Oliver North, one of the most controversial and colorful U.S. military officers of the past century, is coming to Tampa.
North, once a Marine lieutenant colonel little known outside national security circles, became an iconic figure of mythic proportions in the mid 1980s when what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal erupted. Now a Fox News personality and author, North is headed here as part of his national tour promoting his latest novel, “Counterfeit Lies.”
At the time deputy director of the National Security Council, North was implicated for his role in a plan to supply arms to Iran in exchange for U.S. hostages, and the operation of a secret slush fund to aid the Contra guerrillas in Nicaragua, His page on biography.com tells of what followed. He was forced to resign in 1986. Found guilty on three of 12 charges arising from the affair, he was given a three-year suspended jail sentence, and fined $150,000. In 1990, the three convictions were set aside, and he was cleared of all charges in 1991. He and his family also received death threats from a terror organization and had to be housed, for a time, on a Marine base for protection.
North, 70, will be at the Barnes & Noble, 11802 N. Dale Mabry Hwy. at 4 p.m. Friday to sign copies of his book. For more information, go to OliverNorth.com.
The Tribune caught up with North Wednesday evening as he was riding his tour bus.
QUESTION: Your new novel, “Counterfeit Lies,” features the insignia of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. Why?
ANSWER: Not only are they in charge of supporting Hizballah and al-Assad in Syria, but they are also in charge of the Iranian nuclear weapons program. The deal just announced in Vienna is a disaster. The Iranians have agreed to have a U.N. inspector come in. We will lift sanctions. There will be a big back slap with the guys in turbans and the IRGC is still in charge of getting nuclear weapons for Iran, just like in my book. Which is a novel.
Q: Talk about the role they and the Qods Force, essentially the Iranian special operations forces, are playing in the Middle East right now.
A: I just got called by a guy on the ground there, who said 12 Iranians — I don’t know if the Qods Force is around — were just captured in Bajii. It’s a big oil refinery town, west of Tikrit, where I spent the better part of two months with 4th Infantry Division years ago. It is an enormous refinery, and the ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) guys overran the thing and captured the Iranians.
Q: How do you know this?
A: We know guys. I know where you are. The guys down the street from you track this stuff pretty closely for both (U.S. Central Command) and (U.S. Special Operations Command). Qods Force has at least three battalions on the ground in Iraq, backstopping (Iraqi president Nouri) al-Maliki and the Iraqi security forces. The idea that we could put Americans on the ground to work with them to backstop al-Maliki is absolutely nuts.
A: It’s a civil sectarian war, waged along very sectarian lines. Maliki has become nothing more than a Satrap (Persian expression for henchman) for the Iranians. Look at what is happening now. The lunacy of putting Americans on the ground to do anything other than protect the Embassy, without a (Status of Forces Agreement), is nuts. I can’t imagine anyone in Tampa wants that...In case nobody has noticed, Ramadan starts on the 28th of June. Unless we bombed a whole bunch of civilians, and I hope to God we don’t, this war is going to come to a screaming halt. I’ve been out there for 11 of the last 13 Ramadans. Whether in Afghanistan or Iraq or in any one of the other places, war comes to a screeching halt in Ramadan for obvious reasons. The only thing you will see is, one, a stalemate in terms of military operations, and two, continued acts off terrorism, bombs going off in every Shiite neighborhood and Sunni neighborhood. Young people will get all fired up and put bombs on and blow themselves up.
Q: If you could sit down at MacDill Air Force Base with Centcom commander Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III, Special Operations Command Central leader Army Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata and newly minted Marine Corps Forces Central Command head Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, what advice would you offer them?
A: I think I would tell them that they have to stand up and say to the Pentagon and leadership in Washington, we should not put American troops on the ground outside of our embassy to commit combat operations without a (Status of Forces Agreement). That includes advising, logistics, (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance). We just ought not to do that. And No. 2, everything will come to a screeching halt on Ramadan, so the ISIL will try to take Baghdad or do an end around and charge south. I am convinced that what we will see after Ramadan is what you will have in terms of the sectarian division inside Iraq. Maliki is not smart enough or not courageous enough to bring the Sunnis and Kurds back. He purged them, because Obama pulled out the way he did in 2011.
Q: When you’re in town will you be seeing anyone at MacDill?
A: (Laughs) I will be doing a book signing, I have some friends. We’ll probably look for stuff to do on the margins in whatever time I have left. I have a lot of friends down there I have enormous admiration for and don’t try to hide it in my job with Fox news, I let these heroes tell their stories...You are a military town. I have enormous admiration for those who serve. This is the first war since the American Revolution where everyone in uniform is a volunteer.
Q: Talk about your enduring legacy. Few could have recovered from what you experienced in your role in the Iran-Contra scandal.
A: I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on that. My job is to let these guys tell their stories. I’ve been doing that for 13 years now. Months and months away from home. My wife and kids are used to it. I don’t think much about my legacy other than my 14 grand kids. I at least showed them how to keep the faith, fight the good fight and finish the race.
Q: Do you think there are any off-the-books operations like Iran-Contra going on right now? Should there be?
A: I don’t think there is anything like that going on. I grieve for what has happened with the CIA in recent years. Everyone is so risk averse in Washington. When a field officer develops something, if there is any kind of risk at all, they pull out. It’s the result of what happened in Khost (Afghanistan, where nine were killed, including seven CIA personnel, in a 2009 suicide bombing). But it is also a culture. You can do all the signals intelligence, but if you don’t know who is in the car and what they are talking about and you hit them with a Hellfire missile, you can’t get any intelligence because they are dead.
Q: Tell me something about Iran-Contra you have never told anyone else.
A: I’m glad Abu Nidal, the guy who tried to kill my wife and kids, is dead of six self-inflicted head shots, in of all places, Baghdad. (Nidal, responsible for killing as many as 900, according to the Guardian, was found dead in an apartment in 2002 under mysterious circumstances.)