Covert Wars Unraveled through the Iran Contra Scandal Michelle Ewens November 1, 2010
Covert wars operated by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States have enabled much of the expansion of American government throughout the world in the twentieth century. These wars have impacted the lives of Americans in a number of ways. The effects of terrorism are felt by Americans today as US civil liberties are being taken away to counter terrorism. This paper will focus on how terrorism became the new method to enable US expansion across the globe and how the American people are affected by it.
The CIA¶s employments of rebel armies are portrayed as Freedom Fighters in the US, but the tactics that they used to dismantle foreign governments are the same terrorist tactics which many Americans condemn as criminal behavior. The Iran Contra scandal which took place in 1986 received much media attention (McGraw-Hill, 2006). This even sheds some light on how covert war operations have been employed in such places as Nicaragua, Iran, Afghanistan, and El Salvador. Examining the Iran Contra event will also reveal how some of the covert wars were being operated without public knowledge.
The term "Contra" comes from the Spanish la contra, short for la contrarrevolución. It translates as ³counter-revolution´. After Ronald Reagan was elected President of the US in 1981, the Contra Alliance received much financial assistance from the Pentagon. In 1982, Reagan signed the top secret National Security Decision Directive 17 (NSDD-17) which allocated 19 million dollars to recruit the Contras in Nicaragua (Cockburn, 1988). The contras were recruited to fight the Sandinistas. The Sandinistas ruled Nicaragua from 1979-1990. The
party is named after Augusto César Sandino who led the Nicaraguan resistance against the United States occupation of Nicaragua in the 1930s. Considered as extreme leftists by the US government, the Sandinistas devoted resources to improving the quality of life of the Nicaraguan citizen. They also increased funds to healthcare industry and promoted gender equality. Many Nicaraguan women fought for the Sandinista rebel armies which quickly transformed the traditional gender roles of women. The Reagan administration claimed that the Sandinista women were not free or liberated. In the spirit of freedom, the US waged a war against the government of Nicaragua by creating a civil war to dismantle the country.
The Contras were employed to remove the Sandinistas from government. The United States also used other covert psychological operations in destabilizing Nicaragua and waging an informational war against the government. ³These tactics involved paying off journalists, planting disinformation and propaganda, and influencing international coverage of the country. As one U.S. official admitted, the media war in Nicaragua sought to ³demonize the Sandinista government´ in order to ³turn it into a real enemy and threat´ (Robinson, p. 77, 1992).
The US accused the Sandinistas foreign intervention for providing weapons to El Salvador and Iran. El Salvador was in the middle of a civil war which the CIA was funding to rebel armies in Honduras. The CIA distributed to the Nicaraguan citizens ³The Freedom Fighter¶s Manual´ as propaganda to create animosity toward the Sandinistas. This manual gave directions on how to make bombs from household materials, and encouraged people to vandalize government property. The Reagan administration claimed that the manual aimed to persuade the contras to use terror in a less random, more calculated fashion.
In 1984, the CIA released another manual for the freedom fighters which was titled, "Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare". The manual advocated deliberate acts of terrorism on civilians. One section spoke of hiring professional criminals for some activities. Another discussed the creation of "martyrs" by arranging the death of the contras' own men. Other sections dealt with the selective use of violence, as in assassinating Sandinista officials to intimidate village populations. Other sections dealt with the selective use of violence, as in assassinating Sandinista officials to intimidate village populations (CIA, 1984).
Reagan allowed the CIA to support the Contras in hopes that they would overthrow the Sandinistas. The Sandinistas condemned the Contras as terrorists, and human rights organizations expressed serious concerns about the nature and frequency of Contra attacks on civilians. Americas Watch, a human-rights group, accused the Contras in 1985 of crimes against unarmed women and children. ³In March 1985, the International Human Rights Law Group submitted a report based on 145 sworn statements from Nicaraguans showing the Contras guilty of a pattern of brutality against largely unarmed civilians, including rape, torture, kidnappings, mutilation and other abuses´ (Bovard, 2004). Concerned that the war could be depicted as another Vietnam, Reagan claimed that the freedom fighters were battling in the spirit of the American Founding Fathers. (McGraw-Hill, p.953, 2006). The war ended in 1990 when the Contras overthrew the Sandinistas. The change in government resulted in the drastic reduction or suspension of all Nicaraguan social programs, which brought back the burdens characteristic of pre-revolutionary Nicaragua.
In 1982, Congress passed the Boland Agreement which forbade the CIA from funding the Contras either directly or indirectly (Mcgraw-Hill, p 953, 2006). The Reagan administration
defied Congress and continued to back the Contras by raising money from foreign allies and covertly selling arms to Iran. This event will later be known as the Iran Contra Scandal. In 1979, the Shah of Iran was believed to be a US puppet who served American interests. The U.S. supplied weapons, training, and technical knowledge that aided the Shah in modernizing his country. However, the Shah ruled as a dictator and used his secret police, to terrorize those who opposed him. The Iranians rebelled against him to overthrow the government. The US offered the Shah safe haven in America. Iranians demanded that he be returned to Iran to face trial for treason amongst other crimes against humanity. When the US denied them their request, Iranian students took 66 Americans hostage and demanded that the Shah be returned. The hostages were released almost two years later, spawning a criminal investigation into the Reagan administration broken agreement to uphold the Boland Amendment (Bryne, 1999).
Oliver North came into the public spotlight as a result of his participation in the IranContra affair. He was reportedly responsible for the establishment of a covert network used for the purposes of assisting the Contras. According to the National Security Archive, he sent an email to John Poindexter in which he described a meeting with a representative of Panamanian President Manuel Noriega: "You will recall that over the years Manuel Noriega in Panama and I have developed a fairly good relationship", North writes before explaining Noriega's proposal. 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" (Bryne, 1999).
North was fired by President Ronald Reagan, and in July 1987 he was summoned to testify before televised hearings of a joint Congressional committee formed to investigate IranContra. During the hearings, North 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 that he viewed the Iran-Contra scheme as a good idea. Oliver North, who later became referred to as ³Ollie´, was caught on tape laughing about the scheme as he spoke to an Iranian arms dealer on the telephone. National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane also assisted North with this plan to get around the Boland Amendment. McFarlane told Saudi Arabia about their need to continue to aid the Contras covertly and received $30 million in Swiss bank accounts from them as well (Mcgraw-Hill, p. 954, 2006). North was tried in 1988 in relation to his activities while at the National Security Council. He was indicted on sixteen felony counts and on May 4, 1989, he was initially convicted of three: accepting an illegal gratuity, aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a congressional inquiry, and destruction of documents. He was sentenced on July 5, 1989, to a three-year suspended prison term, two years probation, $150,000 in fines, and 1,200 hours community service. North was later acquitted on all charges in 1991 (Isenberg, 1999).
Reagan¶s silence throughout the scandal caused the American public to become suspicious and distrustful of government. When the President finally broke his silence about why he had defied the Boland Amendment he said, ³I let my personal concern for the hostages spill over into the geo- political strategy of reaching out to Iran. I asked so many questions about
the hostages' welfare that I didn't ask enough about the specifics of the total Iran plan´ (Reagan, 1987). The hostages were released during the month that Reagan took office as President in 1980. The scandal was diffused after his speech in 1987 and the matter was closed.
During the same year that the CIA released the freedom fighting manuals, Soviet forces in Afghanistan were on the verge of winning their war in Afghanistan. The Reagan
administration had been aiding the rebel armies in Afghanistan and funneled more than $2 billion in guns and money to the Mujahidin. ³It was the largest covert action program since World War II. Former CIA director Robert Gates said that the U.S. provoked the December 1979 Soviet intervention in Afghanistan by giving military assistance to the mujahedeen´ (Gates, p. 57 1997). The CIA¶s Afghan war was very similar to its covert war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Both sets of contras used terror tactics to attack literacy programs, schools, health clinics, co-ops and other social and economic programs of the government. Both contras were also heavily involved in the drug trade. The anti-Sandinista contras financed much of their terror by moving cocaine into the U.S., while the Afghan contras grew opium for heroine production and trade.
The Reagan administration encountered little opposition to its policy of aiding the Afghan rebels. Congress tripled Reagan's original request for funding to the Afghan rebels by approving more than $250 million a year, over 80 percent of the CIA's annual covert war operations. In the war in Afghanistan there was a clear enemy so the public overwhelmingly approved of it. ³The CIA not only tolerated but assisted the growth of drug-financed antiCommunist assets, to offset the danger of Communist Chinese penetration into Southeast Asia´ (Scott, 2010). The Islamic "jihad" was supported by the United States and
Saudi Arabia with a significant part of the funding generated from the Golden Crescent drug trade. In March 1985, President Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 166 which authorized covert military aid to the mujahedeen in order to defeat Soviet troops in Afghanistan. The new covert U.S. assistance began with a dramatic increase in arms supplies. There the CIA specialists met with Pakistani intelligence officers to help plan operations for the Afghan rebels.
The Pakistan-Afghanistan borders became the world's top heroin producer, supplying
most of the US demands.
Taliban's share of the Afghan opium economy is variously
estimated from $90 to $400 million. But the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that the total Afghan annual earnings from opium and heroin are in the order of from $2.8 to $3.4 billion´ (Scott, 2010). CIA assets again controlled this drug trade. As the Mujahideen guerrillas seized territory inside Afghanistan, they ordered peasants to plant opium as a revolutionary tax. While the CIA was heavily involved in drug trafficking in other parts of the globe, a war on drugs in the US had just been declared by the Reagan administration. Much of the history of US covert war is shrouded in mystery and contradictions. The Iran Contra affair brought attention to what was happening in the world by interrupting the American television shows with footage of Oliver North in court. This seemed to be the extent to which most Americans were affected by this event at the time. However, the dominoes had been pushed and to this day Americans see the effect of how terrorism can infiltrate their daily lives. Perhaps this is just another psychological weapon against citizens to encourage them to support the wars abroad while reducing the likelihood that American citizens will stand up one day and speak out
against imperialism. So far it appears as if the media outlets are controlling what Americans know, and keeping them distracted.
Psychological warfare was carried out in Afghanistan in the same way that the Contras were trained in guerrilla warfare. The CIA financed and trained the Taliban to assist them in overthrowing the Soviets. Most Americans are not aware of the secret imperialistic wars that the US wages in the name of freedom and liberty. The absurd reality is harder to believe than what is accepted as truth by most Americans. Terrorism against citizens can be delivered as lies to the
people to keep them uninformed from making decisions which could change the politics of the world.
Bovard, James. 2004. The future of freedom foundation. Terrorism debacles in the
Reagan administration. Retrieved on October 25, 2010 from http://www.fff.org/freedom/fd0406c.pdf
Bryne, Malcome. 1999. National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 21. Twenty years after the hostages: declassified documents on Iran and the United States. Retrieved on October 30, 2010 from http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB21/index.html
CIA. 1994. Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare. Retrieved on October 30, 2010 from http://www.scribd.com/doc/6138790/CIA-TEXTBOOKPsychologicalOperations-In-Guerrilla-Warfare-
Gates, Robert. 1997. From the shadows: The ultimate insider¶s story of five Presidents & how they won the cold war. Retrieved on November 1, 2010 from http://books.google.com/books?id=N_hfPrIMYuEC&printsec=frontcover&dq=gates+the +ultimate+insiders+story+of+how+the+presidents+won+the+cold+war&source=bl&ots= oNzoCt2dN&sig=dQWXtnSV40OPl1uah06RacemL3Y&hl=en&ei=c5jPTLPqLI7WtQPi 2rmtAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CCgQ6AEwBA#v=onepa ge&q=largest%20covert%20operation%20since%20WWII&f=false
Grove/Atlantic. 1985. The Freedom Fighters Manual. Retrieved on November 1, 2010 from http://www.ballistichelmet.org/school/free.html
COVERT WARS References
Isenberg, David. 1999. Policy Analysis. The pitfalls of US covert operations. Cato policy analysis number 118. Retrieved on October 31, 2010 from http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/PA118.HTM
McGraw-Hill. 2006. Nation of Nations. 4th edition. Davidson, J, Delay, B, Heyrman, C, Lytle, M, & Stoff, M. a narrative history of the American republic. Boston, MA
Reagan, Ronald. 1987. Public speech. Retrieved on October 29, 2010 from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/reagan/filmmore/reference/primary/irancontra.html
Scott, Peter Dale. 2010. History News Network. Opium, the CIA and the Karzai Administration Retrieved on November 1, 2010 from http://hnn.us/articles/125230.html