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Perot Hostage Ransom Scheme Originated in CIA, Probers Say

May 15, 1987|From a Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A scheme to ransom American hostages held in Lebanon for $1 million each with cash provided by Texas tycoon H. Ross Perot originally was conceived by the CIA and later became the responsibility of the Drug Enforcement Administration, members of the Senate and House Iran- contra investigating committees disclosed Thursday.

The project, which was never carried out despite the expenditure of $300,000, had the approval of President Reagan and Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III. It called for using DEA contacts in Lebanon to funnel money directly to persons believed to be holding American hostages.

Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), vice chairman of the Senate committee, said that the plan began with an investment of $50,000 from the CIA, where the scheme originated. William Buckley, an employee of the CIA, was being held in Lebanon at the time. He was later tortured and killed.

But Rudman said that the operation was shifted from the CIA to the DEA by Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, the former White House aide who was at the center of the Iran-contra affair. The senator said that the involvement of North is "further evidence that he was taking orders" from then CIA Director William J. Casey--a theory committee members have been exploring.

According to Sen. Paul S. Trible Jr. (R-Va.), DEA officials were not involved in the project until they received a telephone call in January, 1985, from a low-level White House official acting on behalf of North. After a meeting with White House officials, he said, the DEA set aside $30,000 to pay agents involved in the scheme.

It was learned earlier this week that Adolfo Calero, a leader of the Nicaraguan resistance, also was persuaded by North to kick in $50,000 for funding the DEA agents' activities.

Trible said that, as a result of the CIA's role in the plan, the Administration violated the law requiring that Congress be notified of all such covert operations.

"It was part and parcel of a host of operations gone awry," he said. He added that the scheme also ran counter to the President's policy against negotiating with terrorists.

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