Counterproductive is a word we try not to use often -- because it's so counterproductive. But no word describes quite so well the US-backed clandestine radio broadcasts seeking to undermine the Khomeini government in Iran -- broadcasts that were reported yesterday to have been acknowledged by American officials.
The "Free Voice of Iran" broadcasts are believed to have been begun by the CIA in the middle of May from transmitters in Egypt. They described the Ayatollah as "racist and fascist," supported exiled opponent shahpur Bakhtiar, called for the "liberation" of Iran, and even appealed to Iranians to prepare for armed action.
This provides as clear a case as any that spies should stick to secret gathering of information and not try to undermine or topple governments, whether or not there is added the boomeranging embarrassment of being caught.
In Belgrade last week President Carter joind his hosts in a statement affirming Iran's right to internal development without outside interference. This presumably meant that any US-backed broadcasts inciting Iranians are ended. Mr. Carter would do well to confirm this officially, not least for the sake of the American hostages in Iran. For news of the broadcasts can only backfire, providing ammunition for the Khomeini revolution not against it.
Ant it can feed what many close observers describe as Iranians' genuine fears that the US wants to control events in Iran again as in the days of returning the Shah to power. President Bani-Sadr may be exaggerating somewhat for internal political reasons, but he is serious in expressing this fear in a speech to his nation just this past weekend: "In my opinion, American policy has not been changed, and the United States feels she is Iran's absolute ruler, and if she cannot get hold of Iran today she can have it tomorrow."
This is a fear that Mr. Carter should do everything in his power to dispel. The American people do not want to take over Iran.
Nor, for all their vocal criticism of Ayatollah Khomeini, to they want their country's intelligence agencies trying to interfere in the Iranians' business of solving their own political problems in the wake of revolutionary upheaval.
No one wants to tie the hands of the CIA in obtaining information. But, when it comes to covertly spreading what sounds like incitement to violence or otherwise interfering in sovereign states, current legislative efforts to improve and control the intelligence agencies should be stronger than a bill that was recently passed by the Senate. There are certain things the intelligence agencies of a free democracy cannot do without harm to their integrity and effectiveness. One of them is to corrupt the communications process by using deception to try to turn people against their leaders.