Senior officials at the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council had "highly accurate and reliable" reports throughout 1986 about the extraordinary prices that Oliver L. North and his associates were charging for arms they sold to Iran, according to a government document made public Friday.
The intelligence reports were summarized in a previously "Top Secret" trial exhibit released with some deletions in the settlement of a lawsuit brought by The Washington Post and nine other news organizations.The version released Friday does not use the word intercepts and includes no description of how the intelligence information was acquired. Its description of the information in the intercepts is sketchy. But it says explicitly that the senior officials who received the information and who knew the real prices of the weapons going to the Iranians "could have known that the Iranians were being significantly overcharged" by North and his associates.
The document also says that arms were shipped to Iran in late 1985 "in connection with hostage recovery efforts," confirming that the intelligence information showed the United States was engaged in an arms-for-hostages deal.
The NSA intelligence reports were "addressed exclusively" to 17 people in the Reagan administration and "were delivered by special courier to ensure that the information would be seen promptly by the addressees and only by those authorized to receive it," the document released Friday said.
The addressees included Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger; CIA Director William J. Casey and his deputies, including Robert Gates, now deputy national security adviser to President Bush; national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane; his deputy and later his successor, Adm. John M. Poindexter; and Vice Adm. Arthur Moreau, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Weinberger has repeatedly denied any knowledge of the arms shipments to Iran to win the release of U.S. hostages in Lebanon that were described in these intelligence reports that were delivered to him.
The three-page exhibit - a stipulation agreed to by both prosecutors and defense lawyers at North's trial - summarized intercepts of conversations compiled by the National Security Agency (NSA) in 1985 and 1986. The news organizations sought to intervene in the North case to obtain access to the document after it was marked "For jurors' eyes only" and withheld from the public.
Justice Department officials agreed as part of the settlement that to "resort to such a procedure should be invoked only in extraordinary circumstances . . . in which it is not possible to accommodate fair trial and national security concerns by other means."
They also agreed that before the procedure is used again, the government should announce its intentions in advance so that the public and the press "will have an opportunity to object. . . ."
The NSA intelligence reports were "obtained by various methods of surveillance" and were collected at North's request from September 1985 to December 1986, according to the sanitized summary. It said the intercepts "contained information regarding the pricing and delivery of missiles and military material sold to Iran" and reflected activities of "individuals involved," including North's chief operative, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord.
Profits from the arms sales were put into bank accounts that Secord and North controlled, and some of the money was diverted to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. One of the witnesses at North's trial, Marine Lt. Col. Robert Earl, said that in calculating the prices for one proposed arms shipment to Iran in the spring of 1986, he multiplied the cost of the items by 3.7.
Secord and his business partner, Albert Hakim, are awaiting separate trials on charges of conspiracy and theft of government property in connection with the arms sales.
Those charges were dropped against North before his trial on 12 other counts. A federal court jury convicted North Thursday on three charges of obstructing Congress, unlawfully mutilating government documents and taking an illegal gratuity from Secord. The jurors found him not guilty on the other nine counts.
North was found guilty Thursday of aiding and abetting the Reagan administration's efforts in November 1986 to conceal the facts about the arms-for-hostages deals from Congress. He had been indicted on that count partly for helping to prepare a false chronology stating that no one in the U.S. government knew until January 1986 about the potentially illegal Hawk shipment in 1985.
The NSA opposed release of the stipulation shown to the jury. U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell signed an order Friday authorizing the Justice Department to release the sanitized version.
Lawyers for the Justice Department and the news organizations said in a joint motion to drop the litigation that the sanitized version deletes "solely information that would disclose methods of intelligence collection," including some data "as to the precise time at which information was received."
"It does not delete the names or titles of any government officials who received the inforamtion and whose names already have been released in the public record," the motion stated.
North may be able to keep his pension
The Marine Corps, receiving scores of angry phone calls, retreated Friday and said it is uncertain now whether Oliver North will lose his $23,000 annual military pension because of his felony convictions.
"What effect, if any, Lt. Col. North's conviction will have on his retired status is unknown at this time," the Marine Corps said in a statement.
On Thursday, the Marines said in a statement that North's conviction on the charge of falsifying and destroying National Security Council records "require that, under federal law, he forfeit his office as a retired lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps with the resultant loss of his retired pay."