In a press release issued May 7, NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre referred to the appointment as "the most exciting news" for NRA members since Charlton Heston became leader of the Association.
"Oliver North is a legendary warrior for American freedom, a gifted communicator and skilled leader. In these times, I can think of no one better suited to serve as our President. NRA members are proud to stand with him," LaPierre added.
North, then a US Marine, joined the Reagan administration in 1981. Then, removing the left-wing government of Nicaragua was top of the government's agenda — this was to be achieved by funding the Contras, violent guerrillas engaged in a brutal civil war with the ruling Sandinistas.
However, unfortunately for Reagan et al, such was the Contras' concerted campaign of terrorism against civilians — which included targeting healthcare clinics and aid workers for assassination, kidnap, torture, execution, rape, theft and arson — the US Congress began stripping away funding for the group, before banning all US financial support outright in 1985.
The April 1989 Kerry Committee report documented how US military planes flying arms and money into Nicaragua became an almost daily occurrence — and how the Contras seized on the opportunity to boost their war budget, by loading returning planes with cocaine. Regional drug cartels were keen to capitalize on the scheme too.
There aren't any documentary indications the policy was formulated by or agreed to by North. However, the full extent of his involvement — both direct and tacit — in drug smuggling can almost certainly never be fully revealed, as on November 21 1986 he ordered his secretary, Fawn Hall, to begin destroying any and all documents related to the conspiracy.
The pair's airbrushing of history continued even after North was fired November 25 — taking almost 3,000 pages of notes he'd made on the operation with him — with Hall sneaking further documents out of the office in her skirt and boots.
Friends Like These
The next year, a congressional investigation commenced into the imbroglio, with North summoned to testify under oath in July — by then, the Lieutenant Colonel had eradicated great swaths of files, and heavily censored what remained.
For example, North's diaries indicate he met Panama's leader Manuel Noriega in London September 1986, where he invited Noriega to support the Contra cause in return for money and weapons, and suggested he allow Contras and mujahideen fighters (then engaged in a brutal war of their own in Afghanistan) to be trained on Panamanian soil.
Despite Noriega's own drug trafficking being well-known at the time, North believed a clandestine relationship with the dictator had the potential for providing a "very effective, very secure" means of doing "some of the things which must be done if the Nicaragua project is going to succeed," with optimal operational security and "deniability." Nonetheless, the relationship would remain unconsummated, as the Iran-Contra conspiracy unravelled mere weeks later.
Noriega would be indicted by federal grand juries in Miami and Tampa on charges of racketeering, drug smuggling, and money laundering two years later, and would go on to serve 17 years in prison.
Another drug smuggler courted by North was Jose Bueso Rosa, Chief-of-Staff of the Honduran Army until March 1984, when he was ousted along with Gustavo Álvarez Martínez, Commander-in-Chief. Together, the pair formed a junta of disaffected Honduran military figures, and plotted to assassinate President Roberto Suazo Cordova and take power in a wider coup, which was to be funded by the sale of cocaine in the US, of a value between US$10 — 40 million.
"Our major concern is when Bueso finds out what is really happening he will break his longstanding silence about sensitive operations. [We will] cabal quietly to look at options: pardon, clemency, deportation, reduced sentence. Objective is to keep Bueso from spilling the beans," North wrote in an internal dispatch at the time.
Bueso didn't manage to get off scott-free as a result of North's eforts, but he did serve a mere three years and four months (of a five-year sentence) in a minimum security prison.
North's avowed efforts to whitewash Rosa's plan to assassinate a President using money generated by sales of illegal drugs in a foreign country were airily dismissed by his campaign spokesperson when he ran for the US Senate in 1994, derisively dubbed "old news" and "garbage nobody cares about."
Sputnik contacted the NRA for comment, but is yet to receive a response as of May 14.