Oliver North

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Oliver North
In Iraq, December 2007
Birth name Oliver Laurence North
Nickname(s) Ollie
Born (1943-10-07) October 7, 1943 (age 78)
San Antonio, Texas, U.S.
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1968–1990
Rank US-O5 insignia.svg Lieutenant Colonel
Commands held Marine Corps Northern Training Area, Okinawa
Battles/wars Vietnam War
Spouse(s) Betsy (married 1967, four children)
Other work

Oliver Laurence "Ollie" North (born October 7, 1943) is an American political commentator and television host, military historian, New York Times best-selling author, former drug trafficker,[1] a former United States Marine Corps lieutenant colonel.[2] North is primarily remembered for his term as a National Security Council staff member during the Iran–Contra affair, a political scandal of the late 1980s. The scandal involved the clandestine sale of weapons to Iran, supposedly to encourage the release of U.S. hostages then held in Lebanon. North formulated the second part of the plan, which was to divert proceeds from the arms sales to support the Contra rebel groups in Nicaragua, which had been specifically prohibited under the Boland Amendment.[3] He was the host of War Stories with Oliver North on Fox News Channel.[4]

Early life

North was born in San Antonio, Texas, on October 7, 1943. He is the son of Ann Theresa (née Clancy) and Oliver Clay North, a U.S. Army major.[5][6] He grew up in Philmont, New York, and graduated from Ockawamick Central High School in 1961. He attended the State University of New York at Brockport in Brockport, New York, for two years.[7]

While at Brockport, North spent a summer at the United States Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Class at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, and gained an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in 1963. He received his commission as second lieutenant in 1968 (he missed a year due to injuries from an auto accident). One of North's classmates at the Academy was future secretary of the Navy and U.S. senator Jim Webb, whom he beat in a championship boxing match at Annapolis.[8] Their graduating class included Dennis C. Blair, Michael Mullen, Charles Bolden and Michael Hagee.

U.S. Marine Corps career

North served as a platoon commander during the Vietnam War, where during his combat service, he was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star Medal, and two Purple Heart medals.[9] At the time of his Silver Star, Second Lieutenant North was a Platoon Commander leading his Marines in Operation Virginia Ridge. North lead a counter assault against the North Vietnamese Army, as his platoon took on heavy machine gun fire and rocket propelled grenades. Throughout the battle, North displayed "courage, dynamic leadership and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of grave personal danger".[10] He then became an instructor at The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia. In 1970, North returned to South Vietnam to testify at the trial of LCpl Randy Herrod, a U.S. Marine formerly under his command who had been charged with the mass killing of Vietnamese civilians.[11] North was promoted to captain in 1971 and served as the commanding officer of the U.S. Marine Corps' Northern Training Area in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan.

After his duty in Okinawa, North was assigned for four years to Marine Corps Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. He was then promoted to major and served two years as the operations officer of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, commanded by then Lt. Col. John Southy Grinalds, 2nd Marine Division in Camp Lejeune at Jacksonville, North Carolina. He attended the Command and Staff Course at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and graduated in 1981.

North began his assignment to the National Security Council (NSC) in Washington, D.C., where he served as the deputy director for political–military affairs[12] from 1981 until his reassignment in 1986. In 1983, North received his promotion to lieutenant colonel,[13] which would be his last.

During his tenure at the NSC, 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 arranging a midair interception of an EgyptAir jet carrying those responsible for the Achille Lauro hijacking. While also at the NSC, he helped plan the U.S. invasion of Grenada and the 1986 Bombing of Libya.[12]

During his trial, Oliver North spent his last two years on active duty assigned to Headquarters Marine Corps in Arlington, Virginia.

North resigned his Marine Corps commission in 1990 following his indictment for conspiring to defraud the United States by channeling the profits from US arms sales to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.[14]

Military awards and decorations

USA Parachutist.png
Gold star
Gold star
Gold star
Gold star
Bronze star
Silver star
Bronze star
Silver star
US - Presidential Service Badge.png
Basic Parachutist Badge
Silver Star Medal Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V"
Purple Heart Medal with one gold 5/16 inch star Defense Meritorious Service Medal Meritorious Service Medal
Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat "V' and two gold 5/16 inch stars Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with one gold 5/16 inch star Combat Action Ribbon
Navy Unit Commendation Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation with one bronze service star National Defense Service Medal
Vietnam Service Medal with five bronze campaign stars Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with one bronze service star Navy and Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon
Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with silver star Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with frame and palm Vietnam Campaign Medal
Expert marksmanship badge for rifle (not shown)
Expert marksmanship badge for pistol (not shown)
Presidential Service Badge

Iran–Contra affair

North's mugshot, taken on the day of his arrest

North came into the public spotlight as a result of his participation in the Iran–Contra affair, a political scandal during the Reagan administration, in which he claimed partial responsibility for the sale of weapons through intermediaries to Iran, with the profits being channeled to the Contras in Nicaragua. It was alleged that he was responsible for the establishment of a covert network which subsequently funneled those funds to the Contras. Congress passed the Boland Amendment (to the House Appropriations Bill of 1982 and following years), which prohibited the appropriation of U.S. funds by intelligence agencies for the support of the Contras. The money was passed through a shell organization, the National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty, to the Palmer National Bank of Washington, D.C., and then to the Contras.

In an August 23, 1986, e-mail to National Security Advisor John Poindexter, North described a meeting with a representative of Panamanian president Manuel Noriega: "You will recall that over the years Manuel Noriega in Panama and I have developed a fairly good relationship," North writes before explaining Noriega's proposal. If U.S. officials can "help clean up his image" and lift the ban on arms sales to the Panamanian Defense Force, Noriega will "'take care of' the Sandinista leadership for us."[15][16]

North told Poindexter that President Noriega could assist with sabotage against the ruling party of Nicaragua, the Sandinista National Liberation Front. North supposedly suggested that Noriega be paid one million dollars in cash, from Project Democracy funds raised from the sale of U.S. arms to Iran—for the Panamanian leader's help in destroying Nicaraguan economic installations.[17]

In November 1986, as the sale of weapons was made public, North was dismissed by President Ronald Reagan. On February 11, 1987, the FBI detected an attack on North's family[18] from the Peoples Committee for Libyan Students, a sleeper cell for the Islamic Jihad[disambiguation needed], with an order to kill North. His family was moved to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and lived with federal agents until North retired from the Marine Corps the following year.[19][20]

In July 1987, North was summoned to testify before televised hearings of a joint congressional committee that was formed to investigate Iran–Contra. During the hearings, North admitted that he had lied to Congress previously, for which and other actions he was later charged. He defended his actions by stating that he believed in the goal of aiding the Contras, whom he saw as freedom fighters, against the Sandinistas and said that he viewed the Iran–Contra scheme as a "neat idea."[21] North admitted shredding government documents related to his Contra and Iranian activities, at William Casey's suggestion, when the Iran–Contra scandal became public. He also testified that Robert McFarlane had asked him to alter official records to delete references to direct assistance to the Contras and that he had helped.[22]

North was tried in 1988. He was indicted on 16 felony counts, and on May 4, 1989, he was initially convicted of three: accepting an illegal gratuity, aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a congressional inquiry, and ordering the destruction of documents through his secretary, Fawn Hall. He was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Gerhard Gesell on July 5, 1989, to a three-year suspended prison term, two years probation, $150,000 in fines, and 1,200 hours of community service. North performed some of his community service within Potomac Gardens, a public housing project in Southeast Washington, D.C.[23]

However, on July 20, 1990, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU),[24] North's convictions were vacated, after the appeals court found that witnesses in his trial might have been impermissibly affected by his immunized congressional testimony.[25]

Because North had been granted limited immunity for his congressional testimony, the law prohibited a prosecutor from using that testimony as part of a criminal case against him. To prepare for the expected defense challenge that North's testimony had been used, the prosecution team had—before North's congressional testimony had been given—listed and isolated all of its evidence.[citation needed] Further, the individual members of the prosecution team had isolated themselves from news reports and discussion of North's testimony. While the defense could show no specific instance in which North's congressional testimony was used in his trial, the Court of Appeals ruled that the trial judge had made an insufficient examination of the issue. Consequently, North's convictions were reversed. After further hearings on the immunity issue, Judge Gesell dismissed all charges against North on September 16, 1991.

Allegations of involvement with drug traffickers

Allegations were made, most notably by the Kerry subcommittee, that North and other senior officials created a privatized Contra network that attracted drug traffickers looking for cover for their operations, then turned a blind eye to repeated reports of drug smuggling related to the Contras, and actively worked with known drug smugglers such as Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega to assist the Contras.[26] Journalist Gary Webb asserted in his journalistic series and book Dark Alliance, that North developed the idea of using drug money to support the resistance movement.[3] Most Contra associates found guilty of trafficking by the Kerry committee were involved in the supply chain (ostensibly for "humanitarian goods," though the supply chain was later found to have serviced the transport of arms), which had been set up by North. Organizations and individuals involved in the supply chain under investigation for trafficking included the company SETCO (operated by large-scale trafficker Juan Matta-Ballesteros), the fruit company Frigorificos de Puntarenas, rancher John Hull, and several Cuban exiles; North and other U.S. government officials were criticized by the Kerry Report for their practice of "ticket punching" for these parties, whereby people under active investigation for drug trafficking were given cover and pay by joining in the Contra supply chain. Notably, cocaine trafficker and Contra Oscar Danilo Blandón was granted political asylum in the U.S. despite knowledge of his running a drug ring.[27] In addition to the Kerry committee's investigation, the Costa Rican government of Óscar Arias conducted an investigation of Contra-related drug trafficking, and as a result of this investigation, North and several other U.S. government officials were permanently banned from entering Costa Rica.

Later life and career

Oliver North in April 2002, autographing one of his books for a U.S. Marine Staff Sergeant.


In the 1994 election, North unsuccessfully ran for the United States Senate as the Republican Party candidate in Virginia. Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia endorsed Marshall Coleman, a Republican who ran as an independent, instead of North. North lost by a 46 percent to 43 percent margin to incumbent Democrat Charles Robb,[28] a son-in-law of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Coleman received 11%. North's candidacy was documented in the 1996 film A Perfect Candidate.[21]

File:Oliver North 2.jpg
Oliver North in 2005, pictured with Clinton Township, Franklin County, Ohio Assistant Fire Chief John Harris and Lieutenant Douglas Brown, at a public speaking event.

In his failed bid to unseat Robb, North raised $20.3 million in a single year through nationwide direct-mail solicitations, telemarketing, fundraising events, and contributions from major donors. About $16 million of that amount was from direct mail alone. This was the biggest accumulation of direct-mail funds for a statewide campaign to that date, and it made North the top direct-mail political fundraiser in the country in 1994.[29]

Books and media

North was lampooned as "The Mute Marine" during the 1986 season of Saturday Night Live.[30]

North has written several best-selling books including Under Fire, One More Mission, War Stories—Operation Iraqi Freedom, Mission Compromised, The Jericho Sanction, and The Assassins.

His book American Heroes was released nationally in the United States on May 6, 2008. In the book, "North addresses issues of defense against global terrorism, Jihad, and radical Islam from his firsthand perspective as a military officer and national security advisor and current Middle East war correspondent."[31] He writes a nationally syndicated newspaper column through Creators Syndicate.[32]

On November 5, 2013, North's new book, American Heroes on the Homefront, was released. This is a nonfiction book that gives a firsthand account of the American volunteers who have volunteered to join the United States Army. The book was a collection from the dozen years North and the Fox News Channel have traveled the frontlines of the War on Terror. During those years North and his team have profiled hundreds of soldiers and chronicles what it means to be a hero. In the book he continues the journey by following these soldiers from the battlefield back to the home front.[33]

In 1991 North appeared on the first season of The Jerry Springer Show. From 1995 to 2003, he was host of his own nationally syndicated radio program known as the Oliver North Radio Show or Common Sense Radio. He also served as co-host of Equal Time on MSNBC for a couple of years starting in 1999. North is currently the host of the television show War Stories with Oliver North and a regular commentator on Hannity, both on the Fox News Channel. North appeared as himself on many television shows including the sitcom Wings in 1991, and three episodes of the TV military drama JAG in 1995, 1996, and 2002 as "Ollie", a close friend of the deceased father of Tracey Needham's character Meg Austin.[34] In addition, he regularly speaks at both public and private events. North appears in an episode of Auction Kings to have his Marine Corps sword returned after it was lost and presumably stolen in 1980. North was credited as a military consultant in the 2012 video game Call of Duty: Black Ops II and voiced himself in one level of the game. In 2014 he received story credit for an episode of the TV series The Americans where the protagonist Soviet spies infiltrate a Contra training base in the United States.[35]

Freedom Alliance

In 1990, North founded the Freedom Alliance, a 501(c)(3) foundation "to advance the American heritage of freedom by honoring and encouraging military service, defending the sovereignty of the United States, and promoting a strong national defense." The foundation's primary activities include providing support for wounded combat soldiers and providing scholarships for the sons and the daughters of service members killed in action.[36] Beginning in 2003, Sean Hannity has raised over $10 million for the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund through Freedom Concerts and donations from The Sean Hannity Show and its listeners. The charity has been criticized by far-right-leaning blogger Debbie Schlussel for distributing too little of its funds for charitable purposes.[37] Hannity, North, and other charity spokespersons say that all of the net proceeds from the Freedom Concerts are donated to the fund.[38]

Personal life

In 1967, North married Betsy Stuart and they have four children.[39] Although raised Catholic, he has long attended Anglican services with his family.[40] North is a board member in the NRA and appeared at NRA national conventions in 2007[41] and 2008.[42]

Pop culture

The second episode of the 1988 Disney television movie Earth Star Voyager features an excerpt of Oliver North's congressional testimony that is played over the PA system on the bridge of the Earth Star Voyager space ship. It is explained that the radio waves containing Oliver North's statement have been traveling from Earth into space and that the space ship Earth Star Voyager has traveled so far from Earth that it is detecting radio transmissions from the past.

Lou Reed's 1989 album New York contains the song "Sick of You" which references the Iran-Contra affair with the lyric "And Oliver North married William Secord (sic) and gave birth to a little Teheran."

In Season 1 Episode 4 of JAG - "Desert Son: - Oliver North makes a Guest Appearance.

In season 3 episode 17 of "Wings" Oliver North is seen in the beginning of the episode speaking with Brian about a new book he released and a pen he stole from a hotel.

North was referenced in the episode "Bart Gets Famous" in the fifth season of The Simpsons.

In season 3 episode 15 of American Dad!, Oliver North is mentioned in a song that Stan sings about left over gold from the Iran-Contra affair and the rest of the episode centers around Stan trying to find the gold to have a legacy.

In season 2 episode 13 of Malcolm in the Middle, Oliver North is mentioned to be a guest speaker at Marlin Academy by Commandant Edwin Spangler.

In season 1 episode 5 of Sliders, Oliver North is President of the United States in an alternate universe.

In rapper Rick Ross' 2012 single "Stay Schemin'" Drake refers to his fellow Canadian manager and friend Oliver El-Khatib as "Oliver North."

In rap artist Killer Mike's 2012 song "Reagan" North is credited with introducing the African-American community to cocaine in the 1980s.


  1. . nsarchive.gwu.edu Contras, Cocaine, and Covert Operations http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB2/index.html[title=The Contras, Cocaine, and Covert Operations Check |url= value (help). Retrieved December 19, 2015. Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  8. Real Clear Sports Top 10 Most Athletic Democrats
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  26. Drugs, Law Enforcement And Foreign Policy: Report By The Committee On Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, DIANE Publishing Company, (2004) ISBN 0-7881-2984-8. Google Books. August 30, 2004. Retrieved June 23, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Webb, Gary (1999). Dark Alliance. Seven Stories Press. p. 177. ISBN 978-1-888363-93-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  29. "Ollie, Inc.: how Oliver North raised over $20 million in a losing U.S. Senate race". Archived from the original on October 13, 2007. Retrieved September 24, 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  36. "About Freedom Alliance". Freedom Alliance.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  38. https://freedomconcerts.com/ Archived February 8, 2014 at the Wayback Machine
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  42. "NRA's Annual Meetings & Exhibits 2008: A Celebration of American Values". NRA Institute for Legislative Action. April 17, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Ben Bradlee Jr. (1998). Guts and Glory: The Rise and Fall of Oliver North. Donald I. Fine, Inc. ISBN 1-55611-053-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Meyer, Peter (1987). Defiant Patriot: the Life and Exploits of Lt. Colonel Oliver L. North. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0312910916. OCLC 16774532.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Party political offices
Preceded by
Maurice A. Dawkins
Republican Party nominee for United States Senate from Virginia (class 1)
1994 (lost)
Succeeded by
George Felix Allen