By Robert Parry
- Lost History: Ollie's 'Enemies' & the FBI
WASHINGTON -- "That's right," the gravelly voice remarked over the phone, "you were the enemy."
The comment came from a former senior CIA officer, Alan Fiers Jr., in response to a question I posed to him about an alleged scheme by Oliver North to have the FBI "do something" about me. Fiers, who had overseen the secret -- and illegal -- CIA assistance to the Nicaraguan contras in the mid-1980s, apparently had forgotten who I was.
I had called Fiers at his office after I read a statement that Fiers had given to Lawrence Walsh's Iran-contra investigators in 1991. The Fiers statement was partially declassified and released by the National Archives late in 1996. I had left Fiers three messages before he finally called back. I had tracked him down at a Wisconsin-based subsidiary of the W.R. Grace Co. , where he now works.
Then, after some small talk about the merits of life in Wisconsin vs. Washington, D.C., he told me bluntly that he had returned my call only out of politeness. He did not talk with the reporters, he said, even when approached by national TV anchors, such as NBC's Tom Brokaw.
I appealed to Fiers, however, on a personal basis. I noted that since he had discussed me by name with the Iran-contra investigators, it only seemed fair that he give me some clarification of what his cryptic remarks meant. In Fiers's Iran-contra statement on Aug. 1, 1991, he disclosed that North had tried to use the FBI against me, presumably to silence my reporting then for The Associated Press.
In June 1985, I had written the first story mentioning North's secret contra support operations and I had continued investigating his secret White House activities through the summer of 1986. One of my stories, written with Brian Barger, had led the House Intelligence Committee to go to the White House and question North. Ronald Reagan's national security aide denied the substance of that story, a lie that would eventually lead to North's conviction on obstruction charges.
In Fiers's statement, my name appeared in a section about what the CIA man knew of Justice Department efforts in spring 1986 to derail a Miami-based investigation into contra gun- and drug-running out of South Florida. A federal prosecutor, Jeffrey Feldman, had begun to peel away the layers of secrecy that had protected North's contra network. Feldman was recommending a grand jury that could have exposed the White House secrets.
Suddenly, there was high-level interest in Washington. Attorney General Edwin Meese III flew to Miami and discussed the case with Feldman's boss, U.S. Attorney Leon Kellner. Later, another federal prosecutor said he overheard Kellner on the phone with someone in Washington telling him to "go slow" on the investigation.
According to the Iran-contra interview report, "Fiers also has a recollection that Feldman's investigation had been put on hold." But Fiers said he did not know specifically if anyone from Justice or the White House had actively obstructed the probe. "The only activity Fiers is aware of by anyone in the government to in any way influence this case was North telling him [Fiers] that he [North] was going to call Oliver 'Buck' Revell at the FBI and have him 'do some things.'
"Fiers recalls that North on two or three occasions told him he was having Revell either do something or not do something." the interview report continued. "Fiers thinks one of the calls from North to Revell was about North's concern about him [North] being hounded by Bob Parry, the reporter. Fiers [also] thinks he has a vague recollection that North was going to ask Revell to shut down the Feldman investigation. ...He does recall North talking about contacting Revell and having him do something about these kinds of things."
So, in January 1997, I was asking Fiers what the FBI might have done to stop me from investigating the "hounded" Oliver North. That's when Fiers seemed to remember who I was. He exclaimed that I had been "the enemy."
Though not entirely surprised by his comment, I responded that I did not consider myself "the enemy." What I thought I had been doing in my reporting was alerting everyone to the fact that North's contra-support activities were careening toward a major scandal. If the White House had learned from my stories -- rather than trying to bury them -- it might have been a lot better off, I added.
But Fiers was not persuaded by either my personal appeal or my reasoning. He would not break his rule of silence about talking with the press. "Whatever's there is there," he answered. "Whatever is in there is all I know."
Still, I wasn't quite ready to hang up. I told Fiers a story that I had heard in the late 1980s. North was claiming to some administration colleagues that my AP colleague Brian Barger and I had somehow poisoned North's dog. According to this tale, Barger and I were supposedly "Sandinista agents." North was apparently reaching for any sort of criminal "predicate" that would justify an FBI counter-intelligence investigation of us.
I told Fiers that beyond the fact that I didn't know where North lived at the time or that he had a dog, Iran-contra investigators later determined that the dog had died of natural causes, a combination of old age and cancer. Fiers was still not willing to help.
Barger and I had long suspected that actions were taken to discourage our reporting. Mostly, they seemed to be private appeals to our editors, such as one case after I had gone to work at Newsweek and George Bush's national security adviser Donald Gregg complained about me at length to Newsweek editor Maynard Parker at a dinner party.
But in 1986, Barger had spotted photographic surveillance of his townhouse on Monroe Street, just off of 16th Street in Washington. Barger notified District police who investigated and confirmed that an apartment on 16th Street had been used by two men to photograph comings-and-goings at Barger's house. But the police never determined who was behind the surveillance, recalled Barger, who is now a reporter with CNN.
North Would 'Say Things'
The new information in the Fiers statement also caused me to contact Revell, the former FBI official who sat with North on some of the Reagan administration's high-powered counter-terrorism task forces. When I read Revell the relevant portion of the statement, the ex-FBI man emphatically denied that he had ever authorized an investigation of me or any other reporter.
"Ollie would sometimes say things for effect," Revell maintained. "North never called me on anything like that. ...It's not true about him talking about you or any other reporter. They couldn't initiate even a preliminary investigation of a reporter without approval of the attorney general." Revell, however, did recall North mentioning "about someone poisoning his dog."
I reminded Revell that North had instigated an FBI probe of another North nemesis, former contra trainer Jack Terrell. In 1986, Terrell turned against the contras and began talking to Senate investigators about North's secret activities and about contra drug trafficking. North was frantic to discredit Terrell and to discourage further congressional inquiries.
North assigned an ex-CIA officer, Glenn Robinette, to investigate Terrell. Robinette was paid from the Swiss slush fund that North had created with profits from the arms sales to Iran. Initially, Robinette contacted Terrell and tried to lure him into a phony business deal.
Then, in summer 1986, North seized on an ambiguous remark by Terrell that he could "get the president" as evidence that Terrell was plotting to assassinate Ronald Reagan. North hooked up Robinette with the FBI to supply derogatory information about Terrell. The scheme seemed to work. In a July 17, 1986, memo, North wrote that the "operations sub-group" of the inter-agency Terrorist Incident Working Group planned to review an FBI "counter-intelligence, counter-terrorism operations plan" aimed at Terrell.
But Revell, who represented the FBI on the operations sub-group, told me that he was always suspicious of North's anti-Terrell vendetta. Revell said he ordered two FBI agents to watch North and his associates to determine if they were engaged in some kind of "plumbers" operation. "I actually had some surveillance run against them to see if they were running an investigation" of Terrell, Revell said. "I just wanted to see what the hell was going on."
'Burned Me Up'
Despite what Revell says now, the FBI and Secret Service did investigate Terrell. Agents hauled him in for two days of polygraph examinations before concluding that the assassination allegations were bogus. Terrell told me later that the investigation had chilled his readiness to testify about the contras. "It burned me up," he said. "The pressure was always there."
After speaking with Fiers and Revell in January 1997, I tried to contact Oliver North. The former Marine lieutenant colonel is now a talk-radio host in the Washington area and an executive at Guardian Technologies in Sterling, Va., a company that manufactures bullet-proof vests. I was not surprised that North did not return my calls. I assumed that unlike Fiers, he had not forgotten who I was.
So, I faxed North two relevant pages from Fiers' statement and a request that he clarify what he had asked Revell to do about me, if anything. There was never an answer.
Yet, whatever the truth about North's misuse of the FBI, Fiers did make clear that the CIA closely followed congressional and other investigations into the secret Central American operations in 1986. According to the statement, Fiers told the Iran-contra investigators that the CIA kept track of both the Feldman investigation in Miami and an inquiry by Sen. John Kerry into illegal White House contra aid and contra cocaine trafficking.
"Fiers was also getting a dump on the Senator Kerry investigation about mercenary activity in Central America from the CIA's legislative affairs people who were monitoring it," the Fiers's statement read. "Fiers also knew that there was a 'pissing contest' between the U.S. attorney in Miami [Kellner] and AUSA [assistant U.S. attorney] Feldman over this investigation. Fiers recalls that Feldman wanted to more actively pursue it."
A turning point in that investigation occurred in May 1986 when Feldman submitted a recommendation for convening a grand jury. Initially, Kellner approved Feldman's suggestion, but Kellner later rewrote Feldman's memo and reversed its conclusions. The revised memo disparaged the evidence and claimed a grand jury probe would be nothing more than "a fishing expedition." Without clearing the change with Feldman, Kellner signed Feldman's name to the memo and sent it to Washington.
The revised Feldman memo was then distributed among Republicans on Capitol Hill and leaked to the conservative media. Kerry, a freshman Democrat, was put under an Ethics Committee investigation for probing North's network. Back in Miami, Kellner reassigned Feldman to other cases, effectively suspending the contra probe.
With Feldman stymied and Kerry on the defensive, North continued his illegal arms deliveries to the contras through the summer. The operation's secrecy held until one of North's supply planes was shot down over Nicaragua on Oct. 5, 1986. One crewman, Eugene Hasenfus, survived and began claiming that he had been working for the CIA.
Even then, the CIA and the White House -- which had enjoyed such success in blocking prior investigations -- thought the stonewall might hold. In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Fiers and other CIA officers denied knowing details about the arms resupply operation. But as the scandal broke wide open in November 1986, with disclosure of other secret arms shipments to Iran, the CIA began to retreat grudgingly from its false testimony about North's contra resupply operation.
Still, it took years for Iran-contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh to crack the cover-up. Only after amassing substantial documentary evidence did Walsh compel Fiers to plead guilty to charges that he had withheld information from Congress. As part of that plea bargain, Fiers promised to tell the whole truth.
Over a period of more than two weeks in the summer of 1991, Fiers laid out his story in a lengthy debriefing to Iran-contra investigators. His statements implicated other senior CIA officials in the Iran-contra cover-up. With Fiers's cooperation, Walsh secured an obstruction conviction against former CIA clandestine services chief Clair George in 1992. Duane Clarridge, the CIA's architect of the contra war, was scheduled for trial in 1993.
The long-running Iran-contra cover-up was finally collapsing. But on December 24, 1992, lame-duck President George Bush, himself a suspect in the Iran-contra affair, pardoned six defendants, including George and Clarridge. Another one of the pardon recipients was Alan Fiers.
Copyright (c) 1997
Lost History Index
Main Archive Index
Consortium Main Menu.