Operation Ajax Was
Always An Open Secret
From Conspiracy Theory To Verified History, A Timeline
Sixty years ago, when a constitutional, democratic government was extinguished in Iran, the press described it as a “revolt”, a “revolution”, a “royalist coup”... Its success was attributed to the military, to “forces loyal to the Shah”, and to the wrath of angry street mobs, fed-up with a dictatorial, Communist-oriented regime and a wrecked economy. This remained the dominant narrative for years to come.
The media dictated their interpretation of the event almost defensively at times. “This was no military coup”, TIME declared, “but a spontaneous popular uprising...” Reader’s Digest insisted, “This was not a coup. It was a popular revolution.” Brigadier Fitzroy Maclean, one-time foe of new Premier Fazlollah Zahedi, reacted by wishing him well in the British press, adding “There is no reason to suppose that the Americans had anything to do with Zahedi’s success.”
These days, many know that the destruction of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh’s legal government involved outside elements, who were not mere observers as they claimed but active participants. It is now far more widely known that a CIA plan, “Operation Ajax”, was successfully implemented in close collaboration with British intelligence agencies and their native co-conspirators in Tehran.
Cognizance of the critical foreign component of the 1953 coup is taken for granted nowadays – it’s practically a cliché. But how did this awareness come about, how did it evolve? It’s actually quite a peculiar tale. While the CIA and the American government have generally suppressed awareness of their plots in Iran and Guatemala in the years following, they have also hinted and winked at various junctures. As The Nation observed in a 1961 exposé, the CIA “showed a tendency, if not to brag, at least to chuckle in public about this wily and triumphant coup...”
Vacillating between concealment and showboating, the agency has both denied and trumpeted their victorious operation.
Knowledge of the foreign component in Mossadegh’s demise may seem like a more ‘recent’ phenomenon, but it’s always been an open secret. While it’s true that awareness has grown significantly in the last decade or so, the notion that the 1953 coup may have been a covert, foreign operation dates all the way back to...1953. In fact, on the very day of the coup, one figure, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, was deflecting questions about his alleged role. By 1954, the U.S. role was confirmed – with the complicity of the CIA itself – in the pages of that quaint American institution, The Saturday Evening Post. The truth, in fragments, at least, has been out there all this time, hiding in plain sight.
Like many unpopular truths, the real story was slow to take hold, failing to reach the masses, always overtaken by the contradictory, phony narrative. By the time of the Iranian revolution a quarter of a century later, few Americans – or anyone else, for that matter – had any clue as to the origins of the unfolding events. Only a small minority realized that the seized U.S. embassy had once been headquarters for the coup-plotters, who ushered in a buccaneering, U.S.-backed military dictatorship which jailed, tortured and even murdered political dissidents.
Even with the added scrutiny of the U.S-Shah relationship and its origins, fleeting references to the Anglo-American role in the Shah’s ascent were overwhelmed by myopic hostage hysteria and misplaced outrage toward Iranian-Americans themselves, some of whom became victims of harassment, assault, arson, or job termination. Nightline host Ted Koppel never once mentioned Mossadegh or the coup on any broadcasts at the time. Now in semi-retirement, Koppel quite willingly acknowledges this history – too little, too late.
The American and British role in the coup straddled the line between rumor and fact for decades. Only 47 years later, in 2000, when the CIA’s after-action plan “Overthrow of Mossadeq in Iran” was leaked to The New York Times, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright acknowledged the damage done in a speech, did the account become ‘official’. Of course, CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt, a key figure in the coup, had already gone public with ‘Ajax’ in his 1979 book, Countercoup, and all throughout the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, books and periodicals contained references to it. Yet years later, those who endeavored to research the subject further still encountered resistance. A 1996 story in The Los Angeles Times illustrates the difficulties some scholars encountered accessing CIA records:
“For years now, the CIA has been resisting and delaying the attempts of independent historians--and sometimes even the State Department’s own government historians--to describe and analyze intelligence operations during the Cold War. The CIA’s approach to history has often been to pretend that intelligence operations didn’t exist, or that they had little impact on American foreign policy.
The efforts to censor history reached the point of absurdity a few years ago, when the U.S. government published an official history of American diplomacy in Iran during the tumultuous era of the early 1950s. In the book, the CIA was, in effect, airbrushed out of the picture.
Nowhere in the State Department’s volume on Iran was it mentioned that the CIA had engineered and stage-managed the return of the shah to his throne, even though the American intelligence operation already had been made public. Indeed, Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA’s main agent, had already given a detailed account of the covert operation in his memoirs. The reader of the official history was supposed to think that the shah came back to power through miracles, while American diplomats in Tehran merely stood by, cabling the good news back to Washington.”
— "CIA Less Than Helpful to Historians Seeking to Analyze Covert Operations" by Jim Mann - August 5, 1996
A heavily politicized event, enveloped in mystery and subject to interpretation and debate, the understanding of the true nature of the coup has fluctuated over the years. When it occurred, the CIA was still a new organization, and there was no precedent for what they had just dared to attempt. That element of surprise would prove to be a significant asset in the success of Operation Ajax.
ORIGINAL SIN: The 1953 Coup in Iran Clarified | by Arash Norouzi
The following timeline should amply demonstrate the evolution of ‘coup-consciousness’ in the West. Dates noted are of varied significance, but are intended to convey the degree of awareness at particular moments in time.
June 4, 1951
Newsweek magazine reports from London that “the British are sparing no efforts—or cash—to bring about the collapse of [Mossadegh’s] government...”.
September 17, 1951
Well known reporter Marguerite Higgins notes in The New York Herald Tribune that the British economic boycott of Iran “may succeed in overthrowing Premier Mohammed Mossadegh’s government...”
September 27, 1951
In an editorial, The Philadelphia Inquirer observes that the United States has “given the impression of supporting Britain’s efforts to overthrow the Mossadegh government.”
November 26, 1951
England’s efforts to bring about the collapse of the government is referenced again in Newsweek: “The British wanted to sit tight and wait for Mossadegh’s overthrow, which they insisted was inevitable...”
December 20, 1951
“Since the return to power of Winston Churchill”, reports the syndicated column Inside Washington, “the British government has been endeavoring to persuade the young shah to oust Premier Mossadegh and, with the aid of the Iranian Army, take control of the country.”
July 13, 1953
“The Mossadegh government will fall before the close of this year”, predicts Robert S. Allen’s Inside Washington column, which also contains a suspicious, exclusive quote from CIA Director Allen Dulles expressing his disgust with the Premier and desire to see him replaced by anyone short of a Communist regime.
August 8, 1953
“Washington is pinning its hopes on an army revolt against Mossadegh”, writes Business Week. “But similar U.S. hopes have proved to be wishful thinking in the past.”
August 17, 1953
Newsweek, which published a CIA-penned propaganda piece just one week prior, foresees big things brewing. “Watch for a real explosion in Iran at any moment”, they predict.
August 18, 1953
After the first failed coup attempt, The Hindu newspaper in India writes, “The whole truth about the abortive coup to oust Mossadeq cannot be known at the present moment. Allegations are made that a foreign power induced the Shah to make this attempt.”
August 19, 1953
The day of the event, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf becomes the first American to be implicated in the coup, reportedly outed by Russian media. To maintain his cover, he is forced to give a fake alibi to the press to explain what he was doing in Tehran just prior to the violent putsch.
August 20, 1953
An AP write-up on the coup notes that “If the United States, Britain and other western countries had a choice they undoubtedly would prefer to see the Shah’s people rather than Mossadegh in power.”
August 20, 1953
Headlined Moscow Says US Aided Shah’s Coup, The New York Times reports on Pravda’s accusations that “American agents who operated within Iran” overturned the government.
August 20, 1953
“A royalist coup in Iran has been about the only thing Britain and the United States could think of recently which would keep that oil-laden land from falling into the hands of the Russians”, writes Associated Press news analyst J.M. Roberts Jr.
August 24, 1953
In an editorial, The Return of the Shah, The Times Record of Troy, New York says of Mossadegh’s overthrow: “Some think it was engineered by the British in the hope of settling their oil controversy.”
August 24, 1953
An Italian newspaper connects Mossadegh’s demise with U.S. defection after the Shah fled, reports U.S. pressman George Weller: “Rome—The United States Government applied the fingertip touch which felled Mossadegh’s regime in Iran, according to the moderate newspaper Messagero here.”
August 25, 1953
Iranian communists are calling for their countrymen to “rise against the Anglo-American and Shah coup d’etat against the people”, according to a UPI report by Tehran correspondent Joseph Manzandi.
August 28, 1953
Calling the riddance of Mossadegh a “U.S. victory”, U.S. News & World Report attributes its success to American military expertise and aid, since the Iranian army was “armed and trained by the U.S.”.
August 29, 1953
Weekly People, the official newspaper of the Socialist Labor Party of America, asks on its front page Did U.S. and Britain Plan Overthrow of Mossadegh?
August 31, 1953
Newsweek portrays the coup as an army revolt, but claims the U.S. and Britain already knew about the plan. “Both Washington and London were informed several weeks ago”, they add casually.
September 16-18, 1953
Iran’s Royalist Coup, a serialized account in The Times of India by journalist Gunapati Keshavaram Reddy, finds that the event was probably at least inspired, if not engineered, by the United States. G.K. Reddy, as he was better known, had previously interviewed Mossadegh at his bedside in Tehran.
September 27, 1953
In The Washington Star, reporter Crosby Noyes suggests the strong possibility of U.S. involvement, citing the coincidental comings and goings of Allen Dulles, H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Loy Henderson and Ashraf Pahlavi [Shah’s Brainy Twin Sister and Three Americans Are Seen As Key Figures in Iranian Coup]. “[A]s long as the practice of putting two and two together continues”, wrote Noyes, whose family had co-owned The Star since 1867, “the argument about what really happened in Iran last summer seems likely to continue.”
October 7, 1953
Piecing together the clues, widely syndicated columnist Bruce Biossat determines that America appeared to be have been deeply involved in the coup. He also cites the recent report in The Washington Star which came to the same conclusion.
October 8, 1953
Fulton Lewis, Jr., a right-wing broadcaster and columnist, writes that “There now appears to be no doubt” that the U.S. was directly involved in the coup, which he applauds. Lewis’ evidence is basically identical to Biossat’s.
July 26, 1954
Having just discovered, courtesy of his boss Robert C. Doty, that the coup he witnessed in Tehran was fomented by the U.S., New York Times reporter Kennett Love writes a letter to Times foreign editor Emanuel R. Freedman hinting that the paper should report this. Love receives no response.
November 6, 1954
In a three-part series The Mysterious Doings of CIA in The Saturday Evening Post, the overthrow of Mossadegh and Arbenz are openly reviewed. Depicted as necessary, positive achievements of the Cold War, the articles, by Richard and Gladys Harkness, are written in cooperation with the CIA itself. Despite the open admission in a major American magazine, the story gains little traction.
November 29, 1954
Astonished by The Saturday Evening Post exposé, famed columnist Dorothy Thompson is outraged and bewildered as to why the CIA, which “was directly responsible for overthrowing Mossadegh in Iran” would allow state secrets to be revealed, endangering Americans worldwide.
Former Argentine President Juan Perón, having been ousted in the Revolución Libertadora military coup of September 1955, reportedly likens his fate to Mossadegh’s – the result of a sinister Western-inspired conspiracy – in an interview with an Italian magazine.
August 7, 1956
Suggesting a policy of non-interventionism, conservative columnist Holmes Alexander is concerned that British and American forces may attempt to overthrow Nasser in Egypt, just as they did to Mossadegh.
August 29, 1956
AP reports that after a British spy ring operating in Egypt and plotting to overthrow President Nasser was nabbed, the local press likened the coup attempt with Mossadegh’s fall three years prior. “Ever since Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal July 26”, it wrote, “there has been a tendency to compare Egypt today with Iran after Mossadegh nationalized the Anglo-American Oil Co. Egyptians generally believe Western embassies in Tehran set up the coup of Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi in overthrowing Mossadegh. During the Suez Canal crisis, there’s been speculation among Egyptians as to whether the British would try to organize a similar plot against Nasser. Well-informed sources said Nasser himself has shown concern.”
February 4, 1957
Did U.S. Foreign Aid Funds Finance the Overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran? asks famed journalist I.F. Stone in his influential newsletter I.F. Stone’s Weekly. “The CIA once boasted that it overthrew Mossadegh...”, notes Stone, referring to the 1954 Saturday Evening Post articles.
August 22, 1958
In his syndicated column, U.S. foreign analyst Edgar Ansel Mowrer reveals the time “when we (very rightly) helped overthrow the pro-Communist government of Guatemala and eliminate the weeping Mossadegh of Iran.”
May 9, 1959
London’s The New Statesman magazine states in an editorial about the Shah that in 1953, “he scuttled out of Teheran and was later reimposed following a military coup arranged by the State department.”
July 25, 1960
During his celebrated keynote speech at the Republican National Convention in Chicago, Rep. Walter H. Judd attributes the squelching of the “Mossadegh uprising in Iran” to the G.O.P.
A young Allen Ginsberg is already wise to the U.S. role in overthrowing Mossadegh. “I didn’t know my Central Intelligence was arming fascist noodnicks in Iran”, wrote the disillusioned 27 year-old in his poem, Subliminal.
Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas publicly decries U.S. intervention in both Guatemala and Iran. (He also says so in 1962 and while speaking to teachers in Boston in 1965).
“It has been published and never denied that the CIA has subverted government after government, not stopping at the use of military force”, wrote Robert E. Light and Carl Marzani in Cuba versus the C.I.A., a book critical of the recent Bay of Pigs invasion. “The CIA role in overthrowing the Mossadegh government in Iran and the Arbenz government in Guatemala has been underlined in innumerable publications.”
May 2, 1961
In a two-part NEA dispatch, "Secrets of the CIA", Ray Cromley, a former WWII Colonel, Pentagon press corps member, military analyst and columnist, attributes the Iran (and Guatemala) coup to the agency, adding, “CIA’s role has never been confirmed nor denied.”
June 3, 1961
Media critic and novelist John Crosby writes in his column CIA Has Yet To Learn Value of Silence: “"The New Statesman" takes the CIA vigorously to task for mixing subversion with espionage. “The Central Intelligence Agency not only gathers intelligence but employs 20,000 operatives overseas. It claims a number of shady successes; the overthrow of Mossadegh in Persia and Arbenz in Guatemala; more recently the disposal of Patrice Lumumba.”
Good heavens! Lumumba, too! The CIA does get around, doesn’t it? The CIA, in fact, is getting the blame for just about everything short of stirring up all that trouble over the folk singers in Washington Square. Just possibly they were to blame for that, too.”
June 24, 1961
The Nation runs a 43-page cover story "The CIA", by Fred J. Cook, which exposes their various handiwork including toppling Mossadegh and Arbenz. The magazine strongly emphasizes that everything presented was already in the scattered public record, but when added together, proved “new to us, as we are certain it will prove new to the reader”.
CIA: The Inside Story by journalist Andrew Tully, with chapters on Iran and Guatemala, is released. Allen Dulles, fired by JFK as CIA Director only weeks prior over the Bay of Pigs fiasco, responds that the book “contains gross inaccuracies and distortions” and “repetition of Communist propaganda”.
The Minority Of One, an influential political monthly magazine edited by Holocaust survivor M.S. Arnoni (1922-1985), publishes "Iran: The Portrait of a U.S. Ally". “When Dr. Mossadegh was overthrown in Iran by the Central Intelligence Agency, an American who insisted on telling the truth about the situation was labeled “subversive”. Now a few years later with the Iranian episode relegated to the domain of mere historical inquiry, no American leader and no American newspaper has any qualms about admitting the C.I.A.’s role in overthrowing Dr. Mossadegh.” The magazine would also revisit the Guatemalan and Iranian coups in 1964.
In his latest book Democracy’s Manifesto, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas reminds readers that Mossadegh was “ousted as a result of American and British intervention.”
January 22 and 29, 1962
Twice within the same week, Drew Pearson’s syndicated Merry Go-Round column examines the vast, unchecked power of the office of CIA Director. He cites various covert operations including the CIA coup in Iran.
February 14, 1962
“Rightly or wrongly, it is generally taken for granted in Washington that the CIA had an important hand in ousting weepy old Premier Mohammed Mossadegh from control of oil-rich Iran and that it helped to overthrow a Communist regime in Guatemala”, writes journalist Louis Cassels in the last of three dispatches on U.S. espionage in the Cold War.
A best-selling book critical of the CIA, The Invisible Government by journalists David Wise and Thomas B. Ross, says, “There is no doubt at all that the CIA organized and directed the 1953 coup that overthrew Premier Mohammed Mossadegh....”
In an Esquire magazine article about the CIA, Congressman John Lindsay highlights the agency’s successes in Iran and Guatemala.
March 6, 1964
Let’s Stop Baiting the CIA, a LIFE magazine editorial defending the agency from its critics, cites the 1953 and 1954 coups.
May 4, 1965
An NBC TV special The Science of Spying says “the CIA was clearly involved” in Mossadegh’s overthrow, though Allen Dulles denies any direct U.S. role in the coup itself, only to “encourage” the Shah. The fact that he was questioned about it in the first place is telling.
“When the Shah decided to participate in the overthrow of the national government of Dr. Mohammed Mosaddeq in 1953”, wrote Hossein Mahdavy in Foreign Affairs, he could hardly have underestimated the risks involved in challenging the most popular government Iran had known in its recent history.”
April 26, 1966
In the second of a five-article series on the CIA, The New York Times acknowledges that the agency “masterminded the ouster of the Arbenz government in Guatemala in 1954, the overthrow of Premier Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953...”
While interviewing Allen Dulles for a book about Suez, Kennett Love mentions an unpublished paper he wrote on the U.S. role in the 1953 coup. Dulles expresses interest, and receives a mailed copy of "The American Role in the Pahlevi Restoration" within days. After Dulles’ death in 1969, Love’s manuscript winds up in the collected papers of Dulles donated to Princeton University, and years later, portions turn up in various texts.
February 18, 1967
In an editorial "The CIA: A Case of Addiction", The Washington Post accuses the federal government of having developed a dangerous dependency on covert operations to bail itself out of its diplomatic failures. CIA successes like the overthrow of Mossadegh, it says, created a “spoiling effect”, leading to complacency and the evaporation of moral judgement and prudence.
March 6, 1967
After Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh dies of cancer in Tehran, his New York Times obituary states that “Agents of the Central Intelligence Agency played a key roll [sic] in the overthrow of Dr. Mossadegh.” They also specifically finger Kermit Roosevelt, who “masterminded the coup from a basement hiding place.”
New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison references the CIA operations in Iran and Guatemala in a lengthy interview with Playboy.
February 23, 1968
Congressman Gerald Ford, House Minority Leader and future President, cites Mossadegh’s overthrow as a Republican triumph during a speech in Missouri.
November 8, 1968
In a guest column for Penn State’s The Daily Collegian, an Iranian-American student explains that “...Dr. Mossadegh was overthrown by a group of reactionary Iranians related to the Shah’s court and by direct intervention of the United States government through the Central Intelligence Agency.”
January 29, 1969
CIA Director Allen Dulles dies. Most obituaries, such as that in The New York Times, explain that Mossadegh and Arbenz were deposed under his direction.
October 31, 1970
Interviewed in Texas, former Truman administration official Stanley Andrews states that “our CIA helped overthrow Mossadegh”. [Truman Library, released in 1981].
December 4, 1971
Columbia University hosts a screening of a Mossadegh documentary and discussion with Prof. Richard Cottam on the 1953 CIA Coup organized by the Iranian National Front.
September 9, 1973
Washington Post editors refute Nixon’s suggestion that market forces caused Mossadegh’s demise (omitting the CIA role), and suggest the reference to his fall may be interpreted as a “manifest threat to other governments.”
October 23, 1973
During a UN Security Council session at the height of the Yom Kippur War, the Saudi Ambassador launches into a tirade against the CIA and Kermit Roosevelt, whom he personally dealt with. “And don’t think, United States, you can intimidate us, as you have done in our area. I am talking of the CIA role in Iran. I witnessed what happened.”
September 29, 1974
Laurence Stern (1929-1979), a reporter and editor who began working for The Washington Post in 1952, mentions the CIA coups in Iran and Guatemala in his Post article, "CIA: Silent Partner of Foreign Policy".
September 30, 1974
A TIME magazine article, "The CIA: Time to Come In From the Cold", questions the legality of destabilizing foreign governments, citing the 1953 coup among many other examples.
October 25, 1974
Both Ardeshir Zahedi and his father were “instrumental” in Mossadegh’s overthrow in 1953, according to an Associated Press feature interview with the Iranian Ambassador by Ann Blackman.
November 1, 1974
A Harper's cover story Giving the Shah Everything He Wants by Pulitzer-winning journalist Frances FitzGerald details at some length the “CIA-sponsored coup” which brought Pahlavi to power.
June 20, 1975
U.S. career diplomat Fraser Wilkins says in an interview: “As you know, the CIA, it is widely said, was responsible for Mossadegh’s overthrow.”
June 23, 1975
New York magazine’s cover story, The Secret Deals of the Oil Cartels: An Illustrated History by investigative journalist Edward Jay Epstein reveals the CIA role in Mossadegh’s fall.
The former Deputy Director of the CIA, Ray S. Cline, includes the CIA coup in his book Secrets, Spies and Scholars.
November 14, 1977
A TIME profile of CIA director Richard Helms notes (incorrectly) that “Helms helped tug the strings that toppled the left-leaning Mossadegh in Iran”, and that
“His thumbprint is somewhere in the overthrow of Guatemala’s Jacobo Arbenz...”
November 1, 1978
UPI article on the Shah’s opposition: “Some officials said it was clear there would be no direct U.S. intervention on the Shah’s behalf this time as there was in the crisis of 1953...”
November 6, 1978
A UPI report on anti-Shah demonstrations in Tehran mentions the coup. “Loyalist troops reported to have CIA backing jailed Mossadeq in August 1953 and restored the shah to the Peacock throne”, it said. “This time there was no indication of any American involvement in the strife.”
January 7, 1979
A Washington Post article highly critical of the Shah by Middle East correspondent Jonathan C. Randal notes that “a CIA-financed coup put him back on the Peacock Throne”.
January 15, 1979
“It was largely the U.S. that restored the ruler to his Peacock Throne after the overthrow of Premier Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953”, says TIME magazine in their cover story on the fall of the Shah, Crescent of Crisis.
March 29, 1979
EISENHOWER’S ROLE RECOUNTED: How CIA Orchestrated ’53 Coup in Iran by Robert Scheer in The Los Angeles Times interviews CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt. “The CIA’s involvement in the Iranian coup has been charged for years by Mossadegh supporters”, says the article, “many of whom are now in the new government in Iran, including Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan. However, the American government never has admitted it.” (The Times had previously acknowledged Kermit’s role in the coup in a January 25, 1978 profile of his son, Mark Roosevelt.)
In his memoirs, Henry Kissinger writes that the Shah “never forgot” America’s help in the 1953 coup. The admission contradicts Richard Nixon’s dishonest version of the coup in his own memoirs published the previous year.
Mother Jones magazine assumes ubiquity in knowledge of the CIA coup: “You know the story from this point–a 1953 CIA-backed coup d’etat put the Shah back on the throne.”
May 6, 1979
"How the CIA Brought The Shah to Power" by Kermit Roosevelt runs in the Sunday edition of The Washington Post.
CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt’s book Countercoup: The Struggle For the Control of Iran is published.
November 25, 1979
The New York Times prints a letter to the editor from a Brooklyn reader charging “selective outrage” over the situation in Iran. “My sense of outrage begins in 1953”, he writes, “when the Shah and the C.I.A. conspired to overthrow the legitimate Government of Mohammed Mossadegh...”
November 26, 1979
“The fact that the Shah was restored to his throne in 1953 with the help of the CIA now makes Iranians focus their hatred of foreigners on the U.S.”, says Newsweek in their cover story, “Has America Lost Its Clout?”
December 24, 1979
Famous columnist Jack Anderson writes an (error-ridden) column about Middle East oil and the CIA coup against Mossadegh.
January 7, 1980
In its cover story on "Man of the Year" Ayatollah Khomeini, TIME wrote that “In 1953 the Shah had actually fled the country. But he was restored to power by a CIA-inspired coup that ousted Mohammed Mossadegh, the nationalist Prime Minister who had been TIME’s Man of the Year for 1951 because he had “oiled the wheels of chaos.”
February 13, 1980
Asked during a press conference whether the United States behaved morally in conducting the 1953 coup, President Jimmy Carter dismisses it as “ancient history”.
"Iran: Inside the Islamic Republic", a two hour documentary filmed in Iran in the crucial months prior to the Shah’s fall, airs on television in America. US-Iran history going back to 1953 is covered.
June 12, 1980
In an editorial, Iowa’s Cedar Rapids Gazette states that the CIA’s coup in Iran is “common knowledge”.
Paved With Good Intentions, a book on the US-Iran dynamic by Barry Rubin, delves into the 1953 coup.
July 26, 1980
After Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi dies, UPI’s Tehran bureau manager Sajid Rizvi, expelled from Iran, writes from Istanbul: “So long as the Shah was alive, cancer-ridden or not, the fear was alive in Khomeini’s Iran that the United States would spring a repeat of the 1953 pro-Shah coup and bring him back to Niavaran Palace.”
July 28, 1980
Following the Shah’s death in Egypt, The Associated Press writes: “It was generally accepted that the pro-shah mutiny was instigated by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency as a means of blocking what U.S. officials believed could have been a communist takeover.”
July 30, 1980
In his post-mortem Op-Ed, Kermit Roosevelt gets a guest column in The Los Angeles Times explaining how the CIA took out Premier Mossadegh to make way for the Shah.
September 25, 1980
Counterspy, an anti-CIA magazine founded by ex-CIA agent Philip Agee, accuses former New York Times reporter Kennett Love of complicity in the coup in a press conference. Calling the charge “unfounded”, Love threatens to sue for libel.
February 14, 1982
The Boston Globe mentions the CIA coup in an article about the collapse of the Shah’s regime.
Endless Enemies, a book by Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Kwitny later nominated for the Pulitzer, examines the CIA coup in Iran. In 1989, Kennett Love won his copyright infringement lawsuit against Kwitny for quoting extensively from the unpublished manuscript Love had written about the coup in 1960 without permission. The book was also heavily censored in subsequent editions.
Brian Lapping’s documentary series “End of Empire” for London’s Granada Television focuses on the CIA coup in Iran, with numerous American, British and Iranian interview subjects. A thick companion book is also produced.
July 6, 1985
Senator George McGovern writes in his newspaper column, “Our best-informed experts on Iran tell us that the 1953 CIA-assisted coup that overthrew Iranian premier Mossadegh and put the Shah on the throne has been a major cause of Iranian hatred of America’s policy.”
Donald Wilber’s memoir, Adventures in the Middle East is released. The former CIA operative takes the majority of the credit for masterminding the coup in Iran.
A PBS special hosted by Bill Moyers, The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis addresses U.S. coups in Iran and around the world. “The mobs paid by the CIA, and the police and soldiers bribed by the CIA, drove Mossadegh from office”, it revealed. A companion book by Moyers is also produced.
Mossadegh’s overthrow is mentioned in a scene from JFK, the Academy Award winning movie about the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
June 23, 1991
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “No one, for example, disputes that the CIA played crucial roles in the 1953 overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala...” – ["How CIA’s covert action altered world"]
May 28, 1992
In an interview, retired diplomat Nicholas G. Thacher mentions that resentment towards the U.S. remained in Iran in the 1960’s “because we had aided in the overthrow of Mossadegh.”
March 23, 1997
The History Channel airs CIA: America’s Secret Warriors, which covers the CIA coup and its blowback.
May 29, 1997
The CIA’s destruction of records on the 1953 coup and other operations are detailed in an Associated Press article by John Diamond.
March 17, 2000
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright acknowledges that the United States played a “significant role” in ousting Mossadegh, which was “clearly a setback for Iran’s political development.”
April 16, 2000
"Secrets of History: The CIA in Iran", detailing the Anglo-American conspiracy against Premier Mossadegh by James Risen, runs in The New York Times. It is also showcased on the internet with supplemental material including the complete CIA after-action report on how the coup was carried out.
October 29, 2000
Anatomy of a Coup: The CIA in Iran, presented by “The Scud Stud”, Arthur Kent, airs on the History Channel.
Michael Moore’s celebrated film Bowling For Columbine, winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary, briefly references the 1953 coup alongside newsreel footage of Mossadegh.
Former CIA Director Richard Helms releases his memoir A Look Over My Shoulder, which acknowledges the agency’s successes in Iran and Guatemala.
July 18, 2003
All the Shah’s Men by Stephen Kinzer, which bills itself as “the first full-length account of the CIA’s coup d’etat in Iran in 1953”, is released. A best seller, it proves highly influential in the years to come.
January 27, 2005
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, former President Bill Clinton says that overthrowing Mossadegh was a terrible mistake. “I know it’s not popular for an American ever to say anything like this, but I think it’s true.”
August 22, 2005
A radio program examining the British role in the 1953 affair, A Very British Coup, airs on BBC Radio 4. The role of the BBC itself in the plot is revealed in detail.
November 19, 2006
Ted Koppel leads a two hour Discovery Channel documentary, Iran: The Most Dangerous Nation. On the show and during media interviews promoting it, Koppel speaks sympathetically about the Iranian grievance over 1953.
May 15, 2007
With millions of TV viewers watching, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) injects the coup into the Republican Presidential debates for the first of three times. He does so again on June 5, 2007 and August 11, 2011.
June 4, 2009
Speaking in Cairo, Barack Obama becomes the first sitting U.S. President to acknowledge the coup: “In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government.”
October 26, 2011
Sec. of State Hillary Clinton admits the U.S. ‘regrets’ the 1953 coup in an interview with BBC Persian. The news goes unnoticed and is not reported by anyone – except for The Mossadegh Project.
The Oscar-winning film Argo, directed by and starring Ben Affleck, mentions the U.S.-backed coup in an introductory narrative.
CIA Director Allen Dulles Raves About the “Great Success” of Operation Ajax— Jan. 1954
The CIA Scheme To Have the Shah ‘Dismiss’ Mossadegh — August 16, 1953
Assessment of the Iranian Situation — First Examination of Overlooked CIA Document
MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”