The Reagan Administration's secret overtures and arms shipments to Iran are part of a seven-year-long pattern of covert CIA operations--some dating back to the Carter Administration--that were designed both to diminish Soviet influence on the regime of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and to support Iranian exiles who seek to overthrow it, according to informed sources.
In 1983, for example, the CIA participated in a secret operation to provide a list of Soviet KGB agents and collaborators operating in Iran to the Khomeini regime, the sources said. The regime then executed up to 200 suspects and closed down the Communist Tudeh party in Iran, actions that dealt a major blow to KGB operations and Soviet influence there, the sources added.
Khomeini also expelled 18 Soviet diplomats, imprisoned the Tudeh party leaders and publicly thanked God for "the miracle" leading to the arrests of the "treasonous leaders."
Support for Exiles
At the same time, secret presidential intelligence orders, called "findings," authorized the CIA to support Iranian exiles opposed to Khomeini, the sources said. These actions included providing nearly $6 million to the main Iranian exile movement, financing an anti-Khomeini exile group radio station in Egypt and supplying a miniaturized television transmitter for an 11-minute clandestine broadcast to Iran two months ago by Reza Pahlavi, the son of the late Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who vowed, "I will return."
One well-placed intelligence source said that this support of the anti-Khomeini exile movement is "just one level above (intelligence) collection" and that the money involved was equivalent to the "walking-around money" frequently distributed in American political campaigns. Administration officials stressed that the CIA operations were not intended to bring about Khomeini's downfall but were aimed primarily at obtaining intelligence about his regime through the exile groups.
The White House and Administration spokesmen declined to comment on these CIA operations. Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter, the President's national security affairs adviser, told a television interviewer Sunday that "I don't want to confirm or deny any other operations" and added that "we aren't seeking the overthrow of the Khomeini regime."
Press and broadcast reports from Iran have repeatedly accused the U.S. government of backing anti-Khomeini exile activities. Informed sources said the Khomeini regime knows many of the details of the CIA operations because it has agents inside the Iranian exile groups.
Some of the Iranian exiles in Paris said it is well-known within their groups that they have received CIA money. Sources also said that some of the CIA money was used to speculate in currency markets in Switzerland.
Administration sources said that all CIA programs concerning Iran have been designed with several objectives: to build bridges to potential Iranian leaders, to use the exiles for information about what is happening in Iran, to develop independent intelligence sources, to win friends, to diminish Soviet influence and to keep pressure on the Khomeini regime by demonstrating that the exile and dissident opposition is active.
Iran's political turbulence and the possibility that one of the exile groups could some day assume power justifies a U.S. strategy that proceeds on several tracks, according to several Administration officials, and that view is shared by some former U.S. intelligence officers.