CIA: The Cause and the Solution

Ray Waldmann Eludes Lessons of 1953 Coup

Arash Norouzi

The Mossadegh Project | September 22, 2017                   

Raymond J. Waldmann Raymond J. Waldmann (1938-     ) served in the U.S. government under Nixon, Ford, and Reagan and later the aviation industry, and today lives in partial retirement in Washington state. A partial review of his resume:

1971-1974: Staff Assistant to the President (Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford)
1974-1976: Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation and Telecommunications
1981-1983: Assistant Secretary for International Economic Policy, Department of Commerce (Trade Secretary, appointed by Ronald Reagan)
1985-2000: Vice President for International Affairs, The Boeing Company

In the early weeks of the hostage crisis in Iran, Waldmann composed a newspaper column diagnosing the cause of America’s misfortunes in that country, and concluded that the solution was a robust, unhampered Central Intelligence Agency.

One example of an effective CIA, he offered, was in 1953. The fall of the Shah, on the other hand, represented a failure of the CIA to foretell and respond to these events.

Question for Ray Waldmann

Given the fact that the despotic Islamic Republic of Iran has now managed to remain intact for over 38 years, and that the 1979 revolution was clearly an unintended, long-term consequence of the U.S.-backed 1953 coup in Iran, would you still insist that the illegal overthrow of Iran’s legitimate, non-Communist government was “one of the best investments the CIA ever made”?

December 15, 1979
Iran shows we need a strong CIA


(North American Newspaper Alliance)

The author, formerly special counsel for intelligence review to President Ford and a deputy assistant secretary of state, is special consultant to the American Bar Association on intelligence and national security.)

WASHINGTON — The capture of the U.S. embassy in Tehran once again raises the question of the effectiveness of the U.S. intelligence system. Could a more effective Central Intelligence Agency have prevented the takeover by the so called “students?” Could it have aided in the speedier release of the hostages? Perhaps even more important could we now take steps to forestall similar events in the future?

This is not the place to debate the larger question of the intelligence community’s failure to accurately assess Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s own precarious position leading, just a year ago, to his overthrow. Yet the progressive weakening of the intelligence community over the last decade is apparent in both episodes. The weakening has resulted in the dual failures of faulty prediction and of impotence in the face of challenges.

In fact, some of the CIA’s major successes and failures center on Iran.

The major success was the bloodless coup in 1953 which deposed the government of the demogogue [sic] Mohammed Mossadegh and installed the shah. [It was not bloodless, hundreds died during the violent military coup and siege upon Mossadegh’s home. Many others were soon executed.]

This was undoubtedly one of the best investments the CIA ever made. For a few million dollars and essentially no risk of U.S. military involvement (in contrast to the later Bay of Pigs fiasco), Kermit Roosevelt and a few CIA friends helped mobilize Iranian public opinion, form and support domestic Iranian political factions and create a pro-US. government. [Mossadegh was already pro-American, and had looked to the U.S. for assistance, not backstabbing]

This was achieved when such a government was sorely needed in a troubled part of the world. While revisionist historians now focus on the incidental benefits to the oil companies in having a stable government in Iran, they should remember that this occurred during the cold war with the Soviet Union and the hot one in Korea, they should also be grateful to those who even then (when the United States essentially was self-sufficient in oil) saw the importance of this resource to the industrial West. [Oil as a rationale for foreign interference]

That achievement demonstrates that two elements have been present in CIA successes and absent in its failures: first, the availability of “assets” either local or American, accurately to read the local situation; second, the ability to identify and build upon sympathetic local groups to achieve a desired result.

By all public accounts, these necessary ingredients were missing in the CIA’s failure at Cuba’s Bay of Pigs. To a similar extent, they were absent in the shah’s fall. Without a separate intelligence network in “friendly” Iran, we came to rely too much on the optimistic reports received from cooperation with the notorious SAVAK, the shah’s own intelligence service. [the brainchild of the CIA, he fails to mention] On these estimates, the future looked secure; remember, the CIA reported in August 1978, a few months before the shah’s overthrow, that “Iran is not in a revolutionary or even a pre-revolutionary situation.”

As a result of these faulty estimates, we did not take the necessary actions. We did not build up safe, democratic and pro-US political alternatives within Iran. Thus, when the bubble burst, Iran turned to a radical exile practically unknown to U.S. policy-makers. [This “unknown” cleric became known overnight when the U.S. pressed the Status of Forces Agreement issue in 1963.]

These same elements were also, apparently, absent in the embassy takeover. One must tread carefully for two reasons. First, as this is written after a month of occupation, the embassy is still in “student” hands with no solution in sight. Second, it also appears that we were inadequately apprised of the true situation.

However, appearances in intelligence matters often are, and must be, misleading. The classic bloodchilling story is Winston Churchill’s decision not to evacuate Coventry in the face of certain knowledge that it was targeted for a major Luftwaffe raid; to do so would have disclosed to the Nazis we were, through Ultra, reading their most sensitive communications. In Churchill's view, thousands of lives had to be lost to save millions.

Perhaps the CIA had picked up rumors of plots against the embassy before the shah was admitted to the United States. This intelligence may have led to our acting ambassador’s meetings on Sunday, October 21 (several days before the shah arrived in New York) with Prime Minister Mehdi Barzagan [sic—Mehdi Bazargan] and Foreign Minister Ibrahim Yazdi to seek and receive assurances of protection for the embassy. [Ebrahim Yazdi]

Perhaps a better reading of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the Iranian mood by our intelligence agencies would have led to an appraisal of Barzagan’s assurances for what they were worth — optimistic promises of a failing government, a government which was to fall within a few days after the shah was admitted to the United States.

Once the shah was admitted, our lack of intelligence “assets” within Iran and our inability to build an alternative Iranian force became obvious. The anti-U.S. fervor of Khomeini was neither anticipated nor countered. The “students” responded to his suggestions and the embassy was occupied with little resistance or Iranian opposition. Had we been able to mobilize an indigenous local pro-US demonstration or even a pro-US. “mob” to protect the embassy, it may have been saved. But in Khomeini’s Iran, such opposition is not easily found.

There are probably few things intelligence agencies can be called upon to do once an embassy has been occupied. The options for intelligence operations narrow drastically. We could call on the support of moderate political forces within Iran, but if they exist, they have been noticeable only by their silence. We could probably mount a paramilitary operation to rescue the hostage; it could not be mounted covertly, but in any case the mood of the U.S. public today probably would support an overt operation, it probably would have to be a fairly large-scale operation to succeed — downtown Tehran is not Entebbe Airport. [Referencing Operation Entebbe, Israel’s successful 1976 raid on Entebbe Airport in Uganda to rescue hostages held by PLO terrorists]

We may expect challenges similar to the taking of the Tehran embassy in the future, judging from the anti-Americanism unleashed throughout the Moslem world by the outrageous claims of U.S. involvement in the Mecca mosque incident, other such situations may arise. [Bloody terrorist siege on the Grande Mosque in Saudi Arabia]

It is absolutely imperative that we read these situations accurately and then have the capability to act. This means preserving CIA “assets” to collect and assess information and then, within its mandate and abilities, allowing the CIA to act to counter unfriendly forces.

The continuing congressional debate on the CIA’s legislative charter provides an excellent opportunity to examine these dangers to our national security and to explore the steps we must take. We cannot leave the field to those who would cripple our foreign intelligence activities and weaken our ability to respond.

The 1953 Coup in Iran Was An Act of War | by Arash Norouzi
The 1953 Coup in Iran Was An Act of War | by Arash Norouzi


Related links:

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

George McGovern on U.S. Foreign Policy and Terrorism, Iran

Allen Ginsberg: Iran Was OUR Hostage For 25 Years!

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

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