terminals to design and analyze rockets. [Washington Post, 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). [Washington Post, 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]
Entity Tags: US Congress, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Security Council, John Poindexter, Edward Boland, Contras, Central Intelligence Agency, Ronald Reagan, Reagan administration, Oliver North
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
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. [New York Times, 3/6/1984; New Yorker, 11/2/1992; Battle, 2/25/2003]
Peter Kilburn. [Source: US Department of State]Peter Kilburn, a professor at the American University of Beirut, is kidnapped by Hezbollah militants. In April 1986, Kilburn will be murdered by his captors, apparently in retaliation for US military strikes against Libya. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Deputy Director of Intelligence Robert Gates sends what he calls a “straight talk” memo to his boss, CIA Director William Casey. Gates recommends the US openly deploy military forces to cripple Nicaragua’s “Marxist-Leninist” Sandinista government and elevate the Contras into power. Among his “politically more difficult” recommendations, Gates pushes for “the use of air strikes to destroy a considerable portion of Nicaragua’s military buildup.” Gates’s recommendations, which would be tantamount to the US declaring war on Nicaragua, will in large part not be followed. [Central Intelligence Agency, 12/14/1984 ; Foreign Policy, 10/22/2010]
Donald Gregg, Vice President Bush’s national security and foreign policy adviser and one of the architects of the secret plan to fund the Nicaraguan Contras (see March 17, 1983), introduces his partner Felix Rodriguez to Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North of the National Security Council (NSC). North will head the NSC’s Contra resupply and funding operations. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 12/28/2007]
US Secretary of State George Shultz successfully convinces Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) to drop a House bill that would have put Iraq back on the State Department’s list of states that sponsor terrorism. Shultz’s argument is that the United States is actively engaged in “diplomatic dialogue on this and other sensitive issues.” He asserts that “Iraq has effectively distanced itself from international terrorism” and insists that if the US discovers any evidence implicating Iraq in the support of terrorist groups, the US government “would promptly return Iraq to the list.” [Jentleson, 1994, pp. 54]
Eminent academic, foreign policy analyst, and neoconservative Albert Wohlstetter (see 1965) introduces his proteges Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz to Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996), who is already plotting to overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Wolfowitz and Perle will become key players in the run-up to the US’s 2003 invasion of Iraq (see Late December 2000 and Early January 2001). [Unger, 2007, pp. 44]
Christopher Drogoul of the Atlanta branch of the Italian Banca Nazionale del Lavoro begins embezzling funds to Iraq. The funds consist of government backed loans meant for agricultural purposes as well as unreported loans that have been made in secret. While roughly half the funds will be used by Saddam Hussein’s government to purchase agricultural goods, the remainder will be used to “supply Iraqi missile, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs with industrial goods such as computer controlled machine tools, computers, scientific instruments, special alloy steel and aluminum, chemicals, and other industrial goods.” Additionally, the money spent on agriculture will allow Saddam Hussein’s regime to divert a significant portion of its own funds to the task of weapons development. [US Congress, 4/28/1992; Columbia Journalism Review, 3/1993] Between 1985 and 1989 roughly $5 billion makes its way to Iraq from the US. Internal government memos reveal that both the Federal Reserve and Department of Agriculture suspect that Iraq is using these funds inappropriately. Iraq eventually defaults on the government-backed loans, leaving US taxpayers with $2 billion dollars in unpaid debts. [Mother Jones, 1/1993; Columbia Journalism Review, 3/1993]
In 1985, the CIA, MI6 (Britain’s intelligence agency), and the Pakistani ISI agree to launch guerrilla attacks from Afghanistan into then Soviet-controlled Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, attacking military installations, factories, and storage depots within Soviet territory. Some Afghans have been trained for this purpose since 1984 (see 1984-March 1985). The task is given to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan warlord closely linked to the ISI. According to an account in the Washington Post, in March 1987, small units cross from bases in northern Afghanistan into Tajikistan and launched their first rocket attacks against villages there. [Washington Post, 7/19/1992; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/23/2001] However, Mohammad Yousaf, a high-ranking ISI officer at the time, will later write a well regarded book about the Soviet-Afghan war and will give a different account. He will claim the attacks in the Soviet Union actually begin in 1985 and are much more numerous. He says, “These cross-border strikes were at their peak in 1986. Scores of attacks were made across the Amu (River)… Sometimes Soviet citizens joined in these operations, or came back into Afghanistan to join the mujaheddin… That we were hitting a sore spot was confirmed by the ferocity of the Soviets’ reaction. Virtually every incursion provoked massive aerial bombing and gunship attacks on all villages south of the river in the vicinity of our strike.” [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 286] By all accounts, these secret attacks are strongly backed by CIA Director William Casey and come to an end when he dies later in 1987. [Washington Post, 7/19/1992; Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 285-286]
Friar Lawrence Jenco. [Source: Jenco Foundation]Friar Lawrence Jenco, an American serving as the director of Catholic Relief Services in Beirut, is kidnapped by Hezbollah militants. He will be freed in July 1986. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; Jenco Foundation, 9/28/2007]
Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko, in office just 13 months, dies of a long illness. Chernenko had moved to reopen talks with the US (see February 23, 1984 and Early 1985). President Reagan sends Vice President George H. W. Bush to the funeral with an invitation to hold a summit meeting with Chernenko’s successor, Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev signals his acceptance (see November 16-19, 1985). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 139]
The US and the Soviet Union engage in the Nuclear and Space Talks (NST) in Geneva. The US wants to discuss a transition from mutual nuclear deterrence based solely on the threat of nuclear retaliation (the concept of MAD, or Mutual Assured Destruction) to increased reliance on ground- and space-based defense systems such as its Strategic Defense Initiative (see March 23, 1983). In its turn, the USSR wants a comprehensive ban on research, development, testing, and deployment of “space-strike arms.” [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]
A photograph of Terry Anderson provided by his captors. [Source: Maher Attar / Corbis]Terry Anderson, a reporter with the Associated Press, is kidnapped by Hezbollah militants in Beirut. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] Anderson will be held hostage for seven years, longer than any other American captive. His name will become synonymous with the Iran/Lebanese hostage crisis. He will be released in 1991, as the 16-year civil war in Lebanon comes to a close. [CNN, 1996]
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]
Graham Fuller. [Source: Ohio University]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. [Time, 11/17/1986; New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, Saddam Hussein, William Casey, Robert M. Gates, Oliver North, Reagan administration, Robert C. McFarlane, George Herbert Walker Bush, Graham Fuller, Central Intelligence Agency, Howard Teicher, Caspar Weinberger, Hezbollah, George Shultz
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iran-Contra Affair
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]
President Reagan places a wreath on a grave at Bitberg Cemetery. [Source: Forward / Getty Images]Ronald Reagan, on a trip to Germany to honor the victims of World War II and the Holocaust, visits the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. He also visits the Bitberg Cemetery, which contains the graves of Nazi Waffen SS. Some see the Bitberg visit as an indirect expression of Reagan’s support for, or sympathy with, the Nazis. [PBS, 2000]
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]
David Jacobsen. [Source: BBC]David Jacobsen, a US citizen and an administrator of Beirut’s American University Hospital, is kidnapped by Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. He will be freed in November 1986. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Lewis Tambs becomes the US Ambassador to Costa Rica. Tambs is under orders to open what is called a “southern front” for the Nicaraguan Contras; a small force of Contras is striking into southern Nicaragua from northern Costa Rica, and the Costa Rican government wants them out of their territory. Tambs believes that the orders for the “southern front” come from National Security Council (NSC) officer Oliver North, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, and their Restricted Interagency Group (RIG—see Late 1985 and After). Tambs, with the assistance of North’s liaison in Central America, Felix Rodriguez (see Mid-September 1985), secures permission from the Costa Rican government to build an airstrip for use by the Contras in northern Costa Rica, as long as it is not close enough to the border to allow the Contras to use it as a staging area for ground raids. One of Abrams’s first questions to North after being tasked to “monitor” the NSC officer (see September 4, 1985) is why the Costa Ricans are allowing the airstrip. The airstrip will be built at Santa Elena, Costa Rica, by the Udall Corporation, one of the private firms controlled by North’s partner, retired General Richard Secord (see November 19, 1985 and February 2, 1987), and will be called “Point West.” Abrams will later testify, falsely, that no US officials were involved in securing permission to build the airstrip. Notes taken by the US Ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin Corr, about discussions concerning the airstrip, will prove that Abrams lies under oath about the airstrip. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]
The US Congress votes to authorize “non-military” aid to Nicaragua’s Contras: $38 million over two years. [PBS, 2000]
Secretary of State George Shultz writes to National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane that “Israel’s record of dealings with Iran since the fall of the Shah and during the hostage crisis [shows] that Israel’s agenda is not the same as ours.” Referring to the plan concocted by NSC staffer Oliver North and North’s consultant, neoconservative and likely Israeli spy Michael Ledeen (see 1983), to seek Israeli help in freeing the American hostages in Lebanon (see Late 1984 and April 9, 1985), Shultz writes, “Consequently doubt whether an intelligence relationship such as what Ledeen has in mind would be one which we could fully rely upon and it could seriously skew our own perception and analysis of the Iranian scene.” [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]
Thomas Sutherland, a US citizen working at Beirut’s American University, is kidnapped by Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Tensions between the pro-Iran and pro-Iraq factions in the White House (see January 14, 1984) come to a head after Robert McFarlane’s National Security Council staff drafts a presidential directive advocating that the US help Iran obtain weapons. The opposing faction, led by Secretary of State George Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, protest angrily, with Weinberger calling the proposal “almost too absurd to comment on….” But the arms-for-hostage deal will go forward over Shultz’s and Weinberger’s objections (see July 3, 1985). [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
Time magazine cover from June 24, 1985 featuring report on the hijacking of Flight 847. [Source: Time]Islamic militants with the Shi’ite Amal group, an affiliate of Hezbollah, hijack TWA Flight 847 from Athens to Rome. 135 of the 153 passengers are Americans.
Demanding Release of Militant Prisoners - The hijackers demand the immediate release of 17 members of a Shi’ite militant group, Al Dawa, who were arrested in Kuwait for the December 1983 bombing of the American embassy in Kuwait City. (This group, the “Kuwait 17,” features prominently in other hijackers’ demands as well. They will accidentally be released during Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.) The hijackers also demand the release of some 700 fellow Shi’ite Muslim prisoners held in Israeli prisons and in prisons in southern Lebanon run by the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army.
Navy Diver Murdered - The TWA pilot is forced to fly to Beirut, Lebanon, where, after their demands are not met, the hijackers shoot and trample Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem to death and dump his body on the tarmac. The plane is flown to Algiers and then back to Beirut again. Most of the passengers are released, but 39 are held captive in Lebanon. President Reagan holds a press conference largely focusing on the hostage crisis, and says that the US will never give in to terrorist demands.
Hostages Freed - After intervention by Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad, the remaining 39 hostages are freed on June 30 in Damascus; the hijackers are allowed to escape. Some of the hostages later compliment their captors for treating them well during their captivity. Nothing is ever confirmed, but speculation is widespread that some sort of quiet deal between Israel and the hijackers has been struck, as Israel begins releasing Shi’ite prisoners immediately after the hostages’ release. The US will deny that any such deal was ever made. In 1985, four of the hijackers will be indicted for their participation in the TWA takeover, but only one will ever be convicted. [PBS, 2000; PBS Frontline, 10/4/2001; BBC, 2008]
Fawn Hall, the secretary to National Security Council officer Oliver North, asks North if she can borrow money from him. North gives her $60 in traveler’s checks drawn on a Central American bank, and says, as Hall will later testify to Congress (see December 19, 1986): “Make sure you return—pay back the money. It is not mine.” The money is part of the illegal funds raised by North and others for the Nicaraguan Contras. [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/13/2007]
National Security Council officials, led by NSC Director Robert McFarlane, Deputy Director John Poindexter, and senior NSC official Oliver North, develop a two-part strategy to topple the regime of Libyan dictator Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi. The plan is dubbed “Operation Flower,” with its two components called “Operation Tulip” and “Operation Rose,” respectively. Operation Tulip would be a covert CIA strategy using Libyan exiles to move into Tripoli and overthrow al-Qadhafi in a coup d’etat. Operation Rose proposes a joint US-Egyptian military campaign against the Libyan government. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger considers the entire idea “ludicrous,” as do his deputy Richard Armitage and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. However, CIA Director William Casey orders his deputy, Robert Gates, to study the idea. When the CIA produces Gates’s report favoring the idea, the Pentagon develops a military plan deliberately designed to scuttle the idea. The proposed US-Egyptian deployment, the Pentagon strategy says, would require six divisions and 90,000 US troops. Gates says the strategy looks “a lot like the [World War II] invasion of Normandy.” He registers his opposition to such a huge operation, warning that many American citizens as well as US allies would oppose any such overt military campaign. State Department officials concur with Gates’s analysis, and the US ambassador to Egypt, Nick Veliotes, says he believes Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would want nothing to do with the idea, in part because Mubarak has little confidence in the US military’s willingness to fight for an extended period of time, and so it would leave Egyptian forces to fight alone. Although Poindexter and other NSC officials continue to push the plan, even proposing it to an unimpressed Mubarak, no one else in the Reagan administration supports it, and it is never implemented. [Wills, 2003, pp. 172-175; Foreign Policy, 10/22/2010]
Entity Tags: Richard Armitage, Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, Joint Chiefs of Staff, John Poindexter, Hosni Mubarak, Caspar Weinberger, National Security Council, Reagan administration, Nick Veliotes, US Department of Defense, Oliver North, Robert M. Gates, Robert C. McFarlane, William Casey, US Department of State
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
David Kimche. [Source: Mark Leighton / Bettmann / Corbis]David Kimche, the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, meets secretly with National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane to advise him that Israel may be able to use its influence with Iran (see 1981) to engineer the release of American hostages currently held by Hezbollah. Kimche’s outreach is the final piece in the complex arms-for-hostage deal between the US, Israel, and Iran. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992] Israel is a logical conduit for arms to Iran, as it has been selling arms to Iran periodically since 1979, originally as part of its efforts to get Iran to allow Iranian Jews to emigrate to Israel. Like the US, Israel hopes to gain influence with Iranian moderates who will presumably take power after the aged, ailing Islamist radical Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini dies. (Earlier attempts to sell US-made arms to Iran had been blocked by the Carter administration.) According to Israeli sources, this Israeli offer began with a group of Israeli businessmen informing Prime Minister Shimon Peres in early July that they had been in contact with Iranian officials, and thought they could facilitate an arrangement to swap US arms for American hostages. The Israelis say that the US point man for the deal is John Poindexter, the deputy national security adviser, and Poindexter tapped National Security Council aide Oliver North to be the US liaison to Israel. Peres quickly authorized the Israeli businessmen to resume their contacts with the Iranians, and the businessmen contacted Saudi arms merchant Adnan Khashoggi. Khashoggi obtained a long list of desired military equipment from the Iranians, including Hawk antiaircraft missiles and radar-guidance equipment for them, antitank missiles, and spare parts for jet fighters. [Time, 11/17/1986]
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). [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
While Ronald Reagan publicly compares Iran’s government to “Murder, Incorporated” (see July 8, 1985), he privately authorizes his National Security Adviser, Robert McFarlane, to make contact with Iran. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Recovering from cancer surgery, President Reagan authorizes National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane’s plan to open a dialogue with Iran through the auspices of Iranian gunrunner Manucher Ghorbanifar. McFarlane believes the US can win influence with Iranian moderates by helping Iran in its war with Iraq. Reagan believes the thaw in relations may help win the release of US hostages being held in Lebanon by Iranian-backed terrorists. [PBS, 2000]
Israeli representatives meet with Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar for the first time, to discuss brokering the secret US-Iranian arms deals authorized by President Reagan (see July 18, 1985). Israel will sell arms to Iran, and the US will replenish Israeli stockpiles. [PBS, 2000]
A major meeting to codify the arms-for-hostage deal with Iran takes place in Ronald Reagan’s private White House quarters, after Iranian officials sent requests to open negotiations with the US through backchannel sources. Reagan, recovering from intestinal surgery and wearing pajamas and a bathrobe, is joined by Vice President Bush, Secretary of State George Shultz, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, White House chief of staff Donald Regan, and National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane. McFarlane, passing along information he has received from Israel (see 1981), says the Iranians will see to it that Hezbollah releases four American hostages in return for US and Israeli arms. McFarlane has long supported arms sales to Iran, and is most supportive of the deal; Weinberger and Shultz, who support dealing with Iraq, are firmly against it. But the deal will go through (see September 15, 1985). [Time, 11/17/1986; New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
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]
Benjamin Weir. [Source: Santa Clara University]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. [New Yorker, 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. [Time, 11/17/1986]
The first meeting of the State Department’s Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office (NHAO) is held. Two aides to Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see April 19, 1985 and After and September 4, 1985) attend the meeting. During the meeting, National Security Council (NSC) officer Oliver North offers the services of former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez to assist in distributing the $27 million in humanitarian aid recently approved for the Contras (see August 1985). Rodriguez is helping North channel illegal funds to the Contras (see Mid-September 1985). The agreement is to channel the funds to the Contras through El Salvador’s Ilopango Air Base, Rodriguez’s center of operations. By early 1986, the legal NHAO fund distribution will merge with the illegal North fund distribution (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993] Some of the $27 million is never used for humanitarian purposes, but instead used to buy weapons, both for the Contras and for the mujaheddin in Afghanistan. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 12/28/2007]
National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, speaking for the Reagan administration, proposes a new, “broad” interpretation of the US-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (see May 26, 1972) on national television. McFarlane proposes that space-based and mobile systems and components based on “other physical principles,” i.e. lasers, particle beams, etc., should be developed and tested, but not deployed. (The traditional, “narrow” interpretation of the treaty is more restrictive.) Days later, President Reagan announces that while he and his administration support this “broad” interpretation, as a matter of national policy, the US’s Strategic Defense Initiative (see March 23, 1983) will continue to observe the more traditional interpretation. [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]
The US ships another 500 TOW anti-tank missiles to Iran via Israel. [PBS, 2000]
Days before President Reagan’s scheduled Geneva summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (see November 16-19, 1985), Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger attempts to sabotage the meeting by leaking to the press a letter he had recently written to Reagan outlining what he called systematic Soviet violations of existing arms treaties, and warning Reagan that if he makes any deal with Gorbachev, he implicitly accepts those infractions. Author J. Peter Scoblic will call it “a clumsy attempt to undermine the talks,” and one that angers the more moderate administration officials. Instead of undermining the negotiations as he had intended, Reagan takes Weinberger off the Geneva delegation. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 143]
Reagan and Gorbachev at the Geneva summit meeting. [Source: Ronald Reagan Library]The long-awaited summit meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev takes place in Geneva. The meeting, later known as the “fireside summit,” comes after months of Gorbachev’s reforms in the USSR—“glasnost,” or openness to government transparency; “perestroika,” a retooling of the moribund Stalinist economy; and a dogged anti-alcohol campaign, among others. Gorbachev has packed the Kremlin with officials such as new Foreign Minister Edvard Shevardnadze and chief economist Alexander Yakovlev, who back his reform campaigns. (Yakolev has even proposed democratization of the Soviet Communist Party.) Reagan and Gorbachev have exchanged several letters which have helped build relations between the two leaders. Reagan, unlike some of his hardline advisers, is excited about the summit, and has diligently prepared, even holding mock debates with National Security Council member Jack Matlock playing Gorbachev. Reagan has also quietly arranged—without the knowledge of his recalcitrant hardline advisers—for an extension of the scheduled 15-minute private meeting between himself and Gorbachev. The two actually talk for five hours. Nothing firm is agreed upon during this first meeting, but as Reagan later recalls, it marks a “fresh start” in US-Soviet relations. Gorbachev returns to the USSR promoting his and Reagan’s agreement on the need to reduce nuclear arms; Reagan presents the summit as a “victory” in which he did not back down to Soviet pressure, but instead emphasized the need for the Soviets to honor basic human rights for their citizens. Gorbachev realizes that Reagan’s abhorrence of nuclear weapons and his desire for a reduction in nuclear arms (see April 1981 and After) is personal and not shared by many of his administration’s officials, much less the US defense industry. As a result, he focuses on personal contacts and appeals to Reagan, and puts less stock in formal negotiations between the two. [National Security Archive, 11/22/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 139-140; Margaret Thatcher Foundation, 1/23/2008]
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a mid-level National Security Council staff member, is put in charge of the upcoming shipment of US Hawk anti-aircraft missiles to Iran (see November 24-25, 1985). [PBS, 2000]
Retired Air Force Major General Richard Secord becomes deeply involved in organizing a covert supply operation for Nicaragua’s Contras under the name “Airlift Project.” Secord later testifies to the Congressional Iran-Contra Committee that the project’s money comes from private donations and friendly foreign governments. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
The CIA arranges for the shipment of 18 Hawk anti-aircraft missiles from Israel to Iran, ferried aboard a CIA front company transport plane. Within days, the Iranians reject the missiles because they do not meet their requirements. Some of the US officials involved in the missile transfer later claim they believe the CIA plane carried oil-drilling parts, and not weapons. After the transfer, John McMahon, the deputy director of the CIA, says that the agency can no longer provide covert assistance to Iran without explicit authorization from President Reagan. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] Reagan will authorize the sale of the missiles a month later (see December 5, 1985).
Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who has opposed the arms-for-hostage deal with Iran from the outset, warns President Reagan that the arms transfers are patently illegal under the Arms Export Control Act (see 1981). Weinberger later says, “There was no way in which this kind of transfer could be made if that particular act governed.” According to Secretary of State George Shultz, who is also present, Reagan answers, “Well, the American people would never forgive me if I failed to get these hostages out over this legal question.” [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
Oliver North, the National Security Council staffer who handles the Iran-Contra dealings, tells Israeli Defense Ministry officials that he plans to use profits from future arms sales to Iran to fund the Nicaraguan Contras. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] North will not inform his supervisor, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, for five more months (see May 29, 1986).
President Reagan, Secretary of State George Shultz, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, outgoing National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, and McFarlane’s replacement, John Poindexter, all meet at the White House to discuss the government’s arms sales to Iran. Later statements by the participants conflict on key details. Some will say that a consensus is reached to end arms sales to Iran, but Deputy CIA Director John McMahon will recall that no such consensus is reached. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Outgoing National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane and National Security Council staffer Oliver North fly to London to meet with Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms merchant. Also present at the meeting are David Kimche, of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and Israeli arms dealer Yaacov Nimrodi. McFarlane tells Ghorbanifar that the US wants to end arms sales to Iran, though the US wants to continue pursuing diplomatic relations. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] The US will in actuality continue selling arms to Iran (see January 7, 1986 and January 17, 1986).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sends “samples of a strain of West Nile virus to a microbiologist at a university in Basra.” [Associated Press, 12/21/2002]
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sends samples of botulinum toxin and botulinum toxiod “directly to the Iraqi chemical and biological weapons complex at al-Muthanna.” [Associated Press, 12/21/2002]
The Central Intelligence Agency authors a classified report acknowledging that Iraq is still using chemical weapons as an “integral part” of its military strategy and that it is a “regular and recurring tactic.” [New York Times, 2/13/2003]
Samuel Loring Morison is prosecuted by the Justice Department for providing classified pictures of a Soviet nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to Jane’s Defense magazine. Morison, a naval intelligence analyst specializing in Soviet amphibious and mine-laying vessels, works part time for Jane’s, and has been warned about potential conflicts of interest. Part of Morison’s motives for passing classified information to the magazine is his belief that the US citizenry, if they knew about the carrier, would demand to “increase the defense budget.” Even though the Justice Department itself acknowledges that Morison did nothing to threaten national security, it successfully prosecutes him under the 1917 Espionage Act. Morison will serve a two-year prison sentence.
Commentary - Former Nixon White House aide John Dean will write in 2004 that if the same standard used to prosecute Morison were to be more widely applied, “several presidents and secretaries of state could have been prosecuted for information in their memoirs.” Before Morison, no one had ever been prosecuted for publishing leaked information. In Dean’s view, Morison is prosecuted under a standard more appropriate to Britain’s Official Secrets Act, not any applicable US law, and is a victim of the worst kind of selective law enforcement. Thirty-four amicus curiae briefs will be filed on Morison’s behalf, from a host of newspapers, television news networks, and news media trade and professional associations.
Pardon - In 1998, Senator Daniel Moynihan (D-NY) will call Morison’s conviction an “anomaly,” the only one of its kind in 81 years, and ask President Clinton to pardon Morison. He will write, “What is remarkable is not the crime, but that [Morison] is the only one convicted of an activity which has become a routine aspect of government life: leaking information to the press in order to bring pressure to bear on a policy question.” Clinton will grant the pardon in 2001. [Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 9/29/1998; Research Foundation of the University of Texas A&M, 1/21/2003; Dean, 2004, pp. 66-67, 221]
Osama bin Laden and Pakistan’s ISI, helped by the CIA, build the Khost tunnel complex in Afghanistan. This will be a major target of bombing and fighting when the US attacks the Taliban in 2001. [Guardian, 11/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/23/2001; Hindu, 9/27/2001] In June 2001, one article mentions that “bin Laden worked closely with Saudi, Pakistani, and US intelligence services to recruit mujaheddin from many Muslim countries.” This information has not often been reported since 9/11. [United Press International, 6/14/2001] It has been claimed that the CIA also funds Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) (also known as Al-Kifah), bin Laden’s main charity front in the 1980s (see 1984 and After). A CIA spokesperson will later state, “For the record, you should know that the CIA never employed, paid, or maintained any relationship whatsoever with bin Laden.” [Ananova, 10/31/2001]
US aid to Pakistan reaches $4 billion in this year. This large amount of aid is being provided in connection with, and in addition to, US support for the anti-Soviet mujaheddin in Afghanistan, who are based in Pakistan (see May 1979). [Raw Story, 4/30/2007]
Iraq uses poison gas in an unsuccessful attempt to recapture the Fao Peninsula from Iran. A UN team examines the bodies of 700 Iranian casualties which indicate that mustard and nerve gases were used. [Nation, 8/26/2002]
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, following up on the successful “fireside summit” between himself and Ronald Reagan (see November 16-19, 1985), sends Reagan a letter calling for drastic reductions in US and Soviet nuclear weapons. He proposes the complete eradication of all nuclear weapons by the year 2000. He proposes cutting strategic arsenals by half, banning space-based weapons outright, and halting nuclear testing. He also proposes the complete dismantlement of all intermediate-range systems in Europe—in essence accepting the US’s “zero option” that was such a sticking point in earlier negotiations (see September 1981 through November 1983). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 139-140] One administration hardliner, chief arms negotiator Edward Rowny (see May 1982 and After), warns Reagan that the Soviets are inherently untrustworthy and begs him “not to go soft on this.” Instead of giving Rowny what he wants, Reagan launches into what Rowny will later recall as a Martin Luther King-like speech: “I have a dream. I have a dream of a world without nuclear weapons. I want our children and grandchildren particularly to be free of those weapons.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 143]
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