Notes: Episode 22, The Iran-Contra Affair (Part 2)

As with every show, I’ll list any corrections or clarifications here. If there’s anything I’ve overlooked, please contact me by email or in the comments and I’ll edit the notes to reflect the new information.



A general correction: throughout this show, I use “Central America” and “South America” interchangeably, and identify Nicaragua and Honduras as South American countries. They aren’t interchangeable terms and I really should have been more specific about it, or used the more acceptable “Latin America” to refer to the regions holistically. Thanks to Adrian for bringing this to my attention.


9:23 – His name is spelled Manucher Ghorbanifar. I think there’s a pretty apparent reason that the name “Gorba” stuck as strongly as it did.

11:25 – A point that I meant to make at this point and didn’t was that this is the exact reason the AK-47 became as ubiquitous as it is. The Kalashnikov assault rifle is cheap to manufacture, light to carry, simple to operate, and will shoot the same after being submerged in water and stuffed with mud as it would perfectly cleaned and maintained. Although the design is coming up on 70 years old, it’s estimated that 20% of the guns worldwide are Kalashnikov variants of some type and many national armies have a variant as their official weapon. However, even more notable is the widespread use by militias, insurgent groups, and guerrilla factions. This is entirely due to its reliability and lack of dependence on regular maintenance. It’s not a spectacularly accurate weapon, but most spectacularly accurate weapons lose that accuracy quickly through disrepair, and while an army with full quartermaster facilities can maintain such weapons, a resistance movement simply cannot afford such luxuries. As with the TOW missiles, simplicity is its strength.

19:05 – I should clarify – the Canadian military generally doesn’t just buy military hardware from the United States (though it happens frequently enough), but rather tends to license designs to produce itself, at least for smaller scale items. Some major examples are the C7 rifle based on the AR-15 family of designs, and various armored personnel carriers in use. Some things are of course purchased from the United States, such as the recently controversial F-35 fighter, although that’s a special case where the Canadian government is contributing to development. There’s always a smattering of purchases from other allied countries as well, but that’s NATO for you.

27:40 – It looks like governments aren’t always quite as forthcoming about the specifics of their black budget totals as I thought, but to give you a bit of an idea, the American DOD black budget seems to currently sit around $50 billion.

28:48 – As I edit this, I realize how pro-covert operations I sounded during this session, often more through omission than direct enthusiastic support. What I should have pointed out right here is that directly contradicting a congressional order is illegal. Part of the trust that goes along with a society allowing a government to allot itself a black budget is an understanding that the reason for its secrecy is to protect the country and its servants. I think there’s a big difference between using this trust as intended and abusing it as the department did by funding the Contras.

33:41 – The Enterprise was actually officially known as the Stanford Technology Trading Group International. Personally, I like “The Enterprise” better.

34:06 – James Bond uses Universal Exports as his cover. It’s barely more generic than the Stanford Technology Trading Group International.

44:09 – This time, the name I can’t pronounce is Mehdi Hashemi.

53:45 – So a major oversight in this episode on my part is discussing the morality of the extralegal activities undertaken by intelligence agencies, and looking at the length of the episode, maybe it’s better I didn’t get onto that tangent. It’s an incredibly complex and difficult topic, because it’s a matter of the unstoppable force of principles or ideals running into the immovable object that is the practical realities of the world. Personally I believe that if it’s necessary for a country to work outside of legal avenues to achieve morally good goals, that’s a failing of the legal systems in place – not a justification for breaking the law. Maybe a better way to have phrased this would have been to acknowledge that it’s virtually impossible to prevent any and all extralegal activity, and that the people have a right to be outraged should any come to light that isn’t easily defendable as a matter of circumstance and weighing of moral good rather than simply an abuse of power entrusted to these individuals and organizations by their constituent citizens.

54:18 – The quote I’m so ineloquently fumbling for is one (potentially misattributed) from George Orwell, found in various forms reflecting the following sentiment: “we sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” It has distinctly anti-pacifist undertones to it that weren’t really my intention. Rather, I was pointing out the reality that most people who trust in government agencies of various sorts to protect them would also rather not consider just what goes into that protection.

1:05:34 – Wow, hit the brakes. Oliver North ran for US Senate in Virginia in 1994, but not the presidency. Those are two very different things.

1:14:57 – Right the second time; they lost in 1990 and became the official opposition of Nicaragua until their re-election in 2006.

1:18:07 – Georgi Markov was a Bulgarian dissident writer, not a Serbian politician. His assassination is really quite fascinating, as I mention – it sounds completely fictional.

1:18:32 – Here I’m referring to Manuel Noriega, dictator of Panama. He wasn’t an American CIA agent who went rogue, but rather a Panamanian who worked for the CIA under questionable circumstances while gathering power for himself until he was able to install himself as military dictator. The 1989 invasion of Panama was as much the United States cleaning up their own mess as it was a humanitarian effort.

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