Envoy Linked to Contras’ Airstrip Plan : N.Y. Times Says He Oversaw Secret Supply Base in Costa Rica

From Times Wire Services

The U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica was involved in a contra supply network set up by former National Security Council staff member Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, a newspaper reported today.

The ambassador, Lewis Tambs, helped secure Costa Rica’s permission to build a secret airstrip for the contras and was deeply involved in overseeing its use, the New York Times reported.

Costa Rica is on the southern border of Nicaragua, whose leftist government the contras seek to overthrow.

The newspaper said its report was based on a senior government official in Central America, whom it did not identify.


Reopening Asked

The official said Tambs, a political appointee of the Reagan Administration, asked at least seven times that the airstrip be reopened for use by contra supply planes after the newly elected Costa Rican government of President Oscar Arias Sanchez closed the airstrip this summer.

The airstrip had been a “going-away present to Tambs” from the outgoing Costa Rican president, Luis Alberto Monge, the newspaper quoted a contra official as saying.

Tambs’ reported involvement in supplying the contras under North’s direction would have come at a time when U.S. military aid to the contras was forbidden by law. North was fired from his White House post last month after allegations that he diverted money to the contras from the sale of arms to Iran.


Report Denied

The ambassador this month denied a Washington Post report that he twice asked Costa Rican officials to allow use of the airstrip to lift weapons to the contras.

Tambs this month also announced his resignation, which is to become effective in January. Administration officials said the resignation was submitted for personal reasons and was not related to the Post report.

In another report today, the Wall Street Journal said North frequently met with CIA Director William J. Casey to discuss efforts to free American hostages being held in Lebanon and to help Nicaraguan rebels.

The Journal quoted intelligence sources as saying North worked closely with Casey and enjoyed unusual, direct access to the CIA director.

‘Sting’ Operation

“For example, the two officials worked together last April to mount an unsuccessful ‘sting’ operation to free Peter Kilburn,” one of the hostages in Lebanon, intelligence sources told the paper. The body of Kilburn, a librarian, was found in April in Lebanon.

The Journal said it was not clear if North told Casey during their meetings of his alleged efforts to divert funds from the sale of arms to Iran to the contras. Casey has denied knowing about the rebel funds until shortly before the scheme was made public Nov. 25.


The sources told the Journal that Casey was a driving force behind both the contra cause and the Administration’s arms sales to Iran.