Archives & Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.
" I thought using the Ayatollah's money to
support the Nicaraguan resistance was a neat idea."
By Arthur L. Liman
Sunday, August 16, 1998
Poindexter And Oliver North took the stand in the Iran-Contra
hearings, they kept the lid on a Presidential scandal far more
serious than today's.
a time when Washington is saturated with scandal,
special prosecutors are at work and the president is under
investigation, it may be useful to look back a decade to the
last time people were talking seriously about impeaching a chief
scandal burst upon the scene in November 1986 when it was first
reported in a Lebanese newspaper that President Ronald Reagan
had approved the sale of missiles to Iran in exchange for
American hostages in Lebanon. Later, Justice Department lawyers
found evidence that proceeds from the arms sales had been
diverted to illegally fund the contra anticommunist guerrillas
in Nicaragua in circumvention of the Boland Amendment banning
U.S. aid to the rebels. It was an audacious, covert scheme --
known by its participants as "the Enterprise" -- carried out
largely by a small group of top administration officials and
private operators without the knowledge of Congress. And when it
began to unravel, the foremost question congressional
investigators faced was the classic one echoing from the days of
Watergate: What did the president know and when did he know it?
Arthur L. Liman, a renowned New York corporate lawyer who had
been involved in many big-time cases, was brought in as chief
counsel for the Senate special committee set up to investigate.
Liman helped conduct 40 days of controversial public hearings
that made Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North a household name but were
inconclusive about Reagan's role. Liman's memoirs, which are
being published posthumously next month, recall those days when
a president's fate hung in the balance.
Arthur Liman, in his role as chief counsel to the Senate
select committee, questions North.
(James K. Atherton)
Liman died last
year before Whitewater metamorphosed into Monicagate, but he
almost certainly would have stuck to the view expressed in his
memoirs that the high crimes and misdemeanors alleged in
Iran-contra posed a far more serious threat to American
democracy and our system of checks and balances. Even Watergate
-- a bungled burglary followed by a White House-orchestrated
coverup -- was less threatening, Liman argued. He saw
Iran-contra as a deliberate effort to conduct foreign policy in
secret by using a private organization motivated by profit and
accountable to no one. Whitewater, by contrast, involved mainly
pre-presidential financial activities that posed no
constitutional issue or question of presidential accountability,
according to Liman, who said the country could not afford to
incapacitate a president by a drawn-out investigation that
questioned his legitimacy.
witnesses appeared, it was the testimony of Vice Adm. John
Poindexter and North in July 1987 that was the most dramatic and
crucial, as Liman recalls in the following excerpt:
FIRST DAY I MET HIM, I knew it was John Poindexter, not
Oliver North, who held Ronald Reagan's fate in his hands. North
was the more colorful by far, but I wanted Poindexter as a
served as national security adviser to the president from
December 1985 until his dismissal when the Iran-contra story
broke a year later. Before that, he was the assistant national
security adviser under Robert "Bud" McFarlane. He had briefed
the president every morning on matters affecting national
security. Among the topics were the missile sales to Iran and
the secret support of the contras. More than anyone, indeed even
more than Reagan himself, he knew what the president was told
and what the president had authorized.
Poindexter was the decisive moment of our investigation. If he
implicated Reagan -- in the diversion or in the later coverup,
or both -- impeachment proceedings were a virtual certainty.
Because of this, I wanted to hear his story before we began the
public hearings in May 1987. But examining Poindexter, even in
private, presented a problem. Lawrence E. Walsh, the independent
counsel, wasn't finished with his investigation of Poindexter by
early May, and he said he needed several more months. If
Poindexter's private testimony were somehow leaked and became
public, it could taint what the independent counsel took
subsequently from other witnesses and make it impossible for him
to prove that his evidence against Poindexter didn't derive,
even indirectly, from the private testimony.
''From the first day I met him, I knew it was
John Poindexter, not Oliver North, who held
Ronald Reagan's fate in his hands. North was the
more colorful by far, but I wanted Poindexter as
The Senate select committee came up with an ingenious solution.
In order to
prevent leaks, I would take Poindexter's testimony in private
before the public hearings and share the results only with John
Nields, chief counsel for the House select committee. No member
of the Senate or House committees would be privy to what
Poindexter said, unless I concluded that his testimony gave us
evidence warranting the impeachment of the president.
In this case,
and this case only, I was to report to Sens. Daniel Inouye
(D-Hawaii) and Warren Rudman (R-N.H.) so that the impeachment
process could begin promptly. On the other hand, if I concluded,
after listening to Poindexter, that there was insufficient basis
for impeachment, no member of the Senate or the House would be
told the contents of the deposition.
I doubt that any
counsel to any congressional committee had ever been entrusted
with such responsibility, and it weighed heavily on me. Not that
I was unused to pressure. I'd tried cases in which huge amounts
of money were at stake, and I'd defended clients facing the loss
of liberty. But nothing prepares a lawyer for conducting an
examination in which the impeachment of a president turns on the
I had no idea,
either, what Poindexter would say. Would he distance himself
from North? Would he claim he was out of the loop on North's
activities concerning the diversion of funds, that it was all
North and CIA Director William Casey? And what of the president?
What of the shredding of documents and the coverup? McFarlane,
for example, had maintained that he was unaware of how far North
had gone. Wouldn't Poindexter try to do likewise, particularly
since he could be prosecuted if he'd participated in any
Poindexter's examination on a Saturday, May 2, to ensure
secrecy. The questioning itself took place inside the "bubble,"
a special high-security, eavesdropping-proof metal shell that
the government had required us to install in our office. The
bubble supposedly couldn't be penetrated even by the most
sophisticated electronic listening devices.
To keep the very
fact of his examination secret, we arranged for Poindexter to be
spirited in and out of our offices with his attorney. I would
arrive at 7 a.m., three hours before.
Inouye was out
of Washington that weekend, so it fell to Rudman, as vice
chairman of the committee, to administer the oath to Poindexter
and read him an order granting him limited immunity in exchange
for his testimony. Rudman came to our office shortly before the
scheduled start of the deposition, and we waited together.
arrived with his lawyer. We greeted one another stiffly and
without pleasantries. Poindexter was dressed in civilian clothes
and held a pipe in his mouth throughout. With his rimless
glasses and his pipe, he was bookish-looking -- more
professorial than military. He never once smiled, never
exhibited the slightest warmth.
(continued on Page 2)
Page 1 |
© Copyright 1998
The Washington Post Company
The Oliver North File:
His Diaries, E-Mail, and Memos on
the Kerry Report, Contras and Drugs
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book
February 26, 2004
For further information Contact
Peter Kornbluh: 202/994-7116
Washington D.C., 26 February 2004 - Diaries,
e-mail, and memos of Iran-contra figure Oliver North,
posted today on the Web by the National Security
Archive, directly contradict his criticisms yesterday of
Sen. John Kerry's 1988 Senate Foreign Relations
subcommittee report on the ways that covert support for
the Nicaraguan contras in the 1980s undermined the U.S.
war on drugs.
North claimed to talk show hosts Hannity & Colmes that
the Kerry report was "wrong," that Sen. Kerry "makes
this stuff up and then he can't justify it," and that
"The fact is nobody in the government of the United
States, going all the way back to the earliest days of
this under Jimmy Carter, ever had anything to do with
running drugs to support the Nicaraguan resistance.
Nobody in the government of the United States. I will
stand on that to my grave."
The Kerry subcommittee
did not report that U.S. government officials ran drugs,
but rather, that Mr. North, then on the National
Security Council staff at the White House, and other
senior officials created a privatized contra network
that attracted drug traffickers looking for cover for
their operations, then turned a blind eye to repeated
reports of drug smuggling related to the contras, and
actively worked with known drug smugglers such as
to assist the contras. The report cited former Drug
Enforcement Administration head John Lawn testifying
that Mr. North himself had prematurely leaked a DEA
undercover operation, jeopardizing agents' lives, for
political advantage in an upcoming Congressional vote on
aid to the contras (p.121).
the documents posted today are:
from the reporter's notebooks he kept in those
years, noting multiple reports of drug smuggling
among the contras. A Washington Post
investigation published on 22 October 1994 found no
evidence he had relayed these reports to the DEA or
other law enforcement authorities.
Memos from North aide Robert
Owen to Mr. North recounting drug-running
"indiscretions" among the contras,
warning that a known drug-smuggling airplane
was delivering taxpayer-funded "humanitarian aid"
overseen by Mr. North.
Mr. North's White House
e-mails recounting his efforts to spring from prison
who could "spill the beans"on
the secret contra war, even though the Justice
Department termed the Honduran a "narcoterrorist"
for his involvement in cocaine smuggling and an
Mr. North's White House
e-mails and diary entries on
personal meeting on 22 September 1986 with Noriega,
following up Noriega's offer to "take care of" the
Sandinista leadership if the White House would help
"clean up his image."
The text of the Kerry
subcommittee report. Pages 145-146 directly quote
15 North notebook entries
related to drug trafficking.
Also in the posting is
Peter Kornbluh's detailed critique - the
January/February 1997 cover story in the Columbia
Journalism Review - of news coverage of the
contra-drug allegations, including the controversial
San Jose Mercury News series.
Note: The following documents are
in PDF format.
need to download and install the free
Adobe Acrobat Reader
Read the Documents
Official U.S. Knowledge of Drug Trafficking and the
NSC Staff Supported Using Drug Money to Fund the Contras
U.S. Officials and Major
- Iran/Contra North Notebook Citation Bibliography
Documentation of Official U.S. Knowledge of Drug
Trafficking and the Contras
The National Security Archive obtained the
hand-written notebooks of Oliver North, the National
Security Council aide who helped run the contra war
and other Reagan administration covert operations,
through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed
in 1989 with Public Citizen Litigation Group. The
notebooks, as well as declassified memos sent to
North, record that North was repeatedly informed of
contra ties to drug trafficking.
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
In a July 12, 1985 entry, North noted a call from
retired Air Force general Richard Secord in which
the two discussed a Honduran arms warehouse from
which the contras planned to purchase weapons. (The
contras did eventually buy the arms, using money the
Reagan administration secretly raised from Saudi
Arabia.) According to the notebook, Secord told
North that "14 M to finance [the arms in the
warehouse] came from drugs."
An April 1, 1985 memo from Robert Owen (code-name:
"T.C." for "The Courier") to Oliver North
(code-name: "The Hammer") describes contra
operations on the Southern Front. Owen tells North
that FDN leader Adolfo Calero (code-name:
"Sparkplug") has picked a new Southern Front
commander, one of the former captains to Eden
Pastora who has been paid to defect to the FDN. Owen
reports that the officials in the new Southern Front
FDN units include "people who are questionable
because of past indiscretions," such as José Robelo,
who is believed to have "potential involvement with
drug running" and Sebastian Gonzalez, who is "now
involved in drug running out of Panama."
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 was 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
State Department contracts from February 1986 detail
Palmer's work to transport material to the contras
on behalf of the NHAO.
that NSC Staff Supported Using Drug Money to Fund the
In 1987, the Senate Subcommittee on Narcotics,
Terrorism and International Operations, led by
Senator John Kerry, launched an investigation of
allegations arising from reports of contra-drug
links. One of the incidents examined by the "Kerry
Committee" was an effort to divert drug money from a
counternarcotics operation to the contra war.
On July 28, 1988, two DEA agents testified before
the House Subcommittee on Crime regarding a sting
operation conducted against the Medellin Cartel. The
two agents said that in 1985 Oliver North had wanted
to take $1.5 million in Cartel bribe money that was
carried by a DEA informant and give it to the
contras. DEA officials rejected the idea.
[90 pp. / 9.47
MB - For best results, Right click and select "Save
Drugs, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy,
A Report Prepared by the Subcommittee on Terrorism,
Narcotics and International Operations of the
Committtee on Foreign Relations, 100th Congress, 2d
The Kerry Committee report 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." (See page 41)
U.S. Officials and
In June, 1986,
the New York Times published articles detailing
years of Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega's
collaboration with Colombian drug traffickers.
Reporter Seymour Hersh wrote that Noriega "is
extensively involved in illicit money laundering and
drug activities," and that an unnamed White House
official "said the most significant drug running in
Panama was being directed by General Noriega." In
August, Noriega, a long-standing U.S. intelligence
asset, sent an emissary to Washington to seek
assistance from the Reagan administration in
rehabilitating his drug-stained reputation.
Oliver North, who met with Noriega's representative,
described the meeting in an August 23, 1986 e-mail
message to Reagan 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.
The same day Poindexter responds with an e-mail
message authorizing North to meet secretly with
Noriega. "I have nothing against him other than his
illegal activities," Poindexter writes.
On the following day, August 24, North's notebook
records a meeting with CIA official Duane "Dewey"
Clarridge on Noriega's overture. They decided,
according to this entry, to "send word back to
Noriega to meet in Europe or Israel."
The CIA's Alan Fiers later recalls North's
involvement with the Noriega sabotage proposal. In
testimony at the 1992 trial of former CIA official
Clair George, Fiers describes North's plan as it was
discussed at a meeting of the Reagan
administration's Restricted Interagency Group:
"[North] made a very strong suggestion that . . .
there needed to be a resistance presence in the
western part of Nicaragua, where the resistance did
not operate. And he said, 'I can arrange to have
General Noriega execute some insurgent -- some
operations there -- sabotage operations in that
area. It will cost us about $1 million. Do we want
to do it?' And there was significant silence at the
table. And then I recall I said, 'No. We don't want
to do that.'"
Senior officials ignored Fiers' opinion. On
September 20, North informed Poindexter via e-mail
that "Noriega wants to meet me in London" and that
both Elliott Abrams and Secretary of State George
Shultz support the initiative. Two days later,
Poindexter authorized the North/Noriega meeting.
North's notebook lists details of his meeting with
Noriega, which took place in a London hotel on
September 22. According to the notes, the two
discussed developing a commando training program in
Panama, with Israeli support, for the contras and
Afghani rebels. They also spoke of sabotaging major
economic targets in the Managua area, including an
airport, an oil refinery, and electric and telephone
systems. (These plans were apparently aborted when
the Iran-Contra scandal broke in November 1986.)
José Bueso Rosa
administration officials interceded on behalf of
José Bueso Rosa, a Honduran general who was heavily
involved with the CIA's contra operations and faced
trial for his role in a massive drug shipment to the
United States. In 1984 Bueso and co-conspirators
hatched a plan to assassinate Honduran President
Roberto Suazo Córdoba; the plot was to be financed
with a $40 million cocaine shipment to the United
States, which the FBI intercepted in Florida.
Declassified e-mail messages indicate that Oliver
North led the behind-the-scenes effort to seek
leniency for Bueso . The messages record the efforts
of U.S. officials to "cabal quietly" to get Bueso
off the hook, be it by "pardon, clemency,
deportation, [or] reduced sentence." Eventually they
succeeded in getting Bueso a short sentence in "Club
Fed," a white collar prison in Florida.
(See page 76 of
Document 6, the Kerry Report)
The Kerry Committee report reviewed the case, and
noted that the man Reagan officials aided was
involved in a conspiracy that the Justice Department
deemed the "most significant case of narco-terrorism
Kerry Report - Iran/Contra North Notebook Citation
The text below is taken from
page 146 of the
Drugs, Law Enforcement and
report prepared by the Senate Subcommittee on
Narcotics, Terrorism and International Operations
("Kerry Committee"). Click on the links to view the
relevant passages from Oliver North's notebooks.
Case Study: The Drug-Related Entries
Among the entries in the
North Notebooks which discernably concern
narcotics or terrorism are:
May 12, 1984…contract
indicates that Gustavo is involved w/ drugs.
June 26, 1984.
DEA- (followed by two blocks of text deleted by
June 27, 1984.
Drug Case - DEA program on controlling cocaine-
Ether cutoff- Colombians readjusting- possible
negotiations to move on refining effort to
Nicaragua- Pablo Escobar-Colombian drug czar-
Informant (Pilot) is indicted criminal- Carlos
Ledher- Freddy Vaughn (Q0354)
July 9, 1984.
Portions transcribed in Kerry Report but deleted
from declassified version]
Call from Clarridge- Call
Michel re Narco Issue- RIG at 1000 Tomorrow
(Q0384)- DEA Miami- Pilot went talked to Vaughn-
wanted A/C to go to Bolivia to p/u paste- want
A/C to p/u 1500 kilos- Bud to meet w/ Group
July 12, 1984.
Portions transcribed in Kerry Report but deleted
from declassified version]
Gen. Gorman-*Include Drug Case (Q0400) Call from
Johnstone- (White House deletion) leak on Drug
July 17, 1984.
Call to Frank M- Bud Mullins Re- leak on DEA
piece- Carlton Turner (Q0418) Call from
Johnstone- McManus, LA Times-says/NSC source
claims W.H. has pictures of Borge loading
cocaine in Nic. (Q0416)
July 20, 1984.
Call from Clarridge:-Alfredo Cesar Re
Drugs-Borge/Owen leave Hull alone
(Deletions)/Los Brasiles Air Field-Owen off Hull
July 27, 1984.
Clarridge:-(Block of White House deleted text
follows)-Arturo Cruz, Jr.-Get Alfredo Cesar on
July 31, 1984.
-Finance: Libya- Cuba/Bloc Countries-Drugs. . .
Pablo Escobar/Federic Vaughn (Q0460)
July 31, 1984.
Portions transcribed in Kerry Report but deleted
from declassified version]
Staff queries re (White House deletion) role in
DEA operations in Nicaragua (Q0461)
December 21, 1984.
Call from Clarridge: Ferch (White House
deletion)- Tambs- Costa Rica- Felix Rodriguez
close to (White House deletion)- not assoc.
W/Villoldo- Bay of Pigs- No drugs (Q0922)
January 14, 1985.
$14 million to finance came from drugs (Q1039)
July 12, 1985.
$14 million to finance came from drugs
August 10, 1985.
Mtg w/ A.C.- name of DEA person in New Orleans
re Bust on Mario/ DC-6 (Q1140)
February 27, 1986.
Mtg w/ Lew Tambs- DEA Auction A/C seized as drug
runners.- $250-260K fee (Q2027)
Numerous other entries contain references to
individuals or events which Subcommittee staff
has determined have relevance to narcotics,
terrorism, or international operations, but
whose ambiguities cannot be resolved without the
production of the deleted materials by North and
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