146. Letter from the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (Bayh) and the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (Goldwater) to President Carter1

Dear Mr. President:

On January 9, the Select Committee on Intelligence met to discuss with the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mr. Frank Carlucci, the purposes and details of two covert action programs for Iran and Afghanistan which you had approved on December 27 and 28, 1979.2 This extraordinary meeting of the Committee was convened [Page 385] during a recess because of the urgent nature of these programs and their far-reaching consequences.

As a result of the meeting, the Committee is of the view that the decisions to seek an alternative government in Iran and to send increased support to the Afghan tribal groups in Afghanistan, in different ways, mark a crucial turning point in U.S. foreign policy.

The Committee decided that it is necessary to understand the overall strategy of the United States before a fully reasoned judgment can be made concerning the wisdom or efficacy of the covert action programs for Iran and Afghanistan. Some members were of the view that they did not understand how these programs fitted into an overall strategy. Indeed, the political action program was described by the CIA as only a part of a larger policy on Iran. It is clear, however, that such a significant decision to seek an alternative to Khomeini will set forces in motion which the United States will not be able to control fully. Although there is no present intention of supporting opposition groups with military assistance or in any way encouraging the use of violence, both of these may result because of movements now underway. Because of these concerns, the Committee intends to invite Secretary of State Vance and Secretary of Defense Brown to meet with the Committee in the near future to discuss with the Committee how these covert action programs in Iran and Afghanistan fit in with our broader foreign policy.

All of the members of the Committee, without exception, fully support the desire of the Executive branch to work for a stable, pro-Western, democratic Iran. The Committee is cognizant of and sympathetic with the Administration’s frustration in dealing with the Revolutionary Council and the Ayatollah Khomeini. The Committee is, of course, fully in support of efforts to obtain the release of American hostages held by Iranian students at the American Embassy in Teheran. Some members, however, were concerned that the risks attendant to this covert action program could place the hostages in greater jeopardy.

[1 paragraph (27 lines) not declassified]

Another point of view which was expressed, urged the development of stable long-term alternatives to the Khomeini government through friendly third parties such as Turkey. It was argued that Turkey and the United States have a number of common interests in working towards a more stable friendly Iran. Further, it was argued involving Turkey in such an effort could lead to more support from Congress, to better, more stable relations between the U.S. and Turkey, as well as a stronger Turkish government.

The Committee requested the Intelligence Community to keep it advised of the steps taken in this project. It is the particular desire of the Committee that it should be advised of the principal figures and [Page 386] groupings that are being considered for such a future government and wishes to be assured that the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, as well as those with long experience in the political affairs of Iran, have been consulted. Also, that you and your principal advisors have carefully reviewed the nature of contacts, any obligations entered into, and the long-term consequences of such relationships.

The covert action Finding regarding Afghanistan was developed before the Soviet invasion and overthrow of the Amin government, although final action on the Finding was not completed until after those events. Members of the Committee noted that the level of assistance envisaged in December was not likely to suffice in the face of Soviet arms. If the Afghan rebels are to hold out successfully then it would seem necessary to provide more arms appropriate for use against Soviet helicopter gunships, if not against jet fighters. On the other hand, if it is in the interest of resistance groups over the long run, they may be better served by refraining from premature offensives against Soviet troops rather than giving more arms to disorganized and independent groups which may only invite their tragic slaughter.

Some members of the Committee suggested that the United States pursue a policy of overt support for the Afghan resistance groups emphasizing regional cooperation and involvement. The extremely delicate relations between India and Pakistan were discussed. Some members emphasized the need for the United States to show in a public manner its ability to take useful action in the interests of Moslem states. On the other hand, the Committee understands the problem posed by the reluctance of Pakistan and other Moslem states to be publicly identified with the United States or to provide the Soviet Union with explicit confirmation of their role in support of the Afghan rebels.

In conclusion, the Committee is of the firm view that covert action may be an adjunct but is not a substitute for coherent U.S. policy and strategy toward the Middle East, South Asia or the Soviet Union. There is a deep concern that covert action should not be relied upon to salvage almost impossible situations, for this often results in operations which are themselves unlikely either to succeed or to remain covert. It is for these reasons that the Committee believes it should closely follow the development of these programs.

The Committee valued the opportunity to discuss with the CIA the details and consequences of these two crucial programs. The Committee is mindful that the Congress has undertaken to share responsibility for such programs. This responsibility is most effectively met when the full facts and circumstances are considered in a season when consultation and advice can be exchanged. The Committee recognizes that we have entered into a very dangerous time and we want to assure you [Page 387] of our intention to work with you in a responsible way to strengthen our nation’s interests.


  • Birch Bayh
  • Barry Goldwater
    Vice Chairman
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Box 98, Meetings File, 1/14/80 SCC re Iran. Top Secret; Sensitive. In the upper right corner of the letter, Carter wrote: “Not their role to make policy. J.”
  2. For the finding on Iran, see Document 110. For the finding on Afghanistan, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XII, Afghanistan, Document 107, footnote 6.