Bill Moyers
November 4, 1987
The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis


OLIVER NORTH: And I still, to this day, Counsel, don't see anything wrong with taking the Ayatollah's money and sending it to support the Nicaraguan freedom fighters.

[pullquote align="right"]"Next week, Congress will publish a report on the Iran-Contra scandal. My colleagues and I have been investigating it ourselves. In this broadcast we'll look at what we learned about the secret government in the hearings this summer, the wars and tragedies that have been a part of it for 40 years, and where it will take us if we, the people, let it." -- Bill Moyers [/pullquote]GEORGE GORMAN: They have basically said to the entire United States, "We don't care what the people say, we don't care what the Congress says, we don't care what the other oversight organizations say, we're going to find some way to rid the planet of communism and we don't care who gets killed in the process."

PRES. RONALD REAGAN: As long as there is breath in this body, I will speak and work, strive and struggle, for the cause of the Nicaraguan freedom fighters.

COL. PHILIP ROETTINGER: Freedom fighters they are not. They are terrorists.

SCOTT ARMSTRONG: Wait a minute. This isn't the way the Constitution was set up. This isn't what the Founding Fathers intended.

MORTON HALPERIN: You start out breaking foreign laws -- since most countries have laws against secretly overthrowing their governments; and then you end up breaking the law at home.

FAWN HALL: Sometimes you have to go above the written law.

SEN. JOHN KERRY: They were willing to literally put the Constitution at risk, because they believed somehow there was a higher order of things.

WOMAN ON THE STREET: We have liberty, and the only way we're going to keep liberty is to have people who are strong, like Reagan and North.

VIETNAM VETERAN: Violence is not the answer. You don't teach the democratic way by shoving an M-16 down somebody's throat.

ROGER WILKINS: If we continue these policies, to rob ourselves in order to feed this national security monster, we are going to continue to degrade American life.

NANCY JONES: We're only talking about subverting the Constitution, that's all.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] During this 200th anniversary of our Constitution, Americans are debating the document's meaning. It's a debate about war and peace, freedom and justice, and it's beard from the Capitol down to Main Street, and in this song by pop singer Jackson Browne.

JACKSON BROWNE, Singer/Composer [singing]: I've been waiting for something to happen/For a week or a month or a year/With the blood and the ink of the headlines/And the sound of the crowd in my ear/You might ask what it takes to remember/When you know that you've seen it before/Where a government lies to a people/And a country is drifting to war/ There's a shadow on the/aces/Of the men who send the guns/To the wars that are/ought in places/Where their business interest runs/On the radio talk shows and the TV/You'll hear one thing again and again/How the U.SA. stands/or freedom/And we've come to the aid/a friend/But who are the ones that we call our friends/These governments killing their own/Or the people who finally can't take any more/And they pick up a gun or a brick or a stone/ And there are lives in the balance/There are people under fire/There are children on the cannons/And there was blood on the wall

BILL MOYERS: What Jackson Browne sings about is history, past and present.

I'm Bill Moyers, and in this personal essay, we'll look at that government in the shadows.

Next week, Congress will publish a report on the Iran-Contra scandal. My colleagues and I have been investigating it ourselves. In this broadcast we'll look at what we learned about the secret government in the hearings this summer, the wars and tragedies that have been a part of it for 40 years, and where it will take us if we, the people, let it.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] This is how Americans like to think of their government: Its values are enshrined in beautiful monuments and noble inscriptions, the temples of our national faith. But for 40 years a secret government has been growing behind these stately tributes to American ideals, growing like a cancer on the Constitution. It's what people were talking about this summer. They were talking about the abuse of secret power, a breach of faith.

[caption id="attachment_106220" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Capitol Hill by night, August 11, 2012. (Image: Flickr/ Paul Arps) Capitol Hill by night, August 11, 2012. (Image: Flickr/ Paul Arps)[/caption]

1st MAN ON THE STREET: Not everybody tells the truth. Not everybody thinks that the public is entitled to know the truth. And not everybody thinks they should go by the law.

WOMAN ON THE STREET: But I don't think we'll ever know the truth about what really happened. I mean, I feel like there's still lies out there and we still don't know.

2nd MAN ON THE STREET: The thing that I started thinking was, this must happen all the time; this time they just got caught.

[pullquote align="right"] People lined up early every day, waiting to listen in person to the Iran-Contra hearings, while millions watched from home on television. Members of the secret government had been forced from the shadows into the spotlight. [/pullquote]BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] People lined up early every day, waiting to listen in person to the Iran-Contra hearings, while millions watched from home on television. Members of the secret government had been forced from the shadows into the spotlight.

COL. OLIVER NORTH [Iran-Contra hearings]: I will tell you right now, Counsel, and all the members here gathered, that I misled the Congress. I mis-

JOHN NIELOS, House Chief Counsel: At that meeting?

OLIVER NORTH: At that meeting.

MR. NIELDS: Face to face?

OLIVER NORTH: Face to face.

MR. NIELDS: You made false statements to them about your activities in support of the Contras?


BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Oliver North had been the secret government's chronic liar, long on zeal for his president and the cause. But he was not the only zealot, not the only one to deceive. The hearings revealed a wholesale policy of secrecy shrouded in lies, of passion cloaked in fiction and deception. But the hearings told only part of the story, so let's begin on Day One.

[caption id="attachment_116767" align="alignright pop" width="300"]U.S. President Ronald Reagan, along with others, bow their heads and pray during the National Prayer Breakfast, at a Washington hotel, Thursday, Feb. 5, 1987. From left are, Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole, first lady Nancy Reagan, the President, Marcia Coats, wife of Rep. Daniel Coats of Indiana, and Rev. Billy Graham. During the breakfast, the president joined in a silent prayer for American hostages in Lebanon and missing church of England envoy Terry Waite. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) President Ronald Reagan, along with others, bow their heads and pray during the National Prayer Breakfast, at a Washington hotel, Thursday, Feb. 5, 1987. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)[/caption]

RONALD REAGAN: [1981] I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear ...

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] President Reagan came to office promising to restore America's military and moral prestige in the world. Voters had responded when he pledged to be tough on terrorists, a vow he repeated time and again.

RONALD REAGAN: Let me further make it plain to the assassins in Beirut and their accomplices, wherever they may be, that America will never make concessions to terrorists.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] That's what the President kept saying, but it's not what he was doing. The story broke one year ago, on November 3rd, 1986, in a magazine in Lebanon: the United States had defied its own embargo on arms to Iran. Ronald Reagan was offering weapons to the Ayatollah Khomeini in return for the release of American hostages. The President went on television to deny it.

RONALD REAGAN: [November 13, 1986]: The charge has been made that the United States has shipped weapons to Iran as ransom payment for the release of American hostages in Lebanon, that the United States undercut its allies and secretly violated American policy against trafficking with terrorists. Those charges are utterly false.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The President was not telling the truth. And when he held a news conference the next week, the pattern of deception continued.

REPORTER [November 19, 1986]: Mr. President, I don't think it's still clear just what Israel's role was in this. Could you explain what the Israeli role was here?

RONALD REAGAN: No, because we, as I say, have had nothing to do with other countries or their shipment of arms, or doing what they're-they are doing.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] That wasn't the truth, either. Half an hour later, the White House press office corrected the President. Israel had been a key player in the sale of arms to Iran. Rapidly now, the web of secrets was unraveling. On November 25th, the President's old friend and ally, Attorney General Edwin Meese, revealed the deepest secret of all.

EDWIN MEESE, U.S. Attorney General [November 25, 1986]: Certain moneys which were received in the transaction between representatives of Israel and representatives of Iran, were taken and made available to the forces in Central America which are opposing the Sandinista government there.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The Constitution is ambiguous on many things, but not on this. The president... shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Yet President Reagan himself approved selling arms to Iran, and as for the illegal diversion of funds to the contras -- well. The President's national security advisor said the decision had been his.

ADM. JOHN POINDEXTER, Former National Security Advisor: [Iran-Contra hearings] I made a very deliberate decision not to ask the President, so that I could insulate him from the decision and provide some future deniability for the President if it ever leaked out.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] But there was no denying that the President's men knew what was in the President's mind.

ADM. JOHN POINDEXTER: And he had been very adamant at the time, that he says, "Look, I don't want to pull out our support for the Contras for any reason. This would be an unacceptable option. Isn't there something that I could do unilaterally?"

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] "Unilaterally." In other words, without congressional approval. Ronald Reagan's message was clear: find some way, any way, to help the Contras.

RONALD REAGAN: So I guess in a way they are counter-revolutionary, and God bless them for being that way. And I guess that makes them Contras, and so it makes me a Contra, too.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The Contras: Ronald Reagan compared them to our Founding Fathers. In reality, Ronald Reagan and CIA director William Casey were their founding fathers. Two months after his inauguration, the president approved the funds which Casey used to create the Contras. Their ultimate goal was the violent overthrow of the Nicaraguan government, a government the United States legally recognizes. So the war had to be carried out covertly, as a campaign of terror. But Americans were outraged when CIA agents mined the Nicaraguan harbors and blew up fuel tanks, causing thousands of Nicaraguan citizens to flee their homes. Congress in protest cut off the Contra funds. When the president refused to give up on his creation, the Contras cheered.

ADOLFO CALERO, Contra Leader: Viva Reagan! Viva Reagan!

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] But how to keep the Contra war going despite Congress, the law and public opinion? First, a small cabal in the White House took charge of policy: the president, CIA Director Casey, National Security Advisors McFarlane and Poindexter, and their aide, Col. North -- who did not wear his Marine uniform when he worked for the secret government. To raise money for the Contras, the secret team turned to right-wing governments that could do favors for the United States, and receive favors in return. The king of Saudi Arabia doled out a million dollars a month; the sultan of Brunei coughed up $10 million that was misplaced through a White House error. The secret government also encouraged the fundraising efforts of General John Singlaub. Relieved of his command for insubordination in 1977, he now runs the World Anti-Communist League.

GEN. JOHN SINGLAUB [Ret.]: I represent hundreds of thousands of Americans who are sympathetic to your cause and want to help.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Here at home, wealthy right-wingers were solicited directly by Oliver North. Some of them were told their contributions would get them invited to the Oval Office. Conservative activist Carl Channell, who later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the government, worked directly with Col. North, pumping donors like investor Joseph O'Boyle.

PAUL SARBANES (D-MD): [Iran-Contra hearings] I take it your encounters involved-invariably involved both Mr. Channell and Col. North. And maybe Channell took you to North and then you met with North and then subsequently you would meet with Channell. But in a sense, they worked as a team.

JOSEPH O'BOYLE: In a sense, yes.

PAUL SARBANES: Mrs. Garwood, is that true in your instance, as well?

MRS. GARWOOD: I would say that's a fairly accurate description.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] All this was being done to advance the president's policies, but it wasn't enough. To get around the law, the White House then enlisted the services of something called "The Enterprise."

GEN. RICHARD V. SECORD [Ret.]: [Iran-Contra hearings] The Enterprise is the group of companies that Mr. Hakim formed to manage the Contra and the Iranian project.

ARTHUR LIMAN, Senate Chief Counsel: Who controls the Enterprise?

RICHARD SECORD: I exercised overall control.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] General Richard Secord has been in and out of covert operations for a quarter-century. One of the first Americans to fly secret missions in Vietnam, he also helped run the CIA's secret war in Laos. Secord became a major Pentagon figure in foreign military sales, especially to the Shah of Iran. That's where he met this man, Albert Hakim.

ALBERT HAKIM [Iran-Contra hearings]: Not only was I presented with an opportunity to help my country, the United States, and my native land, Iran, but at the same time I had the opportunity to profit financially.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Albert Hakim was Secord's partner in the Enterprise. Born in Iran, he made millions selling American-made arms to the Shah, often relying on bribes and illegal payoffs to ease the way. Now, he handled financial matters for the Enterprise. Like any good business, the Enterprise was designed to make money.

MR. LIMAN: [Iran-Contra hearings]: Am I correct, Mr. Secord, that from December 1984 until July 1985, you were engaged in selling arms to the Contras for profit?

RICHARD SECORD: That's correct.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Then, at the direct request of the secret White House team, the Enterprise brokered American arms to the Ayatollah Khomeini. Beyond Secord and Hakim, it grew to include a shadowy network of arms dealers, fraudulent companies and secret bank accounts. The Enterprise was, as Senator Daniel Inouye put it:

SEN. DANIEL INOUYE [D] Hawaii [Iran-Contra hearings]: A shadowy government with its own air force, its own navy, its own fundraising mechanism, and the ability to pursue its own ideas of the national interest, free from all checks and balances, and free from the law itself.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Here's just one example of how the Enterprise worked: with the full knowledge of William Casey and Oliver North, Secord and Hakim controlled secret bank accounts in Switzerland that received those contributions from private citizens. The money was then funneled to the Contras. One donor was Joseph Coors, the millionaire beer tycoon. Coors met directly with Casey, who referred him to North.

JOSEPH COORS: [Iran-Contra hearings] I told him that I was interested in-in seeing what I could do, and I asked him for his recommendations.

JAMIE KAPLAN, Senate Assistant Counsel: And did North subsequent to the meeting provide you the Swiss bank account name and number to which your payments should be made?

JOSEPH COORS: Yes, he did.

BILL MOYERS:[voice-over] Joseph Coors deposited $65,000 into the secret account, but that was peanuts compared to the arms deals. Secord purchased a thousand missiles from the CIA for $3.7 million, and sold them to an Iranian middleman for $10 million. On that one transaction alone, after expenses the Enterprise made a profit of $5.5 million, almost 200 percent. Its overall profits on the sales to Iran may have been as much as $15 million.

REP. JIM COURTER (R-NJ): [Iran-Contra hearings] You did in fact use some of those proceeds, approximately -- and correct me if my recollection is wrong -- about $3.5 million, for the Contra effort in Central America?


BILL MOYERS:[voice-over] But most of the money never reached the Contras, including $8 million remaining today in a private Swiss account operating in secret, the Enterprise was free to put profits above patriotism. They even sold arms directly to the Contras at a huge markup.

PAUL SARBANES: [Iran-Contra hearings] If the purpose of the Enterprise was to help the Contras, why did you charge Calero a markup that included a profit?

RICHARD SECORD: We were in business to make a living, Senator. We had to make -- we had to make a living. I didn't see anything wrong with it at the time, it was a commercial enterprise.

SEN. PAUL SARBANES: Oh, I thought -- the purpose of the Enterprise was to -- was to aid Calero's cause.

RICHARD SECORD: Can't I have two purposes? I did.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] While profits were being made, lives were being lost. Iran has used missiles supplied by the Enterprise to fight its war against Iraq. That war has already lasted more than seven years, as many as a million people killed or wounded.

And in Nicaragua the Contras use weapons from the Enterprise against civilians. It's a terrorist war they're fighting; old men, women, children are caught in the middle or killed deliberately, as the Contras use violence against peasants to pressure their government. Thousands have died. Even as the hearings were taking place in Washington this summer, a Contra raid in Nicaragua killed three children and a pregnant woman.

As the casualties mounted, the secret government in Washington knew that the Contra leaders were not such noble freedom fighters after all. Col. North learned that from his own liaison with the Contras, Robert Owen.

ROBERT OWEN [Iran-Contra hearings]: I was but a private foot soldier who believed in the cause of the Nicaraguan democratic resistance.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Owen sent a secret memo to his boss. He reminded North that the chief Contra leader, Adolfo Calero, is a creation of the United States government, and he warned North that those around Calero, "...are not first-rate people. They're liars, greed and power-motivated. This war," he said, "has become a business to many of them." Owen's judgment has been supported by disillusioned rebels who quit the struggle in disgust with Contra leaders.

ALBERTO SUHR, Former Contra: People who have never dirtied their boots, people who never went to the field, people who didn't even know how to pick up a rifle, pretending, being a facade for the CIA, and whose only concern was making money.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Alberto Suhr is a former Contra officer who once won the personal congratulations of Ronald Reagan. But then he discovered corruption among the Contras.

[pullquote align="right"] Secrecy is the freedom zealots dream of; no watchman to check the door, no accountant to check the books, no judge to check the law. The secret government has no constitution. The rules it follows are the rules it makes up.  [/pullquote]MR. SUHR: They bought shoddy goods and put them at hiked-up prices. They bought low-grade grains like rice and beans and corn and sugar and salt, and put them up for sale or billed them to themselves at the highest prices. They did the same with ammunitions, they did the same with rifles.

BILL MOYERS: All this -- the contempt for Congress, the defiance of law, the huge markups and profits, the secret bank accounts, the shady characters, the shakedown of foreign governments, the complicity in death and destruction -- they did all this in the dark, because it would never stand the light of day. Secrecy is the freedom zealots dream of; no watchman to check the door, no accountant to check the books, no judge to check the law. The secret government has no constitution. The rules it follows are the rules it makes up. So William Casey could dream that the Enterprise might take on a life of its own, permanent and wholly unaccountable.

OLIVER NORTH: [Iran-Contra hearings] The director was interested in the ability to go to an existing, as he put it, off-the-shelf, self-sustaining, stand-alone entity, that could perform certain activities on behalf of the United States.

MR. LIMAN: Are you not shocked that the director of Central Intelligence is proposing to you the creation of an organization to do these kinds of things, outside of his own organization?

OLIVER NORTH: Counsel, I can tell you I'm not shocked.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA): They were willing to literally put the Constitution at risk, because they believed somehow there was a higher order of things, that the ends do in fact justify, are justified by the means. That's the most Marxist, totalitarian doctrine I've ever heard of in my life.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, a veteran of the Vietnam war, is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

JOHN KERRY If you can have a retired general, and a colonel, you know, in mufti, running around, making deals in other countries on their own, soliciting funds to wage wars to overthrow governments, and hide it from the American people so you have no accountability, you've done the very thing that James Madison and others feared most when they were struggling to put the Constitution together, which was to create an accountable system which didn't have runaway power, which didn't concentrate power in one hand, so that you could have one person making a decision and running off against the will of the American people.

BILL MOYERS:[voice-over] What could possibly justify it? The fight against communism, of course.

COL. NORTH: [Iran-Contra hearings] This nation cannot abide the communization of Central America. We cannot have Soviet bases on the mainland of this hemisphere.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] It means dirty wars and dirty tricks, lying and deceit.

MR. NIELDS: [Iran-Contra hearings] These operations were designed to be secrets from the American people.

OLIVER NORTH: Mr. Nields, I am at a loss as to how we could announce it to the American people and not have the Soviets know about it.

MR. NIELDS: Well, in fact, Col. North, you believed that the Soviets were aware of our sale of arms to Iran, weren't you?

OLIVER NORTH: It…we came to a point in time when we were concerned about that.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Since our adversaries know about covert operations, the only people fooled are the American people. But consent is the very heart of our constitutional system. How can people judge what they do not know, or what they are told falsely? It's something troubling Americans these days.

PETE EDSTROM, Dairy Farmer: All the neighborhood around here, who get to talking about politics, they all talk-they used to talk about the bureaucrats, you know, used to talk just about politicians, they're kind of slick people, just like used car salesmen or what else have you -lawyers get thrown into that whole pack, too. Now they're talking about the liars. That's what I hear all the time. "Well, the liars are at it again," you know.

MR. NIELDS: [Iran-Contra hearings] We do live in a democracy, don't we?

OLIVER NORTH: We do, sir, thank God-

MR. NIELDS: In which it is the people, not one Marine lieutenant colonel, that get to decide the important policy decisions for the nation.


BILL MOYERS: It isn't the first time that men who express reverence for democracy in public have violated the values of democracy in practice. The secret government is an interlocking network of official functionaries, spies, mercenaries, ex-generals, profiteers and super patriots, who for a variety of motives operate outside the legitimate institutions of government. Presidents have turned to them when they can't win the support of the Congress or the people, creating that unsupervised power so feared by the framers of our Constitution.

Just imagine that William Casey's dream came true. Suppose the Enterprise grew into a super-secret, self-financing, self-perpetuating organization. Suppose they decided on their own to assassinate Gorbachev, or the leader of white South Africa. Could a president control them? And what if he became the Enterprise's Public Enemy Number One? Who would know? Who would say no?

During the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, Lenin created something called the Cheka, a secret organization run by eight lieutenants reporting directly to him, and filled with zealots who sabotaged and terrorized opponents. They made up their own rules, they chose their own missions, and they judged their own operations. You say it can't happen here? Well, before deciding for sure, let's look at the history of our secret government.

[voice-over] World War II was over. Europe lay devastated. The United States emerged as the most powerful nation on earth. But from the rubble rose a strange new world: a peace that was not peace, and a war that was not war. We saw it emerging when the Soviets occupied Eastern Europe. The Cold War had begun.

WINSTON CHURCHILL: An iron curtain has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The Russians had been our ally against the Nazis, an expedient alliance for the sake of war. Now they were our enemy. To fight them we turned to some of the very men who had inflicted on humanity the horrors of Hitler's madness. We hired Nazis as American spies. We struck a secret bargain with the devil.

ERHARD DABRINGHAUS, Former Counter-Intelligence Agent: One that I know real well is Klaus Barbie. He was wanted by the French as their number-one war criminal. And somehow we employed a man like that as a very secretive informant.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Erhard Dabringhaus was employed in the US Army Counterintelligence Camps and assigned to work with Nazi informants spying on the Russians. One of them was Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyons, who had tortured and murdered thousands of Jews and Resistance fighters.

ERHARD DABRINGHAUS: During the time I learned that Barbie was really such a brutal murderer, I reported this to my headquarters and I thought I was going to get a promotion. I thought that was a big picture of a deal I had here, you know. And the answer was, "Dabringhaus, keep quiet until he's no longer useful; then we'll turn him over to the French." Under those conditions, I thought, well, okay, let's work with him, you know. If you're an intelligence officer, you work with the devil.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The Americans did not turn Barbie over to the French when they finished with him. They helped him escape to Bolivia. Other top Nazis were smuggled into the United States, to cooperate in the war against the new enemy. Dabringhaus still remembers the attitude of his superiors: the new enemy was the only enemy.

ERHARD DABRINGHAUS: They seemed to have had a preconceived program of what the communists are up to, and if I sent in a report that there was a Nazi war criminal running around over there, "Forget it, we're not interested in the Nazis anymore, we're concentrating on the communists."

[pullquote align=""] "[T]hat National Security Act of 1947 changed dramatically the direction of this great nation. It established the framework for a national security state." - Adm. Gene LaRocque [/pullquote]BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] So began the morality of the Cold War -- anything goes. The struggle required a mentality of permanent war, a perpetual state of emergency, and it meant a vast new apparatus of power that radically transformed our government. Its foundations were laid when President Truman signed into law the National Security Act of 1947.

ADM. GENE LaROCQUE [Ret.], Center for Defense Information: Now, that National Security Act of 1947 changed dramatically the direction of this great nation. It established the framework for a national security state.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Admiral Gene LaRocque rose through the ranks from ensign to become a strategic planner for the Pentagon, and now heads the Center for Defense Information, a public interest group.

GENE LaROCQUE: The National Security Act of '47 gave us the National Security Council. Never have we had a national security council so concerned about the nation's security that we were always looking for threats, and looking how to orchestrate our society to oppose those threats. National security was invented almost in 1947, and now it has become the prime mover of everything we do, is measured against something we invented in 1947. The National Security Act also gave us the Central Intelligence Agency.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] This is the house the Cold War built: the CIA, the core of the new secret government. Its chief legitimate duty was to gather foreign intelligence for America's new role as a world power. Soon it was taking on covert operations abroad and at home. As its mission expanded, the CIA recruited adventuresome young men, like Notre Dame's all-American, Ralph McGehee.

RALPH McGEHEE, Former CIA Agent: I look back to the individual that I was when I joined the agency. I was a dedicated Cold Warrior, who felt the agency was out there fighting for liberty, justice, democracy and religion around the world. And I believed wholeheartedly in this. I just felt proud every day that I went to work, because I was out at the vanguard of the battle against the international evil empire, international communist evil empire.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Iran, 1953: the CIA mounted its first major covert operation to overthrow a foreign government. The target was the prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh. He held power legitimately through his country's parliamentary process, and he was popular. Washington had once looked to him as the man to prevent a communist takeover. But that was before Mossadegh decided that the Iranian state, not British companies, ought to own and control the oil within Iran's own borders. When he nationalized the British-run oilfields, Washington saw red. Kennett Love was a young New York Times reporter in Teheran that summer.

KENNETT LOVE, Former New York Times Reporter: This was in McCarthy's time and the whole Cold War paranoia was running wild in Washington. And everybody was saying that crazy old Mossadegh was falling under the influence of the communists. This was not true.

MANSOUR FARHANG, Writer: He did not receive an iota of assistance from the Soviet Union.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Mansour Fadlang was a young student activist in Teheran and a Mossadegh supporter. He now lives in the United States as a teacher and a writer.

MR. FARHANG: In those days, in early '50s, the idea of an independent, neutral state was not at all acceptable to either the West, either the United States or the Soviet Union. Mossadegh was a victim of this East-West rivalry.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, and his brother Allen, director of the CIA, decided with Eisenhower's approval to overthrow Mossadegh and reinstate the Shah of Iran. Kennett Love recalls the work of one American agent named George Carroll.

KENNETT LOVE: He was the one that paid the money to the street gangs. He was the one that invented the idea to make everybody identify himself as the Shah's partisan, so therefore the opposition would not be able to group in the streets. That was why everybody in a vehicle and anything else had to put a Shah's picture in the windshield and put the headlights on, and that you had to do or you would have your windshield clubbed in, and be dragged out and beaten up and killed or whatever.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The mobs paid by the CIA, and the police and soldiers bribed by the CIA, drove Mossadegh from office.

NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER [August 1953]: Crown Prince Abdullah greets the Shah as he lands at Baghdad Airport after a seven-hour flight from Rome.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The King of Kings was back in control, and more pliable than Mossadegh. American oil companies took over almost half of Iran's production. U.S. arms merchants moved in with $18 billion of weapons sales over the next 20 years. But there were losers.

KENNETT LOVE: Nearly everybody in Iran of any importance has had a brother or a mother or a sister or a son or a father tortured, jailed, deprived of property without due process. I mean, an absolutely buccaneering dictatorship in our name, that we supported. SAVAK was created by the CIA.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] SAVAK, the Shah's secret police, tortured and murdered thousands of his opponents. General Richard Secord and Albert Hakim, whom we met earlier, were among those who helped supply the Shah's insatiable appetite for the technology of control. But the weapons and flattery heaped by America on the Shah blinded us to the growing opposition of his own people. They rose up in 1979 against him. "Death to the Shah," they shouted, "Death to the American Satan."

KENNETT LOVE: Khomeini is a direct consequence, and the hostage crisis is a direct consequence, and the resurgence of the Shia is a direct consequence of the CIA's overthrow of Mossadegh in 1953.

PROF. EDWIN FIRMAGE, University of Utah: It's cited often as a wonderful example of an efficient CIA accomplishing something good. In reality...

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Edwin Firmage is a professor of law, Former White House fellow and constitutional scholar.

EDWIN FIRMAGE: You create a nation who hates you enormously, who views you as a devil, an evil force. You create in that state sufficient forces of unrest that you don't have stability. And those-- chickens come home to roost; you end up with a violation of the Constitution and a hatred that is propagated today, until you have embassies taken, hostages held, hatred engendered -- hatred simply doesn't come to rest.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Guatemala, 1954: Flushed with success, America's secret government decided another troublesome leader must go. This time it was Jacobo Arbenz, the democratically elected president of Guatemala. Philip Roettinger was recruited from the Marines to join the QA learn.

COL. PHILIP ROETTIINGER [Ret.], U.S. Marine Corps: It was explained to me that it was very important for the security of the United States, that we were going to prevent a Soviet beachhead in this hemisphere -which we have heard about very recently, of course -and that the Guatemalan government was communist and we had to do something about it.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] President Arbenz had admired Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his government voted often with the American position at the United Nations. But in trying to bring a New Deal to Guatemala, Arbenz committed two sins in the eyes of the Eisenhower administration. First, when he opened the system to all political parties, he recognized the communists, too..

COL. PHILIP ROETTINGER: Well, of course, there was no-not even a hint of communism in his government. He had no communists in his cabinet; he did permit the existence of a very small communist party.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Arbenz also embarked on a massive land reform program. Less than 3% of the landowners held more than 70% of the land, so Arbenz nationalized more than 1.5 million acres, including land owned by his own family, and turned it over to peasants. Much of that land belonged to the United Fruit Company, the giant American firm that was intent on keeping Guatemala quite literally a banana republic. United Fruit appealed to its close friends in Washington, including the Dulles brothers, who said that Arbenz was openly playing the communist game. He had to go.

COL. PHILIP ROETTINGER: This was sudden death for him, I mean, there was no chance of him winning this fight, because of the fact that he had done this to the United Fruit Company. Plus the fact that he was overthrowing the hegemony of the United States over this area, and this was dangerous, it could not be tolerated. We couldn't tolerate this.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] From Honduras, the same country that today is the Contra staging base,the CIA launched a small band of mercenaries against Guatemala. They were easily turned back, so with its own planes and pilots, the CIA then bombed the capital. Arbenz fled and was immediately replaced by an American puppet, Col. Carlos Castillo Armas.

COL. PHILIP ROETTINGER: He overturned all of the reformist activity of President Arbenz. He gave the land back to the United Fruit Company that had been confiscated; he took land from the peasants and gave it back to the landowners.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The CIA had called its covert action against Guatemala, "Operation Success." Military dictators ruled the country for the next 30 years. The United States provided them with weapons and trained their officers. The communists we saved them from would have been hard-pressed to do it better. Peasants were slaughtered, political opponents were tortured, suspected insurgents were shot, stabbed, burned alive or strangled. There were so many deaths at one point that coroners complained they couldn't keep up with the workload. "Operation Success…"

COL. PHILIP ROETTINGER: What we did has caused a succession of repressive military dictatorships in that country, and has been responsible for the death of over 100,000 of their citizens.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Success breeds success, sometimes with dreary repetition. Mario Sandoval Alarcon began his career in the CIA's adventure in Guatemala. Today he's known as a godfather of the death squads. In 1981, after lobbying Ronald Reagan's advisors for military aid to Guatemala, Sandoval Alarcon danced at the inaugural ball.

Richard Bissell, another veteran of the Guatemalan coup, went on to become the CIA's chief of covert operations. I looked him up several years ago for a CBS documentary. He talked about a secret report prepared for the White House in 1954 by a group of distinguished citizens headed by former president Herbert Hoover. Quote: "It is now clear that we are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination.... There are no rules in such a game. Hitherto accepted norms of human conduct do not apply.... If the United States is to survive, long-standing American concepts of fair play must be reconsidered. ... We must learn to subvert, sabotage and destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated, more effective methods than those used against us." [Hoover Report, 1954]

BILL MOYERS: [interviewing, 1977]: Was that the prevailing ethic?

RICHARD BISSELL, Former CIA Official: I think that's an excellent statement of the prevailing view, at least the view of those who'd had any contact with covert operations of one kind or another.

BILL MOYERS: In other words, the nature of the enemy is such that any tactics are necessary are justified, in order to thwart him and defeat him.

RICHARD BISSELL: I believe that was the view. It certainly was my view at the time.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Cuba, 1961: seven years after Operation Success in Guatemala, Bissell was planning another CIA covert operation.

NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: The assault has begun on the dictatorship of Fidel Castro.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] On April 17, 1961, Cuban exiles trained by the CIA at a base in friendly Guatemala landed on the southern coast of Cuba, at the Bay of Pigs. The US had promised air support, but President Kennedy canceled it. The invaders, left defenseless, surrendered. Seven months after the disastrous invasion, Kennedy delivered a major foreign policy address.

JOHN F. KENNEDY: [November 1961]: We cannot as a free nation compete without adversaries in tactics of terror, assassination, false promises, counterfeit mobs and crises.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The president was not telling the truth. Even as he spoke his administration was planning a new covert war on Cuba. It would include some of the dirty tricks the president said we were above. The secret government was prepared for anything.

BILL MOYERS: [interviewing. 1977]: At one time, the CIA organized a small department known as "executive action," which was a permanent assassination capability. How did that-

RICHARD BISSELL: Well, it wasn't just an assassination capability, it was a capability to discredit or get rid of people. But it could have included assassination.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] And it did. There were at least eight documented attempts to kill Castro. He says there were two dozen. And there was even one effort to put LSD in his cigars. To help us get rid of the Cuban leader, our secret government turned to the Mafia, just as we once made use of Nazis. The gangsters included the Las Vegas Mafioso. John Roselli; the don of Chicago, Sam Giancana; and the boss of Tampa, Santo Trafficante.

RICHARD BISSELL: I think we should not have involved ourselves with the Mafia. I think an organization that does so is losing control of the security of its information. I think: we should have been afraid that we would open ourselves to blackmail.

BILL MOYERS: If I read you correctly, you're saying it's the involvement with the Mafia that disturbed you, and not the need or decision to assassinate a foreign leader.


BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] It's a chilling thought, made more chilling by the assassination of John Kennedy. The accusations linger; in some minds the suspicions persist of a dark, unsolved conspiracy behind his murder. You can dismiss them, as many of us do, but knowing now what our secret government planned for Castro, the possibility remains. Once we decide that anything goes, anything can come home to haunt us.

Rep. JIM LEACH, [R] Iowa: The sad thing of the last few years is, both with regard to Central America, where our covert activities have included assassination manuals, as well as what may have occurred in Libya with regard to a bombing raid on Qaddafi, a person no American can sympathize with, is that the assassination issue has reared its head again as an extreme example of a covert kind of activity. My own sense is, we make a great, great mistake, and we endanger one person above anyone else, and that's the president, if we engage in assassination types of techniques, because no foreign government can defeat the United States Army, but a lot of foreign individuals can come up with ways of killing an individual American citizen.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Vietnam, 1968: American soldiers are fighting and dying in the jungles of Southeast Asia. But the Vietnam war didn't start this way. It started secretly, off the books, like so many of these ventures that have ended disastrously. The CIA got there early, soon after the Vietnamese won their independence from the French in 1954. Eisenhower warned that the nations of Southeast Asia would fall like dominoes, if the communists led by Ho Chi Minh took over all Vietnam. To hold the line, we installed in Saigon a puppet regime under Ngo Dinh Diem. American-trained commandoes were used to sabotage bus and rail lines and contaminate North Vietnam's oil supplies. Vice President Nixon brought moral support to Diem, but the situation kept getting worse. President Kennedy sent the Green Berets to Vietnam and turned to full-scale counterinsurgency. He had once said Vietnam was "the ultimate test of our will to stem the tide of world communism." By the time of his death, there were 15,000 Americans there. They were called "advisors." The secret war was leading only to deeper involvement and more deception.

PRES. LYNDON B. JOHNSON: It is my duty to the American people to report that renewed hostile actions against United States ships on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin have today required me to order the military forces of the United States to take action in reply.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] This president was not telling the truth either. The action in the Gulf of Tonkin was not unprovoked. South Vietnam had been conducting secret raids in the area against the North, and the American destroyer ordered into the battle zone had advance warning it could be attacked. But Johnson seized the incident to stampede Congress into passing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. He then used it as a blank check for the massive buildup of American forces.

EDWIN FIRMAGE: You have always had presidents who as an aberration will act on their own, and then afterward look to Congress for authorization retrospectively of their act. But in this case, you had a full-dress defense of inherent presidential power, inherent executive power, and the power as commander-in-chief, to use the Army and the Navy whatever way they wanted.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The Constitution is clear on this, too: "Congress shall have the power to declare war." April 1965: two battalions of Marines land in South Vietnam, the first of more than 2.5 million Americans to fight there with no congressional declaration of war. The dirty little war that began in secret is reaching full roar. Free-fire zones, defoliation, the massacre at My Lai, napalm, and the CIA's Operation Phoenix to round up, torture and kill suspected Viet Congo.

RICHARD McGEHEE: We were murdering these people, incinerating them.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Ralph McGehee was there for the CIA, and helped set up South Vietnam's secret police.

RICHARD McGEHEE: My efforts had resulted in the deaths of many people, and I just-for me it was a period when I guess I was-I consider myself nearly insane. I just couldn't reconcile what I had been and what I was at the time becoming. And it was so painful for me, it's just hard for me to express it, because I became completely antisocial, I couldn't deal with anybody. I just was dealing mentally, it was an internal battle. Every night I would lay on my bed and think, well, this can't be true, why are we doing it, why don't we stop, why don't-why can't we accept? And it was just a battle all night long, all day long, every minute of the day I fought this battle over and over again, and it-and it, to me, suicide became a longed-for way out of this turmoil that I could see no other exit from. And finally when I got over that-I wanted to jump off the agency's hotel, the Duke Hotel out there, and kill myself, and hang a banner, "F---the CIA" or, "The CIA lies," or something like that, just to try to bring home, have my death serve some purpose, to make the American people realize the truth, they were being lied to.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Many of the secret warriors in Southeast Asia had no such doubts or regrets. Some of the team that later joined the Iran-Contra enterprise helped to run the secret war in Laos. As General Richard Secord later put it, "Laos belonged to the CIA."

American planes blasted the communists in the jungle, and on the ground we had our own secret army, the Hmong tribesmen. The Hmong fought the communists for I5 years, while our secret government made grandiose promises to them about the future. But we abandoned them to the communist Pathet Lao in 1975. One third of the mountain people died. Religious groups helped survivors to escape, and brought some of them to Wausau, Wisconsin.

XIONG LOR: I wouldn't be here if my father and my brothers weren't involved, you know, during the secret war. I am here because I have no choice of being here, and I'd be, like I say, an example here right now, you know, 27 years after, you know, of CIA, you know, goof-up. Because they weren't willing to carry through their, you know, goals. They think that it was so simple, that people are just like the pawn of a game, like a chess game, you know, that you can move them around anywhere you want, but you have to understand that human life is very different from-you know, playing with human life is different from playing a game, because a game, you know, once you lose, there's nothing at stake. But when you lose a person's life, or devastate a whole country, as they did to my country, then it's very important, you know.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] During the hearings this summer, Oliver North repeated something we've heard often in the last 40 years, from presidents and the presidents' men.

OLIVER NORTH [Iran-Contra hearings]: I want you to know lying does not come easy to me. I want you to know that it doesn't come easy to anybody. But I think we all had to weigh in the balance the difference between lives and lies.

[pullquote align="right"] "Someone always pays for decisions made secretly in Washington." -- Bill Moyers{/pullquote]BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] But these memories suggest a different equation: the lives lost because we lied to ourselves and to others. Someone always pays for decisions made secretly in Washington. Looking at such pictures brings to mind the words of an old ally, a Vietnamese official who survived the fall of Saigon and escaped to America: "Life and death issues for us," he says, were merely bargaining chips in the American pursuit of global policy. "

[on camera] I played a minor role in the Kennedy administration, and a much larger one for half the Johnson years. I saw the Peace Corps go forth one day, and the Green Berets the next. Once I wrote a speech for LBJ which implied a striking coincidence between the president's wish and God's will. A wise older man from my past called to gently upbraid me. He reminded me that it's very important how we talk about God, because there can be disastrous consequences to what we say. Just so, we've learned that presidents must be very careful talking about what they want this nation to do, because the United States can unhinge whole countries simply by shifting our weight.

We suffered then the passion of the time, that America's defense and security were at stake in Vietnam. But our obsession was the real threat. Vietnam pushed the Cold War morality to its extreme conclusion: exorbitant means to accomplish limited ends. Anything goes. The wounds still run deep.

[voice-over] There are 58,000 names on this wall; 58,000 men died in Vietnam. Their deaths, and all the deaths in Southeast Asia -- the names not on this wall -- raise painful questions about our secret government and our role in the world. Were we certain what we asked people to die for?

The men who wrote our Constitution tried to make it hard to go to war. Human life was at stake, they knew, and the character of our republic. War should be soberly decided, publicly debated, and mutually determined by the people's representatives. It is the people, after all, who must fight, pay and die, once the choice is made. The Constitution was to protect them from dying for the wrong reasons. It was to protect them from killing for the wrong reasons.

1st VIETNAM VETERAN: I don't know, the public still don't want to understand what the hell really happened. But maybe one day they will. As far as Central America, I see the same damn thing happening there in Central America that happened in Vietnam.

2nd VIETNAM VETERAN: Well, I think the country has learned very graphically that we better be really assured that if we're going to send our young men and women off to die like this, that it better really be in the interests of every citizen of this United States to sacrifice somebody like that, so that we don't have more blood on this wall or other walls. And I think that we ask a lot of questions now that we didn't use to ask. We want to know why, and we'll hear Ollie North's analysis of what's happening with the Contras, and a lot of us say, we want some more verification of that We want to know just what are we involving ourselves in, when we go to do that.

BILL MOYERS: Looking back, it's stunning how easily the Cold War enticed us into surrendering popular control of government to the national security state. We've never come closer to bestowing absolute authority on the president. Setting up White House groups that secretly decide to fight dirty little wars is a direct assumption of the war powers expressly forbidden by the Constitution.

Not since December 1941 has Congress declared war. Since then, we've had a "police action" in Korea, "advisors" in Vietnam, "covert operations" in Central America, "peacekeeping" in Lebanon, and "low intensity conflicts" going on right now from Angola to Cambodia. We've turned the war powers of the United States over to -- well, we're never really sure who, or what they're doing, or what it costs, or who is paying for it. The one thing we are sure of is that this largely secret global war, carried on with less and less accountability to democratic institutions, has become a way of life. And now we're faced with a question brand-new in our history: can we have the permanent warfare state, and democracy, too?

[voice-over] In 1975, as the war in Vietnam carne to an end, Congress took its first public look at the secret government. Senator Frank Church chaired the Select Committee to Study Government Operations. The hearings opened the books on a string of lethal activities, from the use of electric pistols and poison pellets, to Mafia connections and drug experiments. And they gave us a detailed account of assassination plots against foreign leaders, and the overthrowing of sovereign governments. We learned, for example, how the Nixon administration had waged a covert war against the government of Chile's president, Salvador Allende, who was ultimately overthrown by a military coup and assassinated.

SEN. FRANK CHURCH [1976]: Like Caesar peering into the colonies from distant Rome, Nixon said the choice of government by the Chileans was unacceptable to the president of the United States. The attitude in the White House seemed to be, "If in the wake of Vietnam I can no longer send in the Marines, then I will send in the CIA."

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] But the secret government had also waged war on the American people. The hearings examined a long train of covert actions at home, from the bugging of Martin Luther King by the FBI under Kennedy and Johnson, to gross violations of the law and of civil liberties in the 1970s. They went under code names such as Chaos, Cable Splicer, Garden Plot, and Leprechaun. According to the hearings, the secret government had been given a license to reach all the way to every mailbox, every college campus, every telephone and every home.

MORTON HALPERIN, Director, Washington Office, ACLU: You start out breaking foreign laws -- since most countries have laws against secretly overthrowing their governments; and then you end up breaking the law at home, and coming to feel a contempt for the law, for your colleagues and associates, for the Congress and the public, and for the Constitution.

BILL MOYERS: Morton Halperin worked for Henry Kissinger on the National Security Council in 1969. Critical of policies in Cambodia and Vietnam, he resigned. He later discovered his telephone had been bugged for 21 months. He is now the director of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union.

MORTON HALPERIN: What you have is a growing gap between the perceptions inside the executive branch about what the threats are to our national security, and the beliefs in the Congress and the public about the threats to national security. And that leads to secrecy; that is what drives the policy underground, that's what leads the president to rely more on coven operations, what leads the president and his officials to lie to the public, then lie to the Congress about the operation. Precisely because they cannot get their way in public debate, they are driven to seek to circumvent the democratic process.

OLIVER NORTH: [Iran-Contra hearings] And the president ought not to be in a position, in my humble opinion, of having to go out and explain to the American people on a biweekly basis or any other kind, that I, the president am carrying out the following secret operations. It just can't be done.

BILL MOYERS: It is said that the constitutional system of checks and balances has so prohibited the president. so hamstrung him, that he cannot effectively lead foreign policy, that he has to be resorting to clandestine, covert, secret-

EDWIN FIRMAGE: Horse feathers. He needs to do that only when he wants to subvert Congress. If Congress says, "Don't do that," and the president says, "But I want to, I want to, I really want to," the conclusion from that isn't that the president is right, it is that the president is considering being an outlaw.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] It's been said that the secret realm of government is the deformed offspring of the modem presidency. Presidents take an oath to uphold the Constitution, but then they find the cumbersome sharing of power with Congress an obstacle, and start looking for shortcuts to silence their critics and achieve their objectives.

MORTON HALPERIN: And it goes back to the beginning, I mean, there is a famous letter which Madison wrote late in his life, in which he said, "Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home will be charged to dangers, real or imagined, from abroad." And that is the lesson of history.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] But we don't seem to learn the lessons of history. Just 14 years ago, another Senate committee listened to another string of witnesses. The names still trip off the tongue: Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean.

JOHN DEAN, Counsel to the President [Watergate hearings,1973]: I began by telling the President that there was a cancer growing on the presidency, and if the cancer was not removed, the president himself would be killed by it

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The White House crimes known as Watergate.

JAMES W. McCORD, Jr. [Watergate hearings, 1973]: The cover would be taken off of the telephone and two of the wires connected with this.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Crimes against democracy. To harass opponents, the Nixon White House had set up a secret team called "the plumbers." They bugged phones, opened mail and burglarized the president's critics. Senator Inouye read the Watergate committee a secret White House memo containing the Nixon "enemies list" and how the plumbers intended to punish them.

SEN. INOUYE: [Watergate hearings, 1973]: "Stated a bit more bluntly, how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies."

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] In both the Watergate and Iran-Contra hearings, there was contempt for Congress.

SEN. SAM J. ERVIN (D-NC) [Watergate hearings, 1973]: I believe Congress set up the FBI to determine what was going on in this country, didn't it?

JOHN EHRLICHMAN, Assistant to the President: Among other things, Mr. Chairman.

SAM ERVIN: It set up the CIA to determine what was going on in respect to foreign intelligence, didn't it?

JOHN EHRLICHMAN: Yes, sir, and a number of others.

SAM ERVIN: But it didn't set up the plumbers, did it?

JOHN EHRLICHMAN: Of course, the Congress doesn't do everything, Mr. Chairman.

SEN. ERVIN: No, but Congress is the only one that's got legislative power, and I don't know anything, any law that gave the president the power to set himself up what some people have called the secret police, namely, the plumbers.

JOHN NIELOS: [Iran-Contra hearings, 1987] What was the reason to withhold information from Congress when they inquired about it?

ADM. POINDEXTER: I simply didn't want any outside interference.

MR. NIELDS: Now, the outside interference you're talking about was Congress, and I take it the reason they were inquiring was precisely so that they could fulfill with information their constitutional function, to pass legislation one way or the other, isn't that true?

ADM. POINDEXTER: Yes, I suppose that's true. ************** MR. NIELDS: And that you regarded as outside interference.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] There was contempt for the law.

SEN. HERMAN E. TALMADGE, [D] Georgia [Watergate hearings, 1973]: If the president could authorize a covert break-in, and you don't know exactly where that power would be limited -you don't think it could include murder or other crimes beyond coven break ins, do you?

JOHN EHRLICHMAN: Oh, I don't-I don't know where the line is, Senator.

SEN. GEORGE J. MITCHELL, [D] Maine [Iran-Contra hearings, 1987]: During your discussions with Mr. Casey, Mr. McFarlane and Mr. Poindexter about the plan, did a question ever arise among you as to whether what was being proposed was legal?

OLIVER NORTH: Oh, no, I don't think it was-I mean, first of all, we operated from the premise that everything we did do was legal.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] And there was contempt for the truth.

SAM DASH, Senate Chief Counsel [Watergate hearings, 1973]: Mr. Mitchell, do you draw a distinction between not volunteering and lying?

JOHN MITCHELL, Former U.S. Attorney General: Well, it depends entirely on the subject matter, Mr.-

MR. DASH: Well, you're asked a direct question, and you don't volunteer a direct answer, you might say you're not volunteering, but actually you are lying on those respects, aren't you?

MR. MITCHELL: Well, I think we'd have to find out what the specifics are of what particular occasion and what case.

SEN. DAVID BOREN, [D] Oklahoma: [Iran-Contra hearings. 1987] Could you explain to me the difference that you think there is between knowing that you've left a false impression or a wrong impression and lying, to use an old-fashioned term?

ELLIOT ABRAMS, Assistant Secretary of State: Yeah, I think lying, we really mean-I mean a deliberate effort to mislead people, to a deliberate effort to leave them with a misleading impression. What I hoped to do was to avoid the question and duck the question, as I explained.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] President Reagan's men did learn one thing from Watergate. Richard Nixon said it only last year. "Just destroy all the tapes."

JOHN NIELOS: [Iran-Contra hearings, 1987] Where are these memoranda?

OLIVER NORTH: Which memoranda?

MR. NIELDS: The memoranda that you sent up to Admiral Poindexter, seeking the president's approval.

OLIVER NORTH: I think I shredded most of that. Did I get them all? I'm not trying to be flippant, I'm just-Mr.

MR. NIELDS: Well, that was going to be my very next question, Colonel North. Isn't it true that you shredded them?

OLIVER NORTH: I believe I did.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think that what we've seen of the secret sale of arms to Iran and the private war in Nicaragua is on a par with what we saw at Watergate?

EDWIN FIRMAGE: Oh, the substance of it is far above Watergate. You have the sale of armaments to terrorist groups, which can only foment more kidnapping and more terror, and finance it. You have the doing of this by members of the armed forces, a very scary thing. You have the government, in part at least, put in motion doing things that Congress has forbidden, direct illegality. You have constitutional abuses that are enormous.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Watergate did drive Richard Nixon from office.

PRES. RICHARD NIXON: I shall resign the presidency, effective at noon tomorrow.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The Imperial Presidency was down, but not out. Ronald Reagan ran in 1980 with a strong and clear message: the world was a hostile place and closing in on America. Russian troops were in Afghanistan, Sandinistas were in Nicaragua, and Americans were being held in Iran. President Reagan wanted to reinvigorate the CIA, and he chose a tough director to run it, his campaign manager William Casey. They were ideological soul mates, true Cold Warriors on the offensive. In seven years, Ronald Reagan approved over 50 major covert operations, more than any president since John F. Kennedy. Reagan and Casey set the agenda. but it was this man's job to carry it out. In Oliver North, they had their 007.

North's primary mission was to keep the Contra war going, despite the congressional ban on aid. For two years he masterminded a privately funded airlift to Honduras. According to some reports, criminal elements used the secret airlift to smuggle drugs back into the United States, with profits being used to buy more weapons for the Contras. Two congressional committees are investigating those reports.

SEN. JOHN KERRY: Were there Contras who relied on the profits of narcotics in order to buy arms and to survive? Yes. I'm convinced of that.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts heads a Foreign Relations subcommittee.

SEN. JOHN KERRY: Once you open up a clandestine network which has the ability to deliver weapons or other goods from this country, leaving airfields secretly under the sanction of a, quote, "covert operation," with public officials, DEA, Customs, law enforcement, whatever, pulled back because of the covert sanctioning, you've opened the pipeline for nefarious types who are often involved in these kinds of activities, to become the people who bring things back in.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Oliver North had been told the airlift was using questionable characters. Robert Owen, his contact man with the Contras, wrote from the field that some of the leaders were running drugs. In February of '86, Owen advised North that a resupply plane had been used for shipping drugs. In Owen's words, "part of the crew had criminal records."

DANIEL INOUYE: [Iran-Contra hearings, 1987] The second sentence says, "Nice group the boys choose." Who are the boys?


BILL MOYERS: So what happens is, the president of the United States says: "This is the national security, you must step back and let these people do their job," and therefore a lot of smugglers, drug traffickers, others, go through the back door.

[pullquote align="right"] "How does it happen that to be anti-communist we become undemocratic, as if we have to subvert our society in order to save it?" -- Bill Moyers[/pullquote]SEN. JOHN KERRY: I don't think the President of the United States said specifically, "Look the other way to these things." I don't think the President of the United States knew these things were going on. But the President of the United States did encourage to such a degree the continuation of aid to the Contras, and it was so clear, through Casey and Poindexter, et cetera, that this was going to please the President if it happened, it's clear that there were those who turned their heads and looked the other way, because they knew that this major goal was out there and it was part of it, and if there happened to be these minor aberrations, as people referred to them, that was the price you were paying in the effort to accomplish the larger goal. Which larger goal, obviously, was against the law and against the wishes of the Congress, and against the American people.

BILL MOYERS: How does it happen that to be anti-communist we become undemocratic, as if we have to subvert our society in order to save it? This is partly the answer: the powers claimed by presidents in national security have become the controlling wheel of government, driving everything else. Secrecy then makes it possible for the president to pose as the sole competent judge of what will best protect our security. Secrecy permits the White House to control what others know, and that's power. How many times have we heard a president say, "If you only knew what I know, you would understand why I'm doing what I'm doing." But it's a self-defeating situation. Someone said, "Everything secret degenerates, even the administration of justice." So in the bunker of the White House, the men who serve the president put loyalty above analysis, and judgment yields to obedience. Just salute and follow orders.

OLIVER NORTH: [Iran-Contra hearings, 1987] This lieutenant colonel is not going to challenge a decision of the commander-in-chief, for whom I still work, and I am proud to work for that commander-in-chief. And if the commander-in-chief tells this lieutenant colonel to go stand in the comer and sit on his head, I will do so.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] That notion troubled Senator Inouye, a combat hero of World War II. He reminded Col. North of the military code, of a soldier's duty.

DANIEL INOUYE: [Iran-Contra hearings, 1987] The uniform code makes it abundantly clear that it must be the lawful orders of a superior officer. In fact it says, "Members of the military have an obligation to disobey unlawful orders." This principle was considered so important that we-we, the government of the United States, proposed that it be internationally applied in the Nuremberg Trials. And so in the Nuremberg Trials, we said that the fact that the defendant-

BRENDAN SULLIVAN, Counsel to Col. North: Mr. Chairman, may I please register an objection?

DANIEL INOUYE: May I continue my statement?

BRENDAN SULLIVAN: I find this offensive. I find you're engaging in a personal attack on Col. North, and you're far removed from the issues of this case.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Col. North's lawyer deflected Senator Inouye, but some of North's fellow officers watching on television took issue with the colonel.

GEORGE GORMAN, Former Captain, U.S. Marine Corps: I'm two years senior to Oliver North out of the Naval Academy and the only thing he's got on me is a Silver Star and six more years in the Corps. And when Oliver North started to say the things he started to say, I literally wanted to throw things at my TV set. I seriously considered mailing my Naval Academy ring back to the Naval Academy and denying ever having gone there. I was so embarrassed and humiliated that a professional military officer would stoop to the dishonor and disgrace and warmongering that Oliver North and Poindexter and McFarlane and the rest of the crew did. Selling arms to the Iranians after they blew up the Beirut barracks, after they blew up the Beirut embassy, is the most immoral thing-that's like selling Zyklon-B to the Germans, after you've found out the Holocaust is under way.

ROBERT COLCLASURE, Former captain, U.S. Marine Corps: One of my drill instructors in the Marine Corps, by the way, we're talking about at that time there were a lot of protests in Washington, D.C., and somebody said, well, those commie lovers, or whatever. And the drill instructor told us something as we were about to graduate, he said, "What you're fighting for might be wrong or right, nobody really knows. But," he said, "there's a Constitution that allows those people to be out on the streets protesting." He said, "That's what's worth fighting for. That's what the Constitution is." He said, "That's what you took an oath to, and when you put those bars on as a second lieutenant, you better remember that." I don't think Oliver North had that drill instructor.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] It was career military men who managed the Iran-Contra debacle under Reagan and Casey -- North, Poindexter, McFarlane, Secord, Singlaub were all trained to fight wars, not run foreign policy. In war, the aim is absolute and simple: destroy the enemy, no matter what. They had little understanding of politics in Iran, Nicaragua and most important, in Washington. Our foreign policy has increasingly become a military policy. Ronald Reagan has doubled the number of military men on the staff of the National Security Council. What was created in 1947 as a civilian advisory group to the president has become a command post for covert operations run by the military. Far removed from public view and congressional oversight, they are accountable only to the one man they serve.

The framers of the Constitution feared a permanent state of war, with the commander-in-chief served by an elite private corps who put the claims of the sovereign above the Constitution.

GEORGE MITCHELL: [Iran-Contra hearings, 1987] This is the first page of an order signed and approved by President Reagan.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] This is the ultimate weapon of the secret government, the National Security Decision Directive, the NSDD. Every president since Harry Truman has issued them. They're not published in any government register. Ronald Reagan has signed at least 280 such directives. They cover everything from outer space to nuclear weapons to covert operations in Iran and Nicaragua. In essence, by an arbitrary and secret decree, the president can issue himself a license to do as he will, where he will, and the only ones who need to know are the secret agents who carry it out, the Knights of the Oval Office.

GEORGE MITCHELL: [Iran-Contra hearings, 1987] You have testified that as a member of the National Security Council staff, you conducted a covert operation, and my question is, did the President specifically designate the National Security Council staff for that purpose?

OLIVER NORTH: I think what I have said consistently is that I believe that the President has the authority to do what he wants with his own staff, that I was a member of his staff, that Mr. McFarlane was, and that Admiral Poindexter was, and in pursuing the President's foreign policy goals of support for the Nicaraguan resistance, he was fully within his rights to send us off to talk to foreign heads of state, to seek the assistance of those foreign heads of state to use other than U.S. government moneys, and to do so without a finding.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] "Without a finding." There's a law which requires presidents to make a finding that the national interests will be served by a covert action, and to report it to Congress in a timely fashion. The idea is to make sure that both the Congress and the executive, each elected independently by the people, are accountable for what is done in our name. But President Reagan gave himself permission to ignore the requirements of the law. And when he sold arms to our avowed enemy in Iran, he signed the finding after the fact, and then ordered that it not be reported to Congress. The president becomes his own arbiter of the law in matters of national security. Or, in Richard Nixon's words, "When the president does it, that means it is not illegal."

OLIVER NORTH: [Iran-Contra hearings, 1987]: I think it is very important for the American people to understand that this is a dangerous world, that we live at risk, and that this nation is at risk, in a dangerous world.

PROF. STEPHEN F. COHEN, Princeton University: The issue here is not whether we should pursue a foreign policy that guards against the Soviet Union, that's not the issue, because obviously in significant ways, the Soviet Union represents a threat to our interests around the world and to our values. The problem is, is the excessive American perception of that threat, the pathological ways we construe that threat, and what it leads us to do. Because in addition to distorting our domestic priorities, to undermining our democratic civil liberties at home, in the end, arguably, it actually does damage to our national security.

BILL MOYERS: There is a doctrine called "the reason of state," that whatever is necessary to defend the state's survival must be done by the individuals responsible for it. Doesn't that take precedence over this 18th-century set of values?

EDWIN FIRMAGE: I think the survival of the state is what the Constitution is about. The reason of state argument is a very slippery thing, and at heart, at best amoral


EDWIN FIRMAGE: Oh, you bet. I would say it ranges from amoral on the good side, to just basically immoral.

BILL MOYERS: Assume I'm president, and I'm going to say, "Professor Firmage, that's all wonderful, but I deal in an ugly world. The United States is a wonderful place, relatively, because of this document, because of the values the founders inculcated in us, but the world beyond these borders is a pretty ugly world. People don't like us, people don't share those values, people are out to get us. And if I don't do the ugly things that are necessary to protect us from an ugly world, you won't be able to exercise the right of free speech out at that university. "

EDWIN FIRMAGE: I would say poppycock, Mr. President. That is simply nonsense. The whole fight is over means, not ends. Every president with every good intention, and every tyrant with whatever his intention, has used precisely the same argument. That is, don't constrain me by means, and I will get you there safely and well. And I think any time we accept a reason of state argument to justify means that are totally incongruent with the values of our state, we're on the high road to tyranny and we deserve to be there.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Our nation was born in rebellion against tyranny. We are the fortunate heirs of those who fought for America's freedom, and then drew up a remarkable charter to protect it against arbitrary power. The Constitution begins with the words, "We the people." The government gathers its authority from the people, and the governors are as obligated to uphold the law as the governed. That was revolutionary. Listen now to the voices of some people who believe the fight for freedom isn't over.

ROGER WILKINS, Journalist, Writer, Former U.S. Assistant Attorney General: I am a citizen of this country. That's the highest thing you can be, and you'd better tell me the truth, because we don't run a secret country and we don't run a secret government.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Roger Wilkins - he and his family have long battled for a more just America.

ROGER WILKINS: And if we continue these policies, to rob ourselves in order to feed this national security monster, we are going to continue to degrade American life. That's real national security. National security for the United States is making the United States a good place to live, where people want to be active, intelligent, involved citizens. For people at the top to say, "This world is so complicated and so dangerous, just a few of us need to govern it and hold the secrets in and we will tell you what's good for you," that is moving down the road to dictatorship.

SCOTT ARMSTRONG, Executive Director, National Security Archive: The national security argument now interferes with every American's right to understand its government. That's what secrecy's all about these days.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Scott Armstrong is director of the National Security Archive, a public interest group devoted to a more open government. He has pored over the Iran-Contra evidence, and believes Congress has failed to deal with the fundamental constitutional issues.

MR. ARMSTRONG: The inability of Congress to interpret the Article I powers that they have over foreign policy, in relationship to the president's powers under Article II, and to say, "Wait a minute, this isn't the way the Constitution was set up. This isn't what the Founding Fathers intended." The Founding Fathers never intended for George Washington to be able to go to George III and say, "I don't like what Congress has done here, give me some money, I'll hire some mercenaries and we'll call it American foreign policy." That would have been treason.

BILL MOYERS: Gail Jensen, Marylee Fithian and Nancy Jones live in Minneapolis. Last summer they organized citizens around the state to monitor the Iran-Contra hearings, as a way of increasing public awareness.

MARYLEE FITHIAN: The church I go to, we have a hymn that the words go something like, "I wish that my eyes had never been opened." Because if they'd been opened, I'd have to do something about it, and I think that that's a problem with a lot of people in this country, is that they don't want their eyes to be opened, because they're very comfortable, very secure, and if their eyes are opened, they're going to have to do something.

NANCY JONES: The people that we're talking to have quite-they recognize that we're only talking about subverting the Constitution, that's all.

GAIL JENSEN: The American people are part of the checks and balances. It's not just the executive branch and the Congress and the judicial branch, the people have a role, too.

PETE EDSTROM: I grew up just feeling as though the system out here's pretty hunky-dory. All you have to do is admire it and respect it and let it keep operating. We'll always have freedom, we'll always have democracy, we'll always have free elections. I've got to question, you know. that that's going to continue, unless I decide to go for it and keep on effecting change.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Pete Edstrom is a dairy farmer in Wisconsin, a believer in the American way. With his pastor and other farmers, he started a newspaper to rally their neighbors in community action.

PETE EDSTROM: If there's anything I want my children to understand, it's the concept of the old town meeting type of politics, where people do it, people are involved, people are informed. I think that probably the problems this country are in right now, the hearings are a classical example, are clearly a case of an American people not having been involved.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Walter John Chilsen is a Republican state senator in Wisconsin, a popular conservative who says the hearings this summer forced him to reconsider his support for U.S. policy in Central America.

WALTER JOHN CHILSEN, State Senator, [R] Wisconsin: When you've been a Republican for 20 years, and you like to say that the Republicans are the best guys, the guys in the white hats, and the recognition that indeed in this very important situation, that wasn't the case, that the policy was dead wrong, I felt an obligation to speak out.

BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Senator Chilsen's change of heart was personal and political. At the urging of Liz, their daughter, he and his wife went to Central America to see for themselves. When they returned, he was still critical of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, but convinced that an American-backed war on peasants was not the way to stop communism.

WALTER CHILSEN: There's a great danger that in this country we would accept automatically things that are said to us in a doctrinaire fashion, you know, that we've got to be fighting communism, and so that can be the whitewash that can cover up a multitude of sins. I think that's the strong evidence that that is what was going on, and we can't be fighting for democracy in Central America and seeing it lost back here at home, you know, and seeing it shredded back here at home.

BILL MOYERS: It doesn't have to be. The people who wrote this Constitution lived in a world more dangerous than ours. They were surrounded by territory controlled by hostile powers, on the edge of a vast wilderness. Yet they understood that even in perilous times, the strength of self-government was public debate and public consensus. To put aside these basic values out of fear, to imitate the foe in order to defeat him, is to shred the distinction that makes us different

In the end, not only our values but our methods separate us from the enemies of freedom in the world. The decisions we make are inherent in the methods that produce them. An open society cannot survive a secret government. Constitutional democracy, you see, is no romantic notion. It's our defense against ourselves, the one foe who might defeat us. I'm Bill Moyers.

This transcript was entered on June 5, 2015.

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