White House officials brokered gun sales to the Nicaraguan Contras from an arms dealership tied to drug trafficking, say U.S. officials, government documents and arms dealers who supplied the rebels.
Congressional investigators probing the drugs-and-guns scheme say the operation involved agents from Mossad, Israel's spy agency, senior Honduran military intelligence officers, and CIA-connected arms dealers.The investigators say they also are working to confirm evidence provided by one participant who said a senior aide to Vice President George Bush acted as a Washington point man in the operation.
The Honduran-based weapons dealership, known as the "Arms Supermarket," became a principal source of weapons for the Nicarguan rebels in 1984 and 1985 during a time when Congress had banned all U.S. aid to them, administration officials said.
The arms supply operation ended in late 1985 when it faced public disclosure, administration officials said.
Documents released by the congressional Iran-Contra panels show that fired White House aide Oliver North dealt extensively with principals in the Arms Supermarket, even after learning the weapons were purchased with proceeds from drug trafficking.
An entry in North's daily diaries shows he was aware of the drug connection as early as July 12, 1985. North notes, in a discussion about the Supermarket, "$14 million to finance came from drugs."
But one month later, according to his diaries, North brokered the sale of mortars from the Supermarket for the rebels.
The Arms Supermarket was initiated by two CIA-connected gun dealers in Miami, Ronald Martin and James McCoy, administration officials said.
By mid-1985, the Arms Supermarket warehouse near the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula had stockpiled some $20 million of East Bloc weaponry, sources familiar with the operation said.
Congressional investigators who have interviewed some of the participants said, at the request of the Reagan administraton, the operation was initiated jointly by operatives of the Israeli Mossad, senior Honduran military officers now under investigation for drug trafficking, and CIA-connected arms dealers.
According to accounts provided to the investigators, the Reagan administration turned to Israel for help with the Contras in late 1983, when Congress began debating an aid cut-off following revelations that the CIA had mined Nicaragua's harbors.
Newsweek magazine reported this week that Israelis agreed to act as "middlemen" if someone else put up the money.
One participant in the operation, arms dealer Richard Brenneke of Portland, Ore., told congressional investigators he was asked by Mossad agents to act as a purchasing agent for the operation, and brokered purchases of East-Bloc weapons in Czechoslovakia.