Oliver Twisted

A day in the former life of a would-be senator

Before devoting himself to public service, Ollie North may have to slay the dragons of his past. He’s expected to testify at the trial of Richard Secord and Albert Hakim later this year. Uncle Sam’s lawsuit against the Iran-Contra bad guys maintains that North helped abscond with more than $16 million in diverted profits from the sale of arms to Iran, which Secord and Hakim dumped into Swiss bank accounts (only $3.8 million was actually diverted to the Contras; the feds want access to the $11-12 million still sitting there). As a public reminder of Ollie’s skill at deceit, we present a typical morning during his tenure at the White House–an annotated page from his day-runner on Aug. 6, 1986:

8:00 AM:
At the National Security Council, Ollie gets a call from Israeli intelligence official “Adam,” aka Amiram Nir. Subject: Iranian anger at the 600 percent markup on the U.S. missiles and parts they’ve purchased over the past year, anger that jeopardizes the arms-for-hostages deal–and hostage lives.
8:30 AM:
North appears before the House Select Committee on Intelligence to answer questions about his role in a Contra resupply operation. He lies convincingly: He has “not in any way, at any time violate[d] the principles or legal requirements of the Boland Amendment,” which bans federal support for the Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries. Committee chairman Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., pronounces himself satisfied with North’s “good faith.” When North’s superior, John Poindexter, is told of his successful deception of Congress, Poindexter e-mails Ollie: “Well done.”
9:30-11:20 AM:
Having just testified that he has nothing to do with the resupply operations, North handles a Contra crisis when retired CIA agent Felix Rodriguez, aka Max, who is managing the Contra airdrops from El Salvador, takes a C-123 resupply plane from Miami without authorization. North calls James Steele, a U.S. Army official involved in the resupply operation in El Salvador; he also meets with Donald Gregg, Vice President Bush’s national security adviser, and calls Alan Fiers, the CIA’s Central American Task Force director, about the situation with Max.
11:40 AM:
North confers by phone with Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams about “acct. data”–a reference to one of the Swiss bank accounts. Abrams is en route to London to solicit the Sultan of Brunei for $10 million in secret Contra funds and needs more information about the account.
Ollie has a 15-minute meeting with Vice President George Bush, who has just returned from Jerusalem, where he was briefed by Nir on the status of the arms-for-hostages deals. North wants Bush to support further weapons transfers to Iran, even though the hostages have not been released as promised. (Five years later, on tour for his book “Under Fire,” North tells Ted Koppel on “Nightline” that he has “no reason to believe” that Bush’s claim to have been out-of-the-loop on the Iran arms initiative was untrue.)


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

  • Peter Kornbluh directs the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive in Washington, DC. He is coauthor of Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana.