COLD WAR SPYING: 1953
1953: The FBI conducts an “internal security” investigation of Groucho Marx, the much loved host of the popular quiz show You Bet Your Life.
Allen Dulles builds a public relations and propaganda machine that includes more than 50 news organizations, a dozen publishing houses, and personal pledges of support from men such as Axel Springer, West Germany’s most powerful press baron. As Director of the CIA, Dulles wants to be seen as master of a professional spy service.
January 1953: Walter Bedell Smith calls Kim Roosevelt into his office at CIA headquarters and asks (referring to Tehran): “ When is our goddam operation going to get underway?” (For more on Iran see Cold War Spying Year by Year: 1952.)
February 18, 1953: Sir John Sinclair, the newly installed chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service arrives in Washington to meet with CIA’s Allen Dulles. Sinclair (known to the public as “C” and to his friends as “Sinbad”) proposes Kim Roosevelt as field commander for an Iranian coup to depose Mohammad Mossadegh. Roosevelt has been working for two years on political propaganda and paramilitary operations to fight off a feared Soviet invasion in Iran. The British call their plan Operation Boot, but Roosevelt names it Operation Ajax.
Roosevelt aims to undermine support for Mossadegh inside Iran’s mainstream political and religious parties. He steps up a campaign of bribery and subversion.
March 5, 1953: Joseph Stalin dies at age 73 after a stroke, throwing the Communist Party into a free-for-all struggle for power that isn’t resolved for almost 3 years. The CIA announces:
We have no reliable inside intelligence or thinking inside the Kremlin . . . Our estimates of Soviet long-range plans and intentions are speculations drawn from inadequate evidence.
Eisenhower is furious. He says:
Ever since 1946, all the so-called experts have been yapping about what would happen when Stalin dies and what we as a nation should do about it. Well, he’s dead. And you can turn the files of our government inside out — in vain — looking for any plans laid. We have no plan. We are not even sure what difference his death makes.
Eisenhower decides to base his strategy on secret weapons: nuclear bombs and covert action. With a global campaign of covert action, Ike hopes to stop the spread of communism. The National Security Council — more or less dormant during the Truman years — begins meeting weekly with Eisenhower, Vice President Richard Nixon, and the cabinet members in attendance. Allen Dulles opens each meeting with a tour of the world’s hot spots.
March 7, 1953: Georgy Malenkov inherits the two key leadership posts vacated by Stalin’s death.
March 14, 1953: Nikita Khruschev assumes one of those top posts, deposing Malenkov as secretary of the Party Central Committee.
March 18, 1953: Frank Wisner informs Roosevelt that he has an initial go-ahead from Allen Dulles to support the coup in Iran.
April 1953: The Permanent Subcommittee on Government Operations opens for business, under Chairman Joseph McCarthy. The Subversive Activities Control Board, whose 5 members had been selected by the president, also begins operation.
April 4, 1953: CIA Headquarters sends $1 million to Tehran station. But Eisenhower still has his doubts about the coup as do other key players in the plan.
Summer 1953: Eisenhower convenes those he trusts most in the area of national security: Walter Bedell Smith, George Kennan, John Foster Dulles, and General James R. Doolittle.
The president begins trying to redirect the CIA. He wants to shape the agency into an effective instrument of presidential power. Under Eisenhower, the agency undertakes 170 new major covert actions in 48 nations. Ike makes his initial decisions on covert action in private conversations with the Dulles brothers.The CIA will fight the enemy in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and wherever colonial empires meet their demise. (For more on colonialism click here.) The goal is to alter or abolish any regime not openly allied with the US.
June 5, 1953: At a National Security Council meeting, Allen Dulles announces that he can’t give the president “any prior warning through intelligence channels of a Soviet sneak attack.”
June 16-18, 1953: Nearly 370,000 East Germans take to the streets in opposition to the Communist Party. The uprising is far larger than the CIA first realized, but the agency can do nothing to help the rebels. The uprising is crushed.
The next week, Eisenhower orders the CIA to “train and equip underground organizations capable of launching large-scale raids or sustained warfare” in East Germany and the other Soviet satellites. He also calls upon the CIA to “encourage elimination of key puppet officials” in those same states.
June 19, 1953: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are executed in the electric chair at Sing Sing after President Eisenhower twice refuses to issue an order of executive clemency. The 1990s opening of the archives of the Russian Republic reveals that the Rosenbergs were indeed guilty of passing secrets to their Soviet handler, Alexander Feksilov. However, they gave him classified information about sonar and radar, not the atomic secrets which cost them their lives.
July 1953: President Syngman Rhee of South Korea is sailing near the shoreline of Yong-do, the island where the CIA trains its Korean commandos. Officers and guards in charge of the training site open fire. No one is hurt but the South Korean President is displeased. He calls in the American ambassador and informs him that the CIA’s paramilitary group has 72 hours to leave the country. The CIA has to start all over again, recruiting, training, and parachuting agents into North Korea from 1953 until 1955. All of them end up captured and executed.
The CIA fails on all fronts in Korea. Thousands of Americans and their Asian allies die as a result. The fact that a great deal of Korean War intelligence is fabricated is kept secret. $152 million spent on weapons is wasted.
The Korean Conflict comes to an end.
July 7, 1953: The CIA monitors a Tudeh Party radio broadcast. “The clandestine radio warned Iranians that the American government, along with various ‘spies and traitors,’ including (the Iranian) General Zahedi were working to ‘liquidate the Mossadeq government.’ Mossadeq had his own military and political intelligence sources, independent of the Tudeh, and he knew what he was up against.”
July 11, 1953: Eisenhower gives the go ahead for the coup in Iran. From this day on almost everything goes wrong.
August 16, 1953: At 5:45 AM, Radio Tehran goes on the air to announce that the coup has failed. In the evening, one of Roosevelt’s officers hands $50,000 to one of the CIA’s Iranian agents and tells them to produce a crowd posing as communist goons.
August 17, 1953: Hundreds of paid agitators flood the streets of Tehran, looting, burning, and smashing the symbols of government. Late that evening, Frank Wisner sends a message to Tehran saying that “in the absence of strong recommendations to the contrary from Roosevelt . . . the coup against Mossadeq should cease.”
August 19, 1953: At dawn, the CIA’s hired mobs assemble in Tehran. Soon there was a substantial demonstration in favor of the Shah and against Mossadegh.
August 20, 1953: The USSR tests its first hydrogen bomb.
Prime Minister Mossadegh surrenders. He spends the next three years incarcerated and a decade more under house arrest before his death. Roosevelt hands General Zahedi (the new prime minister) $1 million in cash and he sets out to crush all opposition. He jails thousands of political prisoners.
Roosevelt is hailed as a hero at the White House and faith in covert action soars.
The shah returns to the throne and rigs the next parliamentary elections, using the CIA’s street gangs as enforcers. He imposes three years of martial law and tightens his control over the country. He calls upon the CIA and the American military mission in Iran to help him secure his power by creating a new intelligence service called SAVAK.
December 1953: Regency Press publishes McCarthy and His Enemies by Yale graduates William F. Buckley Jr. and L. Brent Bozell. Whittaker Chambers says McCarthy is “a raven of disaster.”
December 9, 1953: Allen Dulles formally approves Operation Success, the CIA’s plot to overthrow the government of Guatemala. He authorizes a $3 million budget and appoints Al Haney as field commander.
December 23, 1953: Beria, the first deputy premier of the Soviet Union, is executed with six aides as the post-Stalin purges begin.