Oliver Laurence North (born October 7, 1943 in San Antonio, Texas) is an American best known for his involvement in the Iran-Contra Affair. Currently, he is an American conservative political commentator, host of "War Stories with Oliver North" on Fox News Channel, and a New York Times best-selling author. His latest book, American Heroes, offers a first-hand account of his extensive coverage of U.S. military units engaged in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Philippines. He is a 1968 graduate of the United States Naval Academy and was a career officer in the Marine Corps, retiring at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel after twenty years of service.
North was at the center of national attention during the Iran-Contra Affair, during which he was a key Reagan administration official involved in the clandestine sale of weapons to Iran. The sale of these weapons served both to encourage the release of US hostages and to generate proceeds to support the Contra rebel group. Vice Admiral John M. Poindexter and his deputy, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North secretly diverted to the Nicaraguan Contras millions of dollars in funds received from a secret deal - the sales of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Iran - in spite of Reagan's public pledge not to deal with the nation.
North is married to the former Betsy Stuart, whom he met while attending the United States Naval Academy. They married on November 13, 1968 (after North was commissioned and finished the Basic School at Quantico, Virginia) and have four children, Tait, Stuart, Sarah, and Dornin.
North served as a platoon leader in Vietnam where, during combat service, he was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star and two Purple Heart medals. North then became an instructor at the Marine Corps Officer Basic School in Quantico. In 1970, North returned to Vietnam to testify at the trial of Corporal Randy Herrod, a former Marine comrade of his who had been charged with a mass killing of Vietnamese civilians. North was promoted to Captain in 1971 and served as commanding officer of the Marine Corps Northern Training Area in Okinawa, Japan.
After Okinawa, North was assigned to Marine Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia for four years, was promoted to Major, and then served two years as operations officer of 3d Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, commanded by then LtCol John Southy Grinalds, Second Marine Division in Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. It was through LtCol Grinalds that North developed a deep personal commitment to the Christian faith. He next attended the Command and Staff Course at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island and graduated in 1981.
After Newport, North began his now-famous assignment to the National Security Council (NSC) in Washington, D.C., where he served as the deputy director for political-military affairs from 1981 until his reassignment in 1986. In 1983, North received his promotion to Lieutenant Colonel, which would be his last.
During his tenure at the NSC, North managed a number of highly sensitive missions. This included leading the hunt for those responsible for the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing that killed 241 U.S. Marines; an effort that included North arranging a midair interception of an EgyptAir jet carrying those responsible for the Achille Lauro hijacking. Also while at the NSC, helped plan the U.S. invasion of Grenada and the 1986 Bombing of Libya.
North came into the public spotlight due to his participation in the Iran-Contra Affair, in which he was the chief coordinator of the sale of weapons via intermediaries to Iran, with the profits being channeled to the Contras in Nicaragua. He was responsible for the establishment of a covert network used for the purposes of aiding the Contras. U.S. funding of the Contras by appropriated funds spent by intelligence agencies had been prohibited by the Boland Amendment. Funding was facilitated through Palmer National Bank of Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1983 by Harvey McLean, Jr., a businessman from Shreveport, Louisiana. It was initially funded with $2.8 million dollars to McLean from Herman K. Beebe. Oliver North used this bank during the Iran-Contra scandal by funneling money from his shell organization, the "National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty", through Palmer National Bank to the Contras.
According to the National Security Archive, in an August 23, 1986 e-mail to John Poindexter, Oliver North described a meeting with a representative of Panamanian President Manuel Noriega: "You will recall that over the years Manuel Noriega in Panama and I have developed a fairly good relationship", North writes before explaining Noriega's proposal. If U.S. officials can "help clean up his image" and lift the ban on arms sales to the Panamanian Defense Force, Noriega will "'take care of' the Sandinista leadership for us."
North tells Poindexter that Noriega can assist with sabotage against the Sandinistas, and suggests paying Noriega a million dollars cash; from "Project Democracy" funds raised from the sale of U.S. arms to Iran – for the Panamanian leader's help in destroying Nicaraguan economic installations.
In November 1986 as the sale of weapons was made public, North was fired by President Reagan, and in July 1987 he was summoned to testify before televised hearings of a joint Congressional committee formed to investigate Iran-Contra. The image of North taking the oath became iconic, and similar photographs made the cover of Time and Newsweek, and helped define him in the eyes of the public. During the hearings, North admitted that he had lied to Congress, for which he was later charged among other things. He defended his actions by stating that he believed in the goal of aiding the Contras, whom he saw as freedom fighters, and said that he viewed the Iran-Contra scheme as a "neat idea.
North was tried in 1988 in relation to his activities while at the National Security Council. He was indicted on sixteen felony counts and on May 4, 1989, he was initially convicted of three: accepting an illegal gratuity, aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a congressional inquiry, and destruction of documents (by his secretary, Fawn Hall, on his instructions). He was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell on July 5, 1989, to a three-year suspended prison term, two years probation, $150,000 in fines, and 1,200 hours community service.
However, on July 20, 1990, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), North's convictions were vacated, after the appeals court found that witnesses in his trial might have been impermissibly affected by his immunized congressional testimony. Because North had been granted limited immunity for his Congressional testimony, the law prohibited the independent counsel (or any prosecutor) from using that testimony as part of a criminal case against him. To prepare for the expected defense challenge that North's testimony had been used, the prosecution team had - before North's congressional testimony had been given - listed and isolated all its evidence; further, the individual members of the prosecution team had isolated themselves from news reports and discussion of North's testimony. While the defense could show no specific instance where any part of North's congressional testimony was used in his trial, the Court of Appeals ruled that the trial judge had made an insufficient examination of the issue, and ordered North's convictions reversed. The Supreme Court declined to review the case. After further hearings on the immunity issue, Judge Gesell dismissed all charges against North on September 16, 1991, on the motion of the independent counsel.
On February 10, 1986, Robert Owen, North’s liaison with the Contras, wrote North regarding a plane being used to carry "humanitarian aid" to the Contras that was previously used to transport drugs. The plane belonged to the Miami-based company Vortex, which is run by Michael Palmer, one of the largest marijuana traffickers in the United States. Despite Palmer's long history of drug smuggling, Palmer receives over $300,000 from the Nicaraguan Humanitarian Aid Office (NHAO) -- an office overseen by Oliver North, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Elliott Abrams, and CIA officer Alan Fiers -- to ferry supplies to the Contras.
North’s own handwritten journals provide valuable insight into the mechanics of the operation as well. In his journal entry for August 9, 1985, North summarizes a meeting with Owen. They discuss a plane used to transport supplies from New Orleans to Contras in Honduras. North writes: "Honduran DC-6 which is being used for runs out of New Orleans is probably being used for drug runs into U.S.
Other entries in the North Notebooks which specifically mention narcotics are:
During Manuel Noriega’s trial in 1991, pilot Floyd Carlton testified that his smuggling operation was flying weapons to the Contras at the same time he was flying dope to the United States. When Carlton’s lawyer asked about Oliver North’s knowledge of these flights, federal prosecutors vehemently objected, and U.S. judge William Hoeveler became angry. “Just stay away from it,” the judge snapped, refusing to allow any more questions on the topic.
Investigations into Lt. Col North’s involvement have not been limited to the United States. One notable example is the second report of the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly’s Commission on Narcotics Trafficking, which examined the explosion of cocaine trafficking in that country during the 1980’s. After studying the involvement of Contras and U.S. officials with illegal arms running and drug trafficking, the commission recommended that former ambassador Lewis Tambs, CIA station chief Joe Fernandez, and Lt. Col. Oliver North be forever denied entry in Costa Rica, a recommendation adopted by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.
North has consistently denied any involvement with drug trafficking, stating on Fox’s Hannity and Colmes, “…nobody in the U.S. government, going all the way back to the earliest days of this under Jimmy Carter, ever had anything to do with running drugs.” Critics counter that although no one in the United States government may have physically trafficked in drugs, there was a coordinated and well documented effort to assist those who did. At the very least, North’s critics contend, high ranking government officials turned a blind eye to the trafficking going on all around them because it proved to be such a reliable source of funding.
In his failed bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Chuck Robb, North raised $20.3 million in a single year through direct mail solicitations, major donors, telemarketing, and fundraising events. About $16 million of that amount was from direct mail alone, making North the top political direct mail fundraiser in the country in 1994 and the biggest direct accumulation of funds for a statewide campaign to that date.
His latest book, American Heroes, was released nationally in the U.S. on May 6, 2008. In this book, North addresses issues of defense against global terrorism, Jihad, and radical Islam from his firsthand perspective as a military officer and national security advisor and current Middle East war correspondent . Lieutenant Colonel North is also a syndicated columnist.
From 1995 to 2003, North was host of his own nationally-syndicated radio program known as the "Oliver North radio show" or "Common Sense Radio." He also served as co-host of Equal Time on MSNBC for a couple of years starting in 1999. North is currently the host of the television show War Stories with Oliver North, and a regular commentator on Hannity and Colmes, both on the Fox News Channel. North appeared as himself on many television shows including the sitcom Wings and three episodes of the TV military drama JAG in 1995, 1996 and 2002. In addition, he regularly speaks at both public and private events.
Pictures of North in the NSA buildings with former British Intelligence Officer John P. Lawrence were flashed around the world, when the two former colleagues were asked to help the Senate Intelligence Committee.
North is a board member in the National Rifle Association, and appeared at their national conventions in 2007 and 2008.
In 2008, American Dad!, an animated TV show produced by Seth McFarlane, aired an episode that had the Iran-Contra affair as the main storyline called "Stanny Slickers: The Legend of Ollie's Gold" in which the main character, Stan Smith, looks for a crate full of gold that Ollie North had to hide before the Iran-Contra affair blew up.
North remains a largely popular figure among conservatives. Many conservatives sympathize with the basis of North's activities within the Reagan administration, due to the fact they believe the "Boland Amendment" — a Congressional act specifically barring the U.S. government from providing material support to the Contras in Nicaragua — infringed on the constitutional power of the executive branch to conduct foreign policy. Some believe that North was used as a scapegoat for the Iran-Contra affair, and that other top government officials in the Reagan administration disproportionately laid the blame on him.
North's critics argue that in a democracy and a nation of laws, one cannot act above the law regardless of what his goals to be. Some point out that his activities substantially contributed to an attempted overthrow of a sovereign, democratically elected government and to terrorism in Nicaragua, and that they aided Iran, a nation that has been militarily hostile to the United States since 1979. They mention that along with other Reagan administration players, North has been banned from Central America's leading democracy, Costa Rica, for drug running.
In October 2006, North revisited Nicaragua in the run up to the nation's presidential elections. Claiming he was invited in a private capacity to Nicaragua by friends, he warned against his old foe, Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega's possible return to power. Despite this, Ortega did win Nicaragua's presidency without the need of a runoff. During his visit, he expressed support for the PLC candidate, Jose Rizo, rather than the United States government's preferred candidate, Eduardo Montealegre, a dissident PLC candidate. North's support of Rizo quite possibly helped to further splinter the PLC vote allowing Daniel Ortega to win the first round with 38% of the vote.