'Iran is a latter-day Nazi Germany'
After turning his back on the Revolutionary Guards and becoming a CIA agent, an Iranian known as Reza Kahlili insists Israel has the best intelligence about his homeland
If it were up to Reza Kahlili, he would immediately order a bombing of his native Iran, in order to halt its nuclear program and bring down the Islamic Republic and the ayatollahs. And since he doesn't believe the United States will do that, he hopes Israel will.
"I strongly believe that it's 1938 all over again," he says in a telephone interview from California, when the world groveled before Germany, hoping to appease the looming Nazi monster. "The difference is that this time the consequences would be much worse than World War II. The West had the opportunity to overthrow this regime in Tehran without firing a single bullet last year when the mass uprising happened, but now I truly believe it will be war whether we want it or not, and for that reason I think we should determine the terms of it. The question to ask ourselves is: Do we want to confront them now or when they have the nukes? That's going to make a big difference to the millions who will lose their lives once they get the nukes."
We can, of course, make light of these words when they are spoken by Kahlili, an outspoken opponent of the ayatollahs who identifies with conservative right-wing circles in the United States, and see them as nothing more than warmongering, personal paranoia or dangerous delusions. And yet they are worth hearing because they come from a CIA agent who carried out espionage missions within the Revolutionary Guards, the very backbone of the regime.
Reza Kahlili is not his real name. It's a pseudonym he adopted, among other precautions, in order to preserve his personal security. He doesn't give out his address or phone number, but he does have a blog, http://atimetobetray.com. He called the phone number I sent him via e-mail through a mutual friend during a visit to the States about a month ago. When he makes public appearances, mainly at lectures, he uses simple disguises: dark glasses, a baseball cap and a wig. Iranian secret agents, who consider him an incorrigible traitor, are naturally very interested in harming him.
Recently, Kahlili published a book called "A Time to Betray: The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent Inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran" (Threshold Editions ), in which he tells his life story. It is a fascinating read, full of intriguing anecdotes - the story of three childhood friends from Tehran, who as adults found themselves on parallel and conflicting paths. One is a religious man who followed the mullahs and became a senior commander in the Revolutionary Guards. The second is secular and joined the Marxist Mujahideen Khalq (the People's Army ) movement, which ran operations against the Shah and American diplomats, was declared a terror organization, linked up with Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamists in the battle against the monarchy, and is now considered an opposition organization and a firm opponent of the regime. And the third is Reza Kahlili himself, who believed in Khomeini and his Islamic Revolution until he sobered up and volunteered to serve as a CIA agent.
He was born in Tehran in the mid-1950s to a prosperous secular family, he relates. His father was an engineer and his mother a hospital nurse. In the early 1970s his parents sent him to study computer sciences, and he earned a master's degree from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He admits that he supported Khomeini because he believed him when he said he would establish a regime based on justice and equality, and would respect democratic values. Kahlili says today that the person who influenced him the most was moderate Islamic scholar Dr. Ali Shariati, who was assassinated in exile in London by agents of the Shah's secret police force, the SAVAK.
Kahlili returned to his homeland after the revolution because he believed Khomeini's promises, and in order to work with and for the poor, he says. Influenced by the religious childhood friend who had meanwhile grown a beard and joined the intelligence unit of the Revolutionary Guards, he also joined the organization tasked with defending Iran and securing it as an Islamic republic. "They need your knowledge," his friend told him.
Kahlili worked for the Revolutionary Guards by training members of the organization to operate computers, but refuses to divulge anything further. Apparently those were his orders from the CIA security officers with whom he is still in contact.
He makes do with a general description: "I traveled all over Iran, I visited many bases of the Guards and was sent by them to the Gulf states and the Far East" - but not to Lebanon, where at the time, in the early 1980s, the Revolutionary Guards established the Hezbollah movement.
The turning point in Kahlili's life came in the wake of a visit to Evin Prison. His secular friend from the Mujahideen Khalq had been arrested and sent to the infamous prison in northern Tehran. The rift between the Mujahideen and the regime was inevitable after Khomeini ordered that they be disarmed and excluded them from the government.
The three friends parted company.
"My friend was arrested on charges of opposing the regime. Thanks to my connections I was able to visit him," explains Kahlili. "I came back horrified. I saw the tortures endured by him and other prisoners, including women, and I heard their cries of pain. I did everything I could to release them, I begged my third friend, but nothing helped. They were executed. Then I decided that I no longer wanted to be connected to those people and decided to leave for the United States again."
With the help of connections, Kahlili left Iran for the States, where he initiated contact with the CIA. There were more meetings, examinations, investigations, polygraph tests, and training in the techniques of surveillance and evading surveillance, writing with invisible ink, encryption and communications. At the end of the process Reza Kahlili was given the code name "Wally," had a CIA officer appointed as his personal handler and was sent back to Iran as a CIA agent.
Didn't the Revolutionary Guards suspect you when you returned?
Kahlili: "Yes, I underwent investigations but I passed them and was reinstated in my job in the Revolutionary Guards."
He worked as a secret agent until the late 1980s, at which point the CIA organized his and his wife's departure overseas. He continued to work with the CIA for another three years in Europe. His job: to find potential agents.
What were your assignments as a CIA agent?
"I'm still limited in what I can say. In general I was to report on the Revolutionary Guards, their organization, command structure, their travels outside of Iran, their collaboration with other countries (China, Soviet Union [then] and others ), their purchase of arms, training of terrorists, contacts with Syria and Hezbollah, their activities against the opposition outside Iran."
Did you come across Israel and Israelis during the course of your work?
"No, I did not, but I knew of several people who were Jews and who were always harassed when traveling back and forth from Iran and the tortures they would go through. From the little I know I believe that Israel has the best [intelligence] about Iran, because ... Israel is almost the only country which sends its own agents inside the country."
In his book and lectures, Kahlili tries to convey one message: The Iranian regime is a danger to world peace. When asked whether a nuclear Iran would ever consider using its destructive weapons, he replies that the West doesn't understand Iran.
"I strongly think that the establishment running Iran right now is a messianic one, the true believers of Mahdaviat, those believing in the end of times. They have gone through centuries-old hadiths and believe that most of the signs of the return of the last Messiah have already taken place. The only one remaining is to destroy Israel, attack the oil fields in the Persian Gulf and European capitals, and activate their agents inside the U.S. This would bring about the chaos, lawlessness and total breakdown in the global economy where one-third of the world's population will die and the rest will experience extreme hardship. This is when they believe that Imam Mahdi will reappear, killing the rest of the infidels."
Do you really believe in this scenario that you are drawing?
"Even if you could not believe the same prophecy and think of it as a crazy suggestion, the history of the Iranian rulers shows that the least of it [their becoming nuclear ] is that they will greatly expand on their terrorism and endanger Israel by empowering and arming Hezbollah and Syria with nukes."