CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY (CIA) IN PERSIA.
Early CIA activities in Persia. When the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was established in September 1947, its predecessors had been operating in Persia for a number of years. At the beginning of World War II the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) sent two intelligence officers to Persia to write intelligence reports about German and Soviet espionage activities in Persia and other war-related matters. These two officers remained in Persia after the war ended and were joined by a third officer; together they monitored Soviet activities in Persia during the 1945-46 Azerbaijan crisis (Wilber, pp. 106-07). Following this crisis, the CIA’s immediate predecessor, the Central Intelligence Group, stationed several officers in Persia to monitor Soviet and Soviet Bloc espionage activities there, including the activities of the pro-Soviet communist Tudeh (Tūda) Party (see communism).
As Cold War tensions grew in the postwar period the CIA gradually increased its activities in Persia. It conducted five basic types of operations in Persia in the late 1320s Š./1940s and early 1330s Š./1950s: first, it organized “stay-behind” networks among the Qašqāʾī and other tribes in southern Persia, which could conduct guerrilla warfare behind enemy lines in the event of a Soviet invasion; second, CIA officers mapped out escape and evasion routes for U.S. and Persian personnel during wartime; third, it launched various kinds of cross-border espionage and subversion operations into the Soviet Union; fourth, it continued to monitor the Tudeh Party and Soviet Bloc espionage activities; and, fifth, it began an operation code-named BEDAMN in 1327 Š./1948, which carried out a variety of propaganda and political action activities in order to combat Soviet and Tudeh Party influence in Persia (Gasiorowski, 1987, pp. 268-69; personal interviews).
By early 1951 at least six CIA officers were stationed permanently in Persia, and several others were sent there occasionally on temporary assignments (personal interviews). Following the nationalization of the Persian oil industry and the appointment of the popular nationalist Moḥammad Moṣaddeq as prime minister of Persia in the spring of 1330 Š./1951, the United States officially adopted a neutral position in the oil dispute, encouraging Britain and Persia to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the dispute and pledging that it would not intervene in Persia’s domestic affairs (Alexander and Nanes, pp. 215-18). Despite this pledge of neutrality, however, and apparently without the approval of the Truman administration, certain CIA officers undertook activities in this period that were aimed at weakening the National Front (jabha-ye mellī; q.v.), a broad-based nationalist coalition that served as Moṣaddeq’s main political base. Financial enticements were used to try to persuade the Toilers Party (Ḥezb-e Zaḥmatkašān-e Mellat-e Īrān), the Pan-Iranist Party, and several prominent Shiʿite clergymen to leave the National Front or otherwise break with Moṣaddeq. Similarly, a propaganda campaign was begun to try to persuade the prominent Ayatollah Sayyed Abu’l-Qāsem Kāšānī and his followers to abandon Moṣaddeq (Gasiorowski, 1987, p. 269; personal interviews). It is difficult to judge how effective these activities actually were: although the Toilers Party, one wing of the Pan-Iranist Party, Kāšānī, and several other prominent clergymen and political activists did abandon Moṣaddeq in 1331 Š./1952 and early 1332 Š./1953 (Foreign Office, n.d.; Foreign Office, June 10, 1953), these organizations and individuals each also had their own reasons for doing so. Moreover, the British intelligence service MI-6 was making a concerted effort in this period to overthrow Moṣaddeq by plotting coups d’état and undertaking similar activities to weaken the National Front (Woodhouse, chaps. 8-9). Therefore, although these CIA activities may well have played an important role in undermining Moṣaddeq’s base of support, it is impossible to judge with certainty how effective they were.
The 1332 Š./1953 coup d’état. After Moṣaddeq suddenly broke diplomatic relations with Britain on 1 Ābān 1331 Š./22 October 1952, a British intelligence officer was sent to Washington to seek U.S. support for a plan to overthrow Moṣaddeq. Although several top CIA officials supported the plan, it was clear that the Truman administration would not agree to it. However, two weeks after Eisenhower was inaugurated in January 1953, top administration officials held a meeting in which they decided to plan a coup to overthrow Moṣaddeq and install General Fażl-Allāh Zāhedī as prime minister. The coup was to be organized in an operation referred to by the code name AJAX and led by Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA’s top Middle East operations officer at the time (Woodhouse, pp. 116-19; Roosevelt, pp. 120-24). Roosevelt traveled to Persia several times in the following months to prepare for the coup. In May 1953 one of the OSS officers, who had been stationed in Persia and was now a CIA consultant, met with an MI-6 Persia specialist and worked out a detailed plan for the coup. The plan was then presented to Roosevelt and to top U.S. and British officials (Wilber, pp. 188-89). Final approval to proceed with the coup plan was given by the Eisenhower administration on 2 Tīr 1332 Š./25 June 1953 (Roosevelt, pp. 1-19).
The first phase of the coup plan was implemented almost immediately. Working primarily through the organization that had been set up for operation BEDAMN, CIA officers made extensive efforts in Tīr/July and mid-Mordād 1332 Š./early August of 1953 to destabilize the Moṣaddeq government with propaganda and political action activities. Several attempts were also made in this period to persuade the shah to support the coup. The shah finally gave his reluctant approval after meeting with Roosevelt on 11 Mordād/2 August and receiving unambiguous confirmation that the U.S. and British governments were behind the coup plot (Gasiorowski, 1987, pp. 272-73; Roosevelt, pp. 147-49, 156-57).
The coup itself began to unfold on the evening of 24 Mordād/15 August, when Moṣaddeq was presented with a royal decree announcing his dismissal by Colonel Neʿmat-Allāh Naṣīrī. Moṣaddeq had learned about the coup plan and promptly denounced the decree as a forgery. He then had Naṣīrī arrested and instructed the security forces to round up Zāhedī and several of his confederates. Armored units of the Persian armed forces that had been instructed to seize certain points in Tehran as part of the coup plan failed to arrive, and, believing that the coup attempt had failed, the shah fled the country in panic, first to Baghdad and then to Rome (Gasiorowski, 1987, p. 273; Foreign Office, August 19, 1953).
With the original coup plan having gone awry, Roosevelt and his CIA team improvised a new strategy. Zāhedī was brought to a CIA safe house, where he remained in hiding until the closing moments of the coup. CIA officers made copies of the royal decrees dismissing Moṣaddeq and appointing Zāhedī as prime minister and arranged for them to be distributed throughout Tehran. Efforts were made to generate support for Zāhedī among members of the armed forces, many of whom remained loyal to Moṣaddeq (Najātī, pp. 363-76). Two Persians who were the principal agents in the BEDAMN organization used $50,000 given to them by a CIA officer to organize a large crowd on 26 Mordād/17 August that marched through central Tehran chanting Tudeh Party slogans and denouncing the shah (personal interviews). This crowd was joined by many Tudeh Party members who believed that it had been organized by their leaders, and it reappeared on the following day. On the morning of 28 Mordād/19 August two CIA officers gave $10,000 to a Persian named Aḥmad Ārāmeš, who promised to pass it on to Ayatollah Kāšānī to be used in organizing a large anti-Moṣaddeq crowd. The CIA also provided money to other prominent Persians, such as Ayatollah Sayyed Moḥammad Behbahānī, who was already involved in pro-shah and anti-Moṣaddeq activities (personal interviews; see also Najātī, pp. 355, 407, 440; Soraya, pp. 95-96). Whatever its origins, an anti-Moṣaddeq crowd of club wielders was gathered in Meydān-e Amīn-al-Solṭān in southern Tehran by Ḥājī Khan Ḵodādād, the owner of the Meydān, and Ṭayyeb Ḥājj Reżāʾī, a leader of street thugs, early in the morning. It marched into the bāzār area and to the offices of Radio Tehran and was later joined by army and police units and by onlookers who had been alarmed at the “Tudeh” marches of the previous days or had become disillusioned with Moṣaddeq. The combined crowd attacked government buildings and the offices of pro-Moṣaddeq organizations. An army unit seized the Tehran radio station and began to broadcast pro-Zāhedī bulletins. A column of tanks commanded by General Gīlānšāh retrieved Zāhedī from the CIA safe house and attacked Moṣaddeq’s home, where a nine-hour battle ensued in which some 300 people were killed. Moṣaddeq fled the assault, but surrendered to Zāhedī’s forces the next day (Gasiorowski, 1987, pp. 273-75; Roosevelt, pp. 169-97; Bill, 1988a; Najātī, pp. 397-429; personal interviews).
Post-coup activities. In the months after the coup the CIA took a number of steps to strengthen the new Zāhedī government. CIA officers in Tehran provided it with intelligence on the Tudeh Party and used the BEDAMN propaganda organization to try to generate popular support for Zāhedī. They also provided a limited amount of financial support to pro-Zāhedī candidates in the February 1954 elections for the Majles (parliament) and carried out certain other small-scale covert political activities on behalf of Zāhedī. In addition, the CIA began a program to reorganize and train Persia’s intelligence forces in this period. A U.S. Army colonel working for the CIA was sent to Persia in September 1953 to work with General Teymūr Baḵtīār (q.v.), who was appointed military governor of Tehran in Āḏar 1332 Š./December 1953 and immediately began to assemble the nucleus of a new intelligence organization. The U.S. Army colonel worked closely with Baḵtīār and his subordinates, commanding the new intelligence organization and training its members in basic intelligence techniques, such as surveillance and interrogation methods, the use of intelligence networks, and organizational security. This organization was the first modern, effective intelligence service to operate in Persia. Its main achievement occurred in Šahrīvar 1333 Š./September 1954, when it discovered and destroyed a large Tudeh Party network that had been established in the Persian armed forces (Gasiorowski, 1990, pp. 148-51; personal interviews).
As the Zāhedī government succeeded in consolidating its authority in Persia and after the Anglo-Persian oil dispute was successfully concluded in the fall of 1333 Š./1954, the Eisenhower administration began to develop a new approach toward Persia, which emphasized strengthening the capabilities of the Persian government to maintain domestic political stability rather than direct U.S. intervention in Persia’s internal affairs to achieve this goal. This policy shift brought about a significant change in the nature of CIA activities in Persia in the mid-1330s Š./1950s. The CIA discontinued almost entirely its covert political action programs in this period, focusing instead on intelligence gathering and on strengthening the Persian government’s own intelligence capabilities.
In the mid- and late 1330s Š./1950s and early 1340s Š./1960s the CIA maintained a small number of intelligence agents in the Tudeh Party, the National Front, and related organizations, including several well-known leaders of these organizations, as well as among the Shiʿite clergy, the Persian student groups in Europe, and in certain important Persian government agencies. All of these agents were used by the CIA to gather intelligence, rather than to conduct covert political operations against the groups they had infiltrated (personal interviews). In addition to these paid agents, CIA officers routinely met with a wide variety of Persian political figures and interviewed many members of opposition organizations, though in most of these cases they concealed their CIA affiliations (Dānešjūyān, vols. 20-26). In 1336 Š./1957 the CIA began to operate two electronic listening posts aimed at Soviet missile-testing facilities in Central Asia from bases in northeastern Persia that were provided and maintained by the Persian Air Force. These posts remained in operation until shortly after the Revolution of 1357-58 Š./1979 and were extremely important to the United States in evaluating the “missile gap” of the late 1330s Š./1950s and later in monitoring U.S.-Soviet arms control agreements (Bamford, pp. 198-201; Herz, p. 23).
The U.S. Army colonel who had helped General Baḵtīār establish a new intelligence organization after the 1332 Š./1953 coup remained in Persia in this capacity until Esfand 1334 Š./March 1955, when he was replaced with a more permanent team of five career CIA officers, including specialists in covert operations, intelligence analysis, and counterintelligence. It remained in Persia until 1339 Š./1960 or 1340 Š./1961, with occasional changes in personnel, providing Baḵtīār’s organization with additional training in these three basic areas of “spy craft” and overseeing its evolution into a modern, effective intelligence agency. In 1335 Š./1956 this agency was reorganized and given the name Sāzmān-e Eṭṭelāʿāt wa Amnīyat-e Kešvar (National intelligence and security organization), commonly known as SAVAK. By the time the CIA team was withdrawn, it had trained virtually all of the first generation of SAVAK personnel. After the five-man team left Persia the CIA continued to provide specialized training to SAVAK officers on a routine though limited basis, both in Persia and in the United States, covering topics such as forgery detection, Russian language instruction, and the use of computers and special equipment for surveillance, interrogation, and communications. A team of instructors from the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad replaced the five-man CIA team when it left Persia and remained until 1344 Š./1965, after which SAVAK’s own instructors provided basic training to all new SAVAK recruits (Gasiorowski, 1990, pp. 154-55; personal interviews).
The CIA and SAVAK cooperated in other ways in this period, though on a selective and rather limited basis. The two intelligence agencies maintained a close, working-level liaison relationship, both in Tehran and in the United States, under which they gave each other advice and exchanged intelligence. The CIA provided SAVAK with intelligence on the Soviet Union, the Arab states, Afghanistan, and other countries. SAVAK provided the CIA with intelligence on regional matters and on the Tudeh Party, the guerrillas, and other Persian political organizations. The CIA and SAVAK also carried out a limited number of joint covert operations in this period, though only against non-Persian targets. These included joint cross-border intelligence-gathering operations in the Soviet Union and the joint interrogation of Soviet agents captured in Persia. The CIA did not give SAVAK intelligence on Persian political organizations other than the Tudeh Party and did not carry out covert operations with SAVAK against Persian targets because CIA officials believed that such activities might compromise the CIA’s own operations in Persia and that SAVAK, in any case, was capable of operating fairly effectively on its own (Gasiorowski, 1990, pp. 155-56; personal interviews).
CIA activities in Persia in the 1340s Š./1960s and 1350s Š./1970s. As the Persian government became increasingly effective in maintaining domestic political stability after the early 1340s Š./1960s and as the shah became increasingly concerned about Persia’s extensive dependence on the United States, security relations between the United States and Persia grew more distant. As a result, the CIA gradually shifted the focus of its activities in Persia away from domestic political matters, dropping most of its agents in the Tudeh Party, the National Front, and among the Shiʿite clergy. Relations between the CIA and SAVAK became much more distant after the training team left Persia in the early 1340s Š./1960s: SAVAK relied increasingly on other countries for specialized training; the volume and quality of the intelligence exchanged between the two agencies declined; and joint operations ceased almost entirely. The CIA and SAVAK even began to spy on each other in Tehran: The CIA set up a special facility in the U.S. embassy compound to monitor the radio communications of SAVAK and other Persian government agencies, and SAVAK monitored CIA and U.S. embassy communications with various listening devices. As the ties between the two agencies declined, the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad became increasingly active in Persia, training SAVAK personnel and carrying out a broad variety of joint operations with SAVAK (Gasiorowski, 1990, pp. 157, 159; personal interviews; Dānešjūyān, vols. 11, 36). In Washington, bureaucratic reshuffling, personnel cuts, and complacency about political stability in Persia led to a sharp reduction in the volume of CIA intelligence reports on Persia in the 1340s Š./1960s and 1350s Š./1970s (Bill, 1988b, pp. 415-20).
Nevertheless, although the CIA’s interest in Persian domestic politics declined considerably in the 1340s Š./1960s and 1350s Š./1970s, it remained quite active in Persia in this period. The CIA maintained a staff of about ten officers in Persia in the early and mid-1350s Š./1970s, in addition to the technicians who operated the electronic listening posts in northeastern Persia. These officers focused mainly on the activities of the Soviet Bloc and China in Persia and on nonpolitical matters, such as Persia’s nuclear power and oil industries and its ability to absorb advanced military equipment (Bill, 1998b, p. 402; Dānešjūyān, vol. 8, pp. 133-54). The CIA station chief in Tehran met frequently with the shah and the head of SAVAK to discuss issues of mutual interest, and there was a similar relationship between CIA officers in Washington and the chief SAVAK representative in the United States, who was actually a paid agent of the CIA (Rafizadeh, chap. 12; personal interview). The most dramatic activity of the CIA in Persia in this period was its cooperation with Persian and Israeli military and intelligence units in the late 1340s Š./1960s and early 1350s Š./1970s in an extensive covert effort to assist a group of Iraqi Kurdish tribesmen who were rebelling against the government of Iraq. This operation ended ignominiously in Esfand 1353 Š./March 1975, when the shah signed a treaty with Iraq that ended Persian support for the rebels and thus permitted the Iraqi government to crush the uprising (Gasiorowski, 1990, p. 156; Ghareeb, chap. 7).
The revolution and the hostage crisis. The CIA’s failure to monitor Persian domestic politics in the 1340s-50s Š./1960s-70s left it completely unprepared for the revolutionary upheaval in the late 1350s Š./1970s. Like their counterparts in the State Department and the Defense Intelligence Agency, CIA analysts failed to anticipate the sudden emergence of revolutionary unrest in Persia in 1356-57 Š./1977-78 and consistently underestimated the magnitude and long-term implications of this unrest. In August 1978, only six months before the revolution culminated, the CIA even produced a report which stated that “Persia is not in a revolutionary or even a "prerevolutionary" situation” (U.S. House of Representatives, p. 7). The inability of the CIA and other U.S. government agencies to anticipate the revolution and provide U.S. policy makers with appropriate information and guidance constituted an enormous intelligence failure (ibid.; Woodward, pp. 108-11).
In 1357 Š./1978-79 the CIA tried to recruit agents among the leadership of the revolutionary movement to serve as sources of intelligence, as contacts with top revolutionary leaders, and as operatives for carrying out covert political operations inside Persia. The most ambitious of these recruitment attempts occurred in late 1357 Š./early 1979, when a CIA officer tried to recruit Ayatollah Khomeini’s top aide, Abu’l-Ḥasan Banī Ṣadr, who later became president of Persia. Although the attempt to recruit Banī Ṣadr was unsuccessful (Bill, 1988b, pp. 286-88), the CIA did manage to establish contact with a number of lower-level revolutionary leaders. The CIA also maintained close contact after the Revolution with Šāpūr Baḵtīār (the shah’s last prime minister), Admiral Aḥmad Madanī, Ḵosrow Khan Qašqāʾī, and others who opposed the Khomeini regime. When the U.S. embassy in Tehran was seized by Islamic militants in Ābān 1358 Š./November 1979, most, if not all, of the CIA officers stationed in Persia were taken hostage, and a large number of highly classified documents was seized. These documents enabled the militants to identify many of the CIA agents and contacts in Persia (Dānešjūyān, vols. 38, 55, 56). Banī Ṣadr was severely discredited by revelations about the CIA’s attempt to recruit him, and most of the other figures incriminated in this manner were imprisoned or executed by the revolutionary government.
The seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran apparently left the CIA without any agents at all inside Persia, but in the following months, in conjunction with preparations for the ill-fated hostage rescue mission in Farvardīn 1359 Š./April 1980, the CIA managed to send several deep-cover operatives into Persia. These operatives gathered large amounts of operational intelligence for use in the rescue mission and provided critically important logistical support for the mission, such as a fleet of trucks to transport the rescue team into Tehran. The CIA also sent a plane to one of the landing sites in Persia that the rescue team was planning to use in order to reconnoiter the area and install remote-control landing beacons. In Washington the CIA assigned a liaison officer to work with the military unit that was planning the mission and provided this unit with large amounts of intelligence about conditions inside Persia. These agents left Persia after the rescue mission failed (Beckwith and Knox, pp. 195-200, 221-224, 238-240; Newsweek, 12 July 1982, pp. 16-25).
CIA activities in Persia in the 1360s Š./1980s. After the Tehran embassy and the CIA station were shut down in Ābān 1358 Š./November 1979, a field station was established in Frankfurt, West Germany, to conduct covert operations against Persia. The CIA continued to support anti-Khomeini opposition groups in the early 1360s Š./l980s, presumably through the Frankfurt station, both to obtain intelligence from these groups and to assist them in their efforts to overthrow the Khomeini regime. It apparently provided several million dollars to a group led by Aḥmad Madanī in this period, but in 1361 Š./1982, when Madanī proved to be too independent, the CIA abandoned him and began to provide $100,000 per month in financial assistance to the Jabha-ye Najāt-e Īrān, Front for Liberation of Iran, a Paris-based monarchist opposition group led by the pro-U.S. ʿAlī Amīnī, a former prime minister. The CIA also equipped and financed the Front’s radio station in Egypt and helped it conduct propaganda operations against the Khomeini regime. In early 1364 Š./1985 and late 1364 Š./1986, the CIA ousted two leading members of the Front, who functioned as liaisons with the Agency and “appointed one of the shah’s former cabinet officers as the new overseer of the FLI money” (Washington Post, 19 November 1986, p. A28; see also The New York Times, 8 August 1989, p. 6; Hooglund, p. 183; Woodward, p. 480). The new liaison, who ousted Amīnī and assumed the leadership of the Front, changed the name of the Front to Sāzmān-e Derafš-e Kāvānī/Flag of Freedom Organization (personal interviews with leading members of the FLI).
In the early 1360s Š./1980s the CIA also began to build a network of agents inside Persia through its station in Frankfurt, including agents in the Persian Foreign Ministry, the Persian Navy, and presumably other branches of the Persian armed forces as well. The agents provided the United States with tactical intelligence about the Persia-Iraq war and Persian military activities in the Persian Gulf that appears to have been quite useful to the United States in its military confrontations with Persia in the Persian Gulf during the mid- and late 1980s, most notably in facilitating the U.S. attack on the Persian mine-laying vessel “Iran AJ” in September 1987 (Washington Post, 23 September 1987, p. 1; Eṭṭelāʿāt, 1 Mehr 1366 Š./23 September 1987, p. 3). However, the network apparently provided little or no intelligence to the CIA on domestic political matters in Persia or on the U.S. hostages being held in Lebanon by
pro-Persian groups, though the CIA may have obtained some intelligence on these subjects through electronic surveillance and from certain “friendly” intelligence agencies, such as the Israeli Mossad. In the mid-1360s Š./1980s the CIA also began to provide the Iraqi government with valuable intelligence from U.S. spy satellites for use in its attacks on Persian targets during the Persia-Iraq war (The New York Times, 17 January 1987, p. 1, 22 April 1989, p. 5, 8 August 1989, p. 6; Woodward, p. 439).
Although most of the activities of the CIA directed at Persia in the early 1360s Š./1980s were designed to undermine the Khomeini regime, at least one operation helped strengthen it. In 1361 Š./1982 a Soviet KGB officer named Vladimir Kuzichkin, who was stationed in Persia and apparently worked with the Tudeh Party, defected to the British embassy. The British permitted the CIA to interrogate him, and the British and/or the CIA then gave the Persian government the names of a large number of Tudeh Party members he identified, enabling the Persian government to arrest hundreds of Tudeh members in 1361 Š./early 1983 and execute many of them. The CIA evidently undertook this operation in order to undermine Soviet activities in Persia rather than to strengthen the Khomeini regime (The Washington Post, 19 November 1986, p. 28; Hooglund, p. 184).
In the summer of 1364 Š./1985 CIA director William Casey began to urge President Ronald E. Reagan to approve an initiative to establish informal contacts with Persia. At about the same time Israeli government officials approached U.S. National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane with a plan to sell U.S.-supplied Israeli arms to Persia in exchange for the release of the U.S. hostages in Lebanon. In order to avoid the bureaucratic tangles and congressional oversight that CIA operations normally entail, the arms sales were directed through the National Security Council (NSC), rather than the CIA (Marshall et al., pp. 8-9). After President Reagan approved this plan, Israel sold 508 TOW anti-tank missiles to Persia in August and September of 1985, resulting in the release of U.S. hostage Benjamin Weir. A second batch of U.S.-supplied Israeli missiles was then shipped to Persia in November 1985 but rejected by its recipients, who claimed that the missiles were outdated. The CIA had used one of its proprietary airlines to transport this second shipment of missiles and later persuaded President Reagan to sign a retroactive order authorizing it not to inform Congress about the shipment. In January 1986 Reagan authorized a plan calling for U.S. missiles to be shipped directly to Persia and for Persia to be provided with U.S. intelligence on Iraqi military capabilities in exchange for the release of several hostages, but, again, Congress was not to be informed. The CIA and a group of businessmen led by retired General Richard Secord together shipped the missiles to Persia, and a CIA officer provided middleman Manūčehr Qorbānīfar (Ghorbanifar) with certain intelligence to be given to the Persian government. Although no U.S. hostages were released after these
events, McFarlane and a small team of U.S. and Israeli officials (including a CIA officer) traveled to Tehran in May 1986 and exchanged a small quantity of missile parts for another hostage, Lawrence Jenco, who was finally released in July. The CIA helped ship a final batch of U.S. missiles to Persia in October 1986, resulting in the release of hostage David Jacobsen (Congressional Quarterly, pp. 43-50).
In early November 1986, the Lebanese magazine al-Šerāʿ reported that the United States had been secretly selling arms to Persia and that McFarlane had traveled to Tehran earlier in the year in conjunction with the arms sales. This report was soon confirmed by U.S. officials, and it was soon revealed that some of the profits from the arms sales had been used to finance the activities of the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. Further details of the affair emerged during the following months in congressional hearings, in the report of a special investigating commission appointed by President Reagan, and in the press. U.S. arms shipments to Persia ceased abruptly as a result of these various revelations, and the United States became much more belligerent toward Persia. The contracts established by the CIA and other U.S. government agencies with the Persian government in conjunction with the arms-sales program were presumably severed at this time as well.
The CIA’s activities toward Persia were dealt another serious blow in April 1989, when the Persian government announced that it had uncovered the network of agents in the Persian Foreign Ministry and armed forces that had been established by the CIA in the early 1360s Š./1980s. The Persian government, in fact, claimed that it had detected this network several months earlier and had used it to feed false information to the CIA. Many members of this network were arrested, and dramatic confessions by some alleged members were broadcast over Persian television. U.S. government officials later confirmed that the network had existed and had been broken up by Persia (The New York Times, 8 August 1989, p. 6).
The destruction of this network, together with revelations about the so-called “Iran-Contra” affair, severely undermined the ability of the CIA to operate in Persia and presumably made many Persians very wary about dealing with the CIA. Consequently, it seems unlikely that the CIA will be able to operate very effectively toward Persia in the early 1370s Š./1990s.
Y. Alexander and A. Nanes, eds., The United States and Iran. A Documentary History, Frederick, Md., 1980.
J. Bamford, The Puzzle Palace, Boston, 1982.
C. A. Beckwith and D. Knox, Delta Force, San Diego, 1983.
J. A. Bill, “America, Iran, and the Politics of Intervention, 1951-1953,” in James A. Bill and Wm. Roger Louis, eds., Musaddiq, Iranian Nationalism, and Oil, Austin, Texas, 1988a, pp. 261-95.
Idem, The Eagle and the Lion. The Tragedy of American-Iranian Relations, New Haven, 1988b.
Congressional Quarterly, Inc., The Iran-Contra Puzzle, Washington, D.C., 1987.
Dānešjūyān-e Peyrow-e Ḵaṭṭ-e Emām, Asnād-e lāna-ye jāsūsī, many vols., Tehran, n.d.(documents seized from the American embassy in Tehran).
Foreign Office, “Internal Situation,” FO/248/1531, n.d.
Idem, “The Friendly Relationship . . .,” FO/371/104568, June, 10, 1953. Idem, “Situation in Persia,” FO/371/104570, August 19, 1953.
M. J. Gasiorowski, “The 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran,” IJMES 19/3, 1987, pp. 261-86.
Idem, “Security Relations Between the United States and Iran, 1953-1978,” in N. R. Keddie and M. J. Gasiorowski, eds., Neither East Nor West. Iran, the United States, and the Soviet Union, New Haven, 1990, pp. 145-65.
E. Ghareeb, The Kurdish Question in Iraq, Syracuse, New York, 1981.
M. F. Herz, Contacts with the Opposition, Washington, D.C., 1979.
E. Hooglund, “The Policy of the Reagan Administration toward Iran,” in N. R. Keddie and M. J. Gasiorowski, eds., pp. 180-97.
J. Marshall et al., The Iran-Contra Connection. Secret Teams and Covert Operations in the Reagan Era, Boston, 1987.
Ḡ.-R. Najātī, Jonbeš-e mellī šodan-e naft-e Īrān wa kūdetā-ye 28 Mordād 1332, Tehran, 1364 Š./1985.
M. Rafizadeh, Witness. From the Shah to the Secret Arms Deal, New York, 1987.
K. Roosevelt, Countercoup. The Struggle, for the Control of Iran, New York, 1979.
Princess Soraya (S. Esfandiari/Ṯ. Esfandīārī), The Autobiography of Her Imperial Highness, tr. C. Fitzgibbon, Garden City, N.Y., 1964.
U.S. House of Representatives, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Iran. Evaluation of U.S. Intelligence Performance Prior to November 1978. Staff Report, Washington, D.C., January 1979.
D. N. Wilber, Adventures in the Middle East. Excursions and Incursions, Princeton, N.J., 1986.
C. M. Woodhouse, Something Ventured, London, 1982.
B. Woodward, Veil. The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987, New York, 1987.
All information presented in this article that is not accompanied by a bibliographic citation was obtained by the author in confidential interviews with retired CIA officers. For especially important details, this is indicated with a parenthetical reference to “personal interviews” in the text. Wherever possible, information obtained in these interviews was corroborated by at least one other source. All British Foreign Office documents cited above are located in the Public Records Office in London.
(Mark J. Gasiorowski)
Originally Published: December 15, 1991
Last Updated: October 10, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. V, Fasc. 3, pp. 253-258