Iran-Contra Trial of CIA Agent Periled by Concern for Security
The Justice Department, responding to national security concerns of the CIA, prepared a step Friday that could kill some or all of the Iran-Contra criminal case against a former operative at the spy agency.
Department officials were preparing an affidavit that would block disclosures about some CIA programs in the case of Joseph F. Fernandez, the agency’s former station chief in Costa Rica, who is scheduled to go on trial Monday on charges of lying about his assistance to Oliver L. North’s secret Contra supply network.
When the affidavit will be filed with the court is uncertain.
At a court hearing, prosecutor Laurence Shtasel disclosed that Ed Dennis, acting deputy attorney general, contacted independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh late Thursday and said a national security affidavit would be filed concerning the use of classified information.
The classified information concerns “three highly sensitive U.S. government programs with Costa Rica,” Walsh’s office said in court papers. Fernandez said the programs demonstrated Costa Rica’s concern about the military threat posed by neighboring Nicaragua.
If the Justice Department affidavit is filed, U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton would have no choice under federal law but to prohibit Fernandez from using in his defense any of the classified information detailed in the affidavit.
In that event, Shtasel said, parts of at least one count of the four-count indictment against Fernandez would be abandoned.
The prosecutor said Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh is also considering a CIA request to broaden the affidavit to exclude references at Fernandez’s trial to CIA stations in various countries.
That step “would have more drastic consequences” for the case against Fernandez, Shtasel told the judge at the court hearing in Alexandria, Va.
“If the CIA’s request for a broader . . . affidavit is granted, the case will be untriable,” Shtasel said in court papers filed later in the day.
Fernandez is accused of four criminal charges--single counts of obstructing the CIA inspector general’s office and the investigative Tower Commission and two counts of making false statements.