Back to the video list: North American History


The Reagan administration conducted covert operations during the mid 1980s. The CIA sold weapons to Iran and used the profits to finance the Contras in their fight against the ruling Sandinistas in Nicaragua.






  • Date: 1985 – 1987
  • Location: USA, Iran & Nicaragua
  • Event: Covert operation of the Reagan administration: arms sales to Iran & financing the Contras in Nicaragua


Parties & Persons Involved

  • Ronald Reagan (1911 – 2004), U.S. President
  • Casper Weinberger (1917 – 2006), Secretary of Defense
  • John Pointdexter (1936 – ), National Security Advisor
  • Oliver North (1943 – ), National Security Council
  • Robert McFarlane (1937 – ), National Security Advisor



  • Left-wing Sandinistas take over power in Nicaragua
  • The U.S. support the Contras in their guerrilla war against the Sandinistas
  • From 1981: Conservative & anti-communist Reagan administration in Washington
  • 1982 – 1984: The Boland Amendments of the Congress deny the government & the CIA to support the Contras
  • After the Islamic Revolution & the Iran Hostage Crisis (1979 – 1981) Iran & the United States are enemies
  • 1985: Several U.S. citizens are taken hostage in Lebanon by the Hezbollah which is under substantial control of Iran
  • Iran needs weapons for the Iran-Iraq War but has difficulties to achieve these because of an international embargo



  • 1985: Under the supervision of the National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane a plan is drawn to supply Iran with weapons via Israel; objectives of the 1st plan
    • Supporting moderate groups in Iran
    • Establishing relations to Iran
    • Release of the U.S. hostages held by Hezbollah
  • Aug – Nov 1985: Several shipments of anti-tank & anti-aircraft missiles via Israel & the Iranian arms dealer Ghorbanifar
  • 04 Dec 1985: McFarlane resigns as National Security Advisor & is succeeded by J. Pointdexter
  • 04 Dec 1985: Colonel Oliver North (member of the National Security Council) presents a new plan:Direct weapon sales to Iran
    • Using the profits to finance the Contras
  • Feb – Oct 1986: Deliveries of anti-tank & anti-aircraft missiles & financing the Contras
  • 05 Oct 1986: The Sandinistas shoot down a plane with weapons for the Contras
  • The survivor Eugene H. Hasenfus says the the CIA supplies the Contras with weapons
  • Nov 1986: A Lebanese magazine reports about the weapons-for-hostages deals leaked from an Iranian official
  • Nov 1986: North & Pointdexter destroy a large number of documents
  • 25 Nov 1986: Reagan creates the Tower Commission to investigate the Iran-Contra incidents – 26 Feb 1987: Final report with the following results:
    • North, Pointdexter, Weinberger & others are criticised
    • Reagan did not have full operational knowledge
    • Reagan should have managed his employees better
  • 05 May – 06 Aug 1987: Hearings before the Congressional Committee Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair


Consequences & Impact

  • Several resignations & trials without any imprisonment, amongst others:
    • Oliver North (Nation Security Council)
    • Casper Weinberger (Secretary of Defense)
    • John Pointdexter (National Security Advisor)
    • Robert McFarlane (National Security Advisor)
  • Reagan’s involvement in the Iran-Contra Affair is never fully clarified
  • Reagan’s popularity drops to a low point & he receives the nickname “The Teflon President“
    • But note: Reagan is the President with the highest approval in the population when leaving office
  • Oliver North becomes an icon for the conservatives in the United States