The Iran-Contra affair was a controversial political scandal that dealt with senior US figures who had been facilitating the sale of arms to Iran, that was under an arms embargo, to secure the release of the hostages and to fund the Nicaraguan anticommunist rebel contras. While these two scandals were unconnected the contras would not have been able to be funded without the cash flow that the Iranian weapons money created. The operation began as a way to improve U.S. -Iranian relations during a time of extreme turmoil between the countries. The plan was to ship weapons to Israel who would in turn give them to a relatively moderate politically influential group of Iranians. Israel would in turn be resupplied and receive a payment from them. In return for the arms the Iranian recipients had promised to do everything in their power to have the 6 U.S. hostages, who were being held captive by the Lebanese Shia Islamist group Hezbollah. The plan eventually was broken down to a direct arms-for-hostages scheme that came to light in November of 1986 during the Reagan-Bush administration.
Although November of 1986 is when the scandal came to light the origins came about seven years earlier in November of 1979 when nearly 500 Iranian students took over the American embassy taking 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. This was important because it was an earmark of one of the first major conflicts with the country of Iran. (Historycommons.org) Then in early 1980 the Israeli government proposed a deal to secretly sell arms to Iran as a means to gain diplomatic ground and a way to get the 52 hostages released, however President Carter angrily declines. The Israeli government then went on with the plan by themselves secretly supplying weapons to Iran shortly after. With the change in presidency from Carter to Reagan the US geared up to begin the shipment of arms to Iran through Israel. This however was illegal due to the Arms export act, which requires written permission from the U.S. for a nation, in this case Israel to transfer U.S. made arms to a third party. (Jonathanpollard.org)
In a popular conspiracy theory, the “October Surprise” is said that Ronald Reagan conspired with the Islamic Republic of Iran to beat Jimmy Carter in the 1980 U.S. presidential election. The deal was apparently to have the Khomeini government keep the U.S. hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran until after the election, damaging Carter’s candidacy, afterwards Reagan would reward them with armaments. (danielpipes.org) This theory gained little notoriety due to it being relatively unbelievable until the Iran-Contra scandal came to light in 1986. After the commanding victory over President Jimmy Carter Reagan is sworn in to office and all 52 hostages are released ending the 444 days of captivity. (Danielpipes.org)
The new Administration publicly maintained a hard line against Iran, a nation with little popularity due to the hostage taking and the murder of the CIA station Chief. Reagan’s Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, was quoted saying, “Let me state categorically today there will be no military equipment provided to the government of Iran.” However within weeks of this statement senior officials in the administration began putting together a continuing package of secret arms sales to Iran. (jonathanpollard.org)
In 1982 Vice President George H. W. Bush asked CIA Agent and national Security Council Official Donald Gregg to serve as his national security adviser and foreign policy adviser who agreed and retired from the CIA. The two worked closely with CIA agent Felix Rodriguez, who was known for the interrogation and eventual execution of revolutionary Che Guevara, to help put together a covert operation to supply the Nicaraguan Contras with money, supplies, and weapons. Rodriguez and North later strike up a deal to divert funds and weapons to the Contras. Rodriguez’s job was to set up the servicing of CIA transport planes at the Air Base. Later that year in December the first Boland Amendment restricted government support for Contras; the bill restricted US humanitarian aid to the Contras, and prohibited the use of U.S. funds “for the purpose of overthrowing the government of Nicaragua.” However the administration managed to get around the first of the three Boland Amendments by saying their help was only designed to force the group in charge, the Sandinistas to come to a peace agreement with the anticommunist Contras, and not to entirely bring the Nicaraguan government down. (spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk) March 17, 1983 the three had a secret meeting in the White House, which resulted in the National Security Council establishing a secret scheme to provide aid to the Contras. Rodriguez was placed in charge of the supply depot and placed at Llopango Air Base in El Salvador. In October of 1985 Congress modified the Boland Amendment by approving to send $27 million in non-lethal aid. (historycommons.org) As a result of this Reagan creates the Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office, or the NHAO in the State Department for the purpose of administering the money to the Contras. In the first of the NHAO organizations meetings Oliver North offered the services of Rodriguez to assist in distributing the $27 million in humanitarian aid meant for the Contras. Through the Air Base in Llopango the legal NHAO and the illegal North fund distribution merge into one secret group. In 1984 Reagan publicly claimed to end aid to the Contras in accordance with the Boland Amendments. However men in his administration continue to support them. Late in 1985 Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams joined the National Security Council and then joined Oliver North and Alan Fliers as the principal members of the Restricted Interagency Group (RIG), which worked on Central American Affairs for the Reagan Administration. Abrams, a large supporter of the anticommunists in Nicaragua became aware of North’s plans to divert Congress’s approved 27 million dollars directly to the Contras despite being prohibited to do so. In effect Abrams became directly involved with in the illegal procedures to help the Nicaraguan rebel forces. Unaware of the illegal weapons exchange Congress approved another 100 million dollars for military and non-arms aid to the Contras. (Historycommons.org)
In the month of August in 1983 the conservative talk show host Barbara Studley established GeoMiliTech (GMT) Consultants Corporation. After the start of the company a large number of right-wing, high ranking American and Israeli military officials became associated with the company, which had offices in both Washington D.C. and Tel Aviv. The Company began selling arms to Iran through Israel and North Korea. According to several authorities the motives for Israel are clear, which were to have the Iran-Iraq war go on as long as possible and to be as destructive as physically possible, however the motive for the U.S. is much less clear. Many believe that the founding of GMT was the beginning of the arms dealing to Iran by the U.S.. Later in the year the American government started “Operation Staunch” which asked other countries not to sell arms to Iran in hopes that it would bring peace talks in the Iran-Iraq war. In January of 1984 Iran was officially named a state sponsor of international terrorism, because of the large number of militant actions Hezbollah had been committing throughout the Middle East and Europe, a label that has not been lifted to date.
In early March 1984 CIA Station Chief in Beirut, William Buckley, was kidnapped by the Muslim organization Islamic Jihad. Buckley would die in 1985 after 15 months of captivity. Buckley’s kidnapping along with at least five others was a cited reason for the arms dealing to Iran, which spurred such controversy. (Historycommons.org) On May 8, 1984 the American reverend Benjamin Weir became the first in a string of kidnappings by Hezbollah in Beirut. He was held captive until September 1985, allegedly only being released due to the Israeli arms sales to Iran during the same year. In August of 1984 the National Security Advisor McFarlane asks the United States government to reconsider Iran as a sponsor for terrorism, but is denied. In December Peter Kilburn, a professor at the American University of Beirut became the second victim of kidnapping by Hezbollah militants, later to be murdered in 1986 for the US military strikes against Libya. In January of 1985 the second American pastor, Friar Lawrence Jenco, was kidnapped by the Hezbollah and would not be freed until July of 1986. The militant group Hezbollah kidnapped three more men in 1985, including reporter Terry Anderson, hospital administrator David Jacobsen, and an employee of Beirut’s American University Thomas Sutherland, all of the men would eventually be released. Anderson was held hostage for seven years, which was considerably longer than any other American captive, and was released in 1991 due to the end of the civil war in Lebanon. (Nytimes.com)
On June 11, 1985 the pro-Iran and pro-Iraq factions inside the White House met a boiling point when Robert McFarlane’s National Security Council staff drafts the presidential directive supporting America helping Iran obtain weapons, whereas the opposing side headed by Secretary of State George Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger remarked that the directive was “almost too absurd to comment onaˆ¦” However the arms-for-hostage deal went on as planned even with the strong objections by Shultz and Weinberger. After the Iranian sponsored Hezbollah kidnapped two more Americans, Reagan makes the statement that Iran is in a “confederation of terrorist statesaˆ¦ a new, international version of Murder Incorporated.” And also went on record as saying, “America will never make concessions to terrorists.” Although privately authorizing his National Security Advisor, McFarlane, to make contact with Iran. McFarlane’s plan was to win influence in Iran by helping it win in its war with Iraq. Reagan believed that the improvement in relations would help in the release of American hostages held in Lebanon by the Iran backed Hezbollah. (Nytimes.com) In July of 1985 Israeli representatives met with Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar for the first time to discuss brokering the United States-Iranian arms deal authorized by President Reagan, during this meeting the plan to have Israel sell arms to Iran while having America replenish Israeli stockpiles on weapons. (pbs.org) On August 6, 1985 Reagan hosted a meeting in the White House having to do with the arms-for-hostage deal with Iran, and is allegedly told by McFarlane that the Iranians will see to it that the Hezbollah in return for U.S. and Israeli arms will release four American hostages. Later that year in August Israel sent 96 TOW anti-tank missiles to Iran, however no hostages were released. In September, the now ex-National Security Advisor McFarlane takes twenty-three tons of weapons to Iran. (pbs.org) In September America had its first success in the arms-for-hostages arrangement, where Israel sold 500 U.S.-made TOW anti-tank missiles to Iran. As a result of the sale Iran released American hostage Benjamin Weir after over a year of captivity. In November of 1985 the CIA sent 18 Hawk anti-aircraft missiles on a CIA fronted plane to Iran by way of Israel only to have the Iranians reject the missiles because they did not meet their requirements after test firing. After the transfer of weapons the deputy director of the CIA, John McMahon, reportedly said that the agency could no longer provide covert assistance to Iran without written permission by president Reagan himself. Not even a month later Reagan agrees and authorizes the sale of missiles from that point on as well as retroactively. However that document was destroyed nearly a year later. (Nytimes.com) A day after the president signed the arms-for-hostages deal the pro-Iraq defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger warned Reagan that “There was no way in which this kind of transfer could be made if that particular act governed.” However the president felt that the American public could not forgive him if he were not able to save the American hostages lives due to legality. (Jonathanpollard.org)
Oliver North, the National Security Council, or NSC staffer who handled the Iran-Contra dealings told the Israeli Defense Ministry officials that he would use the profits from any future arms sales to Iran to directly fund the anti-communist “freedom fighters” Contras. In early 1986 North set up a network that illegally diverted funds from the Iranian arms sale to the Nicaraguan Contras by using the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, or the BCCI to channel the money to the Contras. The arms money from Iran was sent from the White House controlled account to Saudi Arabia to hide the origins and then deposited into the BCCI bank account controlled by the Nicaraguan rebel leader Adolfo Calero. In January of 1986 several White House officials met including Vice President George H. W. Bush, President Ronald Reagan, Secretary of State George Shultz, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, and CIA Director William Casey to discuss whether or not the U.S. should continue on with the arms-for-hostages dealings with Iran. Weinberger and Shultz are as they have been from the very beginning against any and all dealings with the terrorist state of Iran. Bush did not express an opinion either way, however later that month President Reagan will sign the authorization needed for the U.S. to allow Israel to sell 4,000 U.S.-made antitank missiles. According to several White House officials both the President and Vice president believed, “that supporting Iran thwarts Soviet plans for Middle East domination, and by his own personal sorrow over the plight of the hostages.” With the 1986 elections coming up however there were plenty of political reasons to continue with the arms dealings in hope that the hostages would be released before the November elections. Many of the chief facilitators admitted to the political concerns, saying that they had to meet a deadline on releasing the hostages. The U.S. actually tried to make an ultimatum saying that all hostages would have to be released in order to receive the antitank missiles, however Iran refused which caused a deadlock, which lasted for nearly a month. (Jonathanpollard.org) When the deadlock ended in late February the U.S. sent between 1500-2000 TOW antitank missiles to Israel who in turn sent them to Iran. At this time Oliver North diverted $12 million in money from the arms sale in Iran to the Nicaraguan Contra leader by way of the BCCI. At this time Gene Wheaton, a co-owner to a cargo airline, National Air, was being enlisted by North to help fly in supplies and arms to the Contras. Wheaton tentatively agreed until he became informed that the retired General Richard Secord would be involved in the affair. Wheaton had a personal dispute with Secord over a government contract dealing with humanitarian aid to insurgents such as Mujaheddin of Afghanistan and the Nicaraguan Contras. With Secord in the picture Wheaton refused to go along with the plan and actually went to William Casey, head of the CIA. However, Casey does little to nothing over the issue saying that it was not of government concern. Wheaton then notified several reporters of the San Francisco Examiner of the dealings.
In mid-September of 1986 the U.S. was planning on forcing Iran to trade hostages for arms. The plan seemed to work until the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group controlled by Iran simply kidnapped more Americans after the release of other hostages. In October the U.S. puts pressure on Iraq to increase bombings in Iran to create a greater need of military assistance by America. This plan began to work when Iraq in fact increased the bombings but the arms-for-hostages dealing was exposed in a Lebanese newspaper as well as some U.S. papers. With the public aware of the potentially criminal acts committed by the Reagan administration support for any more weapons dealings collapses. After the information was leaked most of the pro-Iranian faction inside the White House left office leaving a large pro-Iraqi side which would remain in power until Reagan’s term was over. In the last months of the administration U.S. military and economic aid for Iraq met an all-time high even giving Iraq the technology for long-range ballistic missile, chemical weapons, and even nuclear weapons. (Jonathanpollard.org)
On October 5, 1986 a CIA transport plane carrying weapons and supplies for the Contras was shot down by the Sandinista, which brought the U.S. connection to the Contras to light. The Nicaraguan Sandinistas exposed the United States after interrogating the sole survivor of the plane crash, Eugene Hasenfus, who said that he had made ten other deliveries to Nicaragua including six from Llopango. (Nytimes.com) All government officials at that time lied about any involvement in the illegal support of the Contras.
Both the story of the arms-for-hostages deal in the Lebanese paper and the CIA transport plane being shot down exposed the dirty dealings the Reagan administration had been committing beginning the Iran-Contra scandal. In Reagan’s address to the nation speech he denied the allegations of any arms sales to Iran, however he does admit to “honorable involvement, such as to renew relations with that nation, to bring an end to the Iran-Iraq war, to eliminate Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, and to effect the release of the US hostages being imprisoned by Hezbollah.” (reagan.utexas.edu) Later when the facts came to light Reagan and several other senior officials stated that all of the Iranian negotiations were on a strict need to know basis, and that the appropriate Congressmen were notified and informed properly. (reagan.utexas.edu) However an investigation was done on the dealings but a large amount of information was destroyed, and many stated that Attorney General Edwin Meese, who was in charge of the investigation, was not interested in finding the facts since he refused help from the FBI and did not take notes in his interviews. Oliver North, whom many believe as the mastermind of the operation held several “shredding parties” at that time to destroy thousands of documents that would likely implicate White House officials in criminal acts. The Iran-Contra investigation later faulted Meese for not using “standard investigating techniques”. However Meese finds a document that verifies the $12 million that was diverted from the arms dealings in Iran to the Contras in Oliver North’s desk. Meese notified Reagan about the diversion of funds, and tells several senior officials about the acts. Reagan realized that he could actually be impeached on the grounds that they broke the Boland Amendment, but Meese allegedly created a case for deniability for the president. In late November Meese revealed the Iran-Contra funding connection, Oliver North is immediately fired, while other officials are forced to resign. In December Reagan appointed former Texas Senator John Tower to head a commission to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. The investigation lasted for three months. In January of 1987 Reagan admitted to authorizing the sale of missiles to Iran in front of the Tower Commission. A day before the head of the CIA, William Casey, is set to testify before the Senate on the affair he has two seizures and is hospitalized, later dying of brain cancer making him unable to testify. The Tower Commission found that the Iran-Contra affair was a rogue operation and that Reagan himself was largely unaware of the dealings. The majority report cam out in November of 1987 stating that the “clandestine financing operation undermined the powers of Congress as a coequal branch and subverted the Constitution.” Although no major reforms would come as a result of the majority report. Four men were indicted on multiple felony charges as a result of it including: former National Security Advisor John Poindexter, Oliver North, Richard Secord, and Albert Hakim. North and Poindexter are both convicted and sentenced to jail time, however both convictions are overturned.
In the end no high-ranking public official was found guilty of anything more than perjuring themselves in front of Congress, however the Iran-Contra scandal tarnished the reputation of many. This scandal seems to disprove that justice is indeed blind in this country, since many high ranking officials with even more powerful allies were guilty of committing serious crimes but were never punished because of who they knew. I feel that this is an incident that should be remembered for many years, and hopefully it will never be repeated.