Spying from the belly of the beast in the Revolutionary Guards of Iran

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Article Type: 
Book Review
Published Date: 
Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Time to Betray — The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent Inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran by Reza Kahlili is one of the most heartrending and enthralling accounts I have ever read of courage, dissimulation, and personal suffering in tA Time To Betrayhe genre of espionage memoirs. This is the story of a courageous man, who justly betrays and risks his life (and that of his family) to fight surreptitiously against the cruelties and injustices of the ruling government of his native country — Iran. This book struck a personal cord with me because it reminded me of painful and regretful similarities that beset my own family in my native country, Cuba, just before and after the Revolution that brought to power the dictatorship of Fidel Castro and his brother Raul in 1959.

As a very young child, I remember various members of my family arguing passionately (but amicably) for and against the dictatorial government of Cuban President, Fulgencio Batista, his coup d'etat and dictatorship, his trampling on the legendary Constitution of 1940, the lack of political rights, the cruel imprisonment, and systematic torture of rebels captured while fighting against his regime (an opposition in which my own parents played a clandestine part), etc. I remember my favorite great uncle arguing and warning us about the malevolent changes that the victory of the revolutionary "barbudos" could bring about — but my parents did not listen, and came to regret it! After the triumph of the Revolution in 1959 and the establishment of communism in Cuba, there were indeed drastic "changes," but this militated changes were for the worse — the inception of a culture of deception, oppression, and terror — and there would no longer be friendly political discussions among families, but only mistrust, dissimulation, and fear.
Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi
Eerily, the same thing happened in far away Iran in 1979 with the fall of the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the takeover of Iran by the mullahs and the Ayatollah Khomeini, and the inception of a brutal Islamic Republic. Our hero, young Reza Kahlili (a pseudonym) was brought up in a close, prosperous family in Teheran. He remembers the "good old days" of traditional  festivities, gatherings, his loving grandfather patriarch defending the ruling Shah of Iran, his ruling dynasty, and the old Persian mores in amicable and engaging conversations among family members. Living in such a warm and jovial atmosphere, Reza, could not have imagine the horrific changes that would be brought about so rapidly in Iranian society with the advent of the "Islamic Republic," which he joined with excitement after returning to Iran from studying abroad in California.

Nor could he have ventured to guess most of his family and closest childhood friends would so soon be devoured by the Revolution, persecuted by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, in which he compliantly served the tyranny. The proverb says "be careful what you wish for; you might just get it." Alas, that is what happened for those who wanted change in Cuba and Iran, deriding and helping to overthrow Batista in Cuba and the Shah in Iran by revolution. Many of those citizens themselves would end up crushed by Castro and the Ayatollah — who turned out to be significantly worse tyrannical figures than their predecessors. And the tragic concatenations that followed in both countries in their wake have not yet ended!Ayatollah Khomeini

But let us now part from the comparison and focus on Iran and our hero, the subjects of this book. This is an excellent tome, expertly written, personal, passionate, and although it reads fast, like a suspense thriller, it also has interspersed background material recounting brief episodes in the history of Iran that are necessary to the narrative. For example, we learn the Iranians had mixed feelings about (and many resented) the British and Americans, among other reasons, because of interference in their nation's affair. For example, in 1953 those governments, using the CIA as a vehicle, helped overthrow the democratically elected president of Iran, a (militant) nationalist, Muhammad Mussadegh, who had nationalized the oil industry, and had forced the Shah (a friend of the West) to flee the country.

It is also of historic interest that, as I remember a few years back in 2007, the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (pictured on dust jacket of book above), defending his country's right to a nuclear program, stated, "the country of Iran was heir to a great empire and home to a 2,500-year civilization." I was surprised at the statement, as I always thought the conquests of Mohammed and the religious and cultural revolution of the 7th century, imposed by the victorious Arabs on the conquered Sassanid Persians, had resulted in a new and distinct Islamic nation. Moreover, with the fall of the Pahlavi Dynasty, the last Persian monarchy, the drastic changes brought about by the revolution of 1979, and the inception of an Islamic Republic (a virtual theocracy), had brought about yet another even more distinct nation. Iranians have a long cultural history as Persians and speak Farsi. Arabs have a more recent civilization, attaining historical distinction with the conquests of Mohammed and speak Arabic. I was gratified that Reza's loving grandfather and many other more secular Iranians, cognizant of their heritage, agree with my cultural interpretation. These Iranian nationalists and traditionalists think of themselves heir to a distinct but vanishing Persian civilization that had been suppressed culturally by Arab Islamism, and more recently, politically, by the tyranny of the mullahs and the ayatollahs.

I will not reveal the heartrending stories of cruelty and betrayal, as well as dissimulation and courage, that revolve precariously around our hero Reza, who, as a member of the feared Iranian Revolutionary Guard, courageously spied against Hajjthe cruel regime he ostensibly served. Suffice to say, the brutality of the regime against his friends and the Iranian people changed him into leading a double life, spying for the CIA for over a decade. Among the information Reza provided to the CIA was vital intelligence that probably prevented the collapse of the Saudi government. The Iranians had planned to use the hajj (photo, left), the religious pilgrimage that Moslems must make to Mecca, to stage a coup d'etat in Saudi Arabia. Armaments were sent by the Iranians for the hajj, but most of these were intercepted and many of the militants arrested beforehand, foiling the insurrection. Other information was communicated to the U.S. at great peril, but not necessarily used properly by the American government, which was bent on placating the mullahs through various administrations.

The double life took its toll, but Reza persisted in his clandestine espionage with the thought of bringing about genuinely real change for the betterment, the attainment of freedom, and improving the life of his countrymen. How he did his self-appointed mission, and how he survived spying at great personal risk from within the belly of the infernal beast are the enthralling subjects of this book.

Without reservations, this heartrending thriller is highly recommended for those who enjoy non-fiction thrillers, recent history, and passionate espionage accounts. Be ready to stay anxiously at the edge of your seat and hold back irrepressible tears of commiseration, sorrow and outrage! I assign it a 5-star rating.

Written by Dr. Miguel Faria

Miguel A. Faria Jr., M.D. is the author of Cuba in Revolution -- Escape from a Lost Paradise (2002) and of other books and numerous articles on politics and history, including "Stalin's Mysterious Death" (2011), "The Political Spectrum --- From the Extreme Right and Anarchism to the Extreme Left and Communism" (2011); "America, Guns and Freedom" (2012);"Violence, Mental Illness, and the Brain -- A Brief History of Psychosurgery" (2013), etc., all posted at his website haciendapublishing.com

Copyright ©2013 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.


This article may be cited as: Faria, MA. Spying from the belly of the beast in the Revolutionary Guards of Iran, a book review. Haciendapub.com December 1, 2013. Available from: http://www.haciendapub.com/articles/spying-belly-beast-revolutionary-guards-iran

A book review of A Time to Betray — The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent Inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran by Reza Kahlili. Simon and Schuster, New York, NY., 2010, pp. 340.

The photographs used to illustrate this book review for Hacienda Publishing came from a variety of sources and do not appear in Kahlili's  A Time To Betray.

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Comments on this post

Battle of Chawinda

The Battle of Chawinda,1965

Comment: This is reputed the second largest (most intense) tank battle in history, second only to the Battle of Kursk (1943) — MAF

Pakistan vs. India!

India Pakistan conflict — Role of the Great Powers:

Anonymous: I am an Indian and i am very thankful to Russian government and people of Russia who helped us in all our bad times and now world is saying that India and Russia are perfect partners.I want to appreciate Sveltana for her keen observation about India and its 100% correct.

We Indians love Russia and thanks Russians for their support... If we are in the race of being a superpower then its not only the hard work of our people but also the cooperation and help given by Russians.. Will soon visit Russia to see Kremlin and to travel in Trans Siberian train :)

Sagar: India will always support Russia. When whole world was against us , Russia backed India. Love from India. India has changed over these last two decades. Right from Space Technology to Defense System + Economics , India made reasonable advancement. This makes world to take note of India in important matters.

We will cont. to improve our strategic relationship with Russia by sharing technology + Business with Russia. India has good talent pool , Our scientist should leave NASA and Join ISRO. Salute Russia! " A person can trust serpent but not American / Britishers. This is coz , they are most opportunistic people on earth.

Vigilantcitizen: Many of you are praising the USSR, which for some of you (and the author) purportedly was India's salvation. The U.S. and Britain were the enemy, opportunists, exploiters etc., ignoring American foreign aid and the British humanitarian assistance helping modernize India.

You conveniently forget the USSR betrayal of India when the Soviets gave Mao the go ahead and punish India in 1962, which he did, humiliating Nehru, drubbing and shaming the Indian army, and seizing Tibet! I recommend reading for details: Mao: the Untold story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday

Revoltman: True, India should balance its relations carefully.

Comments following the article: 1971 India Pakistan War: Role of Russia, China, America and Britain

1971 India-Pakistan War; US vs.USSR roles

Kumar Palani: Soviets never authorized Chinese move on India, in reality it was a move made by the Chinese on their own. Although some believe China was a Soviet Client state, it was never true, the Influence Soviets had over eastern Europe or Korea was far little than what they had on China.

Chinese mostly acted on their own, Mr. Mao was not a man who can be told what to do and what not. After Stalin, Chino-soviet relationship deteriorated constantly till they broke off and China kissed its arch rival United States.

Vigilantcitizen: In retrospect (hindsight is always best), we Americans should perhaps have supported India in the cold war, but it was India that picked the USSR, so what were we to do? It was a geopolitical game between the two superpowers and the fact is most everybody else were pawns. U.S. and Britain have done a lot for India, whether you admit it or not!

You KumarPalani wrote: "Soviets never authorized Chinese move on India, in reality it was a move made by the Chinese on their own." Authorize, approve, give a nod, semantics is all semantics.

Brezhnev did give Mao the OK to attack India; Mao was itching to attack and teach India a lesson and the Russians relented. Brezhnev could have said No and used the Soviet fleet (as they did in the Bay of Bengal in the war in the India - Pakistan War of 1971) as a big stick, not to mention provide logistics and intelligence to India.

But the Russians did not do so! They abandoned India when having to choose between India and China. So let's not forget that inconvenient fact! Read the book I recommended previously; it documents the geopolitics of this area well!

By the posting going on here (for 3 years!), it appears that the Indians are better friends than the Pakistanis. Indians/Hindu friendship with Russia today is still solid and the appreciation of Indians for Russia is palpable and noted. Unlike the Indians, the Pakistanis and Afghans have played a double game with the U.S. during the war on terror. Once they defeated the Russian bear, they have no use for America's friendship, only foreign aid!

America had to work on her own to capture and execute Bin Laden, for example, who had been hiding under the very noses of Pakistani intelligence!

Nevertheless, we Americans do not forget friends either. The story of a brave Afghan who worked with America is telling. I recommend you read it:

Whose side is Pakistan's ISI really on? by Declan Walsh. The Guardian, May 11, 2011.

And the story discussed here is another:


I also admit Putin is a better and more sincere President for Russia than Obama is for the U.S. (but his term thankfully ends in two years!). I have enjoyed reading your article and the posts here. It has been instructive!

"India Russia cooperation —1971 India Pakistan War: Role of Russia, China, America, and Britain" by Sanskar Shrivasta. The World Reporter — Students' Journalism. October 30, 2011 Available from: http://www.theworldreporter.com/2011/10/1971-india-pakistan-war-role-of-...

Fascinating India!

While I live in former British India with little recent history, exciting history was in the 'Princely States' part of India, with its exotic Kingdoms & Principalities. That was a world quite comparable with the German Monarchies, but much more exotic & so different from one another. These were in the Western - Central part of India, what is now the modern states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh etc.



Free Catalonia!

Am I the only one who is bored of the India VS Pakistan endless conflict? We should change the tone to something more positive, such as the Free Catalonia Movement!

Just my humble opinion,
Edgar Rubio

Terrorism- ISI & the Taliban in Pakistan!

The best articles I have found on this related labyrinthine subject as it concerns Pakistan and Afghanistan:

Whose side is Pakistan's ISI really on? by Declan Walsh. The Guardian, May 11, 2011.

And the strange career of the mysterious Sultan Amir Tarar better known as Col. Imam, who appears to have been a loyal subject to his country Pakistan, a hero of Afghanistan's Mujahideen, and an adherent of cordial relations with the U.S. and the West. Col. Imam was like the Lion of Panjshir, Ahmad Shah Massoud, a courageous fighter for freedom.

Wikipedia provides an excellent summary about Colonel Iman.

His execution by the Pakistan Taliban, an offshoot of the Afghanistan Taliban that formed from the Mujahideen he led against the Soviets, can be viewed at Taliban release video of killing of Col Imam

Hakimullah Mehsud (c.1979−2013) was an emir of the militant Taliban of Pakistan. He was deputy to commander the elder Baitullah Mehsud and one of the leaders of the group Fedayeen al-Islam prior to Baitullah Mehsud's death in a CIA drone missile strike. Hakimullah Medsud, the cold assassin of Col Imam as seen in the video (linked to above) paid the price and was, like the elder Mehsud, himself blown into oblivion in a CIA drone strike on 1 November 2013, as confirmed by the Taliban Pakistan. What goes around comes around:

CIA drone attack executes Taliban Pakistan leader Mehsud

Pakistan Taliban leader killed!

Pakistan Taliban leader killed

M Ilyas Khan, BBC News, Islamabad, February 24, 2014

A senior Pakistani Taliban commander has been shot dead in a militant stronghold near the Afghan border, security sources and relatives say.

Asmatullah Shaheen was ambushed as he drove through a village near Miranshah in North Waziristan, reports said. Three aides in the vehicle also died.

It is unclear who killed them. There has been no word from the militants. Shaheen was briefly the TTP (Pakistani Taliban) interim leader after its chief Hakimullah Mehsud was killed last year. Mehsud died in a US drone strike in November and was later replaced by a new leader, Mullah Fazlullah.

Since then, there have been a series of attacks in which unidentified gunmen have targeted militants in the tribal areas, puzzling observers about who could be behind them...

Reza Kahlili

Wow, what courage it would take to be an agent spying against a cruel regime you served for over 10 years -- great review!