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Iran-Contra Affair

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Firefly
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« on: November 02, 2007, 03:06:24 pm »

The Iran-Contra Affair was a political scandal occurring in 1987 as a result of earlier events during the Reagan administration in which members of the executive branch sold weapons to Iran, an avowed enemy, and illegally used the profits to continue funding anti-Communist rebels, the Contras, in Nicaragua.[1] Large volumes of documents relating to the scandal were destroyed or withheld from investigators by Reagan administration officials.[2][3] The affair is still shrouded in secrecy. After the arms sales were revealed in November 1986, President Ronald Reagan appeared on national television and denied that they had occurred.[4] A week later, however, on November 13, Reagan returned to the airwaves to affirm that weapons were indeed transferred to Iran. He denied that they were part of an exchange for hostages.[5]

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Firefly
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« Reply #1 on: November 02, 2007, 03:06:48 pm »

The affair links quite disparate matters: on one hand were the arms sales to Iran, and on the other, funding of Contra militants in Nicaragua. Direct funding of the Nicaraguan rebels had been made illegal through the Boland Amendment. The affair emerged when a Lebanese newspaper reported that the U.S. sold arms to Iran in exchange for the release of hostages by Hezbollah. E-mails sent by Oliver North to John Poindexter support this.[6] However, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. claims that the reason was to establish links with elements of the military in Iran. It is also noteworthy that the Contras did not receive all of their finances from arms sales, but also through drug trafficking of which the US was found to be aware.[7]This is delineated in the "Drug money" section below.

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Firefly
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« Reply #2 on: November 02, 2007, 03:07:30 pm »



Vice President George H. W. Bush and other VIPs wait to welcome hostages back home
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« Reply #3 on: November 02, 2007, 03:07:57 pm »

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Middle East was faced with frequent hostage-taking incidents by hostile organizations. In 1979, Iranian students took hostage 66 employees of the United States embassy in Iran. On January 20, 1981, the day Ronald Reagan became President, the hostages were freed following the Algiers Accords. Hostage taking in the Middle East did not end there, however.[8] In 1983, members of Al-Dawa ("The Call"), an exiled Iraqi political party turned militant organization, were imprisoned for their part in a series of truck bombs in Kuwait. In response to the imprisonment, Hezbollah, an ally of Al-Dawa, took 30 Western hostages,[9] six of whom were American. Hezbollah demanded the release of the prisoners for these hostages.

Main article: Lebanon hostage crisis
Members of the Reagan Administration claim they believed that by selling arms to Iran, Iran would influence the Hezbollah kidnappers in Lebanon to release their hostages. At the time, Iran was in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War and could find few western nations willing to supply it with weapons.[10] The sale of arms would also, according to National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, improve strained relations with Iran.[1] For that reason, weapons were transferred to Iran.

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« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2007, 03:08:35 pm »

Arms transaction

The Iran-Contra report found that the sales of arms to Iran violated United States Government policy; it also violated the Arms Export Control Act.[2] Overall, if the releasing of hostages was the purpose of arms sales to Iran, the plan was a failure as only three of the 30 hostages were released.[9]



First arms sale

Michael Ledeen, a consultant of Robert McFarlane, asked Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres for help in the sale of arms to Iran.[11] The general idea behind the plan was for Israel to ship weapons to Iran, then the US would reimburse Israel with the same weapons. The Israeli government required that the sale of arms meet high level approval from the United States government, and when Robert McFarlane convinced them that the U.S. government approved the sale, Israel obliged by agreeing to sell the arms.[11] Reagan approved McFarlane's idea to reach out to Iran on July 18, 1985 while in a hospital bed recovering from cancer surgery.[12][12] In July 1985, Israel sent American-made BGM-71 TOW (Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided) anti-tank missiles to Iran through an arms dealer named Manucher Ghorbanifar, a friend of Iran's Prime Minister. One hostage, the Reverend Benjamin Weir was subsequently released, despite the completed arms sale. This ultimately proved Ledeen's plan a failure[8] with only three shipments through Israel.[11]

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Firefly
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« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2007, 03:09:04 pm »

Arrow Air 1285 crash

After a botched delivery of HAWK missiles, and a disastrous London meeting between McFarlane and Ghorbanifar (at which Ghorbanifar threatened his American interlocutor by saying that there would be "fire back on your interests"), Arrow Air Flight 1285, a plane containing nearly 250 American servicemen, crashed in Newfoundland.

On the day of the crash, responsibility was claimed by Islamic Jihad, a wing of Hezbollah that had taken credit for the kidnapping of the very Americans in Lebanon whom the Reagan administration sought to have released. The crash came on the second anniversary of another attack for which Islamic Jihad took credit: the near-simultaneous bombings of six targets in Kuwait, the French and American Embassies among them. Members of Hezbollah had participated in and were jailed for those attacks, but most of the conspirators were members of the Iraqi Shia opposition party al-Dawa, (the Call, today one of the largest political parties in Iraq, chaired by the incumbent prime minister Nouri al-Maliki). An article in the June 2007 Middle East Review of International Affairs, by Nathan Thrall, presents evidence of Iran's complicity.[13]

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« Reply #6 on: November 02, 2007, 03:09:29 pm »

Subsequent dealings

Robert McFarlane resigned in December 1985.[14] He was replaced by Admiral John Poindexter. On the day of McFarlane's resignation, Oliver North, a military aide to the United States National Security Council (NSC), proposed a new plan for selling arms to Iran. This time, there were two new ideas. Instead of selling arms through Israel, the sale was to be direct. Second, the proceeds from the sale would go to the Contras at a markup. Oliver North wanted a $15 million markup, while contracted Iranian arms broker Manucher Ghorbanifar added a 41% markup of his own.[15] Other members of the NSC were in favor of North's plan. John Poindexter authorized the plan, and it went into effect.[16]

At first, the Iranians refused to buy the arms at the inflated price because of the excessive markup imposed by North and Ghorbanifar. In February 1986, 1000 TOW missiles were shipped to Iran.[16] From May to November 1986, there were additional shipments of miscellaneous weapons and parts.[16]

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« Reply #7 on: November 02, 2007, 03:09:56 pm »

Release of hostages

In mid-September 1985 shortly after the initiation of the sales, Reverend Benjamin Weir, held hostage since May 1984 was freed by the "Islamic Jihad Organization", but in September and October of 1986 three more Americans - Frank Reed, Joseph Ciccipio, Edward Tracy - were abducted. It is thought they were kidnaped to replace the freed Americans.[17]

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« Reply #8 on: November 02, 2007, 03:10:24 pm »

The Contras

The plan went ahead, and proceeds from the arms sales went to the Contras, a right-wing guerilla organization engaged in an insurgency against the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua. The diversion was coordinated by Oliver North of the National Security Council. Supporting the Contras financially was an effort to assist them in their fight against the Nicaraguan government.

Both the sale of weapons to Iran and the funding of the Contras attempted to circumvent not only stated Administration policy, but also legislation passed by Congress known as the Boland Amendment. Administration officials argued that regardless of the Congress restricting the funds for the Contras, or any affair, the President (the administration) could carry on by seeking alternative means of funding such as private entities and foreign governments.[18]

The Contras were also involved in drug trafficking, as detailed in the "Drug money" section below. According to The Washington Post, some Central Americans criticize Reagan for his support of the Contras, saying he was an anti-communist zealot, blinded to human rights abuses, while others say he "saved Central America" and helped "nurture democratic governments and free-market systems across the region."[19] Daniel Ortega, Sandinista leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990, said that he hoped God would forgive Reagan for his "dirty war against Nicaragua."[19]

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« Reply #9 on: November 02, 2007, 03:10:59 pm »



North's mugshot, after his arrest
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« Reply #10 on: November 02, 2007, 03:11:36 pm »

Discovery and scandal

Whatever the reasons for US arms sales to Iran, the aborted deal caused political strife in the United States when the details became public knowledge.

The Lebanese magazine Ash-Shiraa exposed the arrangement on November 3, 1986.[20] [21] [22] This was the first public reporting of the alleged weapons-for-hostages deal. The operation was discovered only after an airlift of guns was downed over Nicaragua. Eugene Hasenfus, who was captured by Nicaraguan authorities, initially alleged in a press conference on Nicaraguan soil that two of his coworkers, Max Gomez and Ramon Medina, worked for the CIA.[23] He later said he did not know whether they did or not.[24] The Iranian government confirmed the Ash-Shiraa story, and ten days after the story was first published, President Ronald Reagan affirmed the truth of the matter. In a televised speech, on November 13, Reagan confirmed the sale of weapons to Iran and stated the reasons for the sale of weapons. He also claimed that only a planeload worth of weapons was sent to Iran.[5]


"My purpose was... to send a signal that the United States was prepared to replace the animosity between us with a new relationship... At the same time we undertook this initiative, we made clear that Iran must oppose all forms of international terrorism as a condition of progress in our relationship. The most significant step which Iran could take, we indicated, would be to use its influence in Lebanon to secure the release of all hostages held there."[5]

The scandal was compounded when on November 21, Oliver North and his secretary Fawn Hall shredded pertinent documents. US Attorney General Edwin Meese admitted on November 25 that profits from weapons sales to Iran were made available to assist the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. On the same day, John Poindexter resigned, and Oliver North was fired.[25] Poindexter was replaced by Frank Carlucci on December 2, 1986.[12]

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« Reply #11 on: November 02, 2007, 03:12:08 pm »

Tower Commission

On November 25, 1986, President Reagan, faced with mounting pressure from Congressional Democrats and the media, announced the creation of a Special Review Board looking into the matter and the next day assigned former Senator John Tower, former Secretary of State Edmund Muskie, and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft to serve as members; this Presidential Commission would take effect on December 1 and became known as the Tower Commission. The commission was the first presidential commission to review and evaluate the National Security Council. The objectives of the Tower Commission were to inquire into "the circumstances surrounding the Iran-Contra matter, other case studies that might reveal strengths and weaknesses in the operation of the National Security Council system under stress, and the manner in which that system has served eight different Presidents since its inception in 1947."[26]

President Reagan appeared before the Tower Commission on December 2, 1986, to answer questions. His answers were not entirely consistent, and he was (allegedly) plagued with poor memory, because the questions were regarding details that occurred months and years prior. It was also said that during the time in question he was almost constantly using heavy pain medications. [12]

The report published by the Tower Commission, known as the Tower Commission Report, was delivered to the President on February 26, 1987. It criticized the actions of Oliver North, John Poindexter, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and others. It did not determine that the President had knowledge of the extent of the program, although it argued that the President ought to have had better control of the National Security Council staff. The wording of the report surprised some since it was expected to have been weak in its criticism of the President. Instead, it heavily criticized President Reagan for not properly supervising his subordinates or being aware of their actions. The U.S. Congress issued its own report on November 18, 1987, indicating that "If the president did not know what his national security advisers were doing, he should have." [2]" The congressional report stated that the President bore "ultimate responsibility" for wrongdoing by his aides, and his Administration exhibited "secrecy, deception and disdain for the law." A major result of the Tower Commission was the consensus that Reagan should have listened to his National Security Advisor more, thereby placing more power in the hands of that chair. The National Security Advisor was to be seen as an "honest broker" and not someone who would use the position to further his or her political agenda.

Some doubted the intentions of the Tower Commission and believed that it was a political stunt.[citation needed] The commission had limited its criticism of Vice President George H.W. Bush[citation needed]. Subsequently, the head of the commission, John Tower, was nominated to the position of Secretary of Defense by Bush when he became President. He was not confirmed by the Senate. Some Democrats used the nomination to retaliate against President George H.W. Bush for what they viewed as 'negative' (though successful) campaign tactics against their nominee, Michael Dukakis. Others, including the conservative organizer Paul Weyrich, accused Tower (accurately, the evidence suggests) of having been involved in extramarital affairs and heavy drinking. One of Tower's leading critics was Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat. Brent Scowcroft was named National Security Advisor.[27]

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« Reply #12 on: November 02, 2007, 03:12:38 pm »

Aftermath

Oliver North and John Poindexter were indicted on multiple charges on March 16, 1988.[28] North, indicted on 16 counts, was found guilty by a jury of three minor counts. The convictions were vacated on appeal on the grounds that North's Fifth Amendment rights may have been violated by the indirect use of his testimony to Congress which had been given under a grant of immunity. In 1990, Poindexter was convicted on several felony counts of lying to Congress, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and altering and destroying documents pertinent to the investigation. His convictions were also overturned on appeal on similar grounds. Arthur L. Liman served as chief counsel for the Senate Iran-Contra Affair.

The Independent Counsel, Lawrence E. Walsh, chose not to re-try North or Poindexter. Weinberger was indicted for lying to the Independent Counsel but was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush.

Faced with undeniable evidence of his involvement in the scandal, Reagan expressed regret regarding the situation at a nationally televised White House press conference on Ash Wednesday, March 4, 1987. Responding to questions, Reagan stated that his previous assertions that the U.S. did not trade arms for hostages were incorrect. He also stated that the Vice President knew of the plan.

Domestically, the scandal precipitated tarnished President Reagans popularity as his approval ratings saw "the largest single drop for any U.S. president in history", from 67% to 46% in November 1986, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll[29] Reagan survived the scandal however and by December 1988 Gallup poll "recording a 63% approval rating."[30]

Internationally the damage was more severe. The scandal "completely discredited the U.S.-led campaign against international terrorism, undermining previous and current efforts by its allies," stay steadfast to a "no negotiations, no concessions", policy on terrorism.

U.S. willingness to engage in concessions with Iran and the Hizballah not only signalled to its adversaries that hostage-taking was an extremely useful instrument in extracting political and financial concessions for the West but also undermined any credibility of U.S. criticism of other states' deviation from the principles of no-negotiation and no concession to terrorists and their demands. [31]

In the Poindexter's hometown of Odon, Indiana, a street was renamed to John Poindexter Street. Bill Breedan, a former minister, stole the street's sign in protest of the Iran-Contra Affair. He claimed that he was holding it for a ransom of $30 million, in reference to the amount of money given to Iran to transfer to the contras. He was later arrested and was sent to jail, making him, as stated by Howard Zinn, "the only person to be imprisoned as a result of the Iran-contra Affair."[32]

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« Reply #13 on: November 02, 2007, 03:13:17 pm »

Drug money

From the 1980s onward, allegations were made that the Contras were being funded through **** distribution.

One of the earliest such allegations was contained in a lawsuit filed in 1986 by two journalists represented by the Christic Institute, alleging that the CIA and other parties were engaged in criminal acts, including financing the purchase of arms with the proceeds of **** sales.[33] The suit was dismissed; several of the named participants subsequently sued the Christic Institute for libel and won.

Senator John Kerry's 1988 U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations report on Contra drug links, which was released on April 13, 1989, concluded that "senior U.S. policy makers were not immune to the idea that drug money was a perfect solution to the Contras' funding problems."[34] The Kerry Committee report further stated that members of the U.S. State Department "who provided support for the Contras were involved in drug trafficking...and elements of the Contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers."[35] Kerry was suspicious of North's connection with Manuel Noriega, Panama's drug baron. According to the National Security Archive, Oliver North had been in contact with Noriega and had met him personally.

The report went on to say that "the Contra drug links included...payments to drug traffickers by the U.S. State Department of funds authorized by the Congress for humanitarian assistance to the Contras, in some cases after the traffickers had been indicted by federal law enforcement agencies on drug charges, in others while traffickers were under active investigation by these same agencies." Houses of the Congress began to raise questions about the drug-related allegations associated with the Contras, causing a review in the spring of 1986 of the allegations by the State Department, in conjunction with the Justice Department and relevant U.S. intelligence agencies.[36]

Former DEA agent Celerino Castillo alleged that Ilopango Airport in El Salvador was used by Contras for drug trafficking, with full knowledge of the CIA. He further alleged that his investigations were hindered by US government agencies. These allegations were part of an investigation by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, which however did not find substantial evidence to support Castillo's allegations.[37] Castillo also testified before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on the same allegations.[38]

The allegations resurfaced in 1996 when journalist Gary Webb published reports in the San Jose Mercury News,[39] and later in his book Dark Alliance,[40] detailing how Contras had distributed crack **** into Los Angeles to fund weapons purchases. These reports were initially attacked by various other newspapers, which attempted to debunk the link, citing official reports that apparently cleared the CIA.

The Wall Street Journal reported on January 29, 1997 [41] on activities at the Mena, Arkansas airport allegedly involved then-governor Bill Clinton in a coverup of illegal drug-trading activity. The Wall Street Journal article goes on to state:

At the center of the web of speculation spun around Mena are a few undisputed facts: One of the most successful drug informants in U.S. history, smuggler Barry Seal, based his air operation at Mena. At the height of his career he was importing as much as 1,000 pounds of **** per month, and had a personal fortune estimated at more than $50 million. After becoming an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration, he worked at least once with the CIA, in a Sandinista drug sting. He was gunned down by Colombian hit men in Baton Rouge, La., in 1986; eight months later, one of his planes—with an Arkansas pilot at the wheel and Eugene Hasenfus in the cargo bay—was shot down over Nicaragua with a load of Contra supplies.

In 1998, CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz published a two-volume report[42] that substantiated many of Webb's claims, and described how 50 contras and contra-related entities involved in the drug trade had been protected from law enforcement activity by the Reagan-Bush administration, and documented a cover-up of evidence relating to these activities. The report also showed that Oliver North and the NSC were aware of these activities. A report later that same year by the Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich also came to similar conclusions.

In 2004, Gary Webb committed suicide by shooting himself twice in the head.[43]

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« Reply #14 on: November 02, 2007, 03:14:11 pm »

Persons involved pardoned and reinstated
In 1992 U.S. President George H.W. Bush pardoned six people involved in the scandal,[44] namely Elliott Abrams, Duane R. Clarridge, Alan Fiers, Clair George, Robert C. McFarlane, and Caspar W. Weinberger.
George W. Bush selected some individuals that served under Reagan for high-level posts in his presidential administration.[45][46] They include:
•   Elliott Abrams:[47] under Bush, the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director on the National Security Council for Near East and North African Affairs; in Iran Contra, pleaded guilty on two counts of unlawfully withholding information, pardoned.
•   Otto Reich:[48] head of the Office of Public Diplomacy under Reagan.
•   John Negroponte:[49] under Bush, the National Intelligence Director.
•   Admiral John Poindexter:[50] under Bush, Director of the Information Awareness Office; in Iran Contra found guilty of multiple felony counts for conspiracy, obstruction of justice, lying to Congress, defrauding the government, and the alteration and destruction of evidence, convictions reversed.
•   Robert Gates:[51] under Bush, confirmed on December 6, 2006 as the new Secretary of Defense to replace the resigning Donald Rumsfeld. Served as Director of Central Intelligence from 1991–1993 under George H.W. Bush. During Iran Contra he was Deputy Director of Central Intelligence.
•   Charles E. Allen:[52] under Bush, appointed in August 2005 to be chief intelligence officer at the Department of Homeland Security. Allen's position at DHS was not subject to Senate confirmation. Prior to the DHS appointment, Allen had worked 47 years at the CIA. Director of Central Intelligence William Webster formally reprimanded Allen for failing to fully comply with the DCI's request for full cooperation in the agency's internal Iran-Contra scandal investigation. However coworkers of Allen pointed out that Webster reprimanded the one person in the CIA who had brought his suspicions of a funds diversion to Robert Gates. [Eclipse: The Last Days of the CIA, Mark Perry, 1992, p. 216.]
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