The Real Story of the Iran-Contra Affair

Lt. Col. Oliver North giving testimony.

he Cold war began in 1947. It was an era when geopolitical tension between the then Soviet Union and the United States and their loyal allies, the Eastern Bloc and the Western Bloc existed. The two world powers were in embattlement between 1947 and 1991.

By the 1980s, the Cold War was still going strong. During Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign, he promised to send the CIA to assist anti-communist insurgencies around the world.

The Reagan Administration had a keen interest in right-wing rebel groups called Contras. In Nicaragua, the groups were battling against Castro’s Cuban Communist group, the Sandinistas who came into power in 1979. Reagan likened these rebels to the United States’ founding fathers. Now at the time, the U.S. had a good relationship with Iran and the reigning Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, before the Iranian revolution. We’ll get to Iran in just a moment. Let’s continue with the Contras first.

Nicaraguan Contra members.

The problem with the Contras was that their funding came from the popular cocaine trade of the 1970s. In 1982, the Democratic Congress Representative from Massachusetts, Edward Boland, authored the Boland Amendment which was part of the House Appropriations Bill of 1982, which was attached as a rider to the Defense Appropriations Act of 1983. The House of Representatives passed the Defense Appropriations Act unanimously on December 8, 1982, and it was signed by President Ronald Reagan on December 21, 1982. The amendment restricted the CIA and the DoD from providing funds to the Contras to overthrow the Nicaraguan government while allowing assistance for other purposes.

Reagan signing the Boland Amendment

Although, President Reagan had another agenda. He ordered his National Security Advisor, Robert McFarlane, to assist the Contras despite the bill. MacFarlane then sought and found an opportunity in Iran. In 1985, a terrorist group with ties to Iran held Americans hostage in Lebanon. McFarlane seized the moment and used this opportunity to further Reagan’s agenda as Reagan secretly told him to ‘do whatever you have to do to help these people keep body and soul together.’ Meaning, do whatever it takes to bring the hostages home. So that greenlit a deal with Iran. The U.S. would sell Iran weapons and Iran would negotiate the release of hostages. This happened despite Reagan’s constant rhetoric of “not negotiating with terrorists” and the trade embargo with Iran.


The U.S. military installed training encampments within countries that bordered Soviet Territories and other anti-communist countries abroad. Clearly, these training centers would need arms. Which were supplied in part by the United States. These camps trained thousands of citizens from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan thus giving birth to the insurgents as we know them today.

The United States received $30 million dollars in exchange for the arms sale to Iran. The CIA then took a portion of those to funds to funnel to the Contras in Nicaragua.

In 1986, a Lebanese Journal, Al Shiraa, blew the whistle on the arms exchange. After the release of the report, it prompted an investigation by the United States Attorney General. Upon his investigation, he found that $12 million of the $30 million went to the arms cost. And the remaining $18 million was sent to Nicaragua.

The discovery of this information ignited a media explosion. President Reagan vehemently denied the terrorist negotiation allegations. Cue, Oliver North, the other whistleblower. An American Lieutenant Colonel, “Ollie” North who confirmed that President Reagan did know about the funds being diverted to the Contras and that North did, himself, engage in the diversion. North’s testimony prompted the press and Congress to launch investigations into President Reagan and his administration for the remainder of his presidency. Texas Senator, John Towers, led the investigation. His investigation determined that it was a mere oversight on Reagan’s part and the President was not directly implicated.

The New York Times — Iran-Contra Affair Coverage

It wasn’t until another congressional investigation commencement when Reagan finally testified. On May 5th, 1987, joint hearings were televised investigating the secret Iranian arms deal and the funding of Contras.

On the sidelines, the hearings inspired, ‘’Olliemania’’. Men were getting Ollie North haircuts. Hairstylists with salons all over the U.S. decorated their shops with red, white and blue bunting, and put up posters bearing the likeness of Lieutenant Colonel North and the inscription ‘’Get your Ollie North cut today.’’

Oliver North kept a notebook during the Iran-Contra Affair. During the hearings, many pieces of evidence were discovered.

“I was authorized to do everything that I did.” — Oliver North

Oliver North

In his entry for August 9, 1985, North summarizes a meeting with Robert Owen (“Rob”), his liaison with the contras. They discuss a plane used by Mario Calero, brother of Adolfo Calero, head of the FDN, to transport supplies from New Orleans to contras in Honduras. North writes: “Honduran DC-6 which is being used for runs out of New Orleans is probably being used for drug runs into U.S.” As Lorraine Adams reported in the October 22, 1994, Washington Post, there are no records that corroborate North’s later assertion that he passed this intelligence on drug trafficking to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

On February 10, 1986, Owen (“TC”) wrote North (this time as “BG,” for “Blood and Guts”) regarding a plane being used to carry “humanitarian aid” to the contras that were previously used to transport drugs. The plane belongs to the Miami-based company Vortex, which is run by Michael Palmer, one of the largest marijuana traffickers in the United States. Despite Palmer’s long history of drug smuggling, which would soon lead to a Michigan indictment on drug charges, Palmer receives over $300,000.00 from the Nicaraguan Humanitarian Aid Office (NHAO) — an office overseen by Oliver North, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Elliott Abrams, and CIA officer Alan Fiers — to ferry supplies to the contras.

Oliver North, who met with Noriega’s representative, described the meeting in an August 23, 1986 e-mail message to Reagan’s national security advisor John Poindexter. “You will recall that over the years Manuel Noriega in Panama and I have developed a fairly good relationship,” North writes before explaining Noriega’s proposal. If U.S. officials can “help clean up his image” and lift the ban on arms sales to the Panamanian Defense Force, Noriega will “‘take care of the Sandinista leadership for us.”

North tells Poindexter that Noriega can assist with sabotage against the Sandinistas, and suggests paying Noriega a million dollars — from “Project Democracy” funds raised from the sale of U.S. arms to Iran — for the Panamanian leader’s help in destroying Nicaraguan economic installations.

Saudi Playboy Adnan Khashoggi

Another player in the Iran-Contra Affair was the Saudi Arabian billionaire playboy and known “John”, Adnan Khashoggi. He was implicated in the Iran–Contra affair as a key liaison in the arms-for-hostages exchange along with Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar.

Khashoggi was a “principal foreign agent” of the United States and helped establish a supranational intelligence partnership known as the Safari Club. The group informally conducted its global operations. Saudi Arabia provided money, France provided high-end technology, and Egypt and Morocco supplied weapons and troops. The group typically coordinated with American and Israeli intelligence agencies. CIA Director, William Casey took personal responsibility for maintaining contacts with Saudi intelligence, meeting monthly with Kamal Adham and Prince Turki. Some of the same contacts were later connected to the Iran–Contra affair.

In February 1987 a contra sympathizer in California told the FBI he believed FDN officials were involved in the drug trade. Dennis Ainsworth, a Berkeley-based conservative activist who had supported the contra cause for years, gave a lengthy description of his suspicions to FBI agents. The bureau’s debriefing says that Ainsworth agreed to be interviewed because “he has certain information in which he believes the Nicaraguan ‘Contra’ organization known as FDN (Frente Democrático Nacional) has become more involved in selling arms and cocaine for personal gain than in a military effort to overthrow the current Nicaraguan Sandinista Government.” Ainsworth informed the FBI of his extensive contacts with various contra leaders and backers and explained the basis for his belief that members of the FDN were trafficking in drugs.

The Iran-Contra Affair hearings lasted about a month and a half. What were the findings? The President was not charged. National Security Advisors, Robert McFarlane, and John Pointdexter, Lt. Col. Oliver North, 4 CIA Officers including Joseph F. Fernandez who used the name “Tomas Castillo” on his secret operations in Costa Rica, James Adkins, an operations officer in Honduras, was fired after the agency discovered that he had authorized helicopter flights to carry supplies to the Contras, and 5 government contractors were found guilty.

Removing the wall in Berlin

In a televised address on March 4, 1987, Reagan takes full responsibility for the Iran–Contra Affair. Four months later, on June 12, 1987, the president delivered his “Tear down this wall” speech in West Berlin.

Investigations into President Reagan were still lingering until the end of his presidency. Despite these investigations, Reagan stayed a linear course and continued to work and meet with the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev in an effort to end the Cold War. Ronald Reagan redeemed himself among Americans and world leaders as many credited him as being instrumental in ending the Cold War. Reagan left office with a high approval rating.

© Gena Vazquez 2020

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