SAVAK (Persian: ساواک, short for سازمان اطلاعات و امنیت کشور Sazeman-e Ettela'at va Amniyat-e Keshvar, National Intelligence and Security Organization) was the domestic security and intelligence service of Iran from 1957 to 1979. It has been described as Iran's "most hated and feared institution" prior to revolution of 1979, for its association with the foreign CIA intelligence organization, and its torture and execution of regime opponents. At its peak, the organization had as many as 60,000 agents serving in its ranks. It has been estimated that by the time the agency was finally dismantled in 1979 by the Iranian Revolution, as many as one third of all Iranian men had some sort of connection to SAVAK by way of being informants or actual agents.


Beginnings 1957-1970

SAVAK was founded in 1957 to strengthen the Shah's regime by placing political opponents under surveillance and repress dissident movements. According to Encyclopaedia Iranica:

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

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," 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). In 1960/61 the CIA trainers left and were replaced by a team of instructors from the Israeli Mossad. These in turn were replaced by SAVAK’s own instructors in 1965.

SAVAK had the power to censor the media, screen applicants for government jobs, "and according to reliable Western source , use all means necessary, including torture, to hunt down dissidents."

After 1963, the Shah expanded his security organizations, including SAVAK which grew to over 5300 full-time agents and a large but unknown number of part-time informers.

The agency's first director, General Teymur Bakhtiar, was dismissed in 1961 and later became a political dissident. In 1970 he was assassinated by SAVAK agents, disguised to look like an accident.

Hassan Pakravan, director of Savak from 1961-1965, had an almost benevolent reputation, for example, dining with the Ayatollah Khomeini while Khomeini was under house arrest on a weekly basis, and later intervened to prevent Khomeini's execution, on the grounds it would "anger the common people of Iran". After the Iranian Revolution, however, Pakravan was among the first of the Shah's officials to be executed.

Pakravan was replaced in 1965 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 an attack on a gendarmerie post in the Caspian village of Siahkal by a small band of armed Marxists in February 1971. 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.` .... 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 ..."

Abrahamian estimates that SAVAK (and other police and military) killed 368 guerillas between 1971-1977 and executed something less than 100 political prisoners between 1971 and 1979 - the most violent era of the SAVAK's existence.

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.

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.` .... "

After the Islamic Revolution former directors Pakravan and Nassiri were tried by inadequate Revolutionary 'Courts' and executed by the Revolutionary Guard.


During the height of its power, SAVAK had virtually unlimited powers of arrest and detention. It operated its own detention centers, like 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 American CIA by sending their agents to an air force base in New York to share and discuss interrogation tactics. SAVAK agents often carried out operations against each other. 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 published 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.

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.


Sources disagree over how many victims SAVAK had and how inhumane its techniques were. For example, according to articles in Federation of American Scientists and TIME magazine, SAVAK "tortured and murdered thousands of the Shah's opponents. It's "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. Also according to a former CIA analyst on Iran, Jesse J. Leaf, SAVAK was trained in torture techniques by the CIA. After the 1979 revolution, a CIA film was found which had been made for SAVAK security forces on how to torture women.

However, according to more recent research by a political historian of the era, Ervand Abrahamian, deaths numbered in the dozens rather than the thousands under the SAVAK, far fewer than the several thousand prisoners are estimated to have been killed in the Islamic Republic that followed. While some prisoners during the Shah's era were tortured, prisoners' letters were much more likely to use words such as "boredom" and "monotony," to describe their confinement than "fear," "death," "terror," "horror," and "nightmare" (kabos), the common descriptors found in letters of prisoners of the Islamic Republic.

Fardoust and security and intelligence after the revolution

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. Fardust later is rumoured to have become director of SAVAMA, the post-revolution incarnation of the original SAVAK organization.

SAVAK was closed down shortly before the end of the monarchy and the gain of power by 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; almost all of them that were in Iran at the time of the Iranian Revolution were hunted down and executed, only a few who were on missions outside of Iran managed to survive. SAVAK has been replaced by the SAVAMA, Sazman-e Ettela'at va Amniat-e Melli-e Iran, later renamed the Ministry of Intelligence. The latter 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. The new organization is structurally identical to the old one and retains many of low- and mid-level intelligence personnel from the SAVAK. Many books have since been published about the pre-revolution status of Iran politicians, based on the documents found in SAVAK's offices.

SAVAK Directors

See also


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