Throughout its history, if there’s one thing that’s been consistent about the CIA, it’s the manner in which it has undermined democratically elected governments. This will be the first of many posts that will delve into the history of coups and false-flag operations brought to us courtesy of the CIA.
For today’s post let’s look at Operation AJAX (aka TPAJAX) in 1953 Iran.
What follows isn’t conspiracy theory. All the information presented comes from the CIA’s own declassified report on the operation titled: ‘Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran’ covering November 1952 until August 1953. I have linked up the entire report in Appendix I for those of you interested in reading the original source material in full.
Before getting into the details of the declassified report, here’s a quick primer on Iran in 1953.
In 1941 Iran established a constitutional monarchy as its form of government. Under this arrangement, much like in England, there was a democratically elected parliament (the Majlis) responsible for legislation which was overseen by a largely ceremonial monarch (the Shah). This replaced the previous autocratic system whereby the Shah had ruled as a dictator. The newly established constitutional monarchy was, however, short lived and ended with the CIA run coup against Mossadeq in 1953.
Back in 1901, when Iran was still run as a dictatorship under Shah Muzzaffar al-Din, an unbelievably stupid deal was made by the Shah with the British. In this deal the oil and mineral rights to a large section of Iran were sold for £20,000 plus 16% of net profits. This sowed the seeds for decades of rising discontent as the Iranian people watched the British reap enormous profits off Iranian oil while the Iranians themselves lived in poverty.
There are many interesting sidebars that highlight how the British further took advantage of an already extremely lucrative arrangement. Iranian workers at refineries were treated as second class citizens to the extent that they were housed in separate accommodations (fabricated largely from used oil drums that had been pounded flat) and not permitted to use the white man’s water fountains or pools. The British also refused to allow the Iranians any access to the financial records for the British run Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) and used this lack of transparency to short-change the Iranians on their part of the profits from the oil industry.
In short, British colonialism/imperialism at its best was being used in Iran to suppress the people and rob the nation of its natural resources. Throughout the early to mid 1900’s this lead to growing nationalism in Iran. The British response was an outright refusal to renegotiate the 16% profit sharing deal or improve overall working conditions.
A leading voice for nationalization of the AIOC was the highly popular Mohammed Mossadeq. On April 28th,1951 Mossadeq became the Prime Minister of Iran. He immediately did exactly what he had promised the people: He nationalized the AIOC.
The Brits retaliated by imposing a crushing embargo on Iran and freezing all Iranian funds in British banks. Then, using their intricate Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) network, the British sowed chaos in Iran running false-flag operations and organizing staged protests. Next, they targeted Mossadeq directly by issuing brides to members of the Majlis in an attempt to undermine Mossadeq. In 1952 Mossadeq kicked all British nationals out of Iran to stop the foreign manipulation.
Unable to effectively undermine Mossadeq after their expulsion, the British turned to the CIA for assistance. The deal was simple: The British would hand their entire intelligence network in Iran over to the CIA on a silver platter if the CIA would help them stage a coup against Mossadeq and reinstate the Shah as autocratic ruler.
For the newly formed CIA under Allen Dulles (with his brother John Dulles serving as Secretary of State) this offer was too good to pass up. Though the plan was rejected by President Truman repeatedly, the election of Eisenhower in late 1952 presented another opportunity for the Dulles brothers to get the plan approved.
Eisenhower, like Truman, initially rejected the proposal believing that the British were imposing their will unjustly on the Iranians. But, a few months of the Dulles brothers passing incomplete intelligence and foreign service assessments to Eisenhower, coupled with some staged false-flag operations and protests, caused Eisenhower to relent and give the green light. Operation AJAX was a go.
The remainder of this post will pull directly from the declassified CIA documents to provide an overview of AJAX and look at some of the key operational elements of the plan.
Here’s the summary of the Operation AJAX:
Manipulation of the Press
A cornerstone of AJAX (like most CIA operations) was the propaganda and psychological warfare aspects of the plan. AJAX relied heavily both on bribery of the press and seeding agency assets directly into the Iranian media establishment. Also leveraged was the already established CIA relationships with American, British, and international publications. Specifically mentioned in the CIA field report are the Associated Press (AP), BBC, Newsweek, and a myriad of Iranian publications.
Here’s a sampling:
That’s a summary of just some of the manipulation of the press that occurred in Operation AJAX. It is important to note the manipulation of the Western press in addition to the Iranian press. Further, it’s interesting to note the recommendation that further investment be made by the CIA in cultivating domestic (U.S.) media for use in future propaganda operations (see the second to last quote).
Bribery and Intimidation of the Majlis (Elected Parliament)
But, why even bother with public opinion if you can simply buy off the elected representatives to undermine the current government?
That’s exactly what another key aspect of AJAX’s operation plan did. The goal was the systematic bribery of members of the Majlis to enable the government to be legally voted down. Here’s an except from the CIA operational plan detailing this area of operations:
But, what about those pesky parliamentarians who can’t be bought? Simple, you have one of the terrorist groups on your payroll threaten them:
Manipulation of the press? Check. Bribery and threats to elected officials? Check. Let’s see, what else is key to the CIA’s modus operadus for coups?
Ah yes, false-flag operations. A true favorite of intelligence services the world over. Do something really horrible and blame it on your adversaries to further your own agenda:
Operation AJAX is one of many operations in which the CIA has undermined a legitimately elected democracy in order to install a dictator willing to do the bidding of the Americans. In the case of AJAX and Mossadeq, shameful methods of manipulation of the press, bribery of elected officials and false-flag terror were used to oust the populate leader and plunge Iran back into autocratic rule.
Imagine what might have been if this, the first real democracy in the Middle-East, had been allowed to flourish. The road might not have been a smooth one but it’s entirely possible that the world would be a very different place than the mess we have today. At the very least, the vehement anti-Americanism would not have become so prevalent in Iran and the 1979 Iranian revolution with all its consequences (which we’re still feeling to this day) would never have occurred. This much was admitted by then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in a March 2000 speech:
In 1953, the United States played a significant role in orchestrating the overthrow of Iran’s popular prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. The Eisenhower administration believed its actions were justified for strategic reasons, but the coup was clearly a setback for Iran’s political development and it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs.
Moreover, during the next quarter century, the United States and the West gave sustained backing to the shah’s regime. Although it did much to develop the country economically, the shah’s government also brutally repressed political dissent …
Even in more recent years, aspects of US policy toward Iraq during its conflict with Iran appear now to have been regrettably shortsighted, especially in light of our subsequent experiences with Saddam Hussein.
If you are interested in doing some more detailed reading on the coup in Iran I can’t recommend highly enough Stephen Kinzer’s book on the topic: ‘All the Shah’s Men – An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror’.
Appendix I – Declassified CIA Report
The originally declassified CIA report on Operation Ajax is broken into parts. Here’s the link to each part from that report:
- I. Preliminary Steps.
- II. Drafting the Plan.
- III. Consolidating the Operation Plan.
- IV. The Decisions Are Made: Activity Begins.
- V. Mounting Pressure Against the Shah.
- VI. The First Try.
- VII. Apparent Failure.
- VIII. “The Shah is Victorious”.
- IX. Report To London.
- Appendix A – Initial Operation Plan for TPAJAX, as Cabled From Nicosia to Headquarters on 1 June 1953.
- Appendix B – “London” Draft of TPAJAX Operational Plan.
- Appendix C – Foreign Office Memorandum of 23 July 1953 from Ambassador Wakins to Under Secretary of State Smith.
- Appendix D – Report on Military Planning Aspect of TPAJAX.
- Appendix E – Military Critique – Lessons Learned from TPAJAX re Military Planning Aspects of Coup d-Etat.
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