"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.
Source: National Security Archive