1953 Coup in Iran

CIA, "Zendebad, Shah!": The Central Intelligence Agency and the Fall of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq, August 1953," Top Secret Draft History, History Staff, Central Intelligence Agency, June 1998

This 139-page internal history prepared by the CIA's History Staff became available in highly redacted form after the National Security Archive filed a lawsuit with the CIA in 1999 for materials relating to Iran in 1953. At first it was denied in its entirety, then upon review sections already marked Unclassified were released (for the most part), along with a single section previously marked Secret (but apparently based primarily on a published account). The document is potentially of great historical value because it was prepared by a trained historian with the benefit of a variety of still-classified supporting documentation and many years of historical perspective. As such, it would be extremely useful to compare it with the only other extant internal history, which by contrast was written by one of the coup's main architects, Donald Wilber, just a few months after the operation. In its current largely inaccessible state, however, the document is mostly a testament to the continuing obstacles faced by researchers to a more complete understanding of the coup.

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State Department, "Proposed Course of Action with Respect to Iran," Top Secret Draft Memorandum, August 10, 1953

Written just five days before the initial launching of the coup, this memo reflects several interesting points. For one, it shows how completely out of the picture some parts of the U.S. government were regarding the operation. Months after Eisenhower's top advisers had given up on winning an oil settlement with Mosaddeq, this paper continues to recommend steps in that direction. Equally interesting are the author's assessments of Iran's political and economic situation, which are at odds with the views of top policy-makers that led them to approve the coup. Specifically, the author downplays the likelihood of a Tudeh overthrow attempt, saying the party is not "sufficiently strong or well-organized to attempt a coup." He does point up the longer-term threat of the Tudeh building power and prestige, as did those who supported the intervention. The author of this memo also indicates that Iran's economy, while deteriorating, is "in balance" in several areas and continues to allow the government to "meet its fiscal needs."

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State Department, "Measures which the United States Government Might Take in Support of a Successor Government to Mosadeq," Top Secret Memorandum, March 1953

This fascinating memo lists several proposed steps to take in the event - apparently still hypothetical at this stage - of a coup against Mosaddeq by "a successor government we wish to support." The document is referred to in the CIA's "Zendebad Shah!" history (below) in footnote 66 on page 19. The gist of the memo's recommendations is to make sure the new government and the Shah were aware that the United States was ready to offer support. But the authors make clear that any substantive measures would have to be taken outside of the public eye since it "would be literally fatal to any non-communist successor to Mosaddeq if the Iranian public gained an impression that the new premier was a 'foreign tool'.

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