Quasi-Legal Cover for a Quasi-Legitimate Coup: The Role of Firmans in Operation AJAX

A firman, or royal decree signed by the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, naming General Fazlollah Zahedi the new Premier of Iran, replacing Mohammad Mossadeq. Courtesy of Ted Hotchkiss and the National Security Archive.
A firman, or royal decree signed by the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, naming General Fazlollah Zahedi the new Premier of Iran, replacing Mohammad Mossadeq. Courtesy of Ted Hotchkiss and the National Security Archive.

Dr. Donald Wilber, chief CIA architect of propaganda and misinformation on Operation AJAX – the joint American and British plot to overthrow the oil-nationalist Premier Mohammed Mossadeq, wrote in his Clandestine Service History that “From the outset, the cooperation of the Shah [Mohammad Reza Pahlavi] was considered to be an essential part of the plan. His cooperation was necessary to assure the action required of the Tehran military garrisons, and to legalize the succession of a new prime minister.”[1] These firmans, or royal orders, gave legitimacy to the coup attempt in that these Shah-signed documents rallied support in the Iranian military and populace to support his desired premier, General Fazlollah Zahedi; however, new evidence suggested that Wilber overstated the impact of these flyers.

Wilber wrote extensively on the elaborate courtship by pro-coup d’état elements to convince the Shah to sign the orders to overthrow Mossadeq and to replace him legitimately with Zahedi. According to a memorandum by Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA commander of Operation AJAX, Zahedi wanted to “gain legal status” for the coup to avoid “political suicide by an extra-legal move.”[2] The United States sent Princess Ashraf Pahlavi, the Shah’s “dynamic” sister to lobby the Shah to sign these subversive documents.[3] Later, the CIA sent General H. Norman Scharzkopf, who had previously deployed to Iran and had interacted amicably with the Shah.[4] Both of these visits produced “failing results.”[5] The next agent was Kermit Roosevelt, “representing the President of the United States, would urge the Shah to sign the above-mentioned firmans. (Wilber’s emphasis).”[6] Wilber concluded that “After considerable pressure from Princess Ashraf and General Schwarzkopf, and after several meetings with Mr. Roosevelt, the Shah finally signed the required firmans on 15 August 1953. Action was set for 16 August.”[7] These hotly debated documents signaled that the Shah gave his consent to change of power.

These documents were originally intended to give General Zahedi legal authority to take the premiership on August 16. On this day, the general, “armed with the royal firmans and with military support, could take over the government.”[8] While this plan seemed to be legitimate from the perspective of the Shah and General Zahedi’s advocates in the military, the convoy sent to incarcerate Mossadeq was intercepted by troops loyal to the nationalist premier.[9] Wilber noted that “the balance of the military plan was thus frustrated for that day. Upon hearing that the plan had misfired, (my emphasis) the Shah flew to Baghdad.”[10] The first attempt at the change of state, supported by the firmans had failed; Mossadeq was seen as the rightful premier by key power brokers and the Shah was off the peacock throne.

Recognizing this failure, the CIA switched tactics with using the firmans to a more grassroots approach in the following days. Wilber wrote that “CIA agents assets disseminated a large quantity of photographs of the firmans, appointing Zahedi prime minister and dismissing Mossadeq.”[11] These documents “shocked and angered” the people of Tehran “when they realized that the Shah had been forced to leave because of Mossadeq’s actions (my emphasis).”[12] This emotion, fueled by CIA bribes, inspired “pro-Shah street groups” to riot, and the Army units set to apprehend them on August 19 to join the royalist cause.[13] These two sources of power ousted Mossadeq from power, installed Zahedi, and welcomed back the Shah.[14] According to Wilson, the firmans, seen as legitimate in the eyes of street groups and royalists officers decisively tipped the balance in favor of General Zahedi and the Shah against Mossadeq.

In The Coup, Professor Ervand Abrahamian of the City University of New York challenged Wilber’s perspective of the importance of the firmans.[15] Abrahmian confirmed that foreign office conceptualized the need of quasi-legitimacy from the poignant quote from a British military attaché that “the coup would have to be in the name of the Shah.”[16] He also researched black propaganda documents, such as press releases forged by Donald Wilber, which stated that Mossadeq was in a league with the Tudeh communist party and was anti-religious. This information would have enflamed the conservative military and religious population in addition to the firmans.[17] But the most shocking piece of evidence Abrahamian produced were statements from the U.K. and the U.S. that if the Shah did not sign the documents, they would “cease backing the dynasty,” and without their support the Pahlavi regime “would cease to exist.”[18] He interpreted these statements as being “more like an ultimatum than a friendly nudge.”[19] Abrahamian confronted Wilber’s notions on the firmans noting the impact of other propaganda and the circumstances under which the Shah signed the documents.

Ultimately, the firmans, which may have be signed in less than ideal circumstances, gave General Zahedi the quasi-legal cover to launch the Western orchestrated coup. The firmans were not atypical, but a component of a broad propaganda front. Likewise, these documents also bound the Shah to his power base: the conservative Army and the volatile thugs of the street.


Abrahamian, Ervand. The Coup: 1953, The CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations. New York: The New Press, 2013.

CIA. “Clandestine Services History.” Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran: November 1952 – August 1953. Edited by Dr. Donald N. Wilber. March 1954. National Security Archive. Accessed February 9, 2014. http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB435/.

——. Memo from Kermit Roosevelt to [Excised]. July 16, 1953. National Security Archive. Accessed February 9, 2014. http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB435/.

Firman. Circa 1953. Ted Hotchkiss and the National Security Archive. http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB435/.

The Young Turks. “1953 Iran Coup – CIA Finally Admits Role.” Youtube. August 19, 2013. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgfsgiPMqRc.

[1] CIA, Clandestine Services History, Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran: November 1952 – August 1953, Dr. Donald N. Wilber, March 1954. vii. National Security Archive. Accessed February 9, 2014. http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB435/.

[2] CIA, memo from Kermit Roosevelt to [Excised], July 16, 1953. National Security Archive. Accessed February 9, 2014. http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB435/.

[3] CIA, Clandestine Services History, viii.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] CIA, Clandestine Services History, x.

[8] Ibid., viii-iv.

[9] Ibid., x.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid. xi.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., xii.

[14] CIA, Clandestine Services History, xii-xiii.

[15] Ervand Abrahamian, The Coup: 1953, The CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations,  (New York: The New Press, 2013).

[16] Ibid., 147.

[17] Ibid., 178.

[18] Ibid., 181.

[19] Ibid.


Senator John McCain to TIME: “We are all Ukrainians”

Cold War Escalation: Sanctions, missiles, and intervention, oh my!


In response to reports of a Russian takeover in parts of Crimea, Arizona Senator John McCain declared Friday, “We are all Ukrainians,” before calling for swift U.S. economic aide to Ukraine, new moves to condemn Russia at the United Nations, sanctions against Russian officials and the installation of U.S. missiles in the nearby Czech Republic as a show of American regional strength.

Russian President Vladimir Putin believes “this is a chess match reminiscent of the Cold War and we need to realize that and act accordingly,” McCain said, in an exclusive interview with TIME. “That does not mean I envision a conflict with Russia, but we need to take certain measures that would convince Putin that there is a very high cost to actions that he is taking now.”

The comments echoed McCain’s 2008 statement, “We are all Georgians,” which he made as a Republican candidate for President after Russia invaded…

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A Fifth Column?

Euromaidan PR

By Askold Krushelnycky

I am at Simferopol airport where green uniformed professional soldiers with no insignia took over during the night and are being backed up by local volunteers.

The Ukrainian government says these are not Ukrainian soldiers and they are definitely not local people wearing uniform. The Ukrainian government is calling this an invasion. An ex-British paratrooper working with one of the TV crews says they are professional, carrying their guns the way they should be, with safety catches on.

I have tried to talk to them but they are not saying anything. I have tried to ask for a commander or spokesman but nobody will talk to the Press. The airport is operating normally.

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Clinton Library Releases Trove of Documents

Release the documents!


Thousands of pages of documents from former President Bill Clinton’s time in office that had been previously withheld from the public were released Friday afternoon.

The roughly 4,000 pages of documents are part of a larger trove of 33,000 pages that have remained unavailable to the public despite the fact that the legally permissible period to withhold them—12 years from the end of the Clinton presidency—expired last January. It remains to be seen what the documents released Friday will add to the body of knowledge about Clinton’s presidency. But they will be closely watched for any impact they could have on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s possible presidential run in 2016.

The larger trove of documents contains information relating to the Whitewater investigation and Clinton’s attempts at health care reform, Politico reports. Some of the records come from the office of then-First Lady Hillary Clinton. In all, 25,000 of the 33,000 pages…

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Putin will unleash an armed conflict in Crimea that will follow the Georgian scenario: expert

Back to ’08

Euromaidan PR

ImageAndriy Klymenko, editor-in-chief of the BlackSeaNews, expressed confidence that Russia will unleash an armed conflict similar to that in Georgia in 2008, censor.net reports.

“1) All the potential scenarios of the events in Crimea make me laugh (pardon me, I have no time to choose formal expressions).

2) There is a certain Scheme (algorithm) that is in action in Crimea, which is a script where actors play their parts (for money or because of fear).

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Crime in Mexico: Los Zetas and Sinaloa Cartels

CIA. “Mexico.” World Factbook. February 18, 2014. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/mx.html

Clements, Samuel. “Los Zetas Drug Cartel Has Their Own Radio Network.” Vice. January 2, 2013. http://www.vice.com/read/the-los-zetas-drug-cartel-have-their-own-radio-network

Cox, Joseph. “The Zetas’ Leader Has Been Captured, but Is That Really Such a Good Thing?” Vice. July 19, 2013. http://www.vice.com/read/is-the-los-zetas-leaders-capture-really-such-a-good-thing

Deibert, Michael. “Cartel Wars.” TruthDig. May 16, 2011. http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/mexicos_cartel_wars_20110516

The Economist. “Crime in Mexico: Out of Sight, not Out of Mind.” October 19, 2013. http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21588071-having-decided-play-down-fight-against-drug-kingpins-enrique-pe-nieto-has-yet-come

FBI. Federal Jury in San Antonio Convicts Los Zetas Associate in Drug Distribution and Kidnapping Scheme.” San Antonio Division. February 21, 2014. http://www.fbi.gov/sanantonio/press-releases/2014/federal-jury-in-san-antonio-convicts-los-zetas-associate-in-drug-distribution-and-kidnapping-scheme

Fantz, Ashley. “The Mexico Drug War: Bodies for Billions.” CNN. January 20, 2012. http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/15/world/mexico-drug-war-essay/

Fausset, Michael and Cecilia Sanchez. “Crime still a widespread concern in Mexican Cities, poll finds.” Los Angeles Times. Janaury 9, 2014. http://articles.latimes.com/2014/jan/09/world/la-fg-wn-mexico-crime-poll-20140109

Finnegan, William. “The Kingpins: The Fight for Guadalajara.”  The New Yorker. July 2, 2012. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/07/02/120702fa_fact_finnegan

Georgetown University. “Mexico: Our Embattled Neighbor.” Dean Peter Krogh Foreign Affairs Digital Archive. 1996. https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/handle/10822/552619

Global Post. “How the Sinaloa cartel won Mexico’s drug war.” February 18, 2013. http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/mexico/130227/sinaloa-cartel-mexico-drug-war-US-global-economy-conflict-zones

Grillo, Ioan. “El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency.” http://ioangrillo.com/index.php

InSightCrime: Organized Crime in the Americas. “Zetas News.” http://www.insightcrime.org/groups-mexico/zetas

Library of Congress. “Mexico.” http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/mxtoc.html

Meza, Erik. “Fighting Crime in Mexico City.” Time. http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1811983,00.html

National Geographic. “Mexico Guide.” http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/countries/mexico-guide/

Nation Master. “Mexico.” http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/profiles/Mexico

The New York Times.”Mexican Drug Trafficking.” http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/mexico/drug_trafficking/

——. “Zetas.” http://query.nytimes.com/search/sitesearch/#/Zetas/

Rayman, Noah. “Mexico’s Feared Narcos: A Brief History of the Zetas Drug Cartel.” Time. July 16, 2013. http://world.time.com/2013/07/16/mexicos-feared-narcos-a-brief-history-of-the-zetas-drug-cartel/

Shadbolt, Peter. “Philippines raid reveals Mexican drug cartel presence in Asia.” CNN. February 25, 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/24/world/asia/philippines-mexico-sinaloa-cartel/

Shell, Elizabeth. “’Sadist’ Los Zetas Cartel Set Brutal Standard in Drug War.” PBS Newshour. July 16, 2013. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/sadist-los-zetas-cartel-set-brutal-standard-in-drug-war/

Tuckman, Don. “Mexico Arrests Zetas Cartel Leader.” The Guardian. July 15, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/16/mexico-arrests-zetas-cartel-leader

U.S. Department of State. “U.S. Relations with Mexico.” September 5, 2013. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/35749.htm

U.S. Department of the Treasury. “Treasury Expands Sanctions against the Los Zetas Drug Cartel.” Press Center. February 14, 2014. http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl2254.aspx

Vice. “The Mexican Mormon War.” Youtube. September 26, 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpIyaIHsJbc

The Washington Times. “Ex-troops aiding drug traffickers.” February 24, 2005. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2005/feb/24/20050224-123713-6092r/

Gunmen Seize Parliament in Ukraine’s Russian Stronghold

And the Russian / European divide expands…


The residents of Crimea, a region of southern Ukraine, woke up on Thursday to find their country’s flag over the regional parliament replaced with the Russian tricolor. Overnight, dozens of gunmen had seized the building, taking advantage of the power vacuum that has emerged in Ukraine since last week’s revolution ousted the ruling government. Though the gunmen did not immediately state their demands, local officials said they were from the pro-Russian majority on the Crimean peninsula, which has been up in arms against the nationalist, anti-Russian elements of the uprising that overthrew President Viktor Yanukovych.

Eyewitnesses and local officials said more than 100 armed men had carried bags of assault rifles, grenade launchers and other weapons into the parliament building before sealing themselves inside early Thursday morning. The gunmen told security guards to leave the building, and they have not taken any hostages. “The men who have taken the…

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