CIA Confirms Role in 1953 Iran Coup

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Malcolm Byrne

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

Edited by Malcolm Byrne

For more information contact:
Malcolm Byrne 202/994-7043 or

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 CIA materials include a recent, partial declassification of one of three known internal agency histories on the coup.  It's called "Battle for Iran" and was written in the mid-1970s.  (The more famous history is the one coup planner Donald Wilber wrote in 1954, and the New York Times published in 2000 on its web site.)  The agency released a version of the 1970s document over 30 years ago, but this most recent release includes explicit references — believed to be for the first time – to CIA's role in TPAJAX, the operation that overthrew Mohammad Mosaddeq.

Other records in today's posting include working files from Kermit Roosevelt, who oversaw the coup for the CIA from Tehran.  Roosevelt's reports deal with unfolding plans prior to the overthrow and developments afterwards as the U.S. closely monitored the new government of Fazlollah Zahedi.

That the CIA played a key part in the coup is of course not news.  But the release, under the Freedom of Information Act, may signal a slightly more open intelligence community attitude toward acknowledging what the world has long known.  (Unfortunately, the vast majority of the relevant section of the document is still classified).

What remains unacknowledged (officially) is the British role.  That is the subject of the Foreign Office materials included in today's posting. Records from 1978 found recently in the British archives make clear that the Foreign Office tried to block U.S. plans to publish materials on London's participation.  At the time, historians working on the State Department's "Foreign Relations of the United States" (FRUS) series were compiling documentation for a volume covering Iran during the years 1951-1954.  When that volume finally appeared in 1989, it sparked a major scandal because it omitted any reference to the U.S. and British roles in TPAJAX.

Years later, the Office of the Historian at the State Department is finally wrapping up a "retrospective" volume on the coup period, intending to make up for the 1989 fiasco.  The new volume is expected in 2014, although it is not known whether it will contain anything about London's participation.

The Foreign Office documents are also a fascinating window into U.S. and British thinking about the crisis facing Iran at that critical time – late 1978 – as the country was about to be swallowed up by the revolution. Among the officials featured in these records is State Department Iran desk officer Henry Precht, who in the course of a series of bilateral discussions in October 1978 with his Foreign Office colleagues disclosed the upcoming FRUS publication, which he warned would be "very embarrassing" to both the shah and the British.

Malcolm Byrne
The National Security Archive  at George Washington University

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Source: The National Security Archive

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