Oliver North suggested the Nicaraguan rebels stage a "suicide mission" to destroy Soviet-made helicopters before the Sandinista government could decimate the Contras, a witness said Friday at the Iran-Contra trial.
Robert W. Owen testified that in November 1984 he delivered from North to Contra leader Adolfo Calero maps and photographs of the Managua airport where the helicopters were being assembled.Before leaving Washington for Central America, Owen said, North outlined his proposal for attacking the Soviet Hind helicopters, which had been delivered to the airport outside Nicaragua's capital.
Owen described the armor-clad Hind helicopter as "the most dangerous helicopter in the world." North was "concerned if these weapons, these platforms, were targeted against the Nicaraguan resistance, it would decimate it," Owen said.
The helicopter, used by the Soviets in Afghanistan, "could put a bullet in every square inch of a football field in 10 seconds," Owen said.
North "felt it would be in the best interests of the resistance if they could stage an attack on the airport and destroy the helicopters before they became operational," said Owen, the third prosecution witness in the trial against North.
North envisioned "it would be a suicide mission undertaken by the pilots" who would not have enough fuel to return to their base, Owen said.
Owen, who is testifying under an immunity agreement with independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh, said he delivered the maps and photographs to Calero during a trip he made to Honduras later that month.
North is accused of, among other things, lying to Congress when he denied giving the rebels tactical military advice while Congress banned any U.S. military assistance to the Contras.
The ban took effect about a month before Owen said he delivered the maps and photographs to Calero and outlined the mission as proposed by North.
Calero said he would discuss the proposal with rebel pilots but "he didn't make a commitment one way or another," Owen recalled.
Several months earlier, Owen, a former aide to then-Sen. Dan Quayle, R-Ind., now the vice president, said he discussed with North a proposal to set up a non-profit tax-exempt foundation to raise humanitarian assistance for the Contras after Congress shut off U.S. aid.
Owen said he and North discussed the fact that such an organization couldn't be used "to raise money for military goods."
North is also accused of conspiring to violate tax laws by setting up a tax-exempt foundation to raise money to help arm the rebels.
North, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and former National Security Council aide, is charged with 12 felony counts arising from his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair.