The political upheaval in neighboring Iran that has forced the shutdown there of U.S. electronic intelligence-gathering operations keeping tabs on Soviet missile testing has suddenly focused intensive new interest on similar U.S. equipment operating at this tiny outpost and other remote locations in Turkey.
At the core of American interest is the emerging debate in Congress about a new U.S.-Soviet stragetic arms limitation agreement. That debate is certain to include the politically highly-charged question of whether the United States could adequately verify Soviet compliance with any new agreement without the Iranian, and possibly even the Turkish sites.
The issue is emerging at a time when Washington and Ankara are in the midst of negotiations on a new long-term Turkish-American defense cooperation agreement which will include the future of these bases.
While both U.S. and Turkish officials are expressing optimism at this point that a new agreement will be reached, the financially-beleagured Ankara government is keenly aware of the enhanced political and economic value to the United States of the sites here because of the events in Iran.
The question of how important these outposts are for SALT verification is a highly complicated one, made even more so in public debate because the details of what goes on at these sites and exactly what kind of intelligence they gather is highly classified.
Interviews with a number of specialists here, in Ankara and elsewhere yield the following points about their value and use:
The widespread opinion among informed civilian and military officials is that the ground monitoring posts are important and useful but not vital to the question of SALT compliance.
Sources said that some targets, or regions, in the Soviet Union that these ground-based radars now observe might be lost if they were shut down. If other means were used to try to fill the gap -- such as observation by spyin-the-sky satellites -- some of the information could be degraded, or would not be quite as good as that supplied from the ground stations.
Sources said, however, that the utility of these sites is mostly in terms of supplying additional data to that already supplied by satellites, which for many years have been the prime source of such information.
Senior civilian officials, who said they supported a new SALT agreement as it has been outlined, said they would not do so if they felt it depended for verification on overseas bases that are politically vulnerable.
Several specialists pointed out that the radars here at Pirinclik were shut down for three-and-a-half years on orders from the Turkish government and re-opened only last October after Congress lifted the 1975 arms embargo against Turkey stemming from Ankara's 1974 invasion of Cyprus.
"It would be a mistake to think we had to rely on the stations in Iran for our security and intelligence gathering all that time," one source said, suggesting the United States could live without the ground sites if necessary and that satellites could do the job.
To the extent that the United States wanted to fully recover specific data lost by closure of all ground outposts, officials acknowledged it would require an extensive and expensive job of modifying existing space satellites.
Other sources suggested that some of the data could be gathered by the new airborne early warning airplanes -- radar and computer-packed versions of the 707 jetliner -- that are being deployed now by the U.S. Air Force and are meant primarily to patrol near the borders of Eastern Europe and provide warning of a surprise air attack.
Both U.S. and Turkish officials deny speculation that the U.S. equipment in Iran will be moved to Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit told an interviewer this week such a move would be "out of the question."
Specialists say there would be no point in such a move anyway. The U.S. listening posts were in central and northeastern Iran roughly about 1,000 miles from here. Thus, the Iran and northeastern Iran, roughly about tronic eyes on the Soviet Union from vastly different angles.
So, specialists point out, the loss of data from Iran cannot be recaptured simply by moving the same equipment to Turkey.
Similarly, they say, the loss of the Iranian stations does not make the Turkish radars more important in a technical sense, although they acknowledge that it has boosted their psychological value with persons on both sides of the question about whether the proposed new SALT agreement is a good one.
Here at Pirinclik, two giant U.S. Air Force radar antennae jut starkly out of a high, flat plateau in this remote corner of southeastern Turkey, about 15 miles from the town of Diyarbakir.
The slated, metallic faces of the radars are fixed permanently toward the northeast, where the Soviet border lies 180 miles away. Their electronic beams look through a natural "duct" in the mountains that frame this plateau and pick up Soviet missiles or satellites as they rise above the horizon on test flights from inside the Soviet Union.
Nearby, a different kind of radar swings its white, round face in a noiseless arc in the same direction, ready to track the missiles along their course.
The radars are operated mostly by civilian technicians from the General Electric Co. Very few of the 145 U.S. Air Force personnel here, mostly enlisted men, are even allowed into the top secret radar control rooms. Many of them operate the communications stations that speed the data, via satellite relay, back to Washington.
At Sinop on the Turkish Black Sea coast, about 300 miles to the northwest, civilian communications and code-breaking specialists from the super-secret National Security Agency monitor highly sensitive listening devices to try and pick up Soviet military communications, missile test data, and to keep track of Soviet air and naval activity in the region.
These two sites are the most important, by far, of the roughly 26 U.S. installations in Turkey, all of which were shut down during the embargo.
Although Americans run the operations here, a Turkish flag now flies alone over this base as it does at all the others. A Turkish officer is officially in command and Turkish soldiers guard the high fence around the perimeter.
All are symbols of rejuvenated Turkish desire to be masters of their own situation, and perhaps a reflection of some traditional Turkish suspicion of outsiders.
There is also an important foreign policy point linked to this.
Ankara has been seeking to improve its relations with the Soviet Union and thus it is insisting not only on official control of the U.S. outposts but on being assured by the Americans of exactly what is going on at these bases so as not to unduly affront the Kremlin, even though Turkey is a member of the NATO alliance.
The matter is especially sticky because the Turks are pressing, sources say, for access to all the information and at the moment there are certain top secret areas that the U.S. operations commanders will not let the Turks into. When there is warning that certain high-ranking officers are coming for a "walk through," sources indicate, the equipment is shut off.