IRAN-CONTRA AFFAIR: THE FINAL REPORT : Gen. Powell Escapes Criticism : Next NSC Chief Had Bit Part in Arms Sale
Lt. Gen. Colin L. Powell, who shortly will become White House national security adviser, played a bit part in the Iran-Contra story. He is mentioned less than half a dozen times in the 427-page majority report and was not explicitly criticized for his role.
The committees recommend that future heads of the National Security Council should not be active-duty military officers. However, the career Army officer is widely respected on Capitol Hill and many of the committee members said the recommendation could be overlooked in Powell’s case.
“I would not urge the President to reconsider Powell,” said Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), chairman of the House investigating panel.
The White House said Wednesday that Powell will not be asked to resign his commission despite the committees’ recommendation. “We think he’s an outstanding person, that he deserves the job . . . and it should not be necessary” for him to leave the Army, spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said.
At the time of the arms sales to Iran, Powell was serving in the Pentagon as military aide to Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, an opponent of the arms-for-hostages scheme.
In November, 1985, then-National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane contacted Powell and asked him about the availability and price of Hawk missile parts and TOW anti-tank rockets for sale to a foreign country. Powell knew that the country was Iran and that the weapons would be shipped through Israel, his deposition taken by the committees says.
Powell passed the request to arms sales experts in the Pentagon, who wrote a memo to Powell stating that the proposed shipments were politically unwise and would require notification to Congress. Powell passed the memo to Weinberger, who said he did not recall receiving it.
Powell was the Pentagon contact again in January, 1986, when the CIA called to ask that a shipment of 4,000 TOW missiles be put together. Powell shunted the request sideways, to Lt. Gen. Vincent M. Russo, whom he designated as the CIA contact at the Defense Department.
Powell also contacted Gen. Maxwell R. Thurman, vice chief of staff of the Army, to pass on the top-secret request to prepare the 4,000 missiles for transfer to the CIA and eventual shipment to Iran. The assignment was sent down the chain of command to Maj. Christopher Simpson.
As a result of the extraordinary secrecy of the assignment and poor Army record-keeping, the wrong TOW missiles were sent and they were priced at far less than their value. The Army was to have shipped basic TOWs, worth $3,469 each; however, because of a mix-up in stock numbers, the Army sent a more advanced version worth $8,435 each. Because the middleman firm set up by Lt. Col. Oliver L. North paid the Pentagon the lower price and charged the buyers an inflated one based on the true cost, the profits for the Iran-Contra “enterprise” were accordingly increased, the committee report said.