by Alfonso Chardy
HERALD WASHINGTON BUREAU
April 15, 2008
Complete text of the original article as printed in the Miami Herald
for July 5, 1987
Some of President Reagan's top
advisers have operated a virtual parallel government outside the traditional
Cabinet departments and agencies almost from the day Reagan took office,
congressional investigators and administration officials have concluded.
Investigators believe that the advisers'
activities extended well beyond the secret arms sales to Iran and aid to the
contras now under investigation.
Lt. Col. Oliver North, for example, helped draw up a controversial plan to
suspend the Constitution in the event of a national crisis, such as nuclear
war, violent and widespread internal dissent or national opposition to a
U.S. military invasion abroad.
When the attorney general at the time, William French Smith, learned of the
proposal, he protested in writing to North's boss, then-national security
adviser Robert McFarlane.
The advisers conducted their activities through secret contacts throughout
the government with persons who acted at their direction but did not
officially report to them.
The activities of those contacts were coordinated by the National Security
Council, the officials and investigators said.
There appears to have been no formal directive for the advisers' activities,
which knowledgeable sources described as a parallel government.
In a secret assessment of the activities, the lead counsel for the Senate
Iran-contra committee called it a "secret government-within-a-government."
The arrangement permitted Reagan administration officials to claim that they
were not involved in controversial or illegal activities, the officials
"It was the ultimate plausible deniability," said a well-briefed official
who has served the Reagan administration since 1982 and who often
collaborated on covert assistance to the Nicaraguan contras.
The roles of top-level officials and of Reagan himself are still not clear.
But that is expected to be a primary topic when North appears before the
Iran-contra committees beginning Tuesday.
Special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh
also is believed to be trying to prove in his investigation of the
Iran-contra affair that government officials engaged in a criminal
ADVISERS FORMED SHADOW
GOVERNMENT, PROBERS SAY
Much of the time, Cabinet secretaries and their aides were unaware of the
advisers' activities. When they periodically detected operations, they
complained or tried to derail them, interviews show.
But no one ever questioned the activities in a broad way, possibly out of a
belief that the advisers were operating with presidential sanction,
Reagan did know of or approve at least some of the actions of the secret
group, according to previous accounts by aides, friends and high-ranking
One such case is the 1985 visit to Libya by William Wilson, then-U.S.
ambassador to the Vatican and a close Reagan friend, to meet with Libyan
leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi, officials said last week. Secretary of State
George Shultz rebuked Wilson, but the officials said Reagan knew of the trip
The heart of the secret structure from 1983 to 1986 was North's office in
the Old Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House, investigators
North's influence within the secret structure was so great, the sources
said, that he was able to have the orbits of sophisticated surveillance
satellites altered to follow Soviet ships around the world, call for the
launching of high-flying spy aircraft on secret missions over Cuba and
Nicaragua and become involved in sensitive domestic activities.
Others in the structure included some of Reagan's closest friends and
advisers, including former national security adviser William Clark, the late
CIA Director William Casey and Attorney General Edwin Meese, officials and
Congressional investigators said the Iran deal was just one of the group's
initiatives. They say exposure of the unusual arrangement may be the legacy
of their inquiry.
"After we establish that a policy decision was made at the highest levels to
transfer responsibility for contra support to the NSC..., we favor examining
how that decision was implemented," wrote Arthur Liman, chief counsel of the
Senate committee, in a secret memorandum to panel leaders Sens. Daniel
Inouye, D-Hawaii, and Warren Rudman, R- N.H., before hearings began May 5.
"This is the part of the story that reveals the whole secret
government-within-a-government, operated from the [Executive Office
Building] by a Lt. Col., with its own army, air force, diplomatic agents,
intelligence operatives and appropriations capacity," Limon wrote in the
memo, parts of which were shared with The Herald.
A spokesman for Liman declined comment but did not dispute the memo's
A White House official rejected the notion that any of Reagan's advisers
were operating secretly.
"The president has constantly expressed his foreign policy positions to the
public and has consulted with the Congress," the official said.
Began in 1980
Congressional investigators and current and former officials interviewed - members of the CIA, State Department and Pentagon
- said they still do not
have a full record of the impact of the the advisers' activities.
But based on investigations and personal experience, they believe the secret
governing arrangement traces its roots to the last weeks of Reagan's 1980
Officials say the genesis may have been an October 1980 decision by Casey,
Reagan's campaign manager and a former officer in the World War II precursor
of the CIA, to create an
October Surprise Group to monitor Jimmy Carter's
feverish negotiations with Iran for the release of 52 American hostages.
The group, led by campaign foreign policy adviser Richard Allen, was founded
out of concern Carter might pull off an "October surprise" such as a
last-minute deal for the release of the hostages before the Nov. 4 election.
One of the group's first acts was a meeting with a man claiming to represent
Iran who offered to release the hostages to Reagan.
Allen - Reagan's first national security adviser - and another campaign
aide, Laurence Silberman, told The Herald in April of the meeting. They said
McFarlane, then a Senate Armed Services Committee aide, arranged and
attended it. McFarlane later became Reagan's national security adviser and
played a key role in the Iran-contra affair.
Allen and Silberman said they
rejected the offer to release the hostages to Reagan.
Briefing book theft
Congressional aides now link another well-known campaign incident - the
theft of confidential briefing materials from Carter's campaign before the
Oct. 28, 1980, Carter-Reagan debate - to the same group of advisers.
They believe that Casey obtained the briefing materials and passed them to
James Baker, another top Reagan campaign aide, who was White House chief of
staff in Reagan's first term.
Once Reagan was sworn in, the group moved quickly to set itself up,
officials said. Within months, the advisers were clashing with officials in
the traditional agencies.
Six weeks after Reagan was sworn in, apparently over State Department
objections, then-CIA director Casey submitted a proposal to Reagan calling
for covert support of anti-Sandinista groups that had fled Nicaragua after
the 1979 revolution.
THE IRAN-CONTRA CONNECTION
NORTH HAD BIG ROLE IN INNER CIRCLE,
It is still unclear whether Casey cleared the plan with Reagan. But In
November 1981 the CIA secretly flew an Argentine military leader, Gen.
Leopoldo Galtieri, to Washington to devise a secret agreement under which
Argentine military officers trained Nicaraguan rebels, according to an
administration official familiar with the agreement.
About the same time, North completed his transfer to the NSC from the Marine
Corps. Those who worked with North in 1981 remember his first assignments as
routine, although not unimportant.
North, they recalled, was briefly assigned to carry the "football," the
briefcase containing the secret contingency plans for fighting a nuclear
war, which is taken everywhere the president goes. North later widened his
assignment to cover national crisis contingency planning.
In that capacity
he became involved with the controversial national crisis plan drafted by
the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
NATIONAL CRISIS PLAN
From 1982 to 1984, North assisted
FEMA, the U.S. government's chief national
crisis-management unit, in revising contingency plans for dealing with
nuclear war, insurrection or massive military mobilization.
North's involvement with FEMA set off the first major clash between the
official government and the advisers and led to the formal letter of protest
in 1984 from then- Attorney General Smith.
Smith was in Europe last week and could not be reached for comment.
But a government official familiar with North's collaboration with FEMA said
then-Director Louis O. Guiffrida, a close friend of Meese's, mentioned North
in meetings during that time as FEMA's NSC contact.
Guiffrida could not be reached for comment, but FEMA spokesman Bill McAda
confirmed the relationship.
"Officials of FEMA met with Col. North during 1982 to 1984," McAda said.
"These meetings were appropriate to Col. North's duties with the National
Security Council and FEMA's responsibilities in certain areas of national
FEMA's clash with Smith occurred over a secret contingency plan that called
for suspension of the Constitution, turning control of the United States
over to FEMA, appointment of military commanders to run state and local
governments and declaration of martial law during a national crisis.
The plan did not define national crisis, but it was understood to be nuclear
war, violent and widespread internal dissent or national opposition against
a military invasion abroad.
PLAN WAS PROTESTED
The official said the contingency plan was written as part of an executive
order or legislative package that Reagan would sign and hold within the NSC
until a severe crisis arose.
The martial law portions of the plan were outlined in a June 30, 1982, memo
by Guiffrida's deputy for national preparedness programs, John Brinkerhoff.
A copy of the memo was obtained by The Herald.
The scenario outlined in the Brinkerhoff memo
resembled somewhat a paper Guiffrida had written in 1970 at the Army War
College in Carlisle, Pa., in which he advocated martial law in case of a
national uprising by black militants.
The paper also advocated the roundup
and transfer to,
"assembly centers or relocation camps" of at least 21
million "American Negroes."
When he saw the FEMA plans, Attorney General Smith became alarmed. He
dispatched a letter to McFarlane Aug. 2, 1984 lodging his objections and
urging a delay in signing the directive.
"I believe that the role assigned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency
in the revised Executive Order exceeds its proper function as a coordinating
agency for emergency preparedness," Smith said in the letter to McFarlane,
which The Herald obtained.
"This department and others have repeatedly
raised serious policy and legal objections to the creation of an 'emergency
czar' role for FEMA."
It is unclear whether the executive order was signed or whether it contained
the martial law plans.
Congressional sources familiar with national disaster
procedures said they believe Reagan did sign an executive order in 1984 that
revised national military mobilization measures to deal with civilians in
case of nuclear war or other crisis.
Around the time that issue was producing fireworks with the administration,
McFarlane and Casey reassigned North from national crisis planning to
international covert management of the contras. The transfer came after
North took a personal interest, realizing that neither the State Department
nor any other government agency wanted to handle the issue after it became
clear early in 1984 that Congress was moving to bar official aid to the
The new assignment, plus North's natural organizational ability, creativity
and the sheer energy he dedicated to the issue, gradually led to an
expansion of his power and stature within the covert structure, officials
and investigators believe.
Meese also was said to have played a role in the secret government,
investigators now believe, but his role is less clear.
Meese sometimes referred private American citizens to the NSC so they could
be screened and contacted for soliciting support for the Nicaraguan contras.
One of those supporters, Philip Mabry of Fort Worth, told The Herald earlier
this year that in 1983 he was told by fellow conservatives in Texas to
contact Meese, then White House counselor, if he wanted to help the contras.
After he contacted Meese's office, Mabry received a letter from Meese
obtained by The Herald advising him that his name had been given to the
Shortly thereafter, Mabry said, a woman who identified herself as Meese's
secretary gave him the name and phone number of another NSC secretary who,
in turn, gave him North and his secretary, Fawn Hall, as contacts.
Meese's Justice Department spokesman, Patrick Korten, denies that Meese was
part of North's secret contra supply network and notes that Meese does not
recall having referred anyone to North on contra-related matters.
In addition to North's role as contra commander and fund-raiser, North
became secret overseer of the State Department's Office of Public Diplomacy,
through which the Reagan administration disseminated information that cast
Nicaragua as a threat to its neighbors and the United States.
An intelligence source familiar with North's relationship with that office
said North was directly involved in many of the best publicized news leaks,
including the Nov. 4, 1984, Election Day announcement that Soviet-made MiG
jet fighters were on their way to Nicaragua.
McFarlane is now believed to have been the senior administration official
who told reporters that the Soviet cargo ship Bakuriani, en route to
Nicaragua from a Soviet Black Sea port, was probably carrying MiGs.
The intelligence official said North apparently recommended that the
information be leaked to the press on Election Day so it would reach
millions of people watching election results.
CBS and NBC broadcast the
report that night.
CLARK HAD KEY ROLE
The leak led to a new clash between the regular bureaucracy and the
president's advisers. The official State Department spokesman, John Hughes,
tried hard to play down the report, pointing out that it was unproven that
the Bakuriani was carrying MiGs. At the same time, employees of the Office
of Public Diplomacy, acting under North's direction, insisted that the
crates were inside the ship and that MiGs were still a possibility.
To take a closer look, the source said, North requested a high-flying SR-71
Blackbird spy aircraft be sent from Beale Air Force Base near Sacramento,
Calif., to fly over the Nicaraguan port of Corinto while the Bakuriani
unloaded its cargo. The pictures showed that the Bakuriani unloaded
helicopters, not MiGs.
North was not the only adviser who operated outside traditional government
channels, investigators have concluded.
Others were known as the RIGLET, a semi-official unit made up of North; Alan
Fiers, a CIA Central American affairs officer; and Elliott Abrams, the
current assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, according
to Abrams' subordinate Richard Melton. Melton revealed the existence of the
RIGLET in a deposition given to the Iran- contra committees. The name is a
diminutive for RIG, which stands for Restricted Interagency Group.
Among the RIGLET's actions was ordering the U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica,
Lewis Tambs, to assist the contras in setting up a front in southern
Nicaragua. Tambs, who resigned suddenly last year after his links to North
were revealed, testified about the instructions to Iran-contra
But perhaps the key to the parallel government was the role played by
Reagan's second national security adviser, William Clark. It was during
Clark's tenure that North began to gain influence in the NSC.
Clark also recruited several midlevel officers from the Pentagon and the CIA
to work on a special Central American task force in 1983 to push aid for El
Salvador, a task force member said.
"Judge Clark was the granddaddy of the system," he said. "I was working at
the Pentagon on another issue when my boss said that because of special
circumstances, I was to be reassigned to the task force."
A former administration official familiar with Clark's activities said Clark
also had approved contacts between Vatican Ambassador Wilson and Libya
before Wilson's November 1985 journey, which came after McFarlane replaced
Clark at the NSC.
The former official said Wilson also had carried out secret missions for the
Reagan administration in a Latin American country where Wilson reportedly
maintained contacts with high-level officials. The source asked that the
country not be identified because the system is still in place and had
reduced tensions by circumventing the regular bureaucracies of both
Calls to Wilson's and Clark's offices in California were not returned.