Iranian intelligence and security operatives know they have an address in the West should they be seeking to defect from the Islamic Republic, says human rights activist Dr. Amir Farshad Ebrahimi.
In an exclusive interview just days after the Iranian regime attempted to kidnap him in Istanbul and take him back to Iran, the former Revolutionary Guards officer told Newsmax that he and other former Iranian officials and like-minded friends in the West have established a “Salvation Committee” to help high-level defectors seeking to leave Iran.
But such actions do not come without a price.
Ebrahimi’s role in helping a top Iranian government official defect to the United States last spring made him a target of Iranian intelligence last week.
The official he helped, former Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Ali Reza Asgari, is credited with having provided the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies with critical new intelligence on Iran’s nuclear weapons programs, as well an insider’s account of Iran’s overseas terrorist apparatus.
Without Ebrahimi’s help, however, Asgari would most likely have returned to Iran after his special “pilgrimage” passport to Damascus, Syria expired last February.
“We were at the [Iranian] embassy together in Beirut in the mid-1990s,” Ebrahimi told Newsmax. “That’s where we knew each other. That’s why General Asgari called me when he was in Damascus last year. He reminded me that we had been together in Beirut.”
During that fateful call and in other communications, Asgari told Ebrahimi that he didn’t want to return to Iran, but that he only had two days left on his special passport.
Ebrahimi was then living in Germany, and instructed the would-be defector to rent a car and drive to Turkey, leaving his second wife behind in the Damascus hotel room.
From that moment on, the two men remained in constant contact.
After paying a Turkish border guard $1,500 to let him enter Turkey without a visa, Asgari was supposed to rendezvous with Ebrahimi’s contacts at the Gilan hotel in Istanbul, in rooms Ebrahimi had rented for him. But the sudden appearance of Turkish police in front of the hotel scuttled that plan.
As a fall-back plan, Ebrahimi arranged for Asgari to meet with a U.S. embassy official in the Turkish capitol, Ankara. Another U.S. official came from the United States to interview Asgari.
The Americans suggested that the potential defector approach United Nations-affiliated organizations in Ankara and apply for political refugee status, which was approved in a record one week’s time.
Newsmax obtained copies of Asgari’s refugee documents last year and showed them to outside experts who said they were authentic.
From Ankara, Asgari flew to Hamburg, Germany, where he and Ebrahimi saw each other one last time.
“Four hours after his flight arrived in Germany from Ankara, General Asgari changed planes and flew with a U.S. official to Washington, DC,” Ebrahimi told Newsmax.
As a backup plan, Ebrahimi arranged with other members of his Salvation Committee to shelter Asgari in a safe house in Cyprus, but never put that plan into motion because the U.S. government kicked in.
“After he arrived in the United States, Asgari called me and asked me to tell his second wife in Iran that he was OK,” Ebrahimi told Newsmax.
Two weeks later, Asgari had been taken to a safe house in Texas. The last time he contacted Ebrahimi, in early summer of last year, was to encourage him to help other Iranian government officials to defect.
“Did Asgari realize that the CIA was misusing his information to claim that the Iranian nuclear weapons program had been shut down?” speculated Pooya Dayanim, a Los Angeles developer who aided Ebrahimi and was familiar with the Asgari case.
“I believe that his call to encourage other defectors was motivated by a conviction that the nuclear weapons program was still up and running,” Dayanim told Newsmax.
A National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear programs, released in December 2007, claimed on the basis of defector information — presumably from Asgari 1 that a key segment of the nuclear weapons had been shut down.
But the director of National Intelligence, Vice Adm. Mike McConnell, appeared to walk back that conclusion of the NIE in congressional testimony in early February
He pleaded that a lack of time led to careless wording in the unclassified version of the NIE that was ultimately released to the public. “So if I’d had until now to think about it, I probably would have changed a thing or two,” the DNI acknowledged.
(See the Newsmax report on McConnell back-peddling on the NIE.)
Another report, “U.S. Intel Possibly Duped by Iran," focuses on how U.S. intel misinterpreted this information.
Sources with knowledge of what Asgari told the CIA about the Iranian nuclear weapons program tell Newsmax they are convinced that CIA analysts cherry-picked Asgari’s information.
These sources believe that CIA analysts included information from Asgari that fit their concept of a politically-ordered “halt” to nuclear weaponization by the Iranian leadership, while neglecting other information he divulged that suggested ongoing nuclear weapons work.
The NIE “was an incredibly shoddy piece of work that made selective use of sources,” a senior U.S. government official who had reviewed the classified source material told Newsmax.
A closed-door briefing to diplomats in Vienna by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s chief weapons inspector on Feb. 25 also directly contradicted the NIE report, as Newsmax reported last month.
Among the documents presented by IAEA Safeguards Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen was an internal Iranian government PowerPoint report detailing progress on a nuclear missile re-entry vehicle through early 2004, well after the NIE claimed the program had been shut down.
Newsmax covered the critical report in a related article.
Ebrahimi said that his Salvation Committee was committed to helping other defectors escape Iran with knowledge of Iran’s nuclear weapons programs and its support for international terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida.
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