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Arms For Hostages

During the early 1980s, U.S. national security interests faced two major concerns. In Central America, the CIA was prohibited from aiding Contra guerrillas in their mutual goal of ousting the Marxist Sandinista government; in the Middle East, Western hostages held in Lebanon included CIA station chief William Buckley. A plan orchestrated by the National Security Council's Lt-Col Oliver North attempted to solve both problems.

By selling arms to Iran at inflated prices, North hoped to win the influence of the Ayatollah Khomeini in securing the release of the hostages. Profits from these deals provided cash and supplies, including a ship, planes, an airfield and bank accounts, to Nicaragua's Contras. This was all done in direct violation of U.S. laws and policies.

In November 1986, the first public leak of information about the deals with Iran was disclosed in a Lebanese magazine. U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese later verified that millions of dollars from the sales of the arms had been sent to the Contras. The Tower Commission, struck to investigate the matter, criticized then President Ronald Reagan and his advisors for their lack of control of the National Security Council.

The Congressional Joint Investigative Committee collected 300,000 documents, conducted 500 interviews and depositions, including 40 days of witness testimony. The committee found no evidence that Reagan knew of the transfer of funds to the Contras.

North was eventually tried and convicted of obstructing justice, however, this conviction was eventually overturned, as was the conviction of his former boss, Vice Admiral John Poindexter. Reagan's Vice President George Bush was implicated in 1992, but was not charged. As President, Bush later pardoned others who had been charged or convicted in the affair.

A final report, published by Lawrence E. Walsh in 1994, stated there was no evidence that Reagan had violated any laws, but added that he may have known about a potential cover-up.