Iran-Contra Affair Began More Than Two Years Ago
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Iran-Contra affair, which has plagued the Reagan White House since November, began more than two years ago as the administration sought ways to win the release of American hostages in Lebanon, according to the Tower commission report released Thursday.
The 185-page document traces how concern about the hostages led the administration into a poorly planned and executed deal that placed it at the mercy of foreign governments and international arms brokers who saw in the deal chances to advance their own interests.
It paints a detailed picture of how stated U.S. policies to combat terrorism were trampled, how large sums of money were diverted to destinations still unknown and how Iran received weapons and intelligence that may have altered the balance in its seven-year war with Iraq.
Here is a summary of the primary events chronicled by the commission’s report, many of which have been previously reported in some form in news accounts or by administration statements and congressional investigators:
Jan. 23, 1984 - Five years after an Islamic revolution deposed the shah of Iran, a strong U.S. ally, the administration places Iran on a list of countries subject to strict export controls because of what the administration finds to be its continuing support of international terrorism.
March 16, 1984 - William Buckley, the political officer of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, is kidnapped. Buckley was later identified as the CIA’s station chief in Beirut. U.S. officials confirmed later that he was killed by his captors.
May 8, 1984 - American Presbyterian pastor Benjamin T. Weir is kidnapped on a West Beirut street.
October 1984 - Congress, inflamed by reports of CIA involvment in the mining of Nicaraguan harbors, approves the so-called Boland amendment to bar military aid, ″directly or indirectly,″ to the Contra rebels. An NSC aide, Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, begins to take on an increasingly central role in the administration’s relations with the Contras as he turns to non-government intermediaries to handle many of the tasks for the Contra supply operation and presses private fund-raising for the Contras. The anti-Sandinista forces continue fighting.
Summer 1984 - Iranian purchasing agents put out a call for weapons which are on the ″contraband″ list for international trading, including TOW anti- tank missiles. By November, Iranians with connections to their government are suggesting a link between weapons sales and release of U.S. hostages. Among those involved in early talks are Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian dealmaker regarded by the CIA as untrustworthy; Theodore Shackley, a former CIA officer; and Manucher Hashemi, a former official in the Iranian secret police. Shackley says a hostage swap is proposed, but turned down by the State Department.
Dec. 3, 1984 - Peter Kilburn, American University librarian in Beirut, fails to report to work, and the extremist group Islamic Jihad says he has been kidnapped.
Dec. 14, 1984 - A draft national security directive finds the United States powerless to influence events in Iran and largely recommends continuation of current polices, including barring transfer of weapons to Iran.
Jan. 8, 1985 - The Rev. Lawrence Martin Jenco, a Catholic priest, is kidnapped in Lebanon, where he was director of Catholic Relief Services.
January, 1985 - A series of meetings begins among Israeli officials and Iranian arms merchants about the hostage situation and Iran’s need for weapons. The meetings include Ghorbanifar, Israeli arms merchant Yaacov Nimrodi, Amiram Nir, anti-terrorism adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, and Adolph Schwimmer, a Peres adviser and arms merchant.
March 16, 1985 - Terry Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press, is kidnapped in Beirut.
April 11, 1985 - North, in a memo to McFarlane, says that since U.S. aid expired, the Contras have received $24.5 million from other sources, of which $17 million has gone for arms and combat.
May 4 or 5, 1985 - Michael Ledeen, a National Security Council terrorism consultant, travels to Israel and meets with Peres. They discuss the two countries’ intelligence capabilities regarding Iran, and Peres tells Ledeen that Israel will not sell arms to Iran without explicit U.S. approval. He asks for national security adviser Robert McFarlane’s assent. Ledeen says McFarlane gave his approval for ″that, and nothing else.″
May 17, 1985 - Graham Fuller, CIA national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, submits a memo to CIA Director William Casey titled, ″Toward a Policy on Iran.″ It finds an ″urgent need″ to develop new policy moves to counter what is seen as superior Soviet potential for influence, and argues that current policies denying arms are counterproductive. The arguments evolve into a draft national security decision directive encouraging the United States to meet Iranian arms needs as a way of shutting out Soviet influence. Secretary of State George Shultz and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger register strong objections, but a turbulent atmosphere because of kidnappings and the hijacking in June of TWA Flight 847 keeps the idea alive.
May 28, 1985 - David Jacobsen, administrator of American University Hospital in Beirut, is kidnapped.
June 5, 1985 - Shultz complains about Ledeen’s contacts with Israel, warning that ″Israel’s agenda is not the same as ours.″
June 9, 1985 - Thomas Sutherland, acting dean of agriculture at the American University of Beirut, is kidnapped.
June 1985 - Congress approves $27 million in non-lethal ″humanitarian″ aid to the Contras through March 31, 1986.
July 3, 1985 - David Kimche, director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, talks with McFarlane in Washington about the possibility of opening a dialogue. Kimche suggests that a transfer of arms might be involved, and that it could lead to release of hostages. McFarlane later takes the message to Reagan, who at the same time is making frequent strong public statements condemning Iran as a terrorist nation and vowing never to deal with terrorists. Reagan’s questions indicate his primary interest is in release of the hostages, McFarlane later reports.
Aug. 30, 1985 - The first planeload of U.S.-made weapons is sent from Israel to Tehran, with Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi providing ″bridge″ financing for the deal, involving 100 TOW missiles. McFarlane says Reagan gave oral approval prior to the shipment and agreed to sell replacement weapons to Israel. White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan disputes that, saying Reagan did not give prior approval, and the president himself, after changing his testimony, concedes, ″I don’t remember - period.″
Sept. 14, 1985 - A second shipment, of 408 missiles, is sent to Tehran. There is evidence some of these were later returned as defective.
Sept. 15, 1985 - American hostage the Rev. Benjamin Weir, is released, but word of his freedom is withheld for four days in hopes other hostages will be released.
Oct. 3, 1985 - The terrorist group Islamic Jihad says it had killed Buckley.
November 1985 - Israel sends a shipment of HAWK anti-aircraft missiles to Tehran via a third country, not identified in the report but believed to be Portugal. But the shipment is held up, and North calls on the CIA to provide an airplane to complete the trip. The HAWKs are later returned after the Iranians complain that they are obsolete.
Dec. 4, 1985 - McFarlane resigns as national security adviser. According to his testimony, he advises Reagan that Iran is not yet ripe for a diplomatic opening and that the arms shipments should be suspended. Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter succeeds him as Reagan’s adviser. On the same day, North writes a long memo to Poindexter noting that the HAWK shipment has created distrust by the Iranians of the United States. He adds: ″We are now so far down the road that stopping what has been started could have more serious repercussions,″ including execution of hostages.
January 1986 - North begins receiving the first of 15 encryption devices from the National Security Agency which he uses to establish a private communications network. The network includes Secord and a Central American CIA field officer. Messages come in asking North to direct where and when to make arms drops for the Contras.
Jan. 11, 1986 - Ghorbanifar takes, and fails, a CIA-administered lie- detector test. He is described as ″clearly a fabricator, and wheeler- dealer who has undertaken activities prejudicial to U.S. interests.″
Jan. 17, 1986 - After White House meetings earlier in the month, Reagan signs a secret intelligence finding authorizing CIA participation in the sales and ordering that the process be kept secret from Congress. Poindexter asks the CIA to prepare intelligence data to give to Iran as further proof of ″good faith.″
February 1986 - The first direct shipment of arms from Pentagon stocks is sent to Iran. The shipment includes 500 TOW missiles, carried aboard two Southern Air Transport planes that leave from Kelly Air Force Base in Texas and go via Israel. The flight is coordinated by retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard Secord, who also has been linked to Contra resupply operations. Also involved is Albert Hakim, an Iranian-born Secord associate North described as ″VP of one of the European companies set up to handle aid to resistance movement.″
Feb. 25, 1986 - Reagan formally asks Congress to resume military aid to the Contras by providing $100 million through Sept. 30, 1987.
March 1986 - Ghorbanifar, on behalf of the Iranians, demands ever- increasing amounts of weapons as the price of helping free hostages, and North keeps the United States in the deal. A CIA official later says, ″the real thing that was driving this was that there was in early ’86, late ’85, a lot of pressure from the hostage families to meet with the president and there were articles in the magazines about the forgotten hostages.″
April 1986 - In the first clear link between the arms deal and the Contras, North writes a memo outlining plans for using $12 million in profits from the Iran arms sales to be used for Contra aid. The situation in Afghanistan, where the U.S. also is aiding anti-Soviet rebels, is discussed in the memo.
April 17, 1986 - Kilburn is found murdered along with two British citizens.
May 12, 1986 - President Reagan is briefed by Poindexter on plans for a trip to Iran by McFarlane, now a private citizen. North’s plans include a note that the ″concept″ is to provide ″incentives″ for Iran to intervene on behalf of hostage release. Reagan approves the trip three days later.
May 25, 1986 - North, McFarlane and others fly to Tehran from Tel Aviv with a shipment of HAWK spare parts, expecting that more hostages will be freed. But they leave after three days of ″marathon negotiations″ when it appears no progress is being made toward hostage release. The Iranians are reportedly upset because the plane did not carry all the weapons they believed they were to receive. McFarlane returns to tell Reagan that there is little chance the deal will work. White House officials begin discussing whether to try using force to free the hostages. It was on this trip that North told McFarlane about the diversion of funds to the Contras, but McFarlane says he didn’t question the arrangement or mention it to anyone else.
June 10, 1986 - McFarlane is worried about the pressures on North, and writes in the NSC’s secure computer network a message to Poindexter: ″I don’t (know) what you do about it but in Ollie’s interest I would get him transferred or sent to Bethesda (Naval Hospital) for disability review board...″
June 1986 - Talks on an arms-for-hostages exchange continue with Ghorbanifar, who complains that the weapons already shipped are overpriced. A two-month stalemate ensues.
Summer 1986 - North asks a private party, believed to be Texas millionaire H. Ross Perot, to deposit $2 million in a Swiss bank account to buy the release of Buckley and one other American hostage. (Perot has said he agreed but the deal fell through for reasons he did not learn.)
July 26, 1986 - Jenco is freed, and Poindexter attributes it to McFarlane’s Tehran trip. Casey says the event is proof of Ghorbanifar’s usefulness.
July 1986 - A previous $27 million in ″humanitarian″ Contra aid is running out and Elliott Abrams, the State Department’s top official for Central America, solicits $10 million in aid to the Contras from the Sultan of Brunei. The money is to help bridge the time until a new $100 million aid package from Congress can begin to flow. A CIA official says he set up a Bahamas bank account to receive the Brunei money but later learns North has set up a separate account in Geneva where the money apparently went and ″disappeared.″
July 29, 1986 - Vice President George Bush meets in Jerusalem with Nir, the Israeli counterterrorism adviser, who briefs Bush on the effort to get the hostages out. Nir says Israel ″activated the channel ... gave a front to the operation ... provided a physical base; provided aircraft,″ and says the dealings are with ″the most radical elements″ in Iran. ″They can deliver and the moderates can’t.″
July 30, 1986 - Reagan gives the go-ahead for shipment of HAWK spare parts to Iran. On Aug. 3, 12 pallets of parts are delivered, with logistical assistance from Israel. Ghorbanifar is now being excluded from the dealing, and begins to complain that money from the deals is being diverted.
Sept. 2, 1986 - U.S. officials have by now established a second channel into Iran through an unnamed relative of a government official who has ties to the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Rafsanjani. North proposes using the new channel to pursue the arms-for-hostages deal. The issues are discussed with Reagan on Sept. 9.
Sept. 19-20 - The ″second channel″ into Iran comes to Washington and meets with North, Secord and former CIA official George Cave. At the meeting, a Voice of America broadcast editorial is arranged as a signal of good faith by the United States.
Sept. 9, 1986 - A North note indicates that, after checking first with Abrams, the State Department’s top Central America offical, he telephoned Costa Rican President Arias and threatened to cut off U.S. aid unless Arias squelches plans to reveal the existence of a clandestine airstrip used for Contra support. Poindexter later tells North, ″You did the right thing, but let’s try to keep it quiet.″ Abrams denies he went along with any plan to threaten Arias, and doubts that North actually made the call.
Sept. 26, 1986 - North notes that after broadcast of the VOA editorial, the second Iranian channel immediately deposits $7 million into a Swiss bank account, the number of which had been given him by North. More HAWK parts and TOW missiles are prepared for shipment.
September 1986 - Soviet bloc arms captured by Israel are loaded onto a ship for eventual transfer to the Contras, but the ship is recalled to Haifa after it appears the Iran arms story will become public.
Oct. 1, 1986 - CIA official Charles Allen becomes suspicious that money is being diverted to Nicaragua’s Contras and goes to deputy CIA director Robert Gates with his concerns. He tells Gates that Ghorbanifar is angry and the operation will be exposed if something isn’t done.
Oct. 5, 1986 - North flies to Frankfurt, West Germany, for a meeting with the second Iranian channel, who says he can obtain the release of one hostage in return for 500 TOWs. Also on this date, a cargo plane carrying supplies for the Contras is shot down over Nicaragua, and American crewman Eugene Hasenfus is taken captive by the Sandinista government.
Oct. 7, 1986 - Canadian businessman Roy M. Furmark, a business acquaintance of CIA Director Casey, tells Casey investors in the arms deal are unhappy because they are not being paid. Allen tells Casey about his suspicions that money has been diverted to Central America.
Oct. 17, 1986 - Congress gives final approval to Reagan’s request for $100 million in military aid for the Contras.
Oct. 21, 1976 - Edward Tracy, a book salesman, is kidnapped in Beirut.
Nov. 2, 1986 - Jacobsen is freed.
Nov. 4, 1986 - A pro-Syrian news magazine in Beirut, Al-Shira’a, breaks the news that McFarlane had flown to Iran to meet and negotiate with officials there.
Nov. 5, 1986 - The White House reaffirms that the U.S. ban on arms sales to Iran has not changed. Poindexter, North, McFarlane and others begin to prepare a chronology of the initiative. The chronology, completed two weeks later, contains conflicting information and errors, suggesting the possibility of at least a partial coverup aimed at obscuring the roles of administration higher- ups.
Nov. 13, 1986 - In a televised speech, Reagan defends the diplomatic initiative to Iran and repeats that the administration has not bargained with terrorists or sold arms for hostages. He says the weapons sales amounted only to ″small amounts of spare parts and defensive weapons.″
Nov. 19, 1986 - At a news conference, Reagan takes responsibility for the arms transfer and reiterates that there was no arms-for-hostages deal.
(At this point, the Tower commission chronology ends. Here are later details, compiled from investigative documents and press reports:)
Nov. 21, 1986 - Casey briefs the Senate Intelligence Committee on the arms deal, but makes no mention of any diversion of funds. His prepared statement contains omissions and misleading information, some members of the committee believe. North and his secretary, Fawn Hall, reportedly shred, alter and remove documents relevant to the arms deal. White House officials reportedly try to construct a falsified chronology that distances the president and other upper-echelon officials from the initiative.
Nov. 22, 1986 - Justice Department officials, reviewing documents on the Iran arms deal, find evidence that money from the sale has been diverted to aid Nicaraguan rebels. Attorney General Edwin Meese III tells Reagan about the diversion two days later.
Nov. 25, 1986 - Reagan goes on television to announce that North had been fired and that Poindexter resigned. Meese discloses that $10 million to $30 million in arms-sale profits were diverted to the Contras. He says the money was deposited in a numbered Swiss bank account.
Nov. 26, 1986 - Reagan sets up a special commission, chaired by former Sen. John Tower, R-Texas, to review the role of the National Security Council.
Dec. 1, 1986 - The Senate Intelligence Committee begins inquiry into the matter by questioning McFarlane.
Dec. 2, 1986 - North exercises his Fifth Amendment rights again self incrimination when questioned by the committee.
Dec. 3, 1986 - Poindexter takes the Fifth Amendment before the committee. Vice President George Bush says ″mistakes were made″ in the clandestine Iran operation.
Dec. 4, 1986 - House and Senate leaders announce an agreement to form special Watergate-style committees in each chamber to investigate the Iran- Contra matter. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger says Reagan acted on ″very bad advice″ in approving Iran arms deal.
Dec. 10, 1986 - Peres says arms sales to Iran were an American idea and Israel became involved only at Washington’s request.
Dec. 12, 1986 - The Justice Department acknowledges that it briefly sidetracked an FBI probe of the Contras, involving the operations of a Miami- based cargo airline that has been linked to the arms shipments to Iran and efforts to aid the Contras.
Dec. 15, 1986 - Vice President Bush denies that he ever was told about aid to the Contras and makes public a chronology of his contacts and those of his national security adviser with a former CIA official who was supplying the Contras. Casey is hospitalized after suffering a brain seizure. The Swiss government freezes bank accounts linked by U.S. investigators to the scandal.
Dec. 16, 1986 - Senate leaders name Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, to chair their 11-member select committee investigating the Iran arms sale-Contra connection. Reagan urges Congress to grant immunity to North and Poindexter to force them to testify. White House chief of staff Donald Regan tells the Senate Intelligence Committee that no one was ever authorized to divert money from the arms sales to the Contras.
Dec. 17, 1986 - Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., is named to head the House select committee.
Dec. 18, 1986 - Senate investigators say they are unable to trace the money going from the arms sales to the Contras. Casey undergoes surgery for removal of a cancerous brain tumor.
Dec. 19, 1986 - Lawrence E. Walsh is appointed as an independent council to investigate the deal and both houses of Congress create select investigating committees.
Dec. 26, 1986 - Reagan names outgoing NATO Ambassador David Abshire to coordinate response to probes of the Iran-Contra affair.
Jan. 9, 1987 - The White House releases a memorandum prepared for Reagan in 1986 that draws an unmistakeable link between shipments of U.S. arms to Iran and the release of American hostgaes in Lebanon. The memo also asserted that arms transfers would stop unless all U.S. captives were freed after the first delivery.
Jan. 29, 1987 - The Senate Intelligence Committee releases a report detailing the affair.
Feb. 17-18, 1987 - Gates undergoes sharp questioning about the CIA’s role in the Iran deal during congressional confirmation hearings to replace Casey as director of the agency.
Feb. 26, 1987 - The Tower commission releases its report.