Iran captured top-secret pictures taken by the American KH-11 spy satellite in sifting through the helicopters abandoned in the Iranian desert, U.S. officials said yesterday.
The pictures were used to plan the attempt to rescue the 50 American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the three officials held at the Iranian Foreign Ministry several blocks away.
ABC television obtained maps U.S. planners drew with the help of those satellite pictures. The maps identified possible evacuation points in Tehran. The helicopter landing zones were called "bus stops."
Sources said the plan called for landing the helicopters in the Embassy compound and snatching away the 50 hostages if the Blue Light commandos radioed that all was clear.
If the compound had become a "hot" landing zone because of Iranian resistance, these sources said, "bus stops" in clear spots near the embassy could have been used for evacuating the hostages.
Those bus stops according, to the map obtained by ABC, included stadiums, athletic fields, race tracks, a schoolyard and a construction site.
Bus Stop 7 was designated on the map as "Stadium Primary LZ," for landing zone. This stadium, sources said, was the evacuation point for the three U.S. officials in the Iranian Foreign Ministry, not a backup landing zone like the others. The stadium could serve as an evacuation point for the embassy hostages as well.
The U.S. map captured by the Iranians and obtained by ABC also showed "backup fixed-wing airheads," or airfields, as bus stops 13 and 14. Thirteen was Karaj, identified on the map as 53 kilometers from the U.S. Embassy, and 14 was Kahrizak airfield 40 kilometers away.
C130 transport planes were prepared to fly there to pick up hostages deposited by helicopter or truck, sources said.
The rescue plan called for proceeding from a refueling stop in the Iranian desert near Tabas, called Desert One, to a mountain hideaway the night of April 24. The rescue force would have stayed hidden during the daylight hours of April 24 and at night been driven in trucks and buses to the U.S. Embassy.
The planners figured that the vehicles would blend in with the night traffic and not arouse suspicions.
The maps of the rescue plan are only part of the secret material the Iranians captured as a result of seven of the eight U.S. helicopters being left in the desert, U.S. sources said.
The rescue team was supposed to blow up any disabled helicopters to avoid handing the Iranians an intelligence coup. But after the fiery collision of a helicopter and a C130 at Desert One, six helicopters, some with secret material inside, were left behind.
Ordinarily the KH11 photos would be of prime interest to the Soviets. Sources said that since the Soviets already have the KH11 manual -- given them by William Kampiles, a former CIA employe -- the satellite pictures the Iranians obtained are not as big an intelligence loss to the United States as ordinarily would have been the case.