Mossadegh, Iran, and the CIA’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Coup, Part III

The Operations Plan set forth in Wilber’s “History,” envisioned a “massive” propaganda campaign against Mossadegh.  Apparently, the expense of this “massive” campaign was to be some fraction of the overall budget.  As noted in the “History,” “The total estimated expenditure required to implement this plan will be the equivalent of $285,000 of which $147,500 will be provided by the US Service and $137,500 by the UK Service.”  Quoting again from the plan, “One or two weeks before the date set for Situation A, the intensive propaganda effort will begin. The details relative to the execution of this campaign will be the primary responsibility of the US field station.”  The spinners of the Great Coup myth would have us belief that this rather parsimoniously funded “massive propaganda campaign,” launched a mere week or two before the attempt, and consisting of a batch of political cartoons and essays, completely outfoxed the Communists, renowned masters of propaganda though they were, and the entire Mossadegh controlled media, in spite of Wilber’s admission that this magically effective propaganda never appeared in more than 20 of the 273 publications published in Tehran at the time.

The Great Coup didn’t succeed because this “massive propaganda campaign” suddenly convinced the Iranian people they should turn against Mossadegh.  In fact, it was obvious from the start that the only hope of success lay in uniting the existing opposition to him in the country, and galvanizing it into action.  In the end, as we shall see, Mossadegh needed no CIA help to do that.  He pulled it off very nicely all by himself.

It was the CIA’s opinion that “General Zahedi is the only figure in Iran currently capable of heading a new government who could be relied upon to repress Soviet-Communist penetration and carry out basic reforms.”  The other “key elements” in the plan reflected this conclusion.  They were 1) Get the Shah to go along, 2) Insure Zahedi has command authority, 3) An appeal to obey Zahedi.  Getting the Shah to go along was never an issue.  He fled the country on August 15, and would surely have come back to accept power from whoever offered it to him.  In the end, the rest of the plan was moot.  Zahedi was in hiding in a CIA safe house when the decisive events of the coup took place, and his “command authority” was, therefore, irrelevant, as was the appeal to obey him.  He only emerged from hiding when the coast was clear, and Mossadegh’s supporters had already been defeated.

The CIA’s actual attempt to execute the plan outlined above is euphemistically referred to as “The First Try” in Section 6 of Wilber’s “History.”  In fact, it was the only try, as far as the CIA was concerned, and it was a failure.  Of course, as the old saying goes, “Success has a thousand fathers. Failure is a motherless child.”  When the Shah’s supporters won after all, even as the CIA staff were commiserating with each other on their failure, Wilber was quick to put a bold face on things.  He couldn’t tell bald-faced lies, though.  As a result, his “History” appears to be a fairly accurate account of what happened.  It is an account of a botched operation, as anyone who actually takes the trouble to read it can see.  In fact, it makes it quite clear that the CIA did not control or direct the events on August 19 that actually brought Mossadegh down.  The “First Try” occurred on the night of August 15.  It was a debacle.  Wilber’s version was as follows:

 “The precise order of events of the night of 15 August 1953 has not yet been established in all detail. The early accounts of various participants differed widely enough to make it impossible to follow the slender thread of truth through the dark night. However, the main outline of this first try is clear, as are two basic facts connected with it. These facts are: that the plan was betrayed by the indiscretion of one of the Iranian Army officer participants-primarily because of the protracted delay-and that it still might have succeeded in spite of this advance warning had not most of the participants proved to be inept or lacking in decision at the critical juncture.

“At 0545 hours on the morning of 16 August 1953, Radio Tehran came on the air with a special government communique covering the so-called abortive coup of the night just ending, and by 0600 hours Mossadeq was meeting with his cabinet to receive reports on the situation and to take steps to strengthen the security forces at government buildings and other vital points. Again at 0730 hours the communique was broadcast.

“Station personnel had passed an anxious, sleepless night in their office. From the fact that certain actions provided for in the military plan failed to materialize- no jeep with radio arrived at the compound, and the telephone system continued to function-it was obvious that something-or everything-had gone wrong. At 0500 hours, as soon as the curfew was lifted, Carroll toured the town and reported there was a concentration of tanks and troops around Mossadeq’s house, and other security forces on the move. Then Colonel [Farzanegan] called the office to say that things had gone badly, and he, himself, was on the run toward the Embassy in search of refuge. At 0600 hours he appeared, gave a summary of the situation, which was like that of the government communique, and was rushed into hiding. The station was now suddenly faced task of rescuing the operation from total failure…”

Doesn’t sound much like the usual yarns you may have heard about the marvelously, magically successful CIA coup, does it?  In the upshot, the CIA collected up General Zahedi, his son, and some of the other key people they’d been relying on, hid them away, and probably started thinking up ways to explain their abject failure to Washington.  In fact, it isn’t hard to discern the truly dilettantish nature of the affair between the lines.  For example, as noted in the description of the aftermath of the failure in the “History,” “It was now well into the morning, after the papers had been out for some time. Shojat, the substitute for the principal Tudeh paper, Besuye Ayandeh, had been predicting a coup since 13 August. It now stated that the plans for the alleged coup had been made after a meeting between the Shah and General Shwarkkopf on 9 August, but that Mossadeq had been tipped off on the 14th. It should be noted that the Tudeh appeared to be at least as well posted on the coup plans as the government-how is not known.”

Later in the document we read, “Throughout the long hours of 17 August, there seemed little that Headquarters could do to ease the pangs of despair. A wire sent to the station in the afternoon expressed the strong feeling that Roosevelt, in the interest of safety, should leave at the earliest moment, and it went on to express distress over the bad luck.”  Now, however, Mossadegh started making mistakes.  As noted in the “History,” “About 1000 hours a considerable body of the troops that had been dispersed throughout the city were called back to their barracks, as the government was certain the situation was well in hand.”  Mossadegh further alienated the military by broadcasting a list of names of real or supposed plotters who were to be arrested immediately.  Anyone who had previously expressed support for the Shah became suspect. 

On the 17th, a broadcast on radio Tehran called the Shah a traitor, and Mossadegh decreed the dissolution of the Majlis. The Teheran prosecutor arrested thirteen Opposition deputies who had taken asylum in the Parliament building.  Communist rioters destroyed statues of the Shah, and thoroughly frightened religious leaders.  The situation as it appeared at the time was reflected in a contemporary New York Times article:  “Thus, at day’s end, Dr. Mossadegh was alone with the Tudeh party in Iran’s political arena. At the moment, however, the two are uneasy allies.”  The next day, pro-Mossadegh papers further alienated traditionalists by announcing that the Pahlevi dynasty had come to an end.  Of course, the flight of the Shah brought home to many people just how far Mossadegh had gone. 

In a word, Mossadegh had succeeded in uniting and galvanizing opposition forces beyond the wildest dreams of anything the CIA could do with the paltry sums at its disposal.  However, the all-seeing, all-knowing Agency was completely unaware of just how volatile the situation had really become.  As noted in the “History:”

“”Headquarters spend a day featured by depression and despair. The immediate direction of the project moved from the Branch and Division to the highest level. At the end of the morning a handful of people worked on the draft of a message which was to call off the operation. As the message was finally sent, in the evening, it was based on the Department of State’s tentative stand: “that the operation has been tried and failed,” the position of the United Kingdom that: “we must regret that we cannot consider going on fighting” and Headquarters’ positon that, in the absence of strong recommendations to the contrary from Roosevelt and Henderson, operations against Mossadeq should be discontinued.” 

Then, as the CIA licked its wounds, there was a dramatic reversal of fortunes.  Again, quoting from the “History,”

“…before 0900 hours pro-Shah groups were assembling in the bazaar area. Members of these groups had not only made their personal choice between Mossadeq and the Shah, but they were stirred up by the Tudeh activity of the preceding day and were ready to move. They needed only leadership.”  (No there is no mention whatsoever of CIA involvement in getting these people on the street, or any claim that it quickly sprang into action and provided leadership).

“The news that something quite startling was happening spread at great speed throughout the city. Just when it reached Mossadeq, who was meeting with members of his cabinet, is not known. By 0900 hours the station did have this news, and by 1000 hours word had come in that both the Bakhtar-i-Emruz office and the headquarters of the Iran Party had been ransacked. Also about 1000 hours contact was established with the Rashidian brothers who seemed full of glee. Their instructions, as well as orders directed to [Keyvani and Djalili] were now to attempt to swing security forces to the side of the demonstrators and to encourage action for the capture of Radio Tehran. To what extent the resulting activity stemmed from specific efforts of all our agents will never be known, although many more details of the excitement of the day may slowly come to light.” (In other words, the actual assets of the CIA on the street as these events were going on consisted of a grand total of two agents.  The idea that the “specific efforts” of these two altered events one way or the other is ludicrous.  Their accounts of their activities, such as they were, were no doubt embellished, as they knew their compensation would depend on the CIA’s assessment of their actual contributions.)

Continuing with the CIA account:

“Fairly early in the morning Colonel [Demavand] one of those involved in the staff planning, appeared in the square before the Majlis with a tank which he had secured from the Second Battalion of the Second Armored Brigade, [a battalion originally committed to the operation] Lt. Col.[Khosro-Panah] and Captain [Ali Zand] were on hand and were joined by two trucks from the same battalion, while members of the disbanded Imperial Guard seized trucks and drove through the streets. By 1015 hours there were pro-Shah truckloads of military personnel at all the main squares. (Again, the CIA had nothing whatsoever to do with the actions of these military units, which were undertaken at their own initiative.)

“While small groups had penetrated to the north of the city by 0930 hours, the really large groups, armed with sticks and stones, came from south Tehran and merged as they reached Sepah Square in their progress north toward the center of the city. There the troops held in readiness fired hundred of shots over the heads of the crowd, but apparently were not willing to fire at these partisans of the Shah. As a result the crowds were able to fan out toward key points. Just up Lalezar, a main shopping street, the Saadi theater, long sponsored by the Tudeh Party, was burned. The surging crowds of men, women, and children were shouting, “Shah piruz ast,” (The Shah is victorious). Determined as they seemed, a gay holiday atmosphere prevailed, and it was if exterior pressures had been released so that the true sentiments of the people showed through. The crowds were not, as in earlier weeks, made up of hoodlums, but included people of all classes-many well dressed-led or encouraged by other civilians. Trucks and busloads of cheering civilians streamed by and when, about noon, five tanks and 20 truckloads of soldiers joined it, the movement took on a somewhat different aspect. As usual, word spread like lightning and in other parts of the city pictures of the Shah were eagerly display. Cars went by with headlights burning as a tangible indication of loyalty to the ruler.” (In other words, the demonstrations were spontaneous, and the military actions were not guided or directed by the CIA, which would certainly have claimed credit in this self-laudatory report if they had even the slightest basis for making such a claim).

“Those army officers previously alerted to take part in the military operations provided by TPAJAX were now taking separate but proper individual action.” (Another transparent attempt to take credit for something military forces were doing, as the CIA itself was forced to admit, on their own)

“Radio Tehran was a most important target, for its capture not only sealed the success at the capital, but was effective in bringing the provincial cities quickly into line with the new government. During the heat of activiy, it broadcast dull discussions of cotton prices, and finally music only. Already at 1030 hours there had been an inerruption of its schedule, but it was not until early afternoon that people began streaming up the borad avenue toward their goal, some three miles to the north. Buses and trucks bore full loads of civilians, army officers and policemen. Sheer weight of numbers seemed to have overwhelmed the defenders of the radio station, and after a brief struggle in which three deaths were reported, at 1412 hours the station was in royalist hands. At 1420 hours it broadcast the first word of the success of the royalist effort, including a reading of the firman. A stream of eager speakers came to the microphone. Some represented elements upon whom reliance had been placed in TPAJAX planning, while others were quite unknown to the station. Among the former elements were opposition papers [Bakhtiar and Zelzeleh,] one of [Ayatollah Kashani’s sons,] and [likeh Etozadi.] Among spontaneous supporters of the Shah to come to the microphone were Colonel Ali Pahlevan and Major Husand Mirzadian; their presence was the proof- no longer required-of the truth of the TPAJAX assumption that the army would rally to the Shah under just such circumstnces. For some period of time, Radio Tehran was alternately on and off the air. It may have been finally put into good operating condition by those engineers who, as one speaker said, had come along for just such a purpose. Here, as in so many other phases, chance served the cause very well, for, had the original defenders of the radio station managed to damage its facilities, the firm control of the capital might have been delayed.”  (In other words, the decisive takeover of radio Tehran was accomplished entirely by forces in no way directed or guided by the CIA.  Putting a bold face on events, the best it can do is claim, “We knew those guys.”).

This, then, was the reality of the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Coup.  It bears little resemblance to the gaudy tales of hoards of “fake anti- and pro-monarchy protesters,” killing each other by the hundreds, supposedly all hired with the paltry sums left over from the CIA’s propaganda campaign, and stage directed by Wilber and Roosevelt.  Google the story, and you’ll find this kind of disinformation spread across the Internet far and wide.  Among the worst of the liars are those who have not only been given a haven in the country they malign and slander, but even hold prestigious and well-paid jobs here.  The words of Mark Twain come to mind; “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.”

Parts I and II of this post can be found here and here.

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

2 thoughts on “Mossadegh, Iran, and the CIA’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Coup, Part III”

  1. And we’ve all been led to believe that everything would have been fine in Iran(no Islamic Revolution), but for the CIA.In spite of the fact that Khomeni didn’t like Mossedegh either!

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