THE NORTH NOTEBOOKS From Washington by Tim Wheeler May was not a good month for those assi

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THE NORTH NOTEBOOKS From Washington by Tim Wheeler May was not a good month for those assigned to the coverup of the Iran-contra conspiracy. New disclosures erupted in legal proceedings across the country. And all of the new information reinforced evidence pointing in one direction -- toward President George Bush. The information was so revealing that it would have precipitated a full-fledged political crisis were it not for collaboration in the coverup by the bi-partisan congressional leadership, the courts, and the Big Business news media. Indeed, the refusal of Congress and the media to root out the source of the Iran- contra conspiracy and bring the criminals to justice is now becoming, in itself, an overriding issue. Investigative writers such as Seymour Hersh of the New York Times and Scott Armstrong of the National Security Archive are beginning to sharply assail Congress and the media for cowardice and collaboration in the conspiracy. More and more, Iran-contra is exposed as a crisis of the two-party system with the Democrats unable or unwilling to challenge the secret junta in the White House basement. Congress's refusal to take principled action means that the conspirators are making a clean getaway. They may be emboldened to resort once again to the same criminal enterprise if Congress, for example, terminated all aid to the death squad regime in El Salvador. After all, the main reaction of Congress to the Iran-contra affair was to repeal the Boland Amendment, which had outlawed aid to the contras, and to restore that aid. And not one of the White House conspirators -- including National Security Advisers Robert McFarlane and Adm. John M. Poindexter, Oliver North, Fawn Hall -- has yet served an hour in jail. What a contrast to the Watergate scandal, which forced the resignation of President Nixon and sent John Ehrlichman, H.R. Haldeman, Attorney General John Mitchell and a bunch of others to jail. The problem is that no matter how hard Congress and the media try to sweep the Iran-contra crisis under the rug, new revelations keep bubbling up in both expected and unexpected places: In Portland, Oregon, a jury unanimously acquitted Richard Brenneke, the former CIA agent of lying when he accused George Bush of attending a secret meeting with Iranians in Paris in 1980 in which a deal was made to keep the 52 American hostages in captivity in Teheran until after the 1980 elections. Bush's former national security adviser, Donald Gregg, flew back from South Korea, where he is Bush's ambassador, to testify that Brenneke was lying. The jury believed Brenneke, not Gregg. In Miami, the Justice Department is maneuvering to convict Panamanian General Manuel Noriega of drug trafficking while denying Noriega's attorneys access to evidence they need to defend him. A federal judge threw out one deal in which the federal government would pay the legal fees of Noriega's lawyers in exchange for their agreement not to subpoena the CIA's files. Those files would be highly embarrassing because they contain the record of Noriega's employment on the CIA payroll for 20 years at $200,000 per year and show that he had many accomplices in high places, including Bush, with whom he met repeatedly. In Washington, at the request of Irangate special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, a new grand jury has been empanelled to consider evidence that Bush and President Reagan were very much "in the loop" on the criminal enterprise. Also in Washington, Sen. John Kerry (D- Mass.), chair of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Terrorism and Narcotics, announced May 18 that he is examining thousands of newly released photocopied pages from Lt. Col. Oliver North's notebooks, which expose White House lying on the Noriega case. The National Security Archive and Ralph Nader's Public Citizen released thousands of the same pages at two press conferences on May 8 and May 18. Senator Kerry declared, "The North notebooks confirm that high-level U.S. officials, including officials at the CIA and the NSC [National Security Council], knew about General Noriega's drug trafficking and corruption in 1986, kept him on the U.S. payroll and discussed helping him clean up his image in return for his help for the contras." "The information was important because throughout 1988, while my hearings were taking place, the White House was denying that it had known about Noriega's drug trafficking." Kerry added, "There is something fundamental that is violated in a democracy when the White House can classify documents as 'Codeword Top Secret' in order to suppress politically damaging information in an election year." Kerry suggested that Walsh examine sworn testimony of former Assistant Secretary of State Elliot Abrams and Donald Gregg to determine if they committed perjury. Kerry said the documents also raise questions of whether NSC and intelligence officers engaged in domestic surveillance in violation of the law. The North notebooks provide a wealth of new evidence. One page, released for the first time May 8, lists a "mtg w V.P." at 12 noon, August 6, 1986. North began that day by meeting with Israeli terrorist expert, Amiram Nir. According to North's notes, he then went to an extraordinary meeting at the White House with members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. According to his later testimony, North "lied, lied, lied" to the lawmakers about the Iran-contra conspiracy. North then met with several other covert agents, including Gregg. Finally he met with Vice President Bush. Did the Vice President discuss with North his lies to an official oversight committee of the U.S. Congress? Asked about this notation in North's notebook, White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater declared, "The vice president's role in the Iran-contra affair was completely examined in the congressional inquiry and we have nothing to add." Among the North notebooks released May 18 were those reflecting the coverup began November, 25, 1986, when then-Attorney General Edwin Meese announced at a White House news briefing the sale of U.S. arms to Iran and diversion of the profits to the contras. Much has been written about the notations North jotted on one page of his steno pad that day. "Call from JMP," North wrote, referring to his boss, National Security Adviser John M. Poindexter. The page continues: "VP call Peres ... Discovered contra connection ... wd be best if Israel wd accept that they were aware that some funds were diverted ... Put it off on Gorbanifar [sic]." Thus, North suggests that Vice President Bush telephoned Israeli Defense Minister Shimon Peres to enlist his help in the cover story pinning the diversion on Iranian businessman and arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar. In the photocopy of that page from North's notebook released by the congressional Iran-contra committee two years ago, Exhibit JMP- 85, all references to Israel are blacked out. On the second line, only the letters "VP" are legible. That same frenzied day, with shredders working overtime, North scrawled notes on other conversations. "Meese story wrong," is the headline on one page, evidently recording the protests of an Israeli official, almost certainly Amiram Nir. "Israelis: Elements of what Meese said are wrong, some are correct," North wrote. "Finding drafted before we had any sense that finding wd be used for this purpose." A few lines down North jotted, "Nir/North ... we first discussed ... Does Meese know truth?" Then, beneath this, North wrote, "Finance: purposely constructed finding so that there were several layers of denialability ... No CIA resources." This referred to a finding signed by President Reagan authorizing the Iran-contra adventure. Later, North's notes seem to reflect growing anger by Nir. North wrote, "Nir -- statement being issued ... What basis did Meese use? Worse possible end to an ... Easily proven wrong." Then North placed in quotation marks the following, "I cannot back this story." The final sentence on that page declares, "Message has been read to Shultz and Perez [sic] prior to release." A few pages later, North wrote, "1845 -- Call from President Reagan." Part of the problem in deciphering North's notebooks is filling in the blank spots in his shorthand. Analysts at the National Security Archive have become expert at reading North's hieroglyphics. Malcolm Byrne, a National Security Archive analyst, told reporters at a May 18 news conference, "George Bush has said he was 'out of the loop' and did not realize the Iran initiative was an arms-for-hostage deal until December 1986. The new North notebooks place Bush much closer to the loop than ever before." Byrne described Bush as a "godfather" of Iran-contra who was "key to getting the Israelis on board with the cover story once the scandal broke in November 1986." Byrne said comparing the heavily redacted or blacked-out photocopies of North's notebooks released earlier with the relatively legible versions released through the Archive's Freedom of Information lawsuit is, in itself, revealing. Most of the redactions of the earlier versions were North references to Bush and to Israel. A high priority, he said, was "protecting Israel ... Bush." Amiram Nir is the link between Bush and the Israelis in the operation. Deleted at White House request from the very first Senate report on the Iran-contra affair in January 1987 was a reference to a meeting Bush held with Nir some time in September 1985. The likely significance of a Bush-Nir meeting at an unknown time and place in September 1985 becomes clear in a review of what Nir did in the months that followed that meeting. "I recall that we met New Years Day [1986] or the day after," North testified to Congress, "and it was Nir's proposal at that point to use the profits ... selling Israeli TOWs at a profit, replenishing them with part of that money, using part of that money for other operations." Did Nir discuss this scheme in his September 1985 meeting with Bush? Why was the White House so anxious to have that Bush-Nir meeting expunged from the Senate's report? Perhaps it was Bush who authored the diversion scheme. The Senate complied with the White House request but then voted not to release the report, which remains classified to this day. Bush met again with Nir on July 29, 1986 at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. That meeting gave Bush a chance to work out with Nir a more plausible alibi and to put a tighter lid on their meeting the previous September. Nir knew too much. On November 30, 1988, three weeks after Bush's election, Nir died in a plane crash in Mexico. Scott Armstrong, founder of the National Security Archive, wrote a scathing article in the May-June edition of the Columbia Journalism Review about the refusal of the media to expose the truth about the Iran-contra conspiracy. Armstrong pointed out that Nir was "the most likely vehicle for reporting on Bush's involvement in the Iran arms deal" since he was an intelligent agent "who served as the point of contact with Israeli intelligence for both George Bush and Oliver North." After Nir's death, Armstrong declared, "even investigative reporters seemed to lose interest in the already well- documented set of facts about Bush's involvement." Armstrong blasts Congress, special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh and the media "for not pursuing the most obvious trails of evidence: the violations of law ... When Congress fails to act as an anvil, the hammer of the press flails harmlessly in the air. 'If neither house of Congress cares, why should we?' went the typical Washington jounalist's refrain. The fervor with which serious journalists pursued Watergate was missing. The press seemed to share, rather than challenge, Congress' willingness to pass the buck." Armstrong cites the trial of John Poindexter on charges that skirt the main issue -- Iran-contra's menacing affront to constutional government. Wrote Armstrong, "I sometimes wonder if, should new revelations emerge -- illegal support for the contras, for example -- the press would even to bother to cover the story."

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