How the CIA used “anti-Communism” to extinguish Iran’s democracy
Ebrahim Norouzi, MD
In July 1952, Roger Goiran, chief of the CIA’s Tehran station, and Christopher Woodhouse, the British head of MI6 in Iran, were trout fishing in the mountains of northern Iran when the uprising in support of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh known as 30 Tir occurred.
Mossadegh, who had resigned in protest of the Shah’s refusal to grant him control of the army, was returned to power after four extraordinary days of popular protest. It was only when Goiran and Woodhouse returned to Tehran that they learned that the Shah had fired Ahmad Ghavam, reinstated Mossadegh as Premier, and allowed him to head the military. Woodhouse, reflecting Britain’s staunch anti-Mossadegh policy, was furious that his government had failed to give Ghavam the necessary support. Goiran’s enmity towards Mossadegh, however, was incidental and secondary to his primary focus of combating Communism.
In fact, Goiran was responsible for the formation of an impressive intelligence network in Iran used for propaganda purposes against the Soviets and the Iranian communists, or Tudeh party. Codenamed BEDAMN, the network had over 100 agents in the country, funded with $1 million annually out of a total budget of $82 million for covert CIA operations throughout the world.1
Through BEDAMN, Donald Wilber (later a principal architect of the 1953 coup), and others in the CIA prepared anti-Communist newspaper articles, cartoons, leaflets, and books. The CIA’s agents resorted to provocative and disruptive acts against businesses and clergies, placing the blame on Tudeh party activists, and funded anti-communist organizations such as the Pan-Iranist and Toilers Parties. BEDAMN, also known as TPBEDAMN, had Tudeh rallies attacked with the cooperation of mob organizers like Shaban “the Brainless” Jafari, and gave money to Iranian clergies to denounce the Soviet Union and Tudeh party.2
In early 1953, when the Eisenhower administration decided to topple the Mossadegh government, Goiran argued forcefully against it, warning that it might forever brand America as a colonialist power in the eyes of Iranians. Goiran wanted to remain focused on countering Soviet expansionism, as mandated by the CIA ever since the late 1940’s, yet his views proved incompatible with the CIA’s plans for Iran. He was removed from his post by CIA director Allen Dulles and replaced by Joseph C. Goodwin, a former journalist.
The CIA’s anti-Mossadegh operation is estimated to have started at least as early as the summer of 1951, though it is not yet clear who authorized the use of BEDAMN for covert operation against Mossadegh and his National Front party (one expert says the CIA “appears to have acted independently”).2
BEDAMN operations first manifested themselves in a big way during a massive demonstration against a visit to Tehran by Truman’s representative Averell Harriman in July 1951. The demonstration was said to be organized by the Tudeh party, but the CIA played a significant role in fomenting it through their agent provocateurs. The intention was to convey an image of a strong Communist presence, necessitating swift U.S. intervention before Iran and its oil was lost to the Soviets.
Propaganda and fakery were major tools in undermining Mossadegh. The CIA widely distributed material designed to spread a myriad of derogatory characterizations about Dr. Mossadegh, including the lies that he “favors the Tudeh party and the USSR” and that he “is an enemy of Islam since he associates with the Tudeh and advances their aims.”3
Other “black” activities were aimed at turning the Islamic community against Mossadegh. CIA agents made threatening phone calls to religious figures to support Mossadegh or receive “savage punishment”, spread rumors that Mossadegh was Jewish rather than Muslim, and carried out “sham bombings” in mosques and homes of religious leaders in order to give the impression that Mossadegh’s government was unwilling or unable to protect them.3
Even in the U.S., the CIA planted articles hostile to Mossadegh. The August 10th, 1953 issue of Newsweek ran a planted article titled Iran, Reds....taking over, a deed to which the magazine has since acknowledged publicly.
A couple of weeks before the coup, the sudden appearance of new anti-Mossadegh newspapers in Tehran were attributable to CIA shenanigans, timed thusly “so as not to offer too much time for a sharp reaction by Mossadeq and so that the impact will not be dispersed by being long drawn out”. Years later, one CIA officer involved in the coup revealed in an interview that the agency “...placed a cartoon in Iranian newspapers in the fall of 1952 suggesting that Mossadegh was sexually molesting [Ayatollah] Kashani.”2
In the quest to bring down Mossadegh’s government, no legal or moral restraint was considered, including collaboration with Islamic terrorists, kidnapping and murder. In internal documents prepared after the coup, Donald Wilber acknowledged CIA collusion with prominent Islamic leaders, their “henchmen”, and a “terrorist gang”. Though their names were redacted in his declassified report, they were most likely Ayatollahs Behbahani, Boroujerdi, and Kashani, as well as Navab Safavi, leader of the militant Islamic cult Feda’ian-e Islam.
In April 1953, the chief of Tehran police, General Mahmoud Afshartous, was kidnapped and murdered by associates of General Zahedi and Mozaffar Baghai, head of the Toilers party [حزب زحمتکشان Zahmatkeshan]. Both CIA and British intelligence are suspected to have been a party to the crime.4
When the first attempt at the coup failed to unseat Mossadegh on August 16, 1953, the CIA team and Ardeshir Zahedi, the son of General Fazlollah Zahedi, continued with their psychological warfare and published a fabricated interview with General Zahedi in a Tehran paper.
The CIA’s self-described “massive propaganda campaign” — specially planned to frame Mossadegh as anti-Islam and pro-Communist — proved most effective. One scheme involved the publicizing of “fabricated documents which prove and record in detail a secret agreement between Mossadeq and the Tudeh, with the latter promising to use all their force in support of Mossadeq and against the religious leaders, the Army, and the police.”3
And that is how the CIA, in the name of fighting Communism, brought down a popular and democratic government in Iran.
1 All the Shah’s Men — Stephen Kinzer
2 Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran — Mark J. Gasiorowski
3 Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran — Donald Wilber
4 Musaddiq and the Struggle for Power In Iran — Homa Katouzian
Iran: The Crisis of Democracy — Fakhreddin Azimi
The CIA Scheme To ‘Dismiss’ Mossadegh As Prime Minister And Appoint Zahedi
“The Things We Did Were Covert” – Eisenhower’s Diary on CIA Coup in Iran: October 8, 1953
The Dulles Brothers’ Legacy in Iran and Guatemala: John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles
MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”