A group of former high-ranking intelligence officials is organizing a defense fund to help pay the legal expenses of colleagues under scrutiny in the Iran-contra inquiry, The New York Times said Wednesday.The five trustees of the fund - each a former executive at the Central Intelligence Agency - will decide how to raise money and disburse it to those under investigation, the Times said. The Times said the most senior official to agree to serve as trustee is Richard Stolz, who held the No. 3 position at the CIA until he retired last year. Others are James Potts, a former director of covert operations in Africa; Samuel Halpern, a retired assistant to the director of clandestine operations; and William Donnelly and John Waller, both of whom held the post of CIA inspector general. The fund will pay for the legal expenses of officials under investigation by the independent prosecutor in the Iran-contra affair, and who are not provided lawyers by the agency. "It is a question of raising funds to help those who might be totally bankrupted if there was any protracted legal proceeding," Waller told the Times. At least a half-dozen former and current officials of the CIA are under investigation by special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, who is examining whether CIA employees tried to mislead Congress about their knowledge of the secret efforts to arm the Nicaraguan rebels at a time when Congress had barred government assistance. The effort was financed in part by using money diverted from the sale of weapons to Iran.

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