60 Years Later, CIA Admits Role in Iran Coup Everyone Knows It Orchestrated

<a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Operationajax.jpg">Wikimedia Commons</a>

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

The Central Intelligence Agency, via declassified documents, has acknowledged its central role in the subversion of democracy in Iran. The coup took places six decades ago, so better late than never:

The newly declassified material is believed to contain the CIA’s first public acknowledgment of its role in deposing democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad [Mossadegh] after he nationalized the country’s oil industry. The move—and Iran’s broader lurch to the left under [Mossadegh]—infuriated Great Britain and the United States, which pressed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to depose him in 1953.


Mossadegh was sentenced to three years of solitary confinement in 1953 and remained under house arrest until his death in 1967. The U.S.-British plot to overthrow him served as a rallying point for the 1979 revolution that ousted the Shah, and Mossadegh remains a popular figure in Iran today despite his secularist politics.

For decades, it’s been no secret—nor has it been at all ambiguous—that the CIA helped orchestrate the coup d’état. In fact, President Obama talked publicly about the CIA-backed coup during his widely covered 2009 speech in Cairo, Egypt: “For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us,” Obama said. “In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known.”

Part of this well-known history includes CIA operatives bribing Iranian street thugs to riot against the elected government. Following the victory of coup leaders, a lot of pro-Mossadegh citizens were detained, tortured, and/or murdered. This was merely one episode in the long-running series of “CIA Does Messed-Up Thing Around The World.”

The declassified material (you can read key excerpts here) were made available thanks to the efforts of the National Security Archive at George Washington University. The Archive also recently published, as a result of their public records request, CIA history on Area 51.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend