Hannah Elliott is a Lifestyle Reporter at Forbes.
A new memoir, A Time To Betray, puts author Reza Kahlili at such risk that it is published under a pseudonym.
Kahlili was an Iranian Revolutionary Guard member who worked uncover as a CIA agent during the 1980s and 1990s. The book chronicles the horrors Kahlili witnessed and follows the steps that led to his decision to approach the FBI with top-secret information about Iran, while on a vacation to visit his ailing aunt in America.
A Time To Betray is certainly a thriller, with Iranian intelligence always only one step behind Kahlili’s next move. But Kahlili also writes about an idyllic childhood and illustrates the Iran that disappeared after Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution.
We asked Kahlili about his book, his family and how America can improve its relationship with Iran.
Why was it important for you to write this book at such great risk?
The vision of a free Iran has never escaped my mind, even when I was escaping my own shadow. I stopped working for the CIA several years ago. I no longer have to fear living a double life; I no longer have to lie to my wife, and I’m no longer putting my loved ones at risk with my very existence. But while I should have been happy about this, I felt empty instead. I realized that by staying quiet, I was leaving my work incomplete. I contacted the CIA in the first place because I wanted to do what I could to rescue Iran from the madmen ruling it. This same need drove me to write this book. The world needs to know who the people of Iran are, how we have gotten here, and what the Islamic government has done to all of us for more than three decades.
How are your wife and son now? What was his reaction to the book?
My wife, Somaya, continues to be very supportive even though the publication of the book has caused her to relive some extremely uncomfortable experiences. Her love for the Iranian people and her hope for a free Iran have given her the strength to be by my side, and we are trying hard to stay close and work hard to make our voices heard. We have managed to keep this a secret from Omid, our son. It is so hard not to share all this with him, but for his safety it’s necessary to keep him and his family unaware.
Do you consider your life work successful? Would you have done anything differently?
I do and I don’t. I don’t because, even though I reported actions by the Islamic government that go against everything America believes in, Western politicians have failed to take action to help the Iranian people. It was most heartbreaking to me that the U.S. government and other Western officials sometimes even cooperated with the Iranian regime in the suppression of its people in hopes of gaining leverage with them.
At the same time, I feel I succeeded because I truly believe I saved some lives with my reports and that I’ve helped open the eyes of many to the pain and suffering of the Iranian people and their deep desire for freedom. I strongly believe that my work helped expose the true nature of the brutal Islamic regime and the dangers it poses to the world. This book is the culmination of my work. I am happy that my voice is being heard across the world and that perhaps my dream of making a change can finally come true.
The Iranian government left me with no choice but to betray my country in order to save it. If I had to do it all over again, I would probably do it the same way again.
Any advice to President Obama on his foreign policy, as it relates to Iran?
President Obama needs to realize that the Iranian leaders’ animosity toward the U.S. and the West has nothing to do with who the President of United States is or what our previous actions have been. The animosity is toward who the Westerners are – infidels – and once we realize that, then we can adopt policies that would have a better chance of success. We need to understand that Iran is determined to become a nuclear state and that Russia and China will not necessarily see eye-to-eye with us on this matter. Watered-down U.N. resolutions will have no impact on the Iranian drive for a bomb. President Obama needs to allow the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act to be voted on in the senate, as this would be a serious signal to Iran. He also needs to get together with our European allies and take action to corner Iran. This would create a crack in Iran’s leadership and embolden the Iranian people to force change. The only real solution for Iran is a regime change and this isn’t going to happen without the assistance of the West. Such a change would have unlimited benefit, not only for the people of Iran but for the Middle East and the world.
What is the biggest misconception that the West has about Iran?
In my opinion, the biggest misconceptions the West have about Iran is that it is possible to negotiate with the Iranian leadership, that there might be other players in power (Rafsanjani, Khatami, etc) who could change the direction of Iran’s policies, and that moderates might one day succeed in changing the regime’s behavior. The West has never quite understood the philosophy of the clerical establishment. This has led to repeated failures in their approaches and the repeated deceit of the Iranian leadership in keeping the West confused and indecisive. Since the Ayatollah Khomeini first took over, the regime has pursued a goal of becoming a power in the Middle East, influencing the entire region, and becoming untouchable.
What is the biggest misconception that Iran has about the West?
This is yet another misconception about the West – thinking that the other side has misconceptions as well. The only concept the regime holds is that all infidels must be eliminated. They truly believe that Islam must conquer the world and that all infidels must convert or be killed. In their version of Islam, there is no room for settlement or you-go-your-way-and-I-go-mine thinking. They believe unequivocally that Allah mandated the religion of Islam and that all must accept this and bow to it. They believe without reservation that one day the last messiah, Imam Mahdi, will reappear and conquer the world and kill all infidels. This is an absolute with them. I know this because I was at their meetings, I have been subjected to their teachings, I went to the front with them, and I pretended to be one of them.