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Clueless in Tehran Photo
Clueless in Tehran

Who knew what was happening in the months leading to and after the 1979 revolution? Everybody had their own theory -- and still do. Including the Americans, who were supposed to know more than anyone else.

Secret American documents published after the takeover of the United States embassy in Tehran in November 1979 contain a wealth of first-hand day-to-day accounts and analyses. These documents, which would normally have been declassified decades from now, have been obtained by the New York Public Library for all to see.

Here are three examples of those documents, which give an indication of what was going through the heads of American diplomats and analysts.

The first is by John Washburn, whose official position has not been mentioned in the document. In fact, at the end of the document, written in September 1978, there is this handwrittten question: "Who is he?"

According to one Iranian who had met Washburn in Tehran at diplomatic parties, he used to be a member of the diplomatic staff at the U.S. embassy in the early 70's. He was fluent in Persian and used to call himself "Yahya Beshour-o-besouz" which is a literal, but also clever, translation of his name.

The second document is from a political officer at the U.S. consulate in Shiraz written in September 1978. The third is a letter by Bruce Laingen , the U.S. Chargé d'Affaires in Tehran, written to his family on November 1, 1979 -- three days before the takeover of the U.S. embassy.

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Last Updated: 18-Jan-96
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