Secret History: The CIA in Iran

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Rich Winkel

Feb 11, 2003, 6:39:05 PM2/11/03
From the m.a.p archives:

I recently finished reading a book called "Witness" by Mansur
Rafizadeh (Morrow and Company). Rafizadeh was Iran's SAVAK (Iranian
secret police) station chief in the US, and a covert agent for the
CIA, from the mid 60's until the fall of the shah. He has an
interesting slant on things, to say the least .. painting glowing
pictures of several heads of savak who he got to know personally
(good soldiers who took and gave orders to 'interrogate' suspected
subversives, I imagine ... you don't get to be head of one of the
most notorious police organizations in the world by being a
humanitarian). He also had, it seemed to me, a very naive view of
the motives and methods of US policy towards iran, and of the US
in general. Anyway, he gives some very interesting accounts of
happenings in iran in the years around 1980.

A little background from the book:

"SAVAK was established in 1957 on the joint advice of the CIA, British
intelligence, and MOSSAD (Israel's secret service). By mutual consent, Britain
had no active involvement in savak operations. Mossad was involved in textbook
teaching, instruction in such things as preparation of reports and keeping

"The CIA, on the other hand, went all out. It took charge and became involved
in every aspect of savak's daily operations.

".... Under the provisions of the National Security Act, all human rights were
taken away from the subjects of the shah. It was a magnificent piece of legal
theft. It left not a single loophole, not a single right. It permitted the
government, in the interests of national security, to arrest anyone without
charges, without the necessity to inform either the accused or the department
of justice of his or her whereabouts, or to specify the duration of

"The law was subject to furious questioning and opposition in parliament. In
response to opposition stating that the law legalized torture, [a government
representative said] 'Well, if you don't torture the accused, no one will
ever reveal anything.'

"The Act was signed, torture was legalized, and the path was cleared for the
formation of SAVAK."

Here are some highlights from the book:

Henry Kissinger sent messages to the Shah around '78, urging him to
re-arrest and imprison all the political prisoners that he had released
at the urging of the Carter administration. Carter was still in the
white house at the time. I knew the K was a fascist, but I'm suprised that he
so casually interfered with standing US foreign policy. With his stellar
reputation (among illiterates, anyway) his suggestion must have carried some
weight with the shah.

Barbara Walters was a favorite of the shah. She apparently accepted
extravagant gifts of jewelry from him at the same time that she was painting
rosy pictures of him in the US media. (Remember how the Shah was portrayed in
the US at that time? A glaring example of the objectivity of our 'free

A major concern in the last days of the shah's government was to shred
sensitive documents at the iranian embassy in washington. Most of the papers
dealt with bribes to american congressmen and other officials. (Thus, the
corruption fostered in iran by the US came back to haunt us. This has been a
common phenomenon in our dealings with third world countries .. many aspects
of the fascistic mentality which drives US foreign policy have come back to
exert their corrupting influence at home. The ominous increase in government
secrecy during the reagan years, justified by highly questionable
interpetations of 'National Security' needs, is an example)

"Khomeni was completely ignorant of american political procedures. He
believed that immediately after his victory [in the '80 presidential election],
Reagan would have a dossier prepared on Carter and have him arrested. After
all, this was customary procedure in many middle eastern countries. Khomeni's
lack of knowledge about western culture was a constant problem for his aides.
Khomeni even believed that the word 'Carter' was a synonym for head of state,
and, much to the embarrassment of his countrymen, would publicly refer to the
Carter of England, the Carter of France etc."

The CIA attempted to goad Carter into an all-out military operation against
Khomeni by feeding him false stories of mistreatment of the american hostages
by their captors. This was one of several indications of the CIA's dislike of
and contempt for Carter, according to Rafizadeh.

The Shah donated $60,000,000 to Nixon's re-election campaign in 1972,
$8,000,000 of which was stolen by Iranian middlemen, the rest of which was
laundered through mexican and swiss banks and added to nixon's war chest.

In 1981, the Reagan administration ordered the CIA to begin courting
Khomeni's strongest opposition groups, purportedly to decide which group was
most worthy of US support in overthrowing Khomeni. The CIA was able to
convince these groups to cooperate and trust them by citing the following US

Revenge: America had experienced deep humiliation at the hands of the Khomeni
Human-rights concerns: "The american pro-human-rights position was well known."
Terrorism concerns: Iran was becoming known as a terrorist training ground.

The CIA let word leak out that it was undecided whether Iran should become a
republic or return to a monarchy. The various competing underground factions
were led to believe that they each had someone in CIA who supported their own
particular cause. The CIA fostered this impression by assigning an officer to
each group, who would give the illusion that he was sympathetic only to it.
He would meet with the group's leaders and lead them to believe that he could
bolster their chances for CIA support if they could show proof of their
faction's strength in iran. "He might say something like: 'If you want to
strengthen your position, you must provide us with as many specifics as
possible about your network in iran. You must give us the names of your
people.' "

"All the leaders of these opposition groups fell for this ploy, hook line and
sinker. During the next few months, they desperately vied with each other to
provide as much information about their support people in iran as they could."

"General Oveissi, like the rest of the opposition leaders, was a victim of this
deception. At a meeting in Hamburg with a CIA liaison officer, the General and
I discussed various civil servants, religious leaders and businessmen in Iran
who supported General Oveissi. Then the CIA agent matter-of-factly produced a
chart depicting the entire Iranian army structure, including names and ranks.
He casually told General Oveissi, 'Tell me which ones are yours. I'll take
this to Washington and discredit the other opposition groups and prove once
and for all that you should be the leader. This will prove that you are the
strongest. If you want to be Shah, we'll make you Shah!' "

A few months later, the CIA gave all the information it had gathered to
representatives of Khomeni. Over a thousand names had been provided by the
opposition groups. Nearly all were captured and killed or imprisoned.
(Remember the saturation coverage of the trials and executions of opposition
leaders in Iran in late 1981 and 1982?) Thus, all the most potent forces for
constructive change in Iran were neatly eliminated, and Khomeni's previously
precarious position as dictator of Iran became secure.

(As outlandish as this scenario might sound, it does corroborate other evidence
in support of the 'October Surprise' theory dealing with the true origins of
the Irangate affair.)

Postscript: "From my student days I had worked for one goal, a rule of justice
and human rights for my oppressed country. The shah became monstrous, growing
more and more cruel and tyrannous throughout his reign. I was to learn that
the CIA, unbridled by accountability to the american public, cared little for
justice and humanity, but cared a great deal for power, which it used
arrogantly and dangerously.

"I believe in the essential goodness of people, and I believe that goodness
can prevail if the truth is known. Through my book I hope to shed whatever
light I can on this dark period of history. The truth is my last weapon.
My father's words words echo: 'A lie has a short life. Soon it decays and
the decay is the fertilizer from which a truth will grow and blossom, a truth
that will last forever.' "

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