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CIA Admits Coup It Backed in 1953 Was Undemocratic

Iran coup overthrew democratically elected PM
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 12, 2023 4:00 PM CDT
CIA Admits Iran Coup It Backed Was Undemocratic
A crowd of demonstrators tears down the Iran Party's sign from the front of the headquarters in Tehran on Aug. 19, 1953, during the coup that ousted Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and his government.   (AP Photo, File)

While revealing new details about one of the most famed CIA operations of all times—the spiriting out of six American diplomats who escaped the 1979 US Embassy seizure in Iran—the intelligence agency for the first time has acknowledged something else as well. The CIA now officially describes the 1953 coup it backed in Iran that overthrew its elected prime minister and cemented the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as undemocratic, the AP reports. Other American officials have made similar remarks in the past, but the CIA's acknowledgment in a podcast about the agency's history comes as much of its official history of the coup remains classified 70 years after the putsch.

The CIA's "Langley Files" podcast focused two recent episodes on the story of the six American diplomats' escape, a caper retold in the 2012 Academy Award-winning film Argo. In a brief exchange during the podcast, CIA spokesman and podcast host Walter Trosin cites the claims of agency historians that the majority of the CIA's clandestine activities in its history "bolstered" popularly elected governments. "We should acknowledge, though, that this is, therefore, a really significant exception to that rule," Trosin says of the 1953 coup. CIA historian Brent Geary, appearing on the podcast, agrees. "This is one of the exceptions to that," Geary says.

From the US side, the CIA's hand in the coup quickly was revealed as a success of Cold War espionage, though historians in recent years have debated just how much influence the agency's actions had. It also led the CIA into a series of further coups in other countries, including Guatemala, where American clandestine action in 1954 installed a military dictator and sparked a 40-year civil war that likely killed some 245,000 people. That's led to an American political reappraisal of the 1953 CIA action in Iran. Then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright acknowledged the US' "significant role" in the coup in 2000. Then-President Obama, speaking in Cairo in 2009, described the CIA's work as leading to the "overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government."

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But despite a series of American historical documents being made public, including a major tranche of State Department papers in 2017, large portions of that CIA reappraisal remain heavily redacted despite attempts to legally pry them loose by the George Washington University-based National Security Archive. Further complicating any historical reckoning is the CIA's own admission that many files related to the 1953 coup likely had been destroyed in the 1960s. In response to questions from the AP, Iran's mission to the United Nations described the 1953 coup as marking "the inception of relentless American meddling in Iran's internal affairs" and dismissed the US acknowledgments.

(More CIA stories.)

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