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Iran-Contra and Arms-for-Hostages Scandals

Hostage Crisis and Iranian Arms Sales

Project: Iran-Contra and Arms-for-Hostages Scandals
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About 500 Iranian students take over the American Embassy in Tehran and hold 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) is one of the groups that supports the take-over. [US Department of State, 4/30/2003; PBS, 1/15/2006]

Entity Tags: People’s Mujahedin of Iran

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Category Tags: US Hostages, 'October Surprise'

Israel secretly changes its policy towards Iran, and now seeks a level of rapprochement with that nation. Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon proposes that President Jimmy Carter, who is struggling to find a diplomatic means to get the 52 American hostages released, begin secretly selling US arms to Iran. Carter angrily refuses. But unbeknownst to Carter, Israel will begin selling its own arms to Iran shortly thereafter. Interestingly, some officials in the US State Department and the CIA know of the Israeli arms sales to Iran. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Ariel Sharon, US Department of State, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Israeli Involvement

Robert Sensi’s membership card in Republicans Abroad.Robert Sensi’s membership card in Republicans Abroad. [Source: Larry J. Kolb]According to a later account by Robert Sensi, a young CIA agent with excellent contacts among prominent Arabs, the Republican National Committee opens what Sensi calls “a secret channel to Iran.” Sensi is not only alluding to the secret plans for the US to sells arms to Iran, which is just developing (see Early 1980), but to the “October Surprise” of the November 1980 US presidential elections (see October 1980). Sensi will bring the matter up to author and fellow CIA agent Larry Kolb in a Washington, DC, hotel bar in 1986, but will not go into detail. Sensi will note that CIA Director William Casey has been involved in the US’s secret dealings with Iran since the outset, as has Robert Carter, the deputy director of Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign. Sensi will say that Casey, Carter, and the other participants are using the overseas political organization Republicans Abroad as cover for more covert activities. The organization is “a great drawing card,” according to Sensi, who is a member. “It gives us access to embassies and a lot of people we would have had a hard time getting to without the cachet of representing the ruling party in the United States.” Writing in 2007, Kolb will reflect on the Republican Party’s “own in-house team of covert operatives, as capable of conducting espionage and sabotage for the Republican Party as for the CIA. It seemed the Republicans were still doing what they had been caught doing during Watergate. Spying on and sabotaging the Democrats. Ratf_cking, as the Republican operatives called it (see October 7, 1972). Coming just a few years after the Watergate national Passion Play and all it had put our country through, this seemed flagrant and foul, like sleaze squared. And like politics-as-usual.” [Kolb, 2007, pp. 28-29]

Entity Tags: Republican National Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Larry Kolb, Ronald Reagan, William Casey, Robert Carter, Robert Sensi, Republicans Abroad

Timeline Tags: Elections Before 2000

Category Tags: 'October Surprise'

Shatt al-Arab waterway.Shatt al-Arab waterway. [Source: CNN]Iraq invades Iran, officially beginning a nine-year war between the two countries, although Iraq insists that Iran has been launching artillery attacks against Iraqi targets since September 4. The overarching reason, according to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, is over control of the Shatt al-Arab, the geographically critical waterway between Iran and Iraq that empties into the Persian Gulf. (Iraq signed over partial control of the Shatt al-Arab to Iran in 1975, but reclaimed the waterway in 1979 after the fall of Iran’s Shah Reza Pahlavi; Iraq also has hopes to conquer the oil-rich Iranian province of Khuzestan.) The United States will provide covert military support to both Iran (see November 3, 1986) and Iraq (see 1981-1988) during the war. [Infoplease, 2007]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US-Iraq 1980s

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Iran-Iraq War

Salem bin Laden in 1975.Salem bin Laden in 1975. [Source: Corbis]Salem bin Laden, Osama’s oldest brother, described by a French secret intelligence report as one of two closest friends of Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd who often performs important missions for Saudi Arabia, is involved in secret Paris meetings between US and Iranian emissaries this month, according to a French report. Frontline, which published the French report, notes that such meetings have never been confirmed. Rumors of these meetings have been called the “October Surprise” and some have speculated that in these meetings, George H. W. Bush negotiated a delay to the release of the US hostages in Iran, thus helping Ronald Reagan and Bush win the 1980 Presidential election. All of this is highly speculative, but if the French report is correct, it points to a long-standing connection of highly improper behavior between the Bush and bin Laden families. [PBS Frontline, 2001]

Entity Tags: Salem bin Laden, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: 'October Surprise', Salem bin Laden, George H. W. Bush

F-14 spare parts shipped to Iran.F-14 spare parts shipped to Iran. [Source: Reuben Johnson / Weekly Standard]Israeli officials secretly ask Reagan administration officials for authorization to transfer arms of US origin to Iran. Officials in the Departments of Defense and State have known of Israeli arms sales to Iran that predate Reagan’s installation as president and the freeing of the American hostages, and since Reagan’s ascension to power, plans for US arms sales to Iran have been in the works (see January 28, 1981). Secretary of State Alexander Haig tells Israel that it is acceptable “in principle” for Israel to sell only F-4 fighter plane parts, and the US must approve specific arms-sales lists in advance. It shortly becomes evident, according to State Department documents leaked years later to the press, that Israel is not submitting lists for approval, and is selling US-made arms to Iran far in excess of spare parts for a specific model of fighter jet. (By the mid-1980s, officials will acknowledge that several billion dollars’ worth of ammunition and parts worth would flow from Israel to Iran each year.) Little oversight is exercised on the arms sales; one US ambassador to the region will say in 1992, “[I]t is probable that those who were to serve as their proxies—Israel and private international arms dealers—had agendas of their own, and the end result was that more arms were shipped than anyone in the administration wanted.” The Israeli arms transfers also violate the Arms Export Control Act, which requires written permission from the US for a nation to transfer US-made arms to a third party, and requires the president to immediately inform Congress when such transfers take place. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Arms Export Control Act, US Department of State, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Israeli Involvement

Ronald and Nancy Reagan celebrate winning the presidency.Ronald and Nancy Reagan celebrate winning the presidency. [Source: Medal of Freedom (.com)]After winning a sweeping election victory against President Jimmy Carter in November 1980, Ronald Reagan is sworn in as US president. The same day that Reagan is sworn in, Iran releases the remaining 52 hostages it has held captive at the US Embassy in Tehran for 444 days (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). [PBS, 2000]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Elections Before 2000

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, US Hostages, 'October Surprise'

According to investigative journalists Joe and Susan Trento, the arrest of former CIA agent Edwin Wilson, who was involved in business dealings with Libya, has serious consequences for US terrorism policy: “Throughout the 1980s the United States used its intelligence services to divert blame from Iran and Hezbollah onto Libya as part of its entanglement in Iran-Contra with the so-called moderate Iranians with whom the Reagan administration dealt. Ever since international arms dealer Edwin Wilson had been captured and imprisoned in the early 1980s, American intelligence and the White House had labeled Libya a rogue nation, and Libyan dictator Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi a terrorist leader. The intelligence operation went so far that the United States actually recruited a gang of Lebanese criminals to pretend to be a cell of Libyan-backed terrorists conducting violent acts around the world.… These activities, all choreographed by the CIA, were fed to allies such as West Germany as authentic intelligence that implicated Libya for terrorists acts that were either fake or were, in reality, authorized by Iran and carried out by Hezbollah and other surrogate groups.”
Benefit to Iran - This policy apparently benefits Iran: “The Reagan administration had given the Iranians plenty of cards to play. The biggest card was the help it had provided making Libya seem like the ultimate source of all terrorist acts.… When the Reagan administration turned Libya into a vicious terrorist nation operating throughout Europe, that gave Iran the perfect opening for retribution.”
No action against Hezbollah - In addition, it prevents the US from taking action against Hezbollah, even though Hezbollah is killing Americans: “Because of the Iran-Contra scandal—the selling of weapons to Iran to fund the war in Central America—the Reagan administration ended up protecting Iran’s number one terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, while at the same time Hezbollah’s terrorists were killing and kidnapping hundreds of Americans. While secretly working with the Iranian government, the Reagan administration manipulated intelligence to blame Libya for terrorist attacks for which Hezbollah was responsible. During the 1980s Hezbollah killed and terrorized hundreds of Americans in Beirut, bombing the US Marine barracks, blowing up the CIA station, and killing State Department employees in a bomb attack on the US embassy. Hezbollah did all this with the help of local militia leaders whom the United States relied on as its secret conduits to Iran for its sale of weapons.” [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. xvi, 64-5]

Entity Tags: Joseph Trento, Central Intelligence Agency, Edwin Wilson, Iran, Susan Trento, Hezbollah, Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Iran-Contra Affair, Hezbollah and Iran

A “considerable illicit traffic” in US arms sales to the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Iran has developed by this time to assist Iran in the war with Iraq. South Korean and Israeli companies are used as intermediaries. According Alan A. Block, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, many of these sales are known of and approved by the CIA and the Reagan administration. Block points out that these arms sales precede the hostage incidents which, it is later claimed, are the motivation for the arms sales to Iran. [Preece, 1984, pp. 25; Block, 2000]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Israeli Involvement, Iran-Iraq War

GeoMiliTech (GMT) Consultants Corporation is established by conservative talk show host Barbara F. Studley. A number of far right-wing, high ranking American and Israeli military officials become involved in the company, which opens corporate offices in both Washington and Tel Aviv. Studley is the company’s president. Ron S. Harel, a veteran of the Israeli Air Force, will become its executive vice president. US Navy Captain Bruce E. Herbert and Joel Arnon, a former assistant director general in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Relations, become vice presidents. The company begins selling arms to Iran through Israel and North Korea. One of GMT’s partners in this enterprise is Israeli Military Industries. Israel’s political motives are clear, according to Alan A. Block, a professor at Pennsylvania State University: Israel wants to ensure that the Iran-Iraq war is as long and destructive as possible. The motivations of the US officials involved (beyond profit making) are less clear. Block says he believes that the founding of GMT marks the beginning of US weapons sales to Iran. [Block, 2000]

Entity Tags: GeoMiliTech Consultants Corporation, Israeli Military Industries, Joel Arnon, Bruce E. Herbert, Barbara F. Studley, Ron S. Harel

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Iran-Iraq War, Israeli Involvement

The US launches Operation Staunch, advising other countries not to sell weapons to Iran to force a negotiated settlement to the Iran-Iraq war. [PBS, 2000]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration

Category Tags: Iran-Iraq War

Rumsfeld greets Hussein.Rumsfeld greets Hussein. [Source: Washington Note.com]US Special Envoy Donald Rumsfeld—formerly the Secretary of Defense and now the CEO of the pharmaceutical company, GD Searle and Co.—personally meets with Saddam Hussein for 90 minutes in an attempt to reestablish diplomatic relations with Iraq. Rumsfeld also discusses US interest in the construction of the Iraq-Jordan Aqaba oil pipeline [to be built by Bechtel (see December 2, 1983)]. [US Department of State, 12/10/1983 pdf file; Iraqi television, 12/20/1983; US Department of State, 12/21/1983 pdf file; MSNBC, 8/18/2002; Newsweek, 9/23/2002; Washington Post, 12/30/2002; London Times, 12/31/2002; Vallette, 3/24/2003; New York Times, 4/14/2003] Rumsfeld does not raise the issue of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons with Saddam. [US Department of State, 12/21/1983 pdf file] Rumsfeld also delivers a letter to Hussein from Reagan administration officials declaring that for Iraq to be defeated by Iran (see September 1980) would be “contrary to United States interests.” Rumsfeld’s visit represents one side of the somewhat double-edged US foreign policy in the region: the US has allowed Israel to sell US-made arms to Iran for use against Iraq (see 1981). By this time, the US has already started clandestinely providing arms to Iraq as well (see October 1983). [New Yorker, 11/2/1992] After his meeting with the Iraqi president, Rumsfeld meets with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz. They agree that “the US and Iraq… [share] many common interests.” Rumsfeld briefly mentions US concerns about Iraq’s chemical weapons, explaining that US “efforts to assist [Iraq]… [are] inhibited by certain things that made it difficult for us….” [US Department of State, 12/21/1983 pdf file] On September 19, 2002, almost two decades later, Rumsfeld will be questioned in Congress about this visit (see September 19, 2002). [US Congress, 9/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US-Iraq 1980s

Category Tags: Iran-Iraq War

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.

Entity Tags: US Department of State, George Shultz

Category Tags: Hezbollah and Iran

Lt. Col. William Buckley.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]

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Jeffrey Goldberg, William Francis Buckley, Central Intelligence Agency, Hezbollah, Robin B. Wright, Islamic Jihad Organization

Category Tags: Iran-Contra Affair, Hezbollah and Iran, US Hostages

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).

Entity Tags: Benjamin Weir, Hezbollah

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Iran-Contra Affair, US Hostages

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]

Entity Tags: Robert C. McFarlane

Category Tags: Other, Hezbollah and Iran, Robert McFarlane

Neoconservative academic Michael Ledeen, who left the Defense Department under suspicion of engaging in espionage on behalf of Israel (see 1983), gains a position at the National Security Council. His boss is Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North (see July 7-10, 1987 and May-June, 1989). According to Iran-Contra investigators, it is Ledeen who suggests to North “that Israeli contacts might be useful in obtaining release of the US hostages in Lebanon” (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). Ledeen is granted high-level security clearance. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Ledeen, National Security Council

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Israeli Involvement

Peter Kilburn.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]

Entity Tags: Peter Kilburn, Hezbollah

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, US Hostages

Israel, Turkey, and the US collaborate in supplying arms to the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Iran for use in the Iran-Iraq war. Unmarked Israeli and US planes transport TOW missiles and Hawk anti-aircraft batteries from Israel to Tabriz, Iran. The planes make occasional stopovers at newly-constructed Pentagon bases in eastern Turkey. [Evriviades, 1999]

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Israeli Involvement

Friar Lawrence Jenco.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]

Entity Tags: Lawrence Jenco, Hezbollah

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, US Hostages

A photograph of Terry Anderson provided by his captors.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]

Entity Tags: Hezbollah, Terry Anderson, Associated Press

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, US Hostages

NSC Middle East analyst Donald Fortier writes to his boss, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, of his concerns that NSC consultant Michael Ledeen (see Late 1984) might be a risk for passing classified information to Israel (see 1983). According to Fortier, NSC staffers agree that Ledeen’s role in the secret hostage negotiations with Iran should be limited to ferrying messages to Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres regarding Israel’s role in the negotiations, and Ledeen should specifically not be entrusted to ask Peres for detailed operational information. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Ledeen, Robert C. McFarlane, National Security Council, Donald Fortier

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Israeli Involvement, Robert McFarlane

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]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, National Security Council, Shimon Peres, Michael Ledeen

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Israeli Involvement

David Jacobsen.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]

Entity Tags: David Jacobsen, Hezbollah

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, US Hostages

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]

Entity Tags: Robert C. McFarlane, George Shultz, Oliver North, Michael Ledeen

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Israeli Involvement, George Shultz, Oliver North

Thomas Sutherland, a US citizen working at Beirut’s American University, is kidnapped by Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]

Entity Tags: Hezbollah, Thomas Sutherland

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, US Hostages

Time magazine cover from June 24, 1985 featuring report on the hijacking of Flight 847.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]

Entity Tags: Robert Dean Stethem, Hafiz al-Assad, Amal, ’Kuwait 17’, Ronald Reagan, Hezbollah

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Hezbollah and Iran

David Kimche.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]

Entity Tags: Oliver North, Carter administration, Adnan Khashoggi, David Kimche, John Poindexter, Robert C. McFarlane, Shimon Peres, Hezbollah

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Israeli Involvement, US Hostages

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]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, Ronald Reagan, Hezbollah

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, US Hostages, Ronald Reagan

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]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, Manucher Ghorbanifar

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Israeli Involvement

August 20, 1985: Israel Sends Arms to Iran

Israel sends 96 TOW anti-tank missiles to Iran (see May 3, 1985). [New York Times, 11/19/1987] No American hostages are freed in return. [PBS, 2000]

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Israeli Involvement

Benjamin Weir.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]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Weir

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, US Hostages

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).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, John McMahon, Ronald Reagan

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Israeli Involvement

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).

Entity Tags: Manucher Ghorbanifar, David Kimche, Oliver North, Yaacov Nimrodi, Robert C. McFarlane

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Israeli Involvement

National Security Council official Oliver North tells National Security Adviser John Poindexter that his consultant, neoconservative Michael Ledeen, is no longer trustworthy. Ledeen has long been suspected of operating as a spy for Israel (see April 9, 1985 and August 20, 1985). North tells Poindexter that “for [the] security of the Iran initiative,” Ledeen should be asked to take periodic polygraph examinations. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]

Entity Tags: John Poindexter, National Security Council, Oliver North, Michael Ledeen

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Iran-Contra Affair, Israeli Involvement, Oliver North, John Poindexter

Albert Hakim.Albert Hakim. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]During a morning intelligence briefing, President Ronald Reagan signs the authorization for the US to allow Israel to sell Iran 4,000 US-made antitank missiles (see January 7, 1986). As they have consistently done before, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Secretary of State George Shultz register their opposition to the arms deals with Iran. National Security Adviser John Poindexter notes in a February 1986 e-mail that Vice President George Bush supports the arms-for-hostages deals with Iran, writing that the “President and VP are solid in taking the position that we have to try.” The reasons the various administration officials have for agreeing to sell arms to Iran are complex. Reagan is motivated by his belief that supporting Iran thwarts Soviet plans for Middle East domination (see May 1985), and by his own personal sorrow over the plight of the hostages. Others have more overtly political motives primarily fueled by the upcoming midterm elections. If, as in 1980, the American hostages currently held by Islamist radicals can be freed before the elections, the Republicans would likely reap the political benefits. Iranian-born arms merchant Albert Hakim, who is involved in the arms deals, will later tell Congress’s Iran-Contra committee, “We had to meet a deadline in releasing hostages, because the elections were coming up.” Even National Security Council aide Oliver North, one of the chief facilitators of the deals with Iran, will admit to the committee, “There are political concerns.” The US insists that before it deliver any of the antitank missiles, all of the hostages must be released. Iran refuses, and a deadlock ensues that will last for months. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: John Poindexter, Caspar Weinberger, George Herbert Walker Bush, Iran-Contra Committee, National Security Council, Ronald Reagan, George Shultz, Oliver North

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, US Hostages, Caspar Weinberger, George Shultz, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, House-Senate Committee

National Security Council official Oliver North writes to National Security Adviser John Poindexter that his aide, consultant Michael Ledeen, may be illegally profiting from the sale of arms to Iran through Israel (see June 23-25, 1987). [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Oliver North, John Poindexter, National Security Council, Michael Ledeen

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Israeli Involvement, John Poindexter, Oliver North

The US sends between 500 and 1,000 TOW anti-tank missiles to Israel, from US stockpiles, to be delivered to Iran. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; PBS, 2000]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Israeli Involvement

The US sends another shipment (see February 16-17, 1986) of 500 TOW anti-tank missiles to Israel for transfer to Iran. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; New York Times, 11/19/1987]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Israeli Involvement

Five hundred and eight TOW anti-tank missiles, and 240 spare parts for Hawk anti-aircraft missiles, are shipped to Israel for transfer to Iran. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration

Category Tags: Iran-Contra Affair, Israeli Involvement

CIA Director William Casey introduces a plan to break the stalled arms-for-hostages deal with Iran that has been moribund for over a month (see Late May, 1986). Like his boss President Ronald Reagan, Casey has a powerful Cold War mentality and a love of covert operations; like Reagan, Casey believes that building relations with Iran is a way to counter Soviet expansionism. Casey’s plan appears on the agenda of a meeting of the Contingency Pre-Planning Group (CPPG), an inter-agency committee consisting of mid-level representatives of the National Security Council, the Departments of State and Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the CIA. The meeting focuses on Iraq’s failures in its long, dismal war against Iran. Casey believes that if Iraq escalates its air attacks on Iran, Iran will need more and more arms from the US, and that will force it to conclude the stalled arms-for-hostages deal on favorable terms. And Casey, ever the espionage aficionado, is playing the two opposing factions—one pro-Iran, one pro-Iraq—within the administration (see January 14, 1984) against one another, according to two CIA aides who work closely with him. Those aides, who speak to reporters in 1992 after leaving the agency, will say he even keeps some White House officials ignorant of the “double nature of his plan.” In furthering his own murky strategies, Casey is also enlisting the support of State and Defense Department officials who fear an imminent Iranian victory. Casey believes that the war will continue as a stalemate for several years, but he deliberately slants his intelligence assessments to paint a graver picture of Iraq’s imminent defeat (Iraq’s fortunes in the war are grim enough to require little embellishment).
CPPG Unable To Find Solutions for Iraq - The CPPG is tasked with shoring up the US’s commercial and financial relationships with Iraq, a chore for which the group cannot find an immediate solution. The CPPG has also considered using Jordan as a conduit for arms to Iraq, similar to the way Israel has served as a conduit for US arms to Iran (see 1981), but the group rejects that idea because, according to a memo from the meeting, “any such transfer has to be notified to the Congress and thus made public.”
Iraq's Antiquated War Strategies - The group finally discusses a matter that plays into Casey’s plan, Iraq’s failure to fight the war in a modern fashion. Iraq uses its powerful air force extremely poorly, at times seemingly afraid to commit planes on missions that might put a single aircraft at risk. Former ambassador Richard Murphy will say of Iraq, “The Iraqis were fighting the way Germans might have in the First World War. They were good at holding a defense line, which is useful in holding back the human waves of Iranians. But when it came to their air force they were inept. On bombing missions, in particular, the Iraqis were so afraid to lose planes that they often didn’t undertake missions, and when they did they did only things that were safe.” Reagan has already issued secret authorizations for Saudi Arabia to transfer US-origin bombs to Iraq, to induce it to use its air force more effectively (see February 1986), to little avail. Now the CPPG says that Vice President George Bush might help out; Bush is making a trip to the Middle East as Reagan’s “peace envoy” (see July 23, 1986). The CPPG decides that Bush might suggest to Jordan’s King Hussein and Egypt’s President Mubarak that the two “sustain their efforts to convey our shared views to Saddam regarding Iraq’s use of its air resources.” The CPPG is not sanguine about the likelihood of Bush’s success, considering the distrust Saddam Hussein maintains for the US. The CPPG recommends that the White House send “a senior US emissary” to confer directly with Hussein; the CPPG is apparently unaware that Casey has already spoken privately with Bush and asked him to meet in secret with Hussein (see July 23, 1986). [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, Hosni Mubarak, George Herbert Walker Bush, Contingency Pre-Planning Group, Central Intelligence Agency, Hussein bin Talal, National Security Council, US Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Department of State, William Casey, Richard W. Murphy, Ronald Reagan, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: US-Iraq 1980s

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Iran-Iraq War, William Casey, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush

Vice President Bush, planning to leave for Iraq on a secret errand to persuade Saddam Hussein to escalate his bombing of Iranian targets in order to increase pressure on Iran to release American hostages (see July 28-August 3, 1986), is briefed by two top National Security Council aides, Oliver North and Howard Teicher, before leaving for the Middle East. Teicher will later recall: “We told him what the status was, that [US] arms had gone to Iran. We were preparing him for a possible briefing by either [Shimon Peres, the prime minister of Israel] or [Amiram] Nir [Peres’s counterterrorism adviser]. We didn’t want him to discuss it with anyone else, for security reasons. He asked us some questions, but he didn’t express any opinions.” While Bush will repeatedly deny ever discussing the Iranian arms sales with William Casey (see July 23, 1986), a former CIA official will say in 1992 that Casey did brief Bush extensively about the program. “Casey felt Bush had a methodical, orderly manner for the task,” the official will say. “[Casey] had great confidence in him to carry it out. He said he briefed Bush in great detail about the initiative to bomb Iran.” [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Howard Teicher, Amiram Nir, George Herbert Walker Bush, Shimon Peres, Oliver North, William Casey, Saddam Hussein

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Iran-Contra Affair, Violation of US Law, US Hostages, George H. W. Bush, Oliver North, William Casey

President Reagan signs legislation that bans arms sales to nations that support terrorism (such as Iran), and strengthens US anti-terrorism measures. [PBS, 2000] The law, entitled the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986 [White House, 8/27/1986] , does not halt the Reagan administration’s sales of arms and weapons to Iran; the arms sales go forward in spite of the law explicitly prohibiting them (see September 19, 1986, Early October-November, 1986, October 5, 1986, Early November, 1986, and November 3, 1986).

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Iran-Contra Affair, Hezbollah and Iran, Ronald Reagan

Hostage Joseph Cicippio.Hostage Joseph Cicippio. [Source: Evelyn Floret / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images]Two more Americans, Frank Reed and Joseph Cicippio, are taken hostage by Hezbollah in Lebanon (see September 19, 1986). [New York Times, 11/19/1987] Cicippio, an expatriate who has converted to Islam, is the acting controller at Beirut’s American University. [New York Times, 10/24/1993] Reed is the head of the private Lebanese International School. [New York Times, 5/28/1990]

Entity Tags: Hezbollah, American University (Beirut), Frank Reed, Joseph Cicippio

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, US Hostages

Richard Secord.Richard Secord. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Ali Hashemi Bahramani, a high-ranking officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, meets secretly with NSC official Oliver North. Bahramani has a shopping list of arms Iran wants to buy from the US, particularly weapons and other material to defend the country against the recent escalation of Iraqi air strikes (see July 23, 1986). The plan to force Iran to trade US hostages for arms (see July 23, 1986) seems to be working. But for the US the plan has a fatal flaw: as hostages are released, Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group controlled by Iran, simply kidnaps more Americans (see September 9-12, 1986). North’s assistant, Richard Secord, later states that it is evident the Iranians negotiating the release of the hostages are the same ones responsible for ordering the new kidnappings. But North, his boss John Poindexter, and CIA Director William Casey continue with the Iranian initiative regardless. One driving factor, Secord will note, is that by this point, $3.8 million in profits from the Iranian arms sales has been diverted to the Nicaraguan Contras. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: William Casey, John Poindexter, Oliver North, Richard Secord, Ali Hashemi Bahramani

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, US Hostages, William Casey, John Poindexter, Oliver North, Richard Secord

Terry Waite.Terry Waite. [Source: BBC]Negotiations between Iran and the US for more arms sales hit another snag, with the Iranians merely releasing some American hostages and kidnapping more (see September 19, 1986). CIA Director William Casey decides to reprise the earlier strategy of exhorting Iraq to escalate its air strikes against Iran, thus forcing Iran to turn to the US for more military aid (see July 23, 1986). Casey secretly meets with two high-level Iraqi officials, Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz and Iraq’s ambassador to the US, Nizaar Hamdoon, to urge that the Iraqis once again intensify their bombing runs deep into Iranian territory. The Iraqis comply. But the Iranians’ return to the bargaining table is complicated by the October 5 shooting down of a CIA transport plane in Nicaragua, and the capture by the Sandinistas of the lone survivor, a cargo hauler named Eugene Hasenfus, who tells his captors of the US involvement with the Nicaraguan Contras (see October 5, 1986). Soon after, the Iranians release a single American hostage, but the Hasenfus revelation is followed by that of the Iran-US arms-for-hostages deals by a Lebanese newspaper, Al Shiraa (see November 3, 1986), and similar reports by US news organizations. With the public now aware of these embarrassing and potentially criminal acts by the Reagan administration, support for Iran within the administration collapses, most of the pro-Iranian officials leave government service, and the pro-Iraqi wing of the executive branch, led by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Secretary of State George Shultz, wins out. The closing months of the Reagan administration will feature a marked tilt towards Iraq in the war between Iraq and Iran. The Reagan administration will, in coming months, provide Iraq with a remarkable amount of military and economic aid, including technology to develop long-range ballistic missiles, chemical weapons, and even nuclear weapons. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992] Interestingly, one of the terrorist groups holding American hostages, the Islamic Jihad Organization (a group closely affiliated with Hezbollah and not the group led by Ayman al-Zawahiri), who released American captive David Jacobson in early November, urged the US to “proceed with current approaches that could lead, if continued, to a solution of the hostages issue.” Reagan officials publicly deny that anyone in the US government has made any “approaches” to Iran or anyone else. As a side note, the release of Jacobson also shows the efforts of Terry Waite, the Archbishop of Canterbury and a former hostage himself, to facilitate the release of the hostages in a different light. Waite’s untiring efforts have obviously been sincere, but never as effective as publicly portrayed. Instead, both the US and Iran have used Waite’s efforts as cover for their secret negotiations. One Israeli official calls Waite’s efforts the “cellophane wrapping” around the hostage releases. He says: “You cannot deliver a gift package unwrapped. That is why there will be no more hostage releases until he returns to the region.” (Waite has temporarily suspended his attempts to free the hostages, complaining about being used as a pawn in international power games.) [Time, 11/17/1986]

Entity Tags: Terry Waite, William Casey, Reagan administration, George Shultz, Islamic Jihad Organization, David Jacobson, Caspar Weinberger, Al Shiraa, Nizaar Hamdoon, Eugene Hasenfus, Hezbollah

Timeline Tags: US-Iraq 1980s

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, US Hostages, Hezbollah and Iran, Caspar Weinberger, George Shultz, William Casey, Eugene Hasenfus

Blurry photo, taken from a television broadcast, of US hostage Edward Tracy.Blurry photo, taken from a television broadcast, of US hostage Edward Tracy. [Source: Sygma / Corbis]American Edward Tracy is kidnapped by Lebanese militants belonging to an obscure radical group, the Revolutionary Justice Organization. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] Tracy is an itinerant illustrator, poet, and translator who has lived in the Middle East for decades. [US House of Representatives, 9/28/1989; Boston Globe, 10/12/1991]

Entity Tags: Revolutionary Justice Organization, Edward Tracy

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, US Hostages

The Danish Union of Seamen claims that Danish cargo ships have carried at least five loads of arms and ammunition from Israel to Iran. The union’s deputy chairman, Henrik Berlau, says, “It appears that the shipments this year have been carried out on the orders of the US to win the release of hostages in Lebanon.” Danish cargo ships have the reputation of being able to deliver questionable cargo quietly to most parts of the world. Berlau tells the story of an October voyage, where a Danish cargo ship picked up 26 containers of ammunition from the Israeli port of Eilat and delivered them to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. A Danish sailor told Berlau, “We all knew there was ammunition on board.” But Israeli authorities in Eilat kept the nature of the cargo secret: “The Israeli harbor authorities told us to take off all markings that could show we had been in Israel, including the markings on the food we had taken aboard and on the weapons containers. We even had to remove the JAFFA markings on the oranges.” Uniformed Israelis, said the Danish seaman, forced the cargo ship to temporarily change its name (from Morso to Solar) until the ship reached the Persian Gulf on October 21, just before it delivered its cargo. [Time, 11/17/1986]

Entity Tags: Henrik Berlau, Danish Union of Seamen

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Israeli Involvement

Alann Steen and his wife on their honeymoon in 1986.Alann Steen and his wife on their honeymoon in 1986. [Source: Evelyn Floret / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images]Four teachers at Beirut University College—Americans Alann Steen, Jesse Turner, and Robert Polhill, and Indian-born US resident Mithileshwar Singh—are kidnapped by Hezbollah militants. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]

Entity Tags: Robert Polhill, Alann Steen, Beirut University College, Mithileshwar Singh, Jesse Turner, Hezbollah

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, US Hostages

President Reagan sends a memo to the Tower Commission in an attempt to clarify his previous rambling and incoherent testimony (see January 26, 1987 and February 2, 1987). The memo does not improve matters. It reads in part: “I don’t remember, period.… I’m trying to recall events that happened eighteen months ago, I’m afraid that I let myself be influenced by others’ recollections, not my own.… The only honest answer is to state that try as I might, I cannot recall anything whatsoever about whether I approved an Israeli sale in advance or whether I approved replenishment of Israeli stocks around August of 1985 (see August 20, 1985). My answer therefore and the simple truth is, ‘I don’t remember, period.’” [PBS, 2000]

Entity Tags: Tower Commission, Ronald Reagan

Category Tags: Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Israeli Involvement, Tower Commission, Ronald Reagan

Testimony in the Iran-Contra investigations turns to the possibility that NSC aide Michael Ledeen may have profited from the US sales of arms to Iran through Israel (see January 24, 1986). Ledeen’s former supervisor at the Department of Defense, Noel Koch, who has long suspected Ledeen of spying for Israel (see 1983 and 1986), says that he first became suspicious of Ledeen when he learned that the price Ledeen had negotiated for the sale to the Israeli government of basic TOW missiles was $2,500 each. Koch found that no TOW missile had ever been sold to any foreign government for less than $6,800 per unit. Under orders from his superiors in the department, Koch renegotiated the deal with an Israeli official, eventually raising the price to $4,500 per missile, almost twice what Ledeen had “negotiated” in Israel. Author Stephen Green, who will write two books on US-Israeli relations, will comment, “There are two possibilities here—one would be a kickback, as suspected by his NSC colleagues, and the other would be that Michael Ledeen was effectively negotiating for Israel, not the US.” [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Michael Ledeen, Stephen Green, Noel Koch, National Security Council

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Israeli Involvement, Arms-for-Hostages Scandal

Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter listens with horrified fascination as Oliver North testifies to the Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee (see July 7-10, 1987) about the 1985 apprehension of the Arab terrorists who had hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro. North accuses unnamed members of Congress of being untrustworthy by leaking the military details of the hijackers’ capture to the press. Alter is fully aware that North is lying—in fact, North himself leaked the information about the capture to reporters. Alter is sure that North believes he will not be exposed because reporters do not, as a rule, reveal their sources. Though North did not speak to Alter himself about the Achille Lauro capture operation, Alter exposes North as the leaker. Alter will later write: “This didn’t exactly make me Mr. Popularity with my colleagues or with North, who threatened to sue. But I would do it all over again.” [Newsweek, 10/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Jonathan Alter, Oliver North

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: After Effects, Violation of US Law, US Hostages, House-Senate Committee, Oliver North

Oliver North testifying before the Iran-Contra Committee.Oliver North testifying before the Iran-Contra Committee. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North testifies before the joint House-Senate Iran-Contra investigative committee. During the course of his testimony, he says he does not know if President Reagan had any knowledge of the diversion of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). North also testifies that William Casey, the recently deceased CIA director (see May 6, 1987), knew of and approved the diversion of funds to the Contras. North admits that the Iranian arms sales were initially designed to help facilitate the release of the American hostages being held by Hezbollah. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Tour de Force - North’s testimony is a “tour de force,” in the words of authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, that allows Republicans the opportunity to reverse the field of the hearings and go on the offensive instead of defending the conduct of the Reagan administration. North, a Marine lieutenant colonel, wears his full-dress Marine uniform throughout his entire testimony with rows of ribbons festooning his chest. Handsome and full of righteous patriotism, he is striking on television, and contrasts well with the nasal, disdainful committee lawyers (see May 5, 1987) who spend four days interrogating him.
Need to Free Hostages Trumps Law - For the first two days, North and House counsel John Nields spar for the cameras. North says that Casey had directed him to create the so-called “Enterprise” (see November 19, 1985 and February 2, 1987), the clandestine organization that supported the Nicaraguan Contras with money, weapons, and sometimes US personnel. North admits to shredding untold amounts of evidence after the operation came to light (see November 21-25, 1986). He also admits to lying to Congress in previous testimony. But all of his actions are justified, he says, by the need to get Iran to free the American hostages. “I’d have offered the Iranians a free trip to Disneyland if we could have gotten Americans home for it,” he declares in response to one question about US arms sales to Iran. Senate counsel Arthur Liman will later write, “He made all his illegal acts—the lying to Congress, the diversion [of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Contras], the formation of the Enterprise, the cover-up—seem logical and patriotic.”
Targeting Covert Operations - Nields’s preferred line of questioning—covert operations—makes many committee members uncomfortable. Some House Democrats want to use the investigation to further their own goals of limiting covert actions, and others simply want the truth to be revealed. In contrast, House Republicans are united in opposition to any details of covert operations being revealed on national television and thus hampering the president’s ability to conduct future operations as needed. After the first day of North’s testimony, committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) exults on PBS that North “probably was as effective as anybody we’ve had before the committee in coming forward very aggressively and stating what he did, saying why he did it, arguing that he was in fact authorized to take the activities that he did.”
Leaky Congress Unfit to Know of Covert Ops, North Contends - North echoes Cheney’s position that the question is not whether White House officials broke the law, but whether Congress was fit to consider the question of national security at all. North goes so far as to question the propriety of the hearings themselves: “I believe that these hearings, perhaps unintentionally so, have revealed matters of great secrecy in the operation of our government, and sources of methods of intelligence activities have clearly been revealed, to the detriment of our security.” North’s message is clear: Congress is not fit to handle covert operations or, by and large, to even know about them. Best for the legislature to allow the White House and the intelligence community to do what needs doing and remain quiet about it. North’s contention that Congress has leaked vital national security information is shot down by Senate committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who not only forces North to admit that he has no evidence of his contention, but that the White House, not Congress, is the main source of leaked classified information. Indeed, North himself has leaked information (see July 7-10, 1987). Inouye’s co-chair, Warren Rudman (R-NH) will later say: “The greatest leaks came out of the White House. North and company were the biggest leakers of all during that period.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 75-78] Nields, addressing North’s implication that the NSC has no obligation to tell the truth to Congress, says towards the end of his session with North: “We do believe in a democracy in which the people, not one lieutenant colonel, decide important policy issues, don’t we? … You denied Congress the facts North had admitted to lying about the government’s involvement with the Hasenfus plane. You denied the elected representatives of the people the facts.” [Boston Globe, 7/9/1987]
Impact on Public Opinion - Results will differ on North’s popularity with viewers (see July 9-31, 1987).

Entity Tags: William Casey, Warren Rudman, Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Arthur Liman, Bush administration (41), Contras, Daniel Inouye, Hezbollah, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Nields, Jake Bernstein, Lou Dubose

Category Tags: Aid for Nicaraguan Contras, Arms Sales Profits to Contras, Arms-for-Hostages Scandal, Iran-Contra Affair, Violation of US Law, Hezbollah and Iran, US Hostages, House-Senate Committee, Dick Cheney, George H. W. Bush, Oliver North

August 20, 1988: Iran-Iraq War Ends

The Iran-Iraq war ends in stalemate after both sides reluctantly accept a UN-brokered peace agreement. The border between the two countries does not change. The war cost at least 1.5 million lives. The major arms supplier for Iraq was the Soviet Union, while France was the biggest supplier to Iran. The US covertly sold arms to both sides during the war, though towards the end of the conflict, the US, after its clandestine arms-for-hostage deals with Iran were exposed in the international press (see November 3, 1986), tilted towards Iraq (see Early October-November, 1986). The Iranian and Iraqi regimes will set about slaughtering their own dissidents after the war—the Iraqis primarily focusing on separatist Kurds and Iran-sympathetic Shi’ites, and the Iranians focusing on its leftist dissident population. [ZMag, 2/1990; New Yorker, 11/2/1992; Infoplease, 2007]

Entity Tags: United Nations

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, US-Iraq 1980s

Category Tags: Iran-Iraq War

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