Beyond Counter-Terrorism (Part 1)

On November 4, 1979 a group of Iranian students burst into the American embassy in Tehran, seizing the embassy and taking a large number embassy personnel hostage, the exact number being uncertain when Charlie Beckwith, the commander of America’s premier counter-terrorism unit was woken up at 7 AM that morning. Delta Force had just completed a training exercise for their final certification as a unit that included an aircraft take down and a static objective. Both scenarios included simulated hostages. The unit was less than a year old, and observers from British SAS, German GSG-9, and France’s GIGN were in attendance with US military officers and State Department representatives.

Although there were a number of lessons learned from the training exercise, both A and B squadrons had performed well and completed their objectives. Now, just as the training concluded, Delta Force was given a real life counter-terrorist mission. Like all military operations, this one was fraught with challenges.

Delta had been given a mission: Assault the American embassy in Teheran; take out the guards; free the hostages and get everyone safely out of Iran. That part was simple. All we needed to do now was come up with a plan. But without sufficient intelligence, nothing they said made any sense. We needed three things: information, information, information (Beckwith, 196).

Colonel Beckwith needed an extremely valuable but hard to find commodity in order to plan this hostage rescue mission: solid, reliable intelligence information. Delta Force had the assaulters who were prepared to conduct the Direct Action component of what came to be known as Operation Rice Bowl, but without the intelligence needed to plan surgically executed hostage recovery operations, there was only so much he could do. Turning to the CIA liaison officer that Beckwith had been assigned for the planning of Operation Rice Bowl he said, “What we gotta do is get in touch with the stay-behind assets in country and task them with our intelligence requirements.” The CIA officer then took Colonel Beckwith aside and whispered, “We don’t have any” (Beckwith, 196).

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