CIA activities in Iran

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Britain, resentful of the nationalization of Iran's oil industry, came up with the idea for the coup in 1952 and pressed the U.S. to mount a joint operation to remove the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh[1] and install the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi to rule Iran autocratically. Partially due to fear of a Communist overthrow due to increasing influence of the Communist Tudeh party, and partly to gain control of a larger share of Iranian oil supplies, the US agreed. Brigadier General Norman Schwarzkopf, Sr. and CIA guru Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. were ordered to begin a covert operation to overthrow Mossadegh. A complex plot, codenamed Operation Ajax, was conceived and executed from the US Embassy in Tehran. Full details of the operation were released fifty years later, in 2003. Britain, who previously had controlled all of the Iranian oil industry, lost its monopoly and allowed U.S. oil companies to compete in Iran.


The United States and the West helped to overthrow Mohammed Mossadegh, the prime minister of Iran, in Operation Ajax. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi gained in political power. Over the next decades the Shah increased the economic strength of Iran but he also repressed political dissent. This eventually led to the rise of political Islam in Iran.

1960's - 1970's[edit]

Through the 1960s and 1970s the CIA used their alliance with the government of Iran to gain staging grounds and Iranian Air Force assets for aggressive, airborne reconnaissance missions into Soviet Territory in Project Dark Gene.


The CIA colluded with the Shah of Iran to finance and arm Kurdish rebels in the Second Kurdish-Iraqi War. When Iran and Iraq signed the Algiers Agreement in 1975, the support ceased. The Shah denied the Kurds refuge in Iran, even as many were slaughtered. The U.S. decided not to press the issue with the Shah.[2] "Covert action should not be confused with missionary work", declared Sec. of State Henry Kissinger.[3]


In 1983, the CIA passed an extensive list of Iranian communists and other leftists secretly working in the Iranian government to Khomeini's administration.[4] A Tower Commission report later observed that the list was utilized to take "measures, including mass executions, that virtually eliminated the pro-Soviet infrastructure in Iran."[4]


Beginning in August 1984, a small group within the US government, in the Iran-Contra affair, arranged for the indirect transfer of arms to Iran, as a means of circumventing the Boland Amendments that were intended, in part, to prevent the expenditure of US funds to support the Nicaraguan Contras. Since the arms-for-hostages deal struck by the Reagan Administration channeled money for to the Contras, the legal interpretation of the time was that the CIA, as an organization, could not participate in Iran-Contra.

The relationships, first to avoid the Boland Amendment restriction, but also for operational security, did not directly give or sell U.S. weapons to Iran. Instead, the Reagan Administration authorized Israel to sell munitions to Iran, using contracted Iranian arms broker Manucher Ghorbanifar.[5] The proceeds from the sales, less the 41% markup charged by Ghorbanifar and originally at a price not acceptable to Iran, went directly to the Contras. Those proceeds were not interpreted as U.S. funds. The Administration resupplied Israel, which was not illegal, with munitions that replaced those transferred to Iran.

While Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) William Casey was deeply involved in Iran-Contra, Casey, a World War II Office of Strategic Services (OSS) clandestine operations officer, ran the Iran operation with people outside the CIA, such as White House/National Security Council employees such as John Poindexter and Oliver North, as well as retired special operations personnel such as John K. Singlaub and Richard Secord


In a speech on March 17, 2000 before the American Iranian Council on the relaxation of U.S. sanctions against Iran, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said: "In 1953, the United States played a significant role in orchestrating the overthrow of Iran's popular prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. The Eisenhower administration believed its actions were justified for strategic reasons, but the coup was clearly a setback for Iran's political development and it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs."[6]


Intelligence analysis[edit]

Iran was described as a problem area in Porter Goss' early 2005 report to the Senate Intelligence Committee.[7] "In early February, the spokesman of Iran's Supreme Council for National Security publicly announced that Iran would never scrap its nuclear program. This came in the midst of negotiations with EU-3 members (Britain, Germany and France) seeking objective guarantees from Tehran that it will not use nuclear technology for nuclear weapons.

"Previous comments by Iranian officials, including Iran's Supreme Leader and its Foreign Minister, indicated that Iran would not give up its ability to enrich uranium. Certainly they can use it to produce fuel for power reactors. We are more concerned about the dual-use nature of the technology that could also be used to achieve a nuclear weapon.

"In parallel, Iran continues its pursuit of long-range ballistic missiles, such as an improved version of its 1,300 km range Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM), to add to the hundreds of short-range SCUD missiles it already has.

"Even since 9/11, Tehran continues to support terrorist groups in the region, such as Hizballah, and could encourage increased attacks in Israel and the Palestinian Territories to derail progress toward peace. Iran reportedly is supporting some anti-Coalition activities in Iraq and seeking to influence the future character of the Iraqi state. Iran continues to retain in secret important members of Al-Qai'ida-the Management Council—causing further uncertainty about Iran's commitment to bring them to justice.

"Conservatives are likely to consolidate their power in Iran's June 2005 presidential elections, further marginalizing the reform movement last year."


Seymour Hersh reported that Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PEJAK) was a US proxy. Hersh said he was told, in November 2006, was a government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon civilian leadership of secret US support for PEJAK for operations inside Iran, stating that the group had been given "a list of targets inside Iran of interest to the U.S".[8]


Various sources cite "support" for guerrillas operating in Iran, with US government avoiding financial support that would require a Presidential finding or Congressional oversight. There are unconfirmed reports of US troops operating there.[citation needed]

In a nonbinding resolution of the Iranian parliament, the United States Army and the CIA has been labeled a terrorist organization by the Iranian parliament, for provoking war, supporting terrorism around the world and partly for its activities in the "War on Terror such as its treatment of suspected Muslim militants in prisons. The resolution appeared to be in response to the U.S. designation of the Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and Ministry of Defense as terrorist organizations.[9]

General guerrilla actions in Iran by ethnic minorities[edit]

"America is secretly funding militant ethnic separatist groups in Iran in an attempt to pile pressure on the Islamic Republic to give up its nuclear program. In a move that reflects Washington's growing concern with the failure of diplomatic initiatives, CIA officials are understood to be helping opposition militias among the numerous ethnic minority groups clustered in Iran's border regions.

"The operations are controversial because they involve dealing with movements that resort to terrorist methods in pursuit of their grievances against the Iranian government. Such incidents have been carried out by the Kurds in the west, the Azeris in the north-west, the Ahwazi Arabs in the south-west, and the Baluchis in the south-east. Non-Persians make up nearly 40 per cent of Iran's 69 million population, with around 16 million Azeris, seven million Kurds, five million Ahwazis and one million Baluchis. Most Baluchis live over the border in Pakistan.

"Teheran has long claimed to detect the hand of both America and Britain in attacks by guerrilla groups on its internal security forces. On February 20, 2007, Iran publicly hanged a man, Nasrollah Shanbe Zehi, for his involvement in a bomb attack that killed 11 Revolutionary Guards in the city of Zahedan in Sistan-Baluchistan.[10][11]

...Iranian forces also claimed to have killed 17 rebels described as "mercenary elements" in clashes near the Turkish border, which is a stronghold of the Pejak, a Kurdish militant party linked to Turkey's outlawed PKK Kurdistan Workers' Party.

"John Pike, the head of the Global Security think tank in Washington, said: "The activities of the ethnic groups have hotted up over the last two years and it would be a scandal if that was not at least in part the result of CIA activity."

"Such a policy is fraught with risk, however. Many of the groups share little common cause with Washington other than their opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose government they accuse of stepping up repression of minority rights and culture. The Baluchistan-based Jundallah (Brigade of God)(TYYT group, which last year kidnapped and killed eight Iranian soldiers, is a volatile Sunni organisation that many fear could easily turn against Washington after taking its money.

"A row has also broken out in Washington over whether to "unleash" the military wing of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), an Iraq-based Iranian opposition group with a long and bloody history of armed opposition to the Iranian government. The group is currently listed by the US state department as a terrorist organization, but Mr Pike said: "A faction in the Defence Department wants to unleash them. They could never overthrow the current Iranian government but they might cause a lot of damage."[10]

An Asia Times report states the U.S. has military units operating inside Iran.[12]

Baluchi guerrillas in Iran[edit]

According to ABC news, citing U.S. and Pakistani intelligence sources, U.S. officials have been encouraging and advising a Pakistani Balochi militant group named Jundullah that is responsible for a series of deadly guerrilla raids inside Iran, reported ABC News online. The Jundullah militants "stage attacks across the border into Iran on Iranian military officers, Iranian intelligence officers, kidnapping them, executing them on camera", This militant group is led by a leader, Abd el Malik Regi, sometimes known as "Regi." The U.S. provides no direct funding to the group, which would require an official presidential order or "presidential finding" as well as congressional oversight. A CIA spokesperson said "the account of alleged CIA action is false".[13]

According to the Christian Science Monitor, Jundallah, or "God's Brigade", composed of predominantly Sunni Muslim Baluchis which inhabits Pakistan's gas-rich province of Baluchestan, as well as neighboring regions in Iran and Afghanistan.[14]

Regi was also claimed by Iran to be associated with al Qaida which the group denies. Hossein Ali Shahriari, the representative from Zahedan in Parliament, said the attack had been carried out by "insurgents and smugglers who are led by the world imperialism," a common reference to the United States and Britain.[15]

MEK support[edit]

The PBS documentary series "Frontline", reported, in October 2007, CIA supports Anti-Iranian organizations such as the People's Mujahedin of Iran (also known as the MEK or MKO) which has been involved in terrorist activities within Iran. Iran has demanded that the US stop supporting the MEK in exchange for stopping its support of Shiite's in Iraq.[16] The show quoted Vali Nasr, author of The Shia Revival as saying the Iranians had hoped that the fall of Saddam would destroy the MEK, which is generally unpopular in Iraq...the MEK operated in Iraq as an arm of Iraqi intelligence against Iranian operatives in Iraq, against Shi'ites and against the Kurds. And, in fact, one of the major pressures on the United States to round up the MEK and put them in a camp did not come from Iran; it came from [Iraqi President] Jalal Talabani.... And I think at a third level the Iranians look at the MEK issue as a test of U.S. goodwill...."

Richard Armitage disagreed that MEK was being supported. "Richard Armitage, U.S. deputy secretary of state, 2001-05, said... "I've heard through some interviews that in some of the discussions leading up to the invasion that Ryan Crocker had said to the Iranians that the MEK would be treated as part of Saddam's army, the implication being [it would be] on a target list, which wasn't exactly what happened after the war.

"I don't know about that specifically, but we had discussed the MEK more pointedly after the invasion. And there were some in the administration who wanted to use the Mujahideen-e Khalq as a pressure point against Iran, and I can remember the national security adviser, Dr. [Condoleezza] Rice, being very specific about it, saying no, a terrorist group is a terrorist group.

"That was exactly the point of view of the State Department as well. We wanted the U.S. military to disarm the MEK and contain them. ... And eventually we did disarm the major weapons [from] the MEK. Then we ... engaged in a broad effort to try to resettle these people, but we were very unsuccessful in getting them settled in foreign lands...."

New evidence was cited in a 2012 New Yorker article by Seymour Hersh regarding U.S. government assistance to MEK: "It was here [the Department of Energy's Nevada National Security Site] the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) conducted training, beginning in 2005, for members of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq…. Funds were covertly passed to a number of dissident organizations, for intelligence collection and, ultimately, for anti-government terrorist activities. Directly, or indirectly, the M.E.K. ended up with resources like arms and intelligence. Some American-supported covert operations continue in Iran today, according to past and present intelligence officials and military consultants."[17] In the same article, Robert Baer, a retired C.I.A. agent, is also on record as stating: "They [the U.S. government] wanted me to help the M.E.K. collect intelligence on Iran's nuclear program[.]"[17]


In response to an inquiry from the Washington Post regarding a story by Seymour Hersh appearing in the July 7, 2008 issue of The New Yorker, which claims that the Bush administration undertook a greatly expanded program of covert actions inside Iran beginning the previous year,[18] agency spokesman George Little said, "The CIA does not, as a rule, comment on allegations regarding covert operations."[19] Hersh detailed US covert action plans against Iran involving CIA, DIA and Special Forces. According to Hersh, the United States is materially supporting the following groups which are performing acts of violence inside Iran:

  • Baluchi dissidents. Hersh writes:

The use of Baluchi elements, for example, is problematic, Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East, told me. "The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the government in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda," Baer told me

"They are suspected of having links to Al Qaeda and they are also thought to be tied to the drug culture."

  • These two separate claims are the same. The Jundullah is a Baloch militant group from Sistan - Baluchistan. Baloch people are Sunni.
  • The leader of Jundallah was executed at Evin prison in Iran in 2010 after being taken off a flight from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan, where he claimed in an interview on Iranian TV he had a meeting with a "high ranking US official" at the Manas Air base (the US Military base in Kyrgyzstan).

Journalist David Ignatius of the Washington Post asserts that U.S. covert action "appears to focus on political action and the collection of intelligence rather than on lethal operations".[20] Iranian commentator Ali Eftagh wrote in the Washington Post that the covert actions that Hersh is reporting are being made public by the Bush administration as a form of psychological warfare.[21]


  1. ^ Wilber, Donald N.; Emmanuel Andrew Maldonado (April 16, 2000). Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran (PDF). The New York Times. 
  2. ^ Hitchens, Christopher, "The Ugly Truth About Gerald Ford", Slate
  3. ^ Safire, William (2003-03-03). "The Kurdish Ghost". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ a b Beinin, Joel & Joe Stork (1997). "On the Modernity, Historical Specificity, and International Context of Political Islam". In Joel Beinin & Joe Stork (Eds.), Political Islam: Essays from the Middle East Report. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-520-20448-5.
  5. ^ Walsh, Lawrence (1993-08-04). "Vol. I: Investigations and prosecutions". Final report of the independent counsel for Iran/Contra matters. Independent Counsel appointed by the United States Department of Justice. 
  6. ^ Alexander's Gas and Oil Connection: Speeches
  7. ^ Goss, Porter (16 February 2005). "Global Intelligence Challenges 2005". 
  8. ^ Hersh, Seymour M. (November 20, 2006). "The Next Act". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2006-11-19. 
  9. ^ Associated Press (29 September 2007). "Iran: CIA, U.S. Army 'terrorist organizations': Lawmakers in Tehran take a diplomatic offensive against Washington". MSNBC. 
  10. ^ a b Lowther, William; Freeman, Colin (25 February 2007). "US funds terror groups to sow chaos in Iran". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved April 30, 2010. 
  11. ^ [1][dead link]
  12. ^ Bhadrakumar, M K (February 24, 2007). "Foreign devils in the Iranian mountains". Asia Times. 
  13. ^ "ABC News Exclusive: The Secret War Against Iran". April 3, 2007. 
  14. ^ O'Carroll, (April 5, 2007). "US backing 'secret war' against Iran? The CIA disputes a report linking Washington and a Pakistani guerrilla campaign against Tehran". Christian Science Monitor. 
  15. ^ Fathi, Nazila (15 February 2005). "Car bomb in Iran destroys a bus carrying Revolutionary Guards". The New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2010. 
  16. ^ "Showdown with Iran: the Mujahideen e-Khalq (MEK)". PBS Frontline. October 23, 2007. 
  17. ^ a b Hersh, Seymour M. "Our Men in Iran?". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2013-09-23. 
  18. ^ Hersh, Seymour (2008-07-07). "Preparing the Battlefield: The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran". The New Yorker. 
  19. ^ Warrick, Joby (2008-06-30). "U.S. Is Said to Expand Covert Operations in Iran". The Washington Post. 
  20. ^ "Spy Games in Iran: U.S. Half Steps Mask Indecisive Policy", by David Ignatius, Washington Post, July 2, 2008
  21. ^ "Memo to Uncle Sam: Iran Is Not Your Enemy", Ali Eftagh, Washington Post, July 1, 2008

Further reading[edit]