Secord on the Record
Accused following his testimony of running a business that supplied illegal arms to Iran and funneled the profits back to the Nicaraguan contras, Richard Secord pleaded guilty in 1989 to making a false statement to Congress. In return special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh dropped 11 other felony charges, and Secord received two years' probation. But it's not only the guilty pica that rankles. "If there's a lasting impact," he says, "it's on my wife. She was a nervous wreck for a long time."
To this day Secord has stubbornly maintained his innocence and now, at 60, has turned author to settle scores. Armed with a new book, Honored and Betrayed: Irangate, Covert Affairs, and the Secret War in Laos, he hopes to retaliate against key members of the Iran-contra special committee. "Notions of honor and loyalty have gone out the window," Secord claims. And he's not standing still for it. "I believe in counterbattery fire," he says, his posture still ramrod straight. "It's my turn now."
One man spared Secord's scorn is then Vice President George Bush. Bush has always insisted he was "out of the loop" in the Iran-contra affair, but Secord says otherwise. Bush was briefed on Iran-contra, Secord contends, and "was instrumental in continuing the Iran initiative." He adds. "I think what Bush did was right." (With Iran-contra resurfacing as a campaign issue, Bush has denied Secord's allegations, calling them "speculation.") As for Ronald Reagan, Secord insists the President knew about the covert action and calls him "cowardly" for refusing to take responsibility for it. Bush, however, says Secord, "was the vice. The vice almost always dodges the bullets."
Secord and his family did not fare as well. Jo Ann Secord, 52, a former Air Force secretary who married her husband in 1961, remembers Thanksgiving dinner, 1986, as a low point. Camera crews filmed the meal through glass doors at their 11-room McLean, Va., home (later sold for more than $400,000 to pay lawyers). She says, "I probably would have liked to slay in bed sometimes. But you don't. You put both feet on the ground and you keep going." The Secords could no longer afford college tuition for their twins, John and Laura, now 24. After they dropped out of school, she became an accountant and he a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division. Their oldest child, Julia, 29, works with her father in his business consulting for international computer and airplane companies.
For his part, Secord found the stress "almost intolerable. I couldn't sleep. I overate. I overdrank, everything." In February, and again in June of 1989, he was arrested for drunk driving (though he was acquitted the second time).
Before his fall from grace, Secord joined the Air Force after graduating from West Point in 1955, and enjoyed a meteoric career, making brigadier general by the age of 43. But in 1981, while supervising defense policy at the Pentagon, he was implicated in illegal arms deals with the Middle East. Though he was cleared of all charges, Secord chose to retire from the military in 1983. The next year, he was enlisted by Oliver North in what came to be known as Iran-contra.
While Secord sees himself as a victim, others do not, faulting him and others for circumventing the law to further their own political and financial ends. Says Peter Kornbluh, an analyst at Washington's National Security Archive: "All the men involved had an imperial mind-set about the world, which helped them believe, to the very end, that they were beyond the reach ol law and justice."
Secord has filed a claim in Switzerland in a bid to regain $10 million deposited in several Swiss accounts during his dealings with Iran. (The Justice Department regards these assets as stolen property and has frozen them.) He plans to vote for George Bush and to sue special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh "on a host of issues." After all, once a fighter, always a fighter. As his wife says, "Dick's like a little bulldog who gets you in his teeth until he wins or tears you up."
ALLAN FREEDMAN in Reston