Friday, June 16, 2017

New CIA/State Department Docs on the 1953 Iran Coup (Part 1)

This is Part 1. In Part 2 I will discuss a few of the more interesting documents

Finally, after years of delays, the State Department released an update to the 1951-1954 Iran FRUS (Foreign Relations of the United States). The purpose of the series is to provide a better record of diplomatic events in the past. The previous edition, released in 1989, was widely criticized for failing to note the depth of US involvement in the 1953 Iran coup, and for leaving many documents classified despite the decades that had past since this time.

Generally FRUS does not contain everything, and there are many documents, some historically pertinent, that are stored at the National Archives in Maryland. I have annotated a few from this time: Part 1 Part 2. I have noted in the past how the record is incomplete; in some instances there are hundreds of cables in a row that are not in FRUS, and in many places there are missing documents. They could be completely mundane (as so many are), or they could be very revealing.

The release was also interesting because of how hard President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry had worked to keep them from being released. It was reported that up to the last hours of Obama's presidency they were trying to keep them secret.
“As it expressed in last year’s annual report, the HAC was repeatedly frustrated–and disappointed–by Secretary Kerry’s refusal to allow the volume’s publication,” Prof. Immerman said yesterday. “In this regard the change in State’s perspective from the Obama to Trump administration is dramatic.”
This bothered State Department officials as noted here:

I have speculated about the motivations for the two not wanting the documents to become public:

Obama and Kerry were worried about the reaction of the Iranians to the releases. I postulated that this would be due to revealing the nature of the participation of clerical elements. It is clear to the world that the United States and the UK tried to overthrow Mossadeq on the 16th of August 1953; no one denies this. What happened next, between then and the successful August 19th coup, and who was involved in addition to the United States is what could potentially be so inflammatory. Ayatollah Kashani, an inspiration for Ayatollah Khomeini and many other important clerics to come later, was a key player.

The release yesterday was particularly important because it also contains CIA documents. It was claimed that these documents were lost, yet they have reproduced some of them. There are also copies of old documents that have been public for over 25 years. They are mostly quite important, but their exact purpose in this collection is unclear. At the same time, many CIA documents are NOT included. The best example is here:

Sequentially there is document TEHE 737.1 and the next document is TEHE 742.1. Both have the same date, yet are clearly from different points in the day. In the first (737), there is almost a despair about the failure of the coup, and further efforts to commence damage control. In the second (742), there is a brief message of success. Did nothing happen in between these two moments? How did they go from potentially cancelling military aid, to a successful coup and an urgent need for 5 million dollars?! What do the four documents between 737 and 742 say?

While I have yet to read through the entire set of documents (there are over 500, and over 900 pages), I read the whole section on the coup (section 3, 272 pages), and the events leading up to the coup. My theories are almost uniformly supported, though there are still holes in the documentation.

  1.  CIA documentation is still contradictory (I've noted problems in the narrative and chronology
  2. Roosevelt is unreliable (A lot of what he's said reads as though he is covering for his mistakes)
  3. Religious elements were KEY to the coup (They make this quite clear throughout)
  4. The "spontaneity" of the events of August 19 is emphasized throughout

While none of this exonerates the United States and the UK of course, the documents make quite clear that domestic actors must accept a not insignificant share of the blame.

I have noted multiple Iranian officials approached the United States asking about a coup in the months prior (last paragraph in myth #6). It was evident that while Mossadeq was undoubtedly a noble, well-intentioned individual, he was not capable of bringing Iran out of the crisis alone, and he made too many enemies, both foreign and domestic.

Part 2 will have more on specific documents

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