Fans of Stanley Sporkin during his time as the Securities and Exchange Commission's chief enforcer often wondered what happened to him after he followed William J. Casey over the river to Langley and became general counsel for the CIA.
Now, thanks to the Iran-contra hearings, they know more. Among other things in his days with the spooks, he took orders from Ollie North. Sporkin didn't blink an eye when in January 1986 North called him up and told him to stitch up an "expanded finding" on the arms sales to Iran.
Sporkin, a voluble and assertive man, whose name struck terror into malefactors in Wall Street, was cordially hated as a meddler, a stickler and a menace. His tenacity and zest for hounding people who jiggled their accounts and bribed their customers made him an ogre in the takeover set.
But Sporkin, who left the Central Intelligence Agency last year to become a federal judge, seems to have loosened up considerably at Langley. When he was leaving the SEC, there was much speculation that a man who had spent 20 years training bright lights on dark corners of American business would be out of sync with an agency that operates in secrecy.
Known as a liberal Democrat with a strict Republican view of law and order, Sporkin once said that "morality was going the way of detente."
But he fitted in with the spooks better than anyone could have thought.
When, for instance, he was told on Nov. 25, 1985, that the Reagan administration was covertly selling arms to the ayatollah -- and, in fact, had sent two batches -- the only thing he thought of was that "this kind of activity . . . should have a finding by the president."
A finding, he explained to the committees, "is a determination by the president of the U.S. that a certain activity in a foreign country, which is undisclosed, is necessary in the interest of national security."
Not everyone in his then-new circle felt that a finding was necessary. There was no argument, of course, on not notifying Congress.
"It was stiff legal advice, believe me," said Sporkin. He added with some complacency, "It's not the everyday legal advice I gave."
It certainly wasn't the kind of advice he gave when he was reading the riot act to greedy brokers. But by Langley standards, apparently, it was tough stuff, and Sporkin saw himself at the barricades. "Some people think I might have pulled the trigger too soon."
The committee lawyer who questioned him, Tim Woodcock, pointed out that the Hughes-Ryan law, which even spies are supposed to observe, calls for presidential approval of a covert action before it actually occurs.
Sporkin, who spoke in the loudest voice yet heard in the hearing room, obviously thought that the counsel was being picky and just a little bit unrealistic: "Well, I think it is important, obviously, in the perfect world. . . to have the president authorize it, everything, in writing beforehand."
But he didn't "flyspeck" it, and he retroactively authorized the third shipment, which had occurred within hours of his decision on the finding.
Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Maine) said that he had backdated the ratification of something that occurred without a presidential finding.
Said Sporkin, showing the cavalier spirit that informed the North-Casey orbit: "You can't straitjacket the president . . . . Someone can go out and do it, and later on you can do the paperwork." Strains of Fawn Hall's seminal declaration that "sometimes you have to go above the written law."
Sporkin gave the committee its second glimpse of backdating in 48 hours. The day before, another ex-official of the CIA had been on the stand telling how he had backdated two bills for North's security system.
The bill had already been paid by sorcerer North's apprentice, Richard V. Secord, but Glenn A. Robinette, a veteran of 20 years' service at Langley, didn't quibble. Without hesitating, he sent out two bills dated at appropriate intervals and got in return two fanciful missives from North, one typed on a machine that had its letters filed down to show the passing of time.
Robinette, who has an aureole of white hair and watery blue eyes, is the antithesis of Sporkin, being small, meek in manner and almost inaudible.
In the end, though, they sounded much the same. There was the same rueful, limited, situational contrition.
Asked if he did the right thing, Robinette said, "In sending the bills to Col. North? No, I wouldn't be sitting here . . . . " His voice trailed off.
Invited to voice second thoughts, Sporkin replied with a nervous laugh, "If this is what it has caused, obviously that is an easy decision."
There must be something in the air at Langley.