In my role a Wally, I would gather facts and information that only an insider with my connections could possibly access. There was an inherent danger to that. The regime was always on the lookout for spies, and when the United States took action on the information I would be providing, a red flag would surely go up among the Revolutionary Guards. How long could this go before they traced the leaks to me?
As Reza, a member of the elite Guards, my role was to look and act the part of a devout Muslim enforcing all the new rules laid down by the mullahs. A full black beard was a mandatory accessory to the Guard's uniform, and I sported one along with every other member of the Guards. The image of a Scowling black-bearded Guard in uniform mustered fear and garnered respect. Playing the part of a zealot did not come naturally to me, and there were times I had to do thing I dreaded: cautioning young girls to cover up, barking at kids for not displaying proper Islamic behavior, taking on the persona of a fanatic. Back in Iran now, I knew I would have to try to convince myself that doing these things allowed me to maintain my role—and maintaining my role allowed me to contribute to the downfall of the organization to which I so fervently imitated allegiance.
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About the Author
Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym to protect the author’s identity. Reza was born in Tehran, Iran, and served in the Revolutionary Guards and acted as a spy for the CIA. He now lives in California.
Read an Excerpt
A Time to BetrayThe Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent Inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran
By Reza Kahlili
Threshold EditionsCopyright © 2010 Reza Kahlili
All right reserved.
TRUTH OR LIES
?I WAS FOLLOWED,? I said.
CIA agent Steve Clark uncrossed his legs. He leaned forward, his expression stiffening. ?Followed??
I tried not to let my voice reflect my nervousness. ?Yes. I thought I might be imagining it, but I took a few diversions and the tail was still there. It took me an hour to lose him.?
Agent Clark leveled his blue eyes at me. ?Wally, I want you to be completely aware of the consequences if things go wrong. The United States government will deny any relationship to you. There won?t be a navy fleet coming to your rescue. I?m sorry to be so blunt, but you must understand this. Do I make myself clear??
I swallowed hard and said, ?Yes. I understand.? It was difficult to miss Agent Clark?s message: I was disposable.
It was 1981. The revolutionary Islamic government had been in power in Iran for more than two years. In that time, it had ensnared my country and my people in its brutal grip. I had seen friends executed in cold blood, their last look carved in my memory forever. But now, I was as far away from that government as I had been since the revolution, in a safe house high above California?s Malibu.
With my CIA contact.
Making plans to return to my homeland as a spy.
The world?s most powerful intelligence agency had given me the code name Wally. I never thought to ask them why they chose it. It was hard to believe that I looked like a Wally in their eyes, but maybe that was why they gave the name to me. The assignment they asked me to undertake would have been dangerous for any Iranian. But I was not just any Iranian. I was a member of the dreaded Sepah-e-Pasdaran, the Ayatollah Khomeini?s Revolutionary Guards.
Now that Agent Clark knew I understood that I was ultimately on my own, he moved forward. ?We?ve arranged for you to be trained in Europe. We chose London since you mentioned your in-laws live there. This should not arouse any suspicion. In London, you?ll meet the people who will be your contacts from here on out. These are good people, Wally.?
He handed me a slip of paper with a phone number to call my new contact in London, a woman named Carol. ?Under no circumstances should you use a private phone. Always make your calls from public phones.?
I stared at the number for a long time, trying to keep my feelings in check. I was terrified at the thought of where my return to Iran would lead me. The Revolutionary Guards looked everywhere for spies. No one was above suspicion. And they were likely to be especially wary of me when I got back. I hadn?t just traveled out of the country; I?d gone to the United States, a sworn enemy. They knew I?d gone to college in America and I?d given them a good reason for my being there now, but they would certainly question me when I returned. How would I hold up to their scrutiny?
If they caught me, I knew what would happen. I had seen what they did to spies and to those who opposed the government. The Guards drugged them, raped their wives and children in front of them, and gouged out their eyeballs, all in an effort to get them to talk. I thought of my wife, Somaya, and shuddered.
As they did every day, the visions came to me of what I had witnessed in the infamous Evin Prison, where the government kept political detainees. They?d paraded teenage girls in front of me as they led them to their deaths. These girls were barely out of their childhood, barely old enough to think for themselves, much less form thoughts against the state. They knew nothing about the machinations of politics. They were innocent in every sense of the word and certainly innocent of the trumped-up charges that led to their imprisonment. Yet they suffered fates too brutal for even the most vicious criminal. None of these girls would ever know the joys of romantic love. None of them would ever hold her own baby in her arms. Their few remaining moments of life had been filled with a level of abuse few can imagine.
Agent Clark startled me out of my thoughts. I realized he had been watching me as I stared off into space. ?Yes??
?There is one other thing, and I don?t want you to take it personally. It?s just part of the procedure we have to go through.? He cleared his throat. ?You?ll have to undergo a lie-detector test.?
I didn?t protest. This made sense, of course. Agent Clark might have been comfortable with me and confident about my motives, but if I were a professional spy on behalf of the Revolutionary Guards, they would have trained me to behave exactly as I had in the CIA?s presence. The lie-detector test was insurance.
Agent Clark arranged for the test to take place in the Hacienda Hotel in El Segundo, just south of Los Angeles International Airport. I entered through the restaurant, as instructed, and walked to the back hall. This led to a bank of elevators. From there I headed to room 407, taking the stairway instead of the elevator to make sure no one was following me. At the room, I used the key Agent Clark had given me. He was already there.
The agent administering the test arrived shortly thereafter, carrying an oversized briefcase. He didn?t offer his name, only nodding instead. I noticed that he?d tied the knot on his thin tie too tight.
Though I wasn?t hiding anything from the CIA, I began to feel a hint of panic. The agent must have noticed this, because he smiled and told me to relax. Doing so was not going to be easy for me. As the agent unpacked his equipment, my heart pounded. I glanced at Agent Clark and he offered me a reassuring look. This did little to calm me.
The other agent explained the process, telling me what each of the several wires coming from the machine did. The agent would be reading my nervous system, which I had disciplined myself to control, though I wasn?t doing the best job of it right now. I eyed the door. For just a moment, I considered making a break for it. I would find some peaceful place where neither the CIA nor the Revolutionary Guards could find me.
But then I remembered the executions. The hangings. The torture. My friends. And my resolve returned as never before.
The agent asked me to sit down and roll up my sleeves. He hooked the wires from the machine to my arms, wrist, fingers, and chest. Sweat formed on my forehead.
?You can relax, Wally,? the agent said. ?This isn?t going to hurt.?
Agent Clark moved into the second room of the suite, closing the door behind him. The other agent told me to look straight ahead. He sat to my right, adjusted himself a couple of times, and said he was going to ask some questions; all I needed to do was answer with a simple yes or no. He bent over, concentrating intently as a roll of paper extruded from the machine, his pen ready to make notations.
?Is your name Reza Kahlili??
?Are you twenty-seven years old??
?Were you born in Iran??
?Are you married??
?Do you work for the Revolutionary Guards??
?Did they ask you to come here??
?Did they help you with your travel plans??
?Did they ask you to contact us??
?Have you contacted the Guards since being here??
?Have you told them about this meeting??
I noticed that several of the questions seemed repetitive, with nuanced differences. I wondered if this was the agent?s attempt to trip me up.
?Does your wife know you are here??
?She knows I am in America but she doesn?t know I am with you.?
?Stay with yes or no, please. Does anyone know about your contact with the CIA??
?No ? well, yes ? Well, not really ? but FBI agents ??
He did not let me finish. ?Only yes or no, Wally.?
I was sweating heavily at this point. This made the places where the agent had attached the electrodes itchy. The agent watched me shift in my seat and then made a notation. I wondered how badly my obvious nervousness was hurting my chances.
The agent turned two pages in his notes, seeming to skip ahead. ?Have you been inside Evin Prison??
?Do the interrogators rape virgins before they?re executed??
?I ? I didn?t realize Agent Clark would be telling you ??
?Yes or no, please, Wally.?
I swallowed as memories tumbled one after the other. Parvaneh?s last look at me. Roya?s letter. ?Yes. They rape the virgins before they are executed because they believe virgins are sent straight to heaven.?
?Wally, please, just yes or no. Did you witness this??
?Did you witness tortures and executions at Evin Prison??
In the hum of the air conditioning, I could hear Naser calling, ?Reeezzzza.?
I exhaled slowly. ?Yes.?
The agent turned back a couple of pages to where he had been.
?Do you work for the Revolutionary Guards as their chief computer engineer??
?Did you acquire this position through Kazem Aliabadi??
?Was Kazem Aliabadi a childhood friend??
?Was Naser Hushmand also a childhood friend??
?As far as you know, is Kazem loyal to the goals of the Revolutionary Guards??
?As far as you know, is Kazem aware that you do not share his beliefs??
?As far as you know, does Kazem consider you loyal to the goals and ideals of the Revolutionary Guards??
?Have you taken an oath to remain loyal to the Revolutionary Guards, including a vow to become a martyr for the Ayatollah Khomeini??
?Is Kazem aware that you took this oath??
?Do you consider it immoral to break an oath to your friend??
I felt a lump in my throat as a tide rose in my chest. My eyes brimmed with tears. I had left home a respected member of the exclusive Revolutionary Guards. I would return a jasoos, a spy betraying my country. I knew that if my father were alive and found out what I was doing, he would turn his back on me. I knew that my grandmother, who taught me to be a devoted Muslim and to be honest and trustworthy, would be ashamed of me.
Through the roar of blood in my ears, I heard the agent ask, ?Would you like me to repeat the question??
How could I be a spy if I could not hide my emotions and provide fast answers to provocative questions? I had joined the Guards with the purest intentions. I believed at the beginning of the revolution that the Islamic movement was fair and just, carrying the promise of a nation?s salvation. Instead, I had witnessed brutality, murders, and lies committed in the name of God. I had witnessed the destruction of a nation. Because of this, I was about to embark on a life of treason. I was going to lie to my wife, lie to the people I loved most. I was going to risk their lives without giving them the chance to protect themselves.
The CIA saw me as a godsend, an asset they needed at a time when they were struggling to understand the threat that Iran had become to them. If I was going to help them, they needed to know what made me tick. Yet I wasn?t sure I could explain myself to them. How could I make them understand why I was risking my family and betraying my friends to save my country when I wasn?t sure myself?
For the first time since I?d begun this journey, tears broke over the edge of my eyes and dripped down my cheeks.
?Wally,? the agent said softly, ?do you consider it immoral to break an oath to your friend??
The question split my soul in two.
Because the two people inside me had contradictory answers. And God would not send half of me to hell.
? Reza Kahlili
Excerpted from A Time to Betray by Reza Kahlili Copyright © 2010 by Reza Kahlili. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Truth or Lies 1
2 Three Friends 8
3 Coming to America 28
4 Shah Raft: The Revolution 41
5 The Invincible Imam 56
6 A Funeral and a Wedding 66
7 Evin Prison 78
8 Commitments 87
9 The Prayer 96
10 Code Name: Watty 109
11 Tricks of the Trade 119
12 Training for Espionage 134
13 A Spy Returns Home 142
14 Brothers in Arms 149
15 Hope and Peril 158
16 Hejab l69
17 The Torch Is Passed 179
18 The Radical 190
19 Suspicions 198
20 Another Martyr 210
21 Too Close to Home 223
22 Far From Home 237
23 Gods House 245
24 Brother, My Brother 255
25 Leaving Home 271
z6 Back into the Cold 280
27 Eye for an Eye 289
28 Double Agent 295
29 Free at Last? 308
30 Vatan 3l8
31 Omid, Hope 328
What People are Saying About This
"This is the first inside account by someone so strategically placed. Without embellishing, Kahlili manages to convey the horror of Iran's regime after the downfall of the shah." -Library Journal
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book had the potential to be a thrilling account of espionage in one of the most dangerous places at the most dangerous time in the world. Instead, it focused largely on family matters and feelings. It was often repetitious. There were moments of intrigue; meetings with CIA operatives, close calls with the Revolutionary Guards and the typical tribulations of leading a double life. However these came second in importance to the author's struggle to be himself to his wife and his fellow Guardsman, while being someone else to the CIA. The book leaves the reader feeling as worn out as Kahlili must have been at the end of his journey. A quick but mediocre read.
I absolutely hands down feel this is the best book I have ever read!!! I feel as though it has opened my eyes and made me want to learn so much I wasn't aware of!! Everyone should take this time to read this book you will not be disappointed!!
Reza Kahlili (whatever his real name might be) is no James Bond. Bond was equipped with an arsenal of clever weapons that could be depended upon to protect him from his country¿s enemies. Reza Kahlili had only a code book, coupled with a deep desire to overthrow the murderers that rule his country. Yes, Bond, if captured, might face torture and death. But Reza Kahlili, if recognized as an agent of the CIA, would be forced to watch the rape and torture of his wife before she and his young son would finally be allowed to die. Only then would Kahlili¿s interrogators turn to him. Yes, Reza Kahlili is no James Bond."A Time to Betray" is Kahlili¿s account of how he came to ¿betray¿ Iran in an attempt to save the country from its radical and murderous leadership. Because of his position as a computer expert for Iran¿s Revolutionary Guards and his childhood friendship with Kazem, one of those now in charge of security issues inside the Guards, Kahlili is able to gather and transmit details that are otherwise unavailable to U.S. intelligence agencies. He will finally come to realize that the cover provided by his well known connection to Kazem is almost certainly the only reason he was able to survive for so long as a CIA agent ¿ and, by the time he realizes this, he will be searching frantically for a way to escape Iran for good.As a child, Reza Kahlili had two close friends, Naser and Kazem. Naser and Reza lived in the same upscale neighborhood, each of them part of a family within which the requirements of Islam were not strictly followed. Their friend Kazem was their opposite in several ways. He lived in a poor neighborhood, had to make regular meat deliveries from his father¿s butcher shop, and, what would prove to be most important regarding the futures of the three boys, he came from a devout Muslim family. As young men, the boys would take separate paths but they would remain close friends even during the years Reza studied computer science at the University of Southern California. Things would forever change, however, with the revolution of 1979 and the ascendance to power of the Ayatollah Khomeini, a religious fanatic who would ultimately be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his people. One would wholeheartedly support Khomeini, one would march in protest of Khomeini¿s policies, and the other would choose a middle road from which he hoped to bring positive change."A Time to Betray" is a thrilling story, one filled with vivid images of the atrocities witnessed by Kahlili at the infamous Evin Prison and on the streets of the city. Readers will be horrified by Kahlili¿s description of what countless young women were forced to endure in Evin before being marched to the firing squad, a death many of them came to welcome. And they will find it difficult to forget the details of the stoning of a woman convicted of adultery, a ¿crime¿ she committed only because she had no other way to feed her children. They will be angered that the culture¿s built-in hypocrisy demands death for such women but seldom even punishes the men involved. Reza Kahlili has told a dramatic story, one so dramatic that I have to question the timing of some of the events recounted in the book. On at least three occasions, timing is too convenient not to arouse suspicion that some events were placed in Kahlili¿s timeline at the most dramatic points possible in order to maximize their effect. I do not question that they happened, just when they happened. Despite this misgiving about "A Time to Betray," I believe the book is a worthy read, one to which Western readers would do well to allocate some reading time.Rated at: 4.0
An interesting and absorbing account; although some of his accounts of unverifiable conversations seem a bit too convenient to the image of himself he is trying to present (e.g. confronting his friend about the morality of his role in the regime right before the friend gets killed).
To me, the whole book sounds like a bad novel, pretending to be for real, and riding on the scare for Iran, in order to get good publicity. A waste of time.
This is a must-read book. I had no idea that the Iranians were under a rule they did not want. It is only the radical Islamists who want the country to be what it is. The author of this book took great risks to go undercover and let the West know what was going on there. What courage! It is a gripping tale of how Rez Kahlili grew up with his childhood friends, came to the US to study, got into the Revolutionary Guard, saw how brutal the government was, knew it wasn't right and endeavored to do something about it. . The atrocities that occur there will occur here if people don't pay attention to how this can happen. I highly recommend reading this book to understand the situation in Iran,have compassion for her people and make sure the same thing doesn't come here.