99. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Saunders) and the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Bowdler) to Secretary of State Vance 1


  • Extraction of the Six Americans From Tehran

The Canadians have conveyed to us their great nervousness and sense of urgency about taking decision on their houseguests. Essentially, the Canadians have two concerns:

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—What are U.S. plans for removing the six?2

—What should Canadians do if there is an uprising in Tehran and the Canadian premises are threatened by a mob? What steps should be taken if the story breaks in the press? The Ambassador wants guidance as to whether he should turn the six into the Foreign Ministry, the compound, or a third embassy.

On the first question, the CIA continues to examine feasible alternatives as to the best plan for extracting the six. Although these details have not been worked out, new American passports have been prepared for them in false names. These can be dispatched by Canadian or other special courier once a decision is reached on a specific cover story which will enable the last details to be added to the passports. We can then send instructions by cable providing details on identities and plans for movement out of Tehran.

The chief problem at CIA is that none of the alternatives is without serious risks. CIA has devoted most of its efforts to a plan [1½ lines not declassified] and they are examining implementation arrangements in great detail. [3 lines not declassified] CIA has been unwilling to use a journalistic cover because of prohibitions in that regard on the agency. However, we think that the same prohibitions need not apply to American diplomats requiring exfiltration in these circumstances and we believe this means should be considered. At any rate, we will work closely with CIA to resolve these issues within the next few days.

In the meantime, we suggest that we tell the Canadians that we are urgently addressing the question of exfiltration, and we would welcome any specific recommendations that Ambassador Taylor might have. We could also send him a few questions that we need to have answered.

On Taylor’s second concern, we propose that we advise him in the event of danger to the six or a press story that his first preference be to move them to the Foreign Ministry. If that is not possible, he should surrender them to the Swiss Ambassador on behalf of the Red Cross. If you agree with these alternatives, we should brief the Swiss Ambassador here, advising him that we consider this step unlikely, but requesting his assistance in arranging for emergency care.

We would like to discuss these issues with you to receive your guidance.

  1. Source: Department of State, Records of David D. Newsom, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Subject Files, 1978–1981, Lot 81D154, Data on Hostages. Secret; Nodis. Sent through Newsom.
  2. See Document 64.