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Storming of the Embassy: November 4, 1979

William Daugherty was on his first overseas job as a new operations officer with the Directorate of Operations (now the National Clandestine Services or NCS). Recruited out of graduate school in 1978, Daugherty arrived in Iran on September 12, 1979. In his book, In the Shadow of the Ayatollah: A CIA Hostage in Iran, Daugherty describes his initial days in Tehran as challenging, but interesting and fun. “I was thirty-two years old and at the top of my form, physically and, especially, mentally.” He was in the country only fifty-three days before being taken hostage. As Daugherty states in his first-person account, A First Tour Like No Other,” written for CIA’s Studies in Intelligence, “It is not often that a newly minted case officer in the CIA's Directorate of Operations spends his first tour in jail.”

The chief of the CIA station in Tehran was Tom Ahern.  He had arrived earlier that summer and was the first Permanent Station Chief assigned in Iran after the fall of the Shah during the Iranian Revolution in February. According to Ahern, “the general atmosphere in Tehran was very, very tense.”

President Jimmy Carter reluctantly allowed the Shah to come to the US for medical treatment on October 22, a move many believed would outrage the Iranians. However, for a few weeks the usual riots and protests outside the Embassy died down and were replaced by an eerie calm. “I think it’s just classic psychological denial to live with that kind of uncertainty about your future,” says Ahern. “You don’t like it to be that uncertain and so you look for signs that things are really okay. We were rather rudely brought back to earth, of course.”

Ahern describes the morning of the Embassy takeover as a perfectly routine Sunday (the first day of the work-week in many Muslim countries). “I think I was dictating something to my assistant when I looked outside and saw a couple of scruffy-looking young people drifting around inside the grounds right below my window.” It was three or four hours from the time Ahern saw the first people in the courtyard until the Embassy was taken over. “There was no real storming of the compound,” recalls Ahern, “It was more like it was infiltrated.”

Ahern and Daugherty were in different parts of the Embassy when it was overrun. Most of the Embassy employees had already been captured by the Iranians, and soon Ahern and Daugherty were left with little option but to surrender. “Having checked around to make sure that it was secure, that everything classified had been destroyed, I opened the door and there they [the Iranian students] were,” recalls Ahern. “They were a little annoyed that they’d been made to wait. The first one in gave me an elbow in the chest so hard that it should have knocked the wind out of me, because it was really a nasty chop.  Maybe an adrenalin rush kept me standing, but I was sort of helpless while the rest of them filed into the room. I was not, in any case, planning to resist their entry. And that was how we fell into the hands of the Iranians.”

Read Part 2: Life in Captivity

Read Part 3: The Release: January 20, 1981

Posted: Nov 04, 2014 01:09 PM
Last Updated: Nov 06, 2014 07:30 AM