Secord: Bush Was in `Loop,' Reagan Was `Accountable'

INTERVIEW

RICHARD SECORD, the retired Air Force lieutenant general whom Oliver North relied on to help run his Iran-contra operations, says he was sold out by a Republican president. He calls the man "cowardly." He says he "deserted me on the battlefield."

He's talking about GOP icon Ronald Reagan. The Gipper may still be able to rouse convention crowds, but as far as General Secord is concerned he's ex-leader non grata. When the Iran-contra storm broke, he says, Reagan and the White House inner circle ran and hid. Secord and North twisted in the wind, slowly.

"The president didn't have the will to stand up and take the spears," groused Secord in a recent interview.

North came to this opinion in the fullness of time; Secord got mad on what he calls "M Day," Nov. 25, 1986, after hearing the famous Edwin Meese announcement implying the whole thing was the fault of rogue staff.

On M Day plus 1, Secord and North were mulling over their legal situation in a hotel room. Reagan called. North took the call and spontaneously came to attention, writes Secord in his new memoir, "Honored and Betrayed."

Secord, a man who looks pugnacious sitting down, had another reaction. He yelled to be put on the phone, apparently so he could speak stiffly with their Oval Office caller. North, dazed with glory, hung up.

"I was so mad I could hardly speak. All the president had to do was make one ceremonial, hypocritical phone call and Ollie was floating on cloud nine," writes Secord.

As the press now sifts through evidence about what then-Vice President George Bush knew about Iran-contra and when he knew it, Secord (and North before him, in his memoir) have made their theme the larger one of accountability. Secord has no explosive new charge to make about Reagan's specific knowledge. But Reagan was the top of the chain of command, in Secord's view, and thus fully accountable.

As to now-President Bush, Secord has a mixed message. As has been widely reported, Secord claims Bush wasn't out of the loop on Iran-contra details, as Bush himself has long claimed. A key Israeli operative, Amiram Nir, excitedly told Secord about a briefing on operation details he had given Bush in Jerusalem.

In his book Secord says: "Bush was no figurehead vice president.... He could've and should've done something to save his men." At the same time, Secord says he will vote for Bush next month.

He says that he purposely moved up the publication date of his memoir by two weeks, to allow more time between its release date and the election for the inevitable stories about Bush and Iran-contra to die down.

Asked about this apparent contradiction, Secord says he holds little animus toward Bush because "I didn't see his imprint" on Iran-contra policy. If he had to do it over again, he'd just hang up the phone when Ollie North first called him to help channel arms to Iran, said Secord.

Then, as now, he was a retired Air Force officer operating an international consulting business out of a high-rise near Tysons Corner, Va.

Secord's long involvement with covert operations was the major reason North tapped him for extra-government help. In his book, Secord recounts in some detail his secret military exploits, particularly covert operations in Laos during the Vietnam War.

The war in Laos was a prime example of a problem with covert operations in general, he says. "Some are made covert because they're unpopular politically," not for operational reasons, says Secord.

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