GENERAL POST-WORLD WAR II

1970s

The Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979-1981

H - Z 

On 16 January 1979, the Shah departed Iran. The triumphant Ayatollah Khomeini returned on 1 February. On 4 November, the U.S. Embassy in Teheran was overrun by Iranian militants and over 50 U.S. personnel were taken hostage. The crisis surrounding the hostages lasted 444 days.

The materials included here look both at the Iranian revolution that ousted the Shah and at U.S. intelligence aspects of that revolution and its immediate aftermath. Materials concerning the aborted rescue mission of April 1980 are accessible from the "1980s Table of Contents" file.

Harris, David. The Crisis: The President, the Prophet, and the Shah -- 1979 and the Coming of Militant Islam. New York: Little, Brown, 2004.

Ajami, Washington Post, 28 Nov. 2004, calls the author a "storyteller" whose "readable book" is filled "with the texture and passions of the U.S.-Iranian relationship." For Harris, the crisis of 1979 is "where the communal antagonism that led to Sept. 11, 2001 truly begins."

Herz, Martin F., ed. Contacts With the Opposition: A Symposium. Washington, DC: Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Georgetown University, 1979.

Houghton, Patrick David. U.S. Foreign Policy and the Iran Hostage Crisis. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Lynch, APSR 96.3, says that this work offers "an engaging, thought-provoking account of decision making during the Iran hostage crisis.... Houghton convincingly establishes the prevalence and power of historical analogies in shaping the response of policymakers to unfamiliar situations. His efforts to construct generalizable theoretical propositions about their relative weight are somewhat less successful but are consistently thought-provoking."

Huyser, Robert E. [Gen/USAF (Ret.)] Mission to Tehran. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.

The author was EUCOM deputy when President Carter sent him on a special mission to Iran in January 1979. Campbell, FA 66 (Spring 1987), say that the author's "primary purpose is to show how he carried out his not-very-clear instructions, and this he does in a factual description of his daily activities, taken up largely in contacts, conversations and exhortations with the chiefs of the Iranian armed forces and in telephoned reports to the secretary of defense in Washington."

Karabell, Zachary. "'Inside the US Espionage Den': The US Embassy and the Fall of the Shah." Intelligence and National Security 8, no. 1 (Jan. 1993): 44-59.

Kinch, Penelope. "The Iranian Crisis and the Dynamics of Advice and Intelligence in the Carter Administration." Journal of Intelligence History 6, no. 2 (Winter 2006-2007). [http://www.intelligence-history.org/jih/journal.html]

From abstract: "[T]he lack of awareness and understanding of the developing situation in Iran between 1977-1979 demonstrates a breakdown in communication within the Carter Administration. This article examines the dynamics of the factions within Carter's advisory group which limited both the provision and the accuracy of information provided to the President, and the reactive nature of intelligence emanating from Iran which caused reporting to reflect rather than prescribe the foreign policy direction of the U.S."

Ledeen, Michael, and William Lewis. Debacle: The American Failure in Iran. New York: Knopf, 1981.

Smith, FA (Summer 1981), notes that the authors charge President Carter and his Administration "with failures of perception, naïveté about the Ayatollah Khomeini, inconsistency and confusion. The authors seem to realize that it is not possible to say with certainty what policy would have averted the 'debacle,' but they do believe the Administration should have been more supportive of the Shah."

Moss, Robert. "Who's Meddling in Iran?" New Republic, 2 Dec. 1978, 15 18.

Accusations of Soviet involvement in the turmoil in Iran.

Rubin, Barry. Paved with Good Intentions: The American Experience in Iran. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Salinger, Pierre. America Held Hostage: The Secret Negotiations. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981.

Salinger covers all aspects of the Iranian hostage crisis, including intelligence aspects and the rescue mission.

Sick, Gary. All Fall Down: America's Tragic Encounter with Iran. New York: Random House, 1985.

The author was a staff member at the National Security Council at the time of the Iran crisis. Pipes, New Republic, 8 Jul 1985, refers to this work as "wise, even profound." For Hoffman, New York Times, 16 Jun. 1985, this is a "convincing, fair and balanced" account that provides "cool, sharp and restrained analysis."

Smith, Hedrick. "U.S. Aides Say Loss of Post in Iran Impairs Missile-Monitoring Ability." New York Times, 2 Mar. 1979. A1, A8.

Stemple, John D. Inside the Iranian Revolution. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1981.

Sullivan, William H. Mission to Iran. New York: Norton, 1981.

Sullivan was U.S. Ambassador to Iran in 1979.

Taheri, Amir. Nest of Spies. London: Hutchinson, 1988.

The "nest of spies" is, of course the U.S. Embassy in Teheran. Brinkman, I&NS 4.4, takes this book entirely too seriously, even though he clearly recognizes its faults. Simultaneously, the reviewer says the book "is original and well-documented" (the author supplements conventional sources with the documents seized at the Embassy in 1979) and "stylistically ... reflects the fuzz[y] line between news and editorial." And he notes that the author "shows a ... preoccupation with intrigue," and, on one occasion, has concocted "a bizarre and implausible conspiracy theory." Yet, much wordage is devoted to outlining Taheri's views on the nature on the Iranian revolution.

Turner, Stansfield. Secrecy and Democracy: The CIA in Transition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985. JK468I6T87

Halpern, IJI&C 1.1, argues that Turner holds "simplistic views of espionage, counterintelligence, and covert action ... [with] little understanding or appreciation ... that people, and their handling, are the essence of intelligence.... [He] had little appreciation for the people, the organization, the history, or the activities of the service he headed and did not take the time to learn." The book constitutes a "defense by Turner of his efforts as DCI.... [O]ne should not be too logical in examining his recommendations on organization, or take them too seriously."

Clark comment: This is an overly harsh assessment of Stansfield Turner the person (as opposed to Stansfield Turner the DCI). I do not argue that Admiral Turner was the best possible match for the job of DCI. However, I am also not sure who would have been at the juncture when he assumed office, given the attitude toward intelligence that his boss brought to his job. With regard to Halpern's views of Turner's recommendations on organization, a review of the literature on "reorganization" of the CIA, which has become so prevalent in the 1990s, certainly does not cast Turner's thoughts on the matter in a particularly negative light.

U.S. Congress. House. Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Subcommittee on Evaluation. Iran: Evaluation of U.S. Intelligence Performance Prior to November 1978. 96th Cong., 1st sess., 1979. Committee print. Washington, DC: GPO, 1979.

This report criticizes the NIE process generally, with specific focus on how that process dealt with the collapse of the Shah's regime.

  Vance, Cyrus. Hard Choices: Critical Years in American Foreign Policy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983.

Secretary of State in the Carter administration.

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