SAVAK (Persian: ساواک, short for سازِمانِ اطلاعات وَ امنیَتِ کِشوَر Sāzemān-e Ettelā'āt va Amniyat-e Keshvar, Organisation of Intelligence and National Security) was the secret police, domestic security and intelligence service established by Iran's Mohammad Reza Shah with the help of the United States' Central Intelligence Agency (the CIA). SAVAK operated from 1957 to 1979, when the Pahlavi dynasty was overthrown. SAVAK has been described as Iran's "most hated and feared institution" prior to the 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, although Gholam Reza Afkhami, whose work on the Shah has been described as a "sympathetic biography", estimates SAVAK staffing at between 4,000 and 6,000.
After removing the populist regime of Mohammad Mosaddeq (which was originally focused on nationalizing Iran's oil industry but also set out to weaken the Shah's power) from power on 19 August 1953, in a 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 repress dissident movements. According to Encyclopædia 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, including Major General Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf 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). These in turn were replaced by SAVAK's own instructors in 1965. Chief CIA Iran analyst Jesse Leaf in an interview on 6th Jan. 1979 stated that the CIA taught Nazi torture techniques to SAVAK.
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". The CIA provided SAVAK with lists of Communists to torture and murder. These lists originated with KGB defectors working for the CIA.
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.
In 1961 the Iranian authorities dismissed the agency's first director, General Teymur Bakhtiar; he later became a political dissident. In 1970 SAVAK agents assassinated him, disguising the deed as an accident.
Sources disagree over how many victims SAVAK had and how inhumane its techniques were. Writing at the time of the Shah's overthrow, TIME magazine described SAVAK as having "long been Iran's most hated and feared institution" which had "tortured and murdered thousands of the Shah's opponents." The Federation of American Scientists also found it guilty of "the torture and execution of thousands of political prisoners" and symbolizing "the Shah's rule from 1963-79." The FAS list of SAVAK 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." According to a former CIA analyst on Iran, Jesse J. Leaf, SAVAK was trained in torture techniques by the CIA.