Reagan knew, McFarlane knew, North knew, Secord knew, Earl knew, Poindexter knew

Paul Foot

  • Under Fire: An American Story by Oliver North and William Novak
    HarperCollins, 446 pp, £17.99, October 1991, ISBN 0 06 018334 9
  • Terry Waite: Why was he kidnapped? by Gavin Hewitt
    Bloomsbury, 230 pp, £15.99, November 1991, ISBN 0 7475 0375 3

When did the Irangate scandal start? The official answer is late 1985. The Tower Commission report, a slovenly document which does not even boast an index, starts its story in that year. Col Oliver North, the man who, according to the received version, thought up the idea of selling arms to secure the release of American hostages in Beirut, tells us: ‘My own operational involvement began ... on the afternoon of 17 November 1985.’ The BBC’s Panorama journalist Gavin Hewitt, who is not an admirer of the Colonel, seems to back him up at least in this important detail. ‘Oliver North,’ he assures us, ‘hadn’t been party initially to the arms deals with the Iranians.’ So there were ‘arms deals with the Iranians’ even before North was involved. Or were there? A closer reading of North’s apologia gets us a little closer to the truth.

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