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August 2003

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An Agency "Guest" of the Ayatollah
Review by John D. Stempel

In the Shadow of the Ayatollah: A CIA Hostage in IranIn the Shadow of the Ayatollah: A CIA Hostage in Iran. By William J. Daugherty. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2001. Pp. xix, 288. $29.95 cloth.)

"Daugherty's first-hand account of the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis is a first-rate analysis of the failed rescue attempt and the trials of hostage life. It puts the take-over of the U.S. Embassy clearly into the context of events and policy-making."

William Daugherty has produced a first-rate memoir of his time as a CIA hostage in Iran from November, 1979, to January, 1981. Starting with a short historical review that sets the scene, he moves on to the policy issues and decisions which are spelled out in detail with extensive “inside” research. A former Marine, Vietnam veteran, and ex-CIA officer now teaching at a southern university, Daugherty clearly wanted to describe the hostage crisis “from the inside,” so that his fellow Americans would understand its impact.

While there is no dearth of hostage memoirs, this one is unique in its balance and attempt to understand the motivations of the various parties. Daugherty is clearly a good reporter and a solid analyst, with a nice touch of humor. His description of his own fit of laughter when the Embassy occupiers found there was no one in the large vault they were forcing open, is semi-epic. He does a superior job of showing the “grays” rather than the black-and-white of the whole hostage process, especially in his discussions of policy possibilities.

As a former CIA operations officer, his material on the hostage raid itself is the best unclassified critique around of that operation. He has reviewed and used principal sources extensively and augmented these with a series of interviews with key players. He has relatively little on the negotiations for the release of the hostages—but then, he wasn’t there. Overall, Daugherty has done a very good job of using his material to establish the context for his own experiences.

Perhaps the best part of the book, however, is his description of the 444 days in captivity he and his fellow Americans endured. Daugherty neatly blends their day-to-day activities with the broader issues in his descriptions. He does a very balanced job of expressing the mixed views of the various Iranians he was involved with. There is ample material on how the hostages were handled and moved about, and he distinguishes well between his negative personal views about some Iranians and his understanding and respect for Iranian culture in general. Few who underwent his experience could do as well.

The book is well-written, well-organized, and concise. The author's balanced account is informative, direct, and clear. Though one often wishes for more depth on certain points, the book is not a definitive history of the hostage crisis, but rather an excellent individual effort to put the crisis into the context of American life at the time.>

Policy makers, scholars, and academics will find this book most useful because of Daugherty's clearly-written account of how America slid into the hostage crisis. His insight concerning the impact of the whole affair on U.S.-Iranian relations is certainly worth reading as both Washington and Teheran continue their yet-to-be normalized relationship.


John D. Stempel is Professor of International Studies and Director of the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. A 24-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service, he has served as Director of the Department of State's Crisis Center and Director of the Office of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs in the office of the Secretary of Defense. A specialist on Iran and author of Inside the Iranian Revolution, he served in the U.S. Embassy in Teheran from 1975 to 1979. He has chaired and served on the editorial board of the Foreign Service Journal and remains a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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