Iran Contra Breaks


On November 25, 1986 Attorney General Edwin Meese announced to the nation that there was a criminal investigation into military weapons being sold to Iran to fund the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. This declaration led to a flurry of activity in Washington. National Security Advisor John Poindexter resigned and President Reagan immediately fired Colonel Oliver North from his position on the National Security Council.

North was the coordinator of this elaborate plot to fund the rebel Contras against the socialist Sandinista’s in the ongoing Nicaraguan Civil War. The US funding and involvement had been outlawed by Congress a few years earlier with the passage of the Boland Amendment. This amendment was a part of the 1983 defense appropriations bill, and was written in response to the Reagan Administration’s involvement in the civil war without congressional approval or knowledge. The National Security Administration almost immediately set about to circumvent the rule.

The complex scheme involved selling missiles to the fundamentalist Iranian government with the understanding that they would approve the releasing of American hostages in Lebanon by Hezbollah. This was also illegal as there was an embargo on arms sales to Iran. The missiles were sent through Israel to circumvent that policy. Oliver North and other members of the defense complex determined that they would take a portion of the sales proceeds and secretly divert it to the Contra cause in Nicaragua.

As the affair broke, the Department of Justice established an independent council to investigate the conspiracy and appointed Lawrence Walsh to head it. They found that of the $30 million paid by Iran for weapons, $18 million was missing. This money had been sent by North to the Contra so they could purchase weapons. It was discovered that in the days before the scandal broke Poindexter and North destroyed numerous documents related to the conspiracy. North even had top secret documents removed from his office by secreting them on the person of his secretary, Fawn Hall.

Lawrence Walsh began his detailed investigation and federal prosecutions. The independent council would continue its work until 1993. All told there would be multiple indictments of major figures in the Reagan Administration including Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger, National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, CIA Bureau Chiefs Alan Fiers and Clair George, NSA member Oliver North, National Security Advisor John Poindexter amongst others. All were either convicted or awaiting trial when President (and former CIA Director) George Bush pardoned all involved with the exception of John Poindexter and Oliver North. Their convictions had already been vacated upon a decision by appeals courts. The scandal almost brought down the Reagan Administration, and raised credibility issues for the President himself.

Christopher Flanagan


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