The Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979-1981

A - G

On 16 January 1979, the Shah departed Iran. The triumphant Ayatollah Khomeini returned on 1 February. On 4 November, the U.S. Embassy in Teheran was overrun by Iranian militants and over 50 U.S. personnel were taken hostage. The crisis surrounding the hostages lasted 444 days.

The materials included here look both at the Iranian revolution that ousted the Shah and at U.S. intelligence aspects of that revolution and its immediate aftermath. Materials concerning the aborted rescue mission of April 1980 are accessible from the "1980s Table of Contents" file.

Armstrong, Scott. "Carter Held Hope Even after Shah Had Lost His." Washington Post, 25 Oct. 1980, A12.

Armstrong, Scott. The Chronology: The Documented Day-to-Day Account of the Secret Military Assistance to Iran and the Contras. New York: Warner, 1987.

NameBase: "The Chronology draws on some government documents, but this is mostly a compilation of Iran-contra tidbits from the media, beginning in 1980 and getting progressively more detailed through 1986 -- a year that takes 400 pages of the book. It is valuable for researchers who need to understand how specific events may have fit into a larger pattern. There is a complete index and no conclusion."

Bani-Sadr, Abol Hassan. My Turn to Speak: Iran, the Revolution and Secret Deals with the U.S. Washington, DC: Brassey's (US), 1991.

Surveillant 1.5 finds Bani-Sadr's book "[o]f considerable intelligence interest." It "[e]xamines the storming of the embassy and the finding of many highly sensitive shredded and unshredded documents."

Bill, James A. The Eagle and the Lion: The Tragedy of American-Iranian Relations. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988.

Bowden, Mark. Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006.

For Peake, Studies 50.4 (2006) and Intelligencer 15.2 (Fall-Winter 2006-2007), the author makes full use of "contemporaneous newspaper and TV accounts" and of material "gathered during five years of interviewing former hostages and ... hostage takers, members of the governments on both sides, and participants in the failed attempt to rescue the hostages. The result is a forceful, stimulating, yet often disturbing, account." This "is a superb book."

Fontenot, Parameters 37.1 (Spring 2007), finds that the author provides "a riveting and rich narrative." Bowden lets "the players tell their story ... with few interventions." What he does not do, however, is "deliver convincing proof of the connection that he claims exists between the successful assault on the US Embassy and the current 'war with militant Islam.'" Zakheim, Proceedings 132.10 (Oct. 2006), says that the author "offers a treasure trove of insights" and "a particularly keen analysis" about dealing with Iran.

Brzezinski, Zbigniew. Power and Principle: Memoirs of the National Security Advisor, 1977-1981. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1983.

The author was National Security Adviser for Jimmy Carter's one-term presidency. With the breakup of the Soviet Union, Brzezinski's longtime emphasis on the importance of the constituent republics and nationalities has been shown to be quite well grounded.

Buhite, Russell D. Lives at Risk: Hostages and Victims in American Foreign Policy. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1995.

Surveillant 4.4/5 notes that the author's cases studies include the Pueblo crisis, the hostages in Iran, and the torture of CIA station chief William Buckley in Beirut in 1984.

Carter, Jimmy. Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President. New York: Bantam Books, 1982. 3d. ed. Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press, 1995.

Christopher, Warren, and Harold H. Saunders. American Hostages in Iran: Conduct of a Crisis. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985.

Christopher provides a first-hand look from a State Department vantage point of the complex negotiations that led to the release of the American hostages being held in Iran. Pipes, New Republic, 8 Jul. 1985, dismisses this work as "a bureaucrat's apology."

Daugherty, William J. "Behind the Intelligence Failure in Iran." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 14, no. 4 (Winter 2001-2002): 449-484.

This article reflects an excellent understanding of both high-level policy concerns and policy-executing actions in Washington and Tehran, and is recommended reading for anyone wanting a no-frills look at what went wrong (and why) for the United States in Iran in 1978-1979. Daugherty finds that the roots of Washington's problems lie "in reasons reflective of previous policy decisions, routine bureaucratic actions having nothing to do with Iran per se, and the inherent difficulty of understanding the crisis itself. Nonetheless, even when these external causes are dissected, the final result remains unchanged: The intelligence community did not serve the President well."

Daugherty, William J. "A First Tour Like No Other." Studies in Intelligence, Spring 1998, 1-45. Studies in Intelligence: 45th Anniversary Special Edition, Fall 2000.

The author was a first-tour CIA Directorate of Operations officer who was among those taken hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Teheran. This is a highly readable account of Daugherty's 444 days of captivity, most of it in solitary confinement. If you care about the human side of the hostage situation, this is a good place to begin.

Daugherty, William J. In the Shadow of the Ayatollah: A CIA Hostage in Iran. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2001.

According to Bath, NIPQ 18.1, most of this work "deals with Daugherty's 444-day incarceration, much of which was in solitary confinement, and his intensive interrogation." However, the author opens with some stagesetting chapters, including one entitled "Intelligence Failure." He "finds that the problems lay more in policies in Washington than failures in the field.... Washington's lack of concern was made clear by the low priority it assigned to collection on Iran."

Stempel, American Diplomacy 8.3 (2003), says that this "book is well-written, well-organized, and concise. The author's balanced account is informative, direct, and clear. Though one often wishes for more depth on certain points, the book is not a definitive history of the hostage crisis, but rather an excellent individual effort to put the crisis into the context of American life at the time."

Donovan, Michael. "National Intelligence and the Iranian Revolution." Intelligence and National Security 12, no. 1 (Jan. 1997): 143-163.

The author argues that "there was accurate and, in part, timely intelligence at the disposal of [U.S.] policy makers, but the availability of this information did not redirect the long-standing policy predispositions in Washington." It was "the nature of the US-Iranian relationship and bureaucratic maneuvering [that] limited Washington's policy options, not a lack of intelligence."

Farber, David. Taken Hostage: The Iran Hostage Crisis and America's First Encounter with Radical Islam. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

Ajami, Washington Post, 28 Nov. 2004, notes that the author "believes he has located the anti-Americanism in the lands of Islam, and that we would have fared much better in the intervening years had we taken political Islam 'seriously,' had we recognized it as a 'force in the world.' This is quite a stretch."

Gwertzman, Bernard. "Government in Iran Vows Help in Seige; U.S. Uncertain Despite Promise by Tehran to Do Its Best." New York Times, 5 Nov. 1979, A1.

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