WASHINGTON — White House aide Oliver L. North wrote and backdated phony letters last year to try to cover up the fact that a $16,000 security system installed at his home had been paid for by retired Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord, a former CIA operative testified today.
Ex-CIA employee Glenn Robinette told the congressional committees investigating the Iran- contra scandal that Secord, who managed the proceeds from the Iran arms sales, had paid him six months earlier to install an electronic gate and other devices for North.
Government officials are barred by law from accepting gifts or gratuities from private individuals.
Said He Would Pay
Robinette said North solicited a bill from him last December for installation of the private security system and responded with contrived letters dated May and October, 1986, conveying his intent to assume responsibility for paying the charges himself.
Robinette testified that North called him to solicit the bills less than two weeks after he had been fired and an FBI investigation had begun into his role in diverting Iran arms sale proceeds to the Nicaraguan rebels.
Sen. Paul S. Trible Jr. (R-Va.) said Secord had paid for the security system at North's home out of funds generated in part by the U.S. government's sale of arms to Iran.
"What we see here," Trible said, "is a confusion between public interest and private interest."
Robinette, testifying under limited immunity from prosecution, said he also backdated documents himself--bogus invoices he sent North in December after the fired White House aide had asked him to send bills for the installation of the security system.
He acknowledged, in response to a question from Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), that his actions with North were part of what Inouye described as a "cover-up."
"I acted with my heart and not my head," said Robinette, who explained he was an admirer of North and his family.
Robinette said he participated in this scheme to protect both North and Secord, who also had paid the former CIA employee $4,000 a month, beginning in April, 1986, to investigate several people who had accused Secord of sending weapons to the contras. Robinette acknowledged investigating liberal reporters Martha Honey and Tony Avirgan, who later filed a civil suit against Secord and others aiding the contras.
Phony Bill Dated
North falsely dated his contrived response to Robinette's phony bill May 18, 1986. In his letter, North cited a threat from Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal and asked if the security equipment could be provided as a "loan" in return for his later making his home available for commercial endorsement.
In this document North cited a cost of $8,000 to $8,500--half the actual cost paid to Robinette six months earlier by Secord.
In a second phony letter backdated Oct. 1, North pursued his loan idea further, saying: "We just don't have $8,000 without borrowing it.
"I don't want you to be cought (sic) short, but I don't want to have to resort to holding up gas stations on my way home from work at night either."
Robinette said he was asked by Secord to try to set up a security system shortly after the U.S. bombing of Libya because North's wife, Betsy, had been frightened by unidentified people who drove past the North home and flashed bright lights.
He said North also had complained about finding sugar and sand in the gas tank of the family's car, punctured tires, telephone threats and several instances of packages containing unidentified objects left in the Norths' mailbox.