North Linked to Contra Strategy, Weapons Talks : Cuban-Born Logistics Expert Tells of Activity Despite Ban by Congress

Times Staff Writer

Lt. Col. Oliver L. North used maps to suggest military strategy to the Nicaraguan Contras and held meetings to determine what weapons they needed, a Cuban-born logistics expert told jurors Thursday at the former White House aide's trial.

Rafael Quintero provided a first-person account of his sessions with North, while a subsequent witness, Richard B. Gadd, testified that North asked him to build a landing strip in Costa Rica for the Contra resupply effort.

Quintero and Gadd were the fourth and fifth witnesses in the last two weeks to link North with specific acts of assistance to the Nicaraguan rebel forces, despite North's denials to congressmen in 1985 and 1986 that he was involved in such efforts.

Faces 12 Charges

The principal charges among 12 felony counts facing the retired Marine officer are that he made false statements to Congress and obstructed congressional inquiries by denying his Contra activities to the House Intelligence Committee over a two-year period, during which Congress had outlawed U.S. military aid to rebel forces fighting the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

North's lawyers have contended the former National Security Council aide was directed by superiors to conceal his activities from Congress on grounds that any information leaks could jeopardize the secret operation and individual lives.

Michael Bromwich, an associate independent counsel, led Quintero through a detailed recitation of meetings he had attended with North and others in the United States and Central America.

Quintero, a veteran of the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, said he was recruited in 1984 by retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord, a past acquaintance, to assist in the Contra resupply operation at a salary of $4,000 a month. Congress then had just passed the Boland Amendment restricting U.S. government aid to the Contras.

Describes Weapons Role

Describing himself as "a combination soldier and logistics expert," Quintero said his job was to receive privately funded shipments of weapons by plane or boat and ensure they got into the hands of Contra forces.

Quintero, testifying under a federal grant of immunity, said he first met North at a June 28, 1985, meeting in a Miami hotel room that also was attended by Secord--a co-defendant in the Iran-Contra case who will be tried separately later in the year--and Contra leaders Adolfo Calero and Enrique Bermudez.

After a discussion about weapons and ammunition that the Contras needed, as illustrated by a list that Calero produced, Quintero said North pulled out a small map to give some advice on military strategy.

"Who ran the meeting?" Bromwich asked.

"That would be Mr. North," Quintero replied.

He said North suggested opening a new front, known as the Southern Front, and sinking a barge in the Rama River to try to obstruct Sandinista supplies crossing the waterway. North also told the Contra leaders that they "should take advantage of Gen. Secord's knowledge of air tactics, which he had learned in Vietnam," Quintero testified.

On cross-examination by Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., North's attorney, Quintero said that in the following months--acting on instructions of North or Secord--he often met with other U.S. officials including Army Col. James Steele, former U.S. military adviser in El Salvador, and Joseph F. Fernandez, the CIA station chief in Costa Rica.

Sullivan's questions were designed to elicit testimony that other important American officials, besides North, were involved in the resupply operation.

'President Much Aware'

When a Salvadoran official expressed reservations in early 1986 about allowing Contra supplies to cross his country, Quintero said North "pointed out that the President was very much aware of the efforts, that the President wanted the efforts to continue."

Quintero was called to the stand after Sullivan decided to forgo asking any questions of the previous prosecution witness, retired Maj. Gen. John K. Singlaub.

Gadd, a retired Air Force officer who told of North's request for a landing strip in Costa Rica, said North clearly ran every meeting that Gadd attended and Secord "always showed him deference."

U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell said he would hold a further hearing Friday on rules governing the use of classified information. He dismissed the jury until Monday morning.

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