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CIA Confirms Role in 1953 Iranian Coup

Declassified documents describe in detail how US – with British help – engineered coup against Mohammad Mosaddeq.Mohammed Mosaddeq

The CIA has publicly admitted for the first time that it was behind the notorious 1953 coup against Iran‘s democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, in documents that also show how the British government tried to block the release of information about its own involvement in his overthrow.

On the 60th anniversary of an event often invoked by Iranians as evidence of western meddling, the US national security archive at George Washington University published a series of declassified CIA documents.

“[T]he military coup that overthrew Mosaddeq and his National Front cabinet was carried out under CIA direction as an act of US foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government,” reads a previously excised section of an internal CIA history titled The Battle for Iran.

The documents, published on the archive’s website under freedom of information laws, describe in detail how the US – with British help – engineered the coup, codenamed TPAJAX by the CIA and Operation Boot by Britain’s MI6.

Britain, and in particular Sir Anthony Eden, the foreign secretary, regarded Mosaddeq as a serious threat to its strategic and economic interests after the Iranian leader nationalised the British Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, latterly known as BP. But the UK needed US support. The Eisenhower administration in Washington was easily persuaded.

British documents show how senior officials in the 1970s tried to stop Washington from releasing documents that would be “very embarrassing” to the UK.

Official papers in the UK remain secret, even though accounts of Britain’s role in the coup are widespread. In 2009 the former foreign secretary Jack Straw publicly referred to many British “interferences” in 20th-century Iranian affairs. On Monday the Foreign Office said it could neither confirm nor deny Britain’s involvement in the coup.

The previously classified US documents include telegrams from Kermit Roosevelt, the senior CIA officer on the ground in Iran during the coup. Others, including a draft in-house CIA history by Scott Kock titled Zendebad, Shah! (Viva, Shah!), say that according to Monty Woodhouse, MI6’s station chief in Tehran at the time, Britain needed US support for a coup. Eden agreed. “Woodhouse took his words as tantamount to permission to pursue the idea” with the US, Kock wrote.

Mosaddeq’s overthrow, still a core reason for Iranian mistrust of British and American politicians, consolidated the shah’s rule for the next 26 years until the 1979 Islamic revolution. It was aimed at making sure the Iranian monarchy would safeguard the west’s oil interests in the country.

The archived CIA documents include a draft internal history of the coup titled “Campaign to install a pro-western government in Iran”, which defines the objective of the campaign as “through legal, or quasi-legal, methods to effect the fall of the Mosaddeq government; and to replace it with a pro-western government under the shah’s leadership with Zahedi as its prime minister”.

One document describes Mosaddeq as one of the “most mercurial, maddening, adroit, and provocative leaders with whom they [the US and Britain] had ever dealt”. The document says Mosaddeq “found the British evil, not incomprehensible”, and “he and millions of Iranians believed that for centuries Britain had manipulated their country for British ends”. Another document refers to conducting a “war of nerves” against Mossadeq.

The Iranian-Armenian historian Ervand Abrahamian, author of The Coup: 1953, the CIA and the Roots of Modern US-Iranian Relations, said in a recent interview that the coup was designed “to get rid of a nationalist figure who insisted that oil should be nationalised”.

Unlike other nationalist leaders, including Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, Mosaddeq epitomised a unique “anti-colonial” figure who was also committed to democratic values and human rights, Abrahamian argued.

Some analysts argue that Mosaddeq failed to compromise with the west and the coup took place against the backdrop of communism fears in Iran. “My study of the documents proves to me that there was never really a fair compromise offered to Mosaddeq, what they wanted Mosaddeq to do is to give up oil nationalisation and if he’d given that of course then the national movement would have been meaningless,” he told the Iranian online publication, Tableau magazine.

“My argument is that there was never really a realistic threat of communism … discourse and the way justifying any act was to talk about communist danger, so it was something used for the public, especially the American and the British public.”

Despite the latest releases, a significant number of documents about the coup remain secret. Malcolm Byrne, deputy director of the national security archive, has called on the US intelligence authorities to release the remaining records and documents.

“There is no longer good reason to keep secrets about such a critical episode in our recent past. The basic facts are widely known to every school child in Iran,” he said. “Suppressing the details only distorts the history, and feeds into myth-making on all sides.”

In recent years Iranian politicians have sought to compare the dispute over the country’s nuclear activities to that of the oil nationalisation period during Mosaddeq, with supporters of the former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad often invoking the coup.

US officials have previously expressed regret about the coup but have fallen short of issuing an official apology. The British government has never acknowledged its role.

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Saeed Kamali Dehghan and Richard Norton-Taylor – The Guardian

Monday 19 August 2013 14.26 EDT

Related link – http://tinyurl.com/m695nx7

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CIA Confirms Role in 1953 Iran Coup

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Documents Provide New Details on Mosaddeq Overthrow and Its Aftermath

National Security Archive Calls for Release of Remaining Classified Record

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 435

Posted – August 19, 2013

Washington, D.C., August 19, 2013 – Marking the sixtieth anniversary of the overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, the National Security Archive is today posting recently declassified CIA documents on the United States’ role in the controversial operation. American and British involvement in Mosaddeq’s ouster has long been public knowledge, but today’s posting includes what is believed to be the CIA’s first formal acknowledgement that the agency helped to plan and execute the coup.

The explicit reference to the CIA’s role appears in a copy of an internal history, The Battle for Iran, dating from the mid-1970s. The agency released a heavily excised version of the account in 1981 in response to an ACLU lawsuit, but it blacked out all references to TPAJAX, the code name for the U.S.-led operation. Those references appear in the latest release. Additional CIA materials posted today include working files from Kermit Roosevelt, the senior CIA officer on the ground in Iran during the coup. They provide new specifics as well as insights into the intelligence agency’s actions before and after the operation.


This map shows the disposition of bands of “ruffians,” paid to demonstrate by coup organizers, early on August 19, 1953. The bands gathered in the bazaar and other sections of southern Tehran, then moved north through the capital. Thug leaders’ names appear at left, along with the estimated size of their groups, and their targets. (Courtesy of Ali Rahnema, author of the forthcoming Thugs, Turn-coats, Soldiers, Spooks: Anatomy of Overthrowing Mosaddeq in Four Days.)

The 1953 coup remains a topic of global interest because so much about it is still under intense debate. Even fundamental questions — who hatched the plot, who ultimately carried it out, who supported it inside Iran, and how did it succeed — are in dispute.[1]

The issue is more than academic. Political partisans on all sides, including the Iranian government, regularly invoke the coup to argue whether Iran or foreign powers are primarily responsible for the country’s historical trajectory, whether the United States can be trusted to respect Iran’s sovereignty, or whether Washington needs to apologize for its prior interference before better relations can occur.


Pro-Shah police, military units and undercover agents became engaged in the coup starting mid-morning August 19. (Courtesy of Ali Rahnema, author of the forthcoming Thugs, Turn-coats, Soldiers, Spooks: Anatomy of Overthrowing Mosaddeq in Four Days.)

Also, the public release of these materials is noteworthy because CIA documents about 1953 are rare. First of all, agency officials have stated that most of the records on the coup were either lost or destroyed in the early 1960s, allegedly because the record-holders’ “safes were too full.”[2]

Regarding public access to any remaining files (reportedly about one cubic foot of material), the intelligence community’s standard procedure for decades has been to assert a blanket denial. This is in spite of commitments made two decades ago by three separate CIA directors. Robert M. Gates, R. James Woolsey, and John M. Deutch each vowed to open up agency historical files on a number of Cold War-era covert operations, including Iran, as a sign of the CIA’s purported new policy of openness after the collapse of the USSR in 1991.[3]


Tanks played a critical role on August 19, with pro-Shah forces gaining control of some 24 of them from the military during the course of the day. (Courtesy of Ali Rahnema, author of the forthcoming Thugs, Turn-coats, Soldiers, Spooks: Anatomy of Overthrowing Mosaddeq in Four Days.)

A clear sign that their pledge would not be honored in practice came after the National Security Archive filed a lawsuit in 1999 for a well-known internal CIA narrative about the coup. One of the operation’s planners, Donald N. Wilber, prepared the account less than a year later. The CIA agreed to release just a single sentence out of the 200-page report.

Despite the appearance of countless published accounts about the operation over the years – including Kermit Roosevelt’s own detailed memoir, and the subsequent leak to The New York Times of the 200-page CIA narrative history[4] — intelligence agencies typically refused to budge. They have insisted on making a distinction between publicly available information on U.S. activities from non-government sources and official acknowledgement of those activities, even several decades after the fact.


Anti-Mosaddeq armed forces converged on his house (left side of map) beginning around 4:00 pm, eventually forcing him to escape over a garden wall before his house was destroyed. By then, Zahedi had already addressed the nation from the Radio Transmission Station. (Courtesy of Ali Rahnema, author of the forthcoming Thugs, Turn-coats, Soldiers, Spooks: Anatomy of Overthrowing Mosaddeq in Four Days.)

While the National Security Archive applauds the CIA’s decision to make these materials available, today’s posting shows clearly that these materials could have been safely declassified many years ago without risk of damage to the national security. (See sidebar, “Why is the Coup Still a Secret?”)

Archive Deputy Director Malcolm Byrne called for the U.S. intelligence community to make fully available the remaining records on the coup period. “There is no longer good reason to keep secrets about such a critical episode in our recent past. The basic facts are widely known to every school child in Iran. Suppressing the details only distorts the history, and feeds into myth-making on all sides.”

To supplement the recent CIA release, the National Security Archive is including two other, previously available internal accounts of the coup. One is the narrative referred to above: a 1954 Clandestine Services History prepared by Donald N. Wilber, one of the operation’s chief architects, which The New York Times obtained by a leak and first posted on its site in April 2000.

The other item is a heavily excised 1998 piece — “Zendebad, Shah!” — by an in-house CIA historian. (The Archive has asked the CIA to re-review the document’s excessive deletions for future release.)

The posting also features an earlier declassification of The Battle for Iran for purposes of comparison with the latest release. The earlier version includes portions that were withheld in the later release. As often happens, government classification officials had quite different — sometimes seemingly arbitrary — views about what could and could not be safely made public.

Read together, the three histories offer fascinating variations in perspective — from an agency operative to two in-house historians (the last being the most dispassionate). Unfortunately, they still leave wide gaps in the history, including on some fundamental questions which may never be satisfactorily answered — such as how to apportion responsibility for planning and carrying out the coup among all the Iranian and outside actors involved.

But all 21 of the CIA items posted today (in addition to 14 previously unpublished British documents — see Sidebar), reinforce the conclusion that the United States, and the CIA in particular, devoted extensive resources and high-level policy attention toward bringing about Mosaddeq’s overthrow, and smoothing over the aftermath.


DOCUMENTS

CIA Records

CIA Internal Histories

Document 1 (Cover SheetSummaryIIIIIIIVVVIVIIVIIIIXXAppendix AAppendix BAppendix CAppendix DAppendix E): CIA, Clandestine Services History,Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran: November 1952 – August 1953, Dr. Donald N. Wilber, March 1954

Source: The New York Times

Donald Wilber was a principal planner of the initial joint U.S.-U.K. coup attempt of August 1953. This 200-page account is one of the most valuable remaining records describing the event because Wilber wrote it within months of the overthrow and provided a great deal of detail. Like any historical document, it must be read with care, taking into account the author’s personal perspective, purpose in writing it, and audience. The CIA routinely prepared histories of important operations for use by future operatives. They were not intended to be made public.

Document 2: CIA, Summary, “Campaign to Install a Pro-Western Government in Iran,” draft of internal history of the coup, undated

Source: CIA Freedom of Information Act release

This heavily excised summary was almost certainly prepared in connection with Donald Wilber’s Clandestine Services History (Document 1). By all indications written not long after the coup (1953-54), it includes several of the phrases Wilber used — “quasi-legal,” and “war of nerves,” for example. The text clearly gives the impression that the author attributes the coup’s eventual success to a combination of external and internal developments. Beginning by listing a number of specific steps taken by the U.S. under the heading “CIA ACTION,” the document notes at the end (in a handwritten edit): “These actions resulted in literal revolt of the population, [1+ lines excised]. The military and security forces joined the populace, Radio Tehran was taken over, and Mossadeq was forced to flee on 17 [sic] Aug 53.”

Document 3 a & b: CIA, History, The Battle for Iran, author’s name excised, undated (c. mid-1970s) – (Two versions – declassified in 1981 and 2011)

Source: CIA Freedom of Information Act release

This posting provides two separate releases of the same document, declassified 30 years apart (1981 and 2011). Each version contains portions excised in the other. Though no date is given, judging from citations in the footnotes The Battle for Iran was written in or after 1974. It is marked “Administrative – Working Paper” and contains a number of handwritten edits. The author was a member of the CIA’s History Staff who acknowledges “the enthusiastic cooperation” of the agency’s Directorate of Operations. The author provides confirmation that most of the relevant files were destroyed in 1962; therefore the account relies on the relatively few remaining records as well as on public sources. The vast majority of the covert action portion (Section III) remains classified, although the most recent declassification of the document leaves in some brief, but important, passages. An unexpected feature of the document (Appendix C) is the inclusion of a series of lengthy excerpts of published accounts of the overthrow designed, apparently, to underscore how poorly the public understood the episode at the time.

Document 4: CIA, History, “Zendebad, Shah!”: The Central Intelligence Agency and the Fall of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq, August 1953, Scott A. Koch, June 1998

Source: CIA Freedom of Information Act release

The most recent known internal history of the coup, “Zendebad, Shah!” was written by an in-house agency historian in 1998. It is heavily excised (but currently undergoing re-review by the CIA), with virtually all paragraphs marked Confidential or higher omitted from the public version. Still, it is a useful account written by someone without a stake in the events and drawing on an array of U.S. government and published sources not available to the earlier CIA authors.

CIA Records Immediately Before and After the Coup

Document 5: CIA, memo from Kermit Roosevelt to [Excised], July 14, 1953

Source: CIA Freedom of Information Act release

Kermit Roosevelt conveys information about rapidly unfolding events in Tehran, including Mosaddeq’s idea for a referendum on his remaining in office, the prospect of his closing the Majles, and most importantly the impact President Eisenhower’s recent letter has had in turning society against the prime minister. The U.S. government publicized Eisenhower’s undiplomatic letter turning down Mosaddeq’s request for financial aid. The move was one of the ways Washington hoped to weaken his political standing.

Document 6: CIA, memo from Kermit Roosevelt to [Excised], July 15, 1953

Source: CIA Freedom of Information Act release

Responding to the resignation of Mosaddeq supporters from the Majles, Kermit Roosevelt fires off a plan to ensure that other Majles members keep the parliament functioning, the eventual goal being to engineer a no-confidence in Mosaddeq. The memo provides an interesting clue on the subject of whether CIA operatives ever bought votes in the Majles, about which other CIA sources are vague. Roosevelt urges that as many deputies as possible be “persuaded” to take bast in the parliament. “Recognize will be necessary expend money this purpose and determine precisely who does what.” At the conclusion of the document he appears to tie this scheme into the previously elaborated — but clearly evolving — coup plan.

Document 7: CIA, memo from Kermit Roosevelt to [Excised], July 16, 1953

Source: CIA Freedom of Information Act release

Roosevelt reports on developing plans involving Fazlollah Zahedi, the man who has been chosen to replace Mosaddeq. CIA sources, including the Wilber history, indicate that the military aspects of the plan were to be largely Zahedi’s responsibility. This memo supports that (even though many details are excised), but also provides some insight into the differences in expectations between the Americans and Zahedi. With some skepticism (“Zahedi claims …”), Roosevelt spells out a series of events Zahedi envisions that presumably would bring him to the premiership, albeit in a very round-about way. His thinking is clearly prompted by his declared unwillingness to commit “‘political suicide’ by extra-legal move.”

Document 8: CIA, memo from Kermit Roosevelt to [Excised], July 17, 1953

Source: CIA Freedom of Information Act release

The CIA’s Tehran station reports on the recent resignations of independent and opposition Majles members. The idea, an opposition deputy tells the station, was to avert Mosaddeq’s planned public referendum. The memo gives a bit of insight into the fluidity and uncertainty of developments with each faction undoubtedly elaborating their own strategies and tactics to a certain degree.

Document 9: CIA, note to Mr. [John] Waller, July 22, 1953

Source: CIA Freedom of Information Act release

This brief note conveys much about both U.S. planning and hopes for Mosaddeq’s overthrow. It is a request from Kermit Roosevelt to John Waller and Donald Wilber to make sure that a formal U.S. statement is ready in advance of “a ‘successful’ coup.” (See Document 10)

Document 10: CIA, note forwarding proposed text of State Department release for after the coup, August 5, 1953

Source: CIA Freedom of Information Act release

This draft text from the State Department appears to be a result of Roosevelt’s request (Document 9) to have an official statement available for use after completion of the operation. The draft predates Mosaddeq’s ouster by two weeks, but its language — crediting “the Iranian people, under the leadership of their Shah,” for the coup — tracks precisely with the neutral wording used by both the State Department and Foreign Office in their official paperwork after the fact.

Document 11: CIA, Memo, “Proposed Commendation for Communications Personnel who have serviced the TPAJAX Operation,” Frank G. Wisner to The Acting Director of Central Intelligence, August 20, 1953

Source: CIA Freedom of Information Act release

Wisner recommends a special commendation for the work performed by the communications specialists who kept CIA headquarters in contact with operatives in Iran throughout the coup period. “I am sure that you are aware of the exceptionally heavy volume of traffic which this operation has necessitated,” Wisner writes — an unintentionally poignant remark given how little of that documentation has survived.

Document 12: CIA, Memo, “Commendation,” Frank G. Wisner to CNEA Division, August 26, 1953

Source: CIA Freedom of Information Act release

Wisner also requests a commendation for John Waller, the coup overseer at CIA headquarters, “for his work in TPAJAX.” Waller’s conduct “in no small measure, contributed to the successful result.”

Document 13: CIA, “Letter of Commendation [Excised],” author and recipient names excised, August 26, 1953

Source: CIA Freedom of Information Act release

Evidently after reflection, Frank Wisner concludes that there are troubling “security implications” involved in providing a letter of commendation for a covert operation.

Document 14: CIA, Memo, “Anti-Tudeh Activities of Zahedi Government,” author’s name excised, September 10, 1953

Source: CIA Freedom of Information Act release

A priority of the Zahedi government after the coup was to go after the Tudeh Party, which had been a mainstay of support for Mosaddeq, even if the relationship was mostly one of mutual convenience. This is one of several memos reporting details on numbers of arrests, names of suspected Central Committee members, and planned fate of arrestees. The report claims with high specificity on Soviet assistance being provided to the Tudeh, including printing party newspapers at the embassy. Signs are reportedly mixed as to whether the party and pro-Mosaddeq elements will try to combine forces again.

Document 15: CIA, memo from Kermit Roosevelt to [Excised], September 21, 1953

Source: CIA Freedom of Information Act release

Roosevelt reports on an intense period of political maneuvering at high levels in the Zahedi government. Intrigues, patronage (including a report that the government has been giving financial support to Ayatollah Behbehani, and that the latter’s son is angling for a Cabinet post), and corruption are all dealt with in this memo.

Document 16: CIA, memo from Kermit Roosevelt to [Excised], September 24, 1953

Source: CIA Freedom of Information Act release

A restless Zahedi is reported to be active on a number of fronts including trying to get a military tribunal to execute Mosaddeq and urging the Shah to fire several senior military officers including Chief of Staff Batmangelich. The Shah reportedly has not responded to Zahedi’s previous five messages.

Document 17: CIA, Memo from Kermit Roosevelt to [Excised], October 2, 1953

Source: CIA Freedom of Information Act release

According to this account, the Shah remained deeply worried about Mosaddeq’s influence, even while incarcerated. Roosevelt reports the Shah is prepared to execute Mosaddeq (after a guilty verdict that is a foregone conclusion) if his followers and the Tudeh take any threatening action.

Document 18: CIA, Memo from Kermit Roosevelt to [Excised], October 9, 1953

Source: CIA Freedom of Information Act release

Iranian politics did not calm down entirely after the coup, as this memo indicates, reporting on “violent disagreements” between Zahedi and his own supporter, Hoseyn Makki, whom Zahedi threatened to shoot if he accosted any senators trying to attend a Senate session. Roosevelt also notes two recent payments from Zahedi to Ayatollah Behbehani. The source for these provocative reports is unknown, but presumably is named in the excised portion at the top of the memo.

Document 19: CIA, memo from Kermit Roosevelt to [Excised], October 20, 1953

Source: CIA Freedom of Information Act release

Roosevelt notes a meeting between the new prime minister, Zahedi, and Ayatollah Kashani, a politically active cleric and once one of Mosaddeq’s chief supporters. Kashani reportedly carps about some of his former National Front allies. Roosevelt concludes Zahedi wants “split” the front “by wooing Kashani away.”

Document 20: CIA, Propaganda Commentary, “Our National Character,” undated

Source: CIA Freedom of Information Act release

This appears to be an example of CIA propaganda aimed at undermining Mosaddeq’s public standing, presumably prepared during Summer 1953. Like other examples in this posting, the CIA provided no description when it released the document. It certainly fits the pattern of what Donald Wilber and others after him have described about the nature of the CIA’s efforts to plant damaging innuendo in local Iranian media. In this case, the authors extol the virtues of the Iranian character, particularly as admired by the outside world, then decry the descent into “hateful,” “rough” and “rude” behavior Iranians have begun to exhibit “ever since the alliance between the dictator Mossadeq and the Tudeh Party.”

Document 21: CIA, Propaganda Commentary, “Mossadeq’s Spy Service,” undated

Source: CIA Freedom of Information Act release

This propaganda piece accuses the prime minister of pretending to be “the savior of Iran” and alleges that he has instead built up a vast spying apparatus which he has trained on virtually every sector of society, from the army to newspapers to political and religious leaders. Stirring up images of his purported alliance with “murderous Qashqai Khans” and the Bolsheviks, the authors charge: “Is this the way you save Iran, Mossadeq? We know what you want to save. You want to save Mossadeq’s dictatorship in Iran!”

British Records

Document 22 : FCO, Summary Record, “British-American Planning Talks, Washington,” October 10-11, 1978

Source: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO) FCO 8/3216, File No. P 333/2, Folder, “Iran: Release of Confidential Records,” 1 Jan – 31 Dec 1978 (hereafter: TNA: PRO FCO 8/3216)

In October 1978, a delegation of British FCO officials traveled to Washington for two days of discussions and comparing of notes on the world situation with their State Department counterparts. The director of the Department’s Policy Planning Staff, Anthony Lake (later to serve as President Bill Clinton’s national security advisor), led the American side. Other participants were experts from various geographical and functional bureaus, including Henry Precht, the head of the Iran Desk.

Beginning in paragraph 22, Precht gives a dour summary of events in Iran: “the worst foreign policy disaster to hit the West for many years.” In a fascinating back-and-forth about the Shah, Precht warns it is “difficult to see how the Shah could survive.” The British politely disagree, voicing confidence that the monarchy will survive. Even his State Department colleagues “showed surprise at the depth of Mr. Precht’s gloom.”

In the course of his presentation (paragraph 23), Precht notes almost in passing that the State Department is reviewing its records from 1952-1954 for eventual release. A British representative immediately comments that “if that were the case, he hoped HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] would be consulted.”

Document 23: FCO, Minute, B.L. Crowe to R.S. Gorham, “Anglo-American Planning Talks: Iran,” October 12, 1978

Source: TNA: PRO FCO 8/3216

This memo recounts Precht’s dramatic presentation on Iran two days earlier (see previous document). “His was essentially a policy of despair,” the author writes. When the British follow up with the Americans about Precht’s outlook of gloom, they find that State Department and National Security Council (NSC) staff were just as bewildered by his remarks. One NSC staff member calls them “bullshit.” Policy Planning Director Lake laments the various “indiscreet and sensitive things” the Americans said at the meeting, and asks the British to “be very careful” how they handle them.

“On a completely different subject,” the minute continues, “Precht let out … that he was having to go through the records of the 1952/53 Mossadeq period with a view to their release under the Freedom of Information Act [sic]. He said that if released, there would be some very embarrassing things about the British in them.” (Much of this passage is underlined for emphasis.) The note goes on: “I made a strong pitch that we should be consulted,” but the author adds, “I imagine that it is American documents about the British rather than documents on which HMG have any lien which are involved.” (This is a point that may still be at issue today since the question of discussing American documents with foreign governments is very different from negotiating over the use of foreign government records.)

Document 24: FCO, Letter, R.J. Carrick to B.L. Crowe, October 13, 1978

Source: TNA: PRO FCO 8/3216

An FCO official reports that Precht recently approached another British diplomat to say that “he hoped we had not been too shocked” by his recent presentation. He says Precht acknowledged being “over-pessimistic” and that in any event he had not been offering anyone’s view but his own.[5] According to the British, NSC staff members put more stock in the assessments of the U.K. ambassador to Tehran, Sir Anthony Parsons, than in Precht’s. The writer adds that U.S. Ambassador to Iran William Sullivan also shares Parsons’ judgment, and concludes, without indicating a source, that even “Henry Precht has now accepted Sullivan’s view!”

Document 25: FCO, Letter, R.S. Gorham to Mr. Cullimore, “Iran: The Ghotbi Pamphlet and the Mussadeq Period,” October 17, 1978

Source: TNA: PRO FCO 8/3216

This cover note (to Document 24) refers to Precht’s revelation about the impending American publication of documents on the Mosaddeq period. The author suggests giving some consideration to the implications of this for “our own record of the time.”

Document 26: FCO, Letter, B.L. Crowe to Sir A. Duff, “Anglo-American Planning Talks,” October 19, 1978

Source: TNA: PRO FCO 8/3216

FCO official Brian Crowe summarizes the October 10-11 joint U.S.-U.K. talks. The document is included here mainly for the sake of comprehensiveness, since it is part of the FCO folder on the FRUS matter. The writer repeats the remark from State’s Anthony Lake that “some of the comments” from the U.S. side on Iran (among other topics) were “highly sensitive” and should not be disclosed – even to other American officials.

Document 27: FCO, Letter, J.O. Kerr to B.L. Crowe, “Talks with the US Planners: Iran,” October 24, 1978

Source: TNA: PRO FCO 8/3216

This brief note shows that word is moving up the line in the FCO about the forthcoming FRUS volume on Iran. The writer conveys a request to have the U.K. embassy in Washington check the risks involved in the potential release of U.S. documents, and “when the State Department propose to raise them formally with us.”

Document 28: FCO, letter, G.G.H. Walden to B.L. Crowe, “Anglo-American Planning Talks: Iran,” November 10, 1978

Source: TNA: PRO FCO 8/3216

Still more interest in the possible State Department release is reflected in this short note, now a month after the joint U.S.-U.K. talks. Here and elsewhere, the British notes erroneously report that the release will come under the Freedom of Information Act (or the Public Information Act, as given here); they are actually slated for inclusion in the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series.

Document 29: FCO, R.S. Gorham cover note to Streams, “Iran: Release of Confidential Records,” attaching draft letter to Washington, November 14, 1978

Source: TNA: PRO FCO 8/3216

This note and draft are included primarily because they are part of the FCO file on this topic. However, the draft letter does contain some different wording from the final version (Document 31).

Document 30: U.S. Embassy London, Letter, Ronald I. Spiers to Sir Thomas Brimelow, March 24, 1975

Source: TNA: PRO FCO 8/3216

Three years before Precht’s revelation to his British counterparts, the U.K. sought general guidance from the State Department about how the U.S. would handle “classified information received from Her Majesty’s Government.” The month before, robust amendments to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act had gone into effect. This letter from the number two official in London at the time, Ronald Spiers, offers a detailed response. Britain’s awareness of the new amendments and anxiousness about their implications (including the fairly abstruse question of how secret documents would be handled in court cases) show how sensitive an issue the British considered protection of their information to be. The U.S. Chargé is equally anxious to provide the necessary reassurances. (More than a decade later, Spiers would sharply oppose efforts by the State Department’s Historical Advisory Committee to gain access to restricted documentation for the FRUS series.[6])

Document 31: FCO, Letter, R.S. Gorham to R.J.S. Muir, “Iran: Release of Confidential Records,” November 16, 1978

Source: TNA: PRO FCO 8/3216

The British embassy in Washington is alerted to the possibility of documents being released on the 1952-54 period. The FCO clearly expects that, as apparently has been the case in the past, “there should be no difficulty for the Americans in first removing … copies of any telegrams etc from us and US documents which record our views, even in the case of papers which are not strictly speaking ‘official information furnished by a foreign government.'” (This raises important questions about how far U.S. officials typically go to accommodate allied sensibilities, including to the point of censoring U.S. documents.) “What is not clear,” the letter continues, “is whether they could withhold American documents which referred to joint Anglo/US views about, say, the removal of Musaddiq in 1953.”

Document 32: British Embassy in Washington, Letter, R.J.S. Muir to R.S. Gorham, “Iran” Release of Confidential Records,” December 14, 1978

Source: TNA: PRO FCO 8/3216

This follow-up to Gorham’s earlier request (Document 31) is another reflection of U.K. skittishness about the pending document release. The embassy officer reports that he has spoken to Henry Precht “several times” about it, and that the British Desk at the State Department is also looking into the matter on London’s behalf. The objective is to persuade the Department to agree to withhold not only British documents but American ones, too.

Document 33: British Embassy in Washington, Letter, R.J.S. Muir to R.S. Gorham, “Iran: Release of Confidential Records,” December 22, 1978

Source: TNA: PRO FCO 8/3216

The embassy updates the FCO on the status of the Iran records. Precht informs the embassy that he is prepared to “sit on the papers” to help postpone their publication. Precht’s priority is the potential impact on current U.S. and U.K. policy toward Iran. Conversely, a historian at the State Department makes it clear that his office feels no obligation even to consult with the British about any non-U.K. documents being considered. The historian goes on to say “that he had in the past resisted requests from other governments for joint consultation and would resist very strongly any such request from us.” But the same historian admits that the embassy might “be successful” if it approached the policy side of the Department directly.

The embassy letter ends with a “footnote” noting that State Department historians “have read the 1952-54 papers and find them a ‘marvelous compilation.'”

Interestingly, a handwritten comment on the letter from another FCO official gives a different view about the likely consequences of the upcoming document publication: “As the revolution [in Iran] is upon us, the problem is no longer Anglo-American: the first revelations will be from the Iranian side.” In other words, the revolution will bring its own damaging results, and the revolutionaries will not need any further ammunition from the West.

Document 34: FCO, Cover Note, Cohen (?) to Lucas, circa December 22, 1978

Source: TNA: PRO FCO 8/3216

In a handwritten remark at the bottom of this cover note, an unidentified FCO official voices much less anxiety than some of his colleagues about the possible repercussions of the disclosure of documents on Iran. Referring to a passage in paragraph 3 of the attached letter (see previous document), the writer asks: “why should we be concerned about ‘any other documents’?” The writer agrees with the cover note author’s suggestion to “let this matter rest for a while,” then continues: “I think we ought positively to seek the agreement of others interested to Y.” (“Y” identifies the relevant passage on the cover note.)

Document 35: FCO, Meeting Record, “Iran: Policy Review,” December 20, 1978

Source : British National Archives, FCO 8/3351, File No. NB P 011/1 (Part A), Title “Internal Political Situation in Iran”

British Foreign Secretary David Owen chairs this FCO meeting on the unfolding crisis in Iran. It offers a window into London’s assessment of the revolution and British concerns for the future (including giving “highest priority to getting paid for our major outstanding debts”). The document also shows that not everyone at the FCO believed significant harm would necessarily come to British interests from the FRUS revelations. Although he is speaking about events in 1978, I.T.M. Lucas’ comment could apply just as forcefully to the impact of disclosing London’s actions in 1953: “[I]t was commonly known in [the Iranian] Government who the British were talking to, and there was nothing we could do to disabuse public opinion of its notions about the British role in Iran.” (p. 2)


NOTES

[1] Just in the last several years, books in English, French and Farsi by Ervand Abrahamian, Gholam-Reza Afkhami, Mohammad Amini, Christopher de Bellaigue, Darioush Bayandor, Mark Gasiorowski (and this author), Stephen Kinzer, Abbas Milani, Ali Rahnema, and others have focused on, or at least dealt in depth with, Mosaddeq and the coup. They contain sometimes wide differences of view about who was behind planning for the overthrow and how it finally played out. More accounts are on the way (including an important English-language volume on Iranian domestic politics by Ali Rahnema of the American University of Paris).

[2] Tim Weiner, “C.I.A. Destroyed Files on 1953 Iran Coup,” The New York Times, May 29, 1997.

[3] Tim Weiner, “C.I.A.’s Openness Derided as a ‘Snow Job’,” The New York Times, May 20, 1997; Tim Weiner, opcit., May 29, 1997. (See also the link to the Archive’s lawsuit, above.)

[4] Kermit Roosevelt, Countercoup: The Struggle for the Control of Iran (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1979); The New York Times, April 16, 2000.

[5] Precht recalls that he was originally not slated to be at the meetings, which usually deputy assistant secretaries and above attended. But the Near East division representative for State was unavailable. “I was drafted,” Precht said. Being forced to “sit through interminable and pointless talk” about extraneous topics “when my plate was already overflowing” on Iran contributed to a “sour mood,” he remembered. (Henry Precht e-mail to author, June 2, 2011.)

[6] Joshua Botts, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State, “‘A Burden for the Department’?: To The 1991 FRUS Statute,” February 6, 2012, http://history.state.gov/frus150/research/to-the-1991-frus-statute.

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The Secret CIA History of the Iran Coup, 1953 (28 Mordad coup)

.

Washington, D.C., November 29, 2000 – The CIA history of operation TPAJAX excerpted below was first disclosed by James Risen of The New York Times in its editions of April 16 and June 18, 2000, and Photoposted in this form on its website at:  http://tinyurl.com/3jg88

This extremely important document is one of the last major pieces of the puzzle explaining American and British roles in the August 1953 coup against Iranian Premier Mohammad Mossadeq.  Written in March 1954 by Donald Wilber, one of the operation’s chief planners, the 200-page document is essentially an after-action report, apparently based in part on agency cable traffic and Wilber’s interviews with agents who had been on the ground in Iran as the operation lurched to its conclusion.

Long-sought by historians, the Wilber history is all the more valuable because it is one of the relatively few documents that still exists after an unknown quantity of materials was destroyed by CIA operatives – reportedly “routinely” – in the 1960s, according to former CIA Director James Woolsey.  However, according to an investigation by the National Archives and Records Administration, released in March 2000, “no schedules in effect during the period 1959-1963 provided for the disposal of records related to covert actions and, therefore, the destruction of records related to Iran was unauthorized.” (p. 22)  The CIA now says that about 1,000 pages of documentation remain locked in agency vaults.

During the 1990s, three successive CIA heads pledged to review and release historically valuable materials on this and 10 other widely-known covert operations from the period of the Cold War, but in 1998, citing resource restrictions, current Director George Tenet reneged on these promises, a decision which prompted the National Security Archive to file a lawsuit in 1999 for this history of the 1953 operation and one other that is known to exist.  So far, the CIA has effectively refused to declassify either document, releasing just one sentence out of 339 pages at issue.  That sentence reads: “Headquarters spent a day featured by depression and despair.”  In a sworn statement by William McNair, the information review officer for the CIA’s directorate of operations, McNair claimed that release of any other part of this document other than the one line that had previously appeared in Wilber’s memoirs, would “reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to the national security of the United States.”  Clearly, the “former official” who gave this document to The New York Times disagreed with McNair, and we suspect you will too, once you read this for yourself.  The case is currently pending before a federal judge.  (See related item on this site: “Archive Wins Freedom of Information Ruling Versus CIA“)

In disclosing this history, the Times initially reproduced only a summary and four appendixes to the original document.  It prefaced each excerpt with a statement explaining that it was withholding the main text of the document on the grounds that “there might be serious risk that some of those named as foreign agents would face retribution in Iran.”  Eventually, the Times produced the main document after excising the names and descriptions of virtually every Iranian mentioned.

In posting the main body of the history on June 18, 2000, the Times‘ technical staff tried to digitally black out the unfamiliar Iranian names, but enterprising Web users soon discovered that in some cases the hidden text could be “revealed” without much technical savvy.  The Times quickly pulled those portions of the document and reposted them using a more fool-proof redaction method.  The Archive is reproducing the latter versions of the document, even though most of the individuals known to be named in the history are either already dead or have long since left Iran.

The posting of this document is itself an important event.  Although newspapers regularly print stories based on leaked documents, they far more rarely publish the documents themselves, typically for lack of space.  The World Wide Web now offers a tremendous opportunity for the public to get direct access to at least some of the sources underlying these important stories — much like footnotes — rather than relying on second-hand accounts alone.  The Times performed a valuable public service in making available virtually the entire Wilber history.  Its precedent should be a model for future reporting that unveils the documentary record.

Although the Times‘ publication was not without controversy, mainly over the unwitting revelation of Iranian names, fundamental responsibility for their exposure rests with those officials at the CIA who, despite compelling public interest and the filing of a lawsuit, insisted that virtually the entire document had to remain sealed.  As Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists put it:

If the CIA had exercised a more discerning classification policy and had declassified the bulk of the report, then there would have been no “leak” to the New York Times, and no subsequent disclosure of agent names.  Instead, through overclassification, [Director of Central Intelligence George] Tenet failed in this case to fulfill his statutory obligation to protect intelligence sources and methods.

As a brief substantive introduction, the Archive is reproducing a preliminary analysis of the document by Prof. Mark Gasiorowski (Louisiana State University), the most prominent scholar of the coup, and a member of the Advisory Panel of the Archive’s Project on Iran-U.S. Relations.  It takes the form of a response to a request for his “take” on the document from the listserv Gulf2000, directed by Dr. Gary Sick of Columbia University.  From June 7-8, 2000, the Archive co-sponsored an international conference in Tehran on Iran and the great powers during the early 1950s, specifically focusing on the Mossadeq coup.


“What’s New on the Iran 1953 Coup in the New York Times Article (April 16, 2000, front page) and the Documents Posted on the Web”
By Professor Mark Gasiorowski
19 April 2000

    There is not much in the NYT article itself that is not covered in my article on the coup (“The 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran” published in 1987 in the International Journal of Middle East Studies, and available in the Gulf2000 archives) or other sources on the coup.  The most interesting new tidbit here is that the CIA’s agents harassed religious leaders and bombed one’s home in order to turn them against Mossadeq.  The article does not say, but this was probably done by Iranians working in the BEDAMN network, which is described in my article.  There are also some new details on how that US persuaded the shah to agree to the coup, including a statement that Assadollah Rashidian was involved in this effort and that General Schwartzkopf, Sr. played a larger role in this than was previously known.  There are also a few details reported in the article that I knew about but chose not to reveal, including that Donald Wilber and Norman Derbyshire developed the original coup plan and that the plan was known as TPAJAX, rather than simply AJAX.  (The TP prefix indicated that the operation was to be carried out in Iran.)  The NYT article does not say anything about a couple of matters that remain controversial about the coup, including whether Ayatollah Kashani played a role in organizing the crowds and whether the CIA team organized “fake” Tudeh Party crowds as part of the effort.  There may be something on these issues in the 200-page history itself.    Much more important than the NYT article are the two documents appended to the summary document giving operational plans for the coup.  These contain a wealth of interesting information.  They indicate that the British played a larger—though still subordinate—role in the coup than was previously known, providing part of the financing for it and using their intelligence network (led by the Rashidian brothers) to influence members of the parliament and do other things.  The CIA described the coup plan as “quasi-legal,” referring to the fact that the shah legally dismissed Mossadeq but presumably acknowledging that he did not do so on his own initiative.  These documents make clear that the CIA was prepared to go forward with the coup even if the shah opposed it.  There is a suggestion that the CIA use counterfeit Iranian currency to somehow show that Mossadeq was ruining the economy, though I’m not sure this was ever done.  The documents indicate that Fazlollah Zahedi and his military colleagues were given large sums of money (at least $50,000) before the coup, perhaps to buy their support.  Most interestingly, they indicate that various clerical leaders and organizations—whose names are blanked out—were to play a major role in the coup.  Finally, the author(s) of the London plan—presumably Wilber and Derbyshire—say some rather nasty things about the Iranians, including that there is a “recognized incapacity of Iranians to plan or act in a thoroughly logical manner.”     Perhaps the most general conclusion that can be drawn from these documents is that the CIA extensively stage-managed the entire coup, not only carrying it out but also preparing the groundwork for it by subordinating various important Iranian political actors and using propaganda and other instruments to influence public opinion against Mossadeq.  This is a point that was made in my article and other published accounts, but it is strongly confirmed in these documents.  In my view, this thoroughly refutes the argument that is commonly made in Iranian monarchist exile circles that the coup was a legitimate “popular uprising” on behalf of the shah.     In reply to Nikki Keddie’s (UCLA) questions about whether the NYT article got the story right, I would say it is impossible to tell until the 200-page document comes out.  Nikki’s additional comment that these documents may not be entirely factual but may instead reveal certain biases held by their authors is an important one.  Wilber was not in Iran while the coup was occurring, and his account of it can only have been based on his debriefing of Kermit Roosevelt and other participants.  Some facts were inevitably lost or misinterpreted in this process, especially since this was a rapidly changing series of events.  This being said, I doubt that there will be any major errors in the 200-page history.  While Wilber had his biases, he certainly was a competent historian.  I can think of no reason he might have wanted to distort this account. 

    Here are a few other notes.  It is my understanding that these documents were given to the NYT well before Secretary Albright’s recent speech, implying that they were not an attempt to upstage or add to the speech by the unnamed “former official” who provided them to the NYT.  I think there is still some reason to hope that the 200-page document will be released with excisions by the NYT.  I certainly hope they do so.


CIA Clandestine Service History, “Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran,
November 1952-August 1953,” March 1954, by Dr. Donald Wilber.

Cover Sheet, Historian’s Note and Table of Contents
Summary
I. PRELIMINARY STEPS
II. DRAFTING THE PLAN
III. CONSOLIDATING THE OPERATIONAL PLAN
IV. THE DECISIONS ARE MADE: ACTIVITY BEGINS
V. MOUNTING PRESSURE AGAINST THE SHAH
VI. THE FIRST TRY
VII. APPARENT FAILURE
VIII. THE SHAH IS VICTORIOUS
IX. REPORT TO LONDON
X. WHAT WAS LEARNED FROM THE OPERATION
APPENDIX A – Initial Operational Plan for TPAJAX as Cabled from Nicosia to Headquarters on 1 June 1953
APPENDIX B – “London” Draft of the TPAJAX Operational Plan
APPENDIX C – Foreign Office Memorandum of 23 July 1953 from British Ambassador Makins to Assistant Secretary of State Smith
APPENDIX D – Report on Military Planning Aspect of TPAJAX
APPENDIX E – Military Critique – Lessons Learned from TPAJAX re Military Planning Aspects of Coup d’Etat


The CIA’s Broken Promises on Declassification

Follow the link above for information on the Archive’s lawsuit against the CIA to force the declassification of key documents on the agency’s role in the European elections of 1948 and the 1953 coup in Iran, and to read what five former CIA directors and others have said about the agency’s declassification policies.  From there, follow the link at the bottom to view the complaint filed with U.S. District Court on May 13, 1999.The document below is the court filing of a sworn statement from William H. McNair, the Information Review Officer for the CIA’s Directorate of Operations.  In the statement, McNair explained why he believed that all but one sentence out of the 200 page history later disclosed the the Times should remain classified.

Defendant’s Notice of Filing of Defendant’s ‘Vaughn Index’, which Includes Defendant’s ‘Glomar’ Response to Plaintiff’s Request for Certain Documentation
Introduction, Declaration of William H. McNair, Information Review Officer, Directorate of Operations, United States Central Intelligence Agency
Summary of Plaintiff’s FOIA Requests
FOIA Exemptions Claimed for the CIA Withholdings
Categories of Information Withheld Under the Applicable FOIA Exemptions
Appendix A. Document Index

.

National Security Archive

Electronic Briefing Book No. 28

Published – November 29, 2000

Related link – http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB28/

.

*****************************************************************

Other Documental Links to Iran Coup, 1953 (28 Mordad Coup)

 

The CIA in Iran

http://www.nytimes.com/library/world/mideast/041600iran-cia-index.html

The Secret CIA History of the Iran Coup, 1953

http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB28/

Just Like That

http://www.iranian.com/History/2000/July/Coup/index.html

A short account of 1953 Coup

http://www.iranchamber.com/history/coup53/coup53p1.php

Lost? My foot

http://www.iranian.com/History/June97/CIA/index.shtml

The 1953 Coup in Iran: an Iranian insider’s view

http://cryptome.org/cia-iran-lob.htm

 

NY short note on participant names in coup

http://cryptome.org/cia-iran-all.htm#note

OVERTHROW OF PREMIER MOSSADEQ OF IRAN

http://www.iranonline.com/newsroom/Archive/Mossadeq/

1953 Iranian coup d’état

file:///D:/0-Documents/Documents%20(2)/Mossadeq/1953%20Iranian%20coup%20d’%C3%A9tat%20-%20Wikipedia,%20the%20free%20encyclopedia.htm

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