SAVAK ( short for Sāzemān-e Ettelā'āt va Amniyat-e Keshvar, literally "Organization of National Intelligence and Security of the Nation") was the secret police, domestic security and intelligence service of the Pahlavi dynasty. It was established by Iran's Mohammad Reza, the former Shah of Iran with the help of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Israeli Mossad.
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 Iranian Revolution of 1979 because of its practice of torturing and executing opponents of the Pahlavi regime. At its peak, the organization had as many as 60,000 agents serving in its ranks according to one source, and another source by Gholam Reza Afkhamievil estimates SAVAK staffing at between 4,000 and 6,000.
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 to strengthen his regime by placing political opponents under surveillance and repressing dissident movements.
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.
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
- Censorship of press, books and films.
- Interrogation and often torture of prisoners
- Surveillance of political opponents.
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 more 3,000 strong 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. 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.
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."
SAVAK was replaced by the "much larger" SAVAMA, Sazman-e Ettela'at va Amniat-e Melli-e Iran, also known as the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security of Iran. After 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.