Emerging from a closed session of the Senate Intelligence Committee the other day, panel member William S. Cohen (R-Me.) noted that with each new witness who is heard in the investigation of the arms-for-hostages deal with Iran "the picture becomes clearer, the story more confounding." Both knowledge of what the Reagan Administration was up to and bewilderment over its follies seem certain to grow in the weeks and months ahead. What began as a fairly simple effort to fix responsibility for a scandalous foreign-policy blunder is now leading to the exposure of many covert and dubious connections that high Reagan Administration officials thought they could keep hidden. Alice had no inkling of what adventures lay before her when she followed the White Rabbit into his hole. High officials little knew what would be revealed by their misbegotten efforts to deceive.
The limited dimensions of the enterprise that Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III sought to depict a few weeks ago--that of a U.S.-Israel plan to court putative moderates in Iran's leadership, get back American hostages from Lebanon and throw some dough to the Nicaraguan contras --have considerably expanded. The cast of characters involved in the deal has grown and become more gamy. It now includes, among others, a Saudi Arabian billionaire with close ties to the royal family; an expatriate Iranian hustler who may double as the ayatollahs' chief intelligence agent in Europe, and some Canadian investors who are sore because they say they ended up shortchanged on the arms deal. This represents a new and bizarre twist in the story, a kind of limited partnership to profit from ransom-paying. In Sen. Cohen's apt phrase, it signifies the privatization of American foreign policy.