1981 November 23

President Reagan Signs Secret Directive Authorizing Illegal Aid to Contras

 

President Ronald Reagan on this day signed a secret directive authorizing the CIA to create the Contras, an anti-Communist insurgency group in Nicaragua. The directive, NSDD-1, authorized $19 million in secret funds. This order was one of the first steps that led to the Iran-Contra scandal that engulfed the Reagan administration in late 1986, and which involved a number of violations of law, established government policy, and civil liberties. President Reagan and his CIA Director William Casey were fierce anti-communists, determined to fight what they saw as communist threats anywhere in the world. They were both committed to this effort, even if it meant violating the law and established policies, as the Iran-Contra affair revealed.

In brief, he Iran-Contra scandal was a complex affair in which the Reagan administration sold military arms to Iran in exchange for American hostages, and the profits from the sales were used to secretly fund the anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua. The arrangement violated the Arms Embargo Act and the Boland Amendment prohibiting aid to Nicaraguan forces (see December 21, 1982), as well as the established policy of not negotiating with terrorists over hostages. When President Reagan approved one set of illegal actions on December 7, 1985, his Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense both joked with him about going to prison (“visiting hours are on Thursday,” one of them said). President Reagan and some of his aides lied to cover up the affair, and National Security Council staff member Oliver North shredded key documents as part of the cover-up (November 21, 1986). In the end, eight administration officials were convicted of crimes related to the affair (President George H. W. Bush pardoned six of them on December 24, 1992.

The Iran-Contra affair is particularly important because it demonstrated the readiness of an ideologically driven administration to violate the law and controls over national security in the pursuit of its policies. President George W. Bush also violated a variety of laws in the war on terrorism, authorizing both illegal NSA spying (see the exposure by the New York Times on December 16, 2005) and torture (see the infamous “Torture Memo” on August 1, 2002.

Read about the scandal: Theodore Draper, A Very Thin Line: The Iran-Contra Affairs (1991)

Learn more at a timeline on the Iran-Contra scandal: http://www.ibiblio.org/sullivan/CNN/RWR/ps174/icontra/ictimtxt.htm

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