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The CIA Finally Admitted It Orchestrated the Iranian Coup of 1953

A newly-released 1970s internal CIA report admits the agency's involvement in the 1953 coup

Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza with President Kennedy and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1962. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In 1951, the Iranian parliament picked Mohammad Mossadegh as the country’s new prime minister. But Mossadegh would not last long in office. As the country’s leader, he moved to take control of Iran’s oil industry from the British; a move other world leaders saw as “threatening the flow of oil to the free world,” said Stephen Kinzer writing in Smithsonian in 2008. A coup in 1953 replaced Mossadegh and Iran’s democratic government with a monarchy headed by the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

It’s well known that the 1953 coup was orchestrated by British forces and the fledgeling CIA. But, officially, the CIA has never owned up to its role in the events. Now, says Foreign Policy, the National Security Archive has obtained a newly released copy of a document from the 1970s which details the 1953 coup and the CIA’s involvement. Foreign Policy:

The document was first released in 1981, but with most of it excised, including all of Section III, entitled “Covert Action” — the part that describes the coup itself. Most of that section remains under wraps, but this new version does formally make public, for the first time that we know of, the fact of the agency’s participation: “he military coup that overthrew Mosadeq and his National Front cabinet was carried out under CIA direction as an act of U.S. foreign policy,” the history reads. The risk of leaving Iran “open to Soviet aggression,” it adds, “compelled the United States … in planning and executing TPAJAX.”

During the Cold War, the newly empowered shah proved a strong American ally. As the CIA’s involvement was not a particularly well-kept secret, Foreign Policy wonders why the CIA chose to open up now, some 60 years after the event:

“Why the CIA finally chose to own up to its role is as unclear as some of the reasons it has held onto this information for so long. CIA and British operatives have written books and articles on the operation — notably Kermit Roosevelt, the agency’s chief overseer of the coup. Scholars have produced many more books, including several just in the past few years. Moreover, two American presidents (Clinton and Obama) have publicly acknowledged the U.S. role in the coup.”

 More from Smithsonian.com:

Inside Iran’s Fury

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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