Yesterday's dismissal culminated a tumultuous chain of events that began when some of Mr. North's superiors, including Mr. Casey, made him the covert intermediary to the contras, a role that Mr. North embraced with a consuming ardor.
Mr. North's riveting weeklong testimony to the Iran-contra congressional investigating committees, and his impassioned defense of his actions at his trial, made him the defining personality of the affair.
Prosecutors cast him as the gung-ho Marine whose zeal for his mission prompted him to mislead Congress about his actions, then lie to cover up his deceptions as lawmakers pressed to learn more about his actions in Central America.
But to his lawyers and supporters, who have flocked to his speeches, Mr. North was a hero and patriot, who carried out his orders to keep the contras alive "body and soul," as Mr. Reagan once put it, and never wavered when the administration's policies were under heavy attack in Congress.
In his own account of his actions in congressional testimony and at his trial, Mr. North said that he, along with several private associates, set up the arms supply network for the rebels, helped to arrange weapons shipments, advised the contras on military tactics and financed the operation in part from a source he described as the "secret within a secret" -- the profits from another project in which he was deeply engaged: the arms sales to Iran, undertaken in 1985 and 1986 to win the release of American hostages held in Lebanon.