From Mossadegh to Stuxnet – the CIA in Iran

The lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in Langley, Virginia. (Reuters)


2017/09/17 Issue: 123 Page: 16


The Arab Weekly
Ed Blanche



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.


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