A CIA official testified that he unwittingly helped Lt. Col. Oliver L. North get a planeload of arms to Iran in November, 1985, and vehemently denied North's contention that he approved of "this whole grand scheme," according to transcripts of closed testimony released today.
Duane Clarridge, the CIA's counterterrorism chief, was one of four CIA officials to testify in private before the congressional Iran- contra committees, three of them two weeks ago. A declassified transcript of his testimony was released by the committees today.
He repeatedly denied knowing that a plane he helped get clearance to Iran in November, 1985, contained Hawk missile parts despite several CIA memos he supposedly received stating clearly that the military equipment was destined for Iran in an arms-for-hostages swap.
North has testified that he told Clarridge between Nov. 25 and Nov. 27, 1985, that the Nov. 21 shipment had contained Hawk missile parts.
Denies Advising North
"I don't specifically recollect it," Clarridge said. "Maybe he did and maybe he didn't."
Asked repeatedly about why he did not investigate what the cargo was at the time, he said, "All I was trying to do was get the goddamned cargo in."
Clarridge, under questioning by Sen. David L. Boren (D-Okla.), denied that he or anyone in his division gave North advice on how to buy arms in Europe or get them to Central America. He added that he had never heard of anyone in the CIA giving such advice to North.
Clarridge said he believed that the idea of pursuing a strategic opening to Iran began in the early days of the Reagan Administration, perhaps as far back as 1981 or 1982, and he gave an inside view into the inner struggle within the Administration over the policy.
He said the Administration quickly divided into two factions: a group that felt a strategic opening should be pursued and "a second group which felt there was no such thing as a 'moderate element' in Iran and that what we really should be doing is teaching the Iranians a lesson."
He said some of those same divisions could be seen in current U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf, with the second group having "now moved into the ascendancy."
Under questioning from Rep. Dante B. Fascell (D-Fla.), Clarridge said that in November, 1985, he provided North with communications assistance when North called to ask for help. He said he did not check with CIA Director William J. Casey or his deputy. He said Casey was later made aware of the situation.
Under questioning from Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.), Clarridge said he thought that North and Casey were "both admirers of each other." The public hearings into the affair revealed that Casey met with North at least 35 times at his office at Langley, Va.