Grade schoolers learn that an informed electorate and the rule of law are the cornerstones of democracy. But when covert operations run afoul of the law, Washington covers up – even when the “national security” rationale is ludicrous. The familiar script is, unfortunately, being followed in Iran-contra’s aftermath.
When Oliver North turned over the covert Iran-contra operations to retired Maj. Gen. Richard Secord, he knowingly placed US policy in the hands of a notoriously shady network of ex-military officers and intelligence agents. Its leaders – Secord, former deputy assistant CIA director Theodore Shackley and Shackley’s agency sidekick Thomas Clines – had all resigned under suspicion of corrupt association with CIA agent Ed Wilson, who is serving a 52-year sentence for shipping arms to Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy.
Americans still do not know the full ramifications of North’s decision. The televised congressional investigation tiptoed around the implications of North’s choice of men. And special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh apparently will not address the issue of whether Secord’s network – or “Secret Team” – dreamed up Iran-contra as a profitable way to make the world safe for democracy.
The truth is likely to remain under wraps. On Thursday, federal Judge James King threw out of court a landmark lawsuit filed two years ago against Secord, Clines and 26 others that promised to expose three decades of gun and drug running, and assassinations ordered by the “Secret Team.” The trial was scheduled to begin tomorrow morning in Miami.
Damages totaling $24 million were being sought from the 29 alleged members of the “Secret Team” by journalists Martha Honey and Tony Avirgan under the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations statute. The journalists had attended a May 1984 press conference in La Penca, Nicaragua, called by maverick contra leader Eden Patora [sic] at which a bomb exploded, leaving eight dead and Avirgan among the injured. Avirgan and Honey charge the “Secret Team” with supplying the explosive and hiring the killer.
Judge King has dismissed the case for lack of evidence. Among other things, he cited the lack of proof that alleged assassin Amac Galil, alias Danish journalist Per Anker Hanse[sic], was even at the scene of the crime. Yet remarkable film footage included in a public television documentary aired this spring shows Galil/Hansen both on his way to and attending the press conference before fleeing prior to the explosion (he has not been seen since).
A more plausible explanation for the decision of Judge King – a conservative appointed by the Nixon administration – is that the lawsuit was too hot to handle in an election year. Vice President George Bush is not mentioned in the lawsuit. However, the Washington-based Christic Institute, whose attorneys represent Avirgan and Honey, have been deposing Bush’s closest aides on the subject of the vice president’s knowledge of drug trafficking by Panamanian Gen. Manuel Noriega.
Furthermore, if the suit had gone to court, the details of the alleged Secord, Shackley and Clines partnership with convicted CIA agent Wilson would have been aired at length. The plaintiffs planned to use Wilson as a witness.
Another star witness would have been former Army and Air Force criminal investigator Gene Wheaton. According to Wheaton’s sworn deposition, Secord and the “Secret Team” have “a historical record going back into the mid-1970s of skimming off of military projects – taking kickbacks.”
In the period referred to, Secord represented the Air Force on the US Military Assistance Advisory Group in Iran. MAAG authorized and monitored contracts between US defense contractors and the Shah. Ominously, Wheaton charges that three Americans working for Rockwell International Corp. on a major Iranian contract – code-named IBEX – “were murdered (in August 1976) because of a skim off the IBEX contract.”
Such sensational allegations – by someone with Wheaton’s credentials – demand exploration on the witness stand under oath.
With Americans already inured to the corruption and contempt for law endemic in the Reagan administration and the Pentagon, it is vital – to avoid a totally cynical electorate – for law to run its course. Judge King’s 11th-hour panic must not protect the “Secret Team” from the sterilizing rays of the Miami sun.