Tower Commission

Tower Commission

President's Special Review Board ("Tower Commission")
Formation 1 December 1986
Extinction 26 February 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 26 November 1986 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan in response to the Iran Contra scandal. Reagan appointed Republican and former Senator John Tower of Texas, former Secretary of State Edmund Muskie, and former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft.

The Commission's report, published on 26 February 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 the Congressional Committees Investigating The Iran-Contra Affair, which were formed in January 1987 and published a report in November 1987; and by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh, appointed 1 December 1986 and publishing a final report in 1993.


  • Process 1
  • Report 2
  • Responses 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6


The Commission began its work on 1 December 1986, and its report was published on 26 February 1987. The Commission had no powers to subpoena documents, compel testimony, or grant immunity from prosecution.[4] 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]

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)

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 4 March 1987 addressing the report's conclusions.[11] Some individuals named in the report complained about how they were portrayed.[12]


  1. ^ a b New York Times, 27 February 1987, THE WHITE HOUSE CRISIS; EXCERPTS FROM THE TOWER COMMISSION'S REPORT PART I: Introduction
  3. ^ Fox Butterfield, New York Times, 28 February 1987, THE WHITE HOUSE CRISIS; Tower Commission Feared Analysis Was Compromised
  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, 23 February 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, 27 February 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, 27 February 1987, THE TOWER COMMISSION REPORT : NSC Staff Is Faulted for Making Policy in Secret
  9. ^ Tower Commission report
  10. ^ New York Times, 27 February 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, 11 March 1987, Tower report takes knocks of its own

Further reading

  • 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

  • Excerpts from the Tower Commission Report,
  • THE TOWER COMMISSION; Report on Iran-Contra Affair Depicts 'A Very Unprofessional Operation', Donald T. Regan, New York Times, 1 March 1987
  • THE WHITE HOUSE CRISIS; EXCERPTS FROM THE TOWER COMMISSION'S REPORT APPENDIX C: The N.S.C. Staff and the Contras, New York Times, 27 February 1987