Kermit Roosevelt, Jr.

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Kermit Roosevelt, Jr.

Birthdate: (84)
Death: June 8, 2000 (84)
Cockeysville, Baltimore County, Maryland, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Kermit B. Roosevelt, Sr. and Belle Wyatt Roosevelt
Husband of <private> Roosevelt (Gaddis)
Father of <private> Roosevelt; <private> Roosevelt; <private> Mason (Roosevelt) and <private> Roosevelt
Brother of Joseph Willard Roosevelt; Belle Wyatt "Clochette" Palfrey (Roosevelt)) and Dirck Roosevelt

Occupation: CIA, led to restab of Peacock Throne, Iran, mastermind of the CIA's Operation Ajax
Managed by: Vance Barrett Mathis
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Kermit Roosevelt, Jr.

Kermit "Kim" Roosevelt, Jr. (February 16, 1916 – June 8, 2000), was a Special Activities Division political action officer who coordinated the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) Operation Ajax, which orchestrated the coup d’état against Iran's prime minister, Mohammed Mosaddeq, and returned Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, to Iran's Peacock Throne in August 1953. He was also the grandson of American president Theodore Roosevelt.


Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. was born in Buenos Aires in 1916, the eldest son of Kermit Roosevelt and Belle Willard Roosevelt. His father was assistant manager for the Buenos Aires branch of the National City Bank. He had two brothers, Joseph Willard Roosevelt and Dirck Roosevelt, and a sister, Belle (Clochette). Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. graduated from Groton School and Harvard University.

When Kermit Jr. was 27, his father, a man who tended to drink, committed suicide in Alaska where he had been stationed as an intelligence officer with the U.S. Army.

Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. married Mary Lowe "Polly" Gaddis in 1937. They had three sons and a daughter. One of his sons, Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. (II) graduated from Groton School in the class of 1956 and is a Washington D.C. attorney. Another son, Mark Roosevelt is superintendent of the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania public school district. His third son is Jonathan Roosevelt and his daughter is Anne Mason of Bethesda.

Roosevelt's last days were spent at a retirement community in Cockeysville, Maryland.

Middle East political activity

In the late 1940s he was on the board of directors of an organization called the Institute of Arab American Affairs. This organization republished an article by him in Foreign Affairs in pamphlet form that made the argument that "US support of Zionism will be detrimental to long term US interests in the Middle East."

In a further effort to prevent the partition of Palestine into exclusive and separate Jewish and Arab states, Roosevelt together with Virginia Gildersleeve founded the Committee for Justice and Peace in the Holy Land in 1948, and served as the Committee's Executive Director.

In 1951, Roosevelt, together with Dorothy Thompson and a group of 24 American educators, theologians, and writers including Harry Emerson Fosdick and Virginia Gildersleeve founded the American Friends of the Middle East. Roosevelt served the AFME as executive secretary for a time.

Head of Operation Ajax

By the early 1950s, Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. was a senior officer in the CIA's Middle Eastern division.[citation needed] At that time, there was a political crisis centered in Iran that commanded the focused attention of British and American intelligence outfits. In 1951, the Iranian parliament, under the leadership of the nationalist movement of Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, voted unanimously to nationalize the oil industry. This shut out the immensely profitable Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), which was a pillar of Britain's economy and political clout. A month after that vote, Mossadegh was elected prime minister of Iran.

In response to nationalization, Britain placed an embargo on Iranian oil exports, which worsened the already fragile economy. Neither the AIOC nor Mossadegh was open to compromise in this period, with Britain insisting on a restoration of the AIOC and Mossadegh willing only to negotiate the terms of its compensation for lost assets.[citation needed] U.S. President Harry S. Truman ruled out joining Britain in a coup against Mossadegh, and Britain felt unable to act without American cooperation,[citation needed] particularly since Mossadegh had shut down their embassy in 1952. Truman's successor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, was persuaded by anti-communist arguments[citation needed] that there was potential for Iran's Communist Tudeh Party to capitalize on political instability and assume power, aligning Iran and its immense oil resources with the Soviet bloc. Coup plans which had stalled under Truman were revived by an eager intelligence corps, with powerful aid from the brothers John Foster Dulles (Secretary of State) and Allen Welsh Dulles (Director of Central Intelligence), after Eisenhower's inauguration in 1953.

According to Roosevelt, he slipped across the border under his CIA cover as "James Lockridge" on June 19, 1953. He was put up in the capital, Tehran, in a place rented by British intelligence. As Mr. Lockridge, he became a regular at the Turkish Embassy where he played tennis. No one suspected that "Mr. Lockridge" was the grandson of the 26th US President but he came close to blowing his cover. When playing tennis and making some frustrating mistake he would cry out, "Oh Roosevelt!" Puzzled by this, his friends asked him about this interesting way of expressing his annoyance with his game. He explained that as loyal member of the Republican Party back in the states, that every Republican had nothing but scorn and hatred for Franklin D. Roosevelt and that he despised the man so much that he took to using FDR's name as a curse.

Under Roosevelt's direction, the CIA and British intelligence funded and led a campaign of black propaganda and bribery leading to a coup d'etat to overthrow Mossadegh[citation needed] with the help of military forces loyal to the Shah in Operation Ajax. The plot hinged on orders signed by the Shah to dismiss Mossadegh as prime minister and replace him with General Fazlollah Zahedi, a choice agreed on by the British and Americans.

Despite the high-level coordination and planning, the coup faltered initially and the Shah fled Iran. After a brief exile in Italy, however, the Shah was brought back again, this time through a second coup which was successful.

In his book All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, The New York Times reporter Stephen Kinzer reported[6] that the CIA ordered Roosevelt to leave Iran. Roosevelt ignored the order and, instead organized a second coup, this one successful. The deposed Mossadegh was arrested, given a show trial, and placed in solitary confinement for three years in military prison, followed by house arrest for life. Zahedi was installed to succeed prime minister Mossadegh.

After that coup, Kinzer reported that the Shah said to Roosevelt, "I owe my throne to God, my people, my army - and to you."

Roosevelt tells his story

Twenty-six years later, Kim Roosevelt took the unusual step of writing a book about how he and the CIA carried out the operation. He called his book Countercoup to press home the idea that the CIA coup was staged only to prevent a takeover of power by the Iranian Communist Party (Tudeh) closely backed by the Soviet Union. He also may have meant to imply that the exile of the Shah constituted the initial coup, and that he was merely restoring the rightful leader to power.

In 2003, William Blum, in Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II criticized Roosevelt for providing no evidence when he "argu[ed] that Mossadegh had to be removed to prevent a communist takeover" of Iran. Blum noted that while Roosevelt kept repeating how Mossadegh was a danger due to his seizure of the oil industry and his other Socialist reforms as well as his cooperation with the Tudeh Party, Mossadegh's role was much more nuanced. This view was shared by many in the Intelligence community, although most notably the head of the CIA station in Iran resigned rather than participate in the coup. Many outside the intelligence community, including some in the Truman administration, had felt that Mossadegh should be kept in power to prevent a Communist takeover.

Kermit 'Kim' Roosevelt US president's grandson who masterminded CIA coup to restore the Shah of Iran

Harold Jackson The Guardian, Tuesday 13 June 2000 02.34 BST

President Theodore Roosevelt would have been proud of his grandson Kermit, who faithfully followed the family tradition of speaking softly and carrying a big stick. As head of the Central Intelligence Agency's Middle East division in 1953, Kermit "Kim" Roosevelt, an ever-shadowy figure who has died aged 84, masterminded the overthrow of Iran's nationalist prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. This coup, organised from a Tehran basement by a handful of agents using vast sums of the Eisenhower administration's money, ensured America's domination of Iran for the next 25 years - an influence that ended only when Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah in 1979.

The 1953 crisis had begun two years earlier, when the ultra-nationalist Mossadegh was elected prime minister with the support of the Tudeh (Communist) party. He immediately nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, convincing the British - and the outgoing Truman administration in Washington - that he was laying the ground for a communist takeover.

Part of Mossadegh's case (subsequently sustained by the international court of justice) was that the British government was making more money from taxing the company than Iran was getting in royalties. But Winston Churchill rejected all Mossadegh's efforts to mediate the issue. In November 1952, after America had overwhelmingly elected his friend Dwight Eisenhower to the presidency, Churchill approached Kim Roosevelt, asking him to plan the overthrow of Mossadegh, and then to sell the idea to the incoming Republicans.

This was not difficult, given the views of the new secretary of state. John Foster Dulles believed the US to be the world's only protection against domination by the Soviet Union, then in the volatile aftermath of Stalin's death. In June 1953, with the comment, "So this is how we get rid of that madman Mossadegh," Dulles presented Roosevelt's plan to a small group of his senior advisers.

Operation Ajax went through on the nod, and Kim Roosevelt was sent to Tehran to carry it out. By this time, Mossadegh had become increasingly dictatorial and erratic, and was fast losing parliamentary support. On August 3 1953, having organised a plebiscite to dissolve parliament, he claimed an overwhelming vote in favour. He dissolved the legislature and organised massive street demonstrations against the Shah and the US.

In response, Roosevelt launched Operation Ajax. He took a number of pro-Shah army officers into the local CIA compound, and persuaded the Shah to sack Mossadegh and name the army commander, General Fazlollah Zahedi, as the new head of government. As expected, Mossadegh had the Shah's emisarry arrested and refused to resign. But he also organised more street demonstrations.

It seemed that the planned coup had failed disastrously. The Shah fled to Baghdad, Zahedi went into hiding and Roosevelt was advised to make himself scarce. He refused and, as uncontrolled rioting continued for three more days, persuaded Zahedi to broadcast warnings of a military clampdown. According to one later account: "The Iranian army was thoroughly bribed and the police force fixed. Some of Mossadegh's more powerful supporters were quietly spirited away, their throats slit, and their bodies buried in the Elburz mountains."

Roosevelt now induced the senior army officers he was sheltering to bring their units on to the streets to disperse the mob. They did so with surprising ease, and arrested Mossadegh and many anti-Shah officers. The Shah flew back to Tehran to see the swift trial and execution of his foreign minister and a large number of army officers. Mossadegh was given three years' imprisonment, eventually served as house arrest.

After he had finished that sentence, Kim Roosevelt was reported to have persuaded the Shah to grant the ex-prime minister a generous pension, paid until he died in 1967. Roosevelt himself melted back into the CIA shadows, reputedly to turn down an offer to do it all over again in Guatemala.

His biographical details have always been kept sketchy. He was born during the first world war in Argentina, where his father worked as a banker, but came back to America at an early age. He did well at Harvard, and worked briefly after graduation as a history teacher in California. When the US joined in the second world war, he was assigned to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the cloak-and-dagger operation which eventually became the postwar CIA. Roosevelt's responsibilities there included involvement in planning the allied invasion of Italy.

In the 1950s, as the senior regional CIA man, he certainly acted as a frequent intermediary with the Egyptian officers who toppled King Farouk. With his local expertise and contacts, he tried to persuade Dulles not to pursue such blindly anti-communist policies in the Middle East. The secretary of state's obtuse disregard of this advice led to President Nasser's infuriated nationalisation of the Suez canal - and Anthony Eden's disastrous response.

After Roosevelt left the CIA, he was commissioned to write the official history of the OSS, lobbied on behalf of American business in the Middle East and pushed the Shah's and other Middle Eastern leaders' interests on Capitol Hill. Possibly to his own discomfort, he once attracted an unusual public tribute from a fellow spy. In 1977, the British defector Kim Philby responded from his home in Moscow to a question from the author Leonard Mosley.

"I first met Kim Roosevelt in Washington," Philby wrote, "where he was in charge of Wisner's Middle East department. Oddly enough, I dubbed him 'the quiet American' five years before Graham Greene wrote his book. He was a courteous, soft-spoken Easterner with impeccable social connections, well-educated rather than intellectual, pleasant and unassuming as host and guest. An equally nice wife. In fact, the last person you would expect to be up to his neck in dirty tricks."

Roosevelt's wife, Mary, and their three sons survive him.

Kermit 'Kim' Roosevelt, secret agent, born 1916; died June 8 2000

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Kermit Roosevelt, Jr.'s Timeline

February 16, 1916
June 8, 2000
Age 84
Cockeysville, Baltimore County, Maryland, United States