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OSI stalwart reflects on Iran, career

Air Force Office of Special Investigations Special Agent Richard F. Law's identification card from his Iran tour. (Courtesy photo)

Air Force Office of Special Investigations Special Agent Richard F. Law's identification card from his Iran tour. (Courtesy photo)

Special Agent Richard F. Law assumed command of AFOSI Detachment 6930 in Tehran, Iran in June 1970. (Courtesy photo)

Special Agent Richard F. Law assumed command of AFOSI Detachment 6930 in Tehran, Iran in June 1970. (Courtesy photo)

Now retired, Col.(Special Agent) Richard F. Law was on scene in Tehran, Iran, for two early 1970s assassination plots against U.S. military personnel, here capturing an image from one crime scene. (Courtesy photo)

Now retired, Col. (Special Agent) Richard F. Law was in Tehran, Iran, for two early 1970s assassination plots against U.S. military personnel, here capturing an image from one crime scene. (Courtesy photo)

QUANTICO, Va. -- As Iranian nuclear deal discussions continue to make headlines, the contributing legacy of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations agents who earlier served in Iran cannot be understated.

A permanent AFOSI footprint was activated in Tehran as a resident agency on July 1, 1966. It was re-designated as Detachment 6930 on July 1, 1968. Its third commander was Col. Richard F. Law.

As one of the principal architects of the OSI legacy in Iran, Special Agent Law reflected on his experiences there following his assumption of command in June 1970.

In the beginning, his detachment was listed in manning documents and in the telephone directory as part of the Judge Advocate General because agents were instructed not to have direct contact with any law enforcement or security agency in Iran.

"We were not permitted to say we were a security, counterintelligence or criminal investigative agency, said Law, a 30-year veteran of OSI counterintelligence. "The fear was the Iranians would be upset we brought investigators into the country."       

Law's two predecessor detachment commanders established good contacts with Iranian police and the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps.

"(Special Agent James) McAlpin and (Special Agent Jack) Lewis planted the flag and got things going," Law said. "By the time I got there, they had developed relationships with the Iranian agencies which made it easier for me."

Law and the base commander eventually coordinated a memorandum of understanding allowing OSI personnel to identify themselves as OSI.

During Law's watch, his four-person detachment's primary mission was to develop double agent operations and asset support operations for the U. S. Embassy in Tehran. The det also conducted defensive counterintelligence operations by collecting information on the hostile intelligence presence in Iran.

While counterintelligence and counterespionage constituted the majority of the agents workload, they conducted an active criminal and fraud investigations program in the city, including multiple black-market operations, an overseas problem at the time.

Detachment agents experienced substantial autonomy resulting from poor communication systems between Tehran, Ankara, Turkey, and Washington, D.C.

"It wasn't like today. You couldn't just pick up a phone and call any country. The connection was really poor, especially with Headquarters OSI," Law said. "For the most part, we were just out there and they really didn't know what we were doing."

For the first six years of OSI's official presence in Iran there were no serious attacks on Americans. Then in May 1972 an assassination attempt was made on Maj. Gen. Harold Price, the senior Air Force officer in the Military Assistance Advisory Group to Iran. Price's legs were broken as a result of a bomb detonating on a telephone pole as his car passed by. If not for the vehicle's armor, the result could have been fatal.

Law was the first American to arrive on the scene.

"That made the Iranians very upset," he said. "I was the only American interfacing with the Iranians at that point, and I wanted to get General Price's attaché case because I was sure it contained classified information."

On June 2, 1973, Lt. Col. Lewis Hawkins, a U. S. Army military adviser, was shot to death by two gunmen believed to be members of a radical leftist guerrilla group.

Despite the Price assassination attempt and the Hawkins assassination, Law was among the OSI agents and their families who felt safe in Iran. 

"Because Iran was so pro-American and pro-West, I had a very safe, comfortable feeling," Law said. "I was not afraid to drive to the Iranian police station by myself."

Like many Americans who lived on the local economy, Law and his family blended into the community. The Laws' Iranian maid took their son to the market and elsewhere in Tehran.

"If I hadn't trusted her or felt it was not safe, I wouldn't have allowed her to do that," he said.

Besides Iran, the well-traveled Law served in Thailand, Greece, Germany, Saudi Arabia and a remote detachment in Turkey, where as a young lieutenant early in his career he was the commander.

"My investigative skills were minimal, so I relied on my enlisted special agents to teach me the ropes," Law explained. "These relationships continued as I progressed throughout my career to where I became the mentor."

He rose through the ranks from a street agent to the second ranking officer in his command. He was the Air Force Director of Counterintelligence for five years and the Deputy Chief of Staff for Counterintelligence and Investigation during Desert Storm.

Following 30 years on active duty, the 1961 Citadel graduate joined the Central Intelligence Agency as a staff officer and senior consultant.

"OSI equipped me with a unique skill set that served me well in my post-military career as a Fortune 500 investigator and later as a counterintelligence specialist for the U. S. Government," Law said.

September 2015 marked more than 50 years of government service in the counterintelligence arena for Law.

"I've been very blessed to serve our country for over 50 years doing the things I truly enjoyed accomplishing," he said. "OSI gave me a strong work ethic and bonds of friendship I'll cherish for the rest of my life."

The legacy he left as a special agent earned him many honors, punctuated by his 1998 induction into the Air Force OSI Hall of Fame.

What advice would Law give to prospective OSI special agents?

"If an individual enjoys being an investigator, they should stay for the long haul because every assignment adds another opportunity," he said.

(Editor's Note: The AFOSI History Office contributed to this story which first appeared in the Fall 2015 Global Reliance Magazine.)