120. Letter From the Counselor of Embassy for Political Affairs in Tehran (Herz) to the Director of the Office of Greek, Turkish, and Iranian Affairs (Bracken)1

Dear Kay:

Your letter of February 4, about obtaining more information on rightist or opposition groups has given us a great deal of trouble.2 Frankly, the difficulty is that these opposition groups are essentially clandestine, and the national police are hunting for the very kind of information that you are asking us to procure. I know Alan is working on this too, but the Counselor for Political Affairs really has to be very careful not to promise you too much.

On the positive side, we do try to keep contacts with various exponents of the religious milieu, but I must confess that in respect to the kind of information that the Department is seeking these contacts are not too productive. We see [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] who is really a government stooge; [2 lines of source text not declassified] a highly vocal religious critic of the regime but not a very useful source of information on particular groups; [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] a religious-oriented right-wing politician, [3 lines of source text not declassified] who is sometimes interesting.

In addition, Archie Bolster has developed a fairly productive contact with [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] who seems to know some of the as yet unarrested members of the Islamic Nations Party which was uncovered late last year, but even [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] who are obviously against the regime are exceedingly careful to cover their tracks. Because of the inherent interest of Archie’s conversations with [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] I enclose two copies of recent MemCons3—even though they do not really answer the question that you have raised.

You are of course quite right that we learn of the existence of small obscurantist rightist cells or groups only when they find themselves in an “acting” posture, but in this respect it is very difficult for us to be better [Page 215] informed than SAVAK and the National Police who were taken equally unaware by the Mansur assassination, a fact that still rankles with the Shah and has caused him to ride the internal security people rather hard of late.

The difficulty of getting really deeply into the rather amorphous clerical opposition stems in part from the fact that a Christian foreigner really has little chance of taking its pulse by meeting just a few mullahs and ayatollahs. Also, since Khomeini was banished in the aftermath of the status bill furor, clerical oppositionists are even less pro-American than before. Direct approaches are sometimes rebuffed and the most glaring case of such a counter-productive effort was provided last year by Bill Clevenger when he tried to sound out Ayatollah Qomi in Meshed. Not only did Qomi rebuff him but the rather innocuous conversation seems to have been tape-recorded by SAVAK. All in all, we will try to do better in the future, but we really cannot be too sure.

Incidentally, when the question of the religious opposition was raised at the Consular Conference here last week, I felt that the responses that we got from our consuls were equaled in their inconclusiveness only by the responses to our questions about the Development Corps and the Bakhshdar program. We may be groping in the dark, but I promise you that we will continue to grope and “try harder” to grope a little more effectively in the future.

With warm personal regards,

Sincerely yours,

  1. Source: Department of State, NEA/IRN Files: Lot 70 D 330, Iran 1966, POL 12, Political Parties (general). Secret; Official-Informal.
  2. On February 4 Bracken had written Herz, saying that INR/RNA and GTI were both concerned with the need to obtain more information about the nature and scope of the activities of rightist and conservative opposition groups, including religious groups, in Iran, and their interaction (if any) with each other. This concern had been highlighted by the recent arrests of 55 opponents of the regime. (Ibid.)
  3. Not printed.