A Necessary Evil?
The term “Covert Action” brings with it a connotation of shadowy figures wrapped in secrecy and intrigue. It also brings with it a substantial amount of moral questions as to “what is right.” The use of covert action has been widely publicized since the early seventies, but trying to find out the truth to these events has been difficult to say the least. What is even more difficult, is historically recording these events into categories of successes or failures. These operations are difficult to dissect because of their secrecy and although events have been recorded, some facts simply aren’t apparent. This paper will seek to identify the complex issues associated with covert operations.
United States policy on covert action since World War II acknowledges two facts which are rarely taken into consideration when discussing these operations. The first is the sheer magnitude of these operations. Secret wars involve not only large sums of money, but armies of soldiers as well. Secondly, successes of these operations have been at times misrepresented or utter blunders.(1) History will show the legitimacy (or lack of) of these operations and how strategically important they may have been at the time. History will also show and “connect the dots” as to the future impact and contradiction of perceived successes.
Iran Coup d’état 1953
The post-war period brought with it the fear of Communism to the United States. This belief was deeply ingrained in day-to-day life and the nation’s number one priority in regards to national security. In Iran, a plan to nationalize its oil industry brought about great concern with the British.(2) The British intelligence service (SIS) partnered with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to develop a plan to ensure continued control of oil interests in Iran and eradicate the movement to nationalize the oil industry. At this point in time, Great Britain had total control over the pumping, refining, and shipping of oil in southern Iran. Britain interests of Iranian oil provided the Iranian government with funds making up half of their budget.(3) The British were intent on keeping their rights to Iranian oil. The British worked to have an Iranian parliamentary commission report on nationalization of oil interpreted as impractical. This report was inaccurately translated from English into Farsi which did not fare well for the Iranian Prime Minister. The message the Prime Minister brought was skewed and linked him to British oil interests. In the weeks following, he was assassinated. Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, a nationalist leader, came into power following the assassination.(4) Dr. Mossadegh quickly introduced legislation to nationalize Iran’s oil industry. The legislation became law and Britain was now out of the picture…or so seemed. The British began planning a coup d’état to remove Mossadegh and regain control of oil interests. Although it took a bit of time to gather support from the United States due to a change in administrations, the British gained support for the operation. One convincing factor in supporting the British was the possibility of Iran falling into the hands of the Soviet Union. This idea was not far fetched considering the fact the Iranian Communist Party (the Tudeh) was becoming active at the same time as well as from a historical perspective, with the Russo-Persian Wars in which Iran lost land to Russia.(5) These factors played right into the widespread anti-communist sentiment by the United States.
Iran: The Plan
The preliminary parts of the plan developed by the SIS and CIA consisted of channeling funds to General Fazlollah Zahedi, the person to lead the coup against Mossadegh. The SIS and CIA would also work to convince the Shah that the US and UK were supportive to him and not Mossadegh and by removing Mossadegh, his ruling powers would be expanded.(6) Described further into...
Cited: 2. John Prados, Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA (Ivan R. Dee, 2006), p99
14. John Prados, Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA (Ivan R. Dee, 2006), p121
27. John Prados, Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA (Ivan R. Dee, 2006), p204
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