The CIA has finally admitted that it was behind a 1953 coup that overthrew the democratically elected prime minister of Iran and restored that country's long-ruling monarchy, a move with serious long-term geostrategic and human consequences.
The CIA admission comes on the 60th anniversary of the coup that overthrew Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. Foreign Policyreports declassified US documents obtained by the National Security Archive at Georgetown University through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request prove beyond any doubt that the United States was behind the coup. Part of a 1970s internal CIA report titled "The Battle for Iran," the history was released in 1981 but the entire section titled "Covert Action," which details the 1953 coup, was redacted.
"The military coup that overthrew Mossadegh and his National Front cabinet was carried out under CIA direction as an act of US foreign policy," the CIA document states, adding that the risk of leaving Iran "open to Soviet aggression compelled the United States... in planning an executing TPAJAX." The coup was internally known as Operation Ajax.
American oil companies had won major concessions in Iran, which was ruled by the monarch Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, during World War II. At first the relationship between the US and the Iranian monarchy seemed symbiotic; the Americans gained access to Iran's vast oil resources while the Shah garnered valuable support and security for his regime. But Washington's true intentions were no secret: "The obvious fact is that we shall soon be in a position of actually 'running' Iran," State Department official Wallace Murray said in 1942.
Then, as now, there was a 'revolving door' between 'Big Oil' and the US government and a blurring of lines between corporate and government interests. "American oil companies are, for all practical purposes, instruments of foreign policy towards countries," Secretary of State Dean Acheson frankly admitted in 1953.
In 1951 the people of Iran, perhaps emboldened by US President Harry S. Truman's pledge to "assist free people to work out their own destinies in their own way," elected Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh as their new prime minister. He soon nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which despite its equitable-looking hyphenation was a British-owned monopoly known today as BP. Mossadegh expelled British technicians from Anglo-Iranian refineries and broke off relations with London. His actions made his the most popular and democratic government Iranians have ever known. Time magazine called him "the Iranian George Washington," naming him 1951's 'Man of the Year.'
But the British were furious. They hatched a plot to depose Mossadegh and sought US assistance. President Truman would have none of it. But his successor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, warmed to the idea. His secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, and his brother, CIA director Allen Dulles, were keen to see Mossadegh ousted. Both Dulles brothers had also worked as attorneys at a law firm which represented Anglo-Iranian.
In 1953, the CIA launched Operation Ajax, fomenting unrest through street violence and a vigorous propaganda campaign. A reluctant Shah was restored to his throne and the wildly popular, democratically elected Mossadegh was deposed and imprisoned. Iran's oil industry was once again under foreign control, but this time with one major difference-- this time, the United States seized 40 percent of the oil for itself.
Washington would later claim all of this was done to prevent Iran from "going communist," but a 1953 State Department report concluded Mossadegh had no communist sympathies. In fact, he opposed Soviet meddling in Iran, and main Iranian communist party was dead-set against his rule.
The US really wanted to control Iranian natural resources. In order to help the Shah maintain an iron grip on his country, the CIA, in concert with Israel, created SAVAK, Iran's internal security service. SAVAK specialized in horrific CIA-taught torture techniques and CIA torture films that 'starred' live human victims, including women.
Five American presidents enthusiastically supported the Shah and his brutal regime over the following quarter century, providing more than a billion dollars in aid and selling Iran the latest high-tech US weaponry. Jimmy Carter, the 'human rights president,' feted the Shah at the White House (despite angry protests) and rang in the New Year with him at a lavish state dinner in Tehran in 1977. "There is no other state figure whom I could appreciate or like more," Carter said of the brutal monarch.
US actions in Iran beginning with the 1953 coup bred enormous long-term animosity toward the US government, which culminated in the 1979 takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran by Islamic revolutionaries. Whereas many Americans portray Iran's government as irrationally hostile toward the US, there is no doubt whatsoever regarding the origins of the US-Iran conflict-- it began on August 19, 1953 with the CIA-led overthrow of the most democratic and popular government Iranians had ever known.
The CIA's new admission isn't exactly an earth-shaking revelation; the role of the US and Britain in overthrowing Mossadegh has long been known due to admissions by participants, presidents (including Barack Obama), and even those who helped orchestrate the coup. Still, transparency proponents and human rights advocates welcomed the Agency's mea culpa and expressed hope that it leads to more opening of the historical record of US involvement in other decidedly undemocratic undertakings.