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american president ronald reagan signed, on November 23, 1981, a top-secret document, National Security Decision Directive 17 (NSDD-17), which gave the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) the power to recruit and support a 500-man force of rebels, to carry out covert actions against the leftist Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. A budget of $19 million was established for this.
NSDD-17 it marked the beginning of official US support for the so-called Contras in their fight against the Sandinistas. The decision came several months after President Reagan ordered the CIA to develop a plan to stop what his administration believed to be a significant flow of arms from Nicaragua to rebels in neighboring El Salvador.
The administration also believed that the Sandinista regime was merely an action token for the Soviet Union.
Subsequently, CIA officials set out to secure commitments from Honduras to provide training bases and Argentina to train some 1,000 rebels (these would be in addition to the CIA-trained and supplied force of 500 men).
Beyond the original goal of stopping the flow of weapons from Nicaragua, the rebels’ tasks expanded to include espionage missions and even paramilitary actions within Nicaragua. News of the directive leaked to the press in March 1982, but Reagan administration officials quickly downplayed the significance of the action.
They argued that the CIA plan was designed to support Nicaraguan “moderates” who were opposed to the Sandinista regime, not disreputable former soldiers and allies of Anastasio Somoza, whom the Sandinistas overthrew in 1979.
CIA Deputy Director Admiral Bobby R. Inman argued that the $19 million allocation provided little buying power for weapons and other materials, saying that “19 million or 29 million is not going to buy much of any kind these days.” , and certainly not against that kind of military force.”
In the years that followed, US support for the Contras became a subject of great tension among the American public. Congressional and public criticism of the program eventually led the Reagan administration to subvert congressional bans on aid to the Contras. These actions resulted in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal from 1986.