WASHINGTON — Retired Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord, the chief middleman in the Iran- contra scandal, acknowledged Thursday that he had used the CIA as the model for his private network to aid Nicaragua's rebels at a time when the agency itself was barred from providing such assistance. But under a barrage of challenges to his claim that he was operating strictly out of patriotic duty, he denied that he later tried to sell his operation to the CIA for profit.
Sen. David L. Boren (D-Okla.) characterized the retired Air Force major general as an arrogant profiteer who circumvented the law prohibiting CIA support of the contras and operated the U.S. government's secret arms sales to Iran.
Boren Stuns Secord
Boren stunned Secord by asking: "Did you not wake up some morning and think how did I, as a private individual, start exercising all this responsibility to make foreign policy for the United States of America, in lieu of the Congress, the secretary of state, the President of the United States, members of the National Security Council? Did you not have even a moment of humility about your judgment in substituting yourself for the constitutional processes of this country?"
So bitter did the questioning become that Secord at one point angrily told Senate counsel Arthur L. Liman: "I didn't come here voluntarily to be badgered."
Secord also modified his earlier claim that Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, a member of the White House National Security Council staff until he was fired last November, had said he had informed Reagan that profits from the Iran arms sales had been funneled to the contras.
According to Secord's testimony Wednesday, North had joked with the President "that it was very ironic that some of the ayatollah's money was being used to support the contras."
Under questioning Thursday, however, Secord said he was skeptical that North--whom he described as having "a certain melodramatic flair"--had actually made such a comment to the President. "It doesn't sound like the kind of story that one would hear in the office of the commander-in-chief," Secord said.
The President on Thursday denied that North had made such a comment to him. Secord, Reagan said, "was misinformed. . . . I'm still waiting to know where did that money go."
That and other conflicts in Secord's testimony, which has run for 13 hours and will continue today, prompted Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.) to predict that a jury will ultimately determine whether he has told the truth. "I think that his testimony, in effect today, means that he will be indicted," Heflin said.
Secord confessed that he aspired to be appointed as the CIA's chief of covert operations. And he admitted under questioning by Liman that, with the encouragement of top White House officials, he had created a covert operation with all of the earmarks of the U.S. intelligence agency--secret accounts, employees using code names, classified communications equipment and profits generated by the sale of U.S. goods.
But he denied a suggestion by Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio) that he had created a shadow version of the CIA simply to circumvent the will of Congress, which during most of 1985 and 1986 had prohibited the CIA from aiding the contras.
"Doesn't it look to you like we have two governments?" Stokes asked. "There's one government run by the United States, which Mr. Reagan is head of, where you cannot utilize appropriated funds for the purposes we've already enunciated; and this other government run by you, and you can utilize these funds for whatever purpose you deem necessary?"
Secord replied: "I didn't see it that way. The President has certain rights in the foreign policy area. I never saw myself as being a foreign policy operative. I believe that the funds that we had were private funds and could be sent to the contra project."
Boren also questioned the pivotal role that Secord played in opening a channel of communication with Iran, a country with which the United States has not had diplomatic relations since the fall of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1979. He noted that it was Secord who arranged a fateful meeting last year with representatives of the new Iranian government, in Frankfurt, West Germany.
"Do you think it's strange," Boren asked, "for a private citizen to be taking an action of such importance for the foreign policy of the United States as purporting to represent this country in the opening of communications with an element in the government of a foreign power?"
Secord acknowledged that it was "strange" but insisted that, as far as he knew, the contacts had the approval of Reagan and Secretary of State George P. Shultz. The chief lesson he learned about his unusual venture, he added, was that "this should have been lawyered."
Secord Rejected Orders