The British government is under new pressure to explain its links with President Reagan’s secret war against the Contras in Nicaragua after London Daily News evidence that 50 British mercenaries were enlisted to join the fight.
Labour foreign affairs spokesman George Foulkes has tabled questions for every Secretary of State about their links with KMS, the London-based security firm that sent the fighters to Central America.
Mr Foulkes says the affair could become a scandal comparable to Irangate in Washington, and it is becoming clear that Britain was more deeply involved in Lt Col Oliver North’s covert effort to support the Contras than has previously been revealed.
Col North, as a deputy director of the American National Security Council, was behind the operation in which arms were sold to Iran in exchange for the release of hostages. Proceeds from the arms sales were then secretly diverted to the Contra rebels trying to overthrow Nicaragua’s Communist government. Col North was later sacked.
According to reliable security sources who have talked to the London Daily News:
* Whitehall approved of the entire operation;
* Col North used an American intelligence man in London to approach three powerful British security companies with offers of the Contra job;
* Kensington-based KMS Ltd supplied men and military equipment to help the Contras;
* American intelligence agents, cut out of the operation by Col North, visited Britain last year to investigate and are blamed for a mysterious break-in in London.
The London connection to the Contra arms scandal was first disclosed by the report of the Tower Commission, published in Washington last week. It implicated KMS in the network of companies used by Col North to move cash and arms around the world from Iran to Central America.
Our sources say the connection was first made in late 1984 when Col North visited London to look for a way to outflank Congress, which was refusing to give the Contras military aid.
A former defence attache at the American Embassy in London, Lt Col William Mott IV, who lives in Mayfair, put North in touch with David Walker, the ex-SAS major who runs KMS.
While Col North and Walker negotiated, the Americans approached two other companies, Falconstar and Intersec. Like KMS, both are staffed by former members of the SAS and undertaking work for Whitehall. The sources insist none of the companies moved into the deal without official approval.
At least two SAS men from Intersec made a series of trips to America early in 1985. Neither Intersec nor Falconstar had the resources to do the job so KMS, which has a history of carrying out work for the British Government, took the contract.
The first group of six ex-SAS men flew out to Central America in mid-1985. They found the Contras were using specialist American equipment, which had never been used by the SAS, and so they could not train them.
KMS then sent a second team of ex-Rhodesian SAS men who were familiar with the equipment because that had used it to fight guerrilla movements in Africa. David Walker is said to have flown to Central America to supervise the operation.
More men followed, bringing the total to 50, each one earning £20,000 a year, and KMS also provided specialist hardware for the Contras.
Col North’s operation was a closely-guarded secret in Washington, and senior figures in the Pentagon and the CIA were left in the dark. Early last year, three American intelligence agents were sent to Britain to find out what Col North and KMS were doing.
They went to Hereford, home of the SAS, in search of Walker. They then travelled to London. That week, a Kensington sports shop which backs on to the KMS office, was burgled.
Lt Col Mott, a Vietnam veteran, last week denied that he had any involvement with North or Walker.