Retired general Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., who commanded U.S. and coalition troops against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War in 1990-1991, has died at the age of 78.
Widely praised for driving Saddam out of Kuwait’s rich oilfields, Schwarzkopf became an American hero and the most celebrated figure of the successful Operation Desert Shield/Storm.
However, perhaps forgotten after so many decades, the general’s father, also named Norman Schwarzkopf, had a more profound impact on another troubled spot in the Middle East -- an impact that has reverberated to the present day more than fifty years after his death.
Major-General Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf, a New Jersey state policeman who became famous for his involvement in the Lindbergh kidnapping case, later rose to the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. army. After World War II, he served as provost marshal for U.S. forces in occupied Germany.
But Schwarzkopf Sr.’s greatest (some would say, most infamous) accomplishment would come a few years later 2,000 miles away from central Europe -- in Iran.
In August 1953, through the auspices of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and British intelligence, in cooperation with forces loyal to Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, the popularly-elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, was forcibly removed from power.
Mossadegh's “crime” had been to support the nationalization of Iran's key oil industry -- a grave affront to British oil companies. The 1953 coup not only ended Iran's attempt to control its own hugely lucrative petroleum sector, but likely also killed any chances for Iran developing into a democratic society.
Schwarzkopf Sr. played a major role in this forcible “regime change.”
Under a CIA operation called “Operation Ajax,” Schwarzkopf Sr. had been sent to Iran to encourage the Shah to return to power and, most crucially, helped him in the quest by forming and training security forces that would be loyal to the Shah. These security agents would eventually metamorphose into the dreaded and feared SAVAK secret police, one of the most brutal foundations of the Shah’s power.
Israel’s Mossad spy agency also assisted in training SAVAK agents in the arts of interrogation, surveillance and torture.
SAVAK basically served as an intelligence agency with unlimited police powers -- and a very effective deterrent to any opposition to the Shah. Officers of the organization could spy on or arrest almost anybody at will and frequently used torture to gain information or to simply intimidate the populace.
“This organization was the first modern, effective intelligence service to operate in [Iran],” wrote the Encyclopædia Iranica. “Its main achievement occurred in September 1954, when it discovered and destroyed a large Communist Tudeh Party network that had been established in the [Iranian] armed forces.”
SAVAK’s presence deepened in the 1960s and 1970s, when it arrested, tortured and killed untold thousands of Iranians – anyone who was perceived to be a threat to the Shah’s one-party rule.
In the eyes of the Iranian public (and especially to those who engineered the 1979 revolution that finally toppled the Shah from the throne), SAVAK was viewed as inseparable from Western interference in Iran’s affairs and the Tehran government’s repressive control.
According to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), details on SAVAK’s membership and the extent of its activities remain blurry. However, documents produced after the 1979 Iranian revolution suggest that the intelligence agency employed more than 15,000 full-time agents and thousands of other informants. SAVAK also sent operatives overseas to spy on Iranian students and business in foreign countries, particularly in the U.S., France and Britain.
Schwarzkopf Sr.’s complete role in the development of what would become SAVAK largely remains classified and subject to conjecture, but there is no doubt that without his involvement, the Shah’s brutal regime might not have maintained its dominant power for decades.
Schwarzkopf Sr. died in 1958 at the age of 63.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.