The Iran-Contra Era: Global Counter-Revolution,
and the Triumph of the National Security State
My next article will deal in depth with the illegal Contra resupply operation and the Iran arms deal. This article is meant to serve as a brief introduction to the case followed by a much broader analysis of the whole Iran-Contra era. I thought it was best to get some tangents out of my system in this extended introduction. In following the threads that make up the tapestry of the Iran-Contra scandal one is quickly covered with a web of connections that cover the world. The globalization of the covert warfare apparatus, although it did not begin in this era, reached new heights. Faced with the threat of congressional oversight the national security state outsourced covert operations to allied and even enemy countries. It also increasingly privatized covert war, turning to networks of ex-spies and military men, arms dealers, mercenaries, NGO’s lobbyists, religious groups, and drug cartels.
The Iran Contra era stretches from late 1975-1992 covering the final third of the Cold War, which begins in the aftermath of the liberation and reunification of Vietnam, a humiliating defeat for the American Empire. The first post-war chapter of the Cold war had stretched from 1945 (secretly 1943) to 1959 with the Cuban Revolution marking the beginning of the second part of the Cold War. The Cold War had actually begun in 1917 with the Russian revolution and the failed invasion to crush the Soviet Union, followed by the attempt to isolate the USSR, while arming Nazi Germany for an attack on the USSR. World War 2 was only a minor interruption in this cold war. The post-war cold war began in Greece during WW2 as the British attempted to install the Greek fascist collaborators and death squads into power and to destroy the communist partisans that had already liberated Greece. The OSS and MI6 were already planning to recruit the Nazis and their allies to battle the Soviets. The post-war cold war had seen dissent crushed to make way for an anti-Soviet hysteria, the fixing of the Italian elections to prevent a communist victory, the victory of the Chinese Revolution, the US partition of Korea and its subsequent war to prevent national unification, the CIA creation of South Vietnam, coups in Iran and Guatemala and around the world. The Second third of the Cold War covered the Cuban Revolution, the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion, the export of US counter-insurgency advisers around the world to teach torture, and assassination to prevent “another Cuba” and the transformation of the Vietnam war from a covert counter-insurgency campaign to a genocidal military occupation. However the empire managed a major diplomatic success opening relations with the People’s Republic of China. In the Iran-Contra era, China would help the US arm and sometimes train counter-revolutionary forces around the world including UNITA in Angola, the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Afghan Mujahedeen. It also worked with the US backing the Khmer rouge in Cambodia and waging war on Vietnam. Domestically during this second phase of the cold war the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement had briefly awakened some awareness of the ugly realities of the empire. Watergate, the Pinochet coup in Chile, exposed an imperial presidency and the CIA’s role in replacing democratic socialism with fascism. The third chapter began with the post-independence war in Angola when Cuba intervened to foil a US-backed invasion from apartheid South Africa. Congress passed the Clark amendment barring further US involvement but the CIA merely turned to its allies in the Safari club to continue the war, which would last until 1992. The Safari club would also play a key role in giving birth to Al Qaeda. The CIA was already meddling in Afghanistan by the late 70s, in part through the Shah of Iran. The Cuban victory in Angola would ultimately contribute to the fall of the South African apartheid regime in the early 90s. However at the same time American soft power (the NED) had infiltrated and destroyed the Soviet Union, thanks to the treachery and incompetence of Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev was himself overthrown and the Soviet Union disbanded. The Warsaw pact was absorbed into NATO. Russia was ruled by a drunken US puppet named Boris Yeltsin. Hundreds of millions were plunged into poverty and chaos as the country was looted.
Between 1975-1992 the US waged covert and overt dirty wars around the globe in Afghanistan, Libya, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Uganda, Congo, Chad, Ethiopia, Somalia, Lebanon, Syria, Grenada, Cambodia, East Timor, Guatemala, El Salvador, Argentina, Nicaragua, Panama, Uruguay, Ecuador, Chile and more. The US was supplying both sides in the Iran/Iraq war. It was backing Israel’s plans to dominate and balkanize the Middle East. It was backing South Africa’s efforts to dominate Southern Africa. These were the true crimes of the Iran/Contra era, the crimes of the American empire. It would take a team of historians to catalogue all the covert wars of the Iran-Contra era, which covered four presidencies, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush and to begin to assess the death count. The Clinton years, that strange period between the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the War on Terror, saw the US create chaos around the globe in order to justify the continued existence of the National Security State: the destruction of Yugoslavia, and the wars in Rwanda and the Congo which lead to millions of dead were examples of sophisticated psychological warfare. The US covertly instigated civil wars, fuelling ethnic and tribal strife, while pretending merely to be a concerned bystander and eventually “saviours” when they overtly intervened. The Clinton years, with the destruction of Yugoslavia and its massive NATO expansion, set the stage for the second cold war.
The conventional narrative of Iran-Contra Scandal was consciously created to narrow the focus in time and geography so as to expose as little as possible about the American Empire. It also narrowed the focus to avoid the domestic implications of the scandal. Congress only investigated activities between 1984-1986. Thus the soft coup that brought Reagan to power in 1980 could remain shrouded. Back in late 1975, CIA director William Colby had been fired and replaced with George H. W. Bush. Bush’s ties to the agency went back to the 1950’s when he was recruited into the CIA, a fact he successfully kept secret for decades. While Ambassador to China, Bush and the CIA chief of station James Lilley had recruited Deng Xiaoping who would later rule China and rollback socialism. Bush’s reign as CIA director in 1976 was brief but memorable. He was in charge when Cuban forces managed to halt the South African advance in Angola. He turned to the Safari Club to help the US wage war in Angola. He was in charge when the Argentine junta seized power and began their bloody dirty war. Bush was CIA director when the CIA Cubans formed CORU and launched an international terrorist campaign, including blowing up a Cuban airliner. The culprit Louis Posada Carrilles would later mysteriously “escape” (via CIA bribes) from a Venezuelan prison and end up as part of the Contra resupply operation. 1976 was also the year of the Orlando Letlier bombing when Chile’s former Ambassador was killed in a car bomb set by CIA Cubans working for DINA (Chilean Intelligence.) Bush had ignored the warnings he received that DINA assassins were trying to obtain fake passports for the assassination. After it took place he tried to blame left wing exiles for the Letelier assassination to protect fascist Chile.
When President Carter won the 1976 election promising to reform the National Security State, Bush begged him to let him keep his job. Carter refused and Bush vowed revenge. Over 40 former and current CIA employees made up the CIA officers for Bush contingent during the Republican primary and the 1980 election. Reagan’s campaign manager was an old OSS hand Bill Casey who had also invented the tax shelter. He created his own team of spies that had moles inside the Carter Administration like Donald Gregg at the NSC, a Bush loyalist. They set out to destabilize Carter. Their friends in the oil industry launched a full-scale economic war on the US to create a phony oil shortage. Carter’s brother was lured into a Libyan arms deal and then exposed. Finally the Reagan campaign resorted to outright treason negotiating a deal with Iran for a huge amount of weapons in exchange for not freeing the hostages until after the election. This part of the scandal is so shocking (to most Americans) that media and academia have largely ignored all the evidence that has emerged over the years in support of it. It is known as the October Surprise. There is another theory called the deep October Surprise in which the US, the UK and France and their allies with Savak and the Shah’s government intentionally helped install Khomeini as preferable to a nationalist or socialist style government in Iran. The October surprise arms deal undermined the secular minded Iranian President Bani Sadr while elevating Khomeini’s faction. The whole world has been reshaped in Reagan’s image. Neo-liberalism has triumphed at home and abroad. Reagan can never be allowed to be exposed as a traitor. The fact that it is accepted that his policies lead to mass murder and genocide around the world show the minor importance most Westerners place on the lives of billions of Third World people. To get excited or angry about such things is bad form. No US president has ever been prosecuted for war crimes.
The Iran-Contra era can thus be seen from multiple angles. America’s War on the World. The National Security State vs the illusion of democracy. The triumph of capitalism, the slashing of the social safety net. The taming of the media. The triumphant return to impunity for the CIA. The rise of Bush from CIA director to President. The mobilization of the Christian right and far right voters. The rise of the imperial presidency. The triumph of the executive branch over any form of checks and balances. The birth of the NED.
Iran-Contra is part of an interlocking pattern of scandals, coups, wars and deep events that go back to the early years of the Cold War and before. Particularly relevant are the coups in Guatemala and Iran, the Bay of Pigs, the JFK, MLK, and RFK and Malcolm X assassinations, Vietnam, the secret war in Laos, Watergate, The Chilean coup of 1973, the Letelier bombing, GLADIO, Nugan Hand, Koreagate, the Ed Wilson affair, the EATSCO scandal, Iraqgate, WACL, BCCI, Inslaw. A rotating cast of characters making multiple appearances. People like E. Howard Hunt, Frank Sturgis, Ted Shackley, Thomas Clines, Richard Secord, and George H.W. Bush. The same names keep popping up. The never-ending scandal of the CIA drug connection. The way things “really work” money laundering, fraud, corruption as standard operating procedure in the alliance between politicians, organized crime, intelligence, and big business that form the basis for the study of “Deep Politics”
As I write it is the 35th anniversary of the unravelling of the Iran-Contra scandal. The Reagan administration was caught waging an illegal war on Nicaragua funded in part with profits from the sale to Iran of anti-tank and surface-to-air missiles in exchange for freeing American hostages. Back in 1984 Congress had passed the Second Boland Amendment forbidding any aid or advice to the Contras after the CIA was caught mining Nicaraguan harbours and supplying the Contras with what the Press had dubbed an “Assassination Manual”, a Phoenix program style guide to psychological warfare and armed propaganda. Congress was less offended by the Contras numerous war crimes than the constant lies the administration told them about what the CIA was doing in Nicaragua. Casey had gotten them to agree originally to a 500-man force whose purpose was solely to prevent Nicaragua from arming the Salvadoran guerrillas—the FMLN, who were attempting to overthrow the US-supported, mass-murdering regime in San Salvador. In a couple years they had grown to 12,000 men. Congress passed the first Boland amendment forbidding the Contras from being used to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, Reagan’s and Casey’s actual goal. Now by authorizing the harbour mining without properly informing them Casey had made Congress look like fools. The fact that the Contras operated like a death squad mutilating some village doctor for providing health care or a teacher for providing education were less important to Congress.
The story of the National Security Council and Oliver North’s role in waging an illegal war against Nicaragua had begun to leak in the Press in 1985 thanks to journalists Robert Parry, Brian Barger and Alfonso Chardy. However when Congress chose to accept administration denials, Parry’s editors at AP tried to kill the story. It was Lee Hamilton, head of the House Intelligence Committee and who later chaired the Iran/Contra hearings, who decided to trust North and ignore the investigative journalists. The media was secretly aware that Oliver North was negotiating the hostages release because some of the hostages were journalists. However the colluded in the cover up rather than risk sabotaging the deals. North was in fact in regular contact with Parry’s editors at AP on efforts to release AP journalist Terry Anderson. North was also a favourite source for journalists. North’s role at NSC was basically an open secret. There was also a civil suit filed by the Christic Institute in the wake of the La Penca bombing which hoped to expose a vast criminal conspiracy by ex-CIA and ex-military who were acting as private contractors in the illegal Contra resupply operation and an even more illegal drug importation operation. On 5 October 1986, a plane carrying arms to the Nicaraguan Contras was shot down by a 14-year-old Sandinista with a Soviet surface to air missile (SAM). The cargo kicker, a former Air America (the notorious drug smuggling CIA airline) employee Eugene Hasenfus, was wearing a parachute and managed to jump out of the plane and parachute to the ground. He was captured and began to talk, saying he was working for the CIA and naming “Max Gomez” and others working on the illegal contra resupply operation. Max Gomez turned out to be the notorious Felix Rodriguez, a drug dealing Cuban CIA man whose history went back to the Bay of Pigs invasion and who had helped capture and kill Che Guevara in Bolivia, reportedly keeping Guevara’s severed hands in a jar. He had served in the Phoenix program in Vietnam under Vice President George H.W. Bush’s National Security adviser Donald Gregg. President Ronald Reagan had personally ordered his National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane to find ways to circumvent the Boland Amendment and keep the Contras together “Body and Soul”. McFarlane had put Oliver North in charge of the illegal Contra resupply operation. The scandal went all the way to the top. Likewise by following the threads of the careers of men like Felix Rodriguez it was possible to unravel a great deal of secret history.
In summer 1986, Congress had ironically agreed to restore USD 100 million in lethal aid to the Contras. Hence the Reagan Administration was desperate to cover up their blatant violation of the Boland amendment in case congress decided to change its mind. There was a three-month delay before the funds became available so the illegal contra resupply operation had continued. Elliot Abrams who had been supervising the whole illegal Contra resupply as the State Department representative on the Restricted Interagency Group, along with the NSC’s Oliver North and the CIA’s Alan Fiers. Elliot Abrams was sent out to the Press and Congress to deny everything. Abrams was an expert in lies and denial. His prior role had been Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights when he pretended that El Salvador and Guatemala were showing progress on human rights while they were still waging a campaign of mass murder and genocide. His lies got honest reporters like Raymond Bonner reassigned for exposing massacres during the Central American dirty wars.
Once again many in the media fell for Elliot Abrams categorical denials of any connection between the Reagan administration and the Contra resupply operation that Hasenfus exposed. Generally the US media parrot the line put out by the US State Department, which is why a supposedly independent press are in practice government propagandists. Journalists may be interested in exposing the truth but their editors or producers prefer a cosy relationship with the national security state. They all go to the same dinners and cocktail parties. Luckily before the Contra resupply story could be killed news of the Iran arms for hostages deals were published in the Lebanese newspaper Al Shiras. Once the Western press picked up on it, the story exploded. Reagan had publicly called Iran murder incorporated. Its ally, Hezbollah in Lebanon, had bombed the US embassy killing a dozen CIA Middle East operatives; kidnapped the CIA station chief William Buckley, then bombed the US Marine barracks killing 241. Iran had been officially labelled a terror sponsor by the US, which was waging an international campaign Operation Staunch to force its allies to stop selling arms to Iran. Unlike the illegal war on Nicaragua which was in line with Reagan’s public rhetoric, the Iran arms deals had the potential to alienate Reagan’s right wing base. Moreover if the facts had been known and if there had been the political will, President Reagan could have been impeached or even sent to prison for violation of the Arms Export Control Act. At first the Reagan administration tried its usual strategy of denial but it soon became clear that scapegoats and limited hangouts would be required. The current Attorney General Edwin Meese, a key adviser to Reagan for decades, took charge of the cover-up. He conducted a brief investigation. Then his aides discovered a memo from Oliver North on plans to divert funds from the Iran arms sales to the Contras. Meese checked with North, CIA director Bill Casey, and National Security Adviser Admiral John Poindexter who all agreed that they would shield Reagan by pretending he did not know about the diversion. It became known as the “Diversion Memo” and Meese used it as a giant diversion from Reagan’s illegal authorization of arms sales from Israel to Iran in the fall of 1985. Instead the issue became did the President know about the diversion? “What did he know? and When did he Know it?” was the media refrain echoing Watergate coverage. North was all to happy to play the political fall guy taking full responsibility although when criminal charges loomed he would later reveal that Reagan knew everything he was doing. By then however the Press were again told to kill the story by their editors. Robert Parry at Newsweek was told in 1989 the North trial was not newsworthy. George H.W. Bush was now president thanks to the inability of the Press, the legislative and judicial branches to get to the bottom of the Iran-Contra scandal in which Bush was deeply implicated.
Returning to late 1986: President Reagan appointed the Tower Commission to confirm Meese’s version of events, creating the myth of a rogue National Security Council that Reagan had failed to properly supervise. Then the House and Senate held a circus-like joint investigation of the Iran-Contra scandal broadcast nationwide, where the Democrats aimed to embarrass rather then destroy Reagan. Their strategy backfired when the telegenic Oliver North was embraced as a hero. The Republicans however decided that the only crime had been Congress’ passage of the Boland amendment and their attempt to meddle in the President’s control of foreign policy. That was the view of future Vice President Dick Cheney who was then a House Rep. for Wyoming serving on the Iran-Contra committee. In 2004 at the height of the war on terror he would cite the minority report on the Iran-Contra scandal and its argument for absolute executive power as a blueprint for the Bush Administration’s policies. The price of this failed spectacle which catapulted North to stardom was Congress’ grant of limited immunity to North and Poindexter for anything they might say. This would later sabotage the criminal investigation of the Iran-Contra scandal. The Christic Institute lawsuit was dismissed and they were forced to pay USD 1 million in damages. The Kerry Committee investigated the Contra drug connection but the media ignored or mocked him. An independent counsel was appointed in December 1986. A six-year investigation would gradually unravel the true story of Iran-Contra. However with non-stop obstruction from the intelligence community and the Department of Justice, the court of appeals would overturn the convictions of North and Poindexter. Finally President George Bush, whose Iran-Contra role was becoming ever more exposed, decided to pardon a dozen Iran-Contra figures after loosing the 1992 election to Bill Clinton. Clinton had been tied to CIA man Barry Seals while governor of Arkansas—where much of the gunrunning and drug trafficking was staged. Needless to say President Clinton did not want anyone digging into Iran-Contra either. The story was revived briefly by the heroic journalist Gary Webb. Webb’s career was destroyed. His life ended with apparent suicide. Ironically however thanks to his work the Contra drug connection, a part of the scandal many in the media and Congress wanted to suppress, is now the most well known aspect of the scandal.
Having laid out the basics of the scandal I will provide some historical background. Early in the 19th the US had proclaimed the so-called Monroe Doctrine. Framed as opposing European imperialism in the Americas, it was in reality the US laying claim to the entire hemisphere. As its power grew it began to enforce these claims with bribery, invasions and coups. In the 19th century Nicaragua was embroiled in a civil war between the liberals and conservatives. William Walker had attempted to conquer northern Mexico but failed. The Nicaraguan Liberal party hired American mercenary William Walker and his “Filibusters” to intervene but he decided to seize power and institute slavery. He ruled Nicaragua for a year as a dictator but was forced out when Nicaragua’s neighbours invaded to expel him. He died when he tried to invade and seize power again. Shortly before World War I, the US had invaded and occupied Nicaragua for nearly 20 years. Revolutionary general Augusto Sandino would fight a guerrilla war in the attempt to expel them. Nicaragua would become a laboratory for the use of air power in a counter-insurgency campaign. Sandino was able to survive the bombs and the endless manhunt by US Marines, outsmarting US forces. However once he had signed a peace deal he was assassinated. The US had trained the Nicaraguan National Guard to carry out the dirty war against the Nicaraguan people. They appointed their lackey Anastasio Somoza as its head. He would soon seize power with his family ruling Nicaragua for decades until the 1979 Nicaraguan Revolution. Somoza would be a key backer of the coup to overthrow Jacobo Arbenz in nearby Guatemala in 1954. The coup in Guatemala would form a blueprint for the later, failed Bay of Pigs invasion and later the attempt to overthrow the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
However the dirty war on Nicaragua would be far more brutal and last far longer then the earlier campaigns. After the Cuban Revolution the US had spent two decades training the militaries in Latin American countries to wage dirty wars on their people. In each country Intelligence agencies, the military, and the police waged a coordinated campaign of kidnapping torture and assassination. In the Southern cone countries Operation Condor would unite the regimes in one vast dirty war on the continent. This would occur in the wake of the CIA-backed Chilean coup of Augusto Pinochet, who overthrew elected president Salvador Allende in 1973. The roots went back to the beginnings of the Cold War and the chain of fascist coups that had started much earlier in Brazil in 1964. Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Paraguay were the first seven members of a network of countries that carried out a coordinated campaign of assassination, torture, and kidnapping. In the 1970s this was increasingly combined with installing neoliberal shock therapy economic reforms in Chile and Argentina. Tiny Central America was home to even worse horrors as hundreds of thousands were killed in dirty wars in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua under Somoza. Guatemala’s campaign of terror had begun when a wave of military uprisings swept the country in protest over the training of Cuban exiles for the upcoming Bay of Pigs invasion in camps in Guatemala. By the late 60s, it had evolved into a revolutionary armed struggle. Then Guatemala was flooded with CIA and Special Forces advisers to wage a scorched earth campaign to destroy the Guerrillas. In El Salvador after a huge massacre was conducted by the fascist dictator General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez of Indians and suspected communists that killed 32,000, the government had faced little opposition. The US still sent in its advisers in the 1960s and by the 1970s their endless murder of political opponents and labour had forced the opposition to take up arms. In Nicaragua a revolution had begun in the mid-1970s and Somoza had waged a brutal scorched earth campaign in an attempt to hold onto power. But on 26 July 1979, he was forced to flee the country and for the first time since Cuba in 1959, a revolution had succeeded in overthrowing a brutal US-backed dictator.
The Carter administration had cut off aid to Somoza because of his outrageous war crimes and refusal to negotiate with the opposition. Somoza turned to Israel for arms. Israel was also playing key roles in the dirty wars in El Salvador and Guatemala providing arms and advisers, helping Guatemala carry out genocide against the Maya Indians. Five hundred of Somoza’s national guard, who had carried out numerous war crimes, relocated briefly to Guatemala taking shelter with the “Godfather of the Death Squads” Mario Sandoval Alarcon. They were determined to follow the example of the Cuban exiles and wage covert war on revolutionary Nicaragua. Soon they were joined by Argentine advisers fresh from their own dirty war. They arrived after having recently carried out the Bolivian cocaine coup and began to advise these Contras or counter-revolutionaries. The Carter administration hoped to use aid as leverage to control Nicaragua’s new government. The CIA was doubtless already backing the Contras, who named themselves the 15 September Legion and began carrying out kidnappings, terrorism, and drug smuggling. Reagan would be elected in part through illegal campaign donations from Central American oligarchs in Guatemala and El Salvador who had been promised full support in waging their dirty wars by former DIA director General Daniel Graham and General John Singlaub, a military/CIA man and future World Anti-Communist League head. Reagan would keep this promise, vastly escalating the wars in Central America. 300,000 would die in Guatemala and El Salvador in the name of preventing “another Nicaragua.” Torture rape and mass murder were standard operating procedures. Like in Nicaragua, the administration would lie to Congress to carry out the dirty wars in Guatemala and El Salvador and constantly find ways to circumvent any congressional limits to US support. This never became a scandal. In Nicaragua 35,000 would perish in attacks by the Contra death squads. Casey put Duane “Dewey” Clarridge in charge of Latin America and he ran the Contras until turning them over to Oliver North in the wake of Boland II. Clarridge was transferred to head the European Division, where he would help arm the Contras and facilitate the Iran arms deals.
To summarize the Cold War history of the Middle East would be impossible in so short a space and would require months or years of extra research. The US’s backing of Israel alienated the entire region. The US scheme to create a Middle Eastern version of NATO and its constant coups to install pro-western regimes would backfire. In Iran in 1953 the CIA overthrew prime minister Mossadegh and restored Shah Pahlavi. Mossadegh, a fervent secular nationalist, had been branded a communist for nationalizing the British owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (British Petroleum). He had expelled all the British spies and diplomats after their failed coup plots and attempt to lay siege to the country and prevent it from selling oil. The British were forced to turn to the CIA and after the coup they turned over half of Iran’s oil over to US corporations. The CIA and Mossad trained the Shah’s secret police, the Savak, to torture and murder their opponents. Iran became a top customer of the American military industrial complex. Richard Secord would serve as an air force adviser in the 1960s and then after serving in Vietnam and Laos return in the late 1970s as head of the US military assistance program. He would meet various corrupt Iranian businessmen with intelligence ties that would later appear in the October surprise and Iran Contra scandals. Then he would supervise arms sales at the Pentagon. In Egypt the CIA recruited Nasser’s successor Sadat. He would sabotage the 1973 Arab Israeli war, expel the Soviet advisers from Egypt. President Carter then convinced Sadat to completely betray the Arab cause by signing a separate peace deal with Israel. His reward was a massive increase in weapons sales from the US. Secord at the Pentagon was a silent partner along with Ted Shackley in EATSCO, a transport company run by Ed Wilson and Thomas Clines, created to profit off the Egyptian arms sales. However Sadat’s peace deal was an obstacle to Israeli plans to invade Lebanon. His security personnel were trained by American advisers connected to EATSCO. The Muslim Brotherhood assassinated him. Mubarak who was also a key figure in the Egyptian side of skimming money from the arms sales was installed as Egypt’s new leader. In the late 1970s, Ed Wilson would be part of a scheme to supply huge amounts of C4 explosives and special forces advisers to Libya in order to gain intelligence on the revolutionaries and nationalists that Gaddafi allowed to train there and in the hopes of stealing Soviet weapons systems. Wilson was carrying out an off the books operation for the CIA but they denied any connection to him. His business partners Secord, Shackley, and Clines had grown envious of the vast wealth he had amassed running CIA front companies. Once Reagan became president, Libya was falsely blamed for a number of terrorist attacks like the La Belle disco attack in Berlin and the Lockerbie bombing. The US would wage a proxy war on Libya via Chad, and shoot down Libyan aircraft and boats attempting to defend their territorial waters during American war games. The campaign would culminate in a bombing raid aiming to assassinate Gaddafi, which would wound his wife and seven children and kill his adopted baby daughter. Dozens of civilians would also be killed. This occurred in 1986 during the height of the Iran-Contra scandal. Oliver North, who was also the terror czar, was a key planner of the attacks. Gaddafi would survive until the 2011 NATO war when Libya was bombed into submission while Al Qaeda terrorists seized the country.
Lebanon was another country that was key to understanding the Iran-Contra affair. Israel saw it as a key testing ground for its Oded Yinon style plans to balkanize the Middle East. Lebanon was divided along religious lines and its political parties each represented a different faction. The Christian minority held disproportionate power, the Sunnis were divided into pro-Western and pro-Arab nationalist factions, and the Shiite’s were under represented. At one point in the mid 1970s, left wing Arab nationalists were on the verge of seizing power. Kissinger had to convince Hafez Assad to prevent their victory in order to avoid an Israeli invasion. Lebanon was home to a huge number of Palestinian exiles, who had been forced to flee Jordan after the events of “Black September” after which Jordan had launched a brutal crackdown. The Israelis encouraged the Christian fascists to seize power and, failing that, break away and form their own country. This led to the Lebanese civil war. In 1978 Israel invaded southern Lebanon but the Carter administration convinced them to withdraw. In 1982 Israel would invade again this time with the support of the Reagan administration. They kidnapped a number of visiting Iranian officials and of course kidnapped imprisoned and tortured huge numbers of Lebanese just as it has arrested, imprisoned and tortured untold numbers of Palestinians over the decades. In 1982 Iran sent the IRGC into Lebanon to help train Hezbollah. Israel captured Beirut and installed the Christian Phalange leader as president. He was assassinated and in revenge thousands of Palestinians cordoned off by the Israeli army were massacred by the Christian Phalange in Sabra and Shatila.
The US pretended neutrality, but sided with Israel. The Marines were sent in and the US Navy began shelling Lebanese villages. In 1983 Hezbollah chased the US out with a series of bombings. In 1984 it began kidnapping Americans to use as leverage to free the 17 Da’awa prisoners in Kuwait who had attacked French and US targets there. They had also kidnapped the CIA station chief William Buckley, who was tortured into revealing decades of dirty secrets. The stage was set for the Iran arms for hostages deals. Of course the stage had already been set during the October surprise negotiations that got Reagan elected in the first place. Israel would be the middleman in the October surprise arms deals and the early Iran-Contra arms deals. Egypt would be the middleman in the Iraqgate arms deals. The course of the Iran-Iraq war would be prolonged, as the US supplied arms to both sides nearly one million Iraqis and Iranians would die. The US supplied Iraq Intelligence so it could use its chemical weapons to best effect against Iran. Then in 1986 the US began supplying Iran with intelligence that shifted the balance of the war. The fallout of the Iran-Contra affair would lead to the first Gulf War. President Bush had started authorizing huge loans and weapons shipments to Iraq while encouraging Kuwait to provoke Iraq. Bush had the State department give Iraq the green light to invade Kuwait, followed by sanctions which killed another million, followed by the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the intentional creation of a sectarian civil war that would claim at least a million more lives.
The Iran-Contra era saw the seeds planted that would more recently bloom into many more recent wars. The invasion of Iraq, the destruction of Libya, the failed attempt to destroy Syria. In the case of Syria the US and Israel had helped launch a Muslim brotherhood uprising in 1983 with the aid of Iraq that would eerily mirror the Syrian war of 2011 to today. And then of course, there was Afghanistan where the US was again arming drug-dealing contras. Socialist Afghanistan was destroyed. Afghanistan was taken over by warlords who battled each other. Eventually the Clinton Administration and Pakistan had the Taliban seize control of the country. The Iran-Contra were a key period in the origins of the war on terror with Benjamin Netanyahu holding the Jerusalem Conference on anti-terrorism in 1979. Casey, North and even Secretary of State Schultz all backed plans to form counter-terror squads to carry out “pre-emptive strikes” on groups labelled “terrorists” (often legitimate resistance groups and left wing guerrillas) Theire were plans to declare martial law and round up hundreds of thousands of Central American refugees and tens of thousands of peace activists in the event that the US invaded Nicaragua. Of course the US has been waging war on Central American refugees for decades. However after 9/11 these Iran-Contra era plans were dusted off to form the basis of the USA Patriot Act, the rounding up of thousands of innocent Muslims and the total surveillance of everyone on the planet. Not only that, but many key figures in Iran-Contra were put back into power in the George W Bush administrations. Plus of course the creation of a global Phoenix program or Operation Condor system of kidnap, assassination and torture that is applied worldwide. All in the name of battling an al Qaeda that within ten years it was quite openly supporting. Thanks to the Reagan era victory of “Public Diplomacy” over investigative journalism no one in the media dared point out this little fact. In truth US soft power proved more effective than covert war. It was soft power in the form of the NED interference in the Nicaraguan election of 1990 that brought down the Sandinistas. It was NED soft power not the war in Afghanistan that destroyed the Soviet Union and insured the electoral victory of neoliberalism. The era of the colour revolution had begun. The NED had been another of Bill Casey’s projects.
The victory of Reagan and Bush in the Cold War has led to our current dystopian age. American hyper power is free to rampage around the globe destroying country after country. Always we are reminded that there is no alternative to capitalism. That we should just let the market decide. If a country manages to resist US covert wars and coup plots it will have its economy throttled by sanctions like Venezuela and Syria. Today historians have begun to talk of the world having suffered a 50-year counter-revolution with seemingly no end in sight. This is the ultimate legacy of the Iran-Contra era.
My next article will include an extensive list of Iran Contra books I used.
For now I would like to recommend just two.
Malcolm Byrne’s Iran-Contra: Reagan’s Scandal and the Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power is the definitive mainstream version of events.
Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, The Press & Project Truth by Robert Parry gives many details left out of mainstream accounts. He has an in-depth discussion of the Contra drug connection as well as the role of drugs in Panama and Honduras. He also discusses the Reagan Administration Public Diplomacy campaign that destroyed investigative journalism in the US.
Malcolm Byrne lecture about his Iran Contra Book
A Robert Parry Interview
A discussion of the October Surprise
My earlier series on Iran Contra
Part 1 The Secret Team
Part 2 World War 3
Part 3 The World Anti-Communist League Part 1
Part 4 The World Anti-Communist League Part 2
Ted Shackley a Life in the CIA