Iranian guerrillas have wrecked or looted at least two top secret U.S. listening posts near the Soviet border and troops of the new Iranian government are holding another, sources said here today.
U.S. oficials said in Washington that two bases had been abandoned after sensitive equipment was destroyed or removed. The officials said there was no compromise of classified material. They said they had no information on a third post.
A British television reporter said he had visited the station held by Iranian troops and had been told by Western diplomats of the ransacking of anothe. Iran's official radio broadcast a report of the seizure of what appeared to be a third listening post.
There were conflicting reports about the incidents.
According to one account here, 20 U.S. Air Force personnel at one of the stations were taken hostage and, after being freed through negotiations by the Iranian government, were secretly flown out of the sensitive border area.
U.S. officials in Washington said, however, that no Amercian personnel had been held hostage. A dispute developed with Iranian personnel at the post about whether they would receive severance pay when the post was closed, U.S. officials said, and the Americans left after the United States had paid the Iranian employes.
U.S. officials have said that the ballistic missile monitoring could be done elsewhere without significantly diminishing American capability to verify SALT agreements. But they have said that the monitoring from elsewhere of Soviet military transmissions in the area of the Iranian border and the Caspian Sea would be difficult.
The stations, manned by U.S. and Iranian military personnel, are part of a network of highly sensitive listening posts that, until their partial dismantling recently, played a key role in American efforts to eavesdrop electronically on the Soviet Union.
The two known activities of the posts were the monitoring of Soviet ballistic missile launches, a capability that makes possible the verification of strategic arms limitation agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union, and the monitoring of radio conversations by Soviet military aircraft, tanks and field units.
The total number of U.S. monitoring stations in Iran has never been disclosed, but there were believed to be at least three and possibly four.
Before taking power and again last week, aides of Ayatollah Ruholah Khomeini, whose forces overthrew the shah, declared that he would not allow the United States to continue to use the stations.
According to sources here, American personnel at the stations attacked have all been hastily pulled out.
At the Kabkan stations near Meshad in the northeast corner of Iran, 20 American Air Force personnel were taken hostage when the base was captured by right-wing Islamic guerrillas Saturday, the sources said.
The Americans were held until Monday when Iranian airmen regained control of the station, the sources said. At the behest of U.S. officials, the Iranian Air Force Tuesday flew a C130 transport plane to the site and obtained the release of the Americans last night. The plane then took off without lights after nighfall with the Americans and some of the secret equipment.
The sources said that while the guerrillas held the base, they looted some of the sensitive, highly classified material.
On the western side of the Caspian Sea, guerrillas reportedly overran and wrecked a similar station. Iran Radio, according to United Press International, said a U.S. radar post in forest land near Klarabad on the Soviet border was "occupied by revolutionary forces." The radio said the radar post had been "represented as a forest guard station."
A third monitoring station at Behshahr, near the Caspian sea coast, is being held by local Iranian Air Force personnel who have elected a lieutenant as commander of the base, according to the British television reporter who visited the site Tuesday.
The equipment is still locked inside a bubble-shaped building, sealed by vault-like doors and guarded by Iranian airmen, the reporter said.
He said there were signs of "panic departures" of the station's American residents.
The Iranian airmen told him 150 Americans had been living there, of whom 30 were U.S. Air Force personnel involved in the actual monitoring. The reporter said he was told the Iranian employes at the base were never allowed inside the bubble, and still had not entered it because they believed the doors were booby-trapped.
Some of the Iranian Air Force personnel had served 15 to 20 years with American monitoring personnel and appeared to have developed a close working relationship with them -- one possible reason they were protecting the sensitive equipment.
"The American seem to have been caught horribly off guard," the British reporter said. He said he found clothes and personal effects abandoned at houses on the base, as if the Americans had not had time to pack before being evacuated.
On the door of the base club house was a notice about "elections of officers for 1979." He added, "They were a group of people who had no idea what was coming."