Craig Biddle: I’m honored to be joined today by Reza Kahlili, author of A Time to Betray, a book about his double life as a CIA agent in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The book is the winner of both best new nonfiction and autobiography/memoirs in the 2011 International Book Awards sponsored by JPX Media Group. Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym used for security reasons.
Thank you for joining me, Reza.
Reza Kahlili: Thank you so much for having me.
CB: Let’s begin with a little background on you. As I understand it, after the Iranian revolution of 1979 you became an officer in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and a spy for the CIA. What exactly is the Revolutionary Guards and what can you tell us about your involvement with them and with the CIA?
RK: The Revolutionary Guards were initially organized following the 1979 revolution that ousted the shah. They were charged with protecting the country and the new government, including the clerics, who did not trust the regular Iranian army and believed the majority were supporters of the shah.
The clerics formed this new, parallel military force drawing from the Iranian youth, primarily from poor neighborhoods. When the government offered them jobs and training, these youth got very excited and many joined. And the Guards promised not only to secure the country but also to help the poor and to help with the construction of the country. This made them even more attractive.
I had been in America studying computer in the ’70s, and by the time I graduated, the revolution in Iran had taken place. At the time, I was excited and full of hope that there was going to be democracy and freedom in Iran, so I returned. One of my childhood friends who had been there while the revolution was taking place, and had participated in it, had joined the Guards. And when he asked me to join, saying that my expertise and Western education would be major assets, I did.
Several months later came the seizure of the U.S. Embassy. That was the beginning of my awakening to the fact that the country was not going in the right direction and that a radical minority was taking over. There was also the mass killing of the shah’s officers without any hearings or legal processes. The Revolutionary Courts ordered their execution, and the Guards just lined them up and shot thousands of them.
And then the new government went back on its promise that the clerics would not interfere in government matters, that they would only address the spirituality of the people. The clerics started enforcing Islamic law, which was not supposed to be part of the new government. Soon Khomeini and other clerics declared that they were representatives of God on Earth and that anybody who opposed them would be regarded as a “moraheb,” an enemy of God, and executed. . . .