WASHINGTON — The Nicaraguan rebels received only $3.5 million of the $18 million from Iran arms sale profits--far less than originally estimated--retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord said Tuesday on the opening day of congressional hearings into the Iran- contra affair.
Secord, who operated a tiny fleet of airplanes that delivered privately funded arms to the contra rebels and supplied logistical help for the Reagan Administration's Iran arms sale, provided Congress and the American public with the first nearly complete accounting of money that was siphoned from profits generated by the shipments to Iran.
Breaking a six-month silence, the one-time Defense Department official insisted his multimillion-dollar contra-supply effort was intended to carry out President Reagan's Central American policy and had explicit support from top Administration officials--including former CIA Director William J. Casey.
Describes Casey's Involvement
Casey was said by Secord to have conceived the idea of asking an unnamed country--believed to be the tiny, oil-rich sultanate of Brunei--to contribute $10 million to the contras. Casey told Secord at a meeting in May, 1986, that he would ask Secretary of State George P. Shultz to solicit the contribution.
Secord also offered a second-hand account of a meeting in which Vice President George Bush allegedly discussed details of the contra-supply network.
Speaking without emotion under the glare of television klieg lights and the stern gazes of the 26 members of the House and Senate investigating committees, Secord flatly insisted he had done nothing wrong--even though his contra-supply effort was clearly designed to circumvent a law on the books in 1985 and 1986 that prohibited direct U.S. military aid.
"I, for one, am not ashamed for having tried," he declared. "If we were unconventional in some of our methods, it was only because conventional wisdom had been exhausted."
While he praised Lt. Col. Oliver L. North and former National Security Adviser John M. Poindexter, both key White House players in the Iran-contra affair, Secord condemned Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III for his "grossly inaccurate" and "unforgivable" disclosure last November that profits from the Iranian arms sales had been diverted to the Nicaraguan rebels.
"He could have been advised of the facts surrounding these events before his announcement," Secord said. "This reasonable option was rejected, and we were instead betrayed, abandoned and left to defend ourselves."
Meese estimated last November that the contras received between $10 million and $30 million.
On the contrary, according to Secord, the contras received only a small share of the $30 million that was funneled from the Iranian arms sales into the Swiss bank account of Lake Resources Inc., controlled by his business partner, Albert A. Hakim.
Reads Hakim's Accounting
He said $12 million was used to reimburse the Defense Department for the weapons it had sold. Reading from an accounting that Hakim gave congressional investigators, his rough accounting for the remaining $18 million went as follows:
--$3.5 million for the contras. These funds, Secord said, were added to another $2 million in private donations for the contras that went through the same account. Although most of it was spent on military equipment and transport, three contra leaders--Adolfo Calero, Arthuro Cruz and Alfonso Robello--received some direct payments, Secord said.
--$3 million to transport the arms to Iran.
--About $500,000 to pay agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration for their work in a previously undisclosed operation to free American hostages in Lebanon. DEA Administrator John C. Lawn, when asked after Secord's testimony to explain the expenditure, said it would be "inappropriate" for him to comment.
--$350,000 to procure a Danish ship, the Erria, which was "bought to be used on another government project." The Times has reported that the Erria was purchased for an aborted plan by North to establish a platform in the Mediterranean to broadcast propaganda against Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi. It was used instead to ferry arms for the contras and to conduct other North-directed missions.
--$100,000 for radio and telephone equipment for an unidentified Caribbean country.
--$6.5 million for Hakim's use, now being held in an account with Compagnie de Services Fiduciaires, the Swiss company that acted as a financial agent for North's Iran-contra operations.
--$1.3 million remaining in the Lake Resources account.
--$2 million still unaccounted for. Investigators are expected to account for it as soon as all the records are reviewed.
Secord, 55, who retired in 1983 after 28 years in the Air Force because he felt he had been unfairly linked in the press to illegal munitions sales to Libya by ex-CIA agent Edwin P. Wilson, said he was first recruited by North in mid-1984 to help arrange arms sales to the contras.