The House and Senate Iran-contra panels yesterday disclosed new details of extensive Central Intelligence Agency involvement in the November 1985 shipment by Israel of American-made arms to Iran, and revealed that key CIA cables on the mission are missing or destroyed.
An unusual presentation by congressional investigators yesterday focused on the role of Duane (Dewey) Clarridge, the senior CIA official involved in directing the agency's role in the operation. In sworn testimony to investigators, Clarridge denied knowing that the shipment contained arms and insisted that he thought it consisted of "oil-drilling equipment," according to House deputy chief counsel W. Neil Eggleston.
Two other CIA employes and a State Department official have given the committees statements that appear to contradict Clarridge's testimony that he was not informed that the cargo was weapons. Evidence produced earlier by Iran-contra investigators has shown that numerous U.S. officials knew that the shipment in question involved Hawk antiaircraft missiles that were meant to buy the freedom of Americans then held hostage in Lebanon.
Two secret CIA cables bearing on Clarridge's knowledge of the shipment are missing from his personal files, the only place where copies of the cables were maintained at CIA headquarters, Eggleston disclosed.
The November 1985 arms shipment is important because the CIA acted without any prior presidential authorization, which is required by law before undertaking a covert operation. When John A. McMahon, the then-deputy director of the agency, learned of Clarridge's use of agency assets in the shipment, he angrily ordered that a presidential "finding" authorizing the agency to participate be drafted at once.
Last November, after the first disclosures of the secret U.S. arms-for-hostages operations, top administration officials, including then-CIA Director William J. Casey, insisted that the agency thought the 1985 shipment involved oil drilling equipment, not arms.
Yesterday's disclosures provided new evidence to bolster what committee aides said was an organized effort by top administration officials to cover up the widespread knowledge in the administration that arms were actually involved.
Previous testimony has shown that Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, then a National Security Council aide, acting at the request of his boss, then-national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane, turned to the CIA for emergency assistance after Israel could not get clearance to land the planes loaded with Hawk missiles in Portugal en route to Iran.
Specifically, North contacted Clarridge, who was chief of the agency's European division and had worked closely with North when Clarridge supervised the CIA's covert Nicaraguan contra program. Clarridge, a favorite of Casey, had abruptly left his job overseeing the contra program after a controversy erupted in Congress over the CIA's mining of Nicaraguan harbors.
The Israeli plan was to ship 120 Hawk missiles to Iran in return for the release of all four remaining American hostages held in Lebanon by pro-Iranian extremists. An earlier Israeli shipment of 508 TOW antitank missiles had led to the release in September of American hostage, the Rev. Benjamin Weir.
On Nov. 19, 1985, North sent retired Air Force major general Richard V. Secord, who was working with North on secretly aiding the contras, to Portugal to help untangle the problems the Israelis had encountered. The Israelis, as part of their effort to conceal their role in the shipment, wanted to deliver the missiles to Lisbon and reload then onto a plane that would fly the arms to Tehran.
The committees yesterday released a State Department cable that disclosed that the difficulties were partly caused by the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon, which had not been No copies of the cables could be found in Lisbon because the CIA officer there destroyed all of his copies shortly after the operation ended.
alerted to the secret arms deal. The embassy advised the Portuguese foreign ministry not to permit the Israelis to land the shipment in Lisbon. The U.S. deputy chief of mission in Lisbon told Portuguese officials that shipping arms to Iran was "not authorized and was contrary to U.S. policy," according to Eggleston.
On Nov. 22, 1985, Clarridge sent a "Flash" message on a private communications channel to the senior CIA officer in Lisbon and ordered him to assist in a "highly sensitive classified National Security Council mission," which he was not to divulge to the U.S. ambassador. The CIA officer was told that his secret contact would be a "Richard Copp," which was a code-name for Secord, who had flown to Lisbon on North's instructions.
As described by Eggleston and committee documents, the events unfolded this way:
After reaching Secord by phone on Nov. 22, 1985, the CIA officer was told to make contact with the Portuguese foreign ministry, which he did. The CIA officer learned that landing rights for the Israeli shipment could only be obtained through the direct intervention of the Portuguese foreign minister.
Clarridge then cabled the CIA officer to enlist the aid of the embassy's deputy chief of mission and to "pull out all the stops" to obtain Portuguese approval.
That same day, McFarlane was called out of a meeting with Pope John Paul II and asked to personally telephone the Portuguese foreign minister.
On Nov. 23, Secord met with the senior CIA official in a Lisbon hotel parking lot and told the agency operative that the shipment involved sending arms to Iran to gain the release of American hostages.
The CIA officer then sent two cables back to Clarridge on Clarridge's "Eyes Only" channel. One was a general report. The second message described the details of the arms shipment provided by Secord.
Clarridge has told the committees that he never received the cable that divulged that the shipment contained arms.
The deputy chief of mission has testified that he either read the cable or was told about it by the CIA officer at the time.
In addition, the committees have been told that a CIA communications employe who sent the cables recalls one that contained information about missiles.
The cable the Lisbon CIA officer said he sent Clarridge about the arms deal was not found in Clarridge's personal files. Also missing from Clarridge's files is the first cable he sent to the CIA officer in Lisbon, which outlined why the agent should cooperate with Secord.
No copies of the cables could be found in Lisbon because the CIA officer there destroyed all of his copies shortly after the operation ended.
The planes were never permitted to land in Portugal because U.S. officials refused to comply with a Portuguese request that they supply a note stating that the shipment contained arms to release American hostages in Iran.
Eventually, Secord, with CIA assistance, arranged for an agency-owned airline to ferry the first 18 Hawk missiles to Iran via Cyprus.
The committees are expected to hear more testimony on this incident today from Assistant Attorney General Charles J. Cooper, who participated in the Justice Department's inquiry into the Iran-contra affair that was launched last November.