220. Airgram A–775 From the Department of State to All Posts1 2


  • Revised Procedures for Responding to Acts of Terrorism Against Americans Abroad


  • A-5660, July 3, 1973


These revised procedures are now to be followed in cases involving private as well as official Americans abroad. Washington guidelines have been refined and expanded and posts should continue to prepare contingency plans to dovetail with these. New emphasis has been placed on policy considerations, press guidance and possible stratagems. An extra dimension has been added in connection with possible psychological stress resulting from terrorism or the threat thereof.

The Department has revised the procedures contained in A-5660. The post should update its own contingency plan in accordance with the enclosures to this airgram. The following primary elements should be contained in each post’s plan for action following the commission of an act of terrorism against an American citizen, official or non-official. Other suggestions are included in the attachments:
  • —A FLASH telegram is sent to the Department. Simultaneously a telephone call, if feasible, is made to the Department Operations Center, [less than 1 line not declassified].
  • —Appropriate additional steps are taken for post security
  • —The post task force, for which members and meeting place are named in the post contingency plan, is convened.
  • —Consideration is given, in case of an act against a private American citizen, to the question of how far the United States Government should be involved.
  • —Contact is made with the host government to (a) remind it of its responsibility to rescue hostages and protect other Americans who may be in danger; (b) request agreement on the primary objective—safe return of hostages—and collateral objective—apprehension of terrorists; (c) offer all appropriate assistance; and, (d) coordinate public statements in order to avoid jeopardizing rescue operations or increase risk to hostages.
  • —A steady flow of information is sent to the Department by most expeditious means. This should include inter alia details of the local situation, post contacts with host government, public statements, names and telephone numbers of post action officers, and adequacy of the post’s staff to deal with the emergency, including needs for negotiators and security and medical/psychiatric personnel.
  • —Periodic assessments are sent to the Department by most expeditious means, including options with pros and cons and recommendations for action. The Department should be consulted before any action or commitment is made on behalf of the United States Government.
The enclosures are:
Washington Task Force Guidelines for Dealing with Terrorist Acts Against Americans Abroad. This section outlines the organization in the Department which will support the post in its dealing with an incident.
Policy Considerations. This is a compilation of principles and practices which motivate the US Government in terrorist situations and which supersedes A-2667 of April 1, 1974. It may be used in briefing personnel and dependents as the principal officer may see fit and, if deemed desirable, may be adapted to briefing of unofficial Americans.
Press Guidance. Relations with the press during an incident are extremely important both in Washington and in the field. Washington and the field must speak with the same voice.
Suggested Procedures for Posts in Dealing with Terrorist Acts Against Americans Abroad. This section contains suggested guidelines f or posts in anticipation of possible terrorist acts. Local peculiarities may call for modification of these suggestions, but in any case a post’s contingency plans should be compatible with those in the Department.
Guidelines for Dealing with Terrorism with International Ramifications. This paper was approved November 6, 1974, by the Acting Secretary and was submitted to members of the Cabinet Committee to Combat Terrorism as procedures to be followed in domestic cases with international ramifications. It will be noted that a task force may be set up in the Department to support the rescue mission and to deal with such foreign affairs aspects as may present themselves. Posts’ contingency plans should dovetail with these Washington procedures.
Possible Stratagems. This is a resume of various tactics which have been used by some governments in hostage situations and which obviously must be adapted to wide variations in such situations. If the post is so inclined, it might war game local terrorist possibilities, setting up scenarios and applying various guidelines to them. Included in this section is “Psychological Guidelines for Hostage Situations”, which is a summary of FBI common sense as applied in circumstances where terrorists hold hostages.
In order to help condition personnel, as well as private Americans, to a terrorist-prone environment, A-8515 (Terrorism: Advice to Businessmen) might be circulated within the post. Some posts in which terrorism prevails may have devised more precise security tips designed for local peculiarities. The Department would appreciate copies of these. (Please slug for S/CCT, A/SY, and the country desk.)
Principal officers should be sensitive to the possibility that personnel and dependents living in fear of terrorists may develop anxieties which can have adverse psychological effects. Even though a post may not suffer active terrorism, the [Page 4]publicity surrounding attacks on colleagues or others elsewhere in the world may have adverse effects on personnel and their families. Should there be any signs of potential or actual psychological strain, the Regional Medical Officer or the Department’s Medical Office should be consulted.
An important deterrent can be generated by the apprehension of terrorists and, if found guilty, by their detention for a full, fair sentence. The USG frequently makes representations, in a variety of circumstances, in implementation of this principle. It is important, therefore, that the Department be kept fully informed on the changing status and whereabouts of terrorists, even in cases where Americans may not be involved. Posts are therefore requested to advise the Department (Attention: S/CCT) on such matters as names and identities of terrorists (particularly those who are likely to be involved in international terrorism and in demands for their release by other terrorists), their location, their legal status (charges against them, “political prisoner” or otherwise, sentences, etc.), and the attitude of the governments involved regarding their status. Such information is imperative for legal pursuit of such individuals or if they flee to the international community, for alerting individuals and governments of a potential threat.
Procedures and policies outlined herein will continue to evolve with further experience. Comments from the field are welcome on this subject, as they were in preparation of this revision.
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Enclosure 1


I. Alerting Phase

Focus: Department of State Operations Center: (Telephone: [less than 1 line not declassified])

Notification by Operations Center of Key Washington Officers:

(Operations Center maintains current list of officers listed below with their home and office numbers.)

Special Assistant to the Secretary (Coordinator for Combating Terrorism), S/CCT, and Chairman of the Working Group of the Cabinet Committee to Combat Terrorism. (His Deputy.)
Assistant Secretary of geographic bureau concerned or his Deputy.
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Security Affairs. (His Deputy.)
Deputy Under Secretary for Management or his staff.
Other Principals via Executive Secretary or Deputy Executive Secretary on duty: [less than 1 line not declassified].
Country Director or desk concerned.
(If Foreign Service employee or dependent is the victim.) Director General of the Foreign Service.
Press Office.
AID or other agencies if non-State official is involved.
USIA for possible VOA action.
Notification of Other Agencies by Operations Center:
White House Situation Room: [less than 1 line not declassified].
CIA Situation Room: [less than 1 line not declassified].
National Military Command Center: [less than 1 line not declassified].
National Security Agency: [less than 1 line not declassified].

II. Task Force Organization

If the two senior officers who are first alerted (S/CCT and the geographic Assistant Secretary) decide that a task force should be organized, the Executive Secretary should be so advised with a recommendation as to who should be designated Chairman.* Should there be a problem regarding designation of a Chairman, the Deputy Under Secretary for Management should be consulted. The Executive Secretary will issue a formal designation of Chairman on behalf of the Secretary or the Acting Secretary, inviting all bureaus to support him and the task force.

The Chairman, in consultation with the bureau and S/CCT (depending on who is Chairman), will rule on all actions relating to the incident and requiring Washington action, will delegate authority as appropriate, will seek higher authority, if needed, will request support from other offices, and will ensure that the post concerned receives full instructions and support.

The geographic bureau concerned will provide the necessary minimum personnel for the task force (officers and secretarial personnel) to supplement the small S/CCT staff. The S/CCT Chairman or representative and the Executive Director of the geographic bureau will consult on personnel required by the Chairman, who may determine that 24-hour manning of the task force is required.

Task forces vary, depending upon the circumstances, but the Chairman will generally choose among the following sources of specialists, some of whom will sit in the task force area of the Operations Center, some of whom will be on call. The country directorate or desk always provides representatives, as does S/CCT, whose expertise covers task force management, US policy, assistance from members of the Cabinet Committee/Working Group, and previous experiences with terrorists and terrorism: [Page 7]

  • —A/SY - [less than 1 line not declassified]
  • S/PRS [less than 1 line not declassified]. (unless it is determined that the geographic bureau should furnish a contact officer for the press).
  • L (to be arranged through the S/CCT representative).
  • DG/MED [less than 1 line not declassified] or the duty officer.
  • EB - [less than 1 line not declassified] (if airlines are involved).
  • —Military representative (consult with the Military representative in the Operations Center or, through the Operations Center, the National Military Command Center).
  • CIA (through the S/CCT representative).
  • FBI (through the S/CCT representative).
  • NSA (through the S/CCT representative).
  • —Department of Transportation/FAA (through the Operations Center or the S/CCT representative).
  • —Justice/FBI (through the S/CCT representative).
  • —Treasury/US Secret Service (through the S/CCT representative).
  • —Such others as the Chairman may require. (S/CCT, in his capacity as Chairman of the Cabinet Committee/Working Group, can assist in mustering other agency support.)

III. Initial Task Force Concerns and Actions

—Instructions to the principal officer concerned on handling of the incident within the context of US policy (see Enclosure #2). Such instructions should include:

Reminder to the host government of its responsibility to rescue the hostages and to protect other Americans who may be in danger.
Request for agreement with the host government on the primary objective—the safe return of the hostages—and on the collateral objective—apprehension of the terrorists.
Offer of all appropriate assistance to the host government in the rescue operation. (Examples: communications, negotiating tactics, stratagems.)
Reminder of the need for a steady flow of detailed information to the Department by the most expeditious means. Information needed: terrorists’ demands, number and identity of terrorists, number, identity and welfare of hostages.
Request for information on adequacy of post’s staff for dealing with the situation. Also, need for supplements to SY equipment (weapons, walkie-talkies, etc.).
Reminder of the necessity of coordination with the host government so that nothing will be said publicly which would jeopardize the rescue operation or increase the risk to the hostages. (See section on press guidance, Enclosure #3.)
Reminder of the necessity for consultation with the Department before any action or commitment is undertaken on behalf of the US Government. The Department expects the post to present periodic assessments, options with pros and cons and recommended actions.
Request for information from the post on the local task force structure, including names of responsible officers, telephone numbers, host government’s counterparts, etc.

—Adequacy of the post’s staff to deal with the emergency, including negotiations. (The FBI is prepared to consider making such personnel available if the Department has none.) If there is a need for additional personnel, they should be despatched from the nearest post(s) if possible or from Washington. Competent medical, including psychiatric, personnel are important in any hostage situation, not only in order to deal with the health of the hostages and the psychology of the terrorists, but also to cope with such anxieties as may be manifested by the families of the victims or by other personnel and dependents at the post.

—Need to alert other posts if the terrorist threat which precipitated the incident implies threats to other Americans or allies.

IV. Task Force Management

The objectives of the task force are basically: support of and guidance to the post concerned to rescue the American hostages and collaterally to do all that is feasible to apprehend the terrorists.

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The Director of the Operations Center will designate space for the task force after learning the requirements from the task force Chairman.

The Chairman and the Director will consult on the following:

Need for an open telephone line to the post, bearing in mind the high costs.
Coordination with OC/T on categories of messages which the task force would like to have in SCAT form.
Availability of telecon and teleprinter capabilities.
Adequacy of office supplies.
Coordination of telephone lines with other operations centers and agencies (including secure phones) and location of squawk boxes, television, and radio support.
Desirability of invoking minimize on traffic to the post concerned.

The Chairman will give early attention to the family or employer of the victim and to related Congressional interest. It is best to take the initiative in all these respects and to call such parties to announce the formation of a task force, to give reports on the welfare of the victim, and to designate one member of the task force to be in regular contact. A cardinal rule of task force management is to do the maximum to see that the family, employer and Congressional acquaintances have no legitimate complaints about the rescue operation. It probably will require one person’s full time. Congressional interest, even if not family-inspired, should be responded to in an equally active and meticulous fashion.

Behavioral science expertise, including psychiatry, is important in any terrorist situation. Initial contact should be made with the Medical Division ([less than 1 line not declassified] or the MED duty officer) to solicit behavioral techniques to help overcome the terrorists and to deal with the physical and mental health problems of the hostages. MED will advise if the Department need go to other agencies for assistance. CIA and the post should be requested to get any and all psychiatric background on the terrorists concerned and should recommend tactics vis-a-vis the terrorists which may be suitable in the circumstances. Resources which should be searched for possible information are [Page 10] CIA and FBI computer banks and, if applicable, the INS computers. The task force might be asked to gather personality information through local employees or authorities, the families or through observation of the terrorists if possible.

Press relations are important. This involves delegation to the Press Office or to the public relations office of the geographic bureau concerned because of the heavy workload and the expertise required. The Press Office or the bureau delegate should be an integral part of any task force, must be given fullest non-sensitive information, and should receive clear guidance from the Chairman. Another cardinal rule: The press should receive all appropriate information on the incident short of that which would jeopardize the rescue operation or the safety of the hostages. (See detailed press guidance, Enclosure #3.)

Keeping of a good log is imperative. (Separate instructions will be issued on this.) The Chairman should initiate a routine log procedure immediately upon creation of a task force.

Situation report needs (and TOSEC if the Secretary is absent) should be ascertained from the Deputy Director for Operations (DDO) in the Operations Center and should be implemented in the task force.

The Chairman should ensure that the DDO is kept fully informed on all major developments in the incident so that the appropriate Principals and other situations rooms (CIA, White House, Defense) can be informed. Principals and other situation rooms may choose to establish direct contact with the task force, or vice versa.

If the Chairman is absent from the task force, he should designate an officer-in-charge and so inform the DDO. The Chairman’s whereabouts must always be known to the task force.

The Chairman, after consulting with the geographic bureau, will determine what pattern of contact should be maintained with the Embassy concerned in Washington. Normally the geographic directorate or desk will maintain such liaison.

It is important to have visual aids on the physical set up at the scene of the terrorist act—floor plan, city maps, etc. The Operations Center [text not declassified], can assist on this.

V. After the Event

The Chairman of the task force should consult, even before the end of the affair, with the principal officer and with the geographic bureau (or S/CCT) on the following actions:

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In cases of release of hostages:
  • —Public statements to be made by Washington, the post, and the hostages.
  • —Medical examination of the hostages by prearranged medical personnel and facilities.
  • —Earliest debriefing by security and intelligence officers, as well as behavioral scientists, under the supervision of the principal officer in order to minimize the time and effort spent by the hostages in this process. Supplemental debriefing in Washington can follow but immediate debriefing has special advantages.
  • —Coordination on the family/Congressional/employer side so that the hostage makes the earliest contact with them.
  • —Appropriate messages from Washington or the post to the host government, the hostages, and other individuals or organizations which may have been helpful.
  • —Plans for the hostage’s return to the US or other safe haven.
  • —Whether it is prudent for the hostage to return to his post.
  • —Messages to governments concerning follow-up in pursuit of the terrorists who may have escaped.
In cases where the result is tragedy:
  • —Next of kin receive first notification and assistance.
  • —Who in the Department will be responsible for funeral and transportation arrangements en route and in the US. (Normally the country desk, SCS, and A.)
  • —Public statements in Washington and the field.
  • —Messages to governments concerning follow-up in pursuit of the terrorists who may have escaped.
The Chairman* should also:
  • —Compile fullest documentation on the incident for a permanent record.
  • —Conduct a review with all agencies concerned to determine lessons learned in the incident, including causes and motivations of the terrorists, likelihood of repetition of the incident, additional precautions which might be taken to protect our posts and citizens, changes which might be made in management of hostage situations in Washington and in the field, etc. Exchange views with the post on the review.
  • —Pursue vigorously the terrorists who may have escaped and ensure that they receive appropriate punishment. Follow them through appropriate channels should they currently be outside of the reach of appropriate prosecution.
[Page 13]

Enclosure 2


The US Government is concerned with the security of American citizens no matter where they may be even though legal responsibility for their protection rests with the country in which they are located. The US Government as employer, of course, has an additional protective responsibility for its employees caught in terrorist situations. If terrorists should seize Americans abroad, the US Government should remind the host government of its primary responsibility to cope with such terrorists and to effect the safe release of the American hostages, whether they enjoy diplomatic status or otherwise. Early agreement should be sought with the host government on that objective: the safe return of the hostages by whatever means may be appropriate and if possible without providing an incentive for future terrorism.

The US Government will be in closest contact with the host government and will support it with appropriate resources to help achieve that objective. The US Government cannot substitute for the host government in negotiations with the terrorists but reserves the right to counsel that government on all aspects of the rescue operation. If demands are made on the US Government, it will normally respond through the negotiating host government.

Should the matter of a monetary ransom arise, the US Government would make known that, as a matter of policy, it does not pay such money. While we believe that other governments, companies, and individuals should follow suit, the US Government has no legal means to restrain such parties if they choose to do otherwise.

The wishes and rights of the hostage’s family or employer must be borne in mind by the US Government, which will seek to harmonize them with those of the host government and within the context of the above policy considerations.

Ideally, the best outcome of an incident would be: (a) freedom and safety of the hostages; (b) no yielding to any of the terrorists’ demands; and, (c) arrest and punishment of the terrorists. [text not declassified]

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During and following an incident, the US Government should use every appropriate influence to induce governments to adhere to the-principle of arrest or extradition of terrorists. The full resources of the US Government should be used to pursue such terrorists and to see that they are brought to appropriate justice. The broadest multilateral cooperation should continue to be sought toward these ends in the UN, ICAO, and other appropriate forums. -Bilateral agreements such as the US-Cuba accord of February, 1973, and traditional extradition treaties also should include similar legal deterrents to terrorism.

The US Government should continue to identify the causes of international terrorism and should seek to remove them. When such causes are within the domain of other governments, such influence as the US Government may wish to exert naturally is restrained by the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of another country and by other interests which the US Government may be obliged to protect in those countries. The US example of an equitable system of justice, responsible government, and effective, legal counter-measures against terrorists should be not only a deterrent to violence at home but also an inspiration to other countries to follow similar patterns. The US Government wishes to share its counter-terrorism techniques with other governments but is even more eager to induce governments to see the merit, for anti-terrorist and other reasons, in the establishment of societies in which social-political-economic justice is ensured, thereby reducing legitimate grievances and the potential for terrorism to an absolute minimum.

[Page 15]

Enclosure 3


Relations with the press are crucial in any terrorist situation both at the Washington end and at the scene of the incident. There should be complete coordination in order that the USG speaks with one voice. We must, of course, give priority to the safe return of the hostages and to the apprehension of the terrorists. At the same time, we should cooperate with the responsible press, providing information and background which will not frustrate these primary objectives.

The form of contact with the press will be determined by the senior official concerned—the task force commander in Washington and the principal officer at the post concerned. Both individuals should include press advisers in their respective task forces. In the field, where the host government has responsibility for the rescue mission, prompt and continuing liaison should be effected between the post and the appropriate government agency to ensure that there is compatibility between Us and host government output.

Other considerations:

  • —Periodic backgrounders by the principal officer to selected press have been found useful in such instances as the Santo Domingo rescue [less than 1 line not declassified] as a supplement to regular host government and post briefings.
  • —Briefings might include the following philosophy, as appropriate: Terrorists are not heroes but rather criminals. Their threat to violate the right of life is intolerable in modern, peace-loving society. Political passion, no matter how deeply held, cannot be justification for violence against innocent persons. Until political terrorists accept such logic, they must be made to understand that it is unprofitable for them to kill innocents. Governments have a continuing obligation to protect their citizens from terrorist violence and can and should do so without violating other rights such as self-determination and individual liberty. (See Hoffacker speech in Department of State Bulletin, March 18, 1974.)
  • US policy, as outlined in Enclosure #2, should be borne in mind as the incident evolves so that US actions and reactions are understood in the proper perspective. Posts should not speculate publicly on possible modification of, that policy in the light of an incident underway. Washington guidance should be requested on any policy considerations or interpretations.
  • —If feasible, posts should include in their reporting public reaction (including media and official statements) to the incident.
  • —If the principal officer requires additional personnel to cope with heavy public relations demands connected with an incident, he should so request.

[Page 17]

Enclosure 4


I. Prior to an Incident

Study Washington procedure, policy considerations and press guidance (Enclosures 1, 2, and 3).
Devise a contingency plan for the post to dovetail into the Washington plan. Such a plan should consider:
The composition of the local task force which would respond to likely contingencies.
All agencies at the post must be fully cognizant of the plan and be contributing to it within their respective competences.
Designated area or areas in which the task force would convene.
Communications links (secure and otherwise) with Washington: cable, telephone, telecon, teleprinter, SSB.
Local communications links which might be useful in a rescue operation, including walkie-talkies, commercial facilities, host government facilities.
Rank order of decision-makers in the event the post’s ranking officers are held hostage by terrorists.
[2 lines not declassified]
[2 lines not declassified]
Unique health factors of each employee such as heart condition, special medications.
Coordination with subordinate posts so that plans dovetail.
Press relations (see section on Press Guidance, Enclosure #3).
Likely host government contacts in a terrorist incident.
Medical support for the hostages and for their families.
Psychiatric or other behavioral science support which might be called in.
Possible Washington support anticipated in personnel and material (if nearby posts cannot provide).
Possible earmarking of emergency equipment. (Suggested check list attached.)

II. When the Incident Occurs

The local task force commander might develop a check list along the following lines:

FLASH or telephone to the Department, attention Operations Center, which will alert S/CCT, the geographic bureau concerned, another agency if the employee is non-State, and others as specified in the Washington task force procedures (Enclosure #1).
Give fullest details, in consonance with good security if an open line is used, so that Washington can be of maximum support. Continue this process, bearing in mind the importance of a running telegraphic account of the incident for easy distribution in Washington for offices and agencies standing by to support the post in the rescue.* Periodic, numbered SITREPS are the usual form.
Establish contact with the Washington task force and agree on optional lines of communication and joint procedures.
Convene and initiate actions of the task force as prearranged or as circumstances of the incident dictate.
Establish earliest contact with the host government, reminding them of their responsibilities in the rescue, agreeing on the primary objective of safe return of the hostages, offering all appropriate assistance, acquainting them as appropriate with US policy considerations, establishing permanent liaison in whatever and in as many channels as may be profitable, and agreeing on a joint press policy.
Establish earliest contact with the family of the victim at the post and delegate an employee or employees to see that the family’s wishes and preoccupations are well considered. Advise the Washington task force which members of the family and Congress should be contacted in the emergency.
Even though instructions from Washington may not have arrived, analyze the situation in the light of US and host government policy considerations and make recommendations regarding USG actions. Continue this process with periodic assessments and recommendations.
Consider what additional precautionary measures might be taken by other Americans at the post, in the host country, or elsewhere.
[text not declassified]
Call the officer-in-charge of press relations to the task force and give him initial guidance.

III. After the Incident

Note items which the Chairman of the Washington task force will wish to discuss with the principal officer (Enclosure #1, Section IV).

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Attachment 1

[1 page not declassified]

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Attachment 2

[1 page not declassified]

[Page 22]

[Omitted here is Enclosure 5, Memorandum for Members of the Cabinet Committee to Combat Terrorism (With Attachment—Guidelines for Dealing with Terrorism with International Ramifications) pp. 22–30.]

Enclosure 6

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[4 pages not declassified]

Attachment 1

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[2 pages not declassified]

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P750027–0570. Confidential. Drafted on January 24 by Hoffacker; cleared in ARA, SCA, EA, NEA, AF, SY, EB, AID, EUR, USIA, L, S/S–O, DG/MED, S/PRS, S/P, DG; and approved by Brown. Enclosure 5 is published as Document 218. In the wake of the kidnapping and death of Consular Agent John Patrick Egan in Cordoba, Argentina in late February, the State Department circulated further revisions to A–775 in Airgram A–4709, July 10, 1975. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P750113–1050)
  2. The Airgram circulated procedures for responding to acts of terrorism against U.S. citizens abroad.
  3. Some incidents do not require formal task forces with personnel sitting permanently in the Operations Center. The geographic bureau Assistant Secretary and S/CCT will sometimes determine that an incident can be handled adequately at the bureau-S/CCT level.
  4. If the Chairman is not S/CCT, S/CCT should assume these responsibilities.
  5. If other agencies are reporting on the incident from a post, their messages should be slugged for the Department to the maximum extent possible.