The Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair was released on November 18, 1987.
Below are excerpts of the Executive Summary’s “findings and conclusions”:
“The common ingredients of the Iran and Contra policies were secrecy, deception, and disdain for the law. A small group of senior officials believed that they alone knew what was right. They viewed knowledge of their actions by others in the Government as a threat to their objectives. They told neither the Secretary of State, the Congress nor the American people of their actions. When exposure was threatened, they destroyed official documents and lied to Cabinet officials, to the public, and to elected representatives in Congress. They testified that they even withheld key facts from the President. . . .
The Administration’s departure from democratic processes created the conditions for policy failure, and led to contradictions which undermined the credibility of the United States.
The United States simultaneously pursued two contradictory foreign policies — a public one and a secret one[.] . . .
The record of the Iran-Contra Affair also shows a seriously flawed policymaking process. . . .
There was confusion and disarray at the highest levels of Government. . . .
The Iran-Contra Affair was characterized by pervasive dishonesty and inordinate secrecy.
[Lt. Col. Oliver] North admitted that he and other officials lied repeatedly to Congress and to the American people about the Contra covert action and Iran arms sales, and that he altered and destroyed official documents. North’s testimony demonstrates that he also lied to members of the Executive branch, including the Attorney General, and officials of the State Department, CIA and NSC.
Secrecy became an obsession. Congress was never informed of the Iran or the Contra covert actions, notwithstanding the requirement in the law that Congress be notified of all covert actions in a ‘timely fashion.’ . . .
The NSC staff turned to private parties and third countries to do the Government’s business. Funds denied by Congress were obtained by the Administration from third countries and private citizens. Activities normally conducted by the professional intelligence services — which are accountable to Congress — were turned over to [retired Gen. Richard] Secord and [Albert] Hakim.
The solicitation of foreign funds by an Administration to pursue foreign policy goals rejected by Congress is dangerous and improper. Such solicitations, when done secretly and without Congressional authorization, create a risk that the foreign country will expect and demand something in return. [Adm. Robert] McFarlane testified that ‘any responsible official has an obligation to acknowledge that every country in the world will see benefit to itself by ingratiating itself to the United States.” North, in fact, proposed rewarding a Central American country with foreign assistance funds for facilitating arms shipments to the Contras. And Secord, who had once been in charge of the U.S. Air Force’s foreign military sales, said ‘where there is a quid, there is a quo.’ . . .
The confusion, deception, and privatization which marked the Iran-Contra Affair were the inevitable products of an attempt to avoid accountability. Congress, the Cabinet, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were denied information and excluded from the decision-making process. Democratic procedures were disregarded. . . .
As former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane testified, ‘it is clearly unwise to rely on covert action as the core of our policy.’ The Government cannot keep a policy secret and still secure the public support necessary to sustain it. Yet it was precisely because the public would not support the Contra policy, and was unlikely to favor arms deals with Iran, that the NSC staff went underground. This was a perversion of the proper concept of covert operations[.] . . .
The NSC staff was created to give the President policy advice on major national security and foreign policy issues. Here, however, it was used to gather intelligence and conduct covert operations. This departure from its proper functions contributed to policy failure.
During the Iran initiative, the NSC staff became the principal body both for gathering and coordinating intelligence on Iran and for recommending policy to the President. The staff relied on Iranians who were interested only in buying arms, including [Manucher] Ghorbanifar, whom CIA officials regarded as a fabricator. [Adm. John] Poindexter, in recommending to the President the sale of weapons to Iran, gave as one of his reasons that Iraq was winning the Gulf war. That assessment was contrary to the views of intelligence profess sionals at the State Department, the Department of Defense, and the CIA, who had concluded as early as 1983 that Iran was winning the war. [William] Casey, who collaborated with North and Poindexter on the Iran and Contra programs, also tailored intelligence reports to the positions he advocated. The record shows that the President believed and acted on these erroneous reports. . . .
What was previously done by the CIA — and now prohibited by the Boland Amendment — would be done instead by the NSC staff.
The President set the stage by welcoming a huge donation for the Contras from a for- eign Government — a contribution clearly intended to keep the Contras in the field while U.S. aid was barred. The NSC staff thereafter solicited other foreign Governments for military aid, facilitated the efforts of U.S. fundraisers to provide lethal assistance to the Contras, and ultimately developed and directed a private network that conducted, in North’s words, a ‘full service covert operation’ in support of the Contras.
This could not have been more contrary to the intent of the Boland legislation. . . .
Several witnesses at the hearings stated or implied that foreign policy should be left solely to the President to do as he chooses, arguing that shared powers have no place in a dangerous world. But the theory of our Constitution is the opposite: policies formed through consultation and the democratic process are better and wiser than those formed without it. Circumvention of Congress is self-defeating, for no foreign policy can succeed without the bipartisan support of Congress. . . .
Who was responsible for the Iran-Contra Affair? Part of our mandate was to answer that question, not in a legal sense (which is the responsibility of the Independent Counsel), but n order to reaffirm that those who serve the Government are accountable for their actions. Based on our investigation, we reach the following conclusions.
At the operational level, the central figure in the Iran-Contra Affair was Lt. Col. North, who coordinated all of the activities and was involved in all aspects of the secret operations. North, however, did not act alone.
North’s conduct had the express approval of Admiral John Poindexter, first as Deputy National Security Adviser, and then as National Security Adviser. North also had at least the tacit support of Robert McFarlane, who served as National Security Adviser until December 1985.
In addition, for reasons cited earlier, we believe that the late Director of Central Intelligence, William Casey, encouraged North, gave him direction, and promoted the concept of an extra-legal covert organization. Casey, for the most part, insulated CIA career employees from knowledge of what he and the NSC staff were doing. Casey’s passion for covert operations — dating back to his World War II intelligence days — was well known. His close relationship with North was attested to by several witnesses. Further, it was Casey who brought Richard Secord into the secret operation, and it was Secord who, with Albert Hakim, organized the Enterprise. These facts provide strong reasons to believe that Casey was involved both with the diversion and with the plans for an ‘off-the-shelf’ covert capacity.
The Committees are mindful, however, of the fact that the evidence concerning Casey’s role comes almost solely from North; that this evidence, albeit under oath, was used by North to exculpate himself; and that Casey could not respond. Although North told the Committees that Casey knew of the diversion from the start, he told a different story to the Attorney General in November 1986, as did Casey himself. Only one other witness, Lt. Col. Robert Earl, testified that he had been told by North during Casey’s lifetime that Casey knew of the diversion.
The Attorney General recognized on November 21, 1986 the need for an inquiry. His staff was responsible for finding the diversion memorandum, which the Attorney Gen- eral promptly made public. But as described earlier, his fact-finding inquiry departed from standard investigative techniques. The Attorney General saw Director Casey hours after the Attorney General learned of the diversion memorandum, yet he testified that he never asked Casey about the diversion. He waited two days to speak to Poindexter, North’s superior, and then did not ask him what the President knew. He waited too long to seal North’s offices. These lapses placed a cloud over the Attorney General’s investigation.
There is no evidence that the Vice President was aware of the diversion. The Vice President attended several meetings on the Iran initiative, but none of the participants could recall his views.
The Vice President said he did not know of the Contra resupply operation. His National Security Adviser, Donald Gregg, was told in early August 1986 by a former colleague that North was running the Contra resupply operation, and that ex-associates of Edwin Wilson — a well known ex-CIA official convicted of selling arms to Libya and plotting the murder of his prosecutors — were involved in the operation. Gregg testified that he did not consider these facts worthy of the Vice President’s attention and did not report them to him, even after the Hasenfus airplane was shot down and the Administration had denied any connection with it.
The central remaining question is the role of the President in the Iran-Contra Affair. On this critical point, the shredding of documents by Poindexter, North, and others, and the death of Casey, leave the record incomplete.
As it stands, the President has publicly stated that he did not know of the diversion. Poindexter testified that he shielded the President from knowledge of the diversion. North said that he never told the President, but assumed that the President knew. Poindexter told North on November 21, 1986 that he had not informed the President of the diversion. Secord testified that North told him he had talked with the President about the diversion, but North testified that he had fabricated this story to bolster Secord’s morale.
Nevertheless, the ultimate responsibility for the events in the Iran-Contra Affair must rest with the President. If the President did not know what his National Security Advisers were doing, he should have. It is his responsibility to communicate unambiguously to his subordinates that they must keep him advised of important actions they take for the Administration. The Constitution requires the President to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed.’ This charge encompasses a responsibility to leave the members of his Administration in no doubt that the rule of law governs.
Members of the NSC staff appeared to believe that their actions were consistent with the President’s desires. It was the President’s policy — not an isolated decision by North or Poindexter — to sell arms secretly to Iran and to maintain the Contras “body and soul,” the Boland Amendment notwithstanding. To the NSC staff, implementation of these policies became the overriding concern.
Several of the President’s advisers pursued a covert action to support the Contras in disregard of the Boland Amendment and of several statutes and Executive orders requiring Congressional notification. Several of these same advisers lied, shredded documents, and covered up their actions. These facts have been on the public record for months. The actions of those individuals do not comport with the notion of a country guided by the rule of law. But the President has yet to condemn their conduct.
The President himself told the public that the U.S. Government had no connection to the Hasenfus airplane. He told the public that early reports of arms sales for hostages had ‘no foundation.’ He told the public that the United States had not traded arms for hostages. He told the public that the United States had not condoned the arms sales by Israel to Iran, when in fact he had approved them and signed a Finding, later destroyed by Poindexter, recording his approval. All of these statements by the President were wrong.
Thus, the question whether the President knew of the diversion is not conclusive on the issue of his responsibility. The President created or at least tolerated an environment where those who did know of the diversion believed with certainty that they were carrying out the President’s policies.
This same environment enabled a secretary who shredded, smuggled, and altered documents to tell the Committees that ‘sometimes you have to go above the written law;’ and it enabled Admiral Poindexter to testify that ‘frankly, we were willing to take some risks with the law.’ It was in such an environment that former officials of the NSC staff and their private agents could lecture the Committees that a ‘rightful cause’ justifies any means, that lying to Congress and other officials in the executive branch itself is acceptable when the ends are just, and that Congress is to blame for passing laws that run counter to Administration policy. What may aptly be called the ‘cabal of the zealots’ was in charge.”