Skip to main content

Former U.S. Embassy in Iran: mistrust endures where hostages held

By Jennifer Rizzo, CNN
updated 8:49 PM EST, Thu January 30, 2014
A view of the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Once a prison for over 50 American hostages nearly 35 years ago, the two-story building is run by the Iranian government and has been turned into an Islamic cultural center and a propaganda museum of sorts for the Islamic Revolution. CNN's Jim Sciutto visited the facility. See the photo gallery. A view of the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Once a prison for over 50 American hostages nearly 35 years ago, the two-story building is run by the Iranian government and has been turned into an Islamic cultural center and a propaganda museum of sorts for the Islamic Revolution. CNN's Jim Sciutto visited the facility. See the photo gallery.
HIDE CAPTION
Inside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran
Inside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran
Inside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran
Inside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran
Inside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran
Inside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran
Inside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran
Inside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN tours old embassy building in Tehran - part time warp, part propaganda museum
  • It shows no sign of terror around 1979-81 hostage crisis
  • But counter area where U.S. Marine guards had been posted still intact
  • Murals reinforce conspiracy theories around 9/11 attacks

(CNN) -- Nearly 35 years ago, Iranian revolutionaries stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and began a painful chapter for America as the "Great Satan."

Today, the building where anti-Americanism raged and captives were held for 444 days is now an Islamic cultural center and a propaganda museum of sorts for the Islamic Revolution.

CNN's Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto visited the complex this week. It is rare for westerners to walk its halls.

Although the two-story building shows no signs of terror from the 1979-81 hostage crisis, it remains a symbol of mistrust that still endures for many.

Inside site of Iranian hostage crisis

Upon entering, the counter area where U.S. Marine guards had been posted when the embassy was seized is intact, as is the colorful tile work on some of the walls.

There are offices on the first floor, while exhibits are displayed on the second.

Upstairs is an office where CNN's guide says the CIA was housed. The entrance is the door to a vault.

"Is it the same combination that it was?" Sciutto asks.

"Yes," the guide responds, explaining the students who stormed the building extracted the combination from hostages during what he said were "negotiations."

Past the vault door, the Iranians claim was the secure section where the CIA worked.

That's a reason the guide gives for the takeover, which was dramatized in the Oscar-winning film Argo.

While many Iranians have grown disillusioned with the Islamic revolution, anti-American anger endures.

"Do you still believe it was justified to hold the Americans as hostages?" the guide is asked.

"Definitely, yes." he says. "Based on international law the U.S. embassy should function as the embassy and not interfere in internal affairs. It's like somebody is snooping around your house. What would you do?"

Each room and every piece of equipment is an exhibit.

There is a sound-proof meeting room, encrypted Telex machines -- one marked as belonging to the National Security Agency -- and the shredders said to have been used by embassy staff to destroy secret documents as the diplomatic facility fell to the revolutionaries.

Revolutionary propaganda is everywhere. Bright red murals cover the main stairway walls leading to the second floor.

The paintings tell a familiar Middle Eastern conspiracy theory claiming the United States was behind the September 11, 2001, attacks.

"Do you believe America brought down the twin towers?" the guide is asked about the World Trade Center in New York.

"For sure, yes," he replies adamantly.

Why would America would kill its own people?

"They wanted to make their people believe they are in danger so they could attack other countries," he says. "Do you think that it's possible a plane can crash such a building?"

Officially, the United States and Iran have softened their tone more recently.

The two are participating in international negotiations to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions over the long term in exchange for easing economic sanctions. An interim deal is in place for the next six months.

"Let's say America and Iran both abide by the agreement. Can you ever imagine American diplomats returning to this embassy?" Sciutto asks the guide.

He smiles and laughs.

"You cannot trust America," he says. "America is the Great Satan."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:54 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
A decade on from devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross' Matthias Schmale says that the lessons learned have made us safer.
updated 7:24 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
updated 1:44 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
updated 8:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Monaco's newborn royals, Princess Gabriella and Crown Prince Jacques Honore Rainier, posed for their first official photos with their parents.
updated 12:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
updated 3:22 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of escalating and deescalating tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
updated 4:00 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
updated 6:34 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
New planes, new flight tests ... but will we get cheaper airfares?
updated 12:46 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
updated 9:51 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it has never looked better.
updated 11:21 AM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
Unicef has warned that more than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation.
updated 12:01 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT