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Interview: Former CIA Agent In Iran's Revolutionary Guard Says 'Regime Is After Nuclear Arms'

Khalili says that while he wasn't a member of Revolutionary Guards military forces, he did have access to important information.
Khalili says that while he wasn't a member of Revolutionary Guards military forces, he did have access to important information.
Reza Kahlili (a pseudonym) claims to be a former member of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard who spied for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Iran for more than a decade following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

He tells his story in a new book, "A Time to Betray: The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent Inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran," which hits bookstores on April 6. In his book, Kahlili talks about his double life as a CIA agent inside the Revolutionary Guard and discloses what he describes as "revelatory information" about Iran.

Among other bombshells, he says former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani ordered the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988. He also claims to know the location of a secret Iranian nuclear site.

Kahlili, who now lives in California, spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari.

RFE/RL: When did you start working for the CIA and how many years were you there?

Reza Kahlili:
The time period I give is the time period mentioned in the book, and it's important to know that all the times, locations, and names have been changed so that the Islamic regime of Iran will not be able to identify me. My work with the CIA began about 2 1/2 years after the Islamic Revolution.

RFE/RL: And how long were you with the CIA?

"I came to the U.S. I wanted to give the Americans all the information I had about this dictatorial system."
Kahlili: The last time, I did work for them was somewhere in 1994-95. I no longer worked for them after that. However I did reestablish contact after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and most recently with some information.

RFE/RL: What kind of job did you have with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)?

Kahlili:
I can't tell you my [specific] job, but I write in the book that I worked in the computer department.

RFE/RL: How did you come to work for the CIA?

Kahlili:
It was a very difficult decision, betraying your country is not easy. It hurts the conscience of every human.

It was a very emotional time for me after the revolution. I had returned to Iran after having studied in the U.S. with [high hopes]. I had returned to help my country and help the Islamic republic. I thought we [would] have a democratic and free country and [everyone] would be able to express their views freely and live freely.

But when I saw how young and innocent girls and boys whose only crime was not giving in to strict Islamic laws or that they had different political views were savagely tortured and executed -- including people who were very close to me and had a special place in my heart -- [it affected] me deeply and I decided to leave the country.

I came to the U.S. I wanted to give the Americans all the information I had about this dictatorial system. I contacted the FBI and they organized a meeting with the CIA.

Becoming A Double Agent

RFE/RL: When was that? What year? And is this how your relationship with the CIA began?

Kahlili:
It was in late 1981. I became acquainted with the CIA in that meeting and gave them the information I had. In one of the meetings they asked me whether I wanted to go back and help my country. I decided to go back and that's how my work began.

RFE/RL: And you were already working for the Revolutionary Guards?

Kahlili:
Yes.

RFE/RL: You were part of the system which you describe as "a dictatorship." How did you become a member of the Revolutionary Guards and a part of the system while you were, as you say, very unhappy about the human rights abuses that were taking place in the early years after the revolution?

Kahlili:
I've explained in my book [that] I returned to Iran, like many other students, with the hope of helping my country. I thought the people of Iran [had] finally reached freedom. That was the atmosphere during those days -- people were very happy and they all wanted to be part of the new system.

Kahlili says statements that Iran isn't pursuing nuclear weapons are "to deceive the world."
It was during that time that a close friend of mine put me in touch with the IRGC. They said, "We need young educated people to build the country." I was hired but I wasn't part of the military branch, I didn't go through military training, I was someone who had studied and entered the system to help build the infrastructure of the IRGC.

But very soon I realized that all of the slogans of freedom [meant] nothing. Women and girls were forced to wear the hijab, they were being beaten up, there was torture, [and] people were being killed. And then I decided to leave the country, and events [followed from there] and I was forced to betray [my country].

RFE/RL: You said you don't want to disclose your job within the IRGC, but how much can you reveal about your work? Were you a high-ranking official?

Kahlili:
I was in a section where I had access to a lot of information. But no, I wasn't a high-ranking commander of the Revolutionary Guard.

RFE/RL: But in your book you claim you have very important information, for example you say former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani ordered the Lockerbie bombing. And you say you know about another secret nuclear site in Iran different from the one in Qom that was disclosed recently. Where is the location of that nuclear site and how did you access such important and classified information?

Kahlili:
I've given this information, particularly the information about the nuclear site, to my contacts in the CIA and they're reviewing it. I can't tell you how I accessed the information. I'm doing what I can so that U.S. policy toward this regime changes.

Iran's Nuclear Intentions

RFE/RL: What do you mean when you say you want to change U.S. policy toward Iran? What kind of policies should the United States have, in your opinion?

Kahlili:
For the past 30 years some [people have been in unofficial communication] with U.S. officials on behalf of the Iranian establishment, giving [Washington] hope that there might be room for compromise with the Iranian regime -- but the policies of the Iranian regime have always been the opposite.

Kahlili says he told his U.S. contacts of another secret nuclear site in Iran.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration again thinks that, through an exchange of messages with even members of the IRGC and high-ranking Iranian officials, there is hope for a compromise and that [both sides] will reach [agreement].

But the truth is that this religious regime is after nuclear arms, and it will surely [succeed].

RFE/RL: Iranian officials say that all their nuclear activities are peaceful.

Kahlili:
[Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei] has said many times that nuclear weapons are against Islam, but these comments are only aimed at deceiving the world. I was with the IRGC when it was decided that the Revolutionary Guard would go after producing a nuclear bomb. I reported that.

A year later the IRGC members contacted A.Q. Khan, the "father" of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, they traveled to Pakistan and elsewhere. They sought cooperation and at that time they obtained a blueprint to build centrifuges.

The IRGC is after a nuclear bomb, it is building a nuclear bomb. There shouldn't be any doubt about it. The people of Iran should know that if this regime develops a nuclear bomb, a very dangerous future will face them.

The reason why I'm being active -- talking about this and writing articles -- is because I want to inform the people of the world and Iran to prevent a dark future for all.

RFE/RL: But many people believe that the Iranian regime is not suicidal, meaning, even if Iran produces a nuclear bomb, it knows using it would be suicide.

Kahlili:
It is obvious that if Iran uses an atomic bomb it would get a response that would lead to the destruction of the whole country, but if their aim is to use it, then what? If they don't really care what would happen to Iran? In the past 30 years has there been [even] one moment when they have demonstrated that they really care about the people of Iran?

'Polarized Feelings'

RFE/RL: I would like to return to your work as a CIA spy in Iran: How did you feel during those times? Did you feel you were betraying your country? After all, you've called your book "A Time To Betray." Or did you feel that you were helping your country, since you say in the book that you did it because you could no longer sit by while friends and family suffered?

Kahlili:
That's a very good, and very complicated, question. It wasn't an easy decision for me. During those years my life was polarized. I was never really happy about it but at the same time I was hoping that maybe I could be a tool of change in Iran.

RFE/RL: Now that 15 years have passed, when you look back, do you regret anything you've done?

Kahlili:
I wasn't able to bring about any changes but [I think would do it again]. Many times when I was with friends from the IRGC -- some of them were really close to me -- I felt shameful about what I was doing. But [then] I would see how people were treated, how our young men and women were treated in prison, [and] I would tell myself that I have to do it.

Kahlili says that like many others, he came home to what he hoped would be a free Iran, but was disillusioned by the new regime.
I had polarized feelings. Finally, when I stopped my contacts with the agency while they really wanted me to continue my work, it was because of that and the fact that despite all the information I passed on, no real changes in American policy for the benefit of the Iranian people were taking place.

RFE/RL: For people who read your book but still doubt that you really worked for the CIA while you were a member of the IRGC, is there any way you can prove it?

Kahlili:
Anyone who has worked for the Agency must, in accordance with U.S. laws, get clearance for anything they write for publication. Not just my book, but every article I write, is submitted for prepublication review.

RFE/RL: And your book was cleared by the CIA?

Kahlili:
We are not allowed to say what agency [reviewed it] but my book was submitted to a U.S. government [intelligence] body. My publisher was given authorization [to publish the rest].
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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by: Bill Webb from: Phoenix, AZ, U.S.A.
April 03, 2010 14:30
They are really insane if they think they are fulfilling some kind of manifest destiny by destroying as much of the world as possible, to make some hidden imam come back. These people need locked up before they get the nuclear weapons they need to do it.
In Response

by: Alan from: San Antonio, TX USA
April 03, 2010 16:49
The Iranian regime doesn't need a missile to deliver a nuclear bomb, it would just need to be smuggled into the target city and detonated. Doesn't even have to be a large warhead either, so worrying too much about their missile capability in assessing the Iranian nuclear threat can lead to a false sense of security (ie. assuming it can't be used without a missile capable of carrying it). I believe it's not a question of -will- the Iranians attain nuclear capability, but -when-. Hopefully western and regional governments are working toward contingency plans with that scenario in mind.
In Response

by: ali
April 05, 2010 05:53
i think they are dumb, and other makes lots of benefits of their dumbness!!!
but they are not only who want to destroy everything.

by: james bethune from: kansas
April 03, 2010 18:44
I read this and can honestly say I dont trust this guy. For all we know all he wants to see is war betweent the two countries. Come on how can you put your trust in someone who spent his whole life decieving people to earn their trust. Let Obama and the US do what they feel is best becaue even if he was really a spy he isnt the only one providing the US with inteligence and his is years old. So lets go with the latests inteligence and kick war mongers like this guy to the kurb.

by: BS from: moon
April 03, 2010 21:28
this gotta be the worst anti-iranian propaganda ive read in my life.
gongrats youv hit a new low in "journalism"
but your anti-iranian islamophibic writings will get you nowhere
In Response

by: steve from: newton, ma
April 12, 2010 14:12
yeah, right? why would anybody need to manufacture propaganda against a regime that is truly, laughably obvious? i hope the US policy, for any necessary attack, emphasizes the death of the tyrants--ayatollahs, IRGC and paramilitary. if something is done, they should all die first!

by: Peter Jones from: UK
April 03, 2010 21:28
Who believes this man? He even has not enough information from Iran let alone working in Revolutionary Guards. He is fake; a cliche fake with all the nonesense accompanying. Oh, God where is some money to spend these days?

by: Anonymous
April 05, 2010 02:50
There are people that enjoy reading BS. He will make money

by: Ladan from: NY
April 05, 2010 19:00
Do you seriously think if he was a liar Simon and Schuster would publish his book ?!

by: astara from: Seattle, Wa.
April 08, 2010 23:29
I feel as many of you here, that this sounds very phony and only to stir up propaganda in attempt to both sale books and ignite more hostility towards Iran. Iran is a very modern country, and women have good jobs, and education.

by: Frederick from: Alexandria
April 09, 2010 02:29
It is amazing that so many of you making comments know so much about this man and can conclude he is a liar. Like the communist sympathizers of days gone by, you show yourselves to be the useful idiots of Lenin's cliche, only this time you serve the equally horrible dictators of the Iranian menace. Such a pity to blind yourselves so, and to what end?

by: S Mitra from: India
April 10, 2010 08:24
Is it not true that Iran has been using nuclear technology against innocent civilians from probably its south east ends and that this criminal activity stretches to countries such as India on one side, Kuwait, Kenya, Tanzania on other sides ot it? It is more horryfying than war crimes. Would you please care to answer this ?

by: Infidel4Life from: Downrange
April 13, 2010 01:30
Are we not glad we listened to AHMED CHALABI? President Bush and Cheney ate wat he said right up. Don't believe everything you hear. This guy seems to be "out of the loop" for a while.
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