Tower Commission

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

President's Special Review Board ("Tower Commission")
FormationDecember 1, 1986
ExtinctionFebruary 27, 1987 (report published)
Purpose"a comprehensive study of the future role and procedures of the National Security Council (N.S.C.) staff in the development, coordination, oversight and conduct of foreign and national security policy."[1]
John Tower

The Tower Commission was commissioned on December 1, 1986 by United States president Ronald Reagan in response to the Iran–Contra affair, in which senior administration officials secretly facilitated the sale of arms to Iran, which was the subject of an arms embargo. The commission, composed of former Senator John Tower of Texas, former Secretary of State Edmund Muskie, and former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, was tasked with reviewing the proper role of the National Security Council staff in national security operations generally, and in the arms transfers to Iran specifically.

The Commission's report, published on February 27, 1987, concluded that CIA Director William Casey, who supported the Iran-Contra arrangement, should have taken over the operation and made the president aware of the risks and notified Congress as legally required.[3] The Commission's work was continued by two congressional investigative committees (both formed in January 1987). Shortly after forming the Tower Commission, President Reagan also named Lawrence Walsh as the independent counsel in charge of the Iran-Contra criminal investigation.


The Commission report described its purpose in the following way:

The President directed the board to examine the proper role of the National Security Council staff in national security operations, including the arms transfers to Iran. The President made clear that he wanted all the facts to come out. The board was not, however, called upon to assess individual culpability or be the final arbiter of the facts. These tasks have been properly left to others. Indeed, the short deadline set by the President for completion of the board's work and its limited resources precluded a separate and thorough field investigation. Instead, the board has examined the events surrounding the transfer of arms to Iran as a principal case study in evaluating the operation of the National Security Council in general and the role of the N.S.C. staff in particular.[1]

Because of its limited mandate, the Commission had no powers to subpoena documents, compel testimony, or grant immunity from prosecution.[4] Over the course of several weeks, the Commission took testimony from 86 witnesses, and was able to retrieve backup copies from an NSC mainframe of some files which NSC staff had sought to delete.[2] There was some debate about whether to publish the Commission's detailed chronology of events, but with the removal of some details of sourcing, methods and names of contacts, it was ultimately published as an annex to the Commission's report.[5]


President Ronald Reagan (center) receives the Tower Commission Report regarding the Iran-Contra affair in the Cabinet Room with John Tower (left) and Edmund Muskie (right)

Issued on February 26, 1987, the commission's report "held Reagan accountable for a lax managerial style and aloofness from policy detail."[6]

Oliver North, John Poindexter, Caspar Weinberger, and others were also implicated.[7][8]

Summarised, the main findings showed that "Using the Contras as a front, and against international law, and US law, weapons were sold, using Israel as intermediaries, to Iran, during the brutal Iran–Iraq War. The US was also supplying weapons to Iraq, including ingredients for nerve gas, mustard gas and other chemical weapons."[9]

Appendix B of the report opens with the line attributed to Juvenal, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?".[10]


President Ronald Reagan issued a primetime address on March 4, 1987 addressing the report's conclusions.[11] Some individuals named in the report complained about how they were portrayed.[12]


  1. ^ a b "The White House Crisis; Excerpts From The Tower Commission's Report Part I: Introduction". The New York Times. February 27, 1987.
  3. ^ Butterfield, Fox (February 28, 1987). "The White House Crisis; Tower Commission Feared Analysis Was Compromised". The New York Times.
  4. ^ Alan A. Block, "The Origins of IRAN-CONTRA: Lessons from the Durrani Affair", p2; in Frank Bovenkerk and Michael Levi (eds, 2007), The Organized Crime Community: Essays in Honor of Alan A. Block, Springer
  5. ^ Susan F. Rasky, New York Times, February 23, 1987, TOWER COMMISSION FINISHING REPORT
  6. ^ Busby, Robert (2010-02-03) The scandal that almost destroyed Ronald Reagan,
  7. ^ Stephen V. Roberts, New York Times, February 27, 1987, THE WHITE HOUSE CRISIS: The Tower Report INQUIRY FINDS REAGAN AND CHIEF ADVISERS RESPONSIBLE FOR 'CHAOS' IN IRAN ARMS DEALS; Reagan Also Blamed
  8. ^ Robert C. Toth, Los Angeles Times, February 27, 1987, THE TOWER COMMISSION REPORT : NSC Staff Is Faulted for Making Policy in Secret
  9. ^ Tower Commission report, page 2
  10. ^ New York Times, February 27, 1987, THE WHITE HOUSE Crisis; A Juvenal Quotation Opens Tower Report
  11. ^ C-SPAN, President Reagan on Iran-Contra Affair & Tower Commission Report
  12. ^ Warren Richey, Christian Science Monitor, March 11, 1987, Tower report takes knocks of its own

Further reading[edit]

  • Chapter 5, "The Politics of Scandal: The Tower Commission and Iran-Contra," in Kenneth Kitts, *Presidential Commissions and National Security (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2006).
  • The Great War for Civilisation, The Conquest of the Middle East; Robert Fisk

External links[edit]