Opinion

As a CIA spy, I saw in Iran what the West cannot ignore

We must defend freedom in Iran soon – or deal with nuclear-armed fanatics later.

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Today the West must make one of the most important decisions of our era. Will we defend what remains of democracy and freedom in Iran, or will we succumb to Tehran's murderous government?

It's a question that goes to the heart of our own security. Iran is a thugocracy of Islamic mullahs, and it will soon have nuclear arms. Any misconception about the intentions of fanatics with nuclear bombs will have grave consequences.

I know because I spent years alongside them as a CIA spy working under cover in Iran's Revolutionary Guards starting in the 1980s.

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The Guards Corps was set up as a check on the regular Army and to serve and secure the Islamic revolution. Thirty years of Western appeasement hasn't stopped them from terrorizing the West – or Iranians. Today, with Tehran's leaders caught in a power struggle over the June 12 election and the legitimacy of the regime, the Guards, led by zealots, are calling the shots.

The Guards – and the hardliner clerics they protect – are vulnerable, however. This summer's grass-roots uprising has put them on the defensive. A strong Western hand now could tip the balance.

We don't have a moment to lose. If we can't upend the Guards now, how can we do so once they have nuclear bombs?

Washington could lead the way by refusing to recognize President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who earlier today took the oath of office for his second, four-year term. Instead, the United States should demand the freedom – and the freedom of speech – for all who've been arrested and tortured in recent weeks. And we should toughen sanctions to include cutting off Iran's gasoline supplies.

The people of Iran are desperate for a show of support from the West. By standing with them, we can uphold our duty to defend democracy and take a stand for the security of the free world.

Such a stand would mark a radical policy change. For the past 30 years, the West has tried very hard to appease Iran's mullahs.

In the 1980s, I helped make known a secret pact between Iranian mullahs and some European governments. Thirsty for Iranian oil, the Europeans gave the go-ahead to Iranian agents to assassinate opposition members abroad without interference, as long as European citizens were not at risk. Hundreds of dissidents were gunned down.

The US has also been guilty of trying to appease the mullahs. Almost every administration after the 1979 Iranian Revolution has tried in vain to create better relations through back channels. Yet those efforts haven't stopped Iran's rulers from arming terrorists, taking hostages, and suppressing their own people.

The brutal killing of Iranians by their leaders that we're seeing today is nothing new. Ruling clerics have been killing political opponents, along with their families and friends, for 30 years – but inside prison walls.

I've been inside those walls and I've seen teenage girls who were raped before execution so they were no longer virgins and therefore, according to their Islamic beliefs, couldn't go to heaven. I've seen hundreds hung on cranes. I've seen women and men lined up in front of firing squads after being severely tortured; their families would be forced to pay for the cost of the bullets. Western officials were quite aware that this was happening, but they let their thirst for oil blind them.

Today, however, the screams of Iranians young and old calling for democracy and freedom cannot be ignored. The post-election uprising has started the countdown of the end of the thugocracy in Iran. This is the desire of the Iranian people. It should be our desire, too.

So far, the West has kept fairly quiet about Iran's unrest. President Obama and others say they don't want to give credence to Tehran's claims of a Western conspiracy behind the protests. And by not ruffling the regime's feathers, they hope to negotiate improved ties and resolve the nuclear impasse.

But how do you negotiate with a government composed of terrorists?

Right now, the Revolutionary Guards have near-complete control of Iran. This terrorist organization is expanding its power throughout the Middle East. Its ultimate goal is to bring the demise of the West.

With the help of North Korea, the Guards are working on long-range ballistic missiles in tests that are concealed by their space project.

The Guards have also accelerated their production of Sejil, solid fuel missiles, and are working nonstop to improve the range of those missiles. Today they can strike Tel Aviv, Riyadh, US bases in Iraq, and the US Navy's Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain. Their goal is to be able to target all of Europe.

The Guards are also working on their nuclear bomb project in facilities unknown to the West.

Iran's defense minister, Mostafa Najjar, who oversees the development of missile and nuclear technology, was in charge of the Revolutionary Guards forces in Lebanon that facilitated the attack on the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut on Oct. 23, 1983, killing 241 US servicemen.

The current deputy defense minister, Ahmad Vahidi, who oversees the distribution of arms and missiles to terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas, was the commander of the Guards' elite Quds Forces and the chief intelligence officer of the Guards in charge of the terrorist activities outside of Iran.

Mr. Vahidi is currently on Interpol's Most Wanted List for the attack on the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994 that killed 85 and injured more than 100.

Many Iranian officials have Interpol arrest warrants, and even supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei has been recognized in courts as one who has ordered such acts.

Fanatic radicals such as these are incompatible with a free Iran. This is the best opportunity in 30 years to change course and stop succumbing to thugs. Will we seize it?

"Reza Kahlili" is a pseudonym for an ex-CIA spy who requires anonymity for safety reasons. He is writing a book about his life and experiences as a CIA agent in Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

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