Saturday, 29 August 2020
Deposing democracy: how UK state put stealing Iran's oil before protecting its new democracy
At the beginning of August, the Observer newspaper’s arts and culture correspondent, Vanessa Thorpe, wrote a film review (“MI6, the coup in Iran that changed the Middle East, and the cover-up,” Observer, Sunday 2 August 2020; https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/02/mi6-the-coup-in-iran-that-changed-the-middle-east-and-the-cover-up) of a new docu-drama on the 1953 coup in Iran that deposed its elected prime minister, and first democratic leader, Mohammad Mossadegh. She reported that the documentary reveals evidence confirming a British spy’s role in restoring the Shah in 1953 – and how the Observer exposed the plot. While this may be the first film to expose the British complicity in wrecking a nascent democracy, it is not the first time detailed documented support for this appalling act of political interference has been made public. Three years earlier, the independent US National Security Archive, based at George Washington University in Washington DC, issued a stash of key hitherto secret diplomatic documentation from inside the US State Department, fingering the British role in wrecking Iranian democracy to protect the UK state’s role in stealing Iran’s oil and gas.( https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/iran/2017-08-08/1953-iran-coup-new-us-documents-confirm-british-approached-us-late) I shared this with the Guardian/Observer’s international diplomatic and security issues editor, Julian Borger, based himself in Washington DC , at the time of the document release, three years ago. He chose not report it. Here is the kernel of what they revealed “...evidence has existed for years that the British were intimately involved in promoting and then planning the overthrow of Mosaddeq. The most compelling sources include a leaked CIA after-action report written in 1954 and memoir accounts by various coup participants. Today’s posting consists of the most explicit, officially declassified records on the subject released to date by any government. The two documents were originally considered for inclusion in the latest official U.S. publication on the coup period. In June 2017, the State Department published a 1,007-page compilation of declassified State, Central Intelligence Agency, and National Security Council documents as part of its Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series. But while both records are mentioned in the volume by title and date, their content was withheld in its entirety. The first memo in the posting is entitled “Proposal to Organize a Coup d’etat in Iran,” and is dated November 26, 1952. In it, Assistant Secretary of State Henry Byroade informs his superior, Deputy Under Secretary of State H. Freeman Matthews, that Britain’s Minister in Washington, Sir Christopher Steel, has requested a meeting to discuss a possible coup. He reminds Matthews that the British Embassy first raised the idea on paper on October 8, 1952. He goes on to give his own views about the concept, which are generally negative, yet recommends that Matthews take the meeting. The second memo, similarly entitled “British Proposal to Organize a Coup d’etat in Iran,” and dated December 3, 1952, is the State Department’s record of the meeting with Steel (date unclear). Other officials from both governments attended the session, notably Paul Nitze, Director of Policy Planning at the State Department. The authors of today’s posting filed separate Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) requests to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for the two memoranda following the June 2017 publication of the new FRUS volume. That compilation was originally commissioned in the early 1990s as a supplement to a previous iteration that covered the same time period but, on political and intelligence grounds, omitted all references to the American and British roles in the coup. The 2017 volume contains rich detail about American perspectives on Iran along with records describing the planning and execution of the operation, but it barely mentions Great Britain's contributions – undoubtedly because of specific British requests not to do so. (For a document-based account of this issue, see the National Security Archive’s posting of August 19, 2013.) A number of other records that have been withheld from the volume – and are currently the subject of MDR requests by the National Security Archive – presumably contain more detail about London’s activities.” >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> BACKSTORY 1953 Iran Coup: New U.S. Documents Confirm British Approached U.S. in Late 1952 About Ousting Mosaddeq https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/iran/2017-08-08/1953-iran-coup-new-us-documents-confirm-british-approached-us-late Published: Aug 8, 2017 Briefing Book #601 Edited by Malcolm Byrne and Mark Gasiorowski For more information contact: 202/994-7000 and firstname.lastname@example.org State Department Temporarily Declined, in Part Because U.S. Was Still Hoping to Reach Oil Deal with Iranian Prime Minister Paul Nitze Proposed Targeting Ayatollah Kashani and Tudeh Party as Test before Attempting Full-blown Coup Just-Declassified Documents Were Withheld from Foreign Relations of the United States Volume on Iran Coup Published in 2017 RELATED LINKS Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran June 22, 2004 Iran 1953: State Department Finally Releases Updated History June 15, 2017 The Battle for Iran, 1953 June 27, 2014 CIA Confirms Role in 1953 Iran Coup August 19, 2013 IN THE NEWS The Trump administration wants regime change in Iran. But regime change usually doesn’t work. The Washington Post Jul 31, 2017 New Documents Show US Role in 1953 Iranian Coup WNYC Radio Jun 30, 2017 US quietly publishes once-expunged papers on 1953 Iran coup ABC News Jun 29, 2017 US Publishes full papers showing how CIA plotted 1953 Iran coup The Times of Israel Jun 29, 2017 US Quietly Publishes Once-Expunged Papers on 1953 Iran Coup Associated Press Jun 29, 2017 Oblivious to History, Trump's Turning Up the Heat on Iran. He Should Look at the 1953 CIA Coup The Daily Beast Jun 26, 2017 El último secreto de la CIA en el golpe de Estado de Irán El Pais Jun 23, 2017 64 Years Later, CIA Finally Releases Details of Iranian Coup Foreign Policy Jun 20, 2017 Washington, D.C., August 8, 2017 – The British Foreign Office approached the Truman administration on more than one occasion in late 1952 to propose a coup to overthrow Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, according to freshly declassified State Department documents. Posted today for the first time, two previously Top-Secret memoranda from senior officials at State refer to a series of communications and meetings beginning in October 1952 in which British officials tried to win U.S. approval of Mosaddeq’s ouster. The British government has steadfastly refused to release any materials that directly refer to its role in the operation that eventually took place in August 1953, and has consistently pressed the United States not to reveal any substantiation from American files. In fact, evidence has existed for years that the British were intimately involved in promoting and then planning the overthrow of Mosaddeq. The most compelling sources include a leaked CIA after-action report written in 1954 and memoir accounts by various coup participants. Today’s posting consists of the most explicit, officially declassified records on the subject released to date by any government. The two documents were originally considered for inclusion in the latest official U.S. publication on the coup period. In June 2017, the State Department published a 1,007-page compilation of declassified State, Central Intelligence Agency, and National Security Council documents as part of its Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series. But while both records are mentioned in the volume by title and date, their content was withheld in its entirety. The first memo in the posting is entitled “Proposal to Organize a Coup d’etat in Iran,” and is dated November 26, 1952. In it, Assistant Secretary of State Henry Byroade informs his superior, Deputy Under Secretary of State H. Freeman Matthews, that Britain’s Minister in Washington, Sir Christopher Steel, has requested a meeting to discuss a possible coup. He reminds Matthews that the British Embassy first raised the idea on paper on October 8, 1952. He goes on to give his own views about the concept, which are generally negative, yet recommends that Matthews take the meeting. The second memo, similarly entitled “British Proposal to Organize a Coup d’etat in Iran,” and dated December 3, 1952, is the State Department’s record of the meeting with Steel (date unclear). Other officials from both governments attended the session, notably Paul Nitze, Director of Policy Planning at the State Department. The authors of today’s posting filed separate Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) requests to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for the two memoranda following the June 2017 publication of the new FRUS volume. That compilation was originally commissioned in the early 1990s as a supplement to a previous iteration that covered the same time period but, on political and intelligence grounds, omitted all references to the American and British roles in the coup. The 2017 volume contains rich detail about American perspectives on Iran along with records describing the planning and execution of the operation, but it barely mentions Great Britain's contributions – undoubtedly because of specific British requests not to do so. (For a document-based account of this issue, see the National Security Archive’s posting of August 19, 2013.) A number of other records that have been withheld from the volume – and are currently the subject of MDR requests by the National Security Archive – presumably contain more detail about London’s activities. To their credit, NARA responded immediately and positively to the MDRs. However, even before the official replies arrived, Tulane University Professor Mark Gasiorowski had located the original records while conducting research at NARA in College Park, Maryland, in July 2017. The November 26 document was marked declassified on May 17, 2017, just a month before the FRUS volume appeared. An earlier State Department declassification review stamp indicated a downgrade in classification to Secret in 1999, and authorization to declassify “with concurrence of CIA after STATE approves release or 2025.” In other words, release might not have occurred until the year 2025 (though even that cannot be taken as a given). The December 3 document has similar markings, except the 1999 stamp notes that full declassification would have to follow “release [of] info by GBR or 2025.” GBR refers to the British government – further confirmation that London was – at least originally – deemed to have authority over when, or whether, U.S. archival documents (not British records) would be allowed to be seen by the American public. However, it is not clear whether British officials were ultimately consulted about the release of these particular documents in 2017. The documents are of great interest on several levels. As indicated, they are the first officially released confirmation of Britain’s expressed aim in late 1952 to persuade Washington to help oust Mosaddeq. They also provide insights into how the British conceived of the political scene inside Iran and why a coup was called for, in their view. At the early December meeting, Sir Christopher Steel laid out what the memo describes as the "only three possible lines which events in Iran might take." In essence, Steel commented, Mossadeq could either stay in power and take action against the Communist (or Tudeh) party, or he would leave office and be replaced by someone who would do so, or there would be no change and "the Communists would gradually take control." Steel declared that the Iranian prime minister was highly unlikely to act firmly against the Communists but he professed to be uncommitted for the time being toward actually mounting a coup. His only purpose at the meeting with Mathews and Nitze, he claimed, was to propose the idea and suggest that the British and American governments should seriously consider taking action along those lines. This scrupulously mild approach reflects another interesting aspect of the memoranda – what they reveal about British tactics in their appeal to the Americans. Scholars of the coup generally agree that London’s overriding objective in the Iran crisis was to restore their stake in Iran's petroleum industry by virtually any available means, including military action. But ever since Mosaddeq nationalized the industry in Spring 1951 (then expelled British diplomats and intelligence officials from the country the following October – incidentally, not long after the first British-U.S. coup discussions mentioned in the Byroade memo), the Truman administration had balked at Britain’s persistent prodding for radical action – beyond the substantial step Washington had already taken of supporting an economic boycott against Iran. President Harry Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson repeatedly insisted that their priority was to keep the Soviet Union and its Communist allies in Iran from gaining any advantage from the crisis. For Truman and Acheson, overtly protecting Britain's colonial interests was a non-starter because they believed it would play into Communist hands. By late 1952, the British had adapted their methods and, as the new records confirm, couched the subject in terms that would be more appealing to the Americans – not to ask for their help in reclaiming control of Iranian oil but to assist in "combating Communism in Iran." Steel's claim that "the British government had not yet come to any definite conclusions" about how exactly to accomplish the goal seems clearly aimed at not putting off the American side any further, after months of London's steady, militant drumbeat. The Truman administration never agreed to the idea of Mosaddeq’s overthrow. To the end of his term in January 1953, the president believed that the West’s best hope for an exit strategy to the crisis lay in working with the Iranian prime minister, not against him. The November 26 memo, in fact, importantly confirms that the administration was still planning to side with Mosaddeq’s government against what they evidently saw as Britain’s lack of cooperation in coming to an equitable oil agreement. “One element which must be taken into consideration in making our decision" about a coup, wrote Byroade, "is that we are presently thinking of unilateral action to assist the Mosadeq Government in the event that the British do not agree to an oil settlement acceptable to Mosadeq." Presumably struggling to suppress any expression of irony, Byroade continued, "It would be virtually impossible to proceed with plans to overthrow Dr. Mosadeq while at the same time giving him open assistance." Byroade went on to assess Britain’s motives in revisiting their proposal and to predict the ramifications of each possible U.S. response. "[I]t is not inconceivable that one reason for the British suggestion is a desire to forestall unilateral American assistance to Mosadeq." If the U.S. were to back the overthrow it "might lead them to be less flexible with regard to new oil settlement proposals," whereas "our refusal to consider the new plan for a coup might induce them to make more determined efforts to reach an agreement with Mosadeq." Matthews backed Byroade’s position in his conversation with Steel. The Americans specifically did not rule out a coup even though they were clearly not enthusiastic about it. At this point in the December 3 memo, Matthews alluded to another dimension of the British approach. Other records now available, including a leaked internal CIA history of the coup, indicate that members of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service were also meeting with their counterparts in the United States in November 1952. Those officials are not named here (they were Christopher Montague Woodhouse and Sam Falle) but Matthews pointedly ruled out any further contacts “between CIA and the British intelligence representatives on the subject until further notice.” In addition, the American side pointed out that President Truman was about to leave office. Steel politely acknowledged this but, reflecting a sense of urgency – and subtle pressure – remarked that “it would probably be necessary to take a decision by the end of January, since the best time for the coup would be in the Spring.” The memo does not explain why this would be the case. Two other intriguing points about the memos are worth noting. One is the comment at the December 3 meeting by John Jernegan, Byroade’s deputy, that Loy Henderson, the U.S. Ambassador to Tehran, “believed Mosadeq was sincerely anti-communist.” Jernegan was responding to the British conclusion that the prime minister “was by nature too vacillating to take a strong stand” against the Tudeh. According to Jernegan, Henderson would have argued that if Mosaddeq could only get an oil settlement or “otherwise strengthen the financial position of his Government,” he would be tougher on the Tudeh. This reading of Henderson goes sharply against many other accounts of his views, which as the crisis unfolded increasingly dismissed the Iranian prime minister as a lunatic. Henderson’s actual opinions about and influence on U.S. policy are one of many elements of the 1953 narrative that are still subject to lively debate. Finally, Paul Nitze’s role in the coup saga has generally received scant attention, although he appears several times in the new FRUS volume published in 2017. In the December 3 memo printed here, he spoke up on the question of how likely the theoretical operation was to be successful. The celebrated Cold War strategist showed his penchant for bare-knuckle tactics by asking if the unnamed group the British proposed to work with inside Iran might not agree to undertake a trial run targeting the politically active Ayatollah Abolqasem Kashani along with the Tudeh. If that operation succeeded, Nitze said, it would bode well for an actual coup d’etat. The memo records a respectful but unanimous rejection of the scheme. Other fascinating insights appear in the new memos relating to American and British perspectives on the Iran crisis and how to cope with it. Along the way, they raise a number of larger themes relevant to the coup, not least the nuanced question of how closely the two allies’ interests in Iran actually intersected. ________________________________________ READ THE DOCUMENTS Document 01 State Department, Memorandum of Conversation, Byroade to Matthews, "Proposal to Organize a Coup d'etat in Iran," Top Secret, November 26, 1952 1952-11-26 Source: NARA, RG 59, General Records of the Department of State, 1950-54 Central Decimal File, File: 788.00/11-2652 Henry Byroade provides his superior, H. Freeman Matthews with a moderately lengthy memo on Great Britain's desire to promote a coup against the Mosaddeq government. He notes that the idea first came up in a paper the British presented to the Americans on October 8, 1952. Since then, three meetings had been held but the conclusion was that the prospects were not hopeful. The lack of a viable substitute for Mosaddeq and the risk of a Tudeh counter-action were among the reasons. Another very interesting argument is the fact that the U.S. at the time has plans to try to prop up Mosaddeq in some way in the event the British continue to be unsupportive of an oil deal. This is a new piece of evidence on the open question of whether the U.S. government genuinely sided with the Iranian prime minister against their principal ally, or simply paid lip service to the idea. Byroade offers a list of his own doubts about the coup proposal but still recommends that Matthews meet with British Minister Sir Christopher Steel to hear him out. Document 02 State Department, Memorandum of Conversation, "British Proposal to Organize a Coup d'etat in Iran," Top Secret, December 3, 1952 1952-12-03 Source: NARA, RG 59, General Records of the Department of State, 1950-54 Central Decimal File, File: 788.00/12-352 H. Freeman Matthews, Paul Nitze and John Jernegan represent the State Department at this meeting with senior British Embassy representatives in Washington. This is the meeting Henry Byroade mentioned in the above memo to Matthews. According to this record, the Americans are skeptical about the prospects for a successful coup and are further disinclined because the Truman administration will shortly be replaced and therefore is even less in a position to act on an issue of this kind. The British purport to be unconvinced themselves about the idea, yet they pointedly note that they will probably need an American decision within a few weeks because they would prefer to carry out the operation in Spring. Subtlety in the wake of months of exhortations to the U.S. government seems to have been the British modus operandi at this stage. Categories: Cold War – General Covert Action Secrecy and FOIA Third World and Decolonization Regions: Middle East Events: Iran – Mosaddeq Overthrow, 1953 Project: Iran Henry Byroade, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East, South Asian, and African Affairs, 1952-1955 (Photo: Harry S. Truman Library & Museum) H. Freeman Matthews, Deputy Under Secretary of State, 1950-1953 (Photo: Harry S. Truman Library & Museum) NOTES  It is possible that random references in a small handful of declassified documents point to the British role but none do so as directly or in the level of detail presented in these memoranda.  Falle was ostensibly a Foreign Office official. Whether intentionally or not, the other British representative at the meeting, Bernard Burrows, Counselor at the Embassy in Washington, referred specifically to “the two British intelligence officers now in Washington...,” according to Matthews’ memo https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/02/mi6-the-coup-in-iran-that-changed-the-middle-east-and-the-cover-up MI6, the coup in Iran that changed the Middle East, and the cover-up Documentary reveals evidence confirming a British spy’s role in restoring the Shah in 1953 – and how the Observer exposed the plot Vanessa Thorpe Observer, Sunday 2 August 2020 Protesters in Tehran during the 1953 coup. Photograph: AFP The hidden role of a British secret service officer who led the coup that permanently altered the Middle East is to be revealed in detail for the first time since an Observer news story was suppressed in 1985. The report, headlined “How MI6 and CIA joined forces to plot Iran coup”, appeared in the 26 May edition but was swiftly quashed. It exposed the fact that an MI6 man, later named as Norman Darbyshire, had run a covert and violent operation to reinstate the Shah of Iran as ruler of the country in 1953. Yet just a few days after the newspaper came out, all fresh evidence of this British operation and of Darbyshire’s identity disappeared from public debate. “We still do not know who leaked this to the Observer originally, or why,” said film-maker Taghi Amirani this weekend, ahead of the release of his documentary, Coup 53. “We only know that any record of the interview with Darbyshire quickly disappeared and no one followed up the story. It smacks of a complete cover-up of British involvement to this day.” The background to the 1953 coup d’etat has long been the cause of international suspicion and conjecture. Prime Minister Winston Churchill opposed the rule of the country’s first democratic leader, Mohammad Mossadegh, largely because it threatened Britain’s interests in Iran’s oil industry. Working with the CIA, who also hoped to see the Shah Reza Pahlavi back on the throne, it is now clear that MI6 did much more than agitate for Mossadegh to be overthrown. In June, documents found in a Washington archive showed how Queen Elizabeth II’s name was mistakenly used to persuade the Shah to stay in Iran prior to the coup. Coup 53 now makes a clear case that the British were orchestrating an uprising, going as far as kidnapping, torturing and paying for protesters to go out on to the streets of Tehran. Coup 53, released on 19 August, the 67th anniversary of the coup, follows the investigations of Anglo-Iranian director Amirani. Working with Walter Murch, the acclaimed editor of films such as The Conversation, Apocalypse Now and The English Patient, Amirani delves into the archives and interviews many of those involved. “We knew nothing of the Darbyshire mystery, or of the mystery about that mystery, when we started making this film,” said Murch. “None of this was on our radar. Taghi discovered things as we went along. The thriller element was not part of our template, which was to look back at unseen interviews. This was the most material I have ever had to work with – 532 hours – more than double what I handled on Apocalypse Now.” The turning point was when Amirani found key evidence in abandoned research carried out for a landmark Granada documentary series of the mid-1980s, End of Empire. A transcript of an episode about Iran originally contained an interview with Darbyshire, who spoke candidly. “My brief was very simple,” says Darbyshire. “Go out there, don’t inform the ambassador, and use the intelligence service for any money you might need to secure the overthrow of Mossadegh by legal or quasi-legal means.” The MI6 officer goes on to explain he spent “vast sums of money, well over a million-and-a-half pounds”, adding, “I was personally giving orders and directing the street uprising.” Yet the explosive interview was never broadcast. In Amirani’s film, the part of Darbyshire is played by Ralph Fiennes, who delivers lines from the unused Granada material. The 1985 Observer article by reporter Nigel Hawkes was published just before the Iranian episode was shown by Channel 4. Facebook Twitter Pinterest Ralph Fiennes as Norman Darbyshire in Coup 53. Photograph: Chris Morphet But when the programme went out, Darbyshire and his testimony were absent. A TV review a week later by Observer critic Julian Barnes made no mention of this part of the story. Amirani, Murch and the intelligence experts they have consulted now conclude the government stepped in after a private screening, preventing the producers from using the Darbyshire interview. Newspapers, including the Observer, edited at the time by Donald Trelford, would also have been told to go no further with the story, using a state provision known as a D Notice. Darbyshire worked closely with a CIA counterpart, Stephen Meade, whose interview for the End of Empire documentary was also not broadcast. He describes his British colleague as “a very competent individual who spoke Farsi fluently as well as French”. Perhaps the most shocking evidence in Coup 53 concerns British guilt in the kidnapping and eventual “accidental” killing of the Iranian police chief Mahmoud Afshartous. This incident deliberately provoked the unrest that led to the arrest and imprisonment of Mossadegh in August. In the “lost footage”, Darbyshire claims he made “the correct psychological reading of the Persian mob character”, but that he understood that they “had the feeling they were being screwed, and rightly so, from 1920 onwards”. Darbyshire died in 1993, and former Granada researcher Alison Rooper, who worked on End of Empire, together with her producer/director Mark Anderson, tell Amirani they have no clear memory of interviewing the MI6 officer or of what happened to the footage. The shah, who had been living in exile in Italy, flew back to Iran, then governed by CIA- and MI6-approved General Fazlollah Zahedi. In America, the coup was known as Operation Ajax, while in Britain it was Operation Boots. The shah ruled the country until the Islamic revolution of 1979. “This coup shaped not only western relations with Iran for 60 years, but changed the Middle East. Imagine if there had been a democracy there,” said Amirani. • This article was amended on 2 and 15 August 2020 because an earlier version said that Stephen Meade appeared in End of Empire; in fact his interview was not broadcast. It also said the role of the British agent who led the coup in Iran has been revealed for the first time since the 1985 Observer news story. To clarify: while the 1985 story did not identify Norman Darbyshire, he was named in a New York Times piece in 2000 and quoted on the coup in Stephen Dorril’s book, ‘MI6: Fifty Years of Special Operations’, published the same year. The article was also amended because the original stated Coup 53’s conclusion that government stepped in to prevent inclusion of the agent’s testimony in End of Empire as fact when it referred to the Granada material as “censored”. This claim is rejected by makers of End of Empire. Advertisement • Letter of response to this article from Alison Rooper and Mark Anderson.