Oliver L. North was a key figure in the Iran-Contra affair. He is a
decorated Marine, a best-selling author, the founder of a small business, an
inventor with three U.S. patents, a syndicated columnist, and the host of "War
Stories" on the Fox News Channel. He claims his most important accomplishment
is being "the husband of one and the father of four." North also is the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance¹, a non-profit foundation that provides scholarships for the children of service members killed in action. North continues to write and speak out in defense of America's soldiers. He also is the chairman and co-founder of Guardian Technologies International, Inc., a Virginia-based manufacturer of body armor for law enforcement personnel.
Early career and family
North was born on October 7, 1943, in San Antonio, Texas, and was reared a Roman Catholic in upstate Philmont, New York. He attended the State University of New York at Brockport before enrolling in the U.S. Naval Academy, from which he was graduated in 1968. North served as a Marine for 22 years, including service in the Vietnam War. He was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and two Purple Hearts.
Assigned to the National Security Council staff in the Ronald Reagan
administration, Colonel North was the U.S. government's counter-terrorism
coordinator from 1983 to 1986. He was involved in planning the rescue of 804
medical students on the island of Grenada in 1983, and played a major
role in the daring capture of the hijackers of the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985. After helping to plan the 1986 U.S. raid on Muammar Qaddafi's terrorist bases in Libya, North was targeted for assassination by Abu Nidal (on orders from Qaddafi), the infamous terrorist found dead in Baghdad in August 2002. North's award-winning combat news coverage, while he was "embedded" with U.S. Marine and Army units for Fox News during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, won wide applause.
Oliver North has been married to the former Betsy Stuart since 1967, and they
have four children. Seven years into their marriage, Betsy North demanded that he choose between his marriage or the Marine Corps. After counseling, their marriage was saved. North's life in the military and his journey to faith are topics he speaks candidly about: How to balance the demands of a career with family obligations, faith, and civic responsibilities.
North became famous or infamous, depending on one's political viewpoint owing to his association in the Iran-Contra Affair. He was the central coordinator of the illegal sale of weapons via intermediaries to Iran, with the profits being channeled to aid the Contra rebel group in Nicaragua.
According to the National Security Archive, in an August 23, 1986 email to John Poindexter², North described a meeting with a representative of Panama's strongman, Manuel Noriega.
"You will recall that over the years Manuel Noriega in Panama and I have developed a fairly good relationship," North wrote. 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 told Poindexter that Noriega could assist with sabotage against the Sandinistas. He suggested paying Noriega $1 million from "Project Democracy" capital raised from the sale of U.S. arms to Iran for the Panamanian leader's help with destroying Nicaraguan economic investments.
In November 1986, North was fired by President Reagan for his involvement in the affair, and in July 1987, North was summoned to testify before televised hearings of a joint Congressional committee formed to investigate Iran-Contra. During the hearings, he admitted that he had lied to Congress, for which he was later charged, among other things. He defended his actions by stating that he believed in the goal of aiding the Contras, whom he saw as "freedom fighters," and said he viewed the illegal Iran-Contra scheme as a "neat idea."
Indicted on 16 felony counts, North was tried in 1988 for his activities while on the National Security Council. On May 4, 1989, he was convicted of three: accepting an illegal gratuity, aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a congressional inquiry, and destruction of documents. He was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell on July 5, 1989, to a three-year suspended prison term, two years probation, $150,000 in fines, and 1,200 hours of community service.
Conviction notwithstanding, a three-judge appeals panel overturned North's conviction two weeks later, in advance of further proceedings on the grounds
that his public testimony may have prejudiced his right to a fair trial. The
U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case, and Judge Gesell dismissed the charges on September 16, 1991, after hearings on the immunity issue, on a
motion of the independent counsel. Essentially, North's convictions were
overturned because he had been granted limited immunity for his Congressional
testimony, and that testimony was deemed to have influenced witnesses at his
Later life and political career
In 1994, North lost a bid in Virginia as a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia endorsed Marshall Coleman instead of North. One reason may be that just before the election, former first lady Nancy Reagan informed the press that North had lied to her husband in discussions about Iran-Contra. North's candidacy was the subject of a 1996 documentary, "A Perfect Candidate."
North authored several best-selling books, including Under Fire, One More Mission, War Stories Operation Iraqi Freedom, Mission Compromised, and The Jericho Sanction. He also is a syndicated columnist, the host of the television show "War Stories with Oliver North," and a frequent commentator on "Hannity and Colmes" on the Fox News Channel. In addition, he is busy on the lecture circuit.
Political and historical legacy
North was a controversial actor on the American political stage, with supporters accepting his ardent defense of his actions, and critics disapproving of his breaking the law. Despite North's history, he receives support from some conservatives. Some believe that North was a scapegoat in the Iran-Contra Affair, and that senior Reagan administration officials laid the blame disproportionately on him. Others hold the view that North's goal of defeating communist expansion was just, and the way he tried to achieve it is irrelevant. Some appreciate his advocacy of conservative political causes.
North's critics argue that in a democracy and a nation of laws, one man cannot
act above the law, regardless of how righteous he believes his goals to be. Some point out that his activities substantially contributed to an attempted
overthrow of a sovereign, democratically elected government as well as terrorism in Nicaragua and that they aided Iran, a nation hostile to the United States.
Seemingly, the answer hinges upon the questions: What did the president
know, and when did he know it? It could not be answered by anyone but the president and his closest aides. Admiral Poindexter, the national security adviser and loyal Reagan advocate, was the only person in a position to implicate the president, but testified that he never actually told the president about the Iran-Contra deal. On diverting funds from arms sales, during Iran-Contra hearings on July 15, 1987, he said, "I made a very deliberate decision not to ask the president, so that I could insulate him from the decision and provide some future deniability for the president."
Poindexter's adept denial both liberated the president from the threat of
impeachment and freed Congress from the duty of impeaching him. "By allowing the actions of those who had served the administration to be criminalized, the administration itself was able to back away from the real associated issues," North wrote. "This was fine with Congress, and a gift for the press."
There are obvious lessons to be learned from the affair. The Reagan administration eventually won the Cold War. Were the deceits and hypocrisy foisted upon the American people ultimately the triumph of pragmatism over law?
¹Web page for the Freedom Alliance
² John Poindexter was National Security Adviser under Ronald Reagan. He was convicted of conspiracy, lying to Congress, defrauding the government, and
destroying evidence in the Iran-Contra scandal.
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The Oliver North File
The Oliver North File: His Diaries, E-Mail, and Memos on the Kerry Report, Contras and Drugs National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 113 February 26, 2004 For further information Contact Peter Kornbluh: 202/994-7116 WashinOliver North File: His Diaries, E-Mail, and Memos on the Kerry Report, Contras and Drugs National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 113 February 26, 2004 For further information Contact Peter Kornbluh: 202/994-7116 Washington D.C ...
Walsh Iran / Contra Report - Chapter 2 United States v. Oliver L. North
1989). 18 North, 910 F.2d at 898-903. The North Trial Public interest in the North case remained high, despite months of pre-trial proceedings and three weeks of jury selection. After the jury was finally sworn in on February 21, 1989, there were ...