Newspaper clippings reach me daily, from friends throughout the United States, in which I am accused of things I have not done. The Post's first edition of Jan. 30 carried a typical example. On the front page, I was erroneously linked to bank accounts by a source whom the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence identifies as being of unknown reliability but who suggests I may have been connected with Iranian arms sales and the funding of the contras. No one in the press or in Congress bothered to check this allegation with me before it appeared in print. These events are perplexing. As a result, I want to put across my position. In brief, in my 28 years with the Central Intelligence Agency, in places as diverse as Berlin, southern Florida, Laos and Vietnam, I have seen many fellow Americans cheerfully accepting appalling working conditions and often risking their lives in the service of their country -- diplomats, military men, members of the Agency for International Development. As the private businessman I have been for the past seven years, I see few of these people. Occasionally I am reminded of them with a jolt.
Such an event happened in November 1984 in Hamburg, where I had gone to inform myself about the commercial situation in Iran. There two Iranian exiles introduced me to Manucher Ghorbanifar. He is well known now as an arms dealer, but he did not represent himself as such in 1984. If he had, I would have broken off contact because, as all who do business with me know, I will deal in nothing that "goes boom or bang." Instead he talked about importing into Iran machinery and prostheses for wounded veterans. This led by a logical progression to talk of the war, of his concerns about keeping Iran out of Soviet control in the post-Khomeini period and eventually to Iranian interests in Lebanon. Mr. Ghorbanifar said he had heard the Americans taken hostage were still alive. This hit home. One of the hostages was a man I had known and respected in Vietnam and who lost his freedom while serving his country in Beirut. Anything Mr. Ghorbanifar could tell us, I said, about the condition of these unfortunate people would be regarded as a humanitarian gesture. Mr. Ghorbanifar made a joke of it. Alluding to President Kennedy's ransoming of the members of the Cuban brigade from Castro's prisons, he said he supposed he would soon be talking about exchanging tractors for hostages. I said if he thought there was a real possibility of some kind of swap, I would see that his proposal reached the right places.
After a three-hour break in the discussions when the various parties went their own ways, the two Iranian exiles and I met again with Mr. Ghorbanifar. At this juncture, Mr. Ghorbanifar said he had reflected on our earlier discussion about the hostages and had talked with a friend. This permitted him to say the following: 1) the Americans captured in Beirut were alive; 2) a deal could be made for their release using Iranian channels; 3) the transaction would be simple -- money for people; 4) the explanation for the transaction would be that Mr. Ghorbanifar had bought the people and subsequently resold them to a private group that had raised the funds; and 5) Iran's role in the transaction had to be kept secret.
I told Mr. Ghorbanifar his points had been noted and I would see what could be done, but the speed of his actions surprised me. He laughed, made the point that he was an operator and challenged me to react as quickly as he had. I said this was unlikely. Upon returning to Washington, I prepared a memorandum on the hostage issue and hand-carried it on Nov. 23, 1984, to a senior official of the State Department, the organization responsible for Americans abroad. The memorandum was read with interest by the senior official. I was advised it would be reviewed by others. In addition, the comment was made that hostage negotiations were in progress but U.S. policy precluded ransom payments. In December 1984, I was told by the Department of State, "Thank you, but we will work on this problem via other channels." Mr. Ghorbanifar was advised that our soundings had produced the response that there was no interest in this channel.
No further action was taken on this hostage question until May 1985, when a consultant to the National Security Council asked whether, as a result of my monitoring of events in the Iran-Iraq war, I had any ideas on what could be done to obtain the hostages' release. My response was I had no new ideas, but I did mention my November 1984 memorandum. As a result, I was asked to make an assessment of the current viability of the Ghorbanifar channel. That was done, and in June 1985 an Iranian exile in London said Mr. Ghorbanifar had reported the following: 1) Iranian authorities were flooded with proposals to help obtain the release of American hostages in Lebanon, and they did not know who was who; 2) Tehran was not interested in the humanitarian ploy that had previously been put forth by Mr. Ghorbanifar; and 3) Tehran wanted a dialogue with a responsible American who could identify what he represented, and there had to be a discussion of a quid pro quo that involved items other than money.
This information was given to the NSC consultant in June 1985 in a written memorandum. He said he would relay it to the NSC. No response was ever received by me. The London exile therefore was told, after a lapse of time, that we had passed the latest information to the appropriate people in Washington, but there was no reply. This negative status report was also conveyed to Mr. Ghorbanifar. When anyone asserts that my intervention on behalf of the hostages shows that I must also have participated in the transfer of weapons to Iran and, therefore, must have helped supply the contras with funds, material or arms, I can only gape in amazement and conclude that there are those who have studied logic from a different textbook than I did. To make it plain, I have never played a role in any aspect of the transaction that led to an exchange of weapons for hostages, nor have I been a participant in any activities on behalf of the contras.
Some in the media bring up the names of former colleagues of mine, alleged to be involved somehow in these matters, and suggest, because we served together in government many years ago, that this then makes me a party to their current activities. Although it should be unnecessary to say so, a past shared with these people does not make me responsible for what they do now. What I can do is speak for myself: I was not a participant in the Iran weapons transfer; I was not in the past, nor am I now, involved in providing aid of any kind of the contras; and I completely endorse the position that no U.S. intelligence operation that is in violation of an act of Congress should be undertaken . THEODORE G. SHACKLEY
The writer is a former associate deputy director for operations at the CIA.