8. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (Berry) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State (Matthews)1


  • CIA Proposals for the Iranian Crisis


To consider possible courses of covert action by CIA representatives in relation to the Iranian crisis.


At the request of CIA, and accompanied by other representatives of NEA, I visited Messrs. Allen Dulles, Frank Wisner and Kermit Roosevelt on March 14 to discuss the current Iranian crisis. CIA, concerned over the turn of events in that country, had prepared the attached paper on the situation, setting forth possible courses of action which might be carried out covertly.2 It was emphasized that the paper is no more than a draft hurriedly prepared and that the program would be refined on the basis of subsequent discussions with the Department.

I undertook to discuss in general terms the CIA proposals with the appropriate Departmental officers before pursuing the matter further with CIA. The real importance of the paper is, I think, that CIA is prepared to move ahead rapidly with an action program requiring supplies, money, and personnel if, in the opinion of the Department, it will be useful in the attainment of our objectives in Iran.

I feel that we certainly must not under-estimate the dangers involved in the Iranian situation, although Razmara’s assassination appears in fact to have been accomplished by a representative of a small fanatical nationalist sect. The lack of drastic subsequent developments [Page 39] lends credence to the assumption that the assassination was not brought about by Communist elements, although Communism in Iran clearly has benefited greatly by the confusion and turmoil which has been created. At the moment there is reason to hope that by exercising a reasonably firm hand the Shah and Prime Minister Ala, strongly pro-Western, will be able to maintain order until tempers have cooled. There is always the danger that every opportunity will be seized by subversive elements and thus we should constantly be on guard; however, we must be most careful in the conduct of our affairs in Iran to avoid any policies or programs which might lower American prestige or encourage the development of an anti-American attitude which unquestionably would result from the disclosure of any “improper” intervention during this critical period of emotional nationalism.

With this in mind, I believe that certain of the proposals set forth by CIA might involve great dangers, while others, if carefully implemented, could be of considerable use. It is difficult at this distance to evaluate fully in each instance the propriety of our proceeding with given lines of action. Considerable authority and responsibility for determining what courses of action should be pursued must, in my opinion, be vested in the Ambassador in Tehran, operating under broad lines set forth jointly by the Department and CIA.

With regard to CIA’s specific proposals for action under the present situation, I have the following comments:

(1) The suggestion concerning the development of an intensified propaganda campaign by both overt and covert means in support of the Shah and Prime Minister Ala is of course generally desirable. However, any wide-scale United States propaganda supporting the Shah and the Prime Minister at the present moment would unquestionably embarrass them and leave them open to criticism from the nationalist factions as American creatures. The various propaganda points suggested by CIA are good.

(2) While a “strong coalition movement” along the proper lines would be desirable, it is difficult to see how such a development could be brought about by United States agencies at this time.

(3) Assistance in the form of money, personnel and technical aid to the police and security forces in Iran is, of course, highly desirable. At the moment I fear that it would be impossible for political reasons for the Iranians to accept any American personnel in these fields other than the present Gendarmérie Mission, but they probably would welcome American assistance in the forms of arms, equipment, and the training in the United States of Iranian security officials.

(4) I concur in the comment that this whole program would have a better chance of success if it could be carried out in support of a vigorous overt United States program to strengthen Iran, including loans, [Page 40] increased military aid, medical and public health programs and Point IV assistance. Every effort is being made to increase as appropriate and expedite our Iranian aid programs.

(5) I have serious reservations concerning the advisability of any approach to Mullah Kashani, the leader of the ultra-nationalist religious groups in Iran, who has a wide popular following. I doubt that Kashani could, in any event, be bought for any appreciable length of time, and he might very well use any approach of this sort as a further weapon in his current attempts to stir up public hatred of all foreigners, particularly Americans and British. It would be in character for him to use such an approach as evidence of the intrigues of foreign powers against the sovereignty of Iran; in this he could win more adherents and further inflame those whom he already has. The alternate course proposed by CIA, to discredit Kashani by means of printed material, etc., has, I believe, merit but this program would have to be carried out with the greatest caution.

(6) I concur with the opinion expressed by CIA that any approach to Dr. Mohamad Mossadeq, the leader of the National Front group, would be difficult, and believe it would be fruitless. The suggested use of clandestine publications to expose the Soviet ties of some of his followers appears a distinct possibility, but the possible effectiveness of splitting off from his group his “more stable and reasonable followers” appears questionable.

(7) The use of “black propaganda” weapons against the Tudeh Party is attractive and might have useful results. However, the present atmosphere in Iran is so tense and public opinion so emotionally aroused that any revelation of a “plot” might further disturb the situation. CIA might, however, make plans for activity of this sort with the understanding that it would not be implemented until the situation is such that the results can be more accurately estimated.

(8) The suggestion that an attempt be made to split the Tudeh Party, particularly to exploit deviationist tendencies, appears to have merit if practicable steps can be formulated. Perhaps precise courses of action can be worked out by the representatives in the field as opportunities present themselves.

In addition to the above courses of action suggested for immediate implementation, the CIA paper sets forth programs assuming (a) a serious deterioration in the situation, or (b) the imposition of a satellite government. Under either of these contingencies it is recognized that our action must be far more drastic than under present circumstances, and the suggestions set forth by CIA should be given careful consideration. In this connection, the present NSC paper on Iran, which was approved by the Senior Staff on March 13 and is going to the Council for [Page 41] approval on March 21, provides broad latitude for United States measures along these lines.3


(1) That NEA pursue discussions with CIA along the foregoing lines and urge that agency to proceed with appropriate aspects of its action program, pointing out that the success of the program depends in very large measure upon the caliber of the CIA personnel assigned to the task.

(2) That instructions agreed to by the Department and CIA be communicated to Tehran, authorizing the implementation of such elements of the program as are fully approved by the Ambassador.4

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1950–1954, 788.00/3–1551. Top Secret. Drafted by Rountree. Attached is a handwritten note apparently written by Berry. In this note Berry poses a number of questions, such as, “Is there the material from which to build ‘a strong coalition government in Iran?’ (as suggested by CIA)”; “Is this the moment to bring out ‘a rigorous overt U.S. program to strengthen Iran’ or is it the moment to let the dust settle while we act correctly?”; and “It is generally assumed that Ala and his government are a temporary expedient. If so what do we expect to follow, what groups and what leaders? Are we now working, educationally and otherwise, on such?”
  2. Document 5.
  3. An apparent reference to NSC 107, Document 6.
  4. In the left margin next to these two recommendations, Matthews wrote: “I agree.” In Kermit Roosevelt’s account of the same meeting, dated March 17, he wrote that “Mr. Berry informed CNE that Deputy Under-Secretary Matthews had read and approved in substance the reference memorandum. He said that this approval was qualified in terms that had been understood fully by CIA and State Department representatives from the very beginning—namely, that the paper was taken as an indication of general lines to be followed in an accelerated OPC program, that the specific illustrations included in the paper would require careful evaluation in the field, and that the whole program would be subject to coordination with and approval of the ambassador.” Roosevelt also discussed with Berry the need to place additional personnel and funding at the disposal of the OPC in Tehran to “assist the Ambassador for the purposes of this program.” Roosevelt concluded by noting that “It was agreed that a further meeting of State and CIA representatives on this program should be held as soon as possible, preferably on 19 March . . . CNE strongly recommends that ADPC and, if possible, DD/P should attend this meeting and should urge again the point that the CIA program can be effective to any significant extent only as part of a vigorous national program. It is feared that so far we have made this point to little avail.” (Central Intelligence Agency, DDO Files, Job 79–01228A, Box 11, Folder 14, Iran 1951–1953)