Oliver North: Hero or Buffoon?


By Robert O’Dowd, VT

(SALEM, OR) – Retired Army Colonel David H. Hackworth didn’t like Oliver North. In “Drugstore Marine,” Hackworth gave his reasons for distrusting the former Marine officer who was a matinee star during the Iran/Contra hearings and is currently a FOX News personality:

LET ME TRY to describe Oliver North in a few fast bursts. He’s a jackass. He is so preposterous that there is a temptation to laugh at him. He’s smarmy, a flatter, a brownnoser. He’s also a twisted impostor, a drugstore Marine with an apparent compulsion to bullshit just about all the time. But while he tries to fool people with his fantasies, he is also very easy to fool. He boasts that he was a can-do guy when he was in the White House, but the record spells no-can-do. North did terrible damage to the U.S. until he was caught.

Colonel David H. Hackworth, USA, was in line for stars when he blew the whistle on the Army’s conduct of the Vietnam War in a TV interview for ABC in 1971 in Vietnam.  Maybe he could have gone about it another way and remained in the Army, but that was not his style. Ordered back to the US, he retired from the Army and left the country for a period of time.

Colonel Hackworth was an authentic American hero who was awarded a battlefield commission at 20 in Korea, wounded 8 times in Korea and Vietnam and received many awards for valor on the battlefield.  His awards include Distinguished Service Cross (2), Silver Star (10), Legion of Merit (4), Distinguished Flying CrossBronze Star Medal (8), and  Purple Heart (8). Ordered back to the US, he retired from the Army and left the country for a period of time.

He returned as a journalist. As a journalist, Hackworth wrote for MaximMen’s JournalModern MaturityNewsweekParadePeoplePlayboySelfSoldier of Fortune, and World Net Daily.

David Hackworth died in 2005 of bladder cancer more likely than not from multiple tours in Vietnam and Agent Orange exposure.  He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

In July 1987, North testified before televised hearings of a joint congressional committee that was formed to investigate Iran–Contra. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North was the point man for Iran-Contra, involved in negotiations with the Iranians, shipments of TOWs and Hawk missiles to Iran used in the trade of arms-for-hostages and diversion of funds from the sale of arms to the Contras, keeping the Contras supplied with weapons in violation of the Boland Amendments. His testimony to Congress was riveting, drawing millions of viewers away from the “Soaps” on TV.  Some Marines were angry because he wore his Marine Corps greens at the hearings when he was on assignment from the Corps to the NSC and not taking orders from the Corps.  Even those who think he’s a liar had to be impressed with his composure and responses to aggressive questioning.

His boyish good looks charmed millions of viewers.  There’s no question that North was a dedicated, talented, and successful salesman for the Reagan administration at least until the Fairchild C-123K was shot out of the air over Nicaragua. Before they could be impounded, North took his notebooks (2,848 pages of daily notes from September 1984 through November 1986) from the White House after he was fired from the NSC staff by President Reagan in November 1986. North turned the notebooks over to his lawyer who asserted his Fifth Amendment Rights when the notebooks were requested by the Senate’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations (the Subcommittee).  North or his attorney censored 1,269 pages of the notebooks before turning them over to Kerry’s staff for review in December 1987, according to the Subcommittee.  Congress granted North immunity but he still objected to handing over the full notebooks.  The Subcommittee concluded that the deletions in the notebooks made it difficult to determine the full extent of “narcotics trafficking.” [1]

Despite the deletions and refusals to hand over all of the notebooks in the possession of North (now a former NSC employee whose classification clearance had been terminated), the White House’s position was that the notebooks were “federal property and subject to classification at the highest level.”  Some of the entries in North’s notebooks found by the Subcommittee to be related to narcotics include:

  • May 12, 1984…contract indicates that Gustavo is involved w/drugs (Q0266)
  • June 26, 1984, DEA—followed by two blocks of text deleted by North (Q0349)
  • June 27, 1984, Drug Case—DEA program on controlling cocaine—Ether cutoff—Columbians readjusting—possible negotiations to move refining effort to Nicaragua—Pablo Escobar—Columbian drug czar—Informant (Pilot) is indicted criminal—Carlos Ledher—Freddy Vaughn (Q0354)
  • July 9, 1984, Call from Claridge—Call Michael re Narco Issue—RIG at 1000 Tomorrow—(Q0384)
  • DEA Miami—Pilot went talked to Vaughn—wanted A/C to go to Bolivia to p/u paste—want A/C to p/u 1500 kilos—Bud to meet w/Group (Q0385)
  • July 12, 1984, Gen Gorman—Include Drug Case (Q0400)
  • Call from Johnstone—(While House deletion) leak on Drug (Q0402)
  • July 17, 1984, Call to Frank M—Bud Mullins Re—leak on DEA piece—Carlton Turner (Q0418)
  • Call from Johnstone—McManus, LA Times—says/NSC source claims W.H. has pictures of Borge leading cocaine in Nic (Q0416)
  • July 20, 1984, Call from Clarridge—Alfredo Ceasar Re Drugs-Borge/Owen leave Hull alone (Deletions)/Los Brasiles Air Field—Owen off Hull (Q0426)
  • July 27, 1984, Clarridge—(Block of White House deleted text follows)—Arturo Cruz, Jr.—Get Alfred Caesar on Drugs (Q0450)
  • July 31, 1984, –Finance:  Libya—Cuba/Bloc Countries—Drugs…Pablo Escobar/Fredric Vaughn (Q0460)
  • July 31, 1984, Staff queries re (White House deletions) role in DEA operations in Nicaragua (Q0461)
  • December 21, 1984, Call from Clarridge:  Ferch (White House deletion)—Tambs—Costa Rica—Felix Rodriquez close to (White House deletion)—not assoc.  W/Villoldo—Bay of Pigs—No drugs (Q0922)
  • January 14. 1985, Bob Owens—John Hull—no drug connection—Believes (Q0977)

July 12, 1985, $14 million to finance came from drugs (Q1039)[2] In 1988, for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, North was charged with sixteen felonies, convicted on three felonies (accepting an illegal gratuity; aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a congressional inquiry; and ordering the destruction of documents).   He was sentenced to a three-year suspended prison term, two years probation, $150,000 in fines, and 1,200 hours of community service. North’s convictions were vacated after the appeals court found that witnesses in his trial might have been affected by his immunized Congressional testimony.

Was Lt. Colonel North a scapegoat, taking the hit for others higher in the government? If North was a scapegoat, it didn’t hurt him financially; he didn’t go to jail; he’s drawing his Marine Corps retirement pay; making bucks from book sales and TV appearances and life has been good to him.  Not bad for someone who could have spent much of his life in Federal prison. You can argue whether supporting the Contras was good or bad for the US. However, no one would disagree that the shipment of drugs into the US on the same aircraft that delivered weapons to the Contras was anything but destructive.  Like many others, North just chose to look the other way. The objective was to get the hostages out of the Middle East and bring down the Sandinista government.

If the Contras were dealing with illegal drugs, then that was somebody else’s problem. North didn’t have the authority to pull this off on his own. He reported to National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, and Annapolis graduate, and then to his successor, Vice Admiral John M. Poindexter.  On paper Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North was the deputy director of political-military affairs.  The facts support that North was the point man on Iran-Contra.  He was literally all over the map, negotiating with the Iranians for what amounted to arms for hostages deal with the mark-up over costs going into secret bank accounts to purchase weapons and supplies for the Contras in Central America.


[1] North turned the notebooks over to his lawyer who asserted his Fifth Amendment Rights when the notebooks were requested by the Senate’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations (the Subcommittee):  Drugs, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy Report, Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations, Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, December 1988, pg. 145

[2] Entries in North’s notebooks found to be related to narcotics: Drugs, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy Report, op. cit, pg. 146-147.


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