About $12 million in funds for the Nicaraguan contras was being kept in a secret Haitian bank account when "Baby Doc" Duvalier fell from power in early 1986 -- and Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North was convinced at the time that the account had been looted by the fleeing dictator.
The story that has emerged during our investigation of the Iran-contra scandal might provide more questions for North as the former National Security Council aide begins his long-awaited testimony before the joint congressional committee Tuesday. Here's what we've pieced together on the Haitian caper:
The deteriorating situation in Haiti early last year was one of the many crises North was keeping an eye on. "President-for-Life" Jean-Claude Duvalier was reeling from protests over the political repression that had kept him and his father, "Papa Doc," in power for 28 years.
At 7 a.m. on Jan. 31, Duvalier declared a state of siege. At 7:30 a.m., White House spokesman Larry Speakes announced to reporters that Duvalier had fled Haiti into exile.
Speakes's announcement, based on faulty intelligence, was wrong. But before this was learned, North's office in the Old Executive Office Building next door to the White House was a beehive of activity based on the same erroneous information.
North was on the telephone to intelligence sources, frantically trying to determine whether the report of Duvalier's flight was true. According to sources close to North, he had one overriding concern: Had Duvalier absconded with "our money"?
North explained to office workers that a secret contra bank account in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, contained about $12 million. Haitian sources had apparently told him that Duvalier had stolen some of the money.
At about 8:30 a.m. that day, U.S. intelligence determined that Duvalier had not, in fact, been overthrown or fled for his life. (He finally did flee in February.) This did not calm North's fears for "our money." He kept trying to make sure that it was still there.
Did the secret account remain intact? How was the Haitian fund related to the Iran-contra scandal? Where had the money come from? Was it U.S. funds or part of the private "enterprise" that mixed profits from the sale of arms to Iran with funding for the contras? This is a line of inquiry the congressional investigators should pursue.
While we're at it, we'd like to offer some other questions that remain unresolved by our investigation:Did North secretly set up a Customs Service "sting" that nabbed 17 individuals for conspiring to sell arms to Iran? He once boasted he had done this.
Did North ever tell the Navy about his secret arms deal with Iran, which occurred as the Navy was trying to buy back some aircraft testing equipment supplied to Iran under the shah? As we reported earlier this year, the Navy broke off negotiations when the Iranians asked for missiles in return for the testing hardware.