SAVAK

Last updated
Sazeman-e Ettela'at va Amniyat-e Keshvar
SAVAK.svg
Agency overview
Formed1957
Dissolved1979
Superseding agency
Headquarters Tehran
Employees5000 at peak [1]
Minister responsible
  • Intelligence
Agency executives

SAVAK (Persian : ساواک, short for سازمان اطلاعات و امنیت کشورSāzemān-e Ettelā'āt va Amniyat-e Keshvar, literally "National Organization for Security and Intelligence") was the secret police, domestic security and intelligence service in Iran during the reign of the Pahlavi dynasty. It was established by Mohammad Reza Shah with the help of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [2] and the Israeli MOSSAD [3] . SAVAK operated from 1957 until the Iranian Revolution of 1979, when the prime minister Shapour Bakhtiar ordered its dissolution during the outbreak of Iranian Revolution. SAVAK has been described as Iran's "most hated and feared institution" prior to the revolution of 1979 because of its practice of torturing and executing opponents of the Pahlavi regime. [4] [5] At its peak, the organization had as many as 60,000 agents serving in its ranks according to one source, [6] and another source by Gholam Reza Afkhami estimates SAVAK staffing at between 4,000 and 6,000. [7]

Persian language Western Iranian language

Persian, also known by its endonym Farsi, is a Western Iranian language belonging to the Iranian branch of the Indo-Iranian subdivision of the Indo-European languages. It is a pluricentric language predominantly spoken and used officially within Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan in three mutually intelligible standard varieties, namely Iranian Persian, Dari Persian and Tajiki Persian. It is also spoken natively in the Tajik variety by a significant population within Uzbekistan, as well as within other regions with a Persianate history in the cultural sphere of Greater Iran. It is written officially within Iran and Afghanistan in the Persian alphabet, a derivation of the Arabic script, and within Tajikistan in the Tajik alphabet, a derivation of Cyrillic.

Secret police are intelligence, security or police agencies that engage in covert operations against a government's political opponents and dissidents. Secret police organizations are characteristic of totalitarian regimes. Used to protect the political power of an individual dictator or an authoritarian regime, secret police often operate outside the law and are used to repress dissidents and weaken the political opposition, frequently with violence.

Iran Islamic Republic in Western Asia

Iran, also called Persia, and officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, is a country in Western Asia. With 82 million inhabitants, Iran is the world's 18th most populous country. Its territory spans 1,648,195 km2 (636,372 sq mi), making it the second largest country in the Middle East and the 17th largest in the world. Iran is bordered to the northwest by Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan, to the north by the Caspian Sea, to the northeast by Turkmenistan, to the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and to the west by Turkey and Iraq. Its central location in Eurasia and Western Asia, and its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz, give it geostrategic importance. Tehran is the capital, largest city, and leading economic and cultural center.

Contents

History

1957–1971

After the 1953 Iranian coup d'état, when the United States and the United Kingdom removed Mohammad Mosaddeq, who was originally focused on nationalizing Iran's oil industry, but also set out to weaken the Shah from power on August 19, 1953. After the coup, the monarch, Mohammad Reza Shah, established an intelligence service with police powers. The Shah's goal was [8] to strengthen his regime by placing political opponents under surveillance and repressing dissident movements. According to Encyclopædia Iranica :

1953 Iranian coup détat overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran

The 1953 Iranian coup d'état, known in Iran as the 28 Mordad coup d'état, was the overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in favour of strengthening the monarchical rule of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi on 19 August 1953, orchestrated by the United States and the United Kingdom, and the first United States covert action to overthrow a foreign government during peacetime.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of more than 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. The United Kingdom's 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi) were home to an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

A U.S. Army colonel working for the CIA was sent to Persia in September 1953 to work with General Teymur Bakhtiar, who was appointed military governor of Tehran in December 1953 and immediately began to assemble the nucleus of a new intelligence organization. The U.S. Army colonel worked closely with Bakhtīār and his subordinates, commanding the new intelligence organization and training its members in basic intelligence techniques, such as surveillance and interrogation methods, the use of intelligence networks, and organizational security. This organization was the first modern, effective intelligence service to operate in Persia. Its main achievement occurred in September 1954, when it discovered and destroyed a large communist Tudeh Party network that had been established in the Persian armed forces [9] [10]

Teymur Bakhtiar Iranian military official

Teymur Bakhtiar was an Iranian general and the founder and head of SAVAK from 1956 to 1961, when he was dismissed by the Shah. In 1970, SAVAK agents assassinated him in Iraq.

In March 1955, the Army colonel was "replaced with a more permanent team of five career CIA officers, including specialists in covert operations, intelligence analysis, and counterintelligence, including Major General Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf who "trained virtually all of the first generation of SAVAK personnel." In 1956, this agency was reorganized and given the name Sazeman-e Ettela'at va Amniyat-e Keshvar (SAVAK). [10] These in turn were replaced by SAVAK's own instructors in 1965. [11] [12]

In the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, and United States Air Force, major general is a two-star general-officer rank, with the pay grade of O-8. Major general ranks above brigadier general and below lieutenant general. A major general typically commands division-sized units of 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers. Major general is equivalent to the two-star rank of rear admiral in the United States Navy and United States Coast Guard, and is the highest-permanent rank during peacetime in the uniformed-services. Higher ranks are technically-temporary ranks linked to specific positions, although virtually all officers promoted to those ranks are approved to retire at their highest earned rank.

SAVAK had the power to censor the media, screen applicants for government jobs, and "according to reliable Western source, [13] use all means necessary, including torture, to hunt down dissidents". [14] After 1963, the Shah expanded his security organizations, including SAVAK, which grew to over 5,300 full-time agents and a large but unknown number of part-time informers. [14]

In 1961 the Iranian authorities dismissed the agency's first director, General Teymur Bakhtiar [15] and he later became a political dissident. In 1970, SAVAK agents assassinated him, disguising the deed as an accident.

General Hassan Pakravan, director of SAVAK from 1961 to 1966, [15] had an almost benevolent reputation, for example dining on a weekly basis with the Ayatollah Khomeini while Khomeini was under house arrest, and later intervened to prevent Khomeini's execution on the grounds that it would "anger the common people of Iran". [16] After the Iranian Revolution, however, Pakravan was among the first of the Shah's officials to be executed by the Khomeini regime.

Pakravan was replaced in 1966 by General Nematollah Nassiri, a close associate of the Shah, and the service was reorganized and became increasingly active in the face of rising Shia and communist militancy and political unrest.

Siahkal attack and after

A turning point in SAVAK's reputation for ruthless brutality was reportedly an attack on a gendarmerie post in the Caspian village of Siahkal by a small band of armed Marxists in February 1971, although it is also reported to have tortured to death a Shia cleric, Ayatollah Muhammad Reza Sa'idi, in 1970. [17] [18] According to Iranian political historian Ervand Abrahamian, after this attack SAVAK interrogators were sent abroad for "scientific training to prevent unwanted deaths from 'brute force.' Brute force was supplemented with the bastinado; sleep deprivation; extensive solitary confinement; glaring searchlights; standing in one place for hours on end; nail extractions; snakes (favored for use with women); electrical shocks with cattle prods, often into the rectum; cigarette burns; sitting on hot grills; acid dripped into nostrils; near-drownings; mock executions; and an electric chair with a large metal mask to muffle screams while amplifying them for the victim. This latter contraption was dubbed the Apollo—an allusion to the American space capsules. Prisoners were also humiliated by being raped, urinated on, and forced to stand naked. [19] Despite the new 'scientific' methods, the torture of choice remained the traditional bastinado used to beat soles of the feet. The "primary goal" of those using the bastinados "was to locate arms caches, safe houses and accomplices ..." [20]

Abrahamian estimates that SAVAK (and other police and military) killed 368 guerrillas including the leadership of the major urban guerrilla organizations (Organization of Iranian People's Fedai Guerrillas, People's Mujahedin of Iran) such as Hamid Ashraf between 1971–1977 and executed up to 100 political prisoners between 1971 and 1979—the most violent era of the SAVAK's existence. [21]

One well known writer was arrested, tortured for months, and finally placed before television cameras to 'confess' that his works paid too much attention to social problems and not enough to the great achievements of the White Revolution. By the end of 1975, twenty-two prominent poets, novelist, professors, theater directors, and film makers were in jail for criticizing the regime. And many others had been physically attacked for refusing to cooperate with the authorities. [22]

By 1976, this repression was softened considerably thanks to publicity and scrutiny by "numerous international organizations and foreign newspapers." In 1976, Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States and he "raised the issue of human rights in Iran as well as in the Soviet Union. Overnight prison conditions changed. Inmates dubbed this the dawn of "jimmykrasy". [23]

Operations

During the height of its power, SAVAK had virtually unlimited powers. It operated its own detention centers, such as Evin Prison. In addition to domestic security, the service's tasks extended to the surveillance of Iranians abroad, notably in the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, and especially students on government stipends. The agency also closely collaborated with the CIA by sending their agents to an air force base in New York to share and discuss interrogation tactics. [24]

Teymur Bakhtiar was assassinated by SAVAK agents in 1970, and Mansur Rafizadeh, SAVAK's United States director during the 1970s, reported that General Nassiri's phone was tapped. Mansur Rafizadeh later wrote of his life as a SAVAK man and detailed the human rights violations of the Shah in his book Witness: From the Shah to the Secret Arms Deal: An Insider's Account of U.S. Involvement in Iran . Mansur Rafizadeh was suspected to have been a double agent also working for the CIA.

According to Polish author Ryszard Kapuściński, SAVAK was responsible for

SAVAK Directors
NameFirst year of operationLast year of operation
Teymur Bakhtiar 19571961
Hassan Pakravan 19611965
Nematollah Nassiri 19651978
Nasser Moghadam 19781979

Victims

Writing at the time of the Shah's overthrow, Time magazine on February 19, 1979, described SAVAK as having "long been Iran's most hated and feared institution" which had "tortured and murdered thousands of the Shah's opponents." [26] The Federation of American Scientists also found it guilty of "the torture and execution of thousands of political prisoners" and symbolizing "the Shah's rule from 1963–79." The FAS list of SAVAK torture methods included "electric shock, whipping, beating, inserting broken glass and pouring boiling water into the rectum, tying weights to the testicles, and the extraction of teeth and nails." [27] [28]

Fardoust and security and intelligence after the revolution

SAVAK was closed down shortly before the overthrow of the monarchy and the coming to power of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the February 1979 Iranian Revolution. Following the departure of the Shah in January 1979, SAVAK's 3,000+ central staff and its agents were targeted for reprisals. However, it is believed that Khomeini may have changed his mind and may have retained them into the new SAVAMA. [29] Hossein Fardoust, a former classmate of the Shah, was a deputy director of SAVAK until he was appointed head of the Imperial Inspectorate, also known as the Special Intelligence Bureau, to watch over high-level government officials, including SAVAK directors. Fardoust later switched sides during the revolution and managed to salvage the bulk of the SAVAK organization. [30] According to author Charles Kurzman, SAVAK was never dismantled but rather changed its name and leadership and continued on with the same codes of operation, and a relatively unchanged "staff." [5] [31]

SAVAK was replaced by the "much larger" [32] SAVAMA, Sazman-e Ettela'at va Amniat-e Melli-e Iran, also known as the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security of Iran. [33] After the victory of the Iranian revolution, a museum was opened in the former Towhid Prison in central Tehran called "Ebrat". The museum displays and exhibits the documented atrocities of SAVAK.

See also

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  33. The ministry is also referred to as VEVAK, Vezarat-e Ettela'at va Amniat-e Keshvar, though Iranians and the Iranian press never employ this term, using instead the official Ministry title.[ citation needed ]