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Arms Scandal Brings Christic Institute New Visibility : Group Gaining Credibility and Converts in L.A.

July 12, 1987|KATHLEEN HENDRIX | Times Staff Writer

From the congressional investigating committees' Iran- contra hearings, Friday, May 8, 1987:

Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.): As you are no doubt aware, you and Thomas Clines and Rafael Quintero and others have been sued in federal court in Florida for a vast array of alleged illegal and corrupt practices, beginning as far back as the 1960s. Did you know about that?

Ret. Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord: Of course I know about it.

Brooks: Well, the allegations include the organization of assassination programs funded by the drug kingpin in Laos and laundering of millions of dollars skimmed from the sales of military weapons to the Shah of Iran. And we've got the provision of military services to Somoza and laundering Colombian drug money . . . .

Secord: . . . The suit, which was filed in May of last year, is the most outrageous fairy tale that anybody's ever read. Nobody, including the Justice Department, credits it at all. It's being dealt with. I can only fight on so many fronts at once. I regard that one as a rather minor threat, which will be tossed out of court shortly . . . .

The suit does read like an outrageous fairy tale. It portrays terrorist acts, political assassinations, gunrunning, arms trafficking, drug smuggling, unconventional warfare and secret networks of people, in and out of government, with overlapping interests.

Nevertheless, the suit has not been tossed out of court. In fact, motions to dismiss it--filed by defendants Thomas Clines, Thomas Posey, Rafael Quintero, Theodore Shackley, Albert Hakim, Adolfo Calero, John Singlaub, Bruce Jones and James McCoy--were denied Jan. 30 by James Lawrence King, chief U.S. district judge of the Southern District of Florida.

There are many who regard the lawsuit, filed by the Christic Institute, a Washington-based public-interest law and policy center, as a fairy tale. The skeptics tend to discount it as "conspiracy theory"--explaining almost everything "from the death of J.F.K. to the disappearance of Amelia Earhart," as one said.

On the other side are those who see the suit as confirmation of their worst fears and suspicions. This side tends to view the Christic Institute as the hope of the Republic, the means for setting things right. Its general counsel, Daniel Sheehan, is viewed as a knight in shining armor riding to the rescue.

Backyard Gathering

Among this latter group are a growing number of people in Los Angeles, the majority of whom are West Side liberals, music and film industry celebrities, community leaders and grass-roots activists. Such was the composition of the casually dressed, mostly affluent crowd of 700 that gathered in a splendid backyard high above the city on Mulholland Drive on a recent Saturday afternoon. They had responded to a startling invitation from rock singer-songwriters Don Henley and Jackson Browne.

"It didn't begin with the Iran-contra scandal," read the invitation to hear a presentation by Daniel Sheehan of the La Penca Project (as the lawsuit is sometimes called). "It goes back 25 years to the creation of a Secret Team, which has covertly implemented U.S. foreign policy through its activities of terrorism, assassination, drug smuggling and gun-running in Cuba, Southeast Asia, Chile, Lybia (sic), Iran, Central America. . . ."

Seated on white folding chairs in the hot sun, sipping Perrier and Evian waters out of wineglasses, the crowd listened to Sheehan describe the secret team, a shadow government he calls it, and its 25 years of covert activities. A boyish-looking man in his early 40s, with curly gray hair and the friendly but always calculating blue eyes of a born trial lawyer, he spoke for more than an hour, at times losing some of his listeners in a morass of detail and intricate connections, pausing frequently for effect.

On May 30, 1984, a bomb went off at a press conference that contra leader Eden Pastora was holding in La Penca, Nicaragua, where he was denouncing a rival contra faction, the FDN, which he claimed was a puppet of the CIA. Pastora escaped with minor injuries. Three journalists were killed and 17 people seriously wounded, including ABC cameraman Tony Avirgan. Avirgan and his wife, Martha Honey, also a journalist, are the plaintiffs in the Christic Institute's case, suing 29 defendants for $17 million in multiple damages.

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