132. Telegram From the Embassy in Iran to the Department of State1

5088. Pass SecDef and Military Commands. Subj: P–3 Operations From Bandar Abbas. Ref: A. Tehran 8507 of 12/3/73, B. Tehran 4508.2

Summary: We believe it is timely to review P–3 operations from Bandar Abbas to assure continuing utility for USG and compliance with Country Team rules and GOI desires.3 End summary.

1. During October war Shah granted permission for P–3 flights to stage out of Bandar Abbas in support of US Indian Ocean operations. [Page 400]Subsequently (Ref A), GOI approved prolongation of flights with two conditions:

A. Cover story should be maintained that P–3s were present in Bandar Abbas to train Iranians on aircraft they would later acquire.

B. Bandar Abbas should not take shape as US base in Iran.

2. Since that time we have made no formal approach to GOI on this subject. Flights are currently continuing on average of 5–6 in and out missions per week. There are regularly one officer and three enlisted personnel at Bandar Abbas to support flights. Although these personnel are on 4–6 weeks’ TDY, USN presence has been a continuous one. Although the Ambassador concurred in P–3 operations at time of approach to GOI, no request has ever been made to him for assignment of USN personnel at Bandar Abbas.

3. It is evident that GOI stipulations for use of Bandar Abbas have been overtaken by changed circumstances. Cover story is no longer appropriate as IIAF now has three of its own P–3s at Bandar Abbas. Long tenure of operation is giving it a permanent character that was not original GOI intent. For example, study on US involvement in Iran by OASD/PA&E/Repro of 22 January 1975 contains this statement in its listing of US facilities in Iran: P–3 aircraft operate from Bandar Abbas with an average frequency of two flights per week, or an occasional maximum of three flights daily when a target Naval Task Group operates in the area. One officer and two enlisted men are stationed at Bandar Abbas to support operations. They increase during peak periods to ten men. . . . During a briefing for the War College, a student asked us to comment on “our Indian Ocean operation at Bandar Abbas.” It seems that P–3 flights are becoming common knowledge and assumed by many in DOD to be routine business. With Congressional interest focusing on Diego Garcia and Persian Gulf arms sales, it is plausible that State and DOD will face questions on P–3 operations. Our answers could prove embarrassing to GOI at time when it is asserting a strongly independent line on Persian Gulf security (Ref B).

4. Accordingly, we think that as a matter of some priority USG should review P–3 operation. Essentially two questions should be addressed: First, is intelligence product from these flights of sufficient importance to USG to justify political problems that may result from public exposure? Second, if answer is positive, could our intelligence objectives be achieved without presence of USN personnel at Bandar Abbas and with less frequent, more sporadic flights? Occasional P–3 visits would preserve an air of normalcy which would be useful if, for high priority targets or crisis situation, we wished to expand frequency of missions on short notice.

5. Should review indicate that continuing assignment of USN personnel at Bandar Abbas is desirable an anticipated duration of stay [Page 401]should be submitted to Ambassador for his approval. Request should also outline suggested command lines to include responsibility to Ambassador through Chief, ARMISH/MAAG, as the senior DOD representative in Iran.

6. Our final step would be approach to GOI if that seems appropriate in terms of findings of review of P–3 operations and probability of public exposure. If operations are to be maintained at present levels, we should consult with GOI on public line we would take if asked by Congress or press.4

Helms
  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Middle East and South Asia, Box 14, Iran—State Department Telegrams, To SECSTATE–EXDIS (2). Secret; Exdis.
  2. For telegram 8507, see footnote 7, Document 46. Telegram 4508 is Document 123.
  3. Noyes sent a copy of this telegram to Robert Kubal, the officer in charge of Israeli affairs in DOD/ISA, under cover of a memorandum that reads: “Bob—am very glad to see this—let’s keep careful track of action. JN” An unidentified note on the copy of the telegram reads: “1) This is Henry Precht’s initiative—I discussed it with him during my visit. 2) State thinks they want to support this request. 3) Gary Sick & I believe we should go to SecDef with recommendation that we a) phase out regular flts but keep periodic flts b) start flts to Masirah c) consider occasional flts to Pakistan.” (Washington National Records Center, OUSD Files: FRC 330–81–0223, Box 2, Folder P–3)
  4. On July 8, Ellsworth sent a memorandum on Schlesinger’s behalf to the Director of the Joint Staff, requesting that P–3 operations from Bandar Abbas be reviewed with a view to reducing the number of flights to ensure that the base “does not take on the character of a permanent U.S. operating facility.” (Ibid., OASD Files: FRC 330–78–0038, Box 18, Iran 334–400.13, 1975) In a memorandum to Schlesinger, August 8, Ellsworth reported that the JCS and Navy had determined that support personnel at Bandar Abbas could be eliminated and P–3 flights reduced from 16–18 to 6–8 a month except when major U.S. naval units were in the area. (Ibid.)