Iran Contra Scandal Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Iran-Contra Affair. Specifically, it will discuss what the Iran-Contra Affairs were, how they developed, how they were discovered, the Congressional hearings, and the aftermath of the affairs. The Iran-Contra Affair was really a series of covert operations initiated by the Reagan administration and carried out first by the CIA and then the NSC. These affairs were investigated by Congressional committees after they became public, and were as detrimental to the government as the Watergate affair, because they subverted the Congress and the Constitution.


In reality, there was more than one Iran-Contra Affair, but the entire turn of events has become known as simply the "Iran-Contra Affair." In fact, the scandal surrounding the arms deal to Iran, and to the Central American contras were many different undercover operations, led by a variety of members of the National Security Staff. The first event to take place in the affairs was the support of the Anti-Sandinista government in Nicaragua by the Reagan administration in 1981. Initially, the President approved covert operations in Nicaragua by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to undermine the Sandinista government, which was led by a "Castro-like" dictator, and was pro-Communist. The operation supported the "contras," who were different groups of counterrevolutionaries who opposed the Sandinistas from several different strategic areas around Nicaragua. In 1982, Congress got wind of the support to the Anti-Sandinistas, and passed the Boland Amendment, which basically said it was illegal for the CIA or the Department of Defense to use government funds to overthrow the government of Nicaragua. After signing the bill passing the law, President Reagan said, "We are complying with the law, the Boland Amendment, which is the law... But what I might personally wish or what our government might wish still would not justify us violating the law of the land,'" (Draper 18). However, by 1983, the CIA was again embroiled in plans to stockpile weapons for the contras before the funds dried up, and these subterfuges continued for over three years, with the CIA attempting to support surrounding contras without appearing to support them, and supplying weapons and other materials without appearing to supply them. To circumvent the law, the Reagan administration began to use the National Security Council (NSC) staff as go-betweens in the contra support. Thus, the CIA was not involved, and technically the Borland Amendment was not being broken (Draper 1-22).

Eventually, NSC staffer Oliver North, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps, became a key figure in the scandal. North began sending guns and other materials to Panama's military leader, General Manuel Noriega, who promised to get rid of the Sandinistas if the U.S. would help "clean up his image" (Kornbluh and Byrne 31). It seems Noriega was a notorious drug smuggler and arms dealer, but the U.S. trusted him enough to agree to pay him nearly one million dollars in exchange for several terrorist activities aimed at the Sandinistan government. The payments never took place, and neither did the terrorism, because the scandal broke into public view before they could occur. After the scandal became known, Noriega suddenly became an "enemy" of the American people, and was eventually caught and brought back to the United States as a political prisoner under the Bush administration.

Finally, a devious plan was developed to gain the necessary funds to help the contras, while attempting to placate the Iranian government and the hostage takers in Iran. Funds from the sale of munitions to Iran would be used to fund the Anti-Sandinista movement in Nicaragua. The CIA was not using its own funds, so the Borland Amendment was not a problem, and the covert actions were both secret, so they would keep both actions from gaining public attention and/or censure. When these actions by the administration became known, many felt it was a clear misuse of presidential influence and power, and went against Constitutional law. As one expert noted,

U.S. national-security operatives' use of funds from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran to finance and field an army, and fight a war without Congressional appropriations or public knowledge, represented the most serious danger of all. As Congress concluded, "That is the path to dictatorship" (Kornbluh and Byrne 32).


The Iran-Contra scandal first became public knowledge in 1986, when a Lebanese newspaper broke the information of the Iranian arms deal. The Reagan administration was forced to acknowledge the deal, and heads began to roll in the White House staff. John Poindexter was the head of the NSC, (National Security Advisor), and he was the one who actually commanded the operations that raised the funds for the contras. His staffer, Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North was in charge of the day-to-day operations of the fund raising. When the deals became public, Poindexter resigned within a month, and North was fired. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger also became implicated in the affairs, along with several other administration and NSC staff.


One of the most important questions to come out of the Iran-Contra Affair is: just how much did President Reagan know about the dealing with Iran and the contras?

Ultimately, both President Reagan and Vice-president Bush were found to have had no knowledge of the cover up, and were not found guilty of any crime. However, it is clear that members extremely high up in the administration knew about and even ordered the various dealings that melted down into the Iran-Contra Affair. To bypass the Congress, the public, and the Constitution was a grave misappropriation of power, and clearly illustrates how dangerous this misappropriation can be in the wrong hands. Oliver North maintains both Reagan and Bush both had at least some knowledge of the intricacies of the plotting of the various affairs.

Clearly, President Reagan knew about the arms sales to Iran, as he issued two retroactive Findings which approved the sales in December 1985 and January 1986. These Findings only approved the arms sales, and said nothing about diverting the funds to the contras, however (Sobel 290). It will probably never be known how much President Reagan and Vice-president Bush actually knew about the affairs unless they actually confess their knowledge someday. Reagan's Alzheimer's disease seems to indicate a confession from him will never come, and it is difficult to tell what former President Bush will ever say about the affairs.


Congressional hearings on the Iran-Contra Affair began in 1987, and several different committees looked into the cover up, including a committee appointed by the president called the Tower Commission, after its' leader, Senator John Tower. Many of the hearings were televised nationally, and Oliver North became some sort of a folk hero as he repeatedly "stretched the truth" about what happened during the affairs and the attempts to cover them up. Shredding documents became an art form as North testified about the many documents he shredded as the affairs became known. Ultimately, the Congressional hearings led to criminal charges against several of the Iran-Contra participants, and some recommendations as to what to do to keep a similar situation from happening again, but for all the time spent on investigation, very little actually came out of the hearings. Congress did not radically change laws regarding cover-ups and covert operations, and most of the participants were not punished, or were pardoned by the president. For all the time and scandal surrounding the affairs initially, the aftermath seemed to be somewhat of anti-climatic.


The Iran-contra affair is certainly one of the most notorious acts in United States governmental history. Many critics have likened it to the Watergate Scandal of the 1970s Nixon administration in terms of importance and sheer ignorance. One writer noted, "The Iran-contra affair raised serious questions about the nature and scope…

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