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Scholarship Winner from January 2011 Competition


Winner announced from the January 2011 Scholarship Competition for the

U.S. Army Counterintelligence Special Agent, Staff Sgt. Richard Eaton Jr. Memorial Scholarship


Below is the National Security Essay Submission


Devin Hernandez

January 2011


Why the United States Should Exchange Embassies with Iran


The Islamic Republic of Iran is perhaps America’s most tenacious and dangerous enemy, a government with a great deal of American blood on its hands that has sponsored and trained Shia terrorist groups across the Middle East, provided arms that have killed US soldiers and sought to obtain nuclear weapons. In the face of this threat, the official US diplomatic strategy has been to withhold official diplomatic contact and recognition with the intent of delegitimizing and isolating the Iranian government. While it is understandable that the US Government would be resistant to the idea of engaging diplomatically with an enemy like Iran, the question remains of who is actually hurt by the lack of US-Iranian diplomatic relations. This essay would submit that in fact the lack of a US embassy in Tehran hurts the United States and helps Iran by stunting America’s ability to conduct either intelligence collection or diplomacy in Iran, creating asymmetries in Iran’s favor. Although an exchange of embassies would create some new challenges, these challenges would be manageable and it would ultimately allow the United States to focus more elements of national power on the Iranian regime.


Throughout most of the Cold War, the United States maintained an embassy in Moscow and the Soviet Union maintained an embassy in the United States. Although there were many advantages to maintaining diplomatic contact between the two superpowers, both nations frequently used their embassies for the purpose of intelligence collection. The current lack of a US embassy in Tehran makes it significantly more difficult to gather intelligence in real time on the ground in Iran. The difficulty and risk involved in gathering human intelligence without an embassy means that the US knows far less about Iran’s political, economic and social situation than it could, resulting in less informed decision-making (Baer). Although an Iranian embassy in Washington would present a counterintelligence threat, this would not be fundamentally different from the counterintelligence challenge already created by other foreign embassies. The current situation creates an asymmetry of information in Iran’s favor. Iranian cultural and political factors encourage secrecy and opacity on the part of Iran’s leadership, and there are significant intelligence gaps regarding Iran because of the difficulty involved in observing Iranian society and politics firsthand (Ibid). By contrast, the United States is an open society where anyone with a computer and a library card can access a great deal of information easily and safely. Consequently, an exchange of embassies would be a much more drastic boost to America’s intelligence collection than to Iran’s.


A normalization of relations with Iran would create a number of challenges that would, of course, need to be addressed in order to maximize the benefits it would create. A US Embassy in Tehran and its personnel would be subject to a large number of both counterintelligence and physical threats. Embassy personnel would be living in a hostile, authoritarian country where they would likely be subjected to frequent surveillance, elicitation and attempted recruitment, as has happened previously to American personnel stationed within range of a hostile government’s influence (Herrington). The Iranian government would no doubt be as ruthless in its targeting of an embassy as the Soviets and their allies, and a robust counterintelligence effort would be a vital necessity. Additionally, Tehran would be a physically hazardous duty station. As seen during the Green Movement demonstrations and at other times in Iranian history, the Iranian government is quite willing to use force to defend its internal stability. American personnel could easily be injured in the event of unrest, either deliberately or collaterally. In the event of an assault on an American stationed at the Embassy, it might be difficult to assess whether the altercation resulted from deliberate action by the Iranian government or from a group of Basijis exhibiting poor impulse control. The history of the CIA in Iran might also pose some problems. The Iranian government already accuses dissidents of being traitors and blames problems on foreign malfeasance. An American embassy would doubtless become a rhetorical punching bag when convenient. The Iranian government could conceivably expel US personnel for real or imaginary intelligence collection activities, and then cite such personnel as examples of the threats facing Iran. Additionally, an Iranian Embassy in Washington DC would serve as a collection opportunity for Iran, and could pose some level of security threat in its own right.


Press Release


FULL Essay   

Personal Essay


Keywords: Devin H, Scholarships, National Security Scholarships,

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