Iran 1953: The Strange Odyssey of Kermit Roosevelt's "Countercoup"

12 May 2014 — National Security Archive

CIA Approved Ex-Agent’s Memoir of “28 Mordad” Coup After Changes Rendered It “Essentially a Work of Fiction”

1979 Publication Delayed by Legal Threats from British Petroleum, Iran Hostage Crisis
Shah and CIA Director George Bush Okayed Memoir Idea

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 468
Posted May 12, 2014

Edited by Malcolm Byrne

For more information contact:
202/994-7000 or

Washington, DC, May 12, 2014 — As the Iranian revolution crested in 1978-1979, the CIA approved a memoir by Kermit Roosevelt, one of the architects of the 1953 coup against Iran’s nationalist prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddeq. After first balking at the potential exposure of numerous “secrets,” the CIA relented when Roosevelt agreed to delete all mention of MI6 and made over 150 other changes that rendered the book “essentially a work of fiction,” according to recently declassified CIA files posted today by the National Security Archive.

The internal CIA deliberations over Roosevelt’s “Countercoup: The Struggle for the Control of Iran” (McGraw-Hill, 1979 [sic]) were released through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and provided to the National Security Archive on an anonymous basis by the original requester. They are posted here for the first time.

Missing from the documents is what happened when British Petroleum discovered that “Countercoup” (falsely) identified its predecessor, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), as the instigator of the operation. In fact, MI6 originated the plan. The oil concern threatened to file suit, which prompted publisher McGraw-Hill to pull virtually the entire print run of 7,500 copies in 1979. 400 copies had already made it out to reviewers and bookstores, but most of those were returned.

In a final twist, the revised version of the book hit the streets in August 1980 (retaining the 1979 date on the copyright page), but with the reinsertion of numerous references to “British intelligence” as the key player on the British side (replacing “AIOC”), even though disguising MI6’s role had been one of the principal reasons for censoring the volume in the first place. No official explanation has ever surfaced for this decision, which has directly undermined continuing claims by both U.S. and British intelligence that any acknowledgement of London’s part in planning the coup would present a grave threat to the national security.

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THE NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE is an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The Archive collects and publishes declassified documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A tax-exempt public charity, the Archive receives no U.S. government funding; its budget is supported by publication royalties and donations from foundations and individuals.

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