SAVAK, formally known as the National Security and Intelligence Organization, was set up with CIA funds and advice in 1956. Iran's agents have been trained in surveillance and other espionage activities by the CIA, and the Senate report suggests that some of those agents returned to the United States and put those techniques into practice here.
At the peak of its influence, SAVAK had at least 13 full-time case officers running a network of informers and infiltrators covering 30,000 Iranian students on U.S. campuses. The head of U.S.-based SAVAK agents until last February was Mansour Rafizadeh, who operated under the cover of an attache at the Iranian mission to the United Nations, FBI, CIA and State Department officials were aware of Rafizadeh's true job.
Rafizadeh's agents routinely recruited and paid student informers in the United States throughout the 1970s. The going rate at one time was $70 for a fast report on a student meeting. There was enough business to justify setting aside an entire room in the Iranian consulate in San Francisco for the unlisted telephone to which informers called in their reports.
Far more sinister covert actions, including attempted murder, surface in the Senate report which says that "the most significant SAVAK operation in the United States known to the intelligence community" was a plan in early 1977 to murder Nasser Afshar, an Iranian-born U.S. citizen who angered SAVAK by taking out ads in U.S. newspapers denouncing the shah.
The report officers confirmation for an account of the plan to kill Afshar given in 1977 to The Washington Post by Afshar's would-be assassin, Jules Khan Pira, shortly after Pira defected from SAVAK in Paris.
Richard Cottam, a former CIA agent who became a professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh and who was one of the most articulate critics of the shah in the Iranian ruler's final years, on the throne, reported to the FBI as early as 1976 that Iranian assassination squads were in the United States. Reza Baraheni, an Iranian poet and dissident, was one known target of the hit teams, which were supposed to make executions appear to be common crimes such as muggings, Cottam said.Baraheni was never harmed.
In January, 1978, an official of the Iranian Students Association - the leading anti-shah group in this country - was lured to a meeting in Chico, Calif., where five bullets were fired at him. All missed. One of the two Iranians suspected of the shooting attempt was later linked to SAVAK in a Justice Department report to the National Security Council. The two accused assailants were acquitted at their trial.
In addition to the activities directed at Iranians here, SAVAK became deeply involved in conditioning U.S. opinions toward the shah and toward the Iranian-U.S. alliance worked out by Nixon and Kissinger and reaffirmed by Carter and his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Officials acknowledge now that SAVAK volunteered detailed information on Iranian student organizations in the United States to an eagerly listening FBI, which reciprocated with information for SAVAK. U.S. immigration officials in Chicago also cooperated with Iranian diplomats believed to have been SAVAK agents. The agents were given the passports of two Iranian dissident students involved in a Chicago court case last year, according to Chicago lawyers interviewed by The Washington Post.
An on-going Chicago grand jury investigation of SAVAK financing of pro-shah demonstrators who traveled to Washington from all over the country in November 1977 also underscores SAVAK's involvement in political activity in the United States. That involvement had become so visible by February 1978 that Brzezinski felt compelled to ask the State Department to warn the Iranians "not to use SAVAK and the Pahlavi Foundation to orchestrate a pro-shah campaign in the United States," according to the Senate study.
The report does not state whether Brzezinski had in mind the Tehran-based Pahlavi Foundation or the New York-based organization of the same name.