New testimony and documents in a private lawsuit portray top aides of Vice President Bush as having been more actively involved in Central American counterinsurgency planning and military supply operations from 1983-86 than hitherto disclosed.
The information, produced last week during pretrial questioning of witnesses in a $24 million civil suit, does not directly contradict the assertion by Bush's senior advisers that they were unaware until August 1986 of the secret, White House-directed operation to resupply the Contras during a ban on U.S. aid.However, it does show that:
Bush himself was advised on June 3, 1986, of the Salvadoran Air Force's need for spare parts for its Hughes 500 helicopters, armored pilot seats and new helicopters. The memo from Bush's top two national security aides stressed the need to solve the problems "soonest," since "we may be at a turning point that could win the war for (Salvadoran President Jose Napoleon) Duarte."
Bush scrawled "Good!" at the top of the memo.
Bush's national security adviser, Donald P. Gregg, was playing a key role as early as 1983 in promoting new U.S. anti-guerrilla tactics in Central America. On March 17, 1983, Gregg wrote a memo to President Reagan's national security adviser, Robert C. McFarlane, strongly endorsing a plan for using "solid intelligence, a small elite strike force and quick-reaction aircraft" to destroy guerrilla units. A plan on that model was later adopted in El Salvador.
Bush's deputy national security adviser, Col. Samuel J. Watson III, testified that he observed two warehouses full of weapons and ammunition during a visit to Contra base camps in Honduras in January 1986. However, Watson said he could not recall asking about the source of the weapons when he met with Contra commander Enrique Bermudez immediately afterward.
Watson testified that while accompanying a Salvadoran Air Force unit a few days later, on Jan. 20, he got close enough to a combat operation to observe a rocket near-miss on a helicopter carrying U.S. operative Felix Rodriguez into action.
Watson testified that, at his request, he was "removed from the action" and was only observing from a helicopter standing well back from the operation.
At the time, U.S. military personnel in El Salvador were permitted only to advise Salvadoran units, not to participate in combat.