Purported U.S. Secrets on Sale : Iranian Bookstore in Encino Sells Series About Seized Documents

Times Staff Writer

Ketab, an Iranian bookstore in Encino, has all kinds of books in Farsi, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

But it also has 49 of the 53 volumes purporting to contain secret documents seized by student militants at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. The books, written in English and Farsi, the language of Iran, are part of Ketab’s 8,000-volume private library. But the store has about a dozen duplicates for sale.

“I am not for Khomeini,” said Bijan Khalili, part owner of the Ketab Corp. bookstore and library on Ventura Boulevard. “I am against him. But we have democracy here,” he said, referring to the bookstore, “just like in the U.S.”


The volumes, which the Iranian government says are published in Iran by the same student militants who occupied the embassy for 444 days during the Carter Administration, are not widely available.

Ibrahim Pourhadi, an Iranian specialist at the Library of Congress, said his unit has all 53 volumes and several major university libraries may also have them, but that he knows of no others for sale in this country, except for those at the Encino store.

More Volumes Expected

Pourhadi said many more of the volumes are expected to be published before the documents are exhausted and he relies on friends and other sources to provide them as they come out. Khalili said he obtains the books from Iranian book dealers, the same way he gets other Iranian works.

Iran has no diplomatic relations with the United States. But Amir Zamani, press officer at the Iranian Mission to the United Nations in New York, said the series, called “Documents from the Den of the Spies,” is being published by a group called “Students Following the Line of the Imam.”

He said the group consists of the same student militants who seized the embassy. Although Zamani did not know who financed publishing of the books, he said his government was not involved.

Neither is his government perturbed, he added.

“Certainly, at this time, the relationship between Iran and the U.S. is at a state in which actions of this sort are not disturbing,” he said.


State Department officials familiar with the volumes could not be reached, and a spokeswoman for the Central Intelligence Agency said it is agency policy not to comment.

The books, which sell for about $7 at the Encino store, apparently contain thousands of pages of classified reports and communications concerning Iran and other countries in the Middle East.

Company Started in 1980

Ketab, which means book in Farsi, was founded by Khalili and his partner, Sohrab Rostamian, in 1980, shortly after they arrived in the United States. Both are Iranian Jews in their middle 30s who say they fled political repression after the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in their country.

The bookstore draws many of its customers from a Persian community in Southern California that is estimated to number 110,000 to 300,000 people. Besides owning the bookstore, Ketab publishes an Iranian Yellow Pages and serves as an unofficial information center for Iranian immigrants in the area, Khalili said.

Some of the documents shown in the embassy volumes have clearly been reassembled after shredding, and many are marked confidential or secret. An entire volume is devoted to documents concerning Israel, another to documents about Kuwait.

There are records purportedly detailing U.S. efforts to cultivate sources within the clerical aristocracy that came to power after the fall of the shah in February, 1979, and documents describing poor security at the U.S. Embassy compound.


Subjects covered range from the mundane (formation of a volleyball league among diplomatic personnel) to the conspiratorial. In one volume, for example, there are instructions for using what appears to be a fake Belgian passport.

A ‘Cover Occupation’

“Your cover occupation is that of a commercial business representative,” the instructions say. “It is not uncommon to find a Belgian whose native language is Flemish living in a nominally French-speaking section of Belgium. . . . You can say that you were born in Antwerp.”

Another document, marked “SECRET / SENSITIVE,” concerns embassy security and appears to be dated Aug. 1, 1979, about three months before the embassy was seized.

“We have the impression that the threat to U.S. Embassy personnel is less now than it was in the spring; presumably the threat will diminish somewhat further by the end of this year. Nevertheless, the danger of hostages being taken in Iran will persist.

“We should make no move towards admitting the shah until we have obtained and tested a new and substantially more effective guard force for the embassy. Secondly, when the decision is made to admit the shah, we should quietly assign additional American security guards to the embassy to provide protection for key personnel until the danger period is considered over.”