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138. Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

STUDY OF CIA CAPABILITIES IN IRAN

REFERENCE

  • Memorandum for the Senior NSC Staff Entitled The Position of the United States with Respect to Iran, dated 13 October 19522

A. CIA Capabilities Under Present Conditions (Para. 4.d., 13 October draft NSC 107/2)3

1. Current special political operations in Iran are designed to counteract Tudeh activities and reduce Tudeh influence. While these operations have had some success in delaying the trend toward Tudeh domination, they have not succeeded in reversing that trend, primarily because of the widespread anti-Western feeling which makes Iran so fertile a field for Tudeh exploitation. CIA has been unable to attack successfully this more basic problem because of the Iranian reaction to past and present U.S. and U.K. policies toward Iran. In its operations, CIA has been forced to rely on strongly nationalistic elements. While these elements are strongly motivated against the Tudeh threat, they share the common Iranian views that all British influence must be eliminated from Iran and that the U.S. has supported the U.K. in the oil controversy. Because of this situation CIA has been unable to mount operations designed to reduce anti-Western feeling in Iran.

2. Under present conditions, CIA is in a position to influence specific political, military and religious leaders to speak out strongly against the Tudeh threat on particular occasions and to induce certain political and military leaders to institute administrative and security actions to curb Tudeh activities (demonstrations, strikes, etc.) on spe[Page 394]cific occasions. It can also assist certain political factions to oppose Tudeh candidates in elections, to maintain anti-Tudeh propaganda, and to attack physically Tudeh facilities and demonstrations. CIA is also in a position to obtain the publication of anti-Tudeh material in the press, and in pamphlets, books, posters, etc.

3. However, CIA is not in a position to influence the Iranian Government (as opposed to individuals in the Government) to adopt a consistent policy to curb the activities and reduce the growing influence of the Tudeh Party. Nor is CIA able to influence the Iranian Government (and people) to adopt a more moderate attitude toward the British generally and toward the oil controversy in particular, or to adopt necessary financial, judicial, and administrative reforms. If, however, the U.S. Government were to intervene, with or without British agreement, to bring about an oil settlement and aid program which an Iranian government could justify to its own people, CIA’s ability to influence significant elements of the Iranian Government to take anti-Tudeh as well as more positive constructive measures to improve the internal situation would, of course, be greatly increased. (Paras. 4.c. and e., NSC draft)

4. In the event of a government crisis involving the resignation of Mossadeq, CIA might conceivably have some influence on the choice of a successor.

5. In addition to these operations, CIA is making plans and taking other preliminary steps to assist potential resistance groups in Iran in the event of a Tudeh coup. Planning for such activity is underway and limited stockpiling of matériel has been carried out. However, CIA’s assets in Iran for such activity are limited and CIA is unable (for obvious reasons) to concert its plans with the potentially friendly resistance groups until the emergency actually arises. While, therefore, liaison on hot war stay-behind plans is being maintained with certain potential resistance groups, nothing has been done to alert them to the fact that CIA is planning to support them in circumstances short of global war. This could of course be done, if the urgency of the situation were thought to require it, but it must be recognized that to do so would run definite security and political hazards. The existing liaison can, however, be expanded and directed with the intent of action against a Tudeh coup foremost in the minds of American representatives, though concealed from the Iranian representatives.

B. CIA Capabilities in the Event of a Significant Increase in Tudeh Influence

1. Any great increase in Tudeh influence, whether or not accompanied by legalization of the Tudeh Party, would seriously reduce CIA capabilities in the political and psychological fields in Iran. Such a de[Page 395]velopment would probably result in still greater leniency being shown by the Iranian security forces toward Tudeh and a disposition on the part of the government to crack down on certain political factions that are Tudeh’s most bitter opponents. CIA would thus find it increasingly difficult to induce anti-Tudeh individuals and groups to speak out or take action against Tudeh. CIA-induced or supported anti-Tudeh propaganda activities would be particularly hard hit. An increasing number of newspapers would be reluctant to print anti-Tudeh material and thus risk government suppression or the destruction of their facilities by Tudeh activists.

2. A significant increase in Tudeh influence would probably have a less serious effect on CIA preparations to support potential resistance groups and might, in fact, increase CIA capabilities. Such a development might well increase the willingness of these groups to deal more closely with the U.S. and might even induce them to request assistance in opposing Tudeh.

C. CIA Capabilities in the Event of Tudeh Domination of the Iranian Government and Army (Para 6, NSC Draft) 4

1. Special political operations would probably largely cease. Many CIA agents would almost certainly have to leave the country. The most optimistic estimate is that CIA could induce sporadic terrorist activity against Tudeh leaders, initiate rumor campaigns, and in general keep the public aware of an underground, Western-oriented resistance movement.

2. In view of its current limited resistance assets in Iran, CIA could do almost nothing directly to oppose the establishment of a Tudeh regime. It could, however, encourage and assist certain tribal groups to maintain control of their own territory against a Tudeh central government. Under the assumed circumstances, these groups would probably be very receptive to a U.S. offer of assistance and might even take the initiative in contacting U.S. representatives on the subject.

3. The establishment of a U.S. military base in Iraq, which we understand to be under consideration in the Department of Defense, would greatly improve prospects for maintaining special political op[Page 396]erations in Iran and would obviously be of tremendous advantage to CIA in mounting and maintaining resistance operations. It would provide CIA with a secure base near the area of operations; provide on-the-spot communications and logistical assistance; and possibly make available to CIA aircraft for clandestine operations into Iran. Perhaps most important of all, such a military base would help to maintain the morale of all Iranians opposed to the Tudeh Party. It would probably also have a decisive effect on the degree of U.S. control over resistance movements in Iran. Resistance groups would be much more amenable to U.S. direction if it could be demonstrated that they constituted the vanguard of a determined U.S. effort to hold the Near East against Communism. In the absence of demonstrable U.S. military interest in the area, the resistance groups would be inclined to follow their own council, even if they obtained substantial quantities of military equipment through CIA channels.

D. CIA Capabilities in the Event of a Tudeh Coup Followed by the Withdrawal to the South of a Significant Proportion of Iran’s Armed Forces (para 5.b., NSC Draft)5 and the Establishment of an Anti-Tudeh regime in Close Relations with the Western Powers

1. Under these circumstances, CIA’s capabilities in all fields of activity would be considerably greater than those indicated in paragraph C for the following two reasons:

(a) CIA would have a secure base of operations within the country;

(b) It would presumably have the active cooperation of the anti-Tudeh regime in the south in all its efforts to undermine and dislodge the Tudeh regime in the north.

2. If the U.S. military missions now accredited to the Iranian government were to accompany the anti-Tudeh regime in its withdrawal to the south and were to be expanded, CIA capabilities would be still further increased.

3. However, in view of the fact that the USSR would presumably give the Tudeh regime substantial assistance, and would increase its assistance proportionately as our assistance appeared to threaten Tudeh control of the north, it is unlikely that the Tudeh regime could be overthrown by Iranian action supported solely by clandestine means.

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Disaster File Series, NSC Staff Papers, Box 65, Iran Section. Top Secret; Security Information; Eyes Only. There is no drafting information on the memorandum, which is attached to a memorandum from the Deputy Director of Intelligence, Loftus E. Becker, to Lay, November 3. According to Becker, this memorandum was “prepared in connection with the current revision of NSC 107/2, ‘The Position of the United States with Respect to Iran.’”
  2. Reference is to a draft revision of NSC 107/2, prepared and ciculated by the NSC Staff, October 13. (National Archives, RG 273, Records of the National Security Council, Policy Papers, Box 210, NSC 136 US Pol re Iran)
  3. Paragraph 4 and sub-paragraph d of the draft revision of NSC 107/2, October 13, read: “To prevent communist capture of power in Iran, either through perversion of the nationalist movement or by armed uprising, and to promote a government in power in Iran capable of maintaining internal order and determined to resist Soviet aggression, the United States should: . . .d. Continue special political measures designed to assist in achieving these purposes.”
  4. Paragraph 6 of the draft revision of NSC 107/2, October 13, reads: “In the event that a communist government achieves complete control of Iran so rapidly that no legal Iranian Government is available to request assistance, the position of the United States would have to be determined in the light of the situation at the time, although politico-military-economic discussions leading to plans for meeting such a situation should be carried on with the British Government and, as appropriate, with the Turkish Government. In this contingency, the United States should make every feasible effort, particularly through special political operations, to endeavor to develop or maintain localized centers of resistance and to harass, undermine, and if possible, to bring about the overthrow of the communist government.”
  5. Paragraph 5 and sub-paragraph b of the draft revision of NSC 107/2, October 13, read: “In the event of either an attempted or an actual communist seizure of power in one or more of the provinces of Iran or in Tehran, the United States should be prepared to support a legal Iranian Government, if requested to do so. Preparations for such an eventuality should include: . . . b. Measures necessary for the implementation of special political operations in Iran and adjacent Middle Eastern areas, including prior authorization to expend such funds and to procure such equipment as may be required. Effective liaison with the U.K. should be maintained with respect to such operations.”