The Iran-Contra Scandal (The National Security Archive Document)

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“On the news at this time is the question of the hostages,” then vice president George Bush noted in his secret diary on November 5, 1986, two days after a Lebanese newspaper broke the first story of the Reagan administration’s efforts to trade arms for hostages with Iran. “I’m one of the few people that know fully the details,” Bush continued. “This is one operation that has been held very, very tight, and I hope it will not leak.”

But the illicit arms-for-hostages deals did leak, and eventually U.S. citizens discovered that the Reagan administration had been selling munitions to Iran, using funds from those sales for an illicit operation to resupply the Nicaraguan Contras, and systematically deceiving Congress, the press, and the public about these actions. More than six years after the Iran-Contra operations were revealed, we continue to learn more about the scandal that rocked the Reagan White House and haunted George Bush’s presidency, and about its implications for our system of governance.

The Iran-Contra Scandal: The Declassified History provides the 101 most important documents on the policy decisions, covert operations, and subsequent cover-up that created the most serious constitutional crisis of modern times. Drawing on up-to-date information such as the recently discovered Bush diaries, this reader features once top secret, code-word White House memoranda, minutes of presidential meetings, pages from Oliver North’s and Caspar Weinberger’s personal notebooks, back-channel cable traffic, and investigative records, among other extraordinary materials. To enhance this documentation, the editors provide contextual overviews of the complex components of the Iran-Contra operations, as well as glossaries of the key players, and a detailed chronology of events.

The result is a unique guide to the inner workings of national security policy making and the shadowy world of clandestine operations—a singular resource for understanding the Iran-Contra affair and the gravity of the governmental crisis it spawned. The documents, writes noted Iran-Contra scholar Theodore Draper in the Foreword, give the reader “an intimate sense of how the president and his men manipulated the system and perverted its constitutional character.” This volume “allows the facts to speak for themselves.”


About the Author: Peter Kornbluh directs the Chile Documentation Project at the National Security Archive. He is the author of Bay of Pigs Declassified: The Secret CIA Report on the Invasion of Cuba and The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability and a co-author (with Laurence Chang) of Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962: A National Security Archive Documents Reader and (with Malcolm Byrne) of The Iran-Contra Scandal: The Declassified History, all published by The New Press. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Malcolm Byrne is the director of analysis at the National Security Archive. He coedited the Archive’s first book on the Iran-Contra scandal, The Chronology: The Documented Day-by-Day Account of the Secret Military Assistance to Iran and the Contras, and is the author of numerous articles on the scandal.

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