November 4, 1979: Iranian Mob Attacks US Embassy Tehran; Hostages Compensated $50/Day

— Domani Spero

Thirty four years ago today, the US Embassy in Tehran was taken over by a mob of Iranian students supporting the Iranian Revolution.  52 embassy employees were held hostage for 1 year, 2 months, 2 weeks and 2 days until their release on January 20, 1981.

Below are some excerpts from ADST’s Oral History project’s interviews with Ambassador Bruce Laingen, the chargé d’affaires at that time,  Ambassador John W. Limbert who was assigned as Political Officer at the  US Embassy in Tehran from 1979-1981, and Penelope Laingen, the wife of Ambassador Laingen.

Bruce Laingen | Read The Iran Hostage Crisis Part I and Ambassador Laingen’s interview:

“Their real intent was not to get the Shah back, despite the slogans that were so useful to them in that sense to get passions in the streets aroused. Their intent was to use that device to destabilize and undermine the provisional government of the revolution and to facilitate a greater role for the more radical elements.

At any rate, it did not seem that the situation was all that bad at the outset. In retrospect we should have begun destruction earlier. I, obviously as chief of mission, had that responsibility and today bear that responsibility for the way in which not enough of our classified documentation was destroyed. We had too much, we started too late, and we had equipment that was not the best….

Of course, a lot of the paper that did not seem to have that urgency of destruction, including unclassified biographical material, would also in time prove to be a very damaging element of the situation, because lots of that stuff has Central Intelligence Agency logo stamped on it even if it is unclassified. That was enough to fire the fury of the more radical elements of the revolution, even though it was material of an unclassified, descriptive nature. That was sufficient to cause a great deal of pain and hurt to a lot of Iranians.

And that is the real pain that I have felt since. Not that our security was threatened, our strategic interests, or political interests in Iran and the region. They were not seriously affected by what was leaked. It was clear in any event at that point that our relationship with the Iranians was not going to be reestablished very soon. But the human hurt for a lot of people in Iran because of the way we were not able to destroy incriminating documentation, that is the legacy that hurts me very much today.”

John Limbert | Read more here or his interview here.

“I did probably one of the most stupid things I’ve ever done in my Foreign Service career. I volunteered to go out and talk to these guys. I’m a Persian speaker, so perhaps I can go out and see if we can defuse this someway, or delay it, defuse it, divert it. We did not see these guys being armed or anybody getting hurt. So that’s what I did. I went out, they opened the door, I went out the door and started talking to these guys. And at first they were shocked, because they thought I was an Iranian. I kept reassuring them, “No, no, no, I’m not an Iranian, I’m an American employee of the embassy, you should get out of here.” I took my most professorial tone with them and was as overbearing as I could be and saying, “You are where you should not be. You have no business here. You should get out as soon as you can. You are causing trouble. Who do you think you are?” So forth and so on. And they weren’t having any of it.

I’ll tell you a little story about this. About 1991 or ’92 there was a made-for-TV movie about the hostage taking. It wasn’t a great bit of moviemaking but it was not bad. And part of the movie shows this particular incident, where the actor playing me goes out to talk to these guys and gets taken. I was showing this at one point to an audience, using this as an example and one of the people in the audience, perhaps he didn’t realize this character was supposed to be me and in this stage whisper said, “God, what an idiot!” although he didn’t use the word “idiot.” He used a more anatomical descriptor. True, I must admit he had a point. I’ve always called this the low point of my Foreign Service career and my least successful negotiation.”

Penelope Laingen | Read her 1986 interview here.

“In my whole history of being connected to the Foreign Service, whenever I’d started a project, for instance — I am a writer and I had three chapters written in a novel and my teacher said “You have a real winner here and should get an agent now” — then, Bruce was taken hostage, so I put that away and I’ve not gotten back to it. I will someday, I hope. I had also upholstered a chair and I had everything but the back done when we went to Malta, (so I had to put that away, too). I mean, it’s just been a history of deferring or putting aside something. So when he was taken hostage, I just had to put everything else out of my mind and concentrate on that. I also called all my training in the Foreign Service to bear, even though I felt I had been “dismissed” by the Foreign Service.

[…]

So, here we come to the hostage crisis, a terribly public, international crisis, where you are on television. I think most people recognize and say, okay, this is the wife of the Chief of Mission (and how she behaves reflects not only on her husband, but perhaps on the whole Foreign Service or on Americans on the world scene). If I had gone on television and cried nightly, if I’d flown off to Iran and called the President stupid or the Government’s policy stupid, I think I would have heard in two minutes just how private a person I was! (I would have been reprimanded by the very Department of State which had proclaimed me to be a private person with no responsibility to my husband’s career). I mean, I’m being sarcastic and I realized I wasn’t a private person. You can’t be a private person. You are a part of the Foreign Service and particularly when you are on the public stage like that. It’s a public life. How can you be a private person in a public life? See, this is what Sandra Gotlieb found out. You cannot be a private person in a public arena. There’s no way.

So, the hypocrisy of this official policy has just gnawed no end at me. And I got no support from the Department in that role. I got sort of superficial support. Well, not even that, not even that.
[…]

One thing that made it difficult was the lack of esprit de corps among the families. I mean, we had never served together, so that was one of the drawbacks. And there were all different services involved. There’s a study done of fourteen hostage wives. Those of us who had served the longest in the Foreign Service expected the most, yet felt we had received the least support. Those foreign-born spouses in the group expected nothing and were deeply grateful for whatever they received in the way of support. They had no great expectations of the Department, which was perhaps a cultural difference. And the military wives felt they received the greatest support, which they did, and in return kept their allegiance to those services in tact. I believe Sheldon Krys and other Department managers did the best they could under the circumstances, but they had much to learn from the Iran crisis in the management of families during a crisis. It was always a source of great disappointment to me, for instance, that not once during the crisis did any of my husband’s colleagues offer to take our youngest son to a basketball game or call to inquire about the house or other personal matters. It was up to us unite ourselves and support one another in that personal way.”

According to the CRS report dated September 2013, “the former hostages and their families did receive a number of benefits under various civil service laws, and each hostage received from the U.S. government a cash payment of $50 for each day held hostage. The hostages have never received any compensation from Iran through court actions, all efforts having failed due to foreign sovereign immunity and an executive agreement known as the Algiers Accords, which bars such lawsuits.”   Also see this Brief from USDOJ before SCOTUS dated April 2012.  See  Roder, et.al v. Iran to catch up on the litigation history.

So 444 days by $50 is exactly $22,200.00.

Currently in Congress, is Senate bill S. 559, the Justice for Former American Hostages in Iran Act of 2013, which would establish a fund to compensate the former hostages. The American Hostages in Iran Compensation Fund would pay to each former hostage or estate of a former hostage $150,000 plus $5,000 per each day of captivity ($2.37 million total per former hostage).  Over at the House, the Justice for the American Diplomats Held Hostage in Tehran Act, H.R. 904, was introduced and referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice.  Each former hostage or estate of a former hostage would receive $10,000 for each day of captivity ($4.44 million each); each spouse or child of a former hostage would receive half that amount.

In both bills, the funds would come from fines and penalties imposed for violations related to Iran. Both cases also include a provision that recipients waive and release all existing claims against Iran and the United States arising out of the hostage crisis.

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Joshua Foust on The Uncomfortable Questions Not Raised by Benghazi

In the most recent Oversight Committee hearing, State Department’s Gregory Hicks mentioned that there were 55 people in the two annexes in Benghazi.  Earlier reports says that a total of 30 people were evacuated from Benghazi. Only  7 of the 30 evacuees were employees of the State Department.  So if 55 is correct, there were actually 48 CIA folks in Benghazi.  How come no one is throwing a tantrum to hear what they have to say?

Joshua Foust writes that the press and Congress are asking the wrong questions.

Excerpt:

The eight-month controversy over the attacks on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi reintensified last week, as the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Tripoli testified before a panel at the House of Representatives. The hearing, however, seemed to focus not on the attack itself, but rather on what happened afterward: the content of the talking points handed to UN Ambassador Susan Rice, and whether President Obama referred to it as terrorism quickly enough.Indeed, the entire scandal, as it exists in the public, is a bizarre redirection from the serious failures for which no one has yet answered.
[…]
The CIA’s conduct during and after Benghazi should be the real scandal here, not the order in which certain keywords make their way into press conferences. It is a tragedy that two diplomats died, including the first ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979. Sadly, they are part of a growing number of American diplomats hurt or killed in the line of duty. Embassies and diplomatic facilities were attacked 13 times under President Bush, resulting in dozens of dead but little action. If future Benghazis are to be avoided, we need to grapple with why the attack and our inadequate response unfolded the way it did.

Many of those issues were raised in the Accountability Review Board report that the State Department released last December. But to this day, the complicated nature of CIA operations and, more importantly, how they put at risk the other American personnel serving alongside them have gone largely unremarked upon. It’s past time to demand answers from Langley.

 

Read in full here.

Joshua Foust is a freelance writer and an analyst. Check out his website here: joshuafoust.com; follow him on Twitter @joshuafoust.

This piece originally appeared in Medium, a new elegant publishing platform from Evan Williams, of Blogger and Twitter fame. Check it out.

 

— DS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The CIA’s once well-kept secret in Benghazi … but not anymore …

After weeks of drip-drip drip leaks, newsy and crazy bad rumors on Benghazi, the WSJ yesterday finally had an enlightening piece that gave a better picture of the CIA’s role in the Benghazi operation in Libya.  It is certainly not a complete picture but it fill in some of the holes.

“The U.S. effort in Benghazi was at its heart a CIA operation, according to officials briefed on the intelligence. Of the more than 30 American officials evacuated from Benghazi following the deadly assault, only seven worked for the State Department. Nearly all the rest worked for the CIA, under diplomatic cover, which was a principal purpose of the consulate, these officials said.”

We were aware that Ambassador Stevens left Tripoli for Benghazi with two embassy officials (Public Affairs and Econ/Com officers) and reportedly two Regional Security Officers (RSOs).  So that’s five officials not normally posted in Benghazi.  At the office in Benghazi were three RSOs according to reports and Sean Smith, the Information Management officer who was there on a TDY assignment.

It is not clear if there even was a regular diplomat/principal officer assigned at the US office in Benghazi besides a series of temporary duty security and communication officers.

Why it took the State Department two days to confirm the identity of the other two fatalities?

According to the WSJ:  “Officials close to Mr. Petraeus say he stayed away in an effort to conceal the agency’s role in collecting intelligence and providing security in Benghazi. Two of the four men who died that day, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, were former Navy SEAL commandos who were publicly identified as State Department contract security officers, but who actually worked as Central Intelligence Agency contractors, U.S. officials say.”

Separately, a U.S. official apparently also told HuffPost that a two-day delay in publicly identifying Woods and Doherty was “a consequence of the unique sensitivity of determining whether they would be outed as CIA agents, or if the State Department would claim the two as theirs.”

More on this here.

Who was responsible for security? Looking at that security contract for Benghazi again

Via the WSJ:

Congressional investigators say it appears that the CIA and State Department weren’t on the same page about their respective roles on security, underlining the rift between agencies over taking responsibility and raising questions about whether the security arrangement in Benghazi was flawed.

The CIA’s secret role helps explain why security appeared inadequate at the U.S. diplomatic facility. State Department officials believed that responsibility was set to be shouldered in part by CIA personnel in the city through a series of secret agreements that even some officials in Washington didn’t know about.
[…]
In Libya, the relationship between the State Department and CIA was secret and symbiotic: The consulate provided diplomatic cover for the classified CIA operations. The State Department believed it had a formal agreement with the CIA to provide backup security, although a congressional investigator said it now appears the CIA didn’t have the same understanding about its security responsibilities.

This might explain why that fuzzy security contract for Benghazi went to Blue Mountain instead of under the Diplomatic Security’s Worldwide Protective Services (WPS) program which typically covers security at embassies and consulates overseas.

On September 14, the State Department spokesperson was also specifically asked a question about security contractors.

QUESTION: Last question: Very specifically, again, at any time in the last six months did the State Department make arrangements with one of these private security contractors to evaluate our security situation in Libya? And did, in fact, such a contractor undertake an assessment of the security situation in Libya for our installations there?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to that specifically. I can tell you that at no time did we contract with a private security firm in Libya – at no time. We did have some individual contracts with individual security guards, as you saw and as the Secretary spoke to.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the claim was made yesterday that a company that is a spinoff of Blackwater, in fact, proposed or contracted the United States Government for this particular kind of eventuality, and it was caught up in some sort of bureaucratic —

MS. NULAND: Completely untrue with regard to Libya. I checked that this morning. At no time did we plan to hire a private security company for Libya.

QUESTION: Toria, I just want to make sure I understood that, because I didn’t understand your first question. You said – your first answer. You said that at no time did you have contracts with private security companies in Libya?

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: So that means that you never contracted with a private security contractor outside Libya to provide security inside Libya?

MS. NULAND: We have – all of the security in Libya has been done by Libyans, by American Government personnel, and then to a very limited extent these individual contracts with individual security personnel, but there was never a contract with a company, and there was never a plan to have a contract with a company.

Wired.com reported later that the State Department signed a contract for “security guards and patrol services” on May 3 for $387,413.68. An extension option brought the tab for protecting the consulate to $783,000.  Further it reported that “The contract lists only “foreign security awardees” as its recipient.  We later learned that the contract recipient was Blue Mountain, a British company that provides “close protection; maritime security; surveillance and investigative services; and high risk static guarding and asset protection.”  More here about those guards.

Is it possible that Ms. Nuland did not know about the contract? Yes. But is it also possible that this contract is actually a non-State contract except on paper only, in which case, no one at Diplomatic Security is keeping tabs on it? Of course.  Got one word for you. Argo.

 

Burned down “consulate” abandoned for sharkies on feeding frenzy

Some reporter is saying something about it being shocking enough when CNN found sensitive documents at the Benghazi consulate in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

This was in reference to CNN finding a journal belonging to Ambassador Stevens three days after he was killed.  “The journal was found on the floor of the largely unsecured consulate compound where he was fatally wounded.”

WaPo also got somebody trudging around the rubble who reported:

“More than three weeks after attacks in this city killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, sensitive documents remained only loosely secured in the wreckage of the U.S. mission on Wednesday, offering visitors easy access to delicate information about American operations in Libya.”

Shocking!  But isn’t that exactly what we’re supposed to think?  And every document discovered occupies a couple or so days in the news cycle. With every new discovery, the annex was a tad further away, and for good reasons.

Via the WSJ:

“The emphasis on security at the CIA annex was underscored the day after the attack. With all U.S. personnel evacuated, the CIA appears to have dispatched local Libyan agents to the annex to destroy any sensitive documents and equipment there, even as the consulate compound remained unguarded and exposed to looters and curiosity seekers for weeks, officials said. Documents, including the ambassador’s journal, were taken from the consulate site, and the site proved of little value when Federal Bureau of Investigation agents finally arrived weeks later to investigate.

U.S. officials said they prioritized securing the annex because many more people worked there and they were doing sensitive work, while the consulate, by design, had no classified documents. The American contractor said the top priority was destroying sensitive documents.”

SBU documents found in the burned Benghazi compound were sensitive, but not that sensitive.  The real sensitive ones were elsewhere and if they were not removed and secured, they were surely destroyed before the evacuation.

While this does not answer all the dangling questions about Benghazi, it shows why this was a complicated or if you like, a “complex” operation. It certainly is complex enough if you cannot explain fully what happens because there are parts that are supposed to stay dark.

It would be interesting to see how much of the “OGA” details will make it to the unclassified report of the Pickering Accountability Board. It is not yet clear if the truth hunters in Congress will call Mr. Petreaus over for a chat.  Or how bad the intel-gathering fallout and how Libyan relations will be impacted with these new revelations.

But — let’s dig ourselves deeper in a hole, because why not? There’s also a cover up of Martian landing in less than 100 hours to zero in Ohio!

In any case, following the Benghazi attack, Libya’s deputy prime minister, Mustafa Abushagour was quoted in the WSJ saying, “We have no problem with intelligence sharing or gathering, but our sovereignty is also key.”

What seems clear is that the next time the State Department asks the Government of Libya for permission to stand up an office outside of Tripoli or another consulate elsewhere in the country, Libya will surely want to know how many spooks will be working as diplomats in those sites.