270. Memorandum From Gary Sick of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Iran—Next Steps

From the perspective of our negotiating strategy, it is essential that we build on and reinforce the central message that the U.S. is prepared to use extreme measures to get our people released. It is that underlying factor which lends credibility and urgency to all the other measures we are able to take.

Nothing builds credibility more effectively than the fact that we believe in our own minds that there are valid options available to us. The underlying assurance and singleness of purpose in the various voices of the U.S. Government over the past several weeks has been unmistakable. That is an asset which must be preserved.

Any future rescue operation must work. A mere demonstration that we are willing to keep trying—and failing—will do more harm than good. In any systematic evaluation of possible alternative rescue plans, several key factors must be taken into account:

—Intelligence. We must at a minimum have confidence that we know where the hostages are being held and under what conditions. I suspect, as you do, that the Iranians may be bluffing about moving the hostages. But until we can confirm that with some degree of assurance, and until we can evaluate what changes have been introduced into the security patterns at the embassy (or elsewhere), any action would be irresponsible.

—Regional Support. The Sultan of Oman is now skittish, and all other regional parties are going to watch us like a hawk. We must get our fences mended, since we cannot conduct any kind of an operation without at least tacit cooperation and access to regional facilities.

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—Deception. The press, the Iranians, and all other observers—including the Soviets—will not be easily lulled a second time.

—Internal Unity of Purpose. Any new attempt must have the kind of dedicated purposefulness which went into the first. Certainly, an operation of this magnitude cannot be planned and run from the White House. Those who will be called upon to risk their lives must have a sense of participation. They must believe in what they are doing, not just be ordered to do it.

We learned some important lessons in the first operation. The most important was that the Iranians are as disorganized and vulnerable as we suspected. We can with some confidence deliver men and materiel to points inside Iran with considerable confidence of remaining undetected. We should absorb that fact into our future planning to look at new possibilities.

I recommend that a small group be assembled at some location (e.g. [less than 1 line not declassified] a Delta Team facility) for an extensive damage assessment effort. This would involve a total analysis of lessons learned, a complete assessment of assets and capabilities, and a mandate to recommend to the President alternative courses of action. This “total immersion” exercise should include, at a minimum, the key leaders of the team which made the recent attempt, the most capable and hard-nosed planners from the JCS, CIA operatives with on-the-ground experience and knowledge of overall Agency capabilities, and a few carefully selected individuals with knowledge of the political realities as well as an appreciation of the bureaucratic realities in this town. The group should be given at least a week to put something together.

There are a series of specific alternatives which this group could be asked to flesh out:

—Gradual infiltration of personnel on the ground in Tehran or vicinity, with a quick strike and evacuation by a few planes at the last minute.

—Establishment of a base camp in a tribal area or remote location in preparation for a quick “snatch” and evacuation.

—Examination of infiltration overland from Turkey by truck.

—A one-shot operation using a C–5 or several large transports with their own transportation (APCs?) operating from a location as near as possible to Tehran.

—“Commandeering” transportation from lightly guarded civilian (or even military) locations for initial exfiltration to the evacuation point.

—A quick and powerful military strike to be used in the event the situation suddenly deteriorates or hostages are being killed.

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The logistics and planning factors for any of these—and others which could be devised—are closely related. A careful examination of each should reveal strengths or technical possibilities which may fit together into a new plan. We simply do not have the necessary answers available to us here to make a judgment, and any attempt on our part to impose our own ideas on the JCS or others will only invite carping and naysaying from the professionals. They must be engaged in the process from the start. The best way to do that is a Presidential mandate to come up with an alternative plan (or plans) in which they are key participants.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office File, Box 65, Outside the System File, Iran Non-Meetings Hostage Crisis 4/80–11/80. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. A stamped notation in the upper right corner of the memorandum reads: “ZB has seen.”