Encore: Iran Contra | Ollie | 2American Scandal
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- 12 Jan 2021
Two of Reagan’s top priorities are in jeopardy: American hostages are still in the hands of terrorists, and the Contras are losing their fight against the Sandinistas. In early 1986, the two operations merge. In the middle of it all is Lieutenant Colonel Ollie North.This episode originally aired on December 4, 2018.Listen ad-free on Wondery+ hereSupport us by supporting our sponsors!Zip Recruiter - You can try ZipRecruiter FOR FREE at ziprecruiter.com/as.
More than 30 years ago, Washington, D.C. was rocked by a scandal known as the Iran-Contra affair. It was a story that seemed right out of a Thriller movie, and it raised profound questions about the United States democracy and our role on the world stage. Today, there's another power shift underway in Washington. And with the transition to a new presidential administration, the nation is once again discussing the US's role in international affairs with those conversations again in the public spotlight.
We decided to reassure our series on the Iran Contra affair.
We hope you enjoy it on. It's early morning on October 5th, 1986, an American cargo plane soars through the skies above Costa Rica, headed for Nicaragua. On board are two pilots, a radio operator and a single passenger. The passenger checks the cargo at the back of the plane to ensure everything is secure. It's routine mission, but the cargo today is far from ordinary. In the back of the plane are 70 Soviet made AK 47, 100000 rounds of ammunition, rocket propelled grenades and other military supplies sending 2500 feet.
Roger that. The passenger thought his day's flying missions like this were over, but a call to fly over Nicaragua and drop boxes of cargo a few months back seemed like easy money. He's flown this route more than a dozen times. Stand by for the drop. Stand by. The passenger opens the cargo door and looks down. Twenty five hundred feet is a long way to fall. He tightens the straps of the parachute on his back and he looks down at the majestic Rio San Juan River, winding its way to the Caribbean Sea.
It's beautiful Vista. He never tires to see. But there is something else below.
The passenger does not see or someone, rather, a teenage soldier named Jose Aleman, who's packing some military equipment of his own, a Russian made, shoulder mounted surface to air rocket launcher. When Allemande sees the plane, he hoists the weapon to his shoulder, trains his sights up and fires. As the plane nosedives towards the ground, the passenger closes his eyes and leaps, pulling the ripcord on the chute, the plane continues downward in a trail of smoke crashing into the dense jungle.
When the passenger touches down, he unlocks the chute, keeps moving. Whoever was shooting at him will probably try to finish the job for the next 24 hours. He creep through the jungle, dodging his pursuers and hiding in the trees, finally out of sheer exhaustion. He rigs a makeshift hammock and falls into a restless sleep when he opens his eyes at daybreak. The first thing he sees is a barrel of a gun. Behind the barrel is the face of a young man in green fatigues who says, what now, Rambo?
The Sandinista National Liberation Front, or the Sandinistas for Short, is a socialist political party in Nicaragua. They first came to power seven years earlier when they overthrew a dictatorship friendly to the United States. The Reagan administration has been vocally supportive of a rebel group called the Contras who are trying to regain control. The weapons on board the cargo plane were meant for them. The day after the crash, the Sandinista government holds a press conference and puts the captured man in front of a television camera to tell the world who he is and who sent him.
My name is Jean House in Marinette, Wisconsin. Shot out of the sky. The crux of Eugene Hasenfus statement is this The CIA coordinated the mission to deliver weapons to the Contras in Nicaragua and that is a big deal because delivering weapons to the Contras in Nicaragua is illegal. Sandinista officials hold up ID cards of the three Americans who died when the plane was shot down. They identified them as agents for the CIA. The U.S. response is quick. Shortly after the Hasenfus press conference, Secretary of State George Shultz takes the podium in the White House press briefing room and denies what Hasenfus has said.
I don't see that that has any particular Reykjavik's spin off to it. The people involved were not from our military, not from any U.S. government agency and CIA included. So it's these are private citizens and it's not a governmental operation.
But one man watching the conference from his office knows what Shultz said isn't true. The CIA is involved, as are multiple White House officials and members of the National Security Council or the NSC. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North knows this because he works for the NSC. And when it comes to the U.S. Contra operation codenamed Project Democracy, Holly is the man behind the curtain when the Hasenfus shootdown happens. Ali is in Europe on national security business. When he hears the news, he gets on a plane and fly straight back to D.C. Not long after he arrives, he's summoned by Bill Kaseem, director of the CIA North.
In case you have been working together on Project Democracy for years at the meeting, Bill Casey doesn't mince words. The operation is over and we shut it down. Ali doesn't have to ask why he understands the implications of the capture of Hasenfus, but there's one question that's been spinning through his mind since the plane went down. Am I going to be blamed for this? Ali, if the truth comes out, this will go way above your head, buddy.
Just shut it down. Clean it up. The Marine Corps motto is Semper Fidelis or for short Semper Fi, it means always faithful. Ali was a platoon commander in Vietnam who earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze and Silver Star for his courage and leadership. When Bill Casey instructs Ali to shut down the operation, Ali, always faithful, gets right to work no matter what Casey says. Ali knows the truth. If the whole story goes public and if the depth of his involvement is revealed, Ali is going to find himself in the line of fire.
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In this episode, we'll go back to the spring of 1984 and follow another of Ronald Reagan's priorities, the contras in Nicaragua. We'll take a trip to Central America and trace the operation's inception to the moment it converges with the Iran arms deal. If you haven't heard episode one, we suggest going back and giving it a listen. In the early 1980s, the Contras are one of President Reagan's personal causes. He sees the Contras as patriots who are fighting for liberty against the communist Sandinistas, and they deserve America's full and unflinching support.
Reagan gives it to them from day one of his presidency, arms, weapons and CIA assistance. But Democrats in Congress don't share Reagan's zeal. They worry about starting another Vietnam. Many believe the United States has no business overthrowing governments, and many increasingly feel Reagan isn't being truthful about his intentions in Nicaragua. When Democrats sweep the House in 1982, two years into Reagan's first term, Congress passes the Boland amendment. The Boland amendment basically says the government cannot use taxpayer funds to try and overthrow the government of Nicaragua.
Congress's message to Reagan is clear. Don't go too far. We're watching you. That's a problem for Reagan because he views supporting the Contras as a key to keeping America safe from the growing spread of communism in Central America not long after the amendment passes, Reagan tells his national security adviser, Bud McFarlane, I want you to do whatever you have to do to help these people keep body and soul together. Bud is a soldier at heart who takes his job seriously.
He needs a strong team to achieve Reagan's mission with strong leadership. The man board taps to get the job done is Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North. This is Iran-Contra episode two, Ali. It's late spring, 1984 in Washington, D.C., two and a half years before the cargo plane is shot out of the sky over Nicaragua, Ollie North sits at his desk in the old executive office building, an ornate structure just west of the White House. Ali is a career military man and he looks the part handsome with a strong jawline and clear gray eyes.
Ali is a workhorse who stays late every day cranking out ideas for pushing Reagan's agenda. But today, his work is interrupted by a knock at the door. It's Bud McFarlane, head of the National Security Council and his boss. But what can I do for you, Ali? I want you to have the Nicaraguan resistance open up an offshore bank account so that foreign contributors can make direct deposits to the cause of the Nicaraguan resistance. Or the Contras is a collective term for Nicaraguan rebels fighting the Sandinista government.
What board is asking Ali to do is flirting with a legal gray area. But Ali doesn't ask questions. He believes in the chain of command. I'll get right to it. Thank you, Ali. After Budd leaves, Ali walks down the hall to the office of CIA Director Bill Casey.
Bill, do you have a minute? Yeah, close the door. What do you need?
I've been told to have the resistance set up an offshore account. I can use some help Casey choose on a yellow pencil and leans back in his chair. After a moment, he picks up a secure phone and dials number.
This is Bill. Tell me if a third party wanted to help our friends down south, who can we trust to handle the money? Right. Thank you, Adolfo Calero. He's your man, Alkinos Calero. Well, Calero is a prominent Nicaraguan businessman and a leader in the contra revolution. Ali has made several trips to Central America over the past few years to meet with Calero and to help in transport weapons and supplies. Have Calero set up an offshore account?
The money shouldn't come all at once. Regular payments once a month. Here's how you run this. Pay attention. Ali takes out a pen and paper. Ali, put that away. If you have to write everything down, you don't belong in this business now. The money should go from the foreign account directly into Calero account. It shouldn't come into the United States at all. Right. Understood all he gets up to leave the room. Ali, wait.
Is it the Saudis? I don't know. Come on, don't bullshit me. Honestly, I don't know. It's got to be the Saudis. How much are we talking about? I don't know that either. Bill's educated guess is spot on. The Boland amendment makes it illegal for the United States to give money to the Contras. But it doesn't say anything about that money coming from another country in the summer of 1984, but exploits that loophole and secures a promise to fund the Contras from a long time U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia.
Since the early 80s, the U.S. has been selling the Saudis weapons, high tech weapons other U.S. allies don't get access to. Now it was time to return the favor. The Saudis offered support for the Contras to the tune of one million dollars a month. In June, three months after Oliver North meeting with Bill Casey, the president meets with the National Security Planning Group, or the NPG, to discuss the situation in Nicaragua, the NPG is made up of President Reagan's top advisers, some of the most powerful people in the country.
But today, The Situation Room belongs to Ali N Boss, national security adviser Bud McFarlane. Because of the Boland amendment, the Contras are running out of money and they're about to fail. The question is, how will the White House respond? One idea has floated. What if the U.S. solicits money for the Contras from another country at this point but might have spoken up? He might have told the NPG that Saudi Arabia has already pledged support for the Contras.
He might have also told them that the operation is already underway. But Bud doesn't say a word. He sits back quietly and lets Reagan's top advisers hash it out. George Shultz, the secretary of state, says obtaining funds for the Contras through a third party is an impeachable offense. And impeachable is a word no one wants to hear, especially President Reagan. As usual, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger finds himself on the opposite side of Schultz's argument, Weinberger is all for obtaining money from a third party.
It's perfectly legal. End of story. And CIA Director Bill Casey agrees.
Vice President Bush quietly takes it all in and then says, how can anyone object to the U.S. encouraging third parties to provide help to the anti Sandinistas as long as we're not giving them something in return? Shultz tells them that to move forward, Reagan will need the approval of the attorney general. Everyone in the room agrees to wait before making a final decision. During the meeting, Biden never says a word about the Saudi payments. Maybe it's because deep down, God knows what he's doing is wrong, but does say this.
I certainly hope none of this discussion will be made public in any way. Everyone in The Situation Room turns to the president to see how he'll respond. If such a story gets out, Reagan says we'll all be hanging by our thumbs in front of the White House until we find out who did it.
Maybe Bud keeps his mouth closed because he knows is right, if this type of thing gets to the press. Impeachment might be more than a forbidden word. Impeachment might very well be Reagan's new reality. But that fear doesn't stop bad from moving forward, violating the Boland amendment may be wrong, but supporting the Contras and stopping the spread of communism is right. And for Bud, the ends justify the means. In the late summer of 1984, Ali takes a flight to Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras.
From there, he gets into a car and drives to a safe house located in the residential area of the city. Ali's just a mid-level guy at the National Security Council. But to the Contras, meeting with Ali is a big deal. The men share a meal together beans, rice and chicken. They communicate through a translator. But Ali assures the men that even though Congress has cut off U.S. support, President Reagan promises he'll find a way around the ban after dinner.
Ali meets privately with Adolfo Calero, who was disappointed. The Contras need money and they need it now. Promises do them no good. And that's when Ali tells him he has more to offer than promises, there's a benefactor, but he can't say who instructs Calero to set up an offshore bank account and send him the account number, a telex code and a wire transfer address. Calero ask how much they can expect. Ali tells him one million dollars a month.
It's not enough money to fund a revolution, but it's a start. Callero is pleased, but Ali leaves him with a warning. No one can know I'm involved in this. Over the next few months, Ali and Calero stay in close communication. They talk on the phone regularly. They discuss every aspect of the resistance operation, from weapons to the Contras, need for good doctors to military strategy. And just as the contra operation looks poised for success, Congress delivers another blow.
Ali says that between 1982 and 85, the Boland amendments were like an annual ritual. Each year, Reagan asked Congress for money to support the Contras and each year Congress says no and responds with another Boland amendment in October 1984, in response to stories in the press about the U.S. contra operation. Congress passes another Boland amendment, the strictest one so far. The law essentially states that funding the Contras in any way, shape or form, directly or indirectly, is illegal.
No more money, no more weapons, no more support. But after the 1994 Boland amendment is passed in October, Project democracy doesn't grind to a halt. It picks up speed.
The monthly one million dollar payments from the Saudis start in mid 1984 and continue through the end of the year. Then in early 1985, the Saudis doubled their commitment in total from 84 to 86. The Saudis will contribute 32 million dollars to the contra operation throughout 1995. Ali oversees everything. He reports to Bud McFarlane and Bill Casey. He supplies the Contras with valuable intelligence, military advice and 11 million dollars in arms. He even secures two million dollars of additional funding from Taiwan.
But in spite of all his best efforts, the money isn't enough. By the end of 1985, the Contras are losing the fight against the Sandinistas. If something doesn't change, the Contras will fail. Olly's floundering and not just with Project Democracy on the Nicaraguan front. He's involved in another covert operation in Iran, a secret deal to trade arms for hostages.
On November 17th, 1985, Ali gets a call from the Israeli defense minister, General Rabin. Rabin's first words, we have a problem. Rabin talks so fast all he can barely keep up something about the shipment of hawk missiles to Iran, something about a plane not being allowed to land in Portugal. Ali cut him off. He tells him, we can't talk about this on the phone. He tells them we need to talk to Bud first. As all he hangs up the phone, it rings again.
It's Bud. Bond tells Ali to score. A large quantity of hawk missiles were on the way to Iran, but the customs official in Lisbon, Portugal, wouldn't let the planes land. So the Israeli planes turned back and flew home to Tel Aviv, but is worried this snafu might upset the hostage negotiators and blow up the deal, but tells Ali to do whatever it takes to solve the problem and get the hostages back. According to Ali tells him, something else to President Reagan has approved U.S. involvement.
Ali will later say he had his doubts about the Iran operation. He knew the arms for hostages deal was wrong. But like Reagan, he wanted those hostages back. So when board asked him to save the mission, he leaps into action and does his best to finish it with the help of the CIA. But his best isn't good enough. The shipment is a disaster. Only 18 missiles are delivered, and none of them were the kind Iran was expecting.
The Iranians are convinced Israel sabotaged the shipment. And if the Iranians start to blame the U.S. for the deal going sideways, there's a chance they'll hurt the hostages. As 1985 winds to a close, two of Reagan's top priorities are in jeopardy. The hostages are still in the hands of terrorists in Lebanon, and the Contras are losing their fight against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Ali is desperate to break the impasse and succeed on both fronts. In January nineteen eighty six, he comes across a new plan, a plan that will bind the Iran and contra operations together.
The diversion. The diversion might help Ollie North achieve the Reagan administration's goals in Iran and Nicaragua, but it will also push the White House closer to the precipice of scandal and it'll push Ollie North even closer to the line of fire. American scandal is sponsored by Zip Recruiter. It's a new year with new challenges and most of the old ones sticking around, too, for businesses looking to grow in twenty twenty one. One of those challenges is hiring. The office has become remote and candidates can apply for jobs nationwide, even globally.
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Ollie North will later say the diversion is what put the hyphen in Iran-Contra. It's the moment in the story when two separate operations in two separate countries collide to become one scandal. And he also says the diversion was not his idea, although he wishes it was because he'd love to take the credit. Instead, it was Manager Ghorbanifar, the Iranian arms dealer who lined his pockets after the failed hauk missile delivery in November 1985. Ali calls him Gorga, but had warned to stay away from CORBA.
He told him Gorbea was not to be trusted, and Ali knew he was right. He knew Gorbea was a shady character. From the very beginning, he'd heard plenty of rumours. Gharbia is only in it for himself. Gharbia is a liar. Corba has failed three CIA polygraph tests, but in early 1986, CORBA is the only option until someone better comes along. Something, anything is better than nothing. Because, like Reagan, Ali is worried about the hostages rotting away in the Middle East.
If Ali has to bend the rules to get them back or do business with a man he knows is untrustworthy, so be it. Here's how Ali tells it. In January, nineteen eighty six, nine months before the Hasenfus plane crash, Ali flies to London to meet with Gore at his suite at the Churchill Hotel. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss an upcoming shipment of missiles to Iran. But during a break, Gorbea pulls Ali aside and takes him into the bathroom, turns on the faucets to let the water run in case the room is bugged.
Then he tells Ali in a low whisper that he has an idea, one Ali will like. Gorbea tells him there's a million dollars in it for you. This is the first time in his career that Ali's been offered a bribe, and that's not how he operates, he tells Gharbia. It's out of the question. So Gorbea makes a different offer. Maybe instead we can make some money available to your friends in Nicaragua. Well, now Gorbea has Ali's attention.
After the meeting, Ali gets on a plane and flies back to D.C. The first thing he does is make an appointment with his boss, the new national security adviser, John Poindexter. Poindexter is an enigmatic figure known for his fierce intelligence. He graduated first in his class from the Naval Academy and then went on to earn a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from the California Institute of Technology. He is also a thoughtful man who smokes a pipe and sees himself as a patriot like Ali and most of the characters in the story.
Poindexter is a true believer in the Reagan doctrine that communism and terrorism are the two greatest threats to American security. When he walks into Poindexter office in January of nineteen eighty six, he gets right to the point. He says, I think we've found a way to support the Nicaraguan resistance, Ali explains. Gorbals plan. Instead of using Israel as a middleman, as they have been doing, the U.S. will sell missiles directly to Iran, mark up the price and use the profits to fund the Contras.
Two birds with one stone. The diversion. Poindexter likes the idea it's a perfect way to benefit two of the president's policy priorities, getting the hostages back and supporting the Contras. Later that night, Poindexter calls Ali on a secure line and orders him to proceed with the diversion. What happened to lead him to that decision depends on who you ask. Did he take it to the president or run it by anyone else, or did he make a unilateral decision on his own?
Here's what we do know. On January 17th, 1986, Reagan signs a presidential finding, this one ordering Vice Admiral Poindexter and the CIA to drop the Israeli middleman and negotiate a direct sale of arms from the U.S. to Iran this January 1986. Finding is never delivered to Congress. In February 1986, the diversion is off to the races over the next month, Poindexter oversees the operation and Ollie handles the details. He gives the Contras military advice, coordinating directly with leaders on both sides of the deal.
He runs point on everything from arms deliveries to negotiations with Iran to coordinating with the CIA for the contra resupply effort. Soon, one thousand missiles are delivered to Iran with Poindexter is blessing. Ali raises the price from three point seven to ten million dollars. The extra six point three million dollars are then diverted to the contra program. So far, so good. Except that it's not because no hostages are released and the president doesn't understand why his patience is wearing thin with his back against the wall.
Reagan reaches out to a former employee man who resigned when he thought Reagan wasn't listening to his advice. But Reagan is ready to listen now. He calls on Bud McFarlane. It's May 1986, five months before the plane carrying Eugene Hasenfus was shot down, a group of Americans, a flight crew, sits in a hotel room in Tehran. But this isn't a bunch of vacationing pilots. The armed Iranian guards standing watch outside make that abundantly clear a few days back.
These men flew to Tehran with fake Irish passports and a planeload of spare parts for hawk missiles. They brought something else to. Well, I guess they didn't like the cake.
No, I guess not. It's a kosher cake in the shape of a key, to be exact. The cake is meant to symbolize a new opening to Iran. They also brought a Bible with a handwritten message inscribed inside, signed by Ronald Reagan. But the cake and the Bible don't have the effect the Americans hoped for. Instead of receiving a warm welcome there, promptly put on house arrest, we should offer them the equipment.
No, we're not giving them anything until we get what we want. And we're not exactly in a position to negotiate our way. If we offer them something, then I said no. We wait. And just then the door to the hotel room opens and an Iranian man in a dark suit enters. He doesn't say a word. He walks directly to the telephone, picks it up and dials a number. He holds out the receiver as if to say it's for you.
One of the American stands takes the phone his hands. Hello? Yes, a whole. The Americans exchanged nervous glances then, Mr. President, I sure am glad to hear your voice. These men, captives in an Iranian hotel room, are high level officials in the Reagan administration, part of a secret U.S. delegation sent to Tehran to negotiate for the release of American hostages. Among them are two men of particular importance, Ollie North and Bud McFarlane. Eventually, Bud Ali and the other officials are let go, but they're going back to Washington Empty-Handed.
That story is based on claims made by the Iranian government, claims reported on by major American news outlets. But the truth is, it's impossible to know what exactly happened in Iran. That's because the people involved tell a story very differently, even about the smallest details in Ali's version. There was no Bible, but there was a cake, a cake he bought at a bakery in Tel Aviv on his way to Iran. But Ali swears it was not in the shape of a key, but says there was no cake at all.
Then later he walked that back, had meaning. Yes, there was a cake. But adding the strange caveat, I didn't bake it. But both men agree the Tehran trip was supposed to be a simple transaction fly to Tehran with a plane full of HOK missile parts. When the Iranians released the hostages to the Americans, give them the hawk parts and fly back home. Both men also agree the negotiations went horribly wrong, but they disagree on why Ali blames.
But Ali says in the middle of heated negotiations, the Iranians offer up two hostages in exchange for the parts and by blew his top. The deal was for all the hostages, not to, Ali says, but stormed out of the room and you had to chase after him and beg him to reconsider. Two hostages were better than none, he told him. But Bud refused to listen and cut off negotiations. Bud McFarlane tells it a different way. He says when the president called and asked him to go to Tehran, he couldn't refuse resigning.
His post as national security adviser was the hardest thing he ever did, and he still wanted to serve. He would later tell The Washington Post that he started the arms for hostages mess. In Bud's mind, going to Tehran was the only way to convince the president once and for all that the Iran initiative would never work. And from the moment their plane landed on the tarmac, Bud says it was obvious the Iranians were not on the up and up.
No one was there to greet them, and there are forced to wait for two hours in a holding area until Ghorbanifar finally showed his face from their gorbea, escorted them to a hotel and told them to wait for the Iranian officials to arrive. Two days went by and no one showed up. While waiting in the hotel, Bud learned that the Iranians had already violated the deal, they had unloaded the weapons without permission. Then when the Iranians finally did show up, they only offered two hostages.
In Bud's view, these men were not acting in good faith. So he killed the deal. It's not that these discrepancies about keys and cakes matter, but they are emblematic of a greater issue with the Iran Contra affair. The characters don't always remember things the same way. They're unreliable narrators, which makes the truth difficult, wrestled to the ground. On the way back to Washington, Bud and Ali have a layover in Tel Aviv on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport, but orders the CIA radioman to get John Poindexter on the line so he can give him the bad news.
Only taps but on the shoulder as he passes, don't worry, but it's not a total loss. At least we're using some of the ayatollahs money in Central America. Ollie is referring to the diversion where money from arms sales is being funneled to the Contras. But Bud is confused. He has no idea what Ali is talking about. But if what he just said is true, then Bud knows the mess he started has grown into something worse than he ever imagined.
Before Bud can ask any questions, the CIA radio man hands him the handset, Poindexter is on the line. Bud's message to the man who replaced him as national security adviser is brief. We did not get the hostages back. Tell the president I'm sorry. Ali says the flight back to Washington is a quiet one. He says that when they land at Dulles Airport, he and board go to the White House together to brief the president in the Oval Office, but says he tells the president the same thing he told him before he resigned.
Stop negotiations. They will never work. But Bud doesn't say anything to Reagan about Ali's comment on the tarmac about using Iran's money to support the Contras. It's not hard to imagine why, because it's not hard to imagine that in May of 1986, Ford sees the writing on the wall if money from the arms sales is going to the Contras instead of the United States Treasury. And that's a serious crime. And if this information were ever to go public, the fallout would be catastrophic.
Investigations, hearings, impeachment after the failed negotiations in Tehran. Ali is angry, but should have at least asked permission to get the two hostages back alley. Certain Reagan would have given by the go ahead to make the deal. But in the meeting with Reagan, all he doesn't say a word. Instead, he resolves to do what but could not get the hostages back. On the Internet, people can hide their true identity and become anyone they want to be.
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Ollie North has always been something of a loose cannon, depending on who you ask. He's either stark raving mad or a mad genius. Ollie didn't bark when Bob tapped him to manage the Iran and contra operations. He didn't question the legal ramifications of either. He dove right in and he took charge. Maybe that's because Ollie sees himself as something of a Dark Knight, a hero who will do whatever it takes to keep America safe. He is more than willing to fight the bad guys, even if it means breaking the law.
Or maybe he didn't think the Iran and Contra operations were illegal. Or maybe he didn't think it mattered because he believed he was operating with President Reagan's blessing. But there is no doubt Ali sees himself as a patriot and a man who doesn't back down from a fight, especially if it means protecting the country. And in the late summer of 1986, Ali has a big fight on his hands, his opponent, United States Congress. It's August 6th, 1986, two months before the Hasenfus plane crash.
Reagan has finally convinced Congress to loosen up the Boland amendment and support his goals in Nicaragua. Now there's a 100 million dollar appropriations bill for the Contras pending in Congress, while most of the Republicans in the room want to start funding the Contras as soon as possible. The Democrats are not going to fund anything until they get some answers. Ollie North sits in the president's chair in The Situation Room across from several members of the House Intelligence Committee. There have been rumors in the press about all these contra activities, potentially illegal activities, mood in the room as tense.
Lee Hamilton, a Democrat and the chair of the Intelligence Committee, leads off the proceedings. Mr. North, thank you for meeting with us today. I'm happy to do it, sir, but that's not true. He's not happy to do it. The only reason he is here at all is because his boss, John Poindexter, ordered him to sit down with the congressman and he told Poindexter he would have to bend the truth. You can handle it, Ollie Poindexter told them.
But today, sitting across from these congressmen, all isn't so sure, Mr. North. All we ask is that you tell us the truth.
Of course, sir. The congressman fired off a slew of questions about Ali's alleged contra activities, but Ali knows the contra operation is just the tip of the iceberg. The congressman don't know about the diversion. They don't know about arms for hostages, and they don't know that. After his failed trip to Tehran, Ali ditched Ghorbanifar and opened up a second channel to Iran to keep the operation alive. Ali has to be very, very careful about what he says next and how he says it.
Mr. North, did you give the conscious military advice? I'm a military man, Congressman. When I sit down with military people, it's inconceivable that we don't talk about military things. But even if I thought I could give them advice, you and I both know this war can't be run from Washington. It's a nonanswer. And that's by design. It's also a lie. Ali has been giving Adolpho Calero and other country leaders military advice for years, but if only tells the truth, he'll be admitting he violated the Boland amendment, though there's no criminal penalty for such a violation.
All he could lose his job, not to mention publicly disgraced, dragged in front of Congress for hours of public testimony. But even more importantly, telling the truth could spell disaster for President Reagan and for the Contras. One last question. Did you personally ever raise money for the Contras? No, sir, I did not. Well, thank you for your time, sir.
He only leaves the meeting at peace with his decision. Yes, he lied, but he lied for the right reasons. He lied to protect the president and preserve the Contras body and soul. Two days after the meeting on August 8th, 1986, John Poindexter since Alere. Private message. Two simple words that say it all. Well done. The House Intelligence Committee is also satisfied the inquiry into the contra operation is closed over the next two months. The 100 million dollar appropriations bill makes its way through Congress and passes in both the House and the Senate.
The final step is the Budget Committee reconciling the funds and then the bill will be ready for the president's signature. But then on October 5th, 1986, plane carrying 70 AK 47, 100000 rounds of ammunition and rocket propelled grenades is shot out of the sky over Nicaragua. And when the sole survivor, Eugene Hasenfus, is paraded in front of the press, he tells the world the CIA coordinated the flight. Sometime after the crash, all he gets, his orders from the CIA director, Bill Casey, shut down the operation, clean it up so Ali gets to work.
He picks up the phone and calls his people on the ground in Nicaragua. He orders them to leave the country and return to the United States. Immediately, the CIA gets down to business. Two agents fly all U.S. planes and equipment in Nicaragua to a remote airfield. The agents use bulldozers to dig a massive ditch and fill it with explosives. Then they push the entire fleet into the hole and blow it to bits. The remaining scraps are doused with fuel and incinerated in a fire that burns for days.
A few days after the crash, Eugene Hasenfus, his captors, grant him an interview with Mike Wallace to air on 60 Minutes, where he describes a clandestine network that ferried tons of supplies to the rebels in a scandal where the key players often lie, dissemble and change the stories to serve themselves. Hasenfus is one of the only people who tells the truth. Throughout the month of October, Congress investigates the plane crash. But repeated denials from the White House, as well as from the CIA and the State Department, stymie the inquiry.
And the issue is put to bed for the time being. On October 21st, 1986, Reagan signed the budget bill, bringing an end to the need for the diversion. The Reagan administration can now fund the Contras out in the open. Mission accomplished, at least for a fleeting moment, because less than two weeks after the budget is enacted in early November of 1986, the other shoe drops, al Shara'a, a Lebanese news magazine, publishes a bombshell, a story the American people know nothing about, an exposé that blows the Enron scandal wide open.
Al Shara'a claims the United States sold arms to Iran. The article also outlines Bud McFarlane and Ollie North, a secret trip to Tehran to trade arms for hostages. The story is picked up by news media in the US and in papers all over the world. The details are confirmed by a high level official in the Iranian government. This presents a major problem for the Reagan administration, and it leads to questions with potentially impeachable consequences. What did President Reagan know and when did he know it?
Almost immediately. Reagan's cabinet builds a wall of protection around the president. Someone must take the blame for this, but it won't be Reagan. Instead, the scapegoats chosen include Bud McFarlane and his right hand man, Ollie North. Next on American Scandal, we follow Don Reagan as he calls off the president, shields him from a media firestorm and goes looking for a head to put on a spike from wandering. This is episode two of Iran-Contra for American Skin.
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Be sure to listen to my other podcast to American history tellers and American elections. Wicked game. Quick note about our reenactments. In most cases, we can't know exactly what was said, but all our dramatisations are based on historical research. If you'd like to learn more about the Iran-Contra affair, we recommend Firewall by Lawrence Walsh, underfire by Oliver North and Special Trust by Bud McFarlane. American Scandal is hosted, edited sound design and executive produced by me Lindsey Graham for additional production assistance by Derek Barens.
This episode is written by Steve Walters, edited by Andrew Stelzer. Our consultant is Malcolm Byrne. We highly recommend his book, Iran Contra Reagan Scandal and the Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power. Executive producers are Stephanie Gen's, Marshall Louie and Hernan Lopez for wondering. Hi, I'm Lindsey Graham, the host of Wonder series Business Mover's, where we dive deep into the inner workings of some of the most successful companies of all time before they were renowned and revered, they were young upstarts with big ideas and even bigger ambitions.
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