Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Iran and the CIA's Inadvertent "Security Leak"

The confluence of the "no-nuke" deal with Iran and the world's concerns over United States government snooping  is rather interesting, particularly given that February 11th is the 35th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution that led to the taking of 52 American hostages from the American Embassy in Tehran and the ending of normal diplomatic relations between the two nations.

One aspect of the crisis that I find most compelling about the hostage-taking is not the plight of the hostages but the fact that the Iranian students in the embassy found thousands of pages of shredded and unshredded documents belonging to the CIA and the State Department.  Some Iranians had long believed that the U.S. Embassy was being used as an intelligence base by the CIA.  Staff at the U.S. Embassy had been busy shredding these documents in an attempt to prevent them from falling into the "wrong hands", however, the thin strips of paper that the students found were reassembled into useable documents by Iranian carpet weavers as shown here:  


These documents were then released to the public in 1982; the 54 volumes were published under the title "Documents from the U.S.Espionage Den".   By 1995, the number of volumes had risen to 77.  This inadvertent "security leak" is widely viewed as one of the most damaging intelligence breaches in history and predates the much discussed WikiLeaks Department of State and Edward Snowden breaches by decades.

Historically speaking, it is key to remember that Iran was very important to the CIA.  The Agency's 1953 "victory" that toppled Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadegh, who had nationalized the British-owned oil industry and reinstalled the Pahlavi dynasty as the nation's political leadership, showed the world and Washington that the CIA was legitimate and that it could shape political events in other nations.  This stance did cause problems for the Shah because many of his opponents portrayed him as an American puppet who was returned to power by the CIA, a situation that led many Iranians to be highly suspicious of the covert involvement of the United States in Iran's coup of 1953, particularly as the rule of the Shah and his secret police force SAVAK became increasingly brutal in its attempts to retain power. and repress opposition.

Now, let's go to some of the documents.

Here is one of the more interesting documents that shows the lengths that Embassy staff went to to provide cover for the CIA officers living in their midst:


Here is the text:

"1. S - ENTIRE TEXT

2. I concur in assignments Malcolm Kalp and William Daugherty as described Reftels.

3. With opportunity available to us in the sense that we are starting from a clean slate in SRF coverage at this mission, but with regard also for the great sensitivity locally to any hint of CIA activity, it is of the highest importance that cover be the best we can come up with. Hence there is no question as to the need for second and third secretary titles for these two officers. We must have it.

4. I believe cover arrangements in terms of assignments within embassy are appropriate to present overall staffing pattern. We should however hold to the present total of four SRF officer assignments for the foreseeable future, keeping supporting staff as sparse as possible as well, until we see how things go here.

5. We are making effort to limit knowledge within emb of all SRF assignments; that effort applies particularly to Daugherty, pursuant to new program of which he is a product and about which I have been informed.

6. I suppose I need not mind the Department that the old and apparently insoluble problem of R designation for SRF officers will inevitably complicate and to some degree weaken our cover 
efforts locally, no matter how much we work at it. 

LAINGEN BT
#8933
NNNN
SECRET
TEHRAN 8933"
Embassy Charge d'Affairs Bruce Laingen was concerned about cover arrangements fro CIA officers Kalp and Daughterty.  The "R" designation is the Foreign Service Reserve status that flagged CIA officers that were operating under the cover of the State Department.  
Here is a document that provided the cover details for Thomas Ahern, the CIA's station chief in Tehran:



Here is the text:

"S E C R E T

Page 1

Cover Considerations

According to personal data in your passport, you are single, were born in Antwerp, Belgium 08Jul34, have blue eyes, have no distinguishing characteristics, and are approximately 1.88 meters tall. Your cover occupation is that of a commercial business representative.
It is not uncommon to find a Belgian whose native language is Flemish living in a nominally French-speaking section of Belgium, such as Jette. You can say that you were born in Antwerp, began work with a company with a regional office in Antwerp, then was transferred to the main offices in Brussels. Despite the fact it is only about 90 minutes driving time between Brussels and Antwerp, you decided to live in one of the suburbs of Brussels, Jette. This would explain the issuance locale of your documentation. Working from your Brussels base, you have travelled in Europe on business in the past (as reflected in your passport) and are now assigned to the Middle East section of your company. Your non-backstopped address in Jette is 174 Avenue de Jette, Jette, Belgium.

S E C R E T"

Here is a document from the U.S. Ambassador in Tehran, Laingen, to the Secretary of State seeking conditional entry or refugee status and visa clearances for former members of the Shah's regime, including members of SAVAK, the nation's dreaded secret police, formed under the guidance of the United States and Israel in 1957.  Note that the embassy files for this subject had already been destroyed or moved to Washington:


Incidentally, after the Iranian Revolution, SAVAK was dissolved by Ayatollah Khomeini and 61 SAVAK officials were executed between 1979 and 1981.  While the exact number of SAVAK's victims is unknown, the organization is estimated to have tortured and murdered thousands of the Shah's opponents.

Finally, here is a lengthy document from June of 1979, again from the U.S. Ambassador in Tehran to the Secretary of State discussing the issue of the use of Iranian informants and their increasing unwillingness to talk to Embassy Officials (EMBOFFS) as a result of charges that the United States and CIA were meddling in Iran's affairs:



This cable gives us some sense of how widespread the use of informants was in Iran during the Shah years with the cable mentioning the use of former Iranian diplomats, private citizens and intellectuals based at Iran's universities among others.


And we wonder why Iran's leadership still doesn't trust the United States....

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