A concerned citizen and supporter of the Iranian cause for freedom went through the trouble of transcribing the Q&A from my presentation at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy given in front of over 100 dignitaries, policy makers and media.
MIKE EISENSTADT (moderator)
If I can ask you a question about the institutional culture of the Revolutionary Guard during the decade that you were living in Iran and serving in the Rev Guard. From reading your book I got the impression that you, yourself personally, and probably your family were supporters maybe of the Freedom Movement, Medi Bazargan, Ibrahim Yazdi , you talked about the influence of Ali Shariati in forming your world view. So, you were not in the mainstream, after 1979. You were not in the mainstream certainly in terms of your own family’s politics, whereas you were recruited by your friend Kazem, who seemed very much to be the part of the mainstream. So if you could tell us about the vetting procedures, you know through the 80s. How did ideological indoctrination within the Revolutionary Guard work, how were personnel vetted for reliability, and was there a change in the culture of the Revolutionary Guard during the decade you were there, and what were the main lines of division within the Revolutionary Guard. And how did that impact on your ability to later on to recruit people. Were people recruited for personal reasons, ideological reasons, and were these divisions part of the factor in your recruiting efforts. If you are able to talk about these things.
Thank you. I will try to cover as much as I can. When I was recruited in the guards, basically the majority of the Revolutionary Guards were simple people, many of them not even graduated from high school. They were religious, but not fanatics. They joked, we watched western movies, and necessarily they did not need to have Islamic hejab . Even I would observe some of the guards listening to western music, which was very odd. It caught me by surprise when once I entered one of my buddy’s office and he was listening to Olivia Newton John. So they were regular people. I would divide the Guards into three sections, if I may. One is regular kids from the neighborhood, innocent, religious, but not fanatics, one of them opportunistic, trying to make a buck and you know, explore opportunities, and the other fanatics, who truly believed that Islam has to conquer the world, and that Allah wants them to carry out this mission, no matter what the price. So basically, this is what I think that sill exists in Iran. If the Revolutionary Guards are ordered to carry out a massacre, the majority of forces will drop down their guns and will not carry out that order. There is a division in the Guards and the majority of these people joined just because of Ayatollah Khomeini. He was their God, he was their Prophet. They do not have the same commitment to any of the current leaders or the previous leaders. Ayatollah Khamenei does not carry that authority, actually there is a resentment against him and how he has carried out his duties. So there is this fanatical minority that are in the command and control position, and they are the ones that are keeping this infrastructure together right now.
OK we are ready to take questions. Over here first mam, And please again, use the mic, identify yourselves please, I’m taking down names, so we will get to you.
Q: Elise Labott, CNN . Thank you for your presentation and for joining us today. I was wondering. You said that in recent months you have passed on information to the CIA from your contacts in the Guard . I was wondering [ illegible]
… truly believed that the regime is going down . We had a joke among ourselves actually going back to early 80s and that was when you hear people out there saying death to this regime, it is the time to take off the uniform, and run for your life. And this was a serious matter. They would discuss this. So it came very close to collapsing and I think the West failed in carrying out their duties in supporting strongly and vocally the inspirations of the Iranian people. We failed in that and we let them down. But right now it seems that they are in control. People are disenchanted obviously, but so many lives have been lost, so much cruelty has been brought upon them, that it is going to be very very difficult for them to overthrow this regime by themselves.
Ok sir with the yellow shirt over here, we are moving our way across, right over, here …Mike
Q: Mike Connors, Center for Naval Analyses. I have a question about the Basij . You talked mostly about Sepah. But about the Basij. How does the recruitment process for the Basij work. What does it take to be a Basij member. Are they draftees or are they all volunteers?
Well, actually, I missed that part in my last answering to Michael’s question. In recruiting Guards, really the vetting is not, and it was not and it has not been that severe even though the Mujahedin (MEK) were very active in infiltrating and posing a great danger to the Guards . The only department that had serious vetting was the intelligence unit. They had to know the person. You had to be an insider, know his family, his relatives, background, everything was vetted. So people in the intelligence unit are the people that are known, and that have been found to be very loyal to the system. As for the Basijis, I was out there dealing with Basijis, they were young kids from rural areas, illiterate and basically they were brainwashed through the training process. I also witnessed women Basijis, that we would take to camps. They would be trained in carrying arms, shooting and all that, very illiterate and again brainwashed. But the Basijis you see right now are not the same basijis who fought in the warfront sacrificing their lives. These are paid thugs. These are cruel people, criminals who are simply doing it for the pay. There is no religious belief behind that.
Barbara Slavin, next
Q: Barbara Slavin:
Thank you very much for coming here today. Fascinating. You said that you were associated with, a supporter of the Freedom Movement. So how were you able to pass the vetting to get into the sensitive position in the guards? And also if I may ask. You also said that the West let down the Iranian people last fall when there were so many demonstrations. What realistically do you think outsiders could have done then, or could do now, given the force of arms that the government has? Thank you.
Thank you so much for your question. Well, when I say I was supporting the Freedom Movement, basically as I have explained in my book I was a student here who got into the revolutionary mood, and became energized with the revolution. When I went back I did not support any specific group. I just went back to help my country, and due to the fact that my best friend was in the Guards and the Guards was at the preliminary stage of taking shape, due to my expertise and knowledge I was hired and I carried out my duties. I was not part of the military apparatus, but as far as providing a technical aspect in setting up, you know, whatever I was doing and helping in with. Now, you are saying how could the West could have helped. That is a great question. The West has betrayed its principles for over 30 years, and I can clearly say today, even though I love the West, the reason I came back to America provided my life to become a spy was that I love America because of its principles. Because of its history. Because of its great people who have done unimaginable things. Because they resented so many evil acts in the world. They put an end to segregation, slavery, fascism, Communism, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing and its been our courage and our determination that has put an end to atrocities throughout the world. We have been the guiding light for the people of the world to aspire for freedom. And what did we do for thirty years? We accommodate the very mullahs that are killing our soldiers, that are a grave national security threat to our country. We accommodated them.
Barbara Slavin: We have sanctions against Iran, though. We don’t have diplomatic relations with Iran. I do not see how the US has been accommodating the mullahs. But anyway.
Here is how they have been. We’ve been through many years of back channel negotiations, every time you do negotiate, every time you send a letter you provide an extended hand, you call Iran the Islamic Republic of Iran, you send flowers, you send chocolate, you send cakes and you invite them to parties. This is how you betray your principles. This is how you give them legitimacy. You better call it out. Call out evil. Come out and say this is wrong. We are not going to stand for it. We are going to support freedom Just call it out. How was communism defeated? Did we go to WWIII? No. President Reagan was determined, he was courageous. He was true to his belief and he brought an empire down.
Q: Jamie Weinstein from the Daily Caller.
There is a debate in the foreign policy establishment. A lot of people believe that the Iranian leadership and members of the Revolutionary Guard are fundamentally rational. If they got a nuclear weapon they would not use it. Others believe that they are apocalyptic, and would use the weapon to bring back the return of the Hidden Imam, the Mahdi. Where do you fall down on this? Do you believe that if Iran got a nuclear weapon they would use it against Israel or someone else?
Thank you very much. Well, we should not even have this discussion at this point in time. You know, it bewilders me, it confuses me, and I think the failure is due to the fact that we are used to logic, we are used to a rational mind, and that is why we see everything within that box. Our mind determines our world view. Our world view demands our actions. And this failure that we cannot think outside the box, has had us involved in Afghanistan since after the 9/11, has had us confused how to deal with Taliban, with fanatics, and has had us mostly confused how to deal with Iran. Let me tell you, and this is my opinion, just like anybody out there , the difference is, I slept in the same bunkers, I was preached the same sermon, I went to the warfront, and I know how they feel.
Once they get the nuclear bomb, and they have the nuclear capability, and anybody can determine this because they are running multiple convert operations, parallel projects of nuclear bomb and missile delivery systems. It is a parallel project for one purpose, and I can argue both sides of the coin, but my belief is that .this is a messianic regime, there should be no doubts, they will commit the most horrendous suicide bombing in human history. They will attack Israel, European capitals and Persian Gulf region at the same time, then they will hide in a bunker waiting for Mahdi to get out of that well, ride the white horse, draw that sword and kill the rest of the nonbelievers.
Now to al lot of people here in the West think this is crazy talk. But if you give it 1 percent chance, are you willing to risk it? The other side of the coin is that, let’s say that they have a rational mind, let’s say that they are interested in survival, let’s say they just want to use it as a source to protect their government, to become untouchable. The proliferation is going to become a disaster, and I was at the front row seats of Mohsen Razaei when they brought out the new strategy which was numbers meaning a thousand small groups of small boats is going to cause a threat. A thousand suitcase bombs spread around Europe and the US is going to pose a threat. You are not going to get a handle on the proliferation. They are going to be untouchable. They are going to pass it on to Hezbollah, to Syria, to Venezuela. It is going to become a nightmare. Or more so because they are sitting on more than 50 percent of the world’s energy, gas an oil. The stability of the flow of energy is essential for global economy and our survival. Even if they were the most rational people, which they are not, no one, no one should have access to the nuclear bomb in the Persian Gulf, unless there is a replacement for oil. And that is if you’ve got a really cold heart and you do not give a damn about the Iranian people.
Q:Thank you, this is Studen Dalle a freelance writer. I have two quick questions and for clarifications. The first one is, you said that while in Europe you became a double agent. One was evidently CIA, who was the doubling partner, and the second question is did I hear you right that you said that Iran accomplished enriching uranium 90 percent. Thank you.
To answer the first part of your question. While I was in Europe I had to act for the Revolutionary Guards in reconnaissance of the opposition members, in that specific country. So that’s what I mean that I had to become double agent. I had to carry out some things for them, but truly I was working for the CIA, trying to understand their network over there. But as for the second part, yes that’s what I’ve heard and this is something that I’ve heard. And I believe that it has happened. They have enriched over 90 percent I do not know the stock pile that has been done but this was long before they publicly announced the 20 percent threshold.
Q: Clare Lopez, I am with the center for Security Policy. I wanted to ask, I know that you left Iran before the 1990s, but what can you tell us about the operational relationship between the Iranian regime and Al Qaida, and specifically the IRGC role in that. We know that the top ranks of the Iranian regime Rafsanjani and Fallahian and Vahidi went to Sudan in the 1990s to meet with Osama bin laden and Zwahiri and Imad Mughnia.
What do you know that became of that after?
One thing that I left out that I was going to talk about which is in relation to your question is that during Quds ceremonies, the day of Quds in Iran all these leaders of the Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and others would come to Teheran, they would be placed in a hotel, they would be handed out cash, millions of dollars in cash, and in private meetings with Rafsanjani given details of their mission. So their cooperation with terrorists around the world, is you know, quite clearly documented. As for as Al Qaeda, Mr. Ahmed Vahidi , he used to be the chief intelligence officer of the guards before the Quds forces were formed and then he became the commander of the Quds forces. He is the main figure you have to focus on. He is the current defense minister and under Interpol’s red listing for the Jewish community center bombing. But he is one of the main figures that is involved in the proliferation of arms through Taliban, Al Qaeda , Hezbollah, Hamas and others . They provide training, funds and arms. The same as in Iraq. I do not have the knowledge of his close ties with Osama bin Laden, but what I know and this is true what I’ve heard from the Guard members, as I’ve stated in my book, he has had meetings with Al -Zawahiri and he is in communication with them . And they have provided full security and they fulfill the needs of the Al Qaeda leadership. My personal gut feeling is that Iranian agents here in the US and that is my observation, they were aware of the 9/11. They knew before hand that something was going to happen. Their behavior changed. I observed that, but I do not have any solid proof to provide you with any documents. That is only my observation.
Q: Oman. I am with the Voice of America. What do you know about the Guard’s Center For Strategic Studies?
I do not know much about that
Q:According to the Iranian sources apparently that is the biggest think tank for the IRGC especially after Ahmadinejad.
You are talking about Abass, I forgot his name, he is one of the strategist at the think tank , and the guy responsible for …
Q:Oman . The Persian name is ….
No, I do not have much information for you
Q: David Kane with the Department of Homeland Security. My question is: How extensive of a role did the Muslim Brotherhood play under the Khomeini regime. Both internally and externally, if any?
Well again, I am sorry to disappoint you. I do not have much information on that.
Moderator, I could put in a plug Mehdi Khalaji. Iran specialist, has written a piece about the external relationship between the regime and Akhavan al Muslemin and the various countries in the region, which is on our website.
Q: Ben Coxman:
You suggested that Bush and also, I guess Obama, are on the wrong track with diplomacy and possibly also sanctions. Are you prepared to suggest other strategies, and would more forceful strategies really be in the interest of the Iranian people, which you’ve emphasized should also be our priority?
Thank you so much. Well, let me first address this and then I’ll get to your question, because it is in relation to that. You have to understand that the mullahs‘ lobbies here in Washington and in the US have run a very successful campaign of keeping every US administration indecisive and frozen in its place with hopes of negotiations and with fear of taking any action, In my opinion, they have painted this ugly donkey and sold it as a good horse to the American administrations over and over and over and over again , and I can go till infinity on that. They have given every reason for US not to act and this is directly from the MOIS, this is planned over there, and spread through their agents here. They form non-profit organizations here in the cause of human rights or political freedom. Then they get enough people interested in their movement or within their movement or within the policy circles. They donate to candidates. They get into our universities. They get access to media, put out Op-Eds, So this has been a long process to keep Iran out of harms way and to protect the Iranian rulers. Now, Iranian people barely a year and a half into the revolution, they wanted this regime to be overthrown. And they’ve paid dearly for this. This is real pain and suffering. I am talking about rape, rape of teen-age girls before they are lined up to be executed. I’m talking about young boys 17 or 18 years old or students who were tortured in unimaginable ways and then hung from cranes.
So what do the Iranians want? They want freedom. Sanctions is a fantasy, is an illusion. Change of behavior? You‘re dreaming! Stop dreaming, please! There is not going to be a change of behavior. You are not dealing with rational people. They take it literally from the Quran. And Quran says that those who oppose you , your enemy, are among the idiots and stupid , this is what they think of you. Every time you provide an extended hand, they do not see it as honest approach, out of sincerity, out of a wish to come to a peaceful resolution, they see it as stupidity.
So sanctions unless, and this is what I propose, let me get down with that. I have put up many article and been on many radio shows and I put the same thing up. Short of war, what you have to do today, not tomorrow, today, all the European countries have to cut all diplomatic ties. Find the courage. This is for your safety, this is for your national security. This is for the survival of our world as we know it. Cut all diplomatic ties. Cut off shipping lines, airspace, corner the country. There will be cracks. Rats will start jumping ship. People will be emboldened , this government will be overthrown very fast. Other than that the only solution will be war. Now do we want to fight them when they don’t have a nuclear bomb or when they do have a nuclear bomb? We want to fight them when they do not have a nuclear bomb.
Q:[illegible].. 9/11 in advance. Do you know anything about the famous meeting or maybe non meeting that took place in Prague between Muhammad Ata and Iraqi intelligence?
I wish I knew but unfortunately I don’t. This is just my observation of seeing how the Iranian agents’ associates behaved before 9//11. I saw a drastic change and that is why I feel they knew it’s coming.
Could you talk about the religious views of people that you knew in the Guards. How well do you think that they were versed in Islam, and did you think that they ere personally very pious people, was there a lot of interest in studying religious issues. Did you have a lot of discussions about religious matters? Was it important to these people that they felt that the activities that they were carrying out were in fact religiously proper? In other words, how much of a role did religion play in their life and how well informed were they about religion?
That’s a very good question. I am going to answer it this way. Within our group, 20 -30 people we had those who listened to Olivia Newton John, we had those who were willing to go to the warfront, we had those who believe that Islam would conquer the world. Now, those who truly believed in what the leaders were providing to the population, were the minority, put it that way. But all of them did their prayers and fasting and they believed in Islam and all of them shared the common feeling about Israel, that that’s the enemy of Islam. As for America, you will find it interesting, I had the most devout of these members wanting to come to America, and live in America. So I don’t think you can put America and Israel in the same place in their eyes, well obviously the majority of Iranians are pro-West. Did I answer your question?
Q: Barbara Slavin
If I could do one more. What do you think would be the reaction of the Iranian people if the United States would use military force against Iran despite their dislike, contempt, anger at the regime. Do you really think that the Iranian people would welcome being attacked?
Well, again this is based on what I know, and what I felt. This is another thing that MOIS lobbies have been selling to America for a long time. That if you attack Iran the people of Iran are going to unite behind their rulers and defend them to the end of time. Let me say it very clearly now: People of Iran are dying. They are being beaten in the streets for walking slowly. They are being given demands for haircuts, or how you can walk, or how you can talk. They are being taken to Even prison and other places, tortured and executed. They would love for you to take these, and I am not going to use that word, to take these people out. There was a saying during the time of 9/11 when America attacked Afghanistan, that Iranians were on the rooftops saying, this way please. They have been saying this way please for thirty years and you have failed to understand that. So if there is a military action, I would highly suggest that please do not take out the infrastructure, do not hurt the Iranian people, do not bomb the heck out of Iran, they are your allies, they are your friends. Take out the Revolutionary Guards. We know of every base of every location. You can carry out a week of severe bombings of the Revolutionary Guards and at the same time vocally announce your support for the freedom of Iran, and the people would do the rest.
Q: My name is Amir Fakhravar. I am the president of the Iranian Freedom Institute. I want to say thank you, for your great comment, you are so brave . And about the last part about the war. I am really sad. We are all of us against the war, but everything you said is right. And special thanks for the comment about the Institutes in Washington DC that they are lobbying for the Islamic Republic. I have a direct question about sanctions. I personally disagree with all kinds of sanctions . Because all kind of sanctions will hurt the people and the oil sanctions, I am talking about the oil embargo, are the only sanction which would hurt the government. What do you think about this part? Because the Islamic Republic. they have 85 to 90 percent of their money directly from selling oil. And with this money they can pay the salaries to Basijis and Revolutionary Guards three times more than the average salaries of the government employee and they can continue with their stupid nuclear program with this money, petro dollars. And they can support all terrorist groups in the world with this money. Why no one in the world wants to look at this part? What do you think about this? I think that is the best way to cut the lifeline of the mullahs.
Thank you so much for your kind words. I share your ideas that we should put every pressure on. An oil embargo and oil sanctions would be very good because basically that is their bread and butter. It would suffocate that pipeline of inflow and therefore pose serious challenges for the regime to keep intact because currently this regime is only staying in power by paying off cold blooded murderers and thugs. It is no longer about loyalty, it is no longer about Islam or religion, those who carry out their orders are just doing it for the money. But I think it will be very hard to enforce that with China and some other countries. If it happens that will be the fastest way to choke them off.
Q,Moderator: I could just build on the question though. Could you talk about some of the privileges, in terms of pay and other things that were given to members, at least in the in the Rev Guard in the 80s. What kind of privileges did you have as a result of being in the Revolutionary Guards, as compared to people in the regular military forces?
Well yes, I missed addressing that. When I was there, there was not much privilege. If you think that they got cars and homes and things like that, no. The majority were given a very modest salary. I would say at that time if you were to exchange it for dollars in the black market, I would say about $100, $200 hundred dollars a month, so they were paid very modesty, they carried a very modest life. They did not profit, the majority of the forces. But then there were those who were opportunistic and the Revolutionary Guards provided the springboard to move into the Foreign Ministry, move into other areas that was much more lucrative. So I hope I have addressed that.
Q: Gamal Ellery from the combating terrorism in the Technical Support Office. There is an article today at STRATFOR mentioning that the leader of the IRGC and MOIS is the same person. How do you view this development, and because the normal agencies have separation of powers. Also then can you comment on the illicit trade that the IRGC is involved in?
Well, IRGC has been involved in counterfeiting for many, many years. The two things they do, one is counterfeiting of US dollars and the other is drugs. They are a separate entity. Not only they have access to the revenue of the state. Right now more so because a lot of contracts go to them especially through the Khatam Al Anbia base. But they won separate operations under the GOS forces, which is counterfeit and drug money. As for as Jaffari being the same person in charge of the MOIS and the Revolutionary Guards, I have no personal knowledge of that , but we all know the events after the fraudulent election of Ahmadinejad and the dismissal of the minister of the intelligence ministry.
Q : I wanted to ask you a question about Admiral Mullen’s comments that the conflict with Iran would be extremely destabilizing globally, and in terms of the Muslim world, what would be your assessment? Would it really be very unpredictably destabilizing?
That’s a great question. We heard this before the First Persian Gulf War, and the second one against Iraq. Everybody was saying in the Middle East, the Middle East leaders, people hearing that will be destabilizing to the Muslim world and how they are going to rise up, get on their horses and attack us from every front. This is totally untrue. You got to understand that an attack on Iran will have consequences. They will probably have Hezbollah attack Israel. If Israel attacks Iran, Iran will definitely hit Israel with multiple missiles. They will make the Persian Gulf insecure. Their first goal would be to drive up the oil prices, break our back so that we will back down. But the question is, is it going to be more destabilizing now or when they have the nukes with slippery fingers with the Mahdi waiting to come out at any minute. That is the logic we got to use. Let’s go back to history and study that every time we set silent in fear of some kind of a reaction, things got rapidly worse, we paid a heavier price, many of our brave men and women lost their lives to bring back security and stability. And I think that in this point in time we are at that juncture and that it is going to be too late very soon, and we have a big decision to make and it time to have courage.
Q: My name is Mark Dore. Simply here because I am a concerned individual about what’s going on and I was interested in your comment earlier about that the Guards have a viewpoint that Israel is against Islam, and I was interested, is that rampant across all of Iran as a people because when the Shah was ruling, he was pro Israel and it seemed like there was a good relationship. And then as a secondary aspect to this question, if Israel who seems to be probably the more likely country right now that is prepared to take action. If they do a strike against the Guard, the way you were suggesting, would that be applauded by the Iranian people or would that be detrimental of the Iranian people, all feeling Israel is the Evil Empire?
That is another great question. I do not want to keep repeating and saying great question, great question, but it is. Many Iranians, the majority of Iranians, they do not have resentment against Israel. They could not care less about the conflict with the Palestinians. They see the revenues that should have been directed to their well being given to terrorists, and we all know, at least I know for a fact that the Islamic rulers do not even care about the well being of Palestinians. It’s about their strategy, its about radicalizing the region, and eliminating Israel. So, the majority of Iranians no, and this comes from my own personal experience, many Iranians listen to Israel radio. That’s their source of information. They trust the radio of Israel more than the BBC and definitely more than the VOA, where did our friend, go that would be an insult. . So they do not have a resentment. But people in the revolutionary guards. They believe that Israel is the enemy of Islam and their country. Were Israel to attack Iran, I would say if some African nation attacked Iran people would celebrate it [laughter]. So it does not matter who would attack [laughter] everybody would be clapping saying somebody has to have the guts to confront these thugs. But let me reiterate this. If anybody does it you gotta make sure the goal is to overthrow the regime. I know that many in the West have become really sensitive to the regime change phrase, because of the President Bush’s era. But nevertheless it’s a reality it’s a fact. If you take action, that better be your solution and you stick with it otherwise you’re wasting time.
We have time for one more question.
Q: You said that you passed on some information a few months ago to the CIA. Could you talk about your current relationship with them, are they helping to provide your security? Do you consider yourself still working for the CIA in some sort?
No, I am all alone. I get no help or protection or any communication with them. I pass on information through my channel when I have some. Obviously as I used to do it I just pass it on, and they do the verification part, and after that it’s none of my business. They don’t get back to me. But no, I provide for my own security.
Moderator: In concluding if I could just finish with a passage in your book here: It comes late in the book where you discuss, you are living in the States and the CIA at a certain point comes back to you offering you to work full time for them, and eventually you decide not to do so. And you say: “I wish I could do something to make a difference for my country. That desire would never leave me. But I had to admit something to myself. All my years of spying have not changed Iran for the better. The information I provided to America might have been useful, but it did not accomplish what I had hoped. And I could not take any more chances with my life, with my family for this purpose.” At the time that you decided to work with the CIA, at that time perhaps politics was not an option for Iranians who wanted change, but things might be different today and people who want change might have an option between supporting politics or supporting the opposition or espionage. But I would argue, just as somebody who thinks about the issues of the implications of a nuclear Iran, and as Iran continues to move forward with this nuclear program, I would just say there is still an important need for people who are well placed and have insight in how the system works there. In fact there is more of a need than ever before to have people who can provide accurate and timely information, and therefore I would hope that Iranians who are looking at the options, and have something to contribute, can provide this kind of information in the future if only to avoid perhaps a future war, whose results of which would be horrendous. Anyhow on that note I would thank you for your thoughts and comments today.