Written April, 2004.
Up until 1979 the United States had enjoyed an existence as a nation free of, by and large, intentional persecutory actions against its citizenry by
international militant groups. From its island across the sea, the U.S. had watched the bombings, raids, hijackings and hostage-takings of a world
that seemed to be increasingly filled with non-diplomatic and violent actions; but a very distant world at that. This all changed on November 4,
On January 16, 1979, the Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown by opposition forces and forced to flee the country. Prior to removing
his family to Cairo, and then ultimately into exile in Morroco, he appointed Dr. Shahpour Bakhtier as Prime Minister. Three days later, while still
in France, Ayatollah Khomeini, announced he would form a new Iranian government.
On the first of February, 1979, Khomeini, after fifteen years of exile, returned to a jubilant and welcoming populace in Iran. On February 14 a
zealous group of Khomeini followers stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held the personnel hostage for several hours. The incident was ended with
no harm to any embassy workers, but the first instance of fear and concern for U.S. citizens' safety in the region had occurred.
By April 1 Iran had become an Islamic Republic, and within a week prominent Iranians were being executed. U.S./Iranian relations disintegrated and
sleepless days and nights blurred for U.S. embassy personnel in Tehran in their tireless efforts to bring stability between the two countries.
Against their efforts was a growing anti-U.S. sentiment in the new government.
The United States' and Iran's relationship had been solidified during the Nixon presidency. The British had decided to pull their military presence
from the Persian Gulf region, which left the U.S. in a precarious position. They needed to be able to monitor the USSR from that region. In May
1972, Nixon agreed to assist the Shah's military build-up in Iran in order to secure a line-of-sight monitoring capability of the Soviet Union from
Iran. From that decision on, the U.S. and the Shah became inseparable, even as the Shah's government sank into corruptness.
Shortly after arriving in Morroco, the Shah had decided he would prefer exile in the U.S. The offer for admittance into the U.S. had been available
to the Shah from day one. Had he taken the initial offering, there could have possibly been less drama to follow. It is unclear why he did not. But
within weeks of arriving in Morocco, the Shah had changed his mind, and Carter had been under pressure to admit him. With the potentially dangerous
situation that had occurred in February at the U.S. embassy in Tehran with the brief hostage situation, the matter had now become quite a bit more
complicated. The decision to admit the Shah into the United States would be no light matter.
By October, 1979, the Shah's "medical condition" was being promoted as the reason for immediate entry into the U.S. Carter had been advised by
Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher that he should "test the waters" prior to admitting the Shah
(irrespective of whether the medical issue was a valid claim or not). They had advised Carter to let the new Iranian government know that he was
planning to admit the Shah, and then wait to see the response. If the security of the U.S. citizens in the area was deemed to be
sufficient, he could then proceed with admittance.
Carter did not follow these recommendations, but instead proceeded with admittance of the Shah on October 20, 1979 for the purpose of medical
treatment. This decision left the U.S. embassy personnel in imminent danger.
On November 4, 1979, Iranian militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Over 90 hostages were taken. The main demand of the militants was that
the U.S. government hand over the Shah to the new Iranian government to be tried for crimes against the Iranian people. The U.S., of course, rejected
this demand. Though many hostages were released within hours to days of the original raid, 54 hostages would remain in captivity for 444 days.
During those 444 days the U.S. learned how it felt to be at the receiving end of hatred.
Immediately following the taking of the embassy in Tehran, the U.S. placed an oil embargo on Iran.
On November 20, 1979, the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, was seized by 200 Islamic extremists. The result was an intense battle between the
extremists and a combined force of Saudi and French security forces. This battle resulted in approximately 250 killed, and 600 wounded. False rumors
implicating U.S. involvement in the Mosque seizure instantly swept through the Persian Gulf region. Hatred fueled by these rumors peaked within hours
in Islamabad, Pakistan, and on November 21, 1979 the U.S. embassy in that city was overran by an angry mob. A week later this hatred would sweep to
the streets of Tripoli where an angry mob would attack and burn the U.S. embassy on December 2, 1979.
The embassy in Tripoli was closed (and would remain so until February 11, 2004).
On December 12, 1979, the U.S. expelled most of the Iranian diplomats in the U.S.
On December 15, 1979, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled unanimously against the standing government of Iran in the case brought before it
by the U.S. concerning the hostages and ruled:
"That the Government of Iran, in tolerating, encouraging, and failing to prevent and punish the conduct described...violated its international legal
obligations to the United States as provided by
-Articles 22, 24, 25, 27, 29, 31, 37 and 47 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,
-Articles 28, 31, 33, 34, 36 and 40 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations,
-Articles 4 and 7 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against internationally Protected persons, including Diplomatic
-Articles II (4), XIII, XVIII and XIX of the Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights between the United States and Iran, and
-Articles 2 (3), 2 (4) and 33 of the Charter of the United Nations..."
On January 25, 1980, the first presidential election took place in Iran and Dr. Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, the liberal opposition leader was elected by
popular vote. However, the Khomeini refused to step down and ultimately Bani-Sadr was driven from the country and into exile in France.
On March 6, 1980, the Islamic militants holding the U.S. hostages threatened to turn the hostages over to the Revolutionary Council. The situation
deteriorated further resulting in the U.S. expelling all remaining Iranian diplomats from the U.S. and breaking all diplomatic ties with Iran on April
7. Furthermore, on April 17, the U.S. tightened its economic sanctions against Iran by banning all imports into the country.
On April 24, 1980, eight U.S. Marines were killed in a botched rescue attempt when two helicopters collided in the desert darkness. The rescue was
called off and the special forces involved began a long recovery process from this failure.
On May 4, 1980, the ICJ ruled:
"...that the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran was under an obligation to make reparation to the Government of the United States of America
for the injury caused to the latter in the circumstances described in the Judgment, and that the form and amount of such reparation, failing agreement
between the Parties, should be settled by the Court..."
On July 27, 1980, the Shah died. Though his return to Iran for trial had been the main point for the militants holding the U.S. hostages, the
situation had now declined to a state of hatred and anger. The hostages would remain in captivity, not because of a desire to seek revenge on the
Shah, but from a desire to seek revenge on the U.S. in general, and the Carter administration specifically.
On November 4, 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected to the presidency of the United States. The hostages were released coincident with his inauguration on
January 20, 1981.
On April 6, 1981 the Deputy Agent of the United States informed the ICJ:
"Effective 19 January 1981 the United States and Iran entered into certain mutual commitments in order to resolve the crisis arising out of the
detention of the fifty-two United States nationals, and for the settlement of claims between the United States and Iran, as reflected in two
declarations issued on that date by the Government of the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria. Those declarations provide that upn the
certification by the Government of Algeria that the fifty-two U.S. natioanls had safely departed from Iran, 'the United States will promptly withdraw
all claims now pending against Iran before the International Court of Justice..."
The hostage situation did not appear to immediately effect President Reagan to the point that security efforts were increased or changed in
significant ways, but most assuredly laid a foundation that the coming year's events would build on. 1981 was riddled with significant security
issues around the globe.
* On August 31, 1981, the U.S. Air Force at Ramstein was bombed by the Red Army Faction.
* 2 weeks later Frederick Kroesen, Commanding General of the U.S. Army and of the NATO Middle East Section was nearly assassinated.
* On October 6, 1981, during a troop review, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by members of the Takfir Wal-Hajira sect.
On December 4, 1981, the effect of these events became apparent when President Reagan issued Executive Orders 12333 and 12334.
Executive Order 12333 clarifies and confirms the intent of the Intelligence agencies and their activities. It amended the 1947 National Security Act
"...in order to provide for the effective conduct of United States intelligence activities and the protection of constitutional rights...". And
laid out the following goals, of the U.S. intelligence community:
* "Goals. The United States intelligence effort shall provide the President and the National Security Council with the necessary information on
which to base decisions concerning the conduct and development of foreign, defense and economic policy, and the protection of United States national
interests from foreign security threats. All departments and agencies shall cooperate fully to fulfill this goal.
* Maximum emphasis should be given to fostering analytical competition among appropriate elements of the Intelligence Community.
* All means, consistent with applicable United States law and this Order, and with full consideration of the rights of United States persons,
shall be used to develop intelligence information for the President and the National Security Council. A balanced approach between technical
collection efforts and other means should be maintained and encouraged.
* Special emphasis should be given to detecting and countering espionage and other threats and activities directed by foreign intelligence
services against the United States Government, or United States corporations, establishments, or persons.
* To the greatest extent possible consistent with applicable United States law and this Order, and with full consideration of the rights of
United States persons, all agencies and departments should seek to ensure full and free exchange of information in order to derive maximum benefit
from the United States intelligence effort."
Executive Order 12334 created the President's Intelligence Oversight Board. The board was created with three members and the ability to appoint
(with approval from the President) its own chairman. The powers instilled in this board were:
* "Inform the President of intelligence activities that any member of the Board believes are in violation of the Constitution or laws of the
United States, Executive orders, or Presidential
* Forward to the Attorney General reports received concerning intelligence activities that the Board believes may be unlawful;
* Review the internal guidelines of each agency within the Intelligence Community concerning the lawfulness of intelligence activities;
* Review the practices and procedures of the Inspectors General and General Counsel of the Intelligence Community for discovering and reporting
intelligence activities that may be unlawful or contrary to Executive order or Presidential directive; and
* Conduct such investigations as the Board deems necessary to carry out its functions under this Order"
The responsibilities placed on this board were:
"The Board shall, when required by this Order, report directly to the President. The Board shall consider and take appropriate action with respect to
matters identified by the Director of Central Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency or other agencies of the Intelligence Community. With
respect to matters deemed appropriate by the President, the Board shall advise and make appropriate recommendations to the Director of Central
Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, and other agencies of the Intelligence Community."
And the agencies ordered to report to this board were responsible to:
"The heads of departments and agencies of the Intelligence Community shall, to the extent permitted by law, provide the Board with all information
necessary to carry out its responsibilities. Inspectors General and General Counsel of the Intelligence Community shall, to the extent permitted by
law, report to the Board concerning intelligence activities that they have reason to believe may be unlawful or contrary to Executive order or
The restrictions placed on the board included:
"Information made available to the Board shall be given all necessary security protection in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. Each
member of the Board, each member of the Board's staff, and each of the Board's consultants shall execute an agreement never to reveal any classified
information obtained by virtue of his or her service with the Board except to the President or to such persons as the President may designate."
That the events that took place in Iran in 1979-1981 effected a permanent shift in the popular view of the United States across the Persian Gulf
region can be evidenced through not only the two embassy raids in Pakistan and Libya, but by the very rumor that fueled these two instances. That
popular opinion toward the U.S. was being manipulated through propaganda and insinuation (i.e. the false rumor that the U.S. had been involved in the
Grand Mosque seizure) was becoming apparent. The next ten years would see this fomenting continue, and the U.S. machinations to keep up with its
2. American Diplomacy, Volume III, Number 1, 2003
3. Kissinger Memorandum of July 25, 1972
4. Significant Terrorist Incidents
5. U.S., Libya Reestablish Diplomatic Contacts
6. IJC Order 12/15/1979
7. IJC Order 05/12/1981
8. A Brief History of the Red Army Faction
9. Executive Order 12333
10. Executive Order 12334
Original ATSNN Article
[edit on 1-9-2006 by Valhall]