President Ronald Reagan addresses the press about Middle East issues on the South Lawn of the White House in 1983.

Photograph courtesy the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum

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  • On November 3, 1986, an Iranian journalist writing for a Lebanese magazine reported that United States government officials were facilitating arms sales to Iran. This exposed the so-called “Iran-Contra Affair,” the biggest political scandal of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
    The sales to Iran were illegal, as the U.S. had an arms embargo against Iran. American participants in the Iran-Contra Affair thought the covert relationship with Iran would result in two outcomes. First, supporters hoped profits from the arms sales would fund training and equipment for anti-government rebels (the Contras) in Nicaragua. (This would also be illegal, as Congress had limited support for the Contras.) Second, supporters hoped Iran would use its influence to secure the release of American hostages held by terrorists in Lebanon. 
    After exposure of the Iran-Contra Affair, government officials and businessmen, including members of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Agency (NSA), and the Reagan cabinet, were indicted. Two members of the NSA were convicted of felonies, although all convictions were overturned.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    arms Plural Noun


    cabinet Noun

    group of high-ranking government officials, usually top advisers to a president or monarch.

    CIA Noun

    (Central Intelligence Agency) U.S. government agency whose mission is to "preempt threats and further U.S. national security objectives by collecting intelligence that matters, producing objective all-source analysis, conducting effective covert action as directed by the president, and safeguarding the secrets that help keep our nation safe."

    Congress Noun

    legislative branch of the government, responsible for making laws. The U.S. Congress has two bodies, the House of Representatives and the Senate.

    convict Verb

    to find someone guilty of an illegal act.

    covert Adjective

    secret or disguised.

    embargo Noun

    to outlaw trade of a certain good or service, or to outlaw trade from a certain place.

    equipment Noun

    tools and materials to perform a task or function.

    expose Verb

    to uncover.

    facilitate Verb

    to help or make easier.

    felony Noun

    serious crime with punishment including imprisonment or death.

    fund Verb

    to give money to a program or project.

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    hostage Noun

    person held as security until certain terms and conditions (such as payment of a ransom) are met.

    illegal Adjective

    forbidden by law.

    indict Verb

    to bring formal charges against.

    influence Noun

    force that effects the actions, behavior, or policies of others.

    journalist Noun

    person who reports and distributes news.

    National Security Agency (NSA) Noun

    federal agency whose mission is to "lead the U.S. Government in cryptology that encompasses both Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Information Assurance (IA) products and services, and enable Computer Network Operations (CNO) in order to gain a decision advantage for the Nation and our allies under all circumstances."

    political Adjective

    having to do with public policy, government, administration, or elected office.

    profit Noun

    money earned after production costs and taxes are subtracted.

    rebel noun, adjective

    person who resists the authority of government.

    release Verb

    to free or let go.

    secure Verb

    to guarantee, or make safe and certain.

    terrorist Adjective

    having to do with the use of non-military violence and/or threats of violence to achieve or advocate political change.

    train Verb

    to gain skill through discipline and practice.