Findings and Conclusions

The common ingredients of the Iran and contra policies were secrecy, deception and disdain for the law. A small group of senior officials believed that they alone knew what was right. They viewed knowledge of their actions by others in the government as a threat to their objectives. They told neither the secretary of state, the Congress nor the American people of their actions. When exposure was threatened, they destroyed official documents and lied to Cabinet officials, to the public and to elected representatives in Congress. They testified that they even withheld key facts from the president.

The Constitution specifies the process by which laws and policy are to be made and executed . . . . Time and again, we have learned that a flawed process leads to bad results and that a lawless process leads to worse. Policy Contradictions and Failures

. . . The United States simultaneously pursued two contradictory foreign policies -- a public one and a secret one:The public policy was not to make any concessions for the release of hostages lest such concessions encourage more hostage-taking. At the same time, the United States was secretly trading weapons to get the hostages back. The public policy was to ban arms shipments to Iran and to exhort other governments to observe this embargo. At the same time, the United States was secretly selling sophisticated missiles to Iran and promising more. The public policy was to improve relations with Iraq. At the same time, the United States secretly shared military intelligence on Iraq with Iran, and {Lt. Col. Oliver L.} North told the Iranians in contradiction to United States policy that the United States would help promote the overthrow of the Iraqi head of government. The public policy was to urge all governments to punish terrorism and to support, indeed encourage, the refusal of Kuwait to free the Da'wa prisoners who were convicted of terrorist acts. At the same time, senior officials secretly endorsed a {Richard V.} Secord-{Albert} Hakim plan to permit Iran to obtain the release of the Da'wa prisoners. The public policy was to observe the "letter and spirit" of the Boland Amendment's proscriptions against military or paramilitary assistance to the contras. At the same time, the NSC {National Security Council} staff was secretly assuming direction and funding of the contras' military effort. The public policy, embodied in agreements signed by director {of central intelligence William J.} Casey, was for the administration to consult with the congressional oversight committees about covert activities in "new spirit of frankness and cooperation." At the same time, the CIA {Central Intelligence Agency} and the White House were secretly withholding from those committees all information concerning the Iran initiative and the contra-support network. The public policy . . . was to conduct covert operations solely through the CIA or other organs of the intelligence community specifically authorized by the president. At the same time, although the NSC was not so authorized, the NSC staff secretly became operational and used private, nonaccountable agents to engage in covert activities.

These contradictions in policy inevitably resulted in policy failure:The United States armed Iran, including its most radical elements, but attained neither a new relationship . . . nor a reduction in the number of American hostages. The arms sales did not lead to a moderation of Iranian policies . . . .

The United States opened itself to blackmail by adversaries who might reveal the secret arms sales and who, according to North, threatened to kill the hostages if the sales stopped. The United States undermined its credibility with friends and allies . . . by its public stance of opposing arms sales to Iran while undertaking such arms sales in secret. The United States lost a $10 million contribution to the contras from . . . Brunei by directing it to the wrong bank account, the result of an improper effort to channel that humanitarian-aid contribution into an account used for lethal assistance. The United States sought illicit funding for the contras through profits from the secret arms sales, but a substantial portion of those profits ended up in the personal bank accounts of the private individuals executing the sales while the exorbitant amounts charged for the weapons inflamed the Iranians . . . . Confusion

There was confusion and disarray at the highest levels . . . . {Former national security adviser Robert C.} McFarlane embarked on a dangerous trip to Tehran {thinking that} the Iranians had promised to secure the release of all hostages before he delivered arms, when in fact they had promised only to seek the hostages' release and then only one planeload of arms had arrived. The president first told the Tower board that he had approved the initial Israeli shipments. Then, he told {it} he had not. Finally, he told {it} he does not know whether he approved {them}, and his top advisers disagree on the question. The president claims he does not recall signing a finding approving the November 1985 Hawk {missile} shipment to Iran. But {Rear Adm. John M.} Poindexter testified that the president did a sign a finding on Dec. 5, 1985, approving the shipment retroactively. Poindexter later destroyed the finding to save the president from embarrassment. That finding was prepared without adequate discussion and stuck in Poindexter's safe for a year; Poindexter claimed he forgot about it; the White House asserts the president never signed it, and, when events began to unravel, Poindexter ripped it up. The president and the attorney general {Edwin Meese III} told the public that the president did not know about the . . . Hawk shipment until February 1986, an error the White House chief of staff {Donald T. Regan} explained by saying that the preparation for the press conference {Nov. 19, 1986} "sort of confused the presidential mind." Poindexter says the president would have approved the diversion, if he had been asked, and the president says he would not have. One national security adviser understood that the Boland Amendment applied to the NSC; another thought it did not. Neither sought a legal opinion . . . .

The president incorrectly assured the American people that the NSC staff was adhering to the law and that the government was not connected to the {Eugene} Hasenfus airplane {shot down over Nicaragua Oct. 5, 1986}. His staff was in fact conducting a "full-service" covert operation to support the contras which they believed he had authorized. North says he sent five or six completed memorandums to Poindexter seeking the president's approval for the diversion. Poindexter does not remember receiving any. Only one has been found.Dishonesty and Secrecy

. . . North admitted that he and other officials lied repeatedly to Congress and to the American people about the contra covert action and Iran arms sales and that he altered and destroyed official documents. North's testimony demonstrates that he also lied to members of the executive branch, including the attorney general, and officials of the State Department, CIA and NSC. Secrecy became an obsession. Congress was never informed of the Iran or the contra covert actions . . . . Poindexter asked North to keep secrets from Casey; Casey, North and Poindexter agreed to keep secrets from Shultz.

In the case of the "secret" Iran arms-for-hostages deal, although the NSC staff did not inform the secretary of state, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the leadership of . . . Congress, it was content to let the following persons know:{Iranian arms dealer} Manucher Ghorbanifar, who flunked every polygraph test administered by the U.S. government. Iranian officials, who daily denounced the United States but received an inscribed Bible from the president. Officials of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, who received the U.S. weapons. Secord and Hakim, whose personal interests could conflict with the interests of the United States. Israeli officials, international arms merchants, pilots and air crews, whose interests did not always coincide with ours. An unknown number of shadowy intermediaries and financiers . . . .

While sharing . . . with this disparate group, North ordered the intelligence agencies not to disseminate intelligence . . . to the secretaries of state and defense. Poindexter told the secretary of state in May 1986 that the Iran initiative was over, at the very time the McFarlane mission to Tehran was being launched . . . .

The lies, omissions, shredding, attempts to rewrite history -- all continued, even after the president authorized the attorney general to find out the facts.Disdain for Law

In the Iran-contra affair, officials viewed the law not as setting boundaries for their action but raising impediments to their goals. When the goals and the law collided, the law gave way:The covert program of support . . . evaded the Constitution's most significant check on executive power: The president can spend funds on a program only if he can convince Congress to appropriate the money.

When Congress enacted the Boland Amendment, cutting off funds for the war in Nicaragua, administration officials raised funds . . . from . . . foreign governments, the Iran arms sales and private individuals; and the NSC staff controlled the expenditures . . . through power over the enterprise.

Conducting the covert program in Nicaragua with funding from the sale of U.S. government property and contributions raised by government officials was a flagrant violation of . . . the Constitution. In addition, the covert program of support . . . was an evasion of the letter and spirit of the Boland Amendment. The president made it clear that, while he opposed restrictions on military or paramilitary assistance to the contras, he recognized that compliance with the law was not optional. "{W}hat I might personally wish, or what our government might wish, still would not justify us violating the law of the land," he said in 1983.

A year later, members of the NSC staff were devising ways to continue support and direction of contra activities during the period of the Boland Amendment. What was previously done by the CIA -- and now prohibited by the Boland Amendment -- would be done instead by the NSC staff.

The president set the stage by welcoming a huge donation for the contras from a foreign government, a contribution clearly intended to keep the contras in the field while U.S. aid was barred. The NSC staff thereafter solicited other foreign governments for military aid, facilitated the efforts of U.S. fund-raisers to provide lethal assistance to the contras and ultimately developed and directed a private network that conducted, in North's words, a "full-service covert operation" in support of the contras . . . .

Numerous other laws were disregarded:North's full-service covert operation was a "significant anticipated intelligence activity" required to be disclosed to the intelligence committees of Congress under . . . the National Security Act. No such disclosure was made. By executive order, a covert operation requires a personal determination by the president before it can be conducted by an agency other than the CIA . . . . a written finding before any agency can carry it out. In the case of North's . . . operation . . . there was no such personal determinationa and no such finding. In fact, the president disclaims any knowledge . . . .

False statements to Congress are felonies if made with knowledge and intent. Several administration officials gave statements denying NSC staff activities in support of the contras which North later described in his testimony as "false" and "misleading, evasive and wrong." The application of proceeds from U.S. arms sales for the benefit of the contra war effort violated the Boland Amendment . . . and constituted a misappropriation of government funds derived from the transfer of U.S. property. The U.S. government's approval of the pre-finding 1985 sales by Israel of arms to . . . Iran was inconsistent with the government's obligations under the Arms Export Control Act. The testimony to Congress in November 1986 that the U.S. government had no contemporaneous knowledge of the Israeli shipments, and the shredding of documents relating to the shipments while a congressional inquiry into those shipments was pending, obstructed congressional investigations. The administration . . . clearly intended never to make disclosure to the intelligence committees of the finding -- later destroyed -- approving the November 1985 Hawk shipment nor did it disclose the covert action to which the finding related.

The committees make no determination as to whether any particular individual involved in the Iran-contra affair acted with criminal intent or was guilty of any crime. That is a matter for the independent counsel and the courts. But the committees reject any notion that worthy ends justify violations of law by government officials, and the committees condemn without reservation the making of false statements to Congress and the withholding, shredding and alteration of documents relevant to a pending inquiry.

Administration officials have, if anything, an even greater responsibility than private citizens to comply with the law. There is no place in government for law breakers. Congress and the President

The Constitution . . . gives important powers to both the president and the Congress in the making of foreign policy . . . .Yet, in the Iran-contra affair, administration officials holding no elected office repeatedly evidenced disrespect for Congress' efforts to perform its constitutional oversight role in foreign policy:Poindexter testified, referring to his efforts to keep the covert action in support of the contras from Congress: "I simply did not want any outside interference." North testified: "I didn't want to tell Congress anything" about this covert action. {Assistant secretary of state Elliott} Abrams acknowledged . . . that, unless members of congressional committees asked "exactly the right question, using the right words, they weren't going to get the right answers," regarding solicitation of third countries for contra support. Numerous other officials made false statements to and misled the Congress.

Several witnesses . . . stated or implied that foreign policy should be left solely to the president . . . arguing that shared powers have no place in a dangerous world. But the theory of our Constitution is the opposite . . . . Circumvention of Congress is self-defeating, for no foreign policy can succeed without the bipartisan support of Congress.

In a system of shared powers, decision-making requires mutual respect between the branches of government.

. . . Democratic government is not possible without trust between the branches of government and between the government and the people. Sometimes that trust is misplaced, and the system falters. But for officials to work outside the system because it does not produce the results they seek is a prescription for failure. Who Was Responsible

Who was responsible for the Iran-contra affair? Part of our mandate was to answer that question, not in a legal sense . . . but in order to reaffirm that those who serve the government are accountable . . . . Based on our investigation, we reach the following conclusions.

At the operational level, the central figure in the Iran-contra affair was Lt. Col. North, who coordinated all of the activities and was involved in all aspects of the secret operations. North, however, did not act alone.

North's conduct had the express approval of Adm. John Poindexter . . . . {and} at least the tacit support of Robert McFarlane, who served as national security adviser until December 1985.

In addition, for reasons cited earlier, we believe that the late director of central intelligence, William Casey, encouraged North, gave him direction and promoted the concept of an extralegal covert organization.

Casey, for the most part, insulated CIA career employes from knowledge of what he and the NSC staff were doing. Casey's . . . close relationship with North was attested to by several witnesses. Further, it was Casey who brought Richard Secord into the secret operation, and it was Secord who, with Albert Hakim, organized the enterprise. These facts provide strong reasons to believe that Casey was involved both with the diversion and with the plans for an "off-the-shelf" covert capacity.

The committees are mindful . . . that the evidence concerning Casey's role comes almost solely from North; that this evidence, albeit under oath, was used by North to exculpate himself and that Casey could not respond. Although North told the committees that Casey knew of the diversion from the start, he told a different story to the attorney general in November 1986, as did Casey himself. Only one other witness, Lt. Col. Robert Earl, testified that he had been told by North during Casey's lifetime that Casey knew of the diversion.

The attorney general recognized on Nov. 21, 1986, the need for an inquiry. His staff was responsible for finding the diversion memorandum, which the attorney general promptly made public. But as described earlier, his fact-finding inquiry departed from standard investigative techniques.

The attorney general saw director Casey hours after the attorney general learned of the diversion memorandum, yet he testified that he never asked Casey about the diversion. He waited two days to speak to Poindexter, North's superior, and then did not ask him what the president knew. He waited too long to seal North's offices. The lapses placed a cloud over the attorney general's investigation.

There is no evidence that the vice president {George Bush} was aware of the diversion. {He} attended several meetings on the Iran initiative, but none of the participants could recall his views.

The vice president said he did not know of the contra-resupply operation. His national security adviser, Donald Gregg, was told in early August 1986 by a former colleague that North was running the contra-resupply operation and that ex-associates of Edwin Wilson -- a well-known ex-CIA official convicted of selling arms to Libya and plotting the murder of his prosecutors -- were involved in the operation. Gregg testified that he did not consider these facts worthy of the vice president's attention and did not report them to him . . . .

The central remaining question is the role of the president . . . . On this critical point, the shredding of documents by Poindexter, North and others and the death of Casey, leave the record incomplete.

. . . The president has publicly stated that he did not know of the diversion. Poindexter testified that he shielded the president from knowledge of the diversion. North said that he never told the president but assumed that the president knew. Poindexter told North on Nov. 21, 1986, that he had not informed the president of the diversion. Secord testified that North told him he had talked with the president about the diversion, but North testified that he had fabricated this story to bolster Secord's morale.

Nevertheless, the ultimate responsibility for the events in the Iran-contra affair must rest with the president. If {he} did not know what his national security advisers were doing, he should have.

It is his responsibility to communicate unambiguously to his subordinates that they must keep him advised of important actions they take for the administration. The Constitution requires the president to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." This charge encompasses a responsibility to leave the members of his administration in no doubt that the rule of law governs.

Members of the NSC staff appeared to believe that their actions were consistent with the president's desires. It was the president's policy, not an isolated decision by North or Poindexter, to sell arms secretly to Iran and to maintain the contras "body and soul," the Boland Amendment notwithstanding. To the NSC staff, implementation of these policies became the overriding concern.

Several of the president's advisers pursued a covert action to support the contras in disregard of the Boland Amendment and of several statutes and executive orders requiring congressional notification. Several of these same advisers lied, shredded documents and covered up their actions . . . . actions of those individuals do not comport with the notion of a country guided by the rule of law. But the president has yet to condemn their conduct.

The president himself told the public that the U.S. government had no connection to the Hasenfus airplane . . . . that early reports of arms sales for hostages had "no foundation" . . . . that the United States had not traded arms for hostages . . . . that the United States had not condoned the arms sales by Israel to Iran, when in fact he had approved them and signed a finding, later destroyed by Poindexter, recording his approval. All of these statements by the president were wrong.

Thus, the question whether the president knew of the diversion is not conclusive on the issue of his responsibility. The president created or at least tolerated an environment where those who did know of the diversion believed with certainty that they were carrying out the president's policies.

This same environment enabled a secretary who shredded, smuggled and altered documents to tell the committees that "sometimes you have to go above the written law," and it enabled Adm. Poindexter to testify that "frankly, we were willing to take some risks with the law."

It was in such an environment that former officials of the NSC staff and their private agents could lecture the committees that a "rightful cause" justifies any means, that lying to Congress and other officials in the executive branch itself is acceptable when the ends are just and that Congress is to blame for passing laws that run counter to administration policy. What may aptly be called the "cabal of the zealots" was in charge.

In a constitutional democracy, it is not true, as one official maintained, that "when you take the king's shilling, you do the king's bidding." The idea of monarchy was rejected here 200 years ago and since then, the law -- not any official or ideology -- has been paramount. For not instilling this precept in his staff, for failing to take care that the law reigned supreme, the president bears the responsibility.

Fifty years ago, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis observed: "Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law, it invites every man to become a law unto himself, it invites anarchy."

The Iran-contra affair resulted from a failure to heed this message.