Militants storm US embassy in Tehran
Militant Islamic students in Iran have stormed the US embassy in the Iranian capital,Tehran, and taken more than 90 people hostage.
The students have demanded that the Shah of Iran, who fled the country in January, be extradited from the US, where he is currently receiving medical treatment for cancer, to stand trial in Iran.
It is reported that revolutionary guards and police did nothing to stop the take-over and Iranian television has indicated its support for the action by broadcasting live pictures of the siege.
Jimmy Carter was President and the United States Embassy in Tehran, Iran, was taken over by “students.” 52 diplomats and staff were taken captive and held as hostages for 444 days--to be released in the first days of the Ronald Reagan presidency on January 21, 1981.
There was an interesting disinformation action against Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, which affected one American Embassy hostage: John W. Limbert, a career State Department Foreign Service Officer.
John W. Limbert was held in solitary confinement for about nine months. At one point, Limbert’s captors confronted him with a letter purportedly written by an executive of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, on December 18, 1979, which was critical of the Carter administration’s reaction to the embassy takeover.
The letter, which was fraudulent, was written on paper similar to Radio Free Europe stationary from the 1950s and contained a forged signature of the executive. The letterhead of the fraudulent letter was
Radio Free Europe
Division of the
Free Europe Committee, Inc.
Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were consolidated into RFE/RL in 1976 and that was the official name of the new organization.
In January 1982, Limbert wrote an article in the Washington Quarterly under the rubric: “Nest of Spies: Pack of Lies,” in which he described the letter:
I first saw the Revelations in February 1980 while captive in the chancellery basement. Several of the students had already shown me a copy of a letter allegedly from the director of Radio Free Europe to National Security Affairs Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, in which the writer advocated harsh measures against Iran, including clandestine support of Ayatollah Shari'at-Madari's partisans in Tabriz, provocative Persian-language broadcasts on the Voice of America, and assassination of members of the ruling Iranian Revolutionary Council. I pointed out to the students that both the format and the language revealed the letter to be an obvious forgery.
In 1994, as director of security at RFE/RL, I published a short piece in the Internet on this apparent disinformation campaign against Radio Free Europe. John Limbert saw my posting and wrote to me:
As I recall the letter you mentioned was never published in the many volumes of Embassy documents. There was enough genuine stuff to keep the students busy for years! Plus the target of all the publications was Iranian, so there was little point in publishing such a document that was dubious to begin with.
It certainly had all the classic signs of Soviet "active measures, including English that was correct but not quite idiomatic or appropriate to the bureaucratic context.
The origins of the letter were never proved but it was, in my opinion, the work of the Soviet KGB and Polish Intelligence Service to discredit RFE/RL. The latter had a history of fraudulent letters purportedly written by Radio Free Europe managers.
The fraudulent letter was eventually sent to the National Security Council in Washington, D.C., where it remained a classified document until 2002. A copy is on file at the Jimmy Carter library in Atlanta, Georgia, with the appropriate recognition that the letter is fraudulent.
For more information on Polish Intelligence Service disinformation activity against RFE, see Gerhard Wettig, Broadcasting and Detente: Eastern Policies and Their Implications for East-West Relations, C. Hurst & Company, London, 1977.