The New York Times
October 16, 1986
Section A; Page 6, Column 4; Foreign Desk
A Congressional investigation into links between the Nicaraguan rebels and the White House has centered on the role played by Robert Owen, a former Senate aide whose business card was found in the wreckage of a downed cargo plane in Nicaragua.
More than a dozen people interviewed by the staff of Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, identified Mr. Owen as a key figure in organizing the supply network for the Nicaraguan rebels, also known as contras, according to Dick McCall, an aide to Senator Kerry.
A report issued this week by Senator Kerry charges that Mr. Owen was an intermediary between the contras and Lieut. Col. Oliver North, a member of the National Security Council staff. The report also says that staff members of at least one conservative Senator have told Senator Kerry's aides that they are interested in pursuing the role of Mr. Owen.
Mr. Owen, now the staff director at the Washington-based Institute on Terrorism and Sub-National Conflicts, could not be reached for comment.
Testimony From McFarlane
The report by the Kerry staff relies mostly on unnamed sources whose identities are not characterized in any way. It says some of these sources said Mr. Owen attended meetings ''with many persons said to be trafficking in weapons at times when Owen has allegedly been a direct link between the contras and Lieut. Col. Oliver North.''
The White House said Colonel North had been investigated by the House and Senate intelligence committees in the past year and exonerated of any charge of violating the Congressional ban on providing direct or indirect aid to the contras. But some Congressional sources said those investigations were limited in scope and stopped short of demanding the relevant documents from the White House.
The Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry last year ended after Robert C. McFarlane, President Reagan's national security adviser at the time, wrote a letter denying the charges, according to a committee spokesman.
Representative Lee Hamiliton, the Indiana Republican who is chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said the House investigation involved testimony by Mr. McFarlane and by Col. North. Mr. Hamilton said staffers also had pursued several leads without success and that the investigation was continuing.
He said the committee had been unable to locate evidence that would support the accounts of Col. North's activities as reported in The New York Times and other publications. ''You can't contradict the National Security adviser with a newspaper clipping. You've got to have some witnesses,'' Representative Hamilton said.
At the time, some members of the House wanted to subpoena documents from the White House, an unusual step that raises questions of whether the information is protected by ''executive privilege,'' under which the President can withhold evidence of what he considers internal deliberations from other branches of Government.
One House official said the Intelligence Committee never voted on the question of a subpoena because the six-member Republican minority would have been joined by at least two Democrats, resulting in an 8-8 tie vote that would defeat the move.
'They Don't Want to Know'
''The position of the Republican minority is that they didn't know what's going on, but they don't want to know anything about it,'' said a House official familiar with the matter. ''There's a couple of members on the Democratic side who fully or partially agree with that. They just know the contras are being resupplied, they are aware a private network is doing it, and they assume there is coordination from some source in government. They don't want to know anything more about it.''
The issue of a possible White House role in aiding the contras was first raised more than a year ago. It arose again after a C-123 plane carrying supplies to the contras was shot down over Nicaragua on Oct. 5.
Two American crew members were killed and the surviving crew member, Eugene Hasenfus, said the supply operation at a Salvadoran air base was coordinated by two Cuban-Americans who worked for the Central Intelligence Agency.
The House committee this week held a closed hearing with C.I.A. and State Department officials, who have denied any knowledge of the flight. The officials did acknowledge that the Salvadoran Government had agreed to allow the supply operation use of the Ilopango air base, but said this decision was reached without any involvement of American officials.
Mr. Owen, 32 years old, was an aide to Senator Dan Quayle, Republican of Indiana. He worked as a lobbyist for Gray and Company in Washington for several years. He was a registered agent for Korea, the League of Arab States, Haiti, Thailand and Turkey, according to reports filed with the Justice Department.
Report Links Him to Arms Deals
From 1984 to 1985, according to the report by Senator Kerry's staff, Mr. Owen had no visible means of support but was involved in various arms deals and efforts to aid the contras. On several occasions, he told contras and others he was acting at the behest of the White House or C.I.A, according to sources who spoke with Mr. Kerry's staff.
The report noted that Mr. Owen worked for the Nicaraguan Humanitarian Aid Office as a contract employee in 1985 and 1986.
Neil C. Livingstone, the founder of the Institute on Terrorism and Sub-National Conflicts, said his organization was engaged in research and education and had no role in providing supplies to the contras. Mr. Livingstone, who is a former senior vice president at Gray and Company, said he hired Mr. Owen as a full-time staff member several months ago.
He said he was not surprised that some Congressional investigators had begun to question whether the institute was involved in aiding the contras. ''It's inevitable,'' he said. ''It's a small community. Rob has experience in this area. But it doesn't follow that this is what we're doing as an organization.''
He said of Mr. Owen: ''We knew he was a controversial character when we brought him aboard. Many of the people interested in these things as we are think the world of him.''
Congress cut off all aid to the contras more than two and a half years ago and voted this year to send $100 million in assistance. That money will be released shortly when Congress passes its catchall spending bill.
Senator Kerry has been trying to delay the flow of the money until the Foreign Relations Committee can investigate the charges with authority to issue subpoenas.
But Senate aides said the committee chairman, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, has thus far refused to authorize the subpoenas and Senator Kerry has decided not to press for a vote in the full committee. This means that any investigation will be delayed at least until the new Congress convenes next year.
CORRECTION-DATE: October 17, 1986, Friday, Late City Final Edition
A Washington dispatch in some editions yesterday about a Congressional investigation of links between the Nicaraguan rebels and the White House misidentified the party of Representative Lee Hamilton, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He is a Democrat.