Marking the sixtieth anniversary of the overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, the National Security Archive on Monday posted recently declassified CIA documents on the United States’ role in the controversial operation. American and British involvement in Mosaddeq’s ouster has long been public knowledge, but this posting includes what is believed to be the CIA’s first formal acknowledgement that the agency helped to plan and execute the coup. Today on Tell Somebody, host Tom Klammer is pleased to speak with National Security Archive fellow Malcolm Byrne.
The explicit reference to the CIA’s role appears in a copy of an internal history, The Battle for Iran, dating from the mid-1970s. The agency released a heavily excised version of the account in 1981 in response to an ACLU lawsuit, but it blacked out all references to TPAJAX, the code name for the U.S.-led operation. Those references appear in the latest release. Additional CIA materials posted today include working files from Kermit Roosevelt, the senior CIA officer on the ground in Iran during the coup. They provide new specifics as well as insights into the intelligence agency’s actions before and after the operation.
The 1953 coup remains a topic of global interest because so much about it is still under intense debate. Even fundamental questions — who hatched the plot, who ultimately carried it out, who supported it inside Iran, and how did it succeed — are in dispute.
The issue is more than academic. Political partisans on all sides, including the Iranian government, regularly invoke the coup to argue whether Iran or foreign powers are primarily responsible for the country’s historical trajectory, whether the United States can be trusted to respect Iran’s sovereignty, or whether Washington needs to apologize for its prior interference before better relations can occur.
About the guest:
Malcolm Byrne, Deputy Director and Director of Research, has worked at the Archive since 1986, and since 1990 has supervised the research process of identifying and obtaining documentation for the Archive’s collections. He currently directs the Openness in Russia and Eastern Europe Project, and the U.S.-Iran Relations Project, both of which promote multinational and multi-archival approaches to the study of recent, controversial historical events. Previously, he served as co-director of the Iran-contra documentation project, and coordinated the Archive’s project on U.S.-Soviet relations during the Cold War.