Interview: Former CIA Agent In Iran's Revolutionary Guard Says 'Regime Is After Nuclear Arms'
April 03, 2010
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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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].
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.