Operation Ajax: A Primer
CIA Draft Report on Spycraft Used In 1953 Coup

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | July 27, 2017                         

Campaign To Install Pro-Western Government In Iran | CIA document, March 1954

In March 1954, nearly 7 months after the 1953 coup in Iran, a four-page top secret CIA report, Campaign To Install Pro-Western Government In Iran, was created.

This draft document was approved for release in 2011, but wasn’t seen publicly until 2013. Yet about ⅓ of it remained excised.

In June 2017, when the State Department finally declassified over 1,000 pages of government documents on Iran from 1951-1954, the paper was included among them. This time around, almost everything that was previously hidden was suddenly revealed.

The report is basically an outline of the far more extensive Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq Of Iran by Donald N. Wilber, also completed in March 1954. Though uncredited, the author would seem to be Wilber, the chief architect of the coup. Among the clues are the date, identical phrasing (notably “quasi-legal” and “war of nerves”), the emphasis on the propaganda and psychological component of the operations which he masterminded, and other familiar details.

The State Dept. Office of the Historian, however, notes that it was signed by John Waller, but this appears to be referring to the final page, where Waller is credited with supplying financial data. It’s still unclear whether he had any authorship role, so this may have been the extent of his input.

The main historical revelation would appear to be the total sum of $5.33 million spent to overthrow Mossadegh, a figure apparently not cited in any other documents. Yet for some reason, the CIA still doesn’t want anyone to see the individual dollar figures for each phase of the operation.

The portions of the document that used to be secret have been highlighted. (Click here for a .pdf of the original document, as released June 21, 2011. An image of the less redacted 2017 version was not released, only a transcript).

CIA Documents on Iran, Mossadegh, 1953 Coup

363. Memorandum Prepared in the Directorate of Plans, Central Intelligence Agency

Washington, March 8, 1954.


AUTHORITY: Approved by the President, Secretary of State, and DCI on 11 July 1953. [Dwight D. Eisenhower, John Foster Dulles and CIA Director Allen Dulles] NSC 136/1.2 [References a Nov. 20, 1952 National Security Council statement on U.S. anti-Communist policy in Iran.] [This section was filled in by hand.]


Prime Minister Mossadeq and his government [Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh]


Through legal, or quasi-legal, methods to effect the fall of the Mossadeq government; and

To replace it with a pro-Western government under the Shah’s leadership, [Mohammad Reza Pahlavi] with Zahedi as its Prime Minister [Fazlollah Zahedi]


Plan of action was implemented in four phases:

1. Through direct pressure, applied by CIA’s representatives in Iran, to strengthen the Shah’s will to exercise his constitutional power and to sign those decrees necessary to effect the legal removal of Mossadeq as Prime Minister;

2. Welded together and coordinated the efforts of those political factions in Iran who were antagonistic toward Mossadeq, including the powerfully influential clergy, to gain their support and backing of any legal action taken by the Shah to accomplish Mossadeq’s removal;

3. Launched an intensive propaganda campaign intended to disenchant the Iranian population with the myth of Mossadeq’s patriotism, by exposing his collaboration with the Communists and his manipulation of constitutional authority to serve his own personal ambitions for power; [Still no evidence of such a partnership, other than fakery. In the preliminary plan prepared in June 1953, Wilber mentioned the agency’s plans to disseminate “fabricated documents proving secret agreement between Mossadeq and Tudeh”.]

Simultaneously, conducted a “war of nerves” against Mossadeq designed to reveal to Mossadeq and to the general populace that increased economic aid would not be forthcoming and that the U.S. viewed with alarm Mossadeq’s policies:

a. A series of public statements by high U.S. officials implying that there was little hope that Mossadeq could expect increased U.S. aid;

b. U.S. press and magazine articles which were critical of him and his methods; and

c. The induced absence of the American Ambassador, lending credence to the impression that the U.S. had lost confidence in Mossadeq and his government. [20 years later, Loy Henderson claimed in an interview that he had been ordered to leave Tehran for “consultation” and knew nothing of any CIA covert operations against Mossadegh, then or now.]

4. Developed covertly and independently a military apparatus within the Iranian Army which could be counted on to back up any legal action taken by the Shah to remove Mossadeq.


The original D-Day set by CIA misfired when Mossadeq, learning of the plan through a leak in our military covert apparatus, took immediate counteraction to neutralize the plan.

An intensive propaganda campaign, engineered and directed by CIA, was launched in the interim period between the original and final D–Days to educate the Iranian population to the fact that, in view of the dissolution of the Majlis (effected by Mossadeq at an earlier stage to prevent its voting him out of power) and the Shah’s decree removing Mossadeq as Prime Minister, Mossadeq’s continued exercise of the powers of that office was illegal and that authority to govern the people rested solely and completely in the hands of the Shah.

The Nationalists and the Communists during this period inadvertently assisted our cause through their premature attempts to promote a republican government. This theme was contrary to the public’s opinion, whose sympathies were with the Shah. The Shah’s dramatic flight out of the country served to further intensify his people’s sense of loyalty to him.

These actions resulted in literal revolt of the population, whose street demonstrations were touched off, aided and abetted by CIA’s covert contributions. [“touched off” was a handwritten insert, according to the Office of the Historian] The military and security forces joined the populace, Radio Tehran was taken over, and Mossadeq was forced to flee on 17 Aug 53. [This sentence was revised by hand. The original typed sentence, crossed out as follows, reads: “The military were forced to act in quelling the riots and gained strength on the momentum of the situation in support of the Shah.”]

The ouster of Mossadeq was successfully accomplished on 19 Aug 1953. [The previous sentence states incorrectly that Mossadegh was “forced to flee” on August 17th. He escaped his besieged home on Aug. 19th, and surrendered himself the next day.]


This was a [less than 1 line not declassified] U.S. [less than 1 line not declassified] project. [Probably on the operation being a U.S.-Britain collaboration] The President and the Secretary of State in determining the U.S. policy to apply in this instance, requested assurances on the following points before finally approving the plan of action:

1. That the British would be flexible in their approach to the government which succeeded Mossadeq as far as the oil question was concerned; and

2. That an adequate amount of U.S. interim economic aid would be forthcoming to the successor government.


Operational Costs
Initial Phase: From inception of project in mid-May 1953 to installation of Zahedi as Prime Minister on 19 Aug 1953 $ [dollar amount not declassified]
Follow-up Phase: To solidify the positions of the Shah and Zahedi $ [dollar amount not declassified]
Political Expediency
Emergency Phase: Immediately following Zahedi’s assumption of the Prime Minister-ship and to fill the financial gap until official U.S. funds could be made available to the new Iranian government, made an outright grant to Zahedi for immediately necessary governmental expenditures of $ [dollar amount not declassified]
Grand Total: $5,330,000.00

Information received from John Waller, Chief, NE/4 on 5 Mar 54

[In Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq In Iran, Wilber cited $1 million pledged by Allen Dulles in April 1953 “which could be used by the Tehran Station in any way that would bring about the fall of Mossadeq.” On May 20th, it was “specifically authorized to spend one million rials a week (rate of 90 rials to the US dollar) in purchasing the cooperation of members of the Iranian Majlis.” On August 14th, “the station cabled that upon the conclusion of TPAJAX the Zahedi government, in view of the empty treasury of the country, would be in urgent need of funds. The sum of $5,000,000 was suggested, and CIA was asked to produce this amount almost within hours after the conclusion of the operation.”]

[Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

• Source: Central Intelligence Agency, DDO Files, Job 80–01701R, Box 3, Folder 11, Misc. TPAJAX Correspondence. Top Secret.

• According to State Dept. Office of the Historian, “A handwritten note at the end of the memorandum indicates it was revised on March 8 and signed by Waller on that same day.” [John Waller, Chief of the Iran Branch, Near East and Africa Division, Directorate of Plans]

Elections In Iran: Rigging, Bribery, Ballot Stuffing and Foreign Meddling
A Study of Electoral Methods in Iran | CIA Report, Nov. 1953

Search MohammadMossadegh.com

Related links:

Fazlollah Zahedi & Winston Churchill’s Secret Messages After 1953 Coup in Iran

Highlights of the Mossadeq Trial | CIA Memo (November 1953)

Estimate of the Political Strength of the Mosadeq Government | State Dept. (May 1951)

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

Facebook  Twitter  YouTube  Tumblr   Instagram