Albert A. Hakim, the Iranian-born California businessman who played a leading role in U.S. arms sales to Iran, approached the CIA in July, 1983, with a plan to gain favor with the Iranian government by selling it arms, a source familiar with the contact said Wednesday.
The source, speaking on the condition that he not be identified, said Hakim contacted the CIA immediately after two apparent representatives of the Iranian government met with him at his office in San Jose. The pair was said to have come to the United States with a "shopping list" of arms and spare military parts.
It remains unclear whether the CIA paid any attention to Hakim's plan. Hakim's whereabouts have been unknown since the Iranian arms sales were revealed last November, and CIA spokeswoman Sharon Foster said, "We don't have any comment to make on it."
Chronology Moves Back
But if the approach by Hakim planted the seed that flowered into the Iranian arms sales, it pushes back by about a year the origins of the ill-fated effort by the United States to re-establish ties with Iran and free American hostages held by Muslim radicals.
The 1983 meetings between Hakim and the Iranians suggest that Hakim was interested in arranging U.S. arms sales to Iran long before the National Security Council staff and CIA proposed a secret deal in 1985. They also support earlier accounts that Hakim has been in contact with the CIA since his days as a military-technology trader in Iran before the fall of the shah in 1979.
Previous published accounts of Hakim's involvement had reached as far back as April, 1984. According to the New York Times, Hakim met in London that month with two Iranian-born arms dealers, Manucher Ghorbanifar and Cyrus Hashemi, to discuss the possibility of selling U.S. arms to Iran.
Return for Visit
Nine months earlier, in July, 1983, Hakim held a series of meetings with two Iranians and met with them again roughly six weeks later when they returned to the Silicon Valley on a second round of their arms shopping trip, according to the source familiar with Hakim's dealings then.
The source said the 1983 Iranian visits prompted an FBI inquiry here, but the issue was quickly dropped at the request of the FBI in Washington, which was acting on a request by the CIA. Because Hakim told the CIA of the Iranians' visit almost immediately after it occurred, no crime was committed, the source said.
The FBI declined comment, but a federal government source who declined to be identified further said he had a "vague" recollection of such events at about that time. N. Richard Janis, Hakim's Washington lawyer, declined to return phone calls, and Robert Gooding, who served as Hakim's San Francisco lawyer in 1983, declined comment.
'Opening the Door'
The source familiar with Hakim's 1983 activities said Hakim was said to have suggested to a U.S. intelligence official that arms sales might be a way of "opening the door" to the radical regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The two Iranians, one of whom said he was from the defense ministry, visited several companies in the San Francisco Bay Area, sometimes using intermediaries, thus concealing their identities while still checking to determine whether or not the desired items were available. "They were pretty quiet about it," the source said.
The source said he believed the Iranians traveled on student visas, stayed with friends in the Bay Area and were in the country for about two months.
The Iranians are believed to have entered the country in Miami and to have made stops in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Washington before returning to the Silicon Valley in September, 1983, when they met again with Hakim, the source said. The source was unable to provide names used by the Iranians.
List of Weapons
The source said the pair carried a weapons list written in Farsi and translated into English. The list, he said, included requests for TOW anti-tank missiles, parts for F-4 and F-14 fighter jets used by the Iranian air force, rifles, portable radio equipment and other anti-tank weapons.
The U.S. government ultimately sold Iran such items as TOW missiles and spare parts for fighter jets in a series of shipments beginning in August, 1985.
The recently released preliminary report of the Senate Intelligence Committee looking into the Iran arms affair identified Hakim, 50, as an important link in the arms deal and the transfer of profits to contra rebels in Nicaragua.
One CIA source quoted by the committee described Hakim and his business partner, Richard V. Secord, a retired Air Force major general, as "almost co-equal lieutenants" of Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, the fired White House National Security Council aide who orchestrated the Iran arms deal. The report also said that U.S. intelligence officials became concerned about Hakim because he was trying to pursue his own private deals in Iran.