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199. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Iran1

313328. Subject: SAVAK Activities. Ref: Tehran 12745.2

1. FYI: In early November we received FBI report that an Iranian national told New Jersey police, during their investigation of an assault on the Iranian national, that he had been collecting information on the activities of Iranian students and passing this information to individuals who operated the Persian Bazaar and Bookstore in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. Further police investigation revealed that a Mansur Rafizadeh (presumably the Mansur Rafizadeh who is official at Iranian UN Mission) owned the bookstore. In a later interview with FBI, the Iranian national denied that he collected intelligence information, said he had acted as a “security person” for Rafizadeh during a visit by latter to Chicago, and now worked as a domestic for Rafizadeh.

2. Although these FBI reports are ambiguous, the Secretary believed that Ambassador Zahedi should again be alerted to great sensitivity at this time of operations of foreign security/intelligence organizations in the United States. As you know, press and Congressional interest remains high, Senate and House hearings are likely next year, and CBS “60 Minutes” is planning a program on SAVAK’s actions in the United States. (“60 Minutes” recently devoted part of its hourly program to CIA.)

3. Atherton requested Zahedi to call December 23 and made following points: again emphasized necessity for foreign officials not to violate U.S. laws or engage in improper activities; commented that press and Congressional interest has not diminished and it is, therefore, important to avoid even the appearance of improper activities; noted that we had received an FBI report about Mr. Rafizadeh’s ownership of the Persian Bazaar and Bookstore and inconclusive report that persons involved in operating this store might be collecting intelligence infor[Page 592]mation on Iranian students; and recalled provisions of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. In conclusion Atherton emphasized that he was not making accusations. Rather, he said, his comments would be kept confidential and our strong desire was to avoid any friction which could damage our excellent bilateral relations.

4. Zahedi replied that he was 99 percent certain he could deny that Rafizadeh was acting improperly but he would double-check to be certain and let us know. Zahedi informed us on December 27 that bookstore is owned by Mozaffar Rafizadeh, brother of Mansur, and an American citizen and that no kind of political activity whatsoever was directed from the store. End FYI.

5. For Chargé: You should inform Minister of Court Alam that PNG action against Rafizadeh has not been raised or considered by us. However, we had received ambiguous FBI reports concerning alleged collection of intelligence data about Iranian students by persons apparently associated with Rafizadeh and wished to draw this to attention of Iranian Embassy. In view of the particularly close and mutually beneficial relationship between our two countries we want to avoid frictions on such matters and believe that a confidential dialogue will be helpful. That was the spirit and intent of Atherton’s comments. We have taken note of Ambassador Zahedi’s assurances that our information was incorrect.

Robinson
  1. Source: Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, Roger Channel, TS, Tehran I, 1963–1978. Secret; Niact; Immediate; Roger Channel; Special Handling.
  2. In telegram 12745 from Tehran, December 27, Helms reported that at his farewell luncheon, Khalatbari conveyed the Shah’s comment on alleged illegal activity by U.S.-based SAVAK officer Mansur Rafizadeh. The Shah asserted that SAVAK was not authorized to act counter to U.S. law, and Iran would reciprocate any action against Rafizadeh. Helms felt that this was no time to have a flare-up with Iran since other issues were “sufficiently testing the ‘special relationship’ without adding an inflammatory, public brouhaha over possibly ill-advised intelligence activity.” He added, “we are very beholden here in the intelligence area and therefore correspondingly vulnerable.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P84015–0816) Helms left post on December 27.