[Source: npr.org]

CIA offshoot, National Endowment for Democracy, spent $631,500 in Iran in 2021.

[This is the first of two CAM original articles on the Iraninan protests and potential CIA role behind them.—Editors]

In late September, protests erupted in Iran following the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, after she had been arrested by morality police in Tehran purportedly for not wearing the hijab.

Amini died allegedly of a cerebral hemorrhage or stroke after, eyewitnesses claimed, she was beaten while incarcerated.

Who was Mahsa Amini, whose death sparked Iran protests? - The Jerusalem Post
Mahsa Amini [Source: jpost.com]

The Iranian government, however, released a video which appeared to show that Amini merely got in a dispute with a police officer about the way she wore the hijab and that the police officer walked away.

Amini subsequently collapsed in the Tehran police station and died two days later after having a heart attack allegedly caused by prior health problems (Amini allegedly underwent open brain surgery as a child in 2006).[1]

[Source: youtube.com]

U.S. President Joe Biden was very supportive of the protests from the outset, announcing intensified sanctions on Iran while assigning restrictions on the export of software and hardware to make it easier for Iranians to communicate with each other and the outside world.

Biden said that he was “gravely concerned about reports of the intensifying violent crackdown on peaceful protesters in Iran, including students and women, who are demanding their equal rights and basic human dignity,” and that for decades “Iran’s regime has denied fundamental freedoms to its people and suppressed the aspirations of successive generations through intimidation, coercion and violence.”

Are Iranian Leaders Paranoid?

Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed that outside forces led by the U.S. had ignited the protests and were trying to bring down the Iranian regime.

The Iranian government was particularly vulnerable because of severe economic problems—caused in no small part by U.S. sanctions—and reports about the declining health of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is allegedly making preparations for his son, Mojtaba, to succeed him and sustain Iran’s commitment to Islamic ideology.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a graduation ceremony for armed Forces Officers' Universities at the police academy in Tehran
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 83, reviews armed forces during a graduation ceremony at the police academy in Tehran on October 3. The National Endowment for Democracy falsely reported that Khameinei was on his death bed. He does walk with a cane though, so he could be in declining health. [Source: reuters.com]
Ebrahim Raisi - Wikipedia
Ebrahim Raisi [Source: wikipedia.org]

The U.S. has a track record of supporting regime-change operations like in Libya, Syria and Iraq among other countries.

The CIA also orchestrated a coup in Iran in 1953 that resulted in the overthrow of democratic reformer Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed the pro-Western Shah who terrorized his opposition and enabled foreign control of Iran’s oil industry.

That 1953 coup significantly started when the CIA paid off gangs and labor leaders to initiate protests against Mosaddegh.

Anti-Mosaddegh protesters on eve of the coup display a portrait of the Shah. [Source: theguardian.com]

Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution that overthrew the Shah, the U.S. has repeatedly tried to overthrow the Iranian government, which famously took U.S. Embassy officials hostage and frequently supported U.S. adversaries such as Hezbollah; the Houthi in Yemen; the Palestinians; and the Assad government in Syria.[2]

In 2007, President George W. Bush openly endorsed a CIA plan for propaganda and disinformation targeting Iran, and approved the mounting of black operations designed to destabilize Iran’s government.

The Obama administration followed suit by a) encircling Iran with missiles placed in Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE); b) strengthening Bush’s economic sanctions and pushing Saudi Arabia to drive up its oil production to push oil prices down; and c) removing the Mujahedin e-Khalq—a dissident group that plotted sabotage operations against the Iranian government—from the State Department’s list of terrorist groups.[3]

The Trump administration ratcheted up sanctions even further and assassinated General Qasem Soleimani, famed commander of the Quds force, an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Qasem Soleimani: US strike on Iran general was unlawful, UN expert says -  BBC News
Footage from drone strike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in January 2020. [Source: bbc.com]

So Iranian leaders clearly are not paranoid in believing that the U.S. is behind the recent protests.

Syria, Libya, Ukraine Redux?

Many Iranian women have come out to voice their opposition to the mandatory veil—a measure the majority of Iranians actually support.[4]

As in other “color revolutions,” legitimate grievances can be easily exploited by outside forces and protests can quickly become violent and dominated by extremists bent on regime change.

Images have filled social media of Iranian protesters waving signs such as “death to the dictator” amidst a backdrop of burning cars. One video showed a crowd defacing a billboard depicting Qasem Soleimani, a national hero.

Death To The Dictator' Slogans Raised, Atleast 5 People Killed: Watch  What's Happening In Iran - YouTube
[Source: youtube.com]

Independent news reports said that terrorist groups led by the Mujahedin e-Khalq—which has carried out bombings and murders—were among the crowds as well as supporters of militant Kurdish parties and other armed rebel groups linked with drug smuggling gangs and Balochi separatists, and that protesters were arrested carrying sharp weapons and explosives.

Killings were carried out including of at least one army General, with the purpose of blaming them on the government and provoking an overreaction among the security forces. Rioters burned banks and other state institutions, looted chain stores and attacked police stations, prompting violent counter-reprisals.[5]

Iranian demonstrators burn rubbish for Mahsa Amini
Protestors burn garbage can in Tehran [Source: newsweek.com]

This is all eerily reminiscent of protests in Syria, Libya, Ukraine and elsewhere that resulted in civil wars and violent coups that devastated their societies for years afterwards.

U.S. Agent of Regime Change

In an article on the independent Arab webzine Al Mayadeen entitled “Dirty Money: Meet the U.S. Agent Driving the CIA-Led Riots in Iran,” journalist Mona Issa profiles Masih Alinejad, whom Issa calls “Washington’s weapon of choice for flaring up the largest color revolution attempt in Iran today.”

Masih Alinejad—Washington’s weapon of choice. [Source: wikipedia.org]

Recipient of a women’s rights prize from the Geneva Summit for Democracy and Human Rights and American Jewish Committee’s moral courage award, Alinejad, 46, published a book in 2018 called The Wind in My Hair: My Fight for Freedom in Modern Iran that deals with her experiences growing up in Iran, where, she writes, girls “are raised to keep their heads low, to be [as] unobtrusive as possible, and to be meek.”

On her website, Alinejad has posted videos and photos of Iranian women showing their hair—minus the hijab. Then, after Mahsa died, she set up the influential Twitter feed, “#MahsaWasMurdered by the Islamic Republic’s hijab police in Iran.”

Alinejad told The New Yorker: “I’m leading this movement. The Iranian regime will be brought down by women. I believe this.”

Operating from an FBI safe house in New York, Alinejad has been living in the U.S. for the past decade working as a full-timer for Voice of America, Persia, a U.S. propaganda mouthpiece funded by the U.S. Congress.

Alinejad’s coziness with the U.S. power elite was evident in a photo she took in May 2019 with former CIA Director and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a strong advocate of regime change in Iran.

Dirty money: Meet the agent driving the CIA-led riots in Iran
[Source: english.almayadeen.net]

Issa uncovered that, between 2015 and 2022, the U.S. Agency for Global Media paid Alinejad more than $628,000 to harass veiled women, spread propaganda, and demand more sanctions against Iran—even though those sanctions were causing vast suffering, especially among women.

When Alinejad takes on Islamic regimes for oppressing women, generally, she targets only enemies of the U.S.—Iran primarily and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan—and not U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia, which is most notorious for its mistreatment of women.

Saudi place on UN women's rights commission "brings our valuable  international institutions into disrepute" - IHEU
Alinejad curiously has never sought to rally behind feminists in Saudi Arabia—only U.S. enemy states like Iran and Afghanistan. [Source: humanists.international]

So how real is Alinejad’s actual commitment to women’s rights?

Alinejad’s Accomplices

Maziar Bahari - Wikipedia
Maziar Bahari [Source: wikipedia.org]

One of the first to accuse the police of beating Amini was Maziar Bahari, a filmmaker, former Newsweek reporter (1998-2011) and founder of the anti-Ayatollah news site IranWire, who wrote a book about being detained in Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison on what he claims were trumped up charges of espionage and sedition in the aftermath of Iran’s contested 2009 election.

Another Twitter post which propagated what appears to be a false narrative was from Babak Taghvaee, a military writer who was accused of being a CIA, Mossad and British MI6 agent and wrote reports for the Pentagon and U.S. State Department-funded Radio Free Asia/Radio Liberty.

Babak Taghvaee – Medium
Babak Taghvaee [Source: medium.com]

What Role the NED?

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is a CIA offshoot which supports civil society groups worldwide with the aim of ‘strengthening capitalism and democracy’ and overthrowing governments the U.S. does not like.

In 2021, it provided $631,500 to Iran. Part of the sum went to human rights groups that document abuses by the Iranian government with the goal of discrediting it. Other grants went to media groups that spread negative stories about the Iranian government, and yet more toward supporting dissident political groups under the guise of democracy promotion.

The NED has tweeted out support for Alinejad’s book, and on its website includes articles that support regime change. On September 22, for example, the NED’s “Democracy Digest” ran an article entitled “Iran Protests Pose New Test for Failed Regime.”[6]

Who is behind Hong Kong protests? - Chinadaily.com.cn
[Source: chinadaily.com]

Advancing the rumor that Iran’s Supreme leader was on his deathbed, the article quoted from human rights activists condemning the Iranian government’s response to the protests and treatment of women in the country, of which Amini’s death was allegedly emblematic.

A senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, Mariam Memarsadeghi is quoted as saying that “people of all different world views and lifestyles are out on the streets in one voice demanding the overthrow of the regime.”

Memarsadeghi continued: “The only way these women and girls in Iran can be free of this indiscriminate violence, humiliation and everyday fear of a totalitarian regime is to be rid of that regime. Speaking out like this is definitely better than not doing so, but the foreign policies of democratic states and the United Nations has to be that this is a regime that should not exist…So long as this cabal rules, there really is no prospect for women’s rights inside Iran.”

Mariam Memarsadeghi - Macdonald-Laurier Institute
Mariam Memarsadeghi [Mcdonaldlaurier.ca]

What Kind of Regime Change?

While going all out in favor of regime change, the NED “Democracy Digest” article and others of its kind say very little about the kind of regime they would like to see replace that of the Ayatollahs.

The latter may be harsh but beyond abolishing the hijab, what kind of economic program do they advocate for? And what policies toward other Middle Eastern countries would be better than those advanced by the Ayatollahs?

Many it seems would want to ally Iran very closely with the U.S., raising questions as to whether they want to see a return to the Shah’s reign and the kind of exploitative economic practices that left Iran an underdeveloped vassal state of the West and ignited the 1979 Iranian Revolution in the first place.

Do the protestors want the restoration of the Pahlevi dynasty? or something like it? [Source: wikipedia.org]

And what about the fates of Syria, Libya and Ukraine? Do the proponents of regime change in Iran want to see their country enmeshed in civil war and destroyed?

While there may be no smoking-gun proof of CIA involvement in the Iranian protests, all the signs are there that history is being repeated—from the vocal support of President Biden and U.S. media to the protests, to the heavy involvement of the NED in Iran, to the role being played by exiled feminist Twitter warriors with ties to U.S. government-funded agencies.

In spite of mounting inflation and divisions over the hijab policy, the regime of the Ayatollahs will likely endure, however, because Iranians know their history.

They remember the brutality of the U.S. installed Shah and the CIA’s overthrow of Iranian democracy, and understand how Western imperialism weakened and humiliated many Middle Eastern countries before—and will do it again—as always under the phony veneer of advancing women’s and other human rights.

  1. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has called for a complete investigation, telling Amini’s family that “your daughter is like my own daughter, and I feel that this incident happened to one of my loved ones.”

  2. Equally problematic from a U.S. point of view has been Iran’s recent support for Russia’s military operation in Ukraine with combat drones and its joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and agreement to provide oil to China in exchange for China’s investment in Iran’s infrastructure. Tehran also recently announced that it would now conduct trade with Russia in the two country’s own currencies, rather than in U.S. dollars.

  3. Jeremy Kuzmarov, Obama’s Unending Wars: Fronting the Foreign Policy of the Permanent Warfare State (Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2019), 255.

  4. In 2021, Iranian deputy speaker of the parliament Ali Motahari suggested another referendum on the veil be conducted, which would be the best way to revoke the law if it is unpopular.

  5. Even Human Rights Watch acknowledged that some protesters threw rocks and that others assaulted security forces. Saterah Sadeghi, an educator from Isfahan, told journalist Max Blumenthal of The Grayzone Project that “a lot of those people [involved in the protests] died because of the thugs and mobs that were involved in these protests.” Sadeghi also said that militant Kurdish groups from Iraq—who wanted to sow chaos in Iran—were among those to attack police stations. They were part of the Barzani clan, which has historically been armed by the U.S. and Israeli Mossad.

  6. The regime is considered a failure because it has stood up to the U.S. in the international arena—other governments with worse records on human rights, like Saudi Arabia, and the economy, are never given such a designation.

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About the Author


  1. With all due respect, Jeremy, here’s one place you’re wrong. While it’s true that the US installed the Shah in 1953 (actually, they planned installing the Shah back in 1947), the 1979 ouster of the Shah was a “color” revolution backed by CIA, MI-6, French intelligence, the BBC and British Petroleum. Western intelligence agents flew the Ayatollah in on a French jet, from a French commune where he’d been in exile, a commune run by Hitler’s former banker. The Shah had become too independent, friendly with the Russians, had nationalized Iran’s oil, and was modernizing his country hand over fist. But perhaps most damaging to the West, the Shah was a strong force for peace in the Mideast. Saddam and the Shah would never have gone to war with each other. They had to remove the Shah to actuate the long-planned Iran-Iraq War, which killed one million people. The war, in which the West (Germany, France and the US) armed both sides (Iran and Iraq), was started just months after the Shah’s ouster. Hillary Clinton and George H.W. Bush were on the board of directors of Lafarge America/Kennemetal, a firm which sold Saddam chemical weapons precursor chemicals. King Hussein of Jordan had warned the Shah that the US planned to turn on him, but the Shah refused to believe him.

  2. […] Desde mediados de septiembre, la República Islámica de Irán ha estado sometida a un nuevo ciclo de desestabilización. La muerte, el 16 de ese mes, de la joven kurdo-iraní Mahsa Amini (22) fue el punto de partida. Amini, que había sido detenida brevemente por la policía moral el 13 de septiembre por no usar correctamente su hijab, colapsa en una estación policial, muriendo a los tres días. […]

  3. […] made in CovertAction Magazine (where he acts as their Managing Editor) and was titled “Is the CIA supporting another color revolution in Iran—like the one that installed the shah in 195…” (October 10). Kuzmarov’s piece however was slightly more nuanced than those that have been […]

  4. Yes, the CIA installed the Shah in 1953. Kermit Roosevelt was the Shah’s on-the-ground handler. But they had been preparing for it as early as 1948, possibly earlier. But then then in the 1960s and 1970s the Shah got too big for his britches, and began modernizing Iran, and became a force for progress, peace and stability in the Mideast. All of which (progress, peace and stability) were and are anathema to the West. So in 1979 western intelligence agencies (CIA. MI6, French intelligence, BBC, and British Petroleum) deposed the Shah and installed the Ayatollah, The French flew the Ayatollah in from France to Tehran, and the CIA handled him on the ground, just as they had handled the Shah in 1953.

  5. “Her father said Amini had no health problems and that she suffered bruises to her legs in custody. He said he holds the police responsible for her death.” https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/iran-amini-death-reaction-1.6588465 ” Per Farazdaily.com, a Persian language website “On Tuesday evening, officers of the guidance patrol arrested ” Mehsa Amini ” on Shahid Haqqani Highway in Tehran. The officers told his brother “Kiarash” who was present at the place that they would take Mehsa to the Moral Security Police on Vizar Street for an hour of orientation and training class. Two hours later, Kiaresh found out from behind the closed doors of the moral security police that his sister had gone into a coma and was taken out of the ministerial building in an ambulance”.”
    “In response to the police’s claims, his uncle called the rumors about his heart disease pure lies and said that he was completely healthy in an interview with Etemad newspaper, published in Tehran.” https://www.bbc.com/persian/articles/c10p6rd1yg2o

    He said that when Mrs. Amini was arrested, “Mahsa’s brother was there, and when she wanted to resist and not let them go, they fired tear gas and scattered the them”

    So the question becomes, who should we believe? The victims father, uncle and brother – or the Iranian government? Covert Action, the unfailing champion of the little guy against the powerful state says “Believe the government”.

  6. American whistle blowers are admired for their courage and heroism. Iranian whistle blowers should also be admired for their heroism and courage. There should not be a double standard in how we view whistle blowers.

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  8. This article puts a lot of attention on the Hijab suggesting that it is a minor overblown issue. But there are other issues beside the Hijab as shown below:

    The 1979 Islamic Revolution established a republic that implements similar inhumane policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practiced in South Africa under the government’s former brutal apartheid regime.

    The laws and policies in Iran establish and maintain domination by men and the state over women and their right to choose their own clothing or obtain a divorce. Systematic gender inequalities are prescribed legally and enforced by the regime to deny the women the “right to life and liberty” and “basic human rights and freedoms,” which according to Article II of the United Nations’ Apartheid Convention in 1973, are considered “the crime of apartheid.”

    For example, according to Article 18 of Iran’s Passport Law, a married woman still needs written permission from her male guardian to travel abroad.

    Women in Iran are unable to hold any positions within the judicial, religious and military systems, nor are they able to serve as members of the Assembly of Experts, the Expediency Discernment Council or the Guardian Council, the three highest councils in the Islamic Republic.

    Women under law cannot be president or supreme leader of Iran. According to Article 115, the president of the Islamic Republic must be elected from among the “religious and political men.”

    In addition, the Iranian state has added discriminatory features to the criminal code – one such feature is the principle that the value of a woman is one-half of the value of a man.

    That principle applies in matters involving compensation for a killing and in what a son or daughter receives from a family inheritance. They also apply in the weight given to legal testimony or in obtaining a divorce.

    Such laws, policies and practices continue to mark women as lesser citizens, legally and socially unequal.

    Segregation in daily life
    The state also has imposed systematic segregation in schools, hospitals, universities, transportation, sports and other major areas of day-to-day life.

    For many decades, Iran’s gender apartheid had relegated women to the back of the bus with a metal bar segregating them from men.

    Under the government’s direction, universities have set limits on women’s options and have banned them from many fields of study.

    Iran has generally barred female spectators from soccer and other sports stadiums since the 1979 revolution.

  9. Another excellent, scrutinizing article from Jeremy. What is so disturbing today is how the American power elite can still pull the geopolitical strings so easily.

    This serious series of disturbances in Iran has come very soon after President Putin was shown in a photo, uniting with Iran’s leadership in getting some military help against NATO in Ukraine. Our media here in Aotearoa/NZ have latched straight on cue to the troubles in Iran while effectively giving the finger to the starving in Afghanistan, the crucifixion of Yemen, etc.

    Meanwhile, the US/NATO baiting and provoking of Russia to use nuclear weapons continues on a zombie scale that is absolutely so irrational that it reflects Freud’s “death instinct”! We live in desperate times indeed. We have to rally together even harder in our opposition!!

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