Expert on Iran testifies at trial of spymaster Ex-CIA official talks about arms deal

August 11, 1992|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- The CIA's longtime authority on Iran testified yesterday at the trial of Clair E. George, tying the former chief of covert operations more closely to the effort to sell arms to Iran during the Reagan administration.

George Cave, who began his career with the CIA in 1956, provided what appeared to be significantly damaging testimony about Mr. George, who is on trial in U.S. District Court in Washington on charges of lying to Congress and investigators about the CIA's knowledge of the Iran-Contra affair.

Mr. Cave described meetings at the agency's headquarters in Langley, Va., in which officials discussed details of the sale of arms to Iran, noting that Mr. George attended at least one of them.

Mr. Cave recalled discussions about the role played by Richard V. Secord, a retired Air Force major general who helped coordinate the sale of arms to Iran. The profits from the arms sale were used to secretly pay for weapons for the contras, rebels who fought the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua in the 1980s.

The testimony was damaging because, months after the discussion of the arms sale, Mr. George testified under oath to members of the House and Senate intelligence committees that he had only passing knowledge of General Secord. Those statements form part of the indictment against him.

Mr. George, who was the CIA's third-highest ranking official during the Iran-Contra affair, has pleaded not guilty to nine counts of perjury and obstruction of justice.

The prosecution could wind up its case today.

Although his lawyers have not said so, Mr. George is almost certain to testify in his defense.

Mr. Cave was the latest in a group of former CIA colleagues of Mr. George who have been forced into the role of prosecution witnesses against the former chief of covert operations.

Mr. Cave was clearly reluctant to testify against Mr. George and answered questions from Sam A. Wilkins III, a prosecutor from the independent counsel's office, in gruff tones.

Mr. Cave, who was formally retired at the time, was recruited by the CIA to help in what became known as the Iran initiative, the sale of arms to Tehran in the hope of freeing Western hostages held in Lebanon.

The initiative was operated out of the White House by Oliver L. North, then a lieutenant colonel in the Marines who was an aide on the National Security Council, and officials were concerned that they were relying wholly on unreliable middlemen to deal with the Iranians.

Mr. Cave, a longtime student of Iran, was the only CIA official who was fluent in Persian.

He was one of a handful of officials who flew to Tehran in May 1986 to negotiate a trade of arms for hostages. The negotiations ultimately proved unsuccessful.

He testified yesterday that Mr. George attended a meeting before that trip, and that during the meeting there was much discussion of General Secord's role in the operation.

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