“There is, as far as I know, only one certain rule in international relations. Interference by one country in the internal affairs of another causes resentment. It is sure to produce a result exactly the opposite of that intended...”1
These are the words of none other than Allen Dulles, years before assuming the directorship of the CIA. Yet while in the seat of power, Dulles and other American foreign policy makers operated rather differently. Instead of supporting nationalistic and democratic movements in third world nations and winning the hearts and minds of millions to counter the spread of communism, these cold warriors willfully and systemically proceeded to crush their aspirations for the sake of control.
This legacy of American intervention was epitomized during the era of the Dulles brothers, who not only helped define the post WWII world, but influenced American foreign policy for decades to come. Iran and Guatemala, in particular, suffered considerably as a result.
The appointment of John Foster Dulles as Secretary of State and Allen Welsh Dulles as director of the Central Intelligence Agency to the Eisenhower administration in early 1953 was an unprecedented one. Never before had two brothers concurrently occupied such powerful government positions.
Prior to his White House post, John Foster Dulles was a senior member of Wall Street law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, defending his multinational corporate clients with utmost dedication. During the rise of Hitler in Germany, John Foster shocked his colleagues with his unwillingness to cut off the highly profitable business relationship with the Nazis.2 He also served as an adviser to Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, though neither man fully trusted him.
A prominent member of the Republican Party, Dulles’ intertwining of politics and Christianity foreshadowed the rise of the religious right in America. He died in 1959 at age 71 while still in office.
Allen Dulles was four years younger than his brother and, though married and religious, his habitual adultery was well known. In his early years, Allen had worked in the State Department but later joined his brother’s firm as a corporate lawyer.
During World War II he served in Europe in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a precursor to the CIA. He exerted considerable power as head of the CIA under
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, running the agency entirely free from Congressional supervision.
In his final misadventure in 1961, Allen was responsible for the Bay of Pigs invasion using CIA-trained Cuban exiles to attempt to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro. The operation, which had been planned during the Eisenhower years, went into action after John F. Kennedy took office. The invasion ended in disaster, embarrassing Kennedy, who waited a year before removing Allen Dulles as head of the CIA. Following the death of President Kennedy, Allen Dulles joined the Warren Commission to investigate his assassination. He succeeded in protecting CIA secrets, including information which could have been relevant to the assassination of the fallen president and possible CIA role. He died in 1969 at age 75.
The stinker and the madman
Iran: 1953 — OPERATION AJAX
From the moment he took over as Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles’ top priority was to topple the democratically elected government of Iran and remove its Prime Minister, whom he called “that madman Mossadegh”, from office. This was also job one on the wish list of the new British government headed by Winston Churchill, a request John Foster, convinced he was doing God’s work on Earth, and his brother Allen, the "spymaster", were more than happy to oblige.
Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh was an incorruptible nationalist Prime Minister who worked for free, yet Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers viewed Mossadegh’s reform agenda and the nationalization of Iran’s oil industry as a threat to the interests of international oil companies and a trojan horse for the expansion of Communism.
To facilitate their move against Mossadegh, they played up the threat of Communist inroads in Iran, and drafted a CIA plan to oust Mossadegh entirely. Code-named “Operation Ajax”, the plan was approved in April 1953 by the Dulles brothers, with British Intelligence Service representatives in attendance. A media propaganda campaign succeeded in implicating Iran with the Communist menace, though years later, an American diplomat and two CIA agents stationed in U.S. embassy admitted that "high-level U.S. officials routinely exaggerated its strength".3
Back in Iran, Dr. Mossadegh held out hope for US support, warning Eisenhower of the dire economic condition in his country in a letter dated May 28, 1953. Mossadegh asked for financial aid and the release of a stalled $25 million dollar loan from the Export-Import bank intended for agricultural reform. Eisenhower did not respond to the letter until June 29th, after he had already approved the CIA plan to effect Mossadegh’s banishment. In July, the head of CIA operations in the Middle East, Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., clandestinely entered Iran, backed by the entire US diplomatic and intelligence apparatus, the vast British spy network, and their notorious Iranian agents, the Rashidian Brothers. Forty days after Eisenhower’s reply, the covert operation accomplished its goal of removing Mossadegh from the scene.
The following year the oil company, now renamed British Petroleum (BP), returned to Iran, having been paid handsomely for compensation plus a 40% share of the Iranian oil production. American oil companies were also rewarded with a 40% share of Iranian oil as part of a consortium of international oil companies.
It is not clear which American officials financially benefited in the process, but Kermit Roosevelt remained close to the Shah, and his public relations firm profited by looking after the Shah’s interest in the United States. Roosevelt, in partnership with the Rashidian brothers participated in many lucrative deals, and during the 1960’s made trips to Iran annually. In 1976 during a Congressional hearing it was revealed that the Rashidians had received millions of dollars in a bribe from Grumman for the sale of F-14s to Iran. Roosevelt left his CIA job in 1958 to work for the Gulf Oil Company, which was one of the companies taking part in the oil consortium in Iran and remained a conduit between the Shah and the White House.
Guatemala: 1954 — OPERATION SUCCESS
The covert operation by the CIA in Guatemala was being planned even before the operation in Iran. In 1954 the Dulles brothers, buoyed by their success in Iran, turned their full attention to President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala. Mossadegh and Arbenz had much in common. They were both democratically elected in 1951 and desired to improve the living standard of their people by converting their countries into economically and politically independent nations. Both leaders saw the foreign hold on their natural resources as the major factor for lack of economic and political progress in their countries.
President Arbenz viewed the presence of the powerful United Fruit Company as the main obstacle for his plan for land reform. At the time United Fruit, an American company, controlled a vast tract of land in Guatemala, 85% of which the company had decided not to cultivate. Arbenz expropriated nearly a quarter of a million acres of the uncultivated land and offered compensation to the company. He then began giving parceled out land to peasants and workers.
United Fruit Company had acquired the land cheaply through a 99-year land lease in 1936 from Jorge Ubico, the corrupt military dictator of Guatemala. The man who negotiated on behalf of United Fruit Company with Ubico was John Foster Dulles himself. The agreement additionally exempted United Fruit from paying taxes to Guatemala for the entire duration of the lease.
Again, as in the case of Mossadegh, the Eisenhower administration portrayed Arbenz’s reform as part of communist influence, justifying covert intervention in order to “get rid of the stinker,” as Arbenz was called by the State Department’s policy director for Central America. The fact that there was no proof of a Communist conspiracy in Guatemala caused no hesitation from U.S. policy makers seeking to topple Arbenz. As Allen Dulles rationalized it to Brazilian ambassador João Carlos Muniz in 1954 (briefed thusly in a State Dept. memorandum), “...it will be impossible to produce evidence clearly tying the Guatemalan government to Moscow; that the decision must be a political one and based on our deep conviction that such a tie must exist.”4
The job of removing Arbenz was first offered to Kermit Roosevelt, who had headed the CIA operation in Iran, yet he declined. Instead, CIA official Frank Wisner led the operation. Allen Dulles and Wisner first planned to assassinate Arbenz, but the idea was discarded for fear of making Arbenz into a martyr. They then formulated a plan code-named “Operation Success”, beginning with the usual tactic of psychological warfare to create fear in the Guatemalan population and among the neighboring countries.
The financing of the operation came from an initial three million dollars that was authorized by the CIA. Their covert operation culminated with an attack on the country by mercenary forces, portrayed as a “liberation army”, supported by a domestic uprising against the government. By the end of June 1954, the Arbenz government was replaced by a military junta and the country was again safe for business as usual with the United Fruit Company.
The degree of connection between U.S. policy makers and the United Fruit Company and their self interest in the highly profitable company’s survival is striking.5 The list speaks for itself:
John Foster Dulles and the firm of Sullivan & Cromwell had been the legal counsel for the United Fruit Company for decades.
John Foster and Allen Dulles both were also major shareholders in the company.
General Robert Cutler, the head of the National Security Council, was the former Chairman of the Board of United Fruit.
Thomas G. Corcoran was a paid consultant for United Fruit while working for the CIA.
Ann Whitman, the wife of the United Fruit Company’s publicity director, was Eisenhower’s personal secretary.
John Moor Cabot, the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American affairs was a major shareholder in United Fruit. His brother, Thomas Dudley Cabot, the director of international security affairs in the State Department, had been United Fruit Company’s president.
John J. McCloy, the president of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, was a former board member.
Walter Bedell Smith, Undersecretary of State and Director of the CIA from 1950-1953 and Robert C. Hill, U.S. Ambassador to numerous Latin American countries, were both on the Board of Directors of United Fruit during their retirement.
Sowing the Wind and Reaping the Whirlwind
After the 1953 coup, the nation of Iran endured over 26 years of a brutal U.S. supported authoritarian regime, followed by a bloody revolution, before falling prey to a savage theocratic dictatorship. The coup in Guatemala set in motion a chain of events that led to civil war and the violent deaths of hundreds of thousands of its people. After Iran and Guatemala, the U.S. interventionist policy, restrained by no ethical or legal concerns, involved countries such as the Congo, Indonesia, the Philippines, Lebanon, Cuba and Syria, followed by the long and bloody U.S. war in Vietnam.
Though the United States claimed that the coups of 1953 and 1954 were about combating Communism, its interventions abroad continued well after the collapse of Soviet Union and other Communist regimes. Even today, America finds itself embroiled in two ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and teetering on the edge of war with...Iran.
ORIGINAL SIN: The 1953 Coup in Iran Clarified | by Arash Norouzi
1 December 3, 1947 in a lecture to National Association of Manufacturers, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
Cited in Gentlemen Spy: The Life of Allen Dulles (1994) — Peter Grose
2 Sullivan & Cromwell “thrived on its cartels and collusion with the new Nazi regime” — Stephen Kinzer in
Overthrow, page 205.
3 All the Shah’s Men, Stephen Kinzer
4 Foreign Relations of the United States 1952-1954, Volume IV: The American Republics
5 Gentlemen Spy: The Life of Allen Dulles (1994) — Peter Grose
All the Shah’s Men — Kinzer