296. Memorandum for the Record1

SUBJECT

  • Meeting at Agency with Pentagon Panel to Study Rescue Attempt [portion marking not declassified]

1. Subject meeting took place in the DCI Conference Room from 1400 to 1500 on Tuesday, 10 June. Attendees were:

a. Pentagon Panel

ADM James L. Holloway, USN (Ret.), Panel Chairman

LGEN. Leroy J. Manor, USAF (Ret.)

LGEN. Samuel V. Wilson, USA (Ret.)

MGEN. J. L. Piotrowski, USAF

MGEN. A. M. Gray, Jr., USMC

COL. Doughty, USAF, Panel Assistant

b. Agency personnel

DCI

John McMahon

[name not declassified]

Bob Ames

[name not declassified]

Bob Gates

[name not declassified]

2. The Director opened the meeting by stating that he would briefly cover those generic activities undertaken by the Intelligence Commu[Page 811]nity in support of the rescue operation. He noted that he would skip much of the detail and leave that, and any other questions the Panel might have, for them to address after he finished his opening remarks or to be followed up by the General Wilson-DDCI/John McMahon channel. He then categorized our intelligence support into five distinct areas:

—Positive intelligence

—Training in the US

—Planning and preparation assistance

—Execution of the operation

—Effect of secrecy [portion marking not declassified]

3. The Director then proceeded to describe our role in each of these five categories in more detail.

a. Positive intelligence

(1) He opened by saying that this was an undertaking shared in by the entire Community (State, NSA, CIA, DIA).

(2) He stated that our primary requirement had been to provide information on where the hostages were.

—He noted that we had high confidence that the hostages were, in fact, in the embassy.2 [5 lines not declassified] Prior to this windfall information we did have good confidence in the knowledge that the hostages were in the embassy, though there was always some question as to exactly how many hostages were in which specific building. The Director noted that the embassy compound was a very hard target to penetrate.

(3) We also had a requirement to provide intelligence on the compound and its environs.

—We were very good here. [4½ lines not declassified]

—[6 lines not declassified]

—[1½ lines not declassified] we were able to obtain the great amount of detail regarding the physical layout and conditions of the embassy, the stadium and other areas of interest to the planners of the operation.

(4) NSA support.

—He commented that NSA did a fine job of getting all the necessary information with regard to the Iranian radar and communications networks.

—[4½ lines not declassified]

—[3½ lines not declassified]

(5) CIA/DIA military reporting.

—He mentioned that a lot of collection, analysis and reporting had been done on the status of the Iranian military.

[Page 812]

—A general conclusion, which proved very useful, was that we judged that the military was not in a very effective or high state of readiness, especially for night air combat missions.

(6) Finally the Director mentioned that, in early January, he directed that a biweekly SITREP be provided to the Delta force.

—The purpose of this was to provide, at least biweekly, our best estimate as to the hostage locations.

—This was not represented as gospel, but rather provided to the task force commander in order to give him something concrete to factor into his planning.

b. Training. (The DCI noted this as primarily a CIA function.)

(1) He mentioned that we provided a secure site for 42 days during the November-December timeframe.

—We provided the entire logistics support for Delta during this time.

—He noted that their stay at our facility was kept entirely secret, both while Delta was there and even when they made three trips in and out.

(2) He noted that our personnel stayed with Delta force during the entire time that they were in training.

(3) He mentioned that, included in our logistical support, we provided the helicopter pilots with navigational training [1½ lines not declassified]. He said that this helo support was continuous and was even provided on the Nimitz, where our personnel zeroed all the equipment just prior to lift-off. (The Director then remarked to ADM Holloway that he had been somewhat surprised that our people were able to provide this type of service and training to qualified military pilots.)

(4) In addition to the above the Director mentioned that all Delta’s requirements, e.g. arms, equipment, etc. were provided by the Agency.

c. Planning and preparation assistance

(1) [3½ lines not declassified]

(2) [1½ lines not declassified]

—[4 lines not declassified]

—[4½ lines not declassified]

(3) In another vein, the Director commented on our role in selecting Desert 1.

—He noted that, while this was a military operation, we were able to offer some ideas or suggestions at various points.

—In January, the planning centered around staying overnight at a captured airfield. This would have entailed holding the airfield, and all those therein, for about 32 hours. We, as well as some others at DoD, were somewhat leery about whether this could be done with the required secrecy.

[Page 813]

—The Agency then began examining photos of desert areas to see if another alternative might be possible. This led to the identification of Desert 1 as a possibility.

—The Director then described the OTTER mission. [4½ lines not declassified]

—He noted that while this (the OTTER flight) was conceived of in January, permission to carry out the mission was not received until the March full moon timeframe.

(4) Communications support

—[3½ lines not declassified]

—[9 lines not declassified]

(5) Farsi-speaking drivers.

—He noted that we had provided the force with this capability.

—[1½ lines not declassified]

—[2½ lines not declassified]

d. Execution phase

(1) The primary intelligence contribution was that provided [less than 1 line not declassified].

—This enabled us to know that one of the aircraft (a C–130) had been detected.

—[less than 1 line not declassified] the Iranian report was confused and it subsequently got lost in the air control network.

—After the landing at Desert 1, and the subsequent unfortunate events, [less than 1 line not declassified] indicated that the word had gotten out.

(2) [2½ lines not declassified]

—[1½ lines not declassified]

e. Secrecy

(1) The Director alluded to the fact that he had just read a report (on 9 June) from John McMahon3 that raised an interesting issue: that the operation may have been so secretive that undue risks may have been incurred.

—The Director commended to ADM Holloway that he and his group look into what price needed to be paid for a given level of secrecy involved in any future joint task force operation.

(2) The DCI stressed that only two individuals in the Agency knew that an official “go” had been given.

—He noted that many more, however, had been told to be ready to “go,” but stressed that even among those in the room, only he knew that a specific decision had been made.

[Page 814]

(3) Again the Director asked, rhetorically, whether we could have blown the whole operation because of too much secrecy (he again commended Holloway that some comment in their report dealing with this would be useful).

(4) Further on this, the Director noted that we were lucky that NSA had been tipped off and used for the OTTER operation.

—Thus they already knew which nets, etc. to monitor when they were told at the last minute to man up.

—The Director noted in passing that, for subsequent phases of the operation, NSA had not had the benefit of any rehearsal; but since those phases were not undertaken, we do not know how the absence of such a rehearsal would have affected NSA’s performance.

(5) On this secrecy matter, however, the Director noted that the White House was very pleased with the secrecy that was maintained. [portion marking not declassified]

4. At the completion of the DCI’s remarks, ADM Holloway made the following points:

a. They were working for the Joint Chiefs.

b. Their ultimate objective was to recommend to the Joint Chiefs an organization and procedure for dealing with this type of thing in the future, i.e. whether and how to maintain a permanent joint task force in the field.

c. Regarding disclosure policy, he noted that the Panel had been aware of this as a problem for them to address from early on in their review of the operation.

—He noted that they had found that the people closest to the problem (Beckwith and Vaught) had a greater appreciation of tight security.

—They viewed the possibility of a leak with real concern, seeing that it could perhaps culminate in an ambush situation. [portion marking not declassified]

5. There then followed a brief period of questions and answers (summarized below).

Q (Holloway): [4 lines not declassified]

A (DCI): [3 lines not declassified]

—[2½ lines not declassified]

—[4½ lines not declassified]

—[9 lines not declassified]

—[5½ lines not declassified]

—He mentioned his concern that, as the military viewed the “success” of team “A” as a “piece of cake,” it could pose problems in this regard and lead them to be overly optimistic.

Holloway, and some of the others, expressed sympathy for this point of view.

[Page 815]

Q (Holloway): Noting that one of the reasons for their visit (and one of their charges in general) was to explore what interfaces (with a future joint task force) would be necessary. He asked for our view on this (while noting that he felt that such Agency-JTF interface would be essential).

A (McMahon): He described both the routine interface with DoD and the specific involvement on this mission.

—[2 lines not declassified]

—He also described that our terrorist branch works regularly with the Delta force both in terms of providing information and in training.

—For the rescue operation he noted that we expanded our liaison with the Delta force in order to provide training and logistical support, and that we provided [less than 1 line not declassified] liaison to the Pentagon for planning assistance.

—Further on the rescue support he noted that we virtually opened our warehouses as far as paramilitary stocks, operational devices, equipment, etc. were concerned in order to ensure that the team had everything it needed for advance training.

Q (Holloway): He advised that the Panel’s preliminary view was that any future, permanent Task Force would be a field organization and would include the Delta force, dedicated transport, some Navy personnel and equipment (e.g. SEALS, possibly a submarine) and a command liaison cell in Washington (most likely in the JCS special operations area). He wondered how we thought the interface would, or should, be carried out in this case.

A (DCI): He stressed that there are a number of areas for interface, at different levels, and that such interface with the Agency is essential.

—He noted that future operations involving this JTF would be run as a military operation; but he mentioned that there is a need for the incorporation of clandestine skills [3 lines not declassified].

Holloway then made the following comment:

—He said the Panel had discussed (but they had not yet reached any firm resolution) the fact that the JTF would most likely be a military organization.

—The JTF was to be prepared for an NSC decision that a given operation was to be a DoD responsibility as opposed to (a) a negotiation approach to the problem (Holloway referred to this as a State responsibility); or (b) a clandestine approach to the problem (Holloway referred to this as an area of CIA responsibility).

—i.e. their focus to date was to determine how, when the Chiefs were told to execute an operation, they could best do it.

Q (Manor): He asked whether the initial detection by the Iranians had been picked up by their radar and whether it was a C–130 or a helo.

A (DCI): It was a visual sighting of a C–130; it was not a radar detection.

[Page 816]

Q (Manor): He was very interested in the lighting which had been installed at Desert 1 and asked for some more details.

A (DCI): [8 lines not declassified]

Q (Manor): He asked if we were involved in the choosing of Desert 1.

A (DCI): He responded that we were and that the Desert 1 site was the result of our own initiative.

Q (Gray): Referring to the Director’s comments on security he noted that there must clearly be some sort of balance between secrecy and potential compromise. He asked whether the Agency could monitor the scope of activity in order to determine if the number of those aware of an operation, or the activity involved, was getting too great.

A (DCI): [3 lines not declassified]

Q (Piotrowski): Further on this question of monitoring security he asked whether we could provide information as to whether ten versus eight helos could or should be used (this from a security standpoint).

A (DCI): He suggested that this was more something for the Delta force to do; that they could perhaps best perform the mathematics and be the judge of what was detectable versus what was necessary.

John McMahon then commented that we were, however, carefully monitoring various communications nets in order to ascertain whether any security breach had occurred, but all we found was “business as usual.”

—The Director then mentioned an incident at Diego Garcia where some sailor commented to a Navy commander and one of our people that he had figured out why all of this activity was going to the Nimitz; he told them he guessed that they were going to be conducting a rescue of the hostages; at this point the Navy commander took the sailor with him to the Nimitz, thereby preventing his discussing his “educated guess” with anyone else.

Q (Piotrowksi): He noted that the arrival of the fuel trucks and the bus at Desert 1 proved to be an unfortunate circumstance; he then asked whether this site, so close to a road, was the only site or whether there were alternatives.

A (DCI): He responded that this was the only site that we had seen in photography and subsequently checked out on the ground.

—He said the plan was initially to land on the road, but that when the OTTER made its reconnaissance the crew found that they could, in fact, land on the desert.

—He said that we had seen nowhere else that we were as confident of for use as a landing zone.

—He mentioned that we were, at the time the “go” was given, looking at another option which involved the dropping of fuel bladders into the desert, but that there had been no time to organize for, or explore, that option further before the operation was ordered.

[Page 817]

—As regards the concern for traffic in the area, he noted that when the OTTER landed, several autos went by; he emphasized, therefore, that it was no surprise that traffic was on the road—in fact, that that is why a special Ranger unit was taken in on the 130s: to deal with any traffic that did come by.

Q (Gray): He wanted to return again to the operational security issue. As they conducted their review of the planning process, he had become concerned that this operation was so compartmentalized that there was insufficient participation in the review of the plan through its various stages, noting that the Panel had been unable to find anyone except the DoD and JCS principals themselves who were aware of, and briefed on, the entire plan. He asked whether we thought that, with more leeway on the security issue, we could not have had a greater sense of confidence in whatever plan was developed.

A (DCI): Noting that he wanted to be candid, he said that, at least three times during the plan’s development, he had not been entirely sure of what was going on; and he was concerned because he wanted to make sure that we were providing what was both wanted and needed in order to enhance the plan’s success.

—He said that he saw Vaught on several occasions, but that Vaught was expressing a need for many things at once, whereas what we needed to understand was a priority listing of what was wanted so that we could dedicate our resources accordingly (since our limited resources did not permit meeting all of Vaught’s requests simultaneously).

—He mentioned that on several occasions he had to ask CJCS to go over the plan in order to see if we were providing what was needed.

—He commented that he had never seen a written plan, and mentioned that the closest we got to this was simply as a result of our [less than 1 line not declassified] liaison assigned to the Pentagon.

—He mentioned that one of the unfortunate results of this (unawareness of the details of the entire plan) was that we did not know, nor did anyone ask us about, the taking of [less than 1 line not declassified] communications equipment and imagery products along in the helos which were going to be left behind; he opined that the resulting compromise of these materials may have been the result of the absence of any detailed review of the plans by all concerned.

Q (Gray): He underscored his concern for what the Director had just described (the lack of adequate review which led to the unnecessary compromise of classified material). He stated that he was all for an unconventional JTF, one which, of necessity, would be small and well-trained; but he stressed that it was his belief that we (the USG) must always be reliant on other forces, whether attached to CINCs or whether belonging to the CIA. He was concerned that the JTF might migrate into the “roles and missions” of other agencies or organizations (noting that any JTF that tried to do all that some were considering doing would, in fact, be bigger than the CIA).

[Page 818]

In this same vein, John McMahon commented that, early on in our relationship with Delta force (pre-rescue), Charlie Beckwith had wanted a CIA capability integrated into Delta which would provide for total world and regional expertise. He mentioned that he had told Charlie that we could not have two CIAs, and the matter was dropped.

A (DCI): He said that he recognized that, generally speaking, the Agency is not in the business of being operators in the unconventional field; he did note that our involvement was primarily in two areas: (a) we do get involved in clandestine reconnaissance; and (b) our paramilitary involvement has primarily been as advisers of others, who in fact form the bulk of any force, e.g. the operations in Laos.

—He recommended that as the Panel look at what they want a JTF to do, that they start at the very beginning, and look at the full spectrum of what might be required, e.g. infiltration, sabotage, clandestine penetrations, etc., and not just focus on the military phase.

—He opined that if, when dealing with hostage rescue, there is an alternative to a military operation, it might be an operation which relies on stealth and clandestine activities. He said that the country needs to have this capability; the question is the where and the how.

Holloway then commented that he thought the Director had made a good point: that a capability gap now exists between the application of force and the application of stealth.

—He said that the more people with helos and guns, etc. that get involved in an operation, the more like an act of war such an operation becomes, and this has its own problems, and that therefore numbers become important.

Further on this the Director commented that he was not necessarily anxious to put our paramilitary capability into an operational mode, but, since he felt the country needed this option, it was something that he commended the Panel to look into. He also suggested that they might need to check the legal aspects of this as well.

Q (Wilson): He asked whether there had been an intelligence judgment of the Iranian reaction which would follow a “successful” rescue of the hostages.

A (DCI): He replied that this had been looked into and that analysis of this had been provided to those involved in planning the operation.

—He noted that there was a possibility of action being taken against other US persons who might be in Iran (e.g. news media representatives), but that it was not clear that the government of Iran would take this action (since it was the militants, not the government which had seized the compound). [6 lines not declassified]

—He then described some of the other likely reactions, including the possible strengthening of the left, the almost sure strengthening of Khomeini’s position with an attendant anti-American focus, and the fact that we did not believe that such an operation would necessarily result in direct Soviet involvement.

[Page 819]

(Bob Ames [less than 1 line not declassified] concurred in this general summation.) [portion marking not declassified]

6. At this point the meeting adjourned and the Panel members left. Any subsequent requests for information will be relayed by Sam Wilson, either to John McMahon or the DDCI. [portion marking not declassified]

J.H. Rixse PB/NSC Coordinator
  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, Job 82M00501R: 1980 Subject Files, Box 14, Folder 1. Secret; [handling restrictions not declassified]. Other assessments of the rescue operation from various parts of the CIA are ibid.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 264.
  3. Memorandum from McMahon to Turner, June 9. (Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, Job 82M00501R: 1980 Subject Files, Box 14, Folder 1)