U.S. Intelligence and terrorism in the 1970s

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For more information, see: Terrorism and U.S. Intelligence.
See also: U.S. Intelligence and terrorism in the 1980s

While there were no major foreign terror actions in the US during the early part of the 1970s, there were actions against US personnel and facilities in other countries. Terrorism was definitely present as a worldwide phenomenon, and the Central Intelligence Agency produced regular reports on it, supported by the United States Intelligence Community.

Attacks on US soil started in 1975, for which the Federal Bureau of Investigation was the lead agency.

During this decade, there were a variety of domestic and foreign groups using terrorism as a weapon. Some, of course, was earlier. The Egyptian government executed Sayyim Qutb in 1966, who had been editor of the journal of the Muslim Brotherhood. Qutb was one of the spiritual mentors of what became al-Qaeda. By no means, however, was radical Islamist terror the dominant driver of terrorism in this period.


The Uruguayan Tupamaros terrorist group kidnapped and killed Agency for International Development Police adviser Dan Mitrione; his body was found on August 10.


Within the context of nationalist terror, multiple Irish Republican Army bombings, starting on "Bloody Friday" (July 21), took place in Northern Ireland.

The best known terrorist in 1972 was the kidnapping and killing of Israeli Olympic team members, in the Munich massacre by the Palestinian group, Black September. West German response was ad hoc and poorly executed, resulting in the deaths of all hostages, several terrorists, and a German police officer. This incident focused world attention on the need for early warning, hostage rescue, and, with great controversy, preemptive and retaliatory attacks on terrorists.


Black September attacked the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan. The terrorists killed the US ambassador, Cleo Noel and other diplomats.

In Guadalajara, Mexico, the People's Revolutionary Armed Forces killed the US consul general.

Between 1973 and 1975, the Symbionese Liberation Army, a group with an unclear but radical agenda, operated domestically.


At Los Angeles Airport, 17 people were injured and 2 were killed at LAX when a bomb exploded near the Pan Am ticket area.


In January, Puerto Rican nationalists bombed a Wall Street bar, killing four and injuring 60; 2 days later, the Weather Underground claims responsibility for an explosion in a bathroom at the U.S. Department of State in Washington.


The hijacking of an Air France passenger aircraft, eventually arriving at Entebbe, Uganda pointed to the need for international antiterrorist cooperation, and also demonstrated the ability to rescue hostages at long range (i.e., the Israeli Operation Entebbe). This became a prototype for other hostage rescue forces, such as those eventually part of United States Special Operations Command.

Terrorism in the US was not necessarily directed at US organizations. Exiled Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier was killed by a car bomb in Washington, D.C. Subsequent investigations suggest the bombers may have had CIA ties in Chile, within the broad context of Operation Condor. The latter was a cooperation among the military dictatorships of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay beginning in 1975.

"... in February 1976, President Gerald Ford signed Executive Order (EO) 11905 which forbade all U.S. government employees from engaging in or conspiring to engage in political assassination" (Section 5(g)). Ford's EO was superseded by President Jimmy Carter's EO 12036, which tightened restrictions on intelligence agencies. The ban on assassinations was continued by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, (EO 12333, Sec 2.11) and extended to apply specifically to intelligence agencies. This ban remains in effect today, although challenges have been mounted in each of the last two years by Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga.[1]


Executive Order 12036, signed by President Carter in 1978, and the current Executive Order, EO 12333, signed by President Reagan in 1981, continued the requirement for oversight to maintain the proper balance between the acquisition of essential information by the Intelligence Community, and the protection of individuals' constitutional and statutory rights.

Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro was seized by the Red Brigades later killed. This brought additional NATO attention to the problem.


In January, Iranian militants captured the buildings and staff of the US embassy in Tehran. A number of CIA operational documents were reconstructed. Subsequently, Operation EAGLE CLAW was launched to rescue the hostages, but failed during the operation in November. As a result, there were major changes in U.S. military special operations and intelligence, including the formation of units that eventually became the United States Special Operations Command. Those included a clandestine intelligence group, separate from the CIA and focused on special operations needs, originally called the Intelligence Support Activity but whose name is classified and frequently changes.

In November, there was Muslim-on-Muslim violence with the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. French security forces assisted the Saudis in recapturing the building, indicating that ad hoc alliances would form for both terrorism and counterterrorism. This took place several weeks after Operation EAGLE CLAW, and U.S. intelligence may have assumed that the Iranians were involved; President Ronald Reagan made accusations. [2] Angered by U.S. suggestions, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini blamed the Americans in a radio address: "We hold America responsible for all these crimes. God willing, at an opportune time we shall deal with her." [3]

In apparent response to Khomeini's statement, a mob burned the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. U.S. intelligence had not expected this; the CIA station chief had gone home for lunch. [4]