While the Nicaraguan contras were pleading for money to survive, private middlemen working for Lt. Col. Oliver L. North were paying themselves millions of dollars in commissions, salaries and other expenses from funds intended for the rebel cause, according to the joint congressional Iran-contra report released yesterday.

The report provides graphic new evidence that the Iran-contra initiatives proved to be a financial boon to the middlemen then-National Security Council aide North tapped to provide fundraising, arms purchases and logistical support for the anti-Sandinista rebels.

The report said that the network of dummy corporations and overseas bank accounts used in North's covert Iran and contra programs as well as the authority of the White House they had behind them gave the private middlemen the opportunity to earn profits without having to take much personal financial risk.

The operation's "income producing capacity came almost entirely from its access to U.S. government resources and connections: the {private} contributions directed to it by North, the missiles sold to Iran, and the brokering of arms to the contras arranged by North," the report said.

The report concludes that the diversion to the contra cause of profits earned from the sales of weapons to Iran not only violated a two-year congressional ban on most U.S. aid to the rebels, known as the Boland Amendment, but also "constituted a misappropriation of government funds derived from the transfer of U.S. property," that is, the weapons sold Iran.

Informed sources said Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh, in his criminal investigation of the Iran-contra affair, is proceeding on the premise that the diversion was an illegal misuse of U.S. funds.

The congressional inquiry found that while the secret sale of U.S. weapons to Iran generated huge profits -- about $16 million -- only $3.8 million was spent on the contras. During virtually the same period, according to the report, more than $6 million in commissions and other proceeds from arms sales both to the contras and to Iran were either spent or deposited in accounts set up for key members of North's network, including retired Air Force general Richard V. Secord and his business partner, Albert Hakim.

The report said the congressional investigation found that on average Secord added 38 percent to what he paid for weapons he sold the contras, far higher than the "almost exactly" 20 percent Secord testified he added to the cost. On some of the Secord sales, the markups were as high as 56 percent, the report said.

"Apparently, Secord and Hakim never negotiated with {contra leader Adolfo} Calero or anyone else for these commissions," the report said, "they simply took what they wanted out of the general pool of money. . . . " Secord has denied profiteering from his role in the Iran-contra affair.

The report also found a striking parallel in the way large commissions and expense reimbursements were taken by private businessmen enlisted by North to raise donations for the contras. "Just as only a small fraction of the Iranian arms profits was used for the contras, so only a small part of the money {private donations} . . . raised for the contras reached them," the report said.

Of the $10 million raised by a network of private foundations and organizations set up by conservative activist Carl R. (Spitz) Channell, only $4.5 million -- including $1 million for political advertising and lobbying -- was spent on the contras, the report said. Channell and another associate, Richard R. Miller, spent "most of the remainder . . . on salaries and expenses for {themselves} and their business associates."

Under North's direction, funds raised by Channell's operation were directed to the contras through two business entities controlled by Miller, in order to conceal that tax-deductible contributions were being used to arm the contras, the report said.

Channell and Miller, a former Reagan campaign aide, have pleaded guilty to criminal charges that they conspired to defraud the U.S. government by using tax deductible contributions for contra military activitites. Both named North in court as an unindicted co-conspirator.

According to the congressional report, Channell made "lavish" expenditures, including extravagant office furnishings, from funds provided by wealthy conservatives who opened their checkbooks in response to pleas for contra aid from North and Channell.

In what the report described as "extraordinary earnings for nonprofit fundraisers," Channell also paid himself $345,000 for 1985 and 1986, and his top assistant, Daniel Conrad, received $270,000 during that same period.

Nonetheless, the report said, the investigation found that Miller and business partner Frank Gomez, a former United States Information Agency official, made more than Channell, receiving more than $1.7 million in commissions on private donations received from the Channell operation.

According to the report, funds were transferred from Channell entities to a Miller firm, International Business Communication (IBC), which in turn shipped the money to a front company Miller set up in the Cayman Islands. Money from the Cayman account was then shipped to Swiss bank accounts under the control of Secord and Hakim.

Of the $5 million that IBC received from Channell, the report said, IBC kept $1.2 million for fees and expenses. In addition, the report said, Miller and Gomez received an additional $442,000 in a side deal Miller worked out with North in which Miller and Gomez received a 10 percent commission on all funds tranferred from IBC to the Cayman Islands. The report said the 10 percent commission was approved without Channell's knowledge because "both Miller and Gomez believed that once the contra assistance money left {Channell's operation}, it was subject to North's total direction and control."

The report also noted that Channell twice chartered a private plane for North's use.

In September 1985, according to the report, Channell paid between $8,000 and $9,000 for a plane that flew North to Dallas to meet with Texas financier, Nelson Bunker Hunt, a Channell contributor. In the spring of 1986, when North accepted an invitation for a weekend visit to the home of another Channell donor, Barbara Newington, Channell again chartered a private plane that flew North and his family to Connecticut. The report said Newington, who contributed $2.8 million to Channell's operation, invited North for a weekend of "recreation and relaxation" and it is "unclear" whether contra assistance was discussed.

In addition, the report said, funds from the Iran-contra operation also provided funds for private Secord and Hakim ventures. For example, the report said, $582,000 in Iran-contra funds were used to support "the entire budget" of Stanford Technology Trading Group International Inc., a Northern Virginia firm owned by Secord and Hakim. According to the report, monthly salaries of $6,000 to Secord and $5,000 to Hakim were paid out of those funds as well as $37,000 that was given to a man hired by Secord to help obtain contracts for the firm in Saudi Arabia.

The report said Secord and Hakim also used more than $150,000 of Iran-contra funds to underwrite what were described as "risky personal business ventures," including unsuccessful attempts to start a timber operation in the Northwest and to sell submachine guns.

The retired Air Force major general who once headed the contra resupply operation is now a lecturer and a private consultant in the Tysons Corner area. According to his attorney, Secord's former company, Stanford Technology Trading Group International, is inactive. Secord is reportedly a target of Lawrence E. Walsh's investigation.

Hakim, an arms dealer and Secord's former business partner, is reportedly a target of Lawrence E. Walsh's investigation. On Nov. 6 a federal appeals court dismissed a contempt citation against Hakim for refusing to surrender the records of eight foreign companies linked to the Iran-contra affair.

Channell has fallen on hard times since he was publicly linked with Lt. Col. Oliver L. North's efforts to solicit contributions for the contras from private donors. He sought protection in bankruptcy court for his public relations firm and lost tax-exempt status for his once-thriving foundation.