Was There a Missing Witness?

In The New York Times Magazine of April 29, 1990, Seymour M. Hersh contributed an article, “The Iran-Contra Committees: Did They Protect Reagan?” which deals with some of the issues I have been concerned with in several of my own articles in The New York Review of Books. Hersh’s article purports to reveal aspects of the Iran-contra affairs deliberately neglected by the Congressional committees at their hearings in 1987 or that were otherwise concealed from the public. Hersh deals mainly with two matters—the allegedly crucial testimony of James R. Radzimski, and a supposedly second “diversion” of Iranian funds to Israel. The Radzimski story is the centerpiece.

Unfortunately, Hersh’s article falls into the category of “what’s-true-is-not-new-and-what’s-new-is-not-true.” Since it concerns issues that I have raised in these pages and will soon return to in an article on the Poindexter trial, I will briefly comment on the Times article here.

It is true that James R. Radzimski was an administrative assistant on the National Security Council staff. Among other things, he was the caretaker of System IV documents—those dealing with covert actions or sensitive intelligence information. His job was to enter these documents into a computer system with name, date, addresses, and the like. He looked at the documents in order to classify them with a few key words in a computerized index. He was little more than a clerk.

In the course of the Iran-contra investigation, Radzimski was interviewed in early 1987 by two FBI agents whom he told about two memoranda, one from November 1985 and the other from April 1986, that he had put into his system. This information seems to have brought him to the attention of the Congressional investigators, who interrogated him at great length; Radzimski’s printed deposition on April 29, 1987, fills ninety-two pages; he was called back on August 11, 1987, for another eighty pages. These 172 pages were printed in Appendix B: Volume 21 of the deposition series of the Congressional committees’ report.

These two memoranda make up Radzimski’s revelations. In fact, all that Hersh tells about them can be found in the depositions. His article adds nothing significant to the depositions themselves. Anyone can check the depositions to see how fairly they are reflected in Hersh’s account.

The first memorandum, according to Radzimski, came in late November 1985. It was a copy, and he never saw the original. All he had to do was to read it for key words to classify it for his computer system. He had had nothing to do with the events and no way of understanding the context of the document. His memory of the moment was approximate:

Radzimski: I’m fairly certain I recall, seeing a System IV document that detailed a transfer of weapons, indicated dollar figures that would be received from this. My recollection is that the memorandum is a page and a half long. It was addressed to, I believe, Admiral Poindexter. It was from …

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