After 60 years of secrecy, the CIA finally admitted to masterminding the 1953 coup against democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossedegh that ushered the widely despised U.S.-controlled Mohammad Reza Pahlavi back to power and had a hand in decimating left and progressive forces in Iran.
While it has long been known that U.S. and British forces secretly contributed to the overthrew of Mossedegh—who introduced social security systems, land reforms, and, to the horror of the U.S. and Britain, moved to nationalize Iran's oil industry—Monday marked the first time that the CIA publicly acknowledged the full extent of its role.
The independent National Security Archive research institute obtained documents from the CIA's internal history the Battle for Iran, penned in the 1970s, through a Freedom of Information Act request, according to the institute. The documents included discussion of TPAJAX—the U.S.-led and Britain-supported plot to overthrow Mossedegh.
The CIA had released a heavily redacted version of the documents in 1981 in response to an ACLU lawsuit, but it censored all information about the coup itself.
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Monday's documents, which are publicly available on the National Security archive's website, declare, "It was the aim of the TPAJAX project to cause the fall of the Mossede[gh] government; to establish the prestige and power of the Shah... and bring to power a government which would reach an equitable oil settlement, enabling Iran to become economically sound and financially solvent, and which would vigorously prosecute the dangerously strong communist party."
The documents detail an aggressive U.S.-led and Britain-backed push for a coup, including an intensive "propaganda effort," official threats of removing economic aid, infiltration of the Iranian government, sparking of pro-Shah rallies and organization of security forces. The CIA admits to working with the state department to plant stories in major U.S. newspapers to influence public opinion in Iran, as well as pressuring the Shah to dismiss Mossedegh, in part through talks from his "dynamic and forceful twin sister."
While the U.S. role has long been acknowledged by scholars, former operatives and even former U.S. presidents, the CIA has long resisted revealing its specific methods and role.
The overthrow of Mossedegh has long stoked ire across the world as an example of U.S. policies of aggressive intervention and "soft power" propaganda wars, in pursuit of private profits and imperialist control. Its repercussions, which helped set the conditions for Iran's 1979 revolution, continue to ricochet throughout that country and the entire region.