Iran 1953 Covert History Quietly Released

The Department of State yesterday released a long-suppressed volume of historical records documenting the role of the United States in the 1953 coup against the Iranian government of Mohammad Mosadeq.

“This retrospective volume focuses on the evolution of U.S. thinking on Iran as well as the U.S. Government covert operation that resulted in Mosadeq’s overthrow on August 19, 1953,” the Preface says. See Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), 1952-1954, Iran, 1951-1954.

“This volume includes National Security Council and Presidential materials that document the U.S. decision to proceed with the operation against Mosadeq, and the operational files within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that document the implementation of the operation, codenamed TPAJAX.”

Some of the relevant records were destroyed long ago.

“The original CIA cables relating to the implementation of the covert action TPAJAX no longer exist. The original TPAJAX operational cables appear to have been destroyed as part of an office purge undertaken in 1961 or 1962, in anticipation of Near East (NE) Division’s move to the Central Intelligence Agency’s new headquarters.”

However, “Department of State historians obtained hand-typed transcriptions of microfilmed copies of these cables” and “twenty-one are published in this volume and an additional seven are referenced in footnotes.”

A small portion of the 1,000-page collection remains classified.

“The declassification review of this volume, which began in 2004 and was completed in 2014, resulted in the decision to withhold 10 documents in full, excise a paragraph or more in 38 documents, and make minor excisions of less than a paragraph in 82 documents,” the editors wrote. Without knowing for certain, some of the withheld information may pertain to discussion of British involvement in the operation, as well as technical details such as cryptonyms.

Rectifying a “Fraud”

The release of the Iran history volume is the culmination — and apparently the resolution — of decades of controversy that began in 1989 after the Department published a FRUS volume on US-Iran relations between 1951 and 1954 that neglected to mention any covert operation against the Iran government. That earlier volume was widely denounced by US historians and others.

“The omissions combine to make the Iran volume in the period of 1952–54 a fraud,” wrote historian Bruce R. Kuniholm in 1990.

“This is ‘Hamlet’ without the Prince of Denmark — or the ghost,” the New York Times editorialized back then.

Over time, the State Department itself came to agree with that critical assessment.

“The Department’s self-censorship exemplified, but also obscured, the restrictive impulses toward historical transparency that prevailed throughout the U.S. Government” at the time, according to a candid and thoughtful State Department history of the Foreign Relations series. “FRUS historians could have been more assertive in their efforts to promote greater openness in the 1980s. They should have recognized that the [1989] Iran volume was too incomplete to be published without damaging the series’s reputation.”

On the plus side, “Academic criticism of the [1989] ‘Iran Volume’ and the restrictions placed on [advisory committee] access to classified material raised public and congressional awareness of the erosion of transparency in the 1980s.”

This in turn led to enactment in 1991 of a new statutory requirement that the FRUS series must provide “a thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of major United States foreign policy.”

But at the end of the Obama Administration, and as recently as April of this year, release of the Iran retrospective volume seemed to be indefinitely blocked.

In 2016, “the Department of State did not permit publication of the long-delayed Iran Retrospective volume because it judged the political environment too sensitive,” the Department’s Historical Advisory Committee (HAC) wrote in its latest annual report. “The HAC was unsuccessful in its efforts to meet with [then-]Secretary Kerry to discuss the volume, and now there is no timetable for its release.”

And then yesterday, all of a sudden and with minimal notice, it was posted online. The publication was welcomed by the chair of the Historical Advisory Committee, Temple University historian Richard H. Immerman.

“As it expressed in last year’s annual report, the HAC was repeatedly frustrated–and disappointed–by Secretary Kerry’s refusal to allow the volume’s publication,” Prof. Immerman said yesterday. “In this regard the change in State’s perspective from the Obama to Trump administration is dramatic.”

There is no known evidence that Secretary of State Tillerson participated in the decision to permit publication. But, an official said, “there is no question that receiving approval to publish the volume was much less difficult with the change of administrations. Indeed, it encountered remarkably little resistance.”

Evidently wishing to downplay its significance, however, the State Department buried an announcement of the new volume at the bottom of a June 15 press release. After listing 16 other publications, it briefly mentioned that the Iran retrospective volume had “also” been released, making no mention of the decades-long controversy leading up to its publication.

Needless to say, the sky has not fallen due to the disclosure, and is not expected to. US relations with Iran will remain as fraught in the near future as they have been in the recent past. (The Senate voted yesterday 98-2 in favor of sanctions on Iran in connection with that country’s “ballistic missile program, support for acts of international terrorism, and violations of human rights.”)

But a pointless and misleading omission in the historical record has now been rectified.

“The public and scholarly community owes a great debt to not only the remarkable effort and perseverance of literally generations of State Department historians and the [History] Office’s leadership, but also their collective commitment to historical accuracy and transparency,” said Prof. Immerman.

Garwin on Strategic Security Challenges to the US

There are at least four major “strategic security challenges” that could place the United States at risk within the next decade, physicist Richard L. Garwin told the National Academy of Sciences earlier this month.

“The greatest threat, based on expected value of damage, is cyberattack,” he said. Other challenges arise from the actions of North Korea and Iran, due to their pursuit or acquisition of nuclear weapons and/or missiles. The remaining threat is due to the potential instability associated with the existing U.S. nuclear weapon arsenal.

These four could be ordered, he said, by the relative difficulty of reducing the threat, from “easiest” to hardest: “the Iranian nuclear program; North Korea; the U.S. nuclear weapon capability and its evolution; and, finally, most importantly and probably most difficult of solution, the cyber threat to the United States.”

In his remarks, Garwin characterized each of the challenges and discussed possible steps that could be taken to mitigate the hazards involved. See Strategic Security Challenges for 2017 and Beyond, May 1, 2017.

Among many other things, Dr. Garwin is a former board member of the Federation of American Scientists. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama last November. He was the subject of a biography published earlier this year called True Genius by Joel Shurkin. Many of his publications are archived on the FAS website.

Most of the threats identified by Garwin — other than the one posed by the U.S. nuclear weapon arsenal — were also discussed in the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community that was presented to the Senate Intelligence Committee on May 11.

Neither Garwin nor the US Intelligence Community considered the possibility that the US Government could ever be threatened from within. But that is what is now happening, former Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper told CNN on May 14.

“I think […] our institutions are under assault internally,” Clapper said, referring to recent actions by President Trump, including the abrupt termination of FBI director James Comey. “The founding fathers, in their genius, created a system of three co-equal branches of government and a built-in system of checks and balances,” he said. “I feel as though that is under assault and is eroding.”

History of Iran Covert Action Deferred Indefinitely

A declassified U.S. Government documentary history of the momentous 1953 coup in Iran, in which Central Intelligence Agency personnel participated, had been the object of widespread demand from historians and others for decades. In recent years, it finally seemed to be on the verge of publication.

But now its release has been postponed indefinitely.

Last year, “the Department of State did not permit publication of the long-delayed Iran Retrospective volume because it judged the political environment too sensitive,” according to a new annual report from the State Department Historical Advisory Committee (HAC). “The HAC was severely disappointed.”

“The HAC was unsuccessful in its efforts to meet with [then-]Secretary Kerry to discuss the volume, and now there is no timetable for its release,” the new report stated.

The controversy originally arose in 1989 when the State Department published its official history of US foreign relations with Iran that somehow made no mention of the 1953 CIA covert action against the Mossadeq government, triggering protests and ridicule.

That lapse led to enactment of a 1992 statute requiring the Foreign Relations of the United States series to present a “thorough, accurate, and reliable” documentary history of US foreign policy. The State Department also agreed to prepare a supplemental retrospective volume on Iran to correct the record. The retrospective volume is what now appears to be out of reach.

In truth, a fair amount of documentation related to the events of 1953 in Iran has been declassified and released. It is unclear how much more of significance remains to be disclosed. (Those who have read the missing volume say there is at least some new substance to it.)

But the position taken by the Obama State Department that 60 year old policy documents are too politically sensitive to be released is disheartening in any case.

Instead of disrupting relations with Iran, which are already fraught, an honest official U.S. account of events in 1953 might actually have elicited a constructive response. But that argument, advanced by the Historical Advisory Committee and its Chairman, Prof. Richard H. Immerman, did not get the serious consideration it deserved.

More broadly, the new annual report of the HAC did identify a few bright spots. One volume of the Foreign Relations series that was released last year met the statutory deadline for publication within 30 years of the events it describes. That hasn’t happened for two decades.

Overall, however, “the declassification environment is discouraging,” the HAC report found.

Countering the Islamic State, and More from CRS

Some 60 nations and partner organizations have made commitments to help counter the Islamic State with military forces or resources, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

But coalition efforts suffer from a lack of coherence, CRS said. “Without a single authority responsible for prioritizing and adjudicating between different multinational civilian and military lines of effort, different actors often work at cross-purposes without intending to do so.”

CRS tabulated the contributions of each of the coalition partners by country and capability. “Each nation is contributing to the coalition in a manner commensurate with its national interests and comparative advantage, although reporting on nonmilitary contributions tends to be sporadic,” the report said.

“Some illustrative examples of the kinds of counter-IS assistance countries provided as the coalition was being formed in September 2014 include: Switzerland’s donation $9 million in aid to Iraq, Belgium’s contribution of 13 tons of aid to Iraq generally, Italy’s contribution of $2.5 million of weaponry (including machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and a million rounds of ammunition), and Japan’s granting of $6 million in emergency aid to specifically help displaced people in Northern Iraq.” See Coalition Contributions to Countering the Islamic State, August 4, 2015.

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The history and legal status of the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay were reviewed in another new CRS report.

“The origins of the U.S. military installation at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, lie in the execution of military operations during the Spanish-American War of April-August of 1898,” the report explained. Subsequent lease agreements signed in 1903 and 1934 “acknowledged Cuban sovereignty” over the site of the military base “but granted to the United States ‘complete jurisdiction and control over’ the property as long as it remained occupied.”

The existing leases “can only be modified or abrogated pursuant to an agreement between the United States and Cuba. The territorial limits of the naval station remain as they were in 1934 unless the United States abandons Guantanamo Bay or the two governments reach an agreement to modify its boundaries. While there appears to be no consensus on whether the President can modify the agreement alone, Congress is empowered to alter by statute the effect of the underlying 1934 treaty. There is no current law that would expressly prohibit the negotiation of lease modifications with the existing government of Cuba.”

However, “Congress has imposed practical impediments to closing the naval station by, for example, restricting the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to foreign countries.” See Naval Station Guantanamo Bay: History and Legal Issues Regarding Its Lease Agreements, August 4, 2015.

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Many of the issues raised by the pending Iran nuclear agreement that Congress is likely to consider were itemized and described in another new CRS report obtained by Secrecy News.

“These issues include those related to monitoring and enforcing the agreement itself, how the sanctions relief provided by the agreement would affect Iran’s regional and domestic policies, the implications for regional security, and the potential for the agreement to change the course of U.S.-Iran relations,” the report said.

See Iran Nuclear Agreement: Selected Issues for Congress, August 6, 2015.

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Other new and updated CRS reports that Congress has declined to make publicly available online include the following.

Procedures for Congressional Action in Relation to a Nuclear Agreement with Iran: In Brief, updated August 5, 2015

Iran Sanctions, updated August 4, 2015

History of the Navy UCLASS (Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike aircraft) Program Requirements: In Brief, August 3, 2015

Federal Support for Reproductive Health Services: Frequently Asked Questions, August 4, 2015

Fetal Tissue Research: Frequently Asked Questions, July 31, 2015

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), updated August 6, 2015

Specialty Drugs: Background and Policy Concerns, August 3, 2015

Social Security: The Trust Funds, updated August 5, 2015

Medicare Financial Status: In Brief, updated August 10, 2015

Presidential Permit Review for Cross-Border Pipelines and Electric Transmission, August 6, 2015

EPA’s Clean Power Plan: Highlights of the Final Rule, August 14, 2015

Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy, updated August 3, 2015

U.S. Trade Concepts, Performance, and Policy: Frequently Asked Questions, updated August 3, 2015

National Security Letters in Foreign Intelligence Investigations: A Glimpse at the Legal Background, updated July 31, 2015

Nuclear Cooperation with Other Countries: A Primer, updated August 5, 2015

Iran Nuclear Deal: What’s Next?

By Muhammad Umar,

On July 14, 2015, after more than a decade of negotiations to ensure Iran only use its nuclear program for peaceful purposes, Iran and the P5+1 (US, UK, Russia, China, France + Germany) have finally agreed on a nuclear deal aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Iran has essentially agreed to freeze their nuclear program for a period of ten years, as in there will be no new nuclear projects or research related to advanced enrichment processes. In exchange the West has agreed to lift crippling economic sanctions on Iran that have devastated the country for over a decade.

President Barack Obama said this deal is based on “verification” and not trust. This means that the sanctions will only be lifted after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has verified that Iran has fulfilled the requirements of the deal. Sanctions can be put back in place if Iran violates the deal in any way.

All though the details of the final agreement have not yet been released, based on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed to in April, some of the key parameters the IAEA will be responsible for verifying are that Iran has reduced the number of centrifuges currently in operation from 19,000 to 6,140, and does not enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for at least 15 years. The IAEA will also verify that Iran has reduced its current stockpile of low enriched uranium (LEU) from ~10,000 kg to 300 kg and does not build any new enrichment facilities. According to the New York Times, most of the LEU will be shipped to Russia for storage. Iran will only receive relief in sanctions if it verifiably abides by its commitments.

Even after the period of limitations on Iran’s nuclear program ends, it will remain a party to the NPT, its adherence to the Additional Protocol will be permanent, and it will maintain its transparency obligations.

The President must now submit the final agreement to the US Congress for a review. Once submitted, the Congress will have 60 days to review the agreement. There is no doubt that there will be plenty of folks in Congress who will challenge the agreement. Most of their concerns will be unwarranted because they lack a basic understanding of the technical details of the agreement.

The confusion for those opposing the deal on technical grounds is simple to understand. Iran had two paths to the bomb. Path one involved enriching uranium by using centrifuges, and path two involved using reactors to produce plutonium. The confusion is that if Iran is still allowed to have enriched uranium, and keep centrifuges in operation, will it not enable them to build the bomb?

The fact is that Iran will not have the number of centrifuges required to enrich weapons grade uranium. It will only enrich uranium to 3.7 percent and has a cap on its stockpile at 300 kilograms, which is inadequate for bomb making.

Again, the purpose of the deal is to allow greater access to the IAEA and their team of inspectors. They will verify that Iran complies with the agreement and in exchange sanctions will be lifted.

Congress does not have to approve the deal but can propose legislation that blocks the execution of the deal. In a public address, the President vowed to “veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of the deal.”

The deal will undergo a similar review process in Tehran, but because it has the support of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameeni, there will be no objection.

Those opposing the deal in the United States fail to understand that although the deal is only valid for 10 to 15 years, the safeguards being put in place are permanent. Making it impossible for Iran to secretly develop a nuclear weapon.

This deal has potentially laid down a blueprint for future nuclear negotiations with countries like North Korea. Once the deal is implemented, it will serve as a testament for diplomacy. It is definitely a welcome change from the experience of failed military action in Iraq, a mess we cannot seem to get out of to this day.

A stable Iran with a strong economy will not only benefit the region but the entire world. The media as well as Congress should keep this fact in mind as they begin to review the details of the final deal.

This is a tremendous victory for the West as well as Iran. This deal has strengthened the non-proliferation regime, and has proven the efficacy of diplomacy.

The writer is a visiting scholar at the Federation of American Scientists. He tweets @umarwrites.

Dept of State Delays Release of Iran History

The U.S. Department of State has blocked the publication of a long-awaited documentary history of U.S. covert action in Iran in the 1950s out of concern that its release could adversely affect ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.

The controversial Iran history volume, part of the official Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, had been slated for release last summer. (“History of 1953 CIA Covert Action in Iran to be Published,” Secrecy News, April 16, 2014).

But senior State Department officials “decided to delay publication because of ongoing negotiations with Iran,” according to the minutes of a September 8, 2014 meeting of the Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation that were posted on the Department of State website this week.

Dr. Stephen P. Randolph, the Historian of the State Department, confirmed yesterday that the status of the Iran volume “remains as it was in September” and that no new publication date has been set. The subject was also discussed at an Advisory Committee meeting this week.

The suppression of this history has been a source of frustration for decades, at least since the Department published a notorious 1989 volume on U.S. policy towards Iran that made no mention of CIA covert action.

But the latest move is also an indirect affirmation of the enduring significance of the withheld records, which date back even further than the U.S. rupture with Cuba that is now on the mend.

It seems that the remaining U.S. records of the 1953 coup in Iran are not only of historical interest but they evidently hold the power to move whole countries and to alter the course of events today. Or so the State Department believes.

“The logic, as I understand it, is that the release of the volume could aggravate anti-U.S. sentiment in Iran and thereby diminish the prospects of the nuclear negotiations reaching a settlement,” said Prof. Richard H. Immerman, a historian at Temple University and the chair of the State Department Historical Advisory Committee.

“I understand the State Department’s caution, but I don’t agree with the position,” he said. “Not only is the 1953 covert action in Iran an open secret, but it was also a motive for taking hostages in 1979. The longer the U.S. withholds the volume, the longer the issue will fester.”

Besides, if the documents do have an occult power to shape events, maybe that power could be harnessed to constructive ends.

“I would argue that our government’s commitment to transparency as signaled by the release of this volume could have a transformative effect on the negotiations, and that effect would increase the likelihood of a settlement,” Prof. Immerman suggested.

“At least some in the Iranian government would applaud this openness and seek to reciprocate. Further, the State Department of 2014 would distinguish this administration from the ‘Great Satan’ image of 1953 and after,” he said.

Continued secrecy has become an unnecessary obstacle to the development of US-Iran relations, argued historian Roham Alvandi in a similar vein in a New York Times op-ed (“Open the Files on the Iran Coup,” July 9, 2014).

“Moving forward with a new chapter in American-Iranian relations is difficult so long as the files on 1953 remain secret,” he wrote. “A stubborn refusal to release them keeps the trauma of 1953 alive in the Iranian public consciousness.”

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The State Department published a new Foreign Relations of the United States volume today on the Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1978-80. It is the ninth FRUS volume of the year, and it came out “a little ahead of schedule,” said Dr. Randolph, the Department Historian.

Iran: Interim Nuclear Agreement, and More from CRS

New products from the Congressional Research Service that Congress has withheld from online public distribution include the following.

Iran: Interim Nuclear Agreement and Talks on a Comprehensive Accord, November 26, 2014

U.S. International Corporate Taxation: Basic Concepts and Policy Issues, December 2, 2014

Taxation of Internet Sales and Access: Legal Issues, December 1, 2014

The Corporate Income Tax System: Overview and Options for Reform, December 1, 2014

How OFAC Calculates Penalties for Violations of Economic Sanctions, CRS Legal Sidebar, December 1, 2014

What Is the Current State of the Economic Recovery?, CRS Insights, December 1, 2014

Employment Growth and Progress Toward Full Employment, CRS Insights, November 28, 2014

Major Disaster Declarations for Snow Assistance and Severe Winter Storms: An Overview, December 1, 2014

Jordan: Background and U.S. Relations, December 2, 2014

Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, December 2, 2014

Verification Requirements for a Nuclear Agreement with Iran

Negotiations are currently underway with Iran regarding their nuclear program; as a result, one of the main questions for U.S. government policymakers is what monitoring and verification measures and tools will be required by the United States, its allies, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful.

To answer this question, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) convened a non-partisan, independent task force to examine the technical and policy requirements to adequately verify a comprehensive or other sustained nuclear agreement with Iran. Through various methods, the task force interviewed or met with over 70 experts from various technical and policy disciplines and compiled the results in the new report, “Verification Requirements for a Nuclear Agreement with Iran.” Authored by task force leaders Christopher Bidwell, Orde Kittrie, John Lauder and Harvey Rishikof, the report outlines nine recommendations for U.S. policymakers relating to a successful monitoring and verification agreement with Iran.  They are as follows:

 

Six Elements of an Effective Agreement

1. The agreement should require Iran to provide, prior to the next phase of sanctions relief, a comprehensive declaration that is correct and complete concerning all aspects of its nuclear program both current and past.

2. The agreement should provide the IAEA, for the duration of the agreement, access without delay to all sites, equipment, persons and documents requested by the IAEA, as currently required by UN Security Council Resolution 1929.

3. The agreement should provide that any material acts of non-cooperation with inspectors are a violation of the agreement.

4. The agreement should provide for the establishment of a consultative commission, which should be designed and operate in ways to maximize its effectiveness in addressing disputes and, if possible, building a culture of compliance within Iran.

5. The agreement should provide that all Iranian acquisition of sensitive items for its post-agreement licit nuclear program, and all acquisition of sensitive items that could be used in a post-agreement illicit nuclear program, must take place through a designated transparent channel.

6. The agreement should include provisions designed to preclude Iran from outsourcing key parts of its nuclear weapons program to a foreign country such as North Korea.

 

Three Proposed U.S. Government Actions to Facilitate Effective Implementation of an Agreement

1. The U.S. Government should enhance its relevant monitoring capabilities, invest resources in monitoring the Iran agreement, and structure its assessment and reporting of any Iranian noncompliance so as to maximize the chances that significant anomalies will come to the fore and not be overlooked or considered de minimis.

2. The U.S. Government and its allies should maintain the current sanctions regime architecture so that it can be ratcheted up incrementally in order to deter and respond commensurately to any Iranian non-compliance with the agreement.

3. The U.S. Government should establish a joint congressional/executive branch commission to monitor compliance with the agreement, similar to Congress having created the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor the implementation of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.

Download Full Report Download Report Summary

 

Congress Should Delay Action on New Sanctions Against Iran

Economic sanctions have proven effective against Iran, but at this point they will only interfere with peaceful negotiations over their nuclear program. Chris Bidwell, Senior Fellow for Nonproliferation and Law writes that Congressional action toward new sanctions against Iran now would make the U.S. appear bellicose and uninterested in a policy change on Iran’s nuclear program.

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Implications of the Recent Deal With Iran on Getting Controls on Civilian Nuclear Fuel Cycles

FAS President Dr. Charles Ferguson takes a look at one of the largest challenges to nonproliferation: how states can walk up to the line of crossing into nuclear weapons capabilit by developing uranium enrichment plants or reprocessing plants. Could the new deal with Iran have implications for Japan and other non-nuclear weapon states like South Korea that aspire to acquire enrichment or reprocessing capabilities? The answer is yes.

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