Kim Roosevelt


Kermit "Kim" Roosevelt, eldest son of Kermit Roosevelt, the son of Theodore Roosevelt, was born in Buenos Aires on 16th February, 1916. After completing his university education he joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). During the Second World War Roosevelt worked in the Middle East.

After the war Roosevelt taught at Harvard University. In 1950 Frank Wisner recruited Roosevelt into the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), the espionage and counter-intelligence branch of the Central Intelligence Agency. At this time Wisner began plotting the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran. He had upset the US government by nationalizing Iran's oil industry. Mossadegh also abolished Iran's feudal agriculture sector and replaced with a system of collective farming and government land ownership.

On April 4, 1953, Wisner persuaded Allen W. Dulles to approve $1 million to be used "in any way that would bring about the fall of Mossadegh." Roosevelt was put in charge of what became known as Operation Ajax. According to Donald N. Wilber, who was involved in this CIA plot to remove Mossadegh from power, in early August, 1953, Iranian CIA operatives, pretending to be socialists, threatened Muslim leaders with "savage punishment if they opposed Mossadegh," thereby giving the impression that Mossadegh was cracking down on dissent. This resulted in the religious community turning against Mossadegh.

Iranians took to the streets against Mossadegh. Funded with money from the CIA and MI6, the pro-monarchy forces quickly gained the upper hand. The military now joined the opposition and Mossadegh was arrested on August 19, 1953. President Dwight Eisenhower was delighted with this result and asked Frank Wisner to arrange for Roosevelt to give him a personal briefing on Operation Ajax.

Allen W. Dulles asked Roosevelt to organize the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. Roosevelt refused, explaining that for a coup to be successful, the people had to "want what we want". He did not believe that the "Guatemalan peasants wanted what the United Fruit wanted."

Roosevelt continued to work in the Middle East. Part of his job was to distribute money to anti-communist leaders. This included a payment of $12 million to General Bey Naguib in Egypt. However, Gamal Nasser overthrew Naguib and stole the $12 million. Some of this money was used to build the Cairo Tower. Some CIA officials called it "Roosevelt's Erection".

The Iranian oil industry was denationalization in 1955. The British oil monopoly was superseded by a consortium in which Anglo-Iranian received 40 percent of revenues, five U.S. corporations (Gulf Oil, Standard of New Jersey, Standard of California, Texas, and Socony-Mobil) received 40 percent, and 20 percent went to Royal Dutch Shell and a French company).

In 1958 Roosevelt left the CIA and found employment with Gulf Oil. Two years later he was appointed vice president. According to Geoff Simons: "Later he (Roosevelt) formed the consulting firm, Downs and Roosevelt, which in the late 1960s was receiving $116,000 a year from the Iranian government. At the same time, the aerospace Northrop Corporation was paying Roosevelt $75,000 a year to aid its sales to Iran and other states in the region." He left Gulf Oil in 1970 and worked as a consultant to American companies doing business in the Middle East.

Roosevelt's book, Counter Coup: The Struggle for the Control of Iran, was published in 1979. In the book Roosevelt argued that Mohammed Mossadegh had to be removed to prevent a communist takeover of Iran.

Kermit Roosevelt, died on 8th June, 2000.

Primary Sources

(1) Kermit Roosevelt, Countercoup: The Struggle for the Control of Iran (1979)

"'I owe my throne to God, my people, my army and to you!" By 'you' he (the Shah) meant me and the two countries - Great Britain and the United States - I was representing. We were all heroes.

(2) Sasan Fayazmanesh, Counterprunch (18th August, 2003)

It is ironic that CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, published his book on the 1953 CIA coup in Iran and the return of the shah in the same year that "his majesty's government" was overthrown. An American friend gave a copy of the book to me shortly after its publication in 1979. I skimmed through the book and put it on my bookshelf. The CIA coup appeared irrelevant when the old and decadent institution of monarchy in Iran seemed to be finished once and for all.

More importantly, however, I, along with many other Iranians of my generation, knew the story full well and did not need Kermit to repeat it. We knew that the shah owed his throne to the likes of Kermit. But we also knew something that Kermit didn't know, or didn't say. We knew that we owe to the Kermits of the world our tortured past: years of being forced as students to stand in the hot sun of Tehran in lines, waving his majesty's picture or flag as his entourage passed by in fast moving, shiny, big black cars with darkened-glass windows; years of being forced to rise and stay standing in every public event, including movie theaters, while his majesty's national anthem was being played; years of watching a dense megalomaniac try to imitate "Cyrus the Great" by wearing ridiculous ceremonial robes in extravagant celebration of his birthdays or crowning of his queens; years of being hushed by our parents, fearful of being arrested, if we uttered a critical word about his majesty's government or his American advisors; years of worrying about secret police (SAVAK) informants, who were smartly, but ruthlessly, trained by the best of the US's CIA and Israeli's Mossad; years of witnessing our friends and acquaintances being taken to jail, some never heard from again; years of passing by buildings in which, we were told, people were being tormented; years of hearing about people dying under torture or quietly executed; years of being exiled in a foreign country, which ironically was the belly of the beast, the metropolis, the center which masterminded much of our misfortune in the first place; years of spending our precious youth to free or save thousands of political prisoners by marching in the streets of the metropolis, wearing masks to hide our identities and looking bizarre to those who knew nothing about our story; and, finally, years of trying to prove to the American people that the 1953 CIA coup was not a fig-leaf of our imagination or a conspiracy theory, that it indeed happened and that they, whether they like it or not, have a certain culpability in what their government does around the world.

(3) Steven Kinzer, interviewed by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now (4th March, 2004)

The story of how the C.I.A. overthrew the government of Iran in 1953 is really an object lesson in how easy it is for a rich and powerful country to throw a poor and weak country into chaos. The CIA sent one of its most adept operatives, Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, to Iran with the mission of organizing the overthrow of the government. One reason I was so interested in writing this book is that I have always asked myself, how do you go about overthrowing a government? What do you do? Suppose that you are sent to a country with that mission. What do you do on the first day? How do you start and then what do you do? Well, now I know. Kermit Roosevelt set about trying to create chaos in Iran. He was able to do that very quickly by a series of means. The first thing he did was, he started bribing members of parliament and leaders of small political parties that were a part of Mossadegh 's political coalition. Pretty soon the public started to see the Mossadegh ’s coalition splitting apart and people denouncing him on the floor of parliament. The next thing Roosevelt did was start bribing newspaper editors, owners and columnists and reporters. Within a couple of weeks, he had 80% of the newspapers in Tehran on his payroll and they were grinding out every kind of lie attacking Mossadegh . The next thing Roosevelt did was start bribing religious leaders. Soon, at Friday prayers, the Mullahs were denouncing Mossadegh as an atheist enemy of Islam. Roosevelt also bribed members of police units and low-ranking military officers to be ready with their units on the crucial day. In what I think was really his master stroke, he hired the leaders of a bunch of street gangs in Tehran, and he used them to help create the impression that the rule of law had totally disintegrated in Iran. He actually at one point hired a gang to run through the streets of Tehran, beating up any pedestrian they found, breaking shop windows, firing their guns into mosques, and yelling -- "We love Mossadegh and communism." This would naturally turn any decent citizen against him. He didn't stop there. He tired a second mob to attack the first mob, to give people the impression that there was no police presence and order had completely disintegrated. So, within just a few weeks, this one agent operating with a large sum of cash and a network of contacts and various elements of society, had taken what was a fairly stable country and thrown it into complete upheaval.

(4) Geoff Simons, The Link (January, 2005)

After the overthrow of Mossadegh, Reza Shah returned to Tehran and began the last phase of the Pahlavi dynasty. For the next 25 years he remained a steadfast ally of the United States. Electronic surveillance posts were established near the Soviet border; American aircraft were permitted to fly from Iran to carry out surveillance over the Soviet Union; spies were infiltrated across the Soviet-Iranian border; and many American military installations were established throughout Iran. In February 1955, Iran became a member of the U.S.-devised Baghdad Pact to create, in Dulles’s words, “a solid band of resistance against the Soviet Union.”

The way was now open for the denationalization of Iran’s oil industry. The British oil monopoly was superseded by a consortium in which Anglo-Iranian received 40 percent of revenues, five US corporations (Gulf Oil, Standard of New Jersey, Standard of California, Texas, and Socony-Mobil) received 40 percent, and 20 percent went to Royal Dutch Shell and a French company.

In 1958, Kermit Roosevelt left the CIA to work for Gulf Oil; in 1960 he was appointed vice president. Later he formed the consulting firm, Downs and Roosevelt, which in the late 1960s was receiving $116,000 a year from the Iranian government. At the same time, the aerospace Northrop Corporation was paying Roosevelt $75,000 a year to aid its sales to Iran and other states in the region. John Foster Dulles and his brother Allan, director of the CIA, were also board members of Standard Oil. The syndicated columnist Jack Anderson reported in the San Francisco Chronicle (December 26, 1979) that the Rockefeller family, who controlled Standard Oil and Chase Manhattan Bank, “helped arrange the CIA coup that brought down Mossadegh.” The shah showed his gratitude by making heavy deposits in Chase Manhattan and facilitating housing developments in Iran built by a Rockefeller company.

(5) Obituary of Kermit Roosevelt in The Times (16th June, 2000)

I owe my throne to God, my people, my army - and to you," sobbed a grateful Shah of Iran to Kermit Roosevelt in August 1953, after the CIA-backed coup which overthrew the country's independently-minded Prime Minister, Muhammad Mossadeq, and restored the Shah to the Peacock Throne.

The background to the crisis was Iran's substantial oil reserves, which in the early 1950s - like the Suez Canal in Egypt not so long afterwards - were becoming a focus for nationalist sentiment. As soon as Mossadeq became Prime Minister of Iran in 1951, with the support of the Tudeh (Communist) Party, the debate over them moved from aspiration to direct action.

In 1952 Mossadeq nationalised Iran's (mainly British-owned) oil resources, an action which put him beyond the pale with the Americans, who swiftly came to regard him as being the thin end of one of the Cold War's many wedges. From that moment they saw him as opening the door to the Soviet domination of Iran - although in fact he had been as much opposed to giving the Soviet Union an oil concession in the north of the country as he was to the dominance in the south of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (the forerunner of BP).

But with the Americans obsessed with the Soviet danger to their interests worldwide, and in the uncertain climate that prevailed within the Soviet Union in the aftermath of Stalin's death, this obvious fact could not save Mossadeq. And the British Government of Winston Churchill, enraged at the nationalisation of its huge oil assets, was even more anxious to have him removed.

When British Intelligence approached the CIA about the possibility of toppling him, it found a ready ear, and a plan - Operation Ajax - was formulated with remarkably little discussion of the ethics of removing the legitimate government of a foreign country. It was the precursor of several such infamous actions by the CIA.

Roosevelt, grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt and the head of the CIA's Middle East division, was the man for the job. A man of languid coolness, he was dispatched to Iran where, on August 3, 1953, he confronted the Shah and bluntly told him that there would have to be an insurrectionary solution to the Mossadeq problem, with the support of the army absolutely vital to success.

But the frightened monarch havered, and it was for Roosevelt to "help" key members of the armed forces to realise where their loyalties lay and physically to assist them to carry out their "duties". In particular he arranged for the influential army commander, General Fazlolah Zahedi, to make an address to the country over the radio, which was to prove important to the Shah's cause.

In spite of all these precautions, the success of the coup was in its early days far from a foregone conclusion. There was widespread rioting from crowds who remained loyal to Mossadeq, and for several days it was difficult to tell whether Roosevelt's tactics were succeeding or not. The Shah himself so doubted the outcome that on August 16 he fled the country and took refuge in Baghdad.

But CIA money was lavished on officials and police. Mossadeq supporters were quietly done away with. Roosevelt gradually persuaded the wavering commanders of army units to show themselves on the streets at the head of their units and to face down the pro-Mossadeq mobs. Mossadeq and ministers and officers loyal to him were arrested, and on August 19, just three days after his flight, the Shah was able to return in triumph to his capital, where he later expressed his heartfelt gratitude to his saviour.