On March 16, 1984, William Buckley, officially described at the time as a diplomat attached to the U.S. embassy, was kidnapped off a Beirut street by elements of Hezbollah, a fundamentalist Shiite group with strong links to the Khomeini regime.
Buckley was no ordinary diplomat. He was the CIA station chief in Beirut, and an official with some specialized responsibilities and connections. As Oliver North later testified, Buckley was "an expert on terrorism" involved in a very "sensitive" job before he left Washington for Beirut. North stated that in the course of his antiterrorist work he had developed a "personal" relationship with CIA Director William Casey. Other sources report that Buckley was an old associate of Theodore Shackley, who, it may be recalled, had reportedly had a hand with Edwin Wilson in running a program for eliminating hostile terrorists. Indeed, Buckley had had to approve CIA assassinations undertaken by the Shackley organizations.
Losing Buckley to Hezbollah was bad enough, but anguish in Washington turned to consternation when it was learned that Buckley was being tortured to reveal his copious fund of secrets. It did not take long before familiar figures from the Shackley-Clines secret network began to get involved in this new crisis. On April 2, 1984, less than three weeks after Buckley's disappearance, President Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 138. This authorized the creation of a new counterterrorism task force charged with planning the rescue of hostages held by Iran (as well as "neutralizing" terrorist threats from Iran, Libya, and Nicaragua). The new group was reportedly to be headed by retired Gen. Richard Secord. Though Secord denies any association with the task force, Pentagon sources confirm it, adding that the directive was drafted by Oliver North.
By November 1985, Theodore Shackley had entered the fray on behalf of his old associate Buckley. On November 22 the Blond Ghost reported to the CIA that he had just met in Hamburg with Gen. Manucher Hashemi, the former head of SAVAK's counterintelligence division. Hashemi had introduced him to Manuchehr Ghorbanifar, who, as Shackley speedily informed the CIA, was another SAVAK alumnus with "fantastic" contacts in Iran.
The basic topic of this meeting-following some high-minded sentiments about "moderates," the desirability of a "meaningful dialogue with Washington," and "destiny" was to discuss arms shipments, specifically American TOW antitank missiles. Shackley, in his cabled report on the meeting to the CIA, said that Ghorbanifar "further suggested the possibility of a cash ransom paid to Iran for the four Americans kidnapped in Lebanon, including Buckley, who, he said after making telephone calls, was still alive. The transaction could be disguised by using Ghorbanifar as a middleman." Shackley reported that Ghorbanifar needed a response by December 8, 1984. As Shackley told the Tower Commission, the State Department replied later that month, in effect, "Thank you but we will work this problem out via other channels."