The history of the CIA in Iran shows that it isn't the failures of the agency we need to worry about, numerous though they are. Its successes-and Iran is one of the biggest-are far more dangerous.
The CIA did exactly what was asked of it in Iran, deposing a mildly nationalist regime that was a minor irritant to US policymakers. As a direct result, a fiercely nationalist regime came to power 26 years later, and it's proved to be a major irritant to the US ever since.
In 1951, Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, "the most popular politician in the country," was elected Prime Minister of Iran. His major election plank was the nationalization of the only oil company operating in Iran at that time-British Petroleum. The nationalization bill was passed unanimously by the Iranian Parliament.
Though Mossadegh offered BP considerable compensation, his days were numbered from that point on. The British coordinated an international economic embargo of Iran, throwing its economy into chaos. And the CIA, at the request of the British, began spending millions of dollars on ways to get rid of Mossadegh.
The CIA's plans hinged on the young Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, a timid and inexperienced figurehead. (He was a mere shadow of his father, who had led a pro Nazi regime during World War n. ) In 1953, with CIA backing, the Shah ordered Mossadegh out of office and appointed a Nazi collaborator as his successor. Demonstrators filled the streets in support of Mossadegh, and the Shah fled to Rome.
Undaunted, the CIA paid for pro-Shah street demonstrators, who seized a radio station and announced that the Shah was on his way back and that Mossadegh had been deposed. In reality, it took a nine-hour tank battle in the streets of Tehran, killing hundreds, to remove Mossadegh.
Compared to the bloodshed to follow, however, that was just a drop in the bucket. In 1976, Amnesty International concluded that the Shah's CIA-trained security force, SAVAK, had the worst human rights record on the planet, and that the number and variety of torture techniques the CIA had taught SAVAK were "beyond belief."
Inevitably, in 1979, the Iranian people overthrew the bloodstained Shah, with great bitterness and hatred toward the US for installing him and backing him all those years. The radical fundamentalist regime that rules Iran today could never have found popular support without the CIA's 1953 coup and the repression that followed.