Brian Barger: Investigative Journalist Helped Unravel the Iran-contra scandal

From a Washington Post obit by Bret Barnes headlined “Brian Barger, journalist who helped unravel Iran-contra scandal, dies at 68”:

Brian Barger was an investigative journalist who edited and reported on Colombian drug cartels, covert operations of the CIA, international terrorism, money laundering, excessive levels of toxins in sea fish, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was among the primary reporters covering the Iran-contra arms-for-hostage scandals of the Reagan administration.

In a journalism career spanning three decades, he worked for the Associated Press, CNN and The Washington Post, among other organizations. He was a restless man who disliked staying long in one place. Early in his career he was a school bus driver and a garbage collector in suburban Maryland; a bartender in Tokyo; a logging truck driver in Wyoming; and an auto mechanic, taxi driver, carpenter, house painter, short-order cook and motorcycle messenger in Washington, D.C.

For a time, he was a California farm worker and organized protests against low wages and poor working conditions. He also had been an insurance claims adjuster and an activist for political and humanitarian causes. He was arrested several times in protests against the Vietnam War.

In 1999, he took a three-year hiatus from journalism to co-found and direct Casa Amiga, a rape crisis and domestic violence counseling center network in Mexico. This, said his family, was an outgrowth of his friendship with Dianna Ortiz, a Catholic nun and missionary who in 1989 was abducted, raped and tortured by members of the Guatemalan military. She died Feb. 19.

Mr. Barger, a District resident who in recent years has been a full-time volunteer with immigrants’ rights organizations, died at a hospital in New York….

He was born in Washington in 1952. His father was a Foreign Service officer, whom he accompanied to postings in Indonesia, Mexico and Tokyo. His mother, a volunteer with a retired diplomats’ group, was Argentine, and it was from her he learned to speak Spanish….

He began his journalism career in 1979 as a Post news aide and retired in 2008 after seven years as an assistant foreign editor. In between, he was an independent correspondent in Latin America and an off-camera reporter with CBS and ABC News, and a Washington-based reporter with the AP, United Press International and CNN.

At the AP, Mr. Barger partnered with colleague Robert Parry on the Iran-contra story, conducting extensive and early reporting about drug trafficking by members of the right-wing Nicaraguan force known as the contras, who had U.S. backing and ties to National Security Council member Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North.

But as Mr. Barger and Parry were examining details of North’s role in the illegal Iran-contra affair, the journalists complained that the AP bureau chief blocked or delayed running their findings while high-level news agency officials were in discussions with North about securing the release of Terry Anderson, an AP journalist who had been taken hostage during the Lebanon civil war.

At the time, Louis D. Boccardi, president and general manager of AP, denied the allegation that he or others “were somehow editing the AP wire to suit Ollie North.” Mr. Barger soon left for CBS News.

As a foreign desk editor at The Post from 2001 to 2008, Mr. Barger worked on stories connected with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, national security issues and current events in Latin America and the Middle East.

He shared an Overseas Press Club award, among other professional honors….


  1. Thomas J. Busse says

    Danny Sheehan called Brian the hero of Iran-Contra. The WaPo glossed over Brian’s involvement with the Barrigan protest.

    Here’s Sheehan remembering Barger:

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