From Mossadegh to Stuxnet – the CIA in Iran
The 1953 coup in Iran that toppled popular leftwing Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, engineered by the Central Intelligence Agency and Britain’s Secret Service, lies at the root of Iranian animosity towards the United States.
The CIA’s dominant role in the coup, which ousted the democratically elected Mossadegh when he sought to nationalise Iran’s oil reserves, restored pro-Western Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi on Iran’s Peacock Throne.
That action, which eventually led to his 1979 overthrow in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution and the subsequent rise of Islamic radicalism, has made the agency a particular target of Iranian venom ever since.
The CIA inflicted “enormous and long-lasting trauma on the collective Iranian psyche… and continued to inform Iranian attitudes to the US,” observed US-based security analyst Mahan Abedin.
Since 1979, the CIA, along with its British counterpart and Israel’s intelligence services, has striven to penetrate the Tehran regime, but has invariably been outfoxed by Iran’s highly effective counter-intelligence apparatus.
In the late 1980s it was revealed that Iranian counter-intelligence had known since 1985 the complete CIA network in the Islamic Republic and had even turned some of the operatives into double agents sending false information to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Some of these agents were later executed.
The CIA has, however, had some successes in this shadowy clandestine war.
In 2010, the Americans and Israel’s Mossad immobilised Iran’s nuclear programme by injecting its computer system with a computer worm known as Stuxnet in a ground-breaking intelligence strike codenamed Operation Olympic Games.
That led the Iranians to develop their own cyberwar system, on which they have spent billions of dollars. This is likely to be one of the primary targets of the new intelligence operation the CIA is now expected to unleash against the Islamic Republic.
Ed Blanche has covered Middle East affairs since 1967. He is the Arab Weekly analyses section editor.