Iran-Contra’s Ollie North: From Key Operator To Downsized Scapegoat


By Trowbridge H. Ford


When a C-123K supply plane loaded with lethal weapons, allegedly belonging to a Pennsylvania company, Corporate Air Services, was shot down over Nicaragua on October 6, 1986, killing pilots William Cooper and Wallace Sawyer, and the CIA’s cargo-kicker Eugene Hasenfus was taken prisoner by the Sandinistas, the Reagan administration’s, and the Thatcher government’s crucial covert operations threatened to be exposed, a record which risked the President and the Prime Minister being removed from office, and many of their most important subordinates going to prison.

Actually, the plane was part of the fleet that retired Air Force Major General Richard Secord had put together for Lt. Colonel Oliver North’s effort in the National Security Council (NSC) to supply support for the Contras against the regime in Managua, and the Mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan from the illicit profits of prohibited weapon sales to Teheran in the hope gaining release of hostages held by Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The Enterprise consortium was composed of arms dealers, intelligence agents, mercenaries, and the like – what the CIA, Mossad, and others had helped put together to make up for congressional cutoff of funds, culminating in the Boland Amendments, which required North to take over its management because of prohibitions of Agency participation.

Any serious investigation of it would have led to international arms dealers like Syria’s Manzer al-Kassar, Saudi petrobillionaire Adnan Khashoggi, Iranian wheeler-dealer Albert Hakim, former SAVAK (the Shah’s intelligence service) informant, and go-between with its successor Manucher Ghorbanifar, Britain’s private security expert, and entrepreneur Major David Walker, and a wide collection of Israelis, especially arms dealer Al Schwimmer, Aman’s (Israeli military intelligence) Yaccov Nimrodi, Mossad fixer Rafi Eitan, and false record keeper Ari Ben-Menashe.

“According to North,” Tony Geraghty has written in The Bullet Catchers, “some of the resultant military action in Nicaragua – attacks on military aircraft – were farmed out to David Walker of KMS. If true, it was an interesting example of the ‘seamless robe’ of Anglo-American policy outside the Nato area.” (p. 245)

Unfortunately, the claim was more than true, as the seamless web of cooperation between Washington and London within the NATO area included farming out operations to their respective navies, and to Walker’s KMS too, backed up by assistance, and disinformation from CIA, MI6, and MI5.

If these operations, especially the assassination of Olof Palme (Operation Tree), had been investigated, the trail of culpability would have gone right up through the Agency’s Directorate of Operations to DCI William Casey, and to the Oval Office, while in London the Security Service’s Director General Anthony Duff and the leading counterterrorist officials of MI5, especially DD Patrick Walker, and MI6, particularly Director of Requirements and Production Colin McColl, would have been in similar difficulty, thanks to Downing Street’s direction by Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong.

The investigation would have heated up further when it was learned that Shimon Peres’s counterterrorist expert Amiram Nir, along with assassination arrangers Felipe Vidal, Craig Williamson, and Michael Townley, were also involved.

Hasenfus was no simple crew member either. He worked for the Agency’s Felix Rodriguez aka Max Gomez, friend and former subordinate in Vietnam of Vice President George Bush’s national security adviser, Donald Gregg. Rodriguez, a veteran of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, helped track down, and murder Ernesto Che Guevara in Bolivia in 1967 (Jon Lee Anderson, Che Guevara, pp. 718-50), and was now working surreptitiously with the Agency’s Central American task force chief Alan Fiers, and his subordinate Joseph Fernandez, station chief in Costa Rica, to assist Secord’s supply efforts from El Salvador’s Ilopango base. (Lawrence E. Walsh, Firewall, p. 79ff.) Gregg was providing backdoor, deniable oversight for operations.

Fiers had taken over the project after the congressional cutoff from Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, who became head of CIA’s West European division of the operations directorate which was involved in all kinds of double-agent efforts (Operation Courtship) to prove that the Soviets were promoting and assisting terrorism from Central America across the North Altantic to Scandinavia, and down to Afghanistan.

This ruse would ultimately justify North’s countermeasures to go after targets from Castro’s Cuba to the sources of growing neutralism in Europe, particularly on NATO’s periphery, especially in Sweden. Fernandez’s office in San Jose served as the communication link, thanks to NSA-supplied KL-43 encryption devices, between the Contra forces in the field, North’s people in Washington, and arms shipments arranged by The Enterprise from Europe and the Middle East.

The whole operation had become even more complicated, and conspiratorial after a shipment of HAWK missiles in November 1985 from Israel to Iran had been prevented from being transshipped through a still officially unidentified European country, where it was to pick up more weapons, because of opposition by its government, leading to a fiasco invovling Portugal which ultimately obliged Clarridge, and CIA to officially supply the needed transport, what required President Reagan to sign an ex post facto presidential finding two weeks later to authorize the action which was then compounded by the White House’s failure to inform Congress of its existence.

A month later, on January 6th, Reagan was persuaded by North alone to expand the arms sale operation by getting the CIA, and unspecified “third countries” directly involved so the hardliners in Teheran could be overthrown (Walsh, p. 45) while radically changing the strategic balance with the USSR (Operation Armageddon).

This resulted in signing National Secuirty Decision Directive NSDD-207 which strenghtened the operational capability of the Restricted Interagency Group’s Operations Sub-Group (OSG), now composed of counterterrorism hardliners Charles Allen from CIA, Oliver “Buck” Revell from FBI, the Pentagon’s Noel Koch, Lt. Gen. John Moellering from the Joint Chiefs, and the State Department’s Robert Oakley, to include ‘neutralizing’ terrorists which had been been denied when it was created in April 1984. (Robert Woodward, Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987, pp. 361-2)

To run this secret network which even had its own “FLASH” communication system which bypassed all normal ones, North was given the Office to Combat Terrorism, assisted by fellow Annapolis graduate Robert Earl and Craig Coy from Bush’s Task Force on Combating Terrorism.

North seemed like a most unlikely candidate for the position, but he had just the right qualifications, qualities, and connections that the situation called for. He had joined the staff of National Security Adviser (NSA) Richard Allen, working in the Latin American section, because he had caught the eye of the new Navy Secretary, John Lehman, Jr., by recommending in an article the use of battleships in the new Maritime Strategy against the Soviets while serving as a instructor at the Naval War College. (Gregory L. Vistica, Fall from Glory: Men Who Sank the U.S. Navy, p. 116)

While North was serving well in Vietnam, starting in 1968, as a flamboyant, can-do platoon leader in a dying cause, winning the Silver Star for valor, he developed briefing skills (Robert Timberg, The Nightingale’s Song, pp. 149-50), the sine qua non for uniformed officers seeking policy-making positions, as General Alexander M. Haig, Jr.’s career had demonstrated. North’s field of operations vastly expanded when fellow Annapolis graduates Robert McFarlane followed Haig’s lead to become NSA after William Clark, Allen’s replacement, left, and John Poindexter worked up its ranks from military aide, as Haig had, to become his assistant.

McFarlane put together an aggressive foreign policy, scuttling de´tente, from what Haig had been attempting in the Caribbean and South America over the protests of Britain, Lehman was seeking around the northern periphery of the Soviet Union despite the reluctance of Europe and NATO, and the CIA was promoting in the Middle East and Afghanistan inspite of opposition by terrorists and Arab states.

In the wake of the Falklands War, McFarlane, taking advantage of the contacts he had made while working at State, wanted to put the struggle with the USSR, as Downing Street desired, back on an East-West plane where NATO worked together in a coherent way, challenging the Soviets and their supporters on every front whether there was movement or not.

The policy required putting together a Maritime Strategy which would take advantage of the West’s growing naval superiority, thanks to Lehman’s pursuit of a 600-ship navy, by responding to any presumed Soviet land threats with naval surface and underwater actions on the periphery, particularly in the Barents and Baltic Seas.

The new troublespots were Olof Palme’s Sweden, Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran, and Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya. Sweden’s new statsminister was particularly troubling because of his claims that he could act as mediator across the board while holding the Soviets at bay in the Baltic, a position apparently belied by his equating American intervention in Nicaragua with that of the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Chris Mosey, in Cruel Awakening: Sweden and the Killing of Olof Palme, compared his efforts for the Sandinistas, the first European head of government to visit Managua, with what he had done against the Americans in Vietnam (pp. 142-3), the ultimate red flag for the new team in the White House. Soviet defector Anatoliy Golitsyn claimed in New Lies for Old that Palme was working hand in glove with KGB terrorists to promote Eurocommunism. (p. 349ff.)

According to Robert Timberg, even the slightest suggestion of such a nightingale’s song would revive all the bitter Vietnam memories of the veterans now running the White House’s Situation Room. (p. 16ff.)  When Clarridge left Central America for Europe in 1984, the plight of the Contras was desperate.

Cut off from weapon assistance by Washington officialdom, and reduced to meager humanitarian aid, North felt obliged because of his experience in Vietnam to do whatever was necessary to see that they had the necessary funds, means, and expertise to defeat the Sandinistas.

While much has been said about his operations to sell arms for illegally obtained profits to help the Contras (See, e. g., Walsh, p. 197ff.), little could be expected from them if they were not made into an effective fighting force, what required real leadership and training in guerrilla warfare.

This had been explicitly denied by the allegedly timid Agency DD John McMahon the previous April when North sought passage of National Security Decision Directive 138, a prohibition still cast in doubt when the Associated Press, and The New York Times announced in October that the Contras had been receiving a CIA primer on how to kill Sandinistas. (Woodward, Veil, p. 388)

To get around this continuing difficulty, North enlisted the services of Major David Walker who he was introduced to by the Navy Secretary, probably at one of Lehman’s famous parties on his barge in the Potomac. Lehman and Walker had attended Cambridge University together, and the former Special Air Service (SAS) officer was now running KMS aka Kini Mini Services, and Saladin companies which provided skills any gamekeeper or poacher could require.

In 1975, KMS had been contracted by the Foreign Office to protect vulnerable diplomats, thanks to MI5’s advice, especially in Dublin after the IRA assassination of the British Ambassador, Christopher Ewart-Biggs, where use of the SAS was excluded. KMS’s role was replaced by the new Thatcher Government in reaction to the assassination of Airey Neave by the Royal Military Police.

KMS revived its gamekeeping function, though, even with the help to regular serving officers, for the Foreign Office during the Falklands War, as was graphically demostrated in Washington in 1984 when an arriving Saudi Prince saw a KMS officer come quickly to his aid after the leader of the State Department’s protection team lost his ability to do so when his belt supporting all his equipment embarrassingly broke as the minister was descending the ramp. (Geraghty,p. 8) KMS bogyguards came armed, and fully prepared to use their weapons.

The marriage of Anglo-Amereican counterterrorist forces was made even closer by the IRA’s Patrick Magee’s near successful attempt to assassinate Prime Minister Thatcher, what Reagan had experienced three years earlier at the hands of John Hinckley, Jr., by blowing up Brighton’s Grand Hotel on October 16th. (Peter Taylor, Brits: The War Against the IRA, pp. 265-6)

To employ Walker’s companies, North called upon McFarlane to see that FBI Director William Webster approved their use without the usual checks about their reliability and accountability. (North’s Top Secret memo, “Assistance for the Nicaragua Resistance,” Dec. 4, 1984) Dr. David Owen, when he was Foreign Secretary for Harold Wilson’s Labour Government, was so dissatisfied by the KMS role in Yemen that he attempted to prevent it from getting the FCO contract. (Geraghty, p. 210)

According to SAS veteran Ken Connor, KMS got started in Aden during Operation Nina in which SAS Fijians and British Arabists, who could pass for natives, went undercover in its warren of streets and back alleys to search out targets of opportunity in a guerrilla war, the precursor of what the 14 Intelligence Company did later in Northern Ireland. (Ghost Force, pp. 195-6)

In this context, KMS fitted its Swahili meaning – an unseen movement by a snake in the grass. James Callaghan, when he replaced the beleaguered Wilson, was so convinced that MI5 was behind his downfall because of its role in contracting KMS that he saw any so-called improvement in security as a potential threat, mistaking, Geraghty explained,”…the politically loyal Special Branch protection team with the maverick spirits of military counter espionage.” (pp. 157-8) About who these spirits might be, Geraghty discussed the so-called ‘shoot-to-kill’ murders in South Armagh in the fall of 1982 as a “…policy of counter-assassination, instead of operating within the law.” (p. 167)

Geraghty added, thanks to the insights by a counterterrorist officer who knew KMS operations well, the plight its trained bodyguards had caused the Presidents of North Yemen during the 1970s when they allowed him and his brother to run off with two beautiful French whores without protection, leading to their assassinations on the way back to Sana’a, and his successor’s bodyguards failing prey to the “double bluff” ploy when the President of South Yemen sent two briefcases of presents, one stashed with American money which was embarrassingly opened in public, and the next one somewhat later with 5 pounds of plastic explosive which exploded in private with devastating results. (p. 277)

Walker’s companies, given their leadership, expertise, and contacts, were instrumental in turning around the Contras’ efforts during 1985. On March 6th, right after Saudia Arabia doubled its monthly cash contribution to the Contras, Walker’s people blew up the main Sandinista military depot in downtown Managua for a $50,000 fee, and followed up by clearing the mines protecting the port facilities at Puerto Cabezas, where Soviet and Cuban assistance was arriving, so that it could be attacked.

While Walker’s Saladin firm was helping train the Contras into an expanded, effective guerrrilla force, his specal teams attacked Sandino airport, as Walker had recommended, destroying the recently received Soviet HIND-D helicopters on the ground, and its maintenance facilities.

In fact, the demands on Walker’s companies were so great that his mercenaries Peter Glibbery and John Davies were openly recruiting 40 ex-British Army volunteers in London during May to expand the Contras’ war. (Nick Davies and Jonathan Foster, “British dogs of war recruited to fight in Nicaragua,” The Observer, May 26, 1985, p. 1)

This permitted North to carry his war with Marxism further afield. When 234 Marines were blown up in Lebanon on October 23, 1983, recalling the defeats in Vietnam, North had helped organize with McFarlane and Lehman two days later the invasion of the Commonwealth’s Grenada by 6,000 Marines to rescue it, especially its 1,000 Americans, from the grip of Maurice Bishop’s 600 allegedly rampaging communists.

A  year later, when Abu Abbas’s Palestinian terrorists seized the Achille Lauro cruise liner in the Mediterranean, murdering an invalid Jew, Leon Kilinghofer, with al-Kassar provided weapons in the process (Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall, Cocaine Politics, p. 16).

North pushed successfully the idea of the Navy hijacking them as they made their escape to Tunisia on EgyptAir flight 2843, a plan calling for the use of F-14s from the USS Saratoga of Admiral Frank Kelso’s Sixth Fleet, reminiscent of how the Navy had disposed of Japanese Admiral Yamamoto over Truk during WWII. (Vistica, pp. 219-20) It was the success of this red-tape free operation which led Reagan to utter his now famous one-liner: “You can run, but you can’t hide.”

North moved immediately to put this capability on a worldwide basis at Palme’s expense, the statsminister having retained power, with the help of the Swedish communists, in the fall general election despite all the negative predictions and propaganda.

The Enterprise, whose manager David Kimche, the former director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, had provided Iran with tons of US tanks, Katysha rockets, air-to-air missiles, artillery shells, rifle rounds, and the like from six countries, including Sweden, thanks to the false end user certificates Ben-Menashe had supplied, had its management expanded to include Major Walker, and former CIA operative Miles Copeland (Gordon Thomas, Gideon’s Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad, p. 141), upsetting the “sweet operation” in the NSC that Kimche had been carrying on with Eitan since 1981.

Walker’s KMS had carried out all kinds of “wet affairs” for the Israelis – e. g., the assassination of Arafat’s moderate negotiator Said Hammami in his London office in January 1978. In 1987, Englishman Ian Davidson, a member of Arafat’s Force 17 bodyguards who, it seems, had penetrated them for the Mossad, would apparently double as a poacher to kill cartoonist Ali-Adhami in a street in Chelsea for having the temerity to publish one of the PLO leader’s latest mistress. (Geraghty, pp. 389-90)

Both Walker and Copeland, because of their involvement in protecting the Shah, were similarly worried over their own safety because of their known role by the Khomeini regime (Connor, pp. 225-6), and were most eager to please the new leadership in Teheran.

To kills two birds with one stone, Secord arranged for 80 HAWK missiles to be shipped through Sweden on November 17th for the now desperate Iranians in their war with Iraq. Schwimmer and Nimrodi purchased weapons from Bofors for Teheran, contrary to Palme’s pre-election commitments to stop them, and had leased three planes to fly all the weapons from Arlanda without authority from Inspector of War Materiel, Admiral Carl-Fredrik Algernon. (Richard Reeves, “The Palme Obsession,” The New York Times Magazine, March 1, 1987, esp. p. 56)

The Enterprise hoped to force the statsminister’s hand, as Washington and London had done with their submarines in the Baltic about alleged Soviet intrusions when he was returning to power in October 1982. (Ola Tunander, Harsfjarden, p. 13ff.)

The passage of the weapons through Sweden would show, if ever the NSA tapes of the conversations during transit were revealed, that Palme was being completely hypocriticalwhen he claimed that he was adhering to official US policy of not assisting militarily this sponsor of state terrorism (Operation Staunch), and that he was a honest broker in trying to settle its war with Saddam Hussein.

The Swedish communists would only conclude too that Palme was taking the coalition for a ride when he denied being anti-Soviet. By stopping the shipment, as Richard Reeves described in an article in The New York Times Magazine, the statsminister threw everyone into unanticipated confusion.

For North’s network, this meant somehow terminating Palme’s apparent efforts to assist the Soviet expansion, what works like Arkady Shevckenko’s Breaking with Moscow, Viktor Suvorov’s Soviet Military Intelligence and Spetsnaz, and Henry Denham’s Inside the Nazi Ring, sponsored by the CIA, MI5, and MI6 respectively, were increasingly calling for.

The problem was that Moscow was doing little to promote the claim, while rolling up double agents in Clarridge’s Operation Courtship, especially Gennady Varenik in Bonn, Gennady and Svetlana Smetanin in Lisbon, and Valeri Martynov and Boris Yuzhin in Moscow, trying to maintain it, thanks to the spying by the Agency’s Aldrich “Rick” Ames and the Bureau’s Robert Hanssen.

In this context, Britain and America did things to make it seem that Soviet expansion was in the works. Operation Brave Defender was carried out, a rehearsal apparently of WWIII where Spetsnaz forces overwhelmed everything NATO was capable of, giving the myth of Soviet invincibility a boost. (Connor, p. 441)

Then Palestinian Abu Nidal, who Geraghty would later be persuaded by British military intelligence killed Palme (The Bullet Catchers, p. 247ff.), carried out attacks with al-Kassar provided weapons on the airports in Rome and Vienna right after Christmas, killing five Americans, and fifteen others.

To make the case that Qaddafi was another Soviet client promoting IRA terrorism, a convenient cover for what was planned in Scandinavia, the 14 Intelligence Company joined the Irish Gardai a month later, thanks to American signit intelligence, in seizing prematurely tonnes of Libyan weapons, including machine guns to shoot down army helicopters, that Adam Hopkins’ Kula, formerly the Casmara, provided (Tony Geraghty, The Irish War, p. 182), resulting in the retribution execution of IRA quartermaster Frank Hegarty despite British assurances for the tipoff. (Raymond Murray, The SAS in Ireland, pp. 374-6)

Then Anglo-American intelligence, especially MI5’s F and G Branches, raised public anxiety about terrorism to a fever pitch by over-the-top stories about the GRU’s Spetsnaz forces, claiming that 25,000 of them under civilian cover had infiltrated Western Europe, even Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) protesters of the stationing of cruise missiles at Greenham Common.

While Connor saw this disinformation as the result of intelligence analysts overselling efforts to discredit CND with compliant journalists (Connor, pp. 439-41), actually it was to prepare the public for a showdown with the Soviets. The Times and Jane’s Defence Weekly considered the threat so real that they discussed the matter in late January issues.

The Times reporter Michael Binyon in Washington started a regular column, “Terrorism and America,” explaining the effort that Robert Oakley, who North had enlisted to get the HAWK missile shipment transported through Portugal (Lou Cannon, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime, p. 550), was mounting in NATO to contain the ‘low intensity warfare’ threatening Europe.

When Palme seemed to be, as Golitsyn had long claimed, a Soviet stooge afterall, all kinds of unexpected fallout from the HAWK fiasco had to be fixed. No sooner had Reagan signed the illegal finding on December 5th than Kimche resigned from The Enterprise, explaining that “the wrong men now had too much power in the consortium.” (Thomas, p. 142) Kimche, the Mossad’s former deputy director general, was replaced by the reckless Nir.

The Agency’s DD McMahon also had to go because of his having forced the President to sign the first finding (Cannon,p. 552), and was replaced by the gung-ho Robert Gates. McFarlane, who objected to the overthrow of Chile’s democratically-elected President Allende while serving in Nixon’s NSC, was so distressed by the turn of events that he too resigned, restricting his activities to gaining the release of the remaining hostages while Poindexter took over as NSA.

North concentrated on stifling blowback from operations in Central America, especially by Jack Terrell, Peter Glibbery, and Steven Carr of Tom Posey’s Civilian Military Assistance which had been seeking mercenaries in Britain.

They had become so disaffected by CMA’s attempts to assassinate Contra Southern Front leader Eden Pastora (Operation Pegasus), the brainchild of CIA’s Frank Camper which forced their explusion from Hondurus when its President learned about it, and North inviting Walker’s people to take their place (Cocaine Politics, note 19, p. 235), that they were willing to testify to the FBI about them, particularly those by Felipe Vidal aka Charles Morgan.

On February 16, 1987, the day this public advocate of international terrorism against pro-Castro targets was finally brought to heel, The Miami Herald reported that he had been arrested seven times on narcotics and weapons charges. Thanks to feedback from the Bureau’s George Kiszynski and Revell, though, North was able to make it look as if Terrell was the terrorist, threatening ultimately to kill Reagan. (Cocaine Politics, p. 132ff.)

Why North was so concerned about Terrell’s whistle-blowing efforts was because Morgan was already in Stockholm, looking for an assassin of the statsminister. In November, Morgan aka Peter Brown met Jovan von Birchan for a beer at the Continental Bistro during which Morgan asked him if he would be willing to carry out an assassination. Later, Morgan said that he was willing to pay him $2,000,000 to kill Palme.

While von Birchan did not take the offer seriously, he changed his mind during a January meeting in which Morgan explained emphatically: “it was decided that Olof Palme was going to be assassinated and you don’t have to worry about any police protection. I stand by my offer of 2 million dollars.” (Swedish military intelligence’s (SSI’s) agent Joel Haukka’s report, “Samtal med von Birchan 4 april 1986”)

Palme, in the interim, had stopped a Bofors deal with India, worth 15 billion Swedish crowns, that London’s AE Services weapons dealer Bob Wilson, an aquaintance of Morgan’s, had arranged. Around New Year’s Day, CIA agent “Milan” asked, it seems, Kenneth Neilberg also in Stockholm if he were willing to do the hit with the same assurances for 1,000,000 SEK.

When neither took up the offers, Morgan apparently went to London, seeking out an assassin, as Duncan Campbell belatedly explained in a Frontlines article, “MI6, Whistleblowers in Baltic Battle,” in the New Statesman: “Shortly after Palme was killed, I was told by three independent sources that recruiters for the killing -variously described as a group of Swedish businessman, with Finns and Germans also involved, possibly financed by a South African group, had approached mercenaries and arms dealers in London in order to find a suitable ‘hitman’.”

All the sources agreed that the former SAS (Special Air Service) and other possible killers approached had turned down the contract, and had then passed details of the approaches to Special Branch or to MI6 contacts. In turn, MI6 passed a warning to Sapo (SAK), the Swedish secret police.

One source said that the purpose of the killing was to destabilise Sweden and its powerful liberal stance on such matters as apartheid. A senior Special Branch, Detective Chief Inspector David Palmer-Hall, liases directly with the Secret Intelligence Service. (MI6) A former Special Branch commander, Rollo Watts, also works for Saldin (sic) Security, the cover company for the private British mercenary service KMS Ltd. KMS which is registered in Jersey was most recently and controversially used by Colonel Oliver North to assist in guerrilla missions with Contra forces in Nicaragua. (June 17, 1988, p. 7)

Whatever Morgan, and Campbell’s sources were attempting, the failure to find a mercenary to do the hit provided the perfect deception, it seems, for an officially-connected KMS one, with a built-in alibi.

While North worked out arrangements with CIA and MI6 to connect a suitable scapegoat, apparently Soviet spy Stig Bergling who was being groomed as the disgruntled party policeman, for the killing in Stockholm with Operation Courtship, making it look as if Moscow was behind the murder because of the countermeasures it took so that the US Navy and NATO could mete out a devastating first strike against the Soviets in reprisal, KMS arranged a fatal “double bluff” at Palme’s expense the next time it reassessed the performance of his bodyguards in Stockholm.

Connor has supplied a discrete history – no names, please – of how British forces got involved in training, and reassessing Swedish bodyguard protection of its leading figures, especially the statsminister, in just the way Walker wanted of complete secrecy. (p. 153ff.)

Sweden’s Granskning Kommission has filled in without realizing it many of the details about the reassessment team which started working from its just constructed shed outside Palme’s apartment in the Old Town two days before the assassination while the statsminister was on a visit to Hede, Sveg, and Ostersund in the far north. Witnesses testified about seeing two or three professional-looking men with walkie-talkies who spoke a kind of Swiss-German, just what a reassessment would be doing.

Jarl N spoke of seeing a dangerous-looking man down the street at the pharmacy, speaking so to a colleague: “He was 185-190 cm. tall, and had pale colored hair” (Brottsutredningen after mordet pa statsminister Olof Palme, p. 250), testimony that witnesses Mare R and Leif C corroborated.

The reason why the commission did not take their testimony more seriously was because of the confusion about who uses walkie-talkies in assassinations, and because the witnesses had been so slow in coming forward with it. They, unlike the reassessment team, did not know the location of where the Palmes lived, and thought, like most people, that assassins needed walkie-talkies. Bodyguards and their reassessors need them.

In this context, it was easy for one of the reassessors to kill the statsminister after he had monitored the performance of the bodyguards for a couple of days. On February 27th, North was so ecstatic about possibilities from Operation Recovery that he sent a Prof message to McFarlane, exclaiming “that we may well be on the verge of a major breakthrough – not only on the hostages/terrorism but on the relationship as a whole.” (Quoted from Walsh, p. 121.)

The NSA replied: “Roger,Ollie. Well done – if the world only knew how many times you have kept a semblance of integrity and gumption to US policy, they would make you Secretary of State. But they can’t know and would complain if they did – such is the state of democracy in the late 20th century.” (Quoted from Cannon, p. 572.)

Litte wonder that when the scandal broke, North tried to destroy all the Prof messages, and Cannon and Walsh have minimized respectively what he was attempting, and McFarlane’s reaction.

The blondish, 185-190 cm. tall reassessor would have a cakewall the following evening after all his stalking the statsminister when the Palmes attended the Grand Cinema on Sveavagen to see the movie Mozart, what Geraghty’s military intelligence expert claimed was a “night on the town” (p. 388), the statsminister’s alleged illicit pleasure which helped do him in like North Yemen’s President.

Teheran was so upset by Palme’s stopping the November missile shipments, putting the lie to all American claims that only Portugal was involved, as Reeves explained on the anniversary of the assassination, now that the Tower Commission had safely covered it up: “An Iranian military delegation came to Stockholm to protest the stopping of deliveries. That was on Feb. 4, 1986, three weeks before Palme’s murder.” (p. 56)

This gave the reassessor an absolute alibi for the assassination, explaining also why the statsminister seemed to recognize him before he shot him, and why his wife’s first reaction to the shooting was thus: “It emerged at the weekend that Mrs. Palme had noticed two men acting strangely outside their house and watching their door, but she had not reported it to the police.” (Martin Linton, “Few clues in the hunt for Palme’s killer,” The Guardian, March 2, 1986, p. 1) Unfortunately, by then, the police had been primed to look for Khomeneini’s Iranians settling scores with the statsminister.

Fortunately, though, the operations North had arranged went no further, thanks particularly to the spying by Ames and Hanssen for the Soviets which tipped them off about the timing of Palme’s assassination, thanks to Oleg Gordievsky’s briefing of the former in February, and there is no need now to follow the whole shabby story.

Its leading items were the diversions at Libya’s expense, Reagan’s presents for Iranian Speaker Ali Rafsanjani in May, and the President’s thanking Gordievsky in the Oval Office for what he had done! (Christopher Andrew, For the President’s Eyes Only, pp. 476-7)

Things only got interesting again for North when the scandal could be exposed after the shootdown, and Reagan forced North and NSA Poindexter to resign, asking crony Attorney General Edwin Meese to investigate the matter without the help of the Bureau or the Justice Department.

While he cautiously did so, North and his people were busily destroying evidence, and creating a false chronology which would protect the President – leaving out the attempt to sneak the HAWK missiles through Stockholm. (Cannon, p. 611ff.) McFarlane intensified the process by attempting suicide in February 1987. (Timberg, pp. 425-9)

Then Congress granted immunity to the main principals, starting with North, and Independent Counsel Walsh, when he finally got started, continued the process, especially with his assistant Earl, and secretary Fawn Hall (Walsh, p. 99ff.), making any serious convictions most unlikely. Ultimately, even Poindexter was not convicted of perjury and obstructing justice, the verdict being thrown out on appeal.

During all this confusion, behind the scenes the Senate Intelligence Committee was determining the scope of the conspiracy, the Tower Commission informed the public of a sanitized version of it, and the joint Select Committee on Secret Military Assistance to Iran publicized it, what its leading Senators William S. Cohen and George Mitchell legitimized in their book, Men of Zeal: A Candid Inside Story of the Iran-Contra Hearings.

Cohen was the connecting link in the whole process, centered around the Senator from Texas, and Vietnam hawk, Tower, who had helped cover up the JFK assassination, and was equally committed to the men of zeal he had collected around him while serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

While Cohen claimed he was involved in a “comprehensive search for the truth” (p. 21), he was actually engaged in legitimizing the false chronology, covering up the attempt to sneak the HAWK missiles through Sweden, and getting Reagan to minimize the problem by admitting that suppying arms for the release of hostages was wrong. (David E. Rosenbaum, “Senator Says Reagan Must Face ‘Mistake’,” The New York Times, Jan. 13, 1987, A8; and Jan. 15, A12)

Cohen’s efforts, though, were seriously undercut by the book’s own chronology of events, where there was a gaping hole between the Nov. 17th meeting that McFarlane had with Chief of Staff Donald Regan to inform him of the trouble over the missile shipment, what North recruited Secord to fix the next day, and the actual delivery of 18 HAWK missiles a week later (p. xxii).

Then there was a most confusing rigmorole about Portugal being the only country in question, though the White House refused to declassify the names of countries which actually supplied arms to the Contras, causing Cohen and Mitchell to refer to them only by number (p. ix), Sweden apparently being “Country Six”, only for them to discuss in detail Dewey Clarridge’s role in trying to dragoon Portugal into the process (pp. 255-6).

This use of numbers to hide the truth proved so successful that Walsh even adopted it when Judge Webster, now the new DCI, was smoothly smothering any chance of the truth coming out. Director Webster, of course, knew all about Iran-Contra, thanks to his paving the way for North to use Walker’s firms, and by his refusing to allow the FBI to get involved in their operations for fear it would commit illegal acts just when Palme was assassinated. (Mark Riebling, Wedge, pp. 368-9)

While Webster, by Washington’s standards, had a squeaky-clean reputation, Reagan, once the attempt to simply slip Gates into the deceased Casey’s place failed, had moved him to head the troubled Agency to limit the fallout from Iran-Contra, what he had already helped by allowing Meese, of all people, to secure the evidence, and by slowing the process of disclosure of the little left as the cover up was being assembled. (Walsh, pp. 147-8)

Finally, it was a question if Webster’s team at CIA would supply Walsh with the last remaining evidence that NSA had about North’s operations, buggings, and FLASH messages, especially the NSA tapes about weapons shipments, what McFarlane had put the highest priority on destroying when the scandal broke. (Walsh, p. 8)

Walsh needed the tapes to establish the criminality of Fernandez, what the Independent Counsel hoped to achieve at a Sunday, July 23, 1989, meeting with DCI Webster, DDCI Robert Kerr, and DO Richard Stolz, Webster’s classmate at Amherst (Riebling, p. 389), who was already involved in collecting money for Fernandez’s defence. When the Agency seemed to be wavering on the matter, Stolz exclaimed: “What will they think in Olso?” (Quoted from Walsh, p. 216.)

While Walsh thought the comment irrelevant, it concerned the NSA eavesdropping facility at Vardo on Norway’s North Cape. Release of any of its material would be a precedent for a flood which could swamp far more than just the Reagan administration. For starters, it had the crucial tape of the flight of the 80 HAWK missiles which Palme’s government stopped in mid-transit on November 17, 1985.

Without the tapes, Walsh opted for a system of cards identifying each CIA station and facility being discussed with a number so jurors could keep track of the testimony, a procedure that the judge dismissed as a “kindergarten-like proposal” (Walsh, p. 17), and Attorney General Richard Thornburgh refused by remedy by allowing the necessary classified information to be introduced in court.

While no one had noticed, London had been doing what was necessary to cover up its side of the scandal. As the above long quotation indicated, Duncan Campbell was most knowledgeable about the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and America, and their joint operations, thanks to his coverage of the counterterrorism Britain was conducting in Northern Ireland. (Mark Urban, UK Eyes Alpha, p. 56)

No sooner had Campbell, a thorn in the establishment’s side, started questioning Defence officials, and Public Accounts Committee chairman Robert Sheldon, brother of Legal Adviser to DGSS Duff, about an independent satellite system free from NSA’s vagaries (ZIRCON), especially in the wake of the Challenger disaster, for his BBC television series, Secret Society, than Prime Minister Thatcher had it banned.

When Campbell persisted in his efforts, publishing an article in the New Statesman, she instructed Attorney General Michael Havers to issue an injunction against his writing any more, and to have Special Branch raid the Glasgow offices of the BBC, and the Labour journal in London for tapes and papers about what was in the pipeline “…to protect the intelligence services from journalistic scrutiny, even if the politcal cost was high.” (Urban, p. 61)

While this gagging of the press was tightening, British intelligence services arranged the set-up in Sweden of a person resembling the description by the above mentioned witnesses, and the Photo-Fit representation of the killer by the witnesses of the assassination – apparently Captain Simon Hayward aka James Rennie, officially a member of the Household Cavalry but actually the Operations Officer of the 14 Intelligence Company’s South Detachment.

Hayward left Northern Ireland on February 12, 1987, and five days later he departed England for the fateful ‘holiday’ with his brother Chris in the Mediterranean. Once Hayward was safely put away in Sweden, Ruth Freeman apparently aka Simon Freeman, who had just written The Secret Life of Anthony Blunt, published Death of a Statesman, thanks, it seems, to MI5 funding (N. b. that he was a roving foreign correspondent, 1986-89, Contemporary Authors, vol. 133, p. 132.), explaining the assassination in such self-serving terms for the beleaguered Captain that anyone would suspect him if the trumped up case against Swedish and PKK scapegoats broke down.

Right after the assassination, a British consultant and MI6 operative, apparently Gordievsky, had gone to Stockholm, and told publisher and owner of a private intelligence company Ebbe Carlsson, and the two Sapo officers, who had bugged the KGB residency on the night of Palme’s assassination on the instruction of the CIA Stockholm station chief Jenonne Walker, that the Iranians had arranged for the PKK to kill the statsminister because of his stoppage of weapons shipments, starting in November 1985. (Jesus Alcala, “Polisen ville tro pa PKK-sparet,” Dagens Nyheter, Feb. 28, 1996)

MI6, knowing now the safety in numbers, had the same operative, it seems, tell his friend Karl-Gunnar Back, the Swedish Chairman of Civil Defence, that mercenary Craig Williamson had arranged the assassination hit-team, Koevoet/COIN, for disgrunted groups within the Swedish and South African security services (Operation Longreach). (Roger Magnegard and Mari Sandstrom, “Sydafrika planlade mordet,” Svensk Dagbladet, May 27, 1987, p. 7.)

Needless to say, the Swedish police investigated these leads conscientiously, once they had disposed of the Agency-supplied decoy Victor Gunnarsson as a suspect, but they never got anywhere. Hans Holmer, who was leading the investigation, was so obsessed with the idea that PKK had done it that he had to be sacked. MI6 was unable or unwilling to suppy any more information.

As a result, Swedish Ministers of Justice, particularly Anna-Greta Leijon, and interested citizens, especally Ebbe Carlsson, became increasingly frustrated, the former finally instructing the latter on May 4, 1988, to go to London behind the police’s back on a secret mission to see if he could develop more information about the assassination from “the relevant British Authority.” (Campbell, op. cit.)

No sooner had Carlsson arrived than his letter of introduction was leaked to the press, touching off what Duncan Campbell called Sweden’s ‘Contragate’ – a private network pursuing its own agenda at the expense of established practice, and the public interest. Exploiting Ms. Leijon’s belief that the British really knew who killed Palme, and they did, according to Campbell, what her own police were apparently failing to take advantage of, the Brits were able to turn the tables completely on Stockholm, and Campbell was permitted to publish the results.

In the end, Walsh considered prosecuting North again after his first conviction had been thrown out because it was based upon immunized testimony, leading to a showdown between the Independent Counsel and the former NSC staffer.

By then, the three most dangerous witnesses of his operations, Nir, Major Charles McKee, and the CIA’s Matthew Gannon, had been killed in sabotaged airplanes – Ben-Menashe had Gene “Chip” Tatum, who has now disappeared, shoot down the Cessna T-210 Nir was flying in over Morelia, Mexico on Nov. 30,1988, while McKee and Gannon were on board Pan Am Flight103 which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, a few weeks later.

Nir’s problem was that he had recorded a conversation with Vice President Bush at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel on July 29, 1986 about Iran-Contra, which McKee, and Gannon witnessed, and what he threatened to reveal at North’s trial.

According to Joel Bainerman, the publisher of an Israeli intelligence report who had questioned another witness, a Navy Commander, of the conversation, “North told him,” Thomas repeated, “that Nir was killed because he threatened to go public with the recording of the Jerusalem meeting.” (Quoted from p. 316.)

McKee, Gannon, and three other CIA agents apparently fell afoul of arms dealer al-Kassar’s independent operations in their attempt to set up a new hostage rescue mission. According to Interfor’s investigation into the tragedy, al-Kassar’s masters blew up the airliner before McKee’s team could blow the whistle on them, thanks to the bungling by German police at Frankfurt’s airport, and CIA managers at Langley. (Jonathan Vankin and John Whelan, The 60 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time, p. 280ff.)

Gannon, whose father-in-law was CIA’s Tom Twetten who had served as the Agency’s liaison with North on the NSC (Ted Gup, The Book of Honor, p. 314), was simply trying to clean up the whole Iran-Contra mess as neatly as possible, but only got killed in the process.

The whole question about a retrial concerned what would appear in North’s memoir, Under Fire: An American Life, the title and anticipated substance most reminiscent of the British Army’s counterterrorist specialist Captain Simon Hayward’s Under Fire: My Own Story.

While North’s manuscript was still being prepared in October 1991, largely being ghost-written by William Novak who wrote Nancy Reagan’s memoirs, the text would turn on what North meant by “diversion”, and “the secret within a secret”.

North told reporter George Lardner that Reagan approved the diversion of profits to the Contras, and directed him and Poindexter to take the blame in order to divert attention away from everything else the President and his advisors knew and approved of. (“North: Reagan ‘Knew Everything’ ,” The Washington Post, Oct. 20, 1991, A, 4:1)

Their darkest secrets apparently concerned the 1985 arms shipments to Iran, the ‘findings’ to justify it, the false chronology to cover it up, etc.

Three days later, Walsh dropped all charges against North (Lloyd Grove, “In From Cold,” ibid., Oct. 23, 1991, B, 1:4), and he reciprocated in kind with the first installation of his book for Time by claiming that the diversions, the secret within a secret, and the false chronology were merely to protect the diversion of the $12,000,000 in profits to the Contras the following April.

“The secret within a secret” turned out to be the Iranians not getting the weapons they bargained for in November 1985, at the fair, market price, and the illicit profits going to the enemies of their allies, the Sandinistas. ( “Reagan Knew Everything,” Time, Oct. 28, pp. 47-8)

North’s most serious offenses, it seems, were to put his hand in the till to help pay for a car (Walsh, pp. 201-2), and to build a security fence around his house to protect his family from the likes of Abu Nidal! (“Notes & Amends,” Eye Spy!, Issue Nine, p. 4) North, instead of being the chief plotter, turned out to be, it seems, just another target of the so-called Palestinian hitman.

In sum, Iran-Contra turned out to be a far lesser crisis than Watergate, thanks to the complete separation of the effective counterintelligence and countermeasures that the Soviets had taken to save themselves (Riebling, p. 430ff.) from the comprehensive cover-ups that the Americans and the British had mounted to trivialize North’s operations (pp. 367-412), what President Bush completed doing during his last days, pardoning everyone else, except Poindexter, just before he left office.



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Trowbridge Ford (1929 - 2021) was the son of William Wallace Ford, the father of the US Army's Grasshoppers. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy, and Columbia University where he received a Ph.D. in political science after a stint in the Army's Counter Intelligence Corps as a draftee during the Korean War, and after being discharged, worked as the sports editor and a reporter for the now-defunct Raleigh Times. Thought academia was the thing for him.  He was quite satisfied teaching all kinds of courses about European and American politics while writing his dissertation about an under-appreciated British politician, Henry Brougham, who became the Lord Chancellor of the famous Reform Government (1830-34). At the same time, Trowbridge became most interested in the role that A. V. Dicey, a famous Oxford legal professor, played in settling the Irish question - another figure that historians didn't think did much about.   It was while he was doing research on the dissertation at the British Museum in London that President Kennedy was assassinated, and it slowly led him to take a dimmer view of academic life, especially when joined by campus protests over the growing Vietnam War.  He was fired by two institutions of higher learning because of his protests against the war. When the Vietnam War finally ended, he got involved in researching the Dallas assassination, and his first serious efforts about it appeared in Tom Valentine's The National Exchange in 1978 - what Fletcher Prouty thought was quite good, just urging him to go higher in the Agency and the political world for the main culprits. He slowly started doing this, ultimately deciding to retire early in 1986, planning on finishing his Brougham biography while living in Portugal. While he did this, he had made too many enemies with the White House not to be punished - first by attempts to establish that he maliciously tried to destroy Richard Nixon during Watergate by libeling him, and when he died, DCI George Tenet tried to have me killed by poisoning - what would make his death look like a suicide or a natural one. As a result of this, once he had finally determined the cause, he moved to Sweden to not only save his skin but also investigate and write about assassinations, covert operations, 'false flag' deceptions, preventive wars, weapons development, and their use, etc.  He passed away in 2021.