Coup 53

A new documentary highlights the role played by the CIA and Britain's MI6 in overthrowing Iran's duly elected prime minister back in 1953.


If you think tensions between America and Iran date only to Iran's 1979 revolution and the subsequent hostage crisis, filmmaker Taghi Amirani invites you to look further back in Coup 53. The documentary is the culmination of more than 10 years of research into the role played by the CIA and Britain's MI6 in overthrowing Iran's duly elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, in 1953.

It's half detective story, half spy movie. Deep in the bowels of the British Film Institute, Amirani finds evidence of a never-aired BBC interview with a former British spook, Norman Darbyshire, in which the spy admits to a major role in the coup. It's a potentially explosive find: While the CIA has declassified documents admitting to its involvement, Britain has been tight-lipped. Yet there is no tape, and the transcript is incomplete.

Once Amirani puts the pieces together, he calls in some help to tell the rest of the story. Renowned actor Ralph Fiennes sits in for the deceased Darbyshire to read lines from the BCC interview, and the coup itself is rendered in vivid, impressionistic animations.

In showing the difficult, sometimes frustrating process of digging into MI6's murky role, Amirani succeeds in telling a story that's about more than a regime-change effort with effects that echo today. He celebrates finding a long-buried truth while dramatizing the struggle of uncovering it.

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  1. Foreign intelligence agencies colluding to overturn an election? I thought Reason was cool with that now?

  2. Meh. This story has been raked over many times. Why should we waste time on this now?

    1. Boehm got fired from economic gibberish writing?

  3. Well, at least we’ve learned our lesson from this. We no longer attempt to overthrow governments in order to install pro-Western secular brutal dictators, we now overthrow pro-Western secular brutal dictators in order to install anti-Western religious fanatic brutal dictators. Praise Allah, our plans are working so much better now that we no longer have the Shah, Kaddafi, Saddam, and soon Assad corrupting the Faithful with their wicked worldly ways.

  4. These sorts of articles make me sadly nostalgic. Gone are the days that a handful of Brits and a couple of CIA operatives together with a truck full of weapons can successfully overthrow a democratically elected government of 19 million people in the Middle East and then go on holiday and overthrow a couple of more South American countries on a lark. The capability to befuddle the minds and remove the agency of the weak willed was something to behold. Tens of thousands of confused Iranian troops who would otherwise have been happy socialists, dropped their weapons stupidly and shuffled off to join the Shah unable to confront the horrifying White Privilege of that handful of determined men.

    How the mighty have fallen. These days, the CIA, FBI and DNC together with the news media and bureaucracy can’t even stage enough of a coup to overthrow one orange idiot. Indeed, they seem to have passed the torch to the Russians who can take $10,000 of facebook advertising and a room full of hackers and totally dominate the West.

  5. Jesus Chrisst Boehm. Learn your history goober.

    Russia and Britain invaded Iran (Persia) during WWII. The Anglo-Soviet invasion lasted from 25 August to 17 September 1941 and was codenamed Operation Countenance.

  6. The coup against Mossadegh was justified because he had nationalized Americans’ oil properties. I just wish we could afford to still carry out this policy.

  7. The coup was justified because Mossadegh was a Communist and warmed up to the U.S.S.R. A quick reading of the de-classified C.I.A. intelligence briefings spells this all out. The pro-Stalinist Tudeh party had a hand in enforcing some of Mossadegh’s policies including intimidation of political opponents. If Mossadegh was allowed to stay in power, the U.S.S.R. would have a satellite in the Middle East and blunting that effort made the Soviet’s efforts there more difficult.

  8. Back in the day, I don’t recall any of the news pundits pointing out the divided thinking about the Soviet threat. On the one hand, we heard that Communism was a bankrupt ideology and the countries embracing it would rue the day. On the other hand, we heard that we had to use military means to fight the Commies and prevent them from taking over the world.

    As it turned out, Communism was, in fact, a bankrupt ideology. None of the countries embracing it did very well, and the Soviet empire died a quick death. In retrospect, America would have been far better off sitting on the sidelines and doing nothing at all, or competing with the Soviets by putting ourselves on the right side of history and supporting popular revolutions, but suggesting that a free market economy would be preferable. The problem, of course, was that the military hawks never actually believed in capitalism.

  9. Meh, yet another ghost crimes article. That, as has been pointed out, occurred to prevent an even worse alternative in the form of a Stalinist goon from taking power.

    Every time people bitch and whine about “Western Colonialism” they always leave out the Russian/Chinese colonialism competing with it.

    At this point it is pretty clear that the worst US president in the modern era, otherwise known as Jimmy “I always blink” Carter, allowed a bunch of corrupt religious fanatics to take over the joint. I can’t imagine how the US supporting the Shah and preventing the towel head squad taking over could have resulted in a worse long term outcome.

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