A secret American monitoring post abandoned Jan. 31 by Central Intelligence Agency technicians, is still in working order and is being kept that way by Iranian Air Force personnel who show signs of pro-American, anticommunist sentiments.
The Iranian airmen are under orders to maintain the facility just the way the Americans left it until the two governments decide what to do with it.
So far no decision appears imminent. Authorities say there have been no negotiations on either removing the post's sophisticated equipment or letting the Americans back in to resume running it. The latter prospect, they say, appears highly unlikely.
No U.S. officials have been to the Behshahr station, which overlooks this town near Iran's Caspian Sea coast, or to a similar post on a remote mountaintop near Kabkan in north-eastern Iran since the posts were evacuated in the turmoil of the Iranian revolution.
American technicians who were evacuated in late February from the Kabkan post after having been held captive by revolutionaries said the facility was vital for verification of Soviet compliance with the strategic arms limitations treaty.
After the stations were abandoned, U.S. officials also expressed concern that sensitive equipment and materials might fall into the wrong hands and be passed on to the Soviets.
A visit to the Behshar post Thursday by two American correspondents showed security to be rather weak. The post's 30-foot-high white radar dome and nearby radio monitoring and relay towers were found to be intact. Big air-conditioning units were still keeping the dome climate-controlled, and the steady whir of machinery indicated that the equipment behind the structure's locked doors was still functioning.
"We haven't done anything with these devices," said Sotvan Javaheri, a shy, 23 year-old second lieutenant who is in charge of the facility. "Anytime you come here you will see that everything works, even the lights."
The equipment runs on Behshahr electricity, but generators are designed to cut in automatically if the power fails. Javaheri said his men were keeping the generators topped with fuel oil.
"We don't have any orders from the U.S. government," Lt. Javaheri said. "But the [Iranian] Air Force has told us to keep everything working until the Americans tell us what we should do with it."
He said townspeople, long barred from the site when it was run by Americans under the government of the deposed shah, could come and see the dome on visiting days. "But nobody can go inside it."
Javaheri said he was the only one at the post who knows the combination for a lock consisting of five black buttons on the facility's steel double doors. Nor is anyone else allowed inside a windowless operations bunker built into the hilltop just below the white bubble, which sits on the grassy surface like a huge golf ball.
The whirring and purring of electronic equipment inside the facility has raised speculation that it may be continuing to transmit data on Soviet missile tests and military communications back to the United States via satellite. A knowledgeable foreign source today dismissed this idea, however, saying technicians were needed to run the Behshahr post and similar facilities.
Javaheri, who received some training in the United States, was reluctant to describe his ventures inside the dome. He explained in English that it was dark and he didn't see much. Then, in an aside to a companion, he said in Persian, "I don't want to get in trouble with the CIA."
Most of the visitors to the hilltop compound are mainly interested in seeing a 16th century palace on its grounds which commands an excellent view of the town below and the Caspian coast about nine miles to the north.
The palace, once the summer residence of the Savafid dynasty monarch, Shah Abas, was formerly the headquarters of the monitoring post, which was established 20 years ago. A radar dome still sits in front of the palace, plainly visible from the highway linking Behshahr with other Caspian coastal towns.
"After the revolution people were curious to see the palace," Javaheri said. "For them it is a historical place. Most people don't have the education for taking much interest in the dome. They just say, 'ooh, look at the big ball."
Javaheri said he had received six months of training as a "missile minder," or officer who commands a missile silo, at U.S. bases at Van Nuys, Calif., and San Antonio, Tex. "I like American people," he said.
"No Russians have been here," Javaheri said. "We wouldn't let them come in."
Despite his assurances, it seemed debatable whether the guards would be able to tell the difference between Soviet agents and other visitors who wanted to tour the facility.
In any case, according to an informed source, a spy could not hope to learn much from such a visit. The source tended to dismiss the value of any intelligence that could be gleaned even by entering the radar dome or its command bunker. All the top-secret cryptographic gear at the facility has been "taken care of," he said.
It was unclear, however, what, if any classified technical manuals or other documents remained at the site. According to a reporter who visited the Behshahr installation immediately revolution, the place bore the look of a "latter-day Pompei."
Clothes and personal effects were abandoned in the Americans' homes, indicating a hasty departure that might not have afforded enough time to destroy sensitive materials. Beside the radar dome were six metal barrels marked "document destroyer drum type without igniters" - all of them unused.
Lt. Javaheri said he is careful about who comes into the compound. He said he keeps it under th control of the approximately 50 airmen under his command and only allows militiamen from the local revolutionary committee to man a checkpoint at the entrance to a nearby access road.
He indicated that he distrusted the committee gunmen, hinting that he was unsure of their loyalties and that they could be Communists. Besides, he said, they were inexperienced in handling their weapons and not as reliable generally as his own men.
People can come on Mondays but we don't let just anybody in because some Iranians are Communists and they shouldn't come here," Javaheri sai although it was unclear how visitors were screened for political persuasions.
At night the dome is guarded by two airmen armed with Iranian-made G-3 automatic rifles.
Armed airmen also guard the compound's main entrance gate, and a lone sentry is positioned halfway down the access road. His sentry box is linked to the base by telephone.
The Lieutenant said he had taken it upon himself to have the personal belongings of the departed Americans packed in containers ready for shipment back to the United States whenever he gets the word to send them.
Asked if he thought the Americans could return to the post, he said, "I don't know. It's not in my hands."
Given the present political climate in Iran and the anti-American sentiment of the followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, authorities say there is virtually no chance that such stations can be reopened under the Islamic republic.
Most of the 32 brick bungalows that once belonged to the resident American personnel have been sealed, but station employes still trim the lawns every once in awhile.
Except for the palace on a rise overlooking the entrance and the white radar dome visible behind a stand of trees a few hundred yards away, the post resembles an American suburb.
American cars are very much in evidence and there are road signs in English.
A reminder that this is an illusion comes at twilight with the wail of a muezzin, or Moslem prayer caller, rising up clearly from the town below.
And meanwhile, the white dome, now illuminated around its base by floodlights, drones on - unattended.