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TA-911: Flight to 911 - The Iranian Hostage Crisis

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posted on Apr, 10 2004 @ 11:14 AM
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, 1979.

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 tentatively 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 Agents, and

-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 " 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 Presidential directive."

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 effects.



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


Other Flight to 911 Articles

Balfour and the Mandatory Years
Zionism and Arab Nationalism
UNSCOP and the Paritioning Plan
Palestine Goes Militant
The Buck and The Bulldozer
Breaking's the Camel's Back
Al-Qaeda's Goal to al Khalifa

[edit on 8-8-2004 by Valhall]

posted on Apr, 10 2004 @ 06:24 PM
Wow, this IS good, I had no clue there was such a history behind all this. It appears that Jimmy Carter dropped the proverbial ball in m one than one way.


posted on Apr, 10 2004 @ 07:05 PM
great article valhall, i look forward to reading the rest of the series.

I always wondered about the timing of the hostage release and Reagan's inauguration..instead of going into Iraq, maybe more thought should have been made towards going into Iran or cutting ties with them completely.

posted on Apr, 12 2004 @ 06:17 PM
This is a research quality piece Valhall. Also done in a manner which can
guide the reader to a few conclusions about Iraq today. I think I will suggest
a side piece for you which could show the Iran/Iraq war and the implications
from that on the situation today. In a nutshell, I believe there is evidence
to suggest that the Iranian view is that Iraq is a battleground for the Iranians
to attempt to kill two birds with one stone. As they have infilterated Iraq,
they can set up the US again and they care little about Iraq either. You have noted that
the most serious hostage taking of US citizens was instigated by Iran in
1979. I think the effect it had on politics was an accident then. Now it is
not. Spain shows the lessons learned. This Al Sadr guy is Iran personified.
He shows up (from Iran no doubt, where he was conveniently sheltered)
and a new element enters the picture. Hostage taking ! Big shock !
Only this time the intent to effect politics is no accident. But again, it is only
a single agenda in play. The middle east is a jumble of different agendas
all boiling together.


posted on Jul, 12 2004 @ 06:27 AM
This is a great report. I was in Iran on a US Air Force assignment monitoring the Southern Soviet Nuclear Test ranges from August of 77 through Feb 79. I left the country just after Khoumeni came in. My seismic monitoring station was closed down 4 months later and the friend of mine that had replaced me was rushed out of the country laying down on the floor of the car. They drove him out onto the runway at the airport and rushed him into the plane which then imediately took off.

I was too young (20) and busy partying all the time to realize how serious the situation was. I am sure the military took pains to avoid letting us know how bad it was too. Our contact with the outside was pretty meager with only Iranian TV and papers. The outside papers and reports anyone got were typically weeks old. Email didn't exist for the average person in those days and phone calls cost $5/minute so I only called home twice in the 1.5 years I was there.

I used to go down to the US Embassy there all the time to shop at the small store/commissary there and theoretically could have been one of the hostages if the takeover had happened a few months earlier. The Air Force had some folks from the US Army detachment stationed in Tehran at the Armish-Maag Iranian Army base take several of us running the monitoring station up into the Elborz mountains to train us to shoot 38 caliber revolvers in the event we had to shoot our way out of the country. I was never actually issued a weapon though.

posted on Jul, 12 2004 @ 07:12 AM

Originally posted by Springer
Wow, this IS good, I had no clue there was such a history behind all this. It appears that Jimmy Carter dropped the proverbial ball in m one than one way.

There is plenty of blame to spread around. Do you realize that in 1953 the CIA toppled a democraticaly elected leader of Iran and put in his place the Shaw? The Op was called Operation Ajax and the thread is here
Had we left things alone, the conditions that led to the Islamic Revolution would possibly have never occured

posted on Jul, 26 2005 @ 12:07 PM
I hope no one minds, but I'm going to bump each of these articles because here lately there have been a lot of posts (from both sides of the fence) that have tried to paint the 'us versus' them situation as a black and white issue. In an attempt to deny ignorance, if one looks at the historical record, they will find that there is a vast gray area populated with many poor decisions from both the Western world and the Arab/Islamic world. Hopefully we'll try to remain sane as we discuss these issues and lot allow ourselves to fall into a fearful, hate-mongering mentality.

posted on May, 3 2008 @ 05:53 AM
As FredT points out, you should not start any recent history of US-Iranian relations without first laying its foundations, which are the overthrow of the Iranian Prime Minister Mosaddeq in '53 by the CIA and the Brits, in Operation Ajax, run by Teddy Roosevelt's grandson, Kermit Roosevelt. This coup installed the Shah and destroyed the only democratic government in the Gulf region, all for the benefit of Anglo-American oil companies.

From Wiki:

The 1953 Iranian coup d'état saw the overthrow of the democratically-elected administration of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq and his cabinet from power by British and American intelligence operatives working together with Iranian agents and elements of the Iranian army. Bribing Iranian officials, news media and others with British and American funds, Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA),[1] organized the covert operation aiding retired Iranian General Fazlollah Zahedi and Imperial Guard Colonel Nematollah Nassiri. The project to overthrow Iran's government was codenamed Operation Ajax. [2]

The coup has been called "a critical event in post-war world history." It re-installed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, replacing a democratic-oriented government with a dictatorship, and is thought to have contributed to the 1979 overthrow of the Shah and his replacement with the anti-Western Islamic Republic.[3]

In America, it was originally considered a triumph of covert action but now is considered by many to have left "a haunting and terrible legacy."


Ignorant of this coup, one could be led to believe that the overthrow of the Shah, a US puppet whose reign was increasingly repressive and dictatorial, was largely an internal event, and that the Iranian revolution and the Khomeni regime acted against the US without real cause. The true history is much more complex and tragic.

Also missing in this report is the infamous arms-for-hostages treason committed by Reagan and Bush senior in secretly treating with the Khomeni gov't while Carter was still in office before the 1980 elections, and the use of Iranian payments for arms, shipped secretly via Israel, to fund US secret wars in Latin America.

What the full history of our post-WW II policy with Iran reveals is that the US will destabilize and destroy any foreign regime for control of its precious resources and for short-term strategic advantage. There is absolutely not the slightest morality at play, and the actions of the US lead to ever-escalating reaction from the countries attacked. As we know from physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. We can see the consequences of US greed, hubris, and frankly stupidity in Iran to this day, and we are fully to blame for it.

[edit on 3-5-2008 by gottago]

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