WASHINGTON -- The CIA's former spy master, Clair George, goes on trial today in the Iran-contra scandal, charged with covering up the Reagan White House's secret arms network to the Nicaraguan contras.
Mr. George is accused of lying to Congress and to a federal grand jury about the agency's role in the contra part of the Iran-contra scandal: that is, the knowledge of senior officials about the diversion of profits to the Nicaraguan rebels from the Reagan administration's illegal and secret arms sales to Iran in the mid-1980s.
As the agency's deputy director of operations, Mr. George was the nation's third-most-senior spy master. Prosecutors from the Iran-contra independent counsel's office will argue that he was very much aware of the activities of several people involved in the weapons transfer.
At the heart of the case is the nature of the nation's espionage agency, born out of the daring spy operations of World War II, empowered by its sense of mission through the Cold War and eventually caught up and mangled in the domestic politics of Watergate and later the Iran-contra scandal.
The 61-year-old defendant, who worked at the CIA for 35 years, has pleaded not guilty to all nine felony charges of perjury, making false statements and obstruction of justice.
The principal witness against Mr. George will be Alan D. Fiers Jr., a former CIA official who has pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress and agreed to cooperate with the counsel's investigation of the Iran-contra scandal.
Mr. George's indictment stems directly from Fiers' statements to prosecutors that Mr. George directed him not to disclose to Congress knowledge of the secret arms pipeline to the contras that Lt. Col. Oliver L. North was running from the White House. At the time, Colonel North was a National Security Council aide.
In a dramatic appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee a few weeks after the indictment of Mr. George, Fiers described a meeting at the agency with him, Colonel North and William J. Casey, who was then the director of central intelligence. He said that Mr. Casey asked Colonel North if he was operating in Central America. Colonel North answered: "No, sir."
Fiers told the Senate committee that he was stunned at hearing this exchange because he knew of Colonel North's operation. He said that when he talked privately with Mr. George just after the meeting, Mr. George told him the whole scene he had just witnessed was "a charade."