I recently wrote this paper to pitch an idea for a “new” Special Operations capability, a capability that I think America desperately needs and is currently lacking.  At the moment, Special Forces is re-investing in Unconventional Warfare and I wish them the best in this endeavor, however, I know of no effort to establish a network for tactical intelligence such as the one I describe here.  Please let me know what your thoughts are. -Jack

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).

Worse still, it turned out that the CIA was lying to the Army as it planned Operation Rice Bowl. Delta operators were conducting full-scale rehearsals on a mockup of the US embassy in Tehran and the CIA was actually withholding intelligence from them. Just as the mission got the green light and Delta began staging for its execution, the CIA suddenly came forward with detailed, intimate information about the embassy compound. They evidently had access to a source in the embassy all along and had withheld information for fear that leaks could jeopardize their asset in Iran.

Colonel John Carney wrote that, “Eighteen years after the rescue attempt some of us learned that the CIA had received a covert communication that detailed some of the most important information we needed” (Smith, 11). The overall Task Force Commander for Rice Bowl, General Vaught said that, “Intelligence from all sources was inadequate from the start and never became responsive. The CIA did not, would not, or could not provide sufficient agents to go in country and get the information we needed” (Smith, 2). Suffice to say that Colonel Beckwith, General Vaught, and Beckwith’s S2 (Intelligence) Officer, Captain Ishimoto were frustrated with the lack of intelligence on the target they were to assault and as planning went on into the long hours of the night, it was evident that the CIA and the Army did not play well together.

Another frustrated member of the Task Force was Colonel Jerry King. At that time King was the chief of unconventional warfare for special operations in the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As a Special Forces veteran who had deployed to Laos as a part of White Star, ran operations with Special Forces along the Ho Chi Minh trail, done an exchange program with the SAS, and worked with Studies and Observations Group, King was a good choice for the job. Like Colonel Beckwith, he was ordered to begin planning to liberate the American hostages in Iran on the day the crisis began.