Tower report takes knocks of its own
Washington — The Tower Commission's report on the Iran-contra affair is coming under fire by a few individuals named in the document who complain that the report lapses into inaccuracies and speculation. At least three individuals named in the report have complained to the Tower Commission about what they feel are unsubstantiated suggestions of their alleged wrongdoing in the scandal.
A former Treasury Department official who played no apparent role in the Iran-contra affair has received a full retraction and apology from the Tower Commission. Others named in the report are asking for clarification of certain passages and are threatening legal action.
If the challenges continue, the Tower Commission may soon be facing its own credibility crisis despite the report's reception as a hard-hitting but fair critique of National Security Council (NSC) operations under President Reagan.
Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and Secretary of State George Shultz are said to be angry over their portrayal in the report. It suggests that Mr. Weinberger and Mr. Shultz attempted to distance themselves from the covert operations, rather than forcefully and persistently communicating their objections to the President.
Weinberger is reported to have urged President Reagan to say in his televised speech last week that the secretary had been wrongly criticized in the report. Reagan declined to make the addition.
In some cases there are more than reputations on the line. Sections of the report suggest possible illegal conduct.
``There is a lot of sloppy writing in there,'' says Michael Ledeen, who is mentioned often in the report as the American who initiated contacts with Iranian and Israeli middlemen. The report cites internal White House memos that suggest that key NSC staff members and an Israeli official, Amiran Nir, suspected Mr. Ledeen had a secret business arrangement with arms middlemen.
Ledeen denies such links and has threatened to sue Mr. Nir. On Monday an Israeli source contradicted the Tower Commission report, saying that Nir had never ``cast any suspicions on Ledeen having made any profit from this affair.''
Ledeen says the commission's strict deadline may have caused some of the errors. ``I just want to make sure that [the Tower Commission staff] makes it clear what they think and what they don't think,'' Ledeen says. He sent a letter to the commission Monday asking for a public explanation of parts of the report he says are inaccurate.
F. Andy Messing Jr., a personal friend of Lt. Col. Oliver North, the fired NSC aide who is alleged to have masterminded the Iran-contra affair, is considering suing the commission for linking his conservative National Defense Council Foundation to covert NSC efforts to ship arms and money to the Nicaraguan contra rebels.
``It reflects on the sloppy and poor investigative techniques and management style of the commission members and their lack of control over staff,'' Mr. Messing said in a recent press statement.
Perhaps the most egregious error committed by the commission staff was the insertion of the name J.Robert McBrien at the end of an NSC memo dealing with secret arms shipments and Swiss bank accounts.
Mr. McBrien, a former Treasury Department security specialist, was shocked to find his name on PageB-170 of the report inserted in brackets by the commission staff into the text of the memo.
``The [memo] talked of getting a `heads-up' message from someone called `Bob M.' The Tower Commission report then translates Bob M. into J. Robert McBrien - me!,'' McBrien says. ``Since it was not me, needless to say, I was distressed.''
So was the commission upon learning of the error. In an attempt to correct the mistake, the commission sent McBrien a retraction letter and has pledged to insert the letter into all future copies of the report sold by the government. McBrien has also received a commitment from Bantam Books and Random House that future editions of the commission report will include a footnote pointing out the retraction.
McBrien says he suspects that the commission staff linked his name to the mysterious ``Bob M.'' because as a security specialist at Treasury he was in regular contact with Colonel North, who headed a White House counterterrorism group.