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Iran-Contra by Malcolm Byrne

Iran-Contra: Reagan’s Scandal and the Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power
By Malcolm Byrne (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2014, 464 pp.)

"A high-quality, meticulously researched book that sheds much light on a controversy that, nearly three decades ago, shook the American political system to its core."
Wall Street Journal

"A riveting book about a remarkable scandal and a warning about the excesses of secrecy and partisanship in American foreign policy."
Bruce Riedel, author of Al Qaeda: Its Leadership, Ideology, and Future

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Malcolm Byrne
The National Security Archive
The George Washington University

John Tirman
Center for International Studies
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Huss Banai
School of Global and International Studies
Indiana University, Bloomington

James Blight & janet Lang
Balsillie School of International Affairs
Waterloo, Ontario


National Security Archive
Suite 701, Gelman Library of The George Washington University
2130 H Street, NW, Washington, D.C., 20037
Phone: 202/994-7000
Fax: 202/994-7005



The Iran-U.S. Relations Project promotes the multinational, multi-archival exploration of “hot button” issues in the two countries’ complex relationship spanning more than 70 years.

Our documentary holdings, amassed from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and archival spelunking on location in Tehran, Baku, Moscow, London and elsewhere, range from a complete collection of the published, shredded files taken from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, to the thousands of pages covering key episodes from the 1946 Azerbaijan crisis and the 1953 coup to the 1980s Iran-Iraq War, all the way to the current nuclear negotiations.

Many of these materials have broken new ground—including the first-ever official acknowledgement by the CIA of its role in the Mosaddeq coup, portions of the State Department’s late 1970s White Paper on Iran, and the secret demarche from President Clinton to President Khatami in 1999. Our distinctive conferences have brought together former policymakers and experts from both sides, uncovering important historical evidence and candid insights into official Iranian and U.S. thinking.


Iran has been a subject of sustained interest for the Archive since its founding in 1985. During those early years, the project’s primary mission was to document United States policy toward Iran since World War II. Through systematic FOIA requests, acquisition of the so-called Nest of Spies publications from Iran, and research in the U.S. National Archives and presidential libraries, the Archive compiled and published several documentary collections, along the way becoming a nonpartisan go-to source for Congressional, Independent Counsel and media inquiries into the burgeoning Iran-Contra affair.

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Following the 1997 election of President Mohammad Khatami and his declaration of interest in launching a dialogue among civilizations, the project shifted its emphasis to the Iranian dimension. Project staff made several trips to Iran to build connections with scholars and institutions interested in a more fact-based, less politicized, rendering of the Iran-U.S. historical relationship. The Archive contributed significantly to a number of international conferences between 1998 and 2004 centered on the period prior to the Iranian revolution, including the only known public—indeed televised—event in Iran on the Mosaddeq era and the 1953 coup. This phase of our activities helped lay the foundation for all subsequent initiatives of the project.

Shortly after Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s election in 2005, the Archive teamed up with three long-time supporters of its work to develop a new line of inquiry. They were: John Tirman of the Center for International Studies at MIT, and Jim Blight and janet Lang, initially of the Watson Institute at Brown University, and later the Balsillie School of International Affairs, Waterloo, Ontario. Hussein Banai, now an assistant professor at Indiana University, soon joined the project as a partner. The new approach involved inviting former policymakers from different countries to take part in an innovative series of multilateral dialogues designed to go beyond the documentary record by eliciting their unique perspectives on the nature of Iranian and U.S. relations, with a special focus on the post-revolution period. The dialogue format, originally devised by Blight and Lang, is known as “critical oral history” (COH) and is remarkably effective at bringing to light previously obscure facts and viewpoints.


Funding has come primarily from the Arca Foundation, MIT, and the Carnegie Corporation. The Open Society Institute and the Winston Foundation provided invaluable early backing.


The following is a list of conferences and events that have involved the Iran-U.S. Relations Project.  It does not include individual public presentations by Project staff over the years.

Click here to open/close list of conferences
  • “Becoming Enemies: U.S.-Iran Relations During the Iran-Iraq War,” hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington DC, October 15, 2012
  • “Challenges in the U.S.-Iran Relationship, 2001-2009,” COH conference organized by MIT and the National Security Archive, Cambridge, MA, June 13-15, 2012
  • “Missed Opportunities? U.S.-Iran Relations, 1993-2001,” COH conference organized by the National Security Archive, MIT and Balsillie School of International Affairs, Musgrove Conference Center, St. Simons Island, GA, April 8-10, 2011
  • “U.S.-Iran Relations and the Iran-Iraq War, 1980-1988,” COH conference organized by the National Security Archive, MIT and Brown University, Musgrove Conference Center, St. Simons Island, GA, December 12-14, 2008
  • “An Overview of U.S.-Iraq Relations, 1980-1988,” Center for Strategic Research (Iran), Tehran, February 5, 2008
  • “Missed Opportunities? U.S.-Iran Relations, 1997-2005,” COH conference organized by the National Security Archive, MIT and Balsillie School of International Affairs, Bellagio, Italy, April 14-20, 2007
  • “A Strained Partnership: European-American Relations and the Middle East from Suez to Iraq,” Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, September 7, 2006
  • “The Carter Administration and the ‘Arc of Crisis’: Iran, Afghanistan and the Cold War in Southwest Asia, 1977-1981,” COH conference hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the National Security Archive, Washington DC, July 25-26, 2005
  • “The Origins, Conduct, and Impact of the Iran-Iraq War, 1980-1988,” COH conference hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the National Security Archive, Washington DC, July 19-20, 2004
  • “Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia in the Cold War: Issues and New Archival Evidence,” organized by the National Security Archive, Tsinandali, Republic of Georgia, July 8-9, 2002
  • “Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran,” hosted by St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, Oxford, UK, June 9, 2002
  • “Towards an International History of the War in Afghanistan 1978-1989,” hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the National Security Archive, Washington DC, April 29-30, 2002
  • “Russia and Iran in the 20th Century,” hosted by the Centre for Documents and Diplomatic History (Foreign Ministry), Tehran, February 27, 2001
  • “The United States and Iran, 1945-1953: The Road to Intervention,” hosted by the Azerbaijan Higher Diplomatic College, Baku, September 26, 2000
  • “Iran and the Great Powers, 1950-53” hosted by the Centre for Documents and Diplomatic History (Foreign Ministry), Tehran, June 7-8, 2000
  • “Iran and the Second World War,” hosted by the Institute for Political and International Studies (Foreign Ministry), Tehran, September 25-26, 1999

Conference Participants

The following is a partial listing of U.S., Iranian and other international figures who have taken part in some of our events:

Click here to open/close list of participants
  • George Cave
  • Anatoly Chernyaev (Russia)
  • Charles Cogan
  • James Dobbins
  • William Eagleton
  • Farideh Farhi
  • Henner Fürtig (Germany)
  • Nasser Hadian
  • Paul Henze
  • Martin Indyk
  • Peter Jenkins (U.K.)
  • Zsygmond Kazmer (Hungary)
  • Stanislas de Laboulaye (France)
  • Bruce Laingen
  • William G. Miller
  • Hossein Mousavian
  • Richard Murphy
  • Charles Naas
  • David Newton
  • Meghan O’Sullivan
  • Gen. J.H.B. Peay III
  • Giandomenico Picco (Italy)
  • Thomas Pickering
  • Henry Precht
  • Bruce Riedel
  • Harold Saunders
  • Gary Sick
  • Steven Simon
  • Thomas Twetten
  • Nicholas Veliotes
  • Lawrence Wilkerson
  • Rep. Charlie Wilson



(click on photo to enlarge)



1953 Iran Coup: New U.S. Documents Confirm British Approached U.S. in Late 1952 About Ousting Mosaddeq
State Department Temporarily Declined, in Part Because U.S. Was Still Hoping to Reach Oil Deal with Iranian Prime Minister

Iran 1953: State Department Finally Releases Updated Official History of Mosaddeq Coup
Formerly Secret Documents from State, CIA Provide New Information about Covert Operations Planning and Implementation Plus Contemporaneous Analyses

The Iran-Contra Affair 30 Years Later: A Milestone in Post-Truth Politics
Declassified Records Recall Official Deception in the Name of Protecting a Presidency

U.S., Britain Developed Plans to Disable or Destroy Middle Eastern Oil Facilities from Late 1940s to Early 1960s in Event of a Soviet Invasion
British Plans Envisioned Using Nuclear Weapons as an Option in Iran and Iraq, According to Declassified Documents

Iran’s Nuclear Program – Then and Now
Documents from 1970s Presage Issues Surrounding July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Deal with P5+1

The Gas Centrifuge Secret: Origins of a U.S. Policy of Nuclear Denial, 1954-1960
Beginning in 1950s, U.S. Sought to Control Uranium Enrichment Technology that Iranians Are Using Today

The Battle for Iran, 1953: Re-Release of CIA Internal History Spotlights New Details about anti-Mosaddeq Coup
U.S. Ambassador Loy Henderson and Some CIA Officials Initially Disagreed with Certain Premises of Coup Planners


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