277. Summary of Conclusions of a Special Coordination Committee Meeting1


  • Iran


  • State

    • Acting Secretary Warren Christopher
    • David Newsom*
    • Harold Saunders*
  • OSD

    • W. Graham Claytor
    • Robert Komer*
  • JCS

    • Lt. Gen. John Pustay
  • CIA

    • Admiral Stansfield Turner
  • White House

    • Zbigniew Brzezinski
    • David Aaron
    • Lloyd Cutler*
    • Hedley Donovan*
    • Jody Powell**
  • NSC

    • Gary Sick

*Present only for items 1–3

**Present only for items 1–4


1. Iran Strategy. It was agreed that the regular Thursday2 morning meeting would be replaced by a PRC meeting chaired by State to examine: (1) the diplomatic strategy paper prepared by State;3 (2) the related strategy concerning allied sanctions to go into effect on May 17, whether we wish to press the allies to include existing contracts as well as future contracts with Iran, and the problem created by the anticipated simultaneous meeting of the Islamic Conference; and (3) claims legislation and whether it should include standby authority to vest Iranian assets. (S)

[Omitted here is material unrelated to the hostage crisis.]

(At 9:20 a.m., the SCC was reduced to key principals.)

[Page 761]

4. CIA Testimony. Admiral Turner is to testify tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. on the rescue mission before the Oversight Committee.4 The Committee is outraged at efforts to keep them from learning about covert actions taken (and money spent) on support of the later phases of the rescue operation. They insist they have a statutory right to be informed, and retaliation by cutting off or reducing the Reserve Fund is a likely consequence of refusing information. [5 lines not declassified]

This question raised the entire issue of whether or not we could or should continue to hold to the line of not discussing any aspects of the operation after Phase I.5 Mr. Claytor noted that the Defense witnesses were getting very tough treatment in the Congress on their refusal to discuss anything after Phase I. We are being seriously damaged by the torrent of press leaks, which give the impression that everyone is learning of the operation except the Congress. There is great pressure to confirm or deny information appearing in the press. Evans and Novak intend to publish a column tomorrow indicating that the Administration is out of control and damaging U.S. security by lack of discipline on leaks.6 It is impossible for the DCI to discuss aspects of the operation after Phase I while denying comparable treatment to the Armed Services Committees. There is also the question of whether the Iranians have access to compromised information that we are unwilling to share with the Congress. (S)

The SCC agreed to go back to the President with a request that he reconsider his instructions not to discuss activities of the post-Phase I operation. Massive leaks are destroying the credibility of this approach, and we are being seriously hurt in Congress where it appears we have something to hide. Press interest has died down, but the pressure in Congress is growing stronger. All recognized that, once the point is breached, it will be difficult if not impossible to prevent additional details of the operation from leaking out. There are several specific aspects which could and should be protected, however: (1) the use of foreign facilities, [less than 1 line not declassified]; (2) identification and location of airfields to be used inside Iran; (3) specific details about [Page 762] special equipment used on the helos and in other parts of the operation; and (4) any estimates of possible casualties. (TS)

5. Covert Action on Iran. The SCC reviewed a CIA proposal for stepping up our covert action on Iran, which was slowed down during the negotiating phase. No additional findings are required. The essential question is where we should place our primary emphasis. The CIA paper proposed advisory assistance to Bakhtiar and Oveissi, each of whom is beginning to cooperate independently with the Iraqis. Our objective would be to exploit the existing organization, but attempt to assist them to pull the various groups together and add more realism to their planning [less than 1 line not declassified]. (TS)

Dr. Brzezinski noted that this was essentially an external strategy and he questioned the wisdom of becoming too closely identified with the Bakhtiar/Oveissi group as the central organizing point when they are subject to manipulation by the Iraqis. [1½ lines not declassified] We have seen that the situation is chaotic and the country porous. [15½ lines not declassified] (TS)

Mr. Christopher expressed strong reservations about the wisdom of supporting Bakhtiar and Oveissi. [1½ lines not declassified] On balance, his expectations with regard to Bakhtiar/Oveissi were more minus than plus. We risk anointing them as the recognized leaders of the exile forces. They have been discredited by their relationship with the Shah and they are bad horses for us to ride. He did not object to some level of contact with them, however. (TS)

Admiral Turner said he thought there was little likelihood we would be able to subvert members of the revolution. There is too much anti-Americanism. Bakhtiar and Oveissi are currently fighting an uphill battle since the myth persists that the U.S. actually brought down the Shah, put Khomeini in place, and that we are secretly supporting an outcome which would favor Khomeini’s leadership. That may be ridiculous on the face of it,7 but it is prevalent among the groups opposing Khomeini and it inhibits their ability to organize effectively. A clear decision on our part to support Bakhtiar and Oveissi would overcome that misperception. (TS)

[2½ lines not declassified] Mr. Christopher noted that he was not persuaded that support for Bakhtiar and Oveissi would result in expanding contacts inside the country. On the contrary, it is likely to complicate efforts to develop such contacts. Dr. Brzezinski said that our plan should think through the implications of support for Bakhtiar/[Page 763] Oveissi and insure that we use them for our own larger purposes rather than being used by them and the Iraqis for their own purposes. (TS)

Admiral Turner said he would go to work on such a plan. [3½ lines not declassified] Mr. Christopher said we should not get ourselves in the position of making Bakhtiar our chosen instrument. Dr. Brzezinski said we should not encourage Bakhtiar and Oveissi to move forward at this time. (TS)

Approve development of a strategy focusing primarily on the internal politics of Iran, rather than on an external approach. (TS)

Offer monetary and planning assistance to Bakhtiar. (TS)

Maintain contact with Bakhtiar, but withhold significant monetary and advisory assistance until an alternative strategy has been considered.8 (TS)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box 113. Top Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. Carter wrote “Zbig, J” in the upper right corner.
  2. May 8.
  3. See Document 273.
  4. Turner’s prepared testimony before the Senate and House Intelligence Committees is in Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, Job 82M00501R: 1980 Subject Files, Box 14, Folder 1. The declassified JCS report on the hostage rescue operation was submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee under a May 6 covering memorandum from Brown. (Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff Records, RG 218–07–0002, Records of J–3 DDSO, Box 11, Iranian Hostage Crisis 1979–1984, [unfoldered material]) Vaught’s prepared remarks before the Senate Armed Services Committee, May 7, are ibid.
  5. Phase I was that part of the mission up to and including Desert One.
  6. “The New Leakers” by Rowland Evans and Robert Novak who wrote the widely syndicated political column “Inside Report.” (Washington Post, May 7, 1980, p. A19)
  7. Carter underlined the phrase “ridiculous on the face of it” and wrote in the left margin: “It’s ridiculous all the way through.”
  8. Carter approved the first and third options with checkmarks and initialed “J” beneath the options.