OLIVER LAURENCE NORTH
The name Oliver “Ollie” North resonates with many people today, either as a conservative hero who tried to serve President Ronald Reagan or as a criminal who took the law into his own hands (albeit at Reagan’s direction). An icon of the right who was indicted for Iran Contra but ironically had his convictions overturned with the help of a liberal icon, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), North nonetheless failed in virtually all of his subsequent career undertakings. Reagan had essentially hung him out to dry before eventually admitting his part in the scheme himself (not my intention but maybe I did).
Variously described as a television commentator, author, military historian, Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, and past president of the NRA, North is most renowned for Iran-Contra, the political scandal that could have derailed Reagan’s presidency during the late 1980s. It involved the illegal sale of weapons to the Khomeini regime in Iran to encourage the release of American hostages then held in Lebanon. A National Security Council (NSC) staff member at the time, North formulated a plan to divert proceeds from the arms sales to support the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, sales that were specifically prohibited by law. About the charge, President Reagan famously said, in a televised address in 1987, “I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true; but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.”
North was granted limited immunity from prosecution in exchange for testifying before Congress about the scheme. He defended Reagan, but insisted that everything he did was authorized. He was initially convicted on three felony charges, including shredding documents, but the convictions were vacated and reversed and all charges against him dismissed in 1990 with the help of the ACLU, as his inadmissible testimony was deemed to have swayed witnesses.
North was one of 14 Reagan Administration officials charged with criminal behavior in the Iran-Contra scandal.
Born in Texas in 1943, Oliver North attended the State University of New York at Brockport and the US Naval Academy. In 1981, North began his assignment at the NSC staff in Washington, D.C., where he served as a lobbyist from 1981 to 1983, then deputy director for political–military affairs from 1983 until 1986. During his tenure there, North managed a number of missions. This included leading the hunt for those responsible for the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing that killed 299 American and French military personnel, an effort that saw North arrange a midair interception of an EgyptAir jet carrying those responsible for the hijacking of the ship Achille Lauro. While at the NSC, he also helped plan the U.S. invasion of Grenada and the 1986 bombing of Libya. The pattern of spearheading clandestine operations was clear.
North’s attempts at career salvation led him to challenge incumbent Senator Chuck Robb for the US Senate from Virginia in 1994, losing badly. Subsequently, he hosted talk shows on various conservative outlets from 1995 to 2016.
In 1996 a new company called Guardian Technologies International sought to sell bulletproof vests. Listed as the company’s president, secretary, director, and chairman were Oliver North. After six years in business, however, the company was floundering. As of 2004 it was listed as inactive.
In May 2018, North was elected president of the National Rifle Association, but was soon embroiled in a wide-ranging dispute concerning the NRA’s chief executive, advertising agency, and law firm. He asked the chief executive to resign; when he refused, North formed a committee to investigate purported financial improprieties within the NRA. The chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, accused North of attempting to release damaging information about him. Facing likely defeat, North declined to run for a second term as president, once again demonstrating his political naivete.
While a beacon to many on the right who perhaps subscribe to the theory that the (anti-Communist) ends justify the means, North is not endeared by the left. Thus, despite a heroic image in the eyes of Reaganites, North never found a niche to success or redemption.