Farsi Survival Guide from the 1980 Iran Hostage Rescue Mission

28 January 1993

In case you are planning any future trips to Iran, the enclosed document should come in handy, with some caveats. This TOP SECRET memo of Farsi phrases and words was part of the survival kits issued to the Delta Force commandos who participated in the failed Desert One rescue mission in April 1980. I wonder, however, about the possibility of a mix-up when the words for "machine gun" (page 2) immediately precede those for "we are brothers."

The Pentagon declassified this document last summer (twelve years after its origin) and released it to us this summer, in the final group of documents produced by a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for the rescue mission documents initially brought by the Washington Post in 1984 and carried on by the Archive since 1987. Our general counsel, Sheryl Walter, with the pro bono help of Nancy Perkins and Jeff Smith of Arnold & Porter, deserves particular credit for the ultimate success of this litigation.

The Pentagon originally claimed that the entire body of rescue mission-related documents was TOP SECRET and would cause "exceptionally grave damage to the national security" if released. After the lawsuit was filed, the government grudgingly produced about 20% of the documents. Only after we won the court appointment of an outside special master (a former Justice Department lawyer with high-level security clearances) to review the documents did we see serious results. We now have won release of more than 80% of the rescue mission documents, including such gems as the helicopter pilots' after-action recommendation not to include milk in the box lunches because it spoils in the desert heat.

Classification decisions like these undermine the credibility of the entire information security system. Our experience with the special master helps prove the necessity of a key reform we are urging to President Clinton's task force reviewing the secrecy system: That is, an independent review board should take on the burden of setting criteria for bulk release of Cold War documents. Otherwise, we will need more than Farsi survival guides to find our way out of the mountain ranges of secrets built up over the past 45 years.

  • Page 1
  • Page 2
  • Page 3
  • Page 4

  • Previous page

    Return to the National Security Archive home page

    The National Security Archive,
    The Gelman Library, George Washington University
    2130 H Street, NW, Suite 701, Washington, DC 20037
    Phone: 202-994-7000 / Fax: 202-994-7005
    Internet: nsarchiv@gwis2.circ.gwu.edu

    Last Change: July 29 1996 / by Reza Rafie/ rafie@seas.gwu.edu