AsChapter 16 of Judge Lawrence E. Walsh’sfinal report on his investigations into the Iran-Contra scandal demonstrates, Robert Gates was a hair-width away from a perjury indictment for lying about his knowledge of the illegal arms-for-hostages, money-for-Central-American-terrorists deal.
Robert M. Gates was the Central Intelligence Agency’s deputy director for intelligence (DDI) from 1982 to 1986. He was confirmed as the CIA’s deputy director of central intelligence (DDCI) in April of 1986 and became acting director of central intelligence in December of that same year. Owing to his senior status in the CIA, Gates was close to many figures who played significant roles in the Iran/contra affair and was in a position to have known of their activities. The evidence developed by Independent Counsel did not warrant indictment of Gates for his Iran/contra activities or his responses to official inquiries.
Gates consistently testified that he first heard on October 1, 1986, from the national intelligence officer who was closest to the Iran initiative, Charles E. Allen, that proceeds from the Iran arms sales may have been diverted to support the contras.2 Other evidence proves, however, that Gates received a report on the diversion during the summer of 1986 from DDI Richard Kerr. The issue was whether Independent Counsel could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Gates was deliberately not telling the truth when he later claimed not to have remembered any reference to the diversion before meeting with Allen in October.
Allen did not personally convey to Gates his concerns about the diversion until October 1, 1986.
Allen believed, however, that he sent a memorandum to Gates discussing, among other things, how much money North needed to pay Manucher Ghorbanifar from the Iran initiative. (Memorandum from Allen to the DCI, Subject: American Hostages, 11/10/86, ER 19739; Allen, Grand Jury, 1/4/88, pp. 19-21.) Independent Counsel was unable to corroborate Allen’s testimony.
[T]he evidence was clear that Gates’s statements concerning his initial awareness of the diversion were wrong: Kerr brought him the information from Allen over a month earlier than Gates admitted. This would have been material because it suggested that the CIA continued to support North’s activities without informing North’s superiors or investigating. By October, when Gates claimed he first remembered hearing of the diversion, Casey ordered an inquiry and later made a report to Poindexter; but, by then, the Hasenfus aircraft had been shot down and [CIA Director William] Casey and Gates were beginning to cover.
Gates’s defense was that he did not recall the Kerr meeting. To say the least, this was disquieting. He had been told by a very senior officer that two of President Reagan’s personal priorities were in danger — not something an ambitious deputy director of central intelligence would likely forget. Allen was acting as a whistle-blower in a difficult situation. His concern was for the safety of the hostages and the success of the efforts of the President. His information suggested serious malfeasance by Government officials involved in a clandestine and highly sensitive operation. Even though Gates may have believed Allen to be excessively concerned, could such an expression of concern be forgotten, particularly after it had been corroborated within a few weeks? Logically, Gates could ignore or forget the Allen report only if he already knew of the diversion and he knew that Casey and Poindexter knew of the diversion. Gates also was on the distribution list for highly reliable intelligence that should have informed him of the pricing dispute among Kangarlu, Ghorbanifar, and the U.S. Government, although it did not refer specifically to any diversion of funds. Gates claimed that he rarely reviewed the intelligence.
Notwithstanding Independent Counsel’s disbelief of Gates, Independent Counsel was not confident that Kerr’s testimony, without the support of another witness to his conversation with Gates, would be enough to charge Gates with perjury or false statements for his testimony concerning the timing of his knowledge of the diversion.
Gates maintained consistently that he was unaware that North had an operational role in supporting the contras. He testified that he believed that North’s activities were limited to putting contra leaders in contact with wealthy American donors, and to giving the contras political advice.18 While sufficient circumstantial evidence exists to question the accuracy of these statements, it did not adequately establish that Gates knowingly was untruthful about his knowledge of North’s activities.
Notwithstanding his claims, Gates was aware of information that caused others to question the legality of North’s activities. The most obvious source of concern should have been Allen’s allegations, discussed above, about North’s corruption of the Iran arms sales to support the contras. But other evidence — available before October 1, 1986 — should have alerted Gates to North’s contra support role.
Gates became deputy director of central intelligence on April 18, 1986. As DDCI, Gates had at least two sources of information about North’s activities: CIA personnel — particularly Alan D. Fiers Jr. — who had duties relating to Central America, and his regular contacts with National Security Adviser John M. Poindexter and others at the NSC.
Gates wasradioactive during Regan’s second term.
Mr Gates’ early career was dogged with controversy, particularly over the Iran-Contra issue, and his first nomination as CIA director was withdrawn by Ronald Reagan in 1987.