Scandals / Iran-contra

Agee, Philip and Poelchau, Warner. White Paper Whitewash. New York: Deep Cover Books, 1981. 205 pages.

Half of "White Paper Whitewash" is a reprint of the 1981 release by U.S. State Department official Jon Glassman. This White Paper was the opening salvo in the Reagan administration's war against Nicaragua. It included documents allegedly captured from Salvadoran guerrillas, which supported the notion of covert strategic Soviet and Cuban involvement in Central America. Agee makes the case that the documents are fabricated.

Ben-Menashe, Ari. Profits of War: Inside the Secret U.S.-Israeli Arms Network. New York: Sheridan Square Press, 1992. 394 pages.

If this book is even half true, it means that less than ten percent of the Reagan and Bush administration double-dealing was ever revealed to the American public. Ari Ben-Menashe's description of the U.S.-Israeli arms network can only be described as "sensational." If you accept his scenario, it's apparent that an impotent U.S. Congress, once they got a whiff of the dimensions of the problem and considered their options, had no choice but to cover it all up. Some journalists who have verified portions of Ben-Menashe's story have found that his information is excellent. Others just wish he would disappear and are inclined to discredit him, because to accept him is to admit that you've been chasing your tail for ten years and missing it all. With Ben-Menashe, there doesn't seem to be any middle ground.
[Cartoon]

Ben-Menashe was one of six on Israel's top-secret Joint Committee on Israel-Iran Relations, and spent years globe-trotting for them, setting up fronts and transferring millions in cash. In 1980 he saw George Bush in Paris meeting with a high Iranian official, and in 1986 he briefed Bush. In 1981 Robert Gates helped him with his suitcase containing $56 million. Others in this book include Margaret Thatcher's son Mark, Chilean arms dealer Carlos Cardoen, and Paraguay's Alfredo Stroessner, to name a few. If you start reading this book, watch out for Mossad hit men and hold on to your hat.


Chamorro, Edgar. Packaging the Contras: A Case of CIA Disinformation. Published in 1987 by the Institute for Media Analysis, 145 West 4th Street, New York NY 10012, Tel: 212-254-1061. 78 pages.

Edgar Chamorro began working in Miami with anti-Sandinista exiles in late 1979, and the following year they formed the Nicaraguan Democratic Union (UDN). Their agenda dovetailed with the CIA's, so in August 1981 formal documents were signed in Guatemala City merging the UDN with the 15th of September Legion to form the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN). It was all scripted by the Agency. Chamorro did "contra" public relations work for the CIA for the next three years.

But he had his doubts about FDN atrocities against Nicaraguan civilians, and grew tired of CIA bungling. The mining of Nicaraguan harbors by the CIA and the famous "assassination" manual hit the front pages in 1984, and in November Chamorro called it quits. In 1985 he told his story to Congress and then to the World Court.

This monograph is a case study of how the CIA shapes public opinion by manipulating the mass media. Chamorro and his FDN cover are first created by the CIA, and then a string of bought journalists from the U.S. media are lined up for interviews about the wonderful "democratic resistance." It's almost like Ngo Dinh Diem and Vietnam all over again.


Cockburn, Leslie. Out of Control. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987. 287 pages.

During the contra war, Robert Owen wrote the following to Oliver North: "These people [the contra leaders] don't know they are even in a war.... They think they are running a business."

Cockburn traces the contras from the fall of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979 to their collapse when Eugene Hasenfus parachuted from his doomed airplane in 1986. Reagan, Bush, the Pentagon, the CIA and NSC, arms merchants, narcotics merchants, money launderers, contra leaders, and mercenaries all took a ride on the back of a propped up military operation specializing in attacks on clinics, schools, and civilians. Millions disappeared into secret bank accounts in this latest in a long history of corrupt and violent covert actions.

The illegal and unconstitutional nature of the war is found in the description of the Santa Elena, Costa Rica airfield where U.S. officials arranged "the secret construction of a military base without authorization from Congress in an avowedly neutral country to provide aid specifically forbidden by Congress in an undeclared war." Cockburn also examines the connection to Iran and the October Surprise. Out of control indeed. -- Lanny Sinkin


Dillon, Sam. Comandos: The CIA and Nicaragua's Contra Rebels. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1991. 393 pages.

This is where Sam Dillon delivers the liberal media establishment's verdict on U.S. support for the contras in the 1980s. Dillon is well- connected: he was part of the Miami Herald's team of reporters that won a Pulitzer for their Iran-contra coverage, his wife Julia Preston covered Nicaragua for the Washington Post, this book was financed by the Alicia Patterson Foundation (Patterson published Newsday), and the New York Times gave it a splendid review (9/29/91). The verdict is that while the Sandinistas didn't deserve support, neither did the contras. The contra commanders were anti-populist and self-serving, they committed or tolerated the torture of prisoners and abuse of their own troops, and through it all the CIA was controlling the purse and issuing the orders.

It's the best treatment of the CIA in Honduras that we've seen, but it could have been better. Unfortunately, either Dillon or the publisher's lawyers are squeamish about naming some names. He claims, without studying the law, that "it is illegal to publish the full name" of the Honduran station chief from 1987 to 1989. So he tells everything else about "Terry," including his previous postings. Two minutes with NameBase, and out spits TERRY R. WARD. There now, establishment liberals, was that so horrible? Why be such pushovers? Could it be that you and the CIA ... oh, never mind.


Marshall, Jonathan; Scott, Peter Dale; and Hunter, Jane. The Iran-Contra Connection: Secret Teams and Covert Operations in the Reagan Era. Boston: South End Press, 1987. 313 pages, including 70 pages of notes.

This is one of the better books on Iran-contra, written by three excellent investigative writers. Marshall is an editor at the San Francisco Chronicle and former editor of Inquiry magazine and Parapolitics/USA. Scott is professor of English at UC Berkeley and has written several books and some major articles on U.S. foreign policy and the Dallas and Watergate conspiracies. Hunter was the editor of Israeli Foreign Affairs, a monthly that was the best English-language source available for keeping track of Israel's far-flung intrigues and obscure policy interests.

Each of these writers has been in the business for a long time and undoubtedly has an impressive personal library of books and clippings. It shows in their writing style, which tends to draw together a large array of names and connections. Because of the heavy footnoting, this makes the book useful as a source that in turn can point to other, more obscure sources not indexed in NameBase.


National Security Archive, 1755 Massachusetts Ave NW, Suite 500, Washington DC 20036, Tel: 202-797-0882, Fax: 202-387-6315. The Chronology: The Documented Day-by-Day Account of the Secret Military Assistance to Iran and the Contras. New York: Warner Books, 1987. 678 pages.

The National Security Archive, founded in 1985 by Scott Armstrong, is a nonprofit project of the Fund for Peace. Armstrong left in 1989 under pressure from Fund for Peace executive director Nina Solarz, who was apparently under pressure from the Ford Foundation, their major financial backer. NSA continues its good work today, despite the involvement of too many DC hardball players with different agendas. In 1989 they had an annual budget of $1.5 million and a staff of 35. NSA specializes in collecting (through FOIA litigation and other means), collating, indexing, and disseminating (to public libraries and researchers), documents from U.S. government agencies that relate to foreign policy and national security.

The Chronology draws on some government documents, but this is mostly a compilation of Iran-contra tidbits from the media, beginning in 1980 and getting progressively more detailed through 1986 -- a year that takes 400 pages of the book. It is valuable for researchers who need to understand how specific events may have fit into a larger pattern. There is a complete index and no conclusion, which somehow seems appropriate five years later.


Robinson, William I. A Faustian Bargain: U.S. Intervention in the Nicaraguan Elections and American Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War Era. Boulder CO: Westview Press, 1992. 310 pages (includes 50 pages of endnotes and 48 pages of documents).

With access to sources in both Managua and the U.S., William Robinson presents the first case study of the 1988-1990 campaign and elections in Nicaragua. The story began when U.S. intelligence worried that the CIA's stigma had blunted its capacity to intervene effectively in foreign affairs. In 1983 Congress gave the wolf a new suit of clothes by funding a "quasi- governmental institute" with a nice name to channel money to foreign operations through some of the CIA's old conduits. The "National Endowment for Democracy" emphasizes democratic participation, but essentially it purchases access for political parties that parrot U.S. interests. In Nicaragua, NED channeled millions through an array of cutouts and high- powered political strategists, for a spending level of about $20 per voter (George Bush spent less than $4 per voter in his own 1988 campaign). If a foreign country intervened at the same level in one of our elections, we might call it an "invasion" but we wouldn't call it "democracy."

William I. Robinson is a former investigative journalist, a research associate at the Center for International Studies in Managua, and a Ph.D. candidate in Latin American studies at the University of New Mexico.


Sklar, Holly. Washington's War on Nicaragua. Boston: South End Press, 1988. 472 pages.

This is one of the most comprehensive, well-documented treatments of U.S. policy in Nicaragua from Carter through the Reagan years. It includes official policies and activities as well as those of the quasi-private cutouts and the right-wing support network. Then there's gun and drug running, contra atrocities, William Casey and the CIA, Oliver North's enterprise, Congressional opposition, domestic surveillance of U.S. Sandinista supporters, the psywar media campaign, and finally the Iran- contra scandal. There are almost 1500 end notes and a bibliography with 143 sources.

Terrell, Jack (with Ron Martz). Disposable Patriot: Revelations of a Soldier in America's Secret Wars. Bethesda MD: National Press Books, 1992. 480 pages.

In 1984 Jack Terrell was a would-be Rambo with a high IQ and a criminal record. He was bored with his life so he bullshitted his way into Civilian Military Assistance, a motley collection of adventurers and misfits based in Alabama who felt neat when they were in khaki. This association provided him with spook credentials and trips to Honduras, where he won the confidence of everyone from contra commander Enrique Bermudez to the Miskito Indians. Soon he was escorted back to Miami because he was becoming too visible.

Terrell was licking his wounds in New Orleans when a mysterious "Mr. Smith" called and offered him a chance at revenge. A new adventure at last! "Mr. Smith" was a deep throat from inside the intelligence community who was part of a mysterious group working to expose the secret war. He convinced Terrell to move to Washington, where Terrell ended up at the liberal International Center for Development Policy. Not only did ICDP provide a convenient feed for Mr. Smith's leaks to Terrell, but they also paid Terrell a salary. In turn, the exposure allowed ICDP to enjoy a magnificent increase in tax-deductible contributions. Everyone was happy except Oliver North, who launched a secret campaign against Terrell. Eventually Terrell concluded that many on the DC left were just as self-serving and duplicitous as the contras were corrupt, and settled back to write this book.


Toobin, Jeffrey. Opening Arguments -- A Young Lawyer's First Case: United States v. Oliver North. New York: Penguin Books, 1992. 374 pages.

Twenty-six-year-old Jeffrey Toobin was fresh out of Harvard Law, and despite his chosen profession he somehow viewed Washington DC as a case of players in white hats v. players in black hats. He had fond memories of watching the young lawyers on television who toted fat briefcases for the Watergate prosecutor, and now he too had a chance to join Lawrence Walsh's team and kick some black-hat ass. Toobin was assigned to the group that built the case against Oliver North. During much of his 15 months on the staff of the Office of Independent Counsel, Toobin and others deliberately isolated themselves from news reports on Iran-contra, as they knew that they would have to demonstrate to Judge Gerhard Gesell that their evidence was not tainted by events that occurred subsequent to North's grant of immunity from Congress. That alone should have convinced Toobin that the world consists mostly of gray hats.

Walsh's team got nowhere in their attempts to get information out of the CIA. In a final bizarre twist, even after the CIA cleared this book in late 1989 without requiring changes, Walsh himself threatened Toobin's publisher with criminal action, and dispatched some nosey FBI agents in an effort to stop it. Washington in particular, it would seem, is more often a case of black hats v. other black hats.


Tower Commission Report (Report of the President's Special Review Board). February 26, 1987. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington DC 20402.

The Iran-contra scandal was at full steam when President Reagan appointed a Special Review Board on December 1, 1986, consisting of John Tower, Edmund Muskie, and Brent Scowcroft. They hired 24 staff people and interviewed 50 named individuals and three unnamed CIA officials, along with a "substantial number of additional interviews conducted by the staff." Oliver North and John Poindexter declined to appear, and the Commission lacked subpoena power.

The report was expected to be a whitewash, but it was surprisingly critical of Reagan's "management style" and provided one of the first official confirmations of the NSC's arms-for-hostages policy. Internal memos and PROF notes (computer mail) between the major players were quoted in detail, and a major portion of North's private funding network was exposed. The best measure of the Tower Commission's success can be seen in the fact that their report, a ten-week effort by three "safe" appointees, had more impact than the Congressional report released on November 18, 1987, which absorbed the best efforts of both the Senate and House and a combined staff of 100 lawyers, investigators, accountants and auditors. One difference is that Congress went for the TV cameras, while the Tower Commission didn't waste any time with Fawn Hall.


Walsh, Lawrence E. Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters. Volume III: Comments and Materials Submitted by Individuals and Their Attorneys Responding to Volume I of the Final Report. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 3, 1993. 1150 pages.

In Volume I of the $60 three-volume set, Lawrence Walsh and his staff spend 572 pages explaining, as required by law, why it took seven years and $40 million, and what was accomplished. Walsh concludes that "the governmental problems presented by Iran/contra are not those of rogue operations, but rather those of Executive Branch efforts to evade congressional oversight." Walsh's investigation was undeniably denuded by grants of immunity from Congress, by the refusal of Attorney General Richard Thornburgh to declassify information, and of course by the Bush pardons. Volume II consists "Indictments, Plea Agreements, Interim Reports to the Congress, and Administrative Matters" in 785 pages. A "brief classified report" was submitted by Walsh as Volume III, containing references to material still classified. This is different from the Volume III that we read, where those named by Walsh are given the right of response. The clerk of the court published 46 responses in the form that they were received, complete with cover letters and addresses. Richard R. Miller gets our award for the most interesting submission: 97 pages that include correspondence and accounting ledgers from some of the off-shore corporations set up to support the contras.

Woodward, Bob. Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987. 543 pages.

This is partially a biography of former CIA Director William Casey, but is not exhaustive or analytical in this respect and is not considered a biography. The book is famous for its corny ending, where Woodward claims to have slipped past tight security and quotes Casey on his deathbed as saying, "I believed." Most reviewers don't.

Other portions of the book contain numerous nuggets of interest to historians, but it treats its stated subject entirely unsystematically -- various bits and pieces about each "war" are scattered here and there. A hazard of star status, one suspects, is that anything you write makes the bestseller lists. The temptation to throw a couple years of random notes in the air, and string them together in the order in which they are picked up, must be overpowering.

At his best Woodward provides a look at the people who make political news and a description of the policy-making process at Washington's rarefied heights: the intense rivalries and suspicions, the scheming, the personal ambition, the cover-your-ass of bureaucrats everywhere. It's not a pretty picture, but it's where the book makes a contribution. -- William Blum


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