Pentagon met with discredited figure from Iran-Contra scandal
By PETE YOST
The Associated Press
8/8/03 6:54 PM
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday that Pentagon officials met more than a year ago with a long-discredited Iranian middleman from the Iran-Contra scandal.
Rumsfeld did not say exactly when the discussion with Manucher Ghorbanifar took place but he characterized it as a meeting with people who had information about Iranians that they wanted to provide to the U.S. government. He didn't elaborate.
A senior Pentagon official said the Defense Department participants were two people from the office of Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith and that the meeting was about two years ago, which would place it around the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Standing by Rumsfeld's side at the president's Texas ranch, President Bush said, "We support the aspirations of those who desire freedom in Iran" when he was asked if the meeting was a good idea and if his administration wants a regime change in Iran.
The two Pentagon officials who met with Ghorbanifar were Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin. Franklin was on loan to Feith's office from the Defense Intelligence Agency, said the senior Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity. Feith is the undersecretary for policy.
Rumsfeld's comments followed disclosure of the Ghorbanifar contact in the newspaper Newsday.
"One or two Pentagon people were approached by some people who had information about Iranians that wanted to provide information to the United States government," said Rumsfeld.
Ghorbanifar, according to congressional testimony 15 years ago, was among those suggesting that profits from the Reagan White House's secret arms-for-hostages deals with Iran be funneled into covert arms shipments to U.S.-backed Contra rebels fighting the leftist government of Nicaragua.
Subsequent public exposure of the two operations that the Reagan administration had concealed from Congress gave rise to the scandal that scarred the last two years of Reagan's presidency.
Known to the CIA even before the Iran-Contra scandal as someone to avoid, Ghorbanifar in the 1980s failed two lie detector tests for the spy agency, which issued a "burn notice" to other agencies advising that the U.S. government should have nothing to do with him.
"Ghorbanifar is clearly a fabricator and wheeler-dealer who has undertaken activities prejudicial to U.S. interests," stated a CIA report that surfaced in congressional hearings into the Iran-Contra scandal in 1987.
Despite the CIA report, Ghorbanifar, an exiled Iranian businessman, managed to attend meeting with Reagan's aides about arms deals, playing on U.S. desires to free American hostages held by terrorists in Lebanon.
When asked to explain the Pentagon's contact with Ghorbanifar, Rumsfeld said that "people come in offering suggestions or information or possible contacts, and sometimes they're pursued."
"A meeting did take place, and the information was moved around the interagency process to all the departments and agencies," said the defense secretary. "There wasn't anything there that was of substance or of value that needed to be pursued further."
Rumsfeld said it was "absolutely not" the case that the meeting with Ghorbanifar was intended to be part of any other ongoing, unofficial talks with Iranians.
The Bush administration's posture toward Iran has become increasingly strident since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
After Iran's pro-reform president was re-elected in the summer of 2001, some Iranians had predicted Tehran would push for improved relations with the United States, but Iran's supreme leader ruled out any Iranian help for a U.S.-led attack on Afghanistan.
Iran, however, condemned the Sept. 11 attacks and assured U.S. officials through Swiss intermediaries it would try to rescue any American military personnel it found in distress on its territory.
In his State of the Union speech on Jan. 29, 2002, President Bush characterized Iran as being part of an axis of evil. Since then administration officials have repeatedly denounced what they characterize as Iran's expanded support of regional terrorist groups and its program to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is solely to produce electricity. ------
AP Pentagon reporter Pauline Jelinek contributed to this story. http://www.nj.com/newsflash/washington/index.ssf?/cgi-free/getstory_ssf.cgi?a0704_BC_Pentagon-Ghorbanifar