Sixty years later, CIA admits role in Iran coup

The National Security Archive on Monday published evidence of the CIA's long-known role in the 1953 Iran coup that helped pave the way for the Islamic revolution 26 years later.

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The newly declassified material is believed to contain the CIA's first public acknowledgment of its role in deposing democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh after he nationalized the country's oil industry. The move – and Iran's broader lurch to the left under Mossadegh – infuriated Great Britain and the United States, which pressed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to depose him in 1953.

In publishing a decades-old internal CIA history on the coup's 60th anniversary, the National Security Archive urged the U.S. intelligence community to “make fully available the remaining records on the coup period.”

"There is no longer good reason to keep secrets about such a critical episode in our recent past,” Archive Deputy Director Malcolm Byrne said in a statement. “The basic facts are widely known to every school child in Iran. Suppressing the details only distorts the history, and feeds into myth-making on all sides.”

The archive went on to say that it “applauds the CIA's decision to make these materials available” but that “today's posting shows clearly that these materials could have been safely declassified many years ago without risk of damage to the national security.” 

Mossadegh was sentenced to three years of solitary confinement in 1953 and remained under house arrest until his death in 1967. The U.S.-British plot to overthrow him served as a rallying point for the 1979 revolution that ousted the Shah, and Mossadegh remains a popular figure in Iran today despite his secularist politics.

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