How, at that time, are the Iranians looking at the world?
First of all, you've got to look at the 6 June invasion of Lebanon. The
Israelis came across the border because of an Abu Nidal assassination attempt
in London. For the Iranians, it looked as a pretext for Israel to attack an
Islamic country, and they looked at Lebanon as an Islamic country, or a country
that should be an Islamic country. So they looked at this as Israeli
aggression, but backed by the United States. They simply do not believe that
Israel invaded Lebanon without a green light from Washington. I don't know
about a green light. Maybe there was, maybe there wasn't. But the point is, the
Iranians held us responsible.
... [Then the kidnapping of] these three Iranian diplomats. Not only did they
kidnap three Iranian diplomats, but the charge d'affaires ... is very close to
[then-President] Rafsanjani. They're almost related. ... He takes it
personally. The Iranian government holds the Lebanese forces and the United
So you have these two events. And Iran says, "All right, we're at war.
Undeclared war, but nonetheless we're at war." Their objective at that point is
to drive the Americans out of Lebanon.
The first embassy bombing [in April 1983] I think they were involved in; the
Marine [barracks] bombing in October 1983; September 1984, the second embassy
bombing. And you know what? The Americans [then] leave. This is a successful
policy for them [the bombers]. And what comes in place [after that]? Hezbollah is found in 1985. It's an alternative to the Lebanese
government; it's an Islamic party. It mirrors the government in Tehran. ... And
then you add on to this that Hezbollah drives Israel out of Lebanon, the first
victory against the Israelis ever.
So what we have today, if you want to expand this analysis, [is] Hamas, the
Islamic Jihad in Palestine and Gaza carrying out war successfully against
Sharon. And the Iranians back in Tehran say, "We're winning. This is the way
you fight a war. This is how you defeat F-16s, this is how you defeat aircraft
carriers. We beat the United States, we beat the Israelis in Lebanon, and we're
going to beat 'em in Palestine."
This is a strong message. I don't care how secular Iran becomes. They still
look at the United States, Britain, and France as colonizing powers, and this
is the final war ending colonization in the Middle East, using Islam. So for
the Iranians, it's very, very logical. We as Americans say, "Well, it's not. We
were peacekeepers in Lebanon." They don't look at it that way. Or as Americans,
we say, "You can't kidnap innocent people, journalists, priests, people like
that. It's wrong." They look at it differently. It's a war of civilizations for
them. And it was very successful, frankly, and cheap.
Right. And what about Iranian fingerprints on Hezbollah? What is the
evidence that Iran influenced Hezbollah?
Well, we know they influenced Hezbollah because they accept Khomeini and
Khamenei as the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, [not Sheik] Fadlallah. Fadlallah
is the senior cleric in Lebanon, but he was not the main impetus of Hezbollah.
It was Iran. I mean, it's acknowledged; it's public that the religious
authority is found in Qom in Iran, and the Iranian clerics. It's a very
The fingerprints on Iran in terrorism? There are a few of them. The Marines
[bombing of the Marine barracks in October 1983], kidnapping of Charlie Glass,
the American journalist, the death of Bill Buckley [the CIA station chief who
was kidnapped in March 1984] , the fact that Dodge, the American University of
Beirut acting president, was held in Iran in a prison, kidnapped by the
Pasdaran [Iran's Revolutionary Guards].
The evidence is there. The fact that Father [Martin] Jenco saw Iranians deliver
food to the place he was held in the Bekaa Valley, that was in 1984, I think.
The evidence is just there. I mean, it's incontrovertible when you have a
hostage seeing the people, you're watching this stuff by satellite, and you've
got this intelligence information. And I think the only people that would deny
this are people who haven't really followed the issue, or just made up their
Or Iran itself -- it certainly claims it doesn't [and] won't sponsor
The fact is, in 1984 and 1985, they were in control of the Sheik Abdullah
Barracks in Baalbek. I saw with my own eyes, journalists saw with their own
eyes, that the Pasdaran was guarding the places where the hostages were held.
When [Jerry] Levin escaped, he escaped out of one of the buildings at the Sheik
Abdullah barracks. They saw the Iranians deliver the food. It's just denying
reality. The Iranians can't say, "We didn't know anything about it." It's
Fast-forwarding to today, what's your impression or your knowledge about
their support for Islamic Jihad?
Early in the 1990s, they supported it. They provided training, weapons in the
Bekaa Valley, supported morally. They've stated publicly they support these
guys, the Qods force, which is part of the Pasdaran.
What they're doing today, I don't know. The Israelis claim that an agreement
was made between Arafat and the Pasdaran in Moscow six months ago. I don't
know. ... I don't trust the Israelis. They're in the middle of this fight. I no
longer do intelligence. I have no way to measure the facts from propaganda. I
think the Israelis would know. But are they going to tell us the truth? Who
What about Buckley? Can you expand a little on what happened -- why he was
taken, and what happened to him?
Buckley, the Iranians knew who he was. When he would go to the airport at
Beirut International Airport and send visitors to the United States with
intelligence connections, it was very clear. He lived in one apartment, always
wore a suit, always meticulously dressed, always left at the same time. For the
Iranians or their surrogates, the token surrogates who took him, he was a very
You could get the ambassador; it would be great for the Iranians, but he was
too hard to get. He had protection and an armored car. Buckley didn't. He was
held for a while in Beirut and taken to the Sheik Abdullah Barracks where he
was held. The winter of, I believe it was 1984-1985, he caught pneumonia. He'd
been really roughed up, beaten up, tortured during interrogation. Combination
of pneumonia and torture; his whole system collapsed, and he died in
Doesn't do much for Iran-American relations, does it?
No. Well, I mean, the Iranians have their case of the shah, the overthrow of
[nationalist Prime Minister Mohammad] Mossadeq, the corruption of American
companies and bribing people in Iran, our feting the shah, overlooking human
rights violations. It was during the Cold War. And the Iranians say, "Well, so
what if it was during the Cold War? You supported the dictator, you kept him in
power." Washington's argument's going to be, "Well, we didn't keep him power.
He was the Shah of Iran. He was there before we ever got involved. Iranians
kept him in power because they tolerated his behavior."
There are cases for both sides. I have my own feelings, you know. I just don't
think that you should attack innocents, like the World Trade Center. It's not
the Western way. But my opinions are irrelevant in this. We have to look at it
from the Iranian standpoint, why they did [the things they did] ... and what
they want. ...
In the Middle East, it's about a people, the Arabs and the Iranians, who feel
humiliated from the 19th century. It's got nothing to do with the United
States. But all of a sudden in 1948, the United States inherited all these
colonial problems. It inherited the Gulf from Britain in 1970. But we weren't
capable of managing an empire in the Middle East. It's just not the American
way. So we tweaked something here, send money, send troops.
And now we're dealing it militarily, which you can't solve this problem
[militarily]. ... Afghanistan's been a failure so far. ... [W]e are gradually
moving into a war unconsciously against Islam -- which you don't want to do.
There's just too many people, there's too many countries. They own the oil,
most of the world's oil resources, and hope we sidestep this.
But it's not because of the ill will of the White House, the State Department,
or the CIA. It's a basic misunderstanding of what's happening in the Middle
East, and it doesn't have to do with Democrats or Republicans. And one side is
support for Israel -- that's the way [others] perceive it. ...
And how important is Israel in American foreign policy?
It's extremely important. But it's because we look at Israel as a democracy,
one. ... And the Holocaust is very important in the American conscience,
political conscience. It's a gut reaction. We support Israel for those two
reasons, the Holocaust and democracy.
And Americans say, "Why can't the Arabs see this?" The Arabs, on the other
hand, are saying, "We're not responsible for the Holocaust. We protected the
Jews during the Second World War. They fled there. We didn't bother them. They
are the ones that set up a country."
And then the more radicalized [the] Muslims become, the more they look at
[Israel] as a colonial appendage of the United States that is meant to oppress
them. The terms of their dialogue are being degraded by the day, too. And so
[you get] these people that ran the airplanes into the World Trade Center,
saying, "The West is hostile to us, and we've got to fight it."
But at the moment, we're talking war on terror.
Well, that's a mistake, because yes, it is war on terror. But we are going to
need the Muslims to fight this war on terror. We need Saudi Arabia; we need to
make Saudi Arabia feel comfortable. We need Saudi Arabia to go back to its
schools and reform them and stop preaching jihad. We need Saudi Arabia to join
the 21st century, give jobs to these people equally, and cut back on the
corruption ... start giving these people in the south, Asir province, where the
suicide bombers came from, a stake in life. But we can't do it with bombs. ...
And how important [is] Hezbollah? ...
It's extremely important. Hezbollah's divided into many parties. There's the
Islamic Resistance in the south, which beat the Israelis. They attacked the
Israeli army. They defeated the Israeli army on Lebanese soil. I do not know
how we can describe that other than a national liberation movement.
I don't agree that Hezbollah itself is a terrorist organization. It delivers
powdered milk; it takes care of people. It's a social organization; it's a
political organization. It fights corruption.
Then there's the Islamic Resistance, which is an army, which is a guerrilla
force, fighting for control of its own country. And then, under the Hezbollah
umbrella, was the Islamic Jihad, which I call their special security, which was
controlled by Iran, which carried out terrorism against the West. And you can
paint Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. You can do that for political
reasons, but strictly speaking, it is many things. Just as [with] the IRA, you
got Sinn Fein and you've got the real IRA, which is conducting terrorism.
And is the distinction important?
It's very important.
Well, I mean if you're going to retaliate against terrorism -- what we call
terrorism, [which is] the attacking of innocent people for political motives,
not liberating your own country -- we have to distinguish the two groups.
Fadlallah is not a terrorist. ... He was a spiritual leader in his
organization. ... We can't label him a terrorist and fight Hezbollah as an
organization in its entirety. We have to isolate the murderers and fight
But when [Hezbollah] was taking American hostages...
It wasn't Hezbollah; it was the Islamic Jihad organization which was taking
[hostages]. It was a very distinct organization, which was separate from
Hezbollah because you had the consultative council which only had a vague idea
of what the hostage-takers were doing. The hostage-takers were taking orders
from Iran. Hezbollah itself does not care about American citizens running
around Lebanon, as it doesn't care today. I mean, as an ex-CIA officer, I can
go see Hezbollah, I can talk to them. They don't care. ...
But explain that there is actually a different management structure here
[that] we're talking [about]?
Absolutely. And it's very clear that special security in Hezbollah took its
orders for all the important years from the IRGC, the Islamic Revolutionary
Guard Corps [in Iran]. Hezbollah itself accepted money and spiritual leadership
from Iran, but it had nothing to do with terrorism. Ninety-nine percent of
Hezbollah, people in Hezbollah, know nothing about it. They don't have the
slightest idea how it works, who's behind it -- the Iranian role. And that
nuance, I think, is missed in Washington today.
I think it's a mistake in U.S. foreign policy, first of all, to paint Islam as
an enemy, because you get dragged into a cultural war which we can't win. You
have to isolate the people who really do sponsor mass murder or kidnappings or
individual murders of people, that are killing Americans in Kuwait today, that
flew the airplanes in. Those are isolated individuals which don't have anything
to do with Islam in general. Same way in Hezbollah. It's a small group of
people kidnapping, murdering. But Hezbollah itself is not a terrorist
And what about Iran? In that context, how worried should we be about
Well, if you drive Iran into the corner, Iran has the means to retaliate all it
wants. ... Iran -- if it feels it's backed into the corner, it's at war again
with the United States -- will resort to terrorism, because the people who were
involved are still in Iran. They're free. They don't agree with the policies,
[with] the way Iran's going now. They think there should be more attacks
against Americans. Where they're going to be depends on how we treat them.
In that context, how did you respond to the State of the Union address and
the "axis of evil" speech?
Well, that's American politics. I think the United States has no intention
of attacking Iran or provoking Iran. ...
But was it a wise selection of words?
I think Iran has been mishandled by the United States since the 1980s, since
1979. We should have determined responsibility for taking over that embassy. It
was an act of war, and we should have responded accordingly. By not responding
to taking over that embassy in a graduated fashion, by that dumb hostage rescue
thing, by not responding to that, we only encouraged people who advocated
terrorism in Iran. And it wasn't the whole country that did [advocated
We should have dealt with that, nation to nation, state to state. They violated
sovereign law of the United States. So it's a series of mistakes. But now, to
paint Iran as this evil country, we don't know what's going to happen, because
we don't know what's happening in Iran. Will this encourage the moderates to
change Iranian policy? I don't know. ...
Do you feel America doesn't know Iran?
No, it doesn't know anything about it. Doesn't know anything about it. I have
seen no dialogue in this country, in the press, or in academia to suggest to me
that we really know what's going on in Iran. We are dealing with myths,
misinformation, a press that has no idea. It boils down to women's rights or
wishful thinking about Khatami or misperceptions.
As a professional intelligence person, how would you rate American
intelligence in Iran?
It's lousy ... because we don't have any people in Iran. You really need people
on the ground in a country to give you ground truth. You complement that with
other intelligence from other countries, from technical intelligence, and you
can get a good picture. But once you don't have people on the ground, you
really lose track of what's happening in a country.
I mean, North Korea has always been a black hole for us, because we don't have
people there. We don't have people talking to the North Koreans. You have to
hear people complain about the price of milk, you have to hear people. How do
they view the United States? It's very important to get a feel for a country. I
mean, I lost track of the United States because I was gone for so many years,
and I'm an American. ...
Tell me about [Imad Mughniyah] and his importance.
He's very important but there's certain myths about him -- that he's running
the whole thing, he's the master. There are no master terrorists. They're just
a whole group of people. He's very effective, very efficient. He runs
commando-style operations. He's got incredible security. He can tap people, go
where he wants, change IDs. He was involved in many kidnappings. I'm not sure
he was involved in the first embassy bombing; he probably was, but I know that
from inference. It's very hard to pin these people down, because it takes
patience. But anyhow, Mughniyah is very important. He's an important player, is
involved in all sorts of terrorism operations.
What's his relationship to Iran?
He was paid by Iran. He had direct connection with a couple of Iranians. ... He
was recruited in the Islamic Jihad movement in 1982-1983, like that, and agreed
to carry out operations against United States. He's a believer, undoubtedly.
But most of all, he's very effective. He can compartment[alize] operations,
he's got people that are loyal. He's ruthless and he's ready to lose people.
He's ready for himself to die, too, which makes him a formidable opponent. ...
Mughniyah is a professional terrorist. I've never heard an explanation [of]
what really makes the guy tick. But it was very clear to us in the 1980s that
he took his orders directly from [Iran's] Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
... He was paid by them, he took orders, he put out communiqués.
Occasionally he would do things on his own, when he'd get angry about
something. He was an independent player. He was probably a nightmare to run for
the Iranians, but he carried out their orders. And I don't think there's
anybody in the American intelligence community [who] would disagree with that.
What do you do with Iran when you're posturing against Iraq, when it's
likely you may be taking some action against Iraq? If you're a CIA intelligence
expert in the region, you must be getting a little worried about how we handle
... What you have to do is put yourself in the position of the Iranians. ... An
invasion of Iraq is going to cause resentment in the Islamic world, which is
going to help the radicals in Tehran, who are going to say, "Listen, we told
you all along. It's the United States against Islam. Stop this reformist stuff
and let's liberate Jerusalem." ...
What about the Iran-Iraq war and America's position on that? How important
It's very important. Iraq was under threat. The Reagan administration knew that
if Iraq was overrun by Iran, there'd be total chaos in the Gulf. We provided
help to Iraq during the war -- material help and information help -- which was
extremely helpful to the Iraqis. The problem is, it built up resentment in Iran
because the radicals said, "Look, they've always been against us. We've got to
stop this." ...
What are the current links, do you think, between Iran and terrorism? How
would you characterize or summarize it currently?
... Last thing I saw before I left the CIA was this intention to set up a
relationship with bin Laden. There was a meeting which occurred in July 1996 in
Afghanistan, where the Iranians went in to propose a strategic comprehensive
alliance against the United States. And what that involved, whether it came to
fruition or not, I don't know. In 1996, that was their intention. And that
after that, anything I have to say is pure speculation. ...
Iran and the Taliban were not friends, right?
In the Middle East, my enemy's enemy is my friend. Just don't ever forget that
[But] other than what you've said, we haven't really heard of any direct
links with Al Qaeda. I guess the last one was they were letting some [Al Qaeda
fugitives] escape into Iran. But we're not suggesting that Iran's fingerprints
were on Sept. 11.
No. How would we ever know, though? Again, put yourself in the position of the
Iranians, or an Iranian. Maybe not Iran as a state, maybe it's an individual
Iranian that's carrying on this war. Would you convey these by telephone, by
Internet, a decision to participate in Sept. 11? It's done orally, face to
face, probably outside, so there's no room audio.
So we'll never know. It's just one of those questions we'll never know because
the people involved will never talk. They don't keep a record of it. They don't
need to submit receipts on their tax forms at the end of the year. We'll just
never know. ...
And take me back to Khobar Towers. What do we know about Khobar Towers and
We know Iran was involved. We know Iran trained, gave alias passports, helped
provide surveillance of American facilities in Saudi Arabia, and that Khomeini
gave a fatwa to blow up Khobar. This has been acknowledged in the indictment,
it's been acknowledged by Louis Freeh in The New Yorker.
Saudi Arabia didn't want to look too closely into it, because at that point,
there was a reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and they certainly
didn't want to indict Iran. It was another terrorism attack that was passed
over. It was overlooked because we didn't want to do anything against Iran.
Iran is the third rail of American foreign policy in the world. Brought down
Jimmy Carter, Iranian crisis, and almost brought down Reagan, almost, close,
with Iran-Contra. So every president since then says, "Iran is bad, but we're
not going to do anything about it. It's a sleeping dog, don't wake it up."
And along comes the latest president, George W. [Bush], and he strongly
intimates we are going to do something about it, this evil empire.
What can we do about it? We can only cope with these problems inasmuch as we
solve the problem of Israel and Palestine. If we can implement U.N. Resolution
242, we can internationalize Jerusalem, do something about the right of return
of Palestinians to Palestine. And then go to the Middle East and say, "All
right, now it's time to implement other U.N. resolutions." ... But it really
does boil down to Israel, in a lot of ways. ...
And when you were in the CIA, was there an awareness of this? ...
No, but it's not CIA's business. These are the politics we saw, but we were
never involved in this. We never had to worry about resolutions, U.N. 242. I
mean, [we] read about it and cared about it. And I know when it was passed and
I know this dialogue's always been going on between Syria and United States,
Our objective was to find out who was taking hostages in Lebanon, who blew up
our embassy, who blew up the Marines -- and predict future attacks. At the same
time, we were listening to our agents, people on the ground. That's how we
spent our entire life.
... When we began, you mentioned the misunderstanding about the Iranians
being killed in Lebanon. ... It struck me when you were saying that, that the
relationship between America and Iran seems to be one completely fostered on
misunderstandings of this sort. ...
... Yes, the misunderstandings go back to Mossadeq. [Editor's note: Prime
Minister Mohammad Mossadeq, who wanted to nationalize Iran's oil industry and
limit foreign involvement in Iran's internal affairs, was removed from office
in a CIA-supported coup in 1953, which allowed the shah -- who was friendly to
Western powers -- to return to Tehran. See the timeline for more
background on Iran's history.]
The Iranians are generally, as people, pro-American. A lot of Iranians live
here. The Iranian music industry is based in Los Angeles. There's a lot of
travel back and forth. The Iranians have been normally in history pro-Israel as
a balance to the Arabs.
But along came Mossadeq. And then you had the corruption in Tehran, all the
American companies, this supplying of arms to Iran to fight the Cold War, all
the military bases. The Iranians looked at this as if we were participating in
the corruption of their society, American companies and American government.
And then you had the revolution and then you had the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, which
split off from the revolution, and a lot of them set up in the United States.
Then you had the Iran-Iraq war, and then our continued support to Israel. And
the Iranians look at us as a hostile country, just as we look at the Soviet
Union as a hostile country. ... There was a lot of misperceptions. And there's
So faced with that situation, what does one do? ... The hawks would argue,
"Well, we've tried dialogue; we've tried blandishments. We've reduced sanctions
on pistachios and other things. We've tried to talk to them, and these mullahs
keep slapping us in the face. What are we to do?"
Well, I think that you set some clarity for standards of behavior vis-a-vis
Iran. I think by not holding the Iranians accountable for taking over [the
U.S.] embassy, by not holding them accountable for what happened in Lebanon,
only encouraged the radicals. At the same time, we should have had a carrot,
opened up some back channel with the mullahs, talk[ed] to them. Once you stop
talking to people, you're lost. And I think the American tendency is, as is the
Iranians', once this level of hostility arises, [to] stop talking.
The Iranians have desperately wanted a secret channel to the United States for
years -- all the Iranians have -- to work out the problem, work out the
problems in Jerusalem, work out the problems of oil, work out the problems of
Iraq. We've always said, "No, here's our conditions for dialogue: Stop
terrorism." ... There used to be three [criteria], I used to remember them.
Well, a big one is weapons of mass destruction and Iran building them. ...
That fear has been around. ...
Well, look at the dialogue today, where we're talking about using tactical
nuclear weapons against North Korea and the rest. Once this stuff leaks out,
the Iranians say, "Well, look, they're going to use nuclear weapons against us.
We need missiles."
And how credible is it in your experience that the Iranians are up to
building weapons of mass destruction?
I have no idea. ... It's a big issue. They were getting a lot of stuff, but how
advanced they are, I really don't know. Whether they're one year away from a
nuclear bomb or 20 years away, I have no idea.
But presumably that seems to be one of the biggest issues for people in
Washington: "How much time do we have before these guys end up with a weapon?
What are we going to do?"
What about Pakistan? What about India? I don't trust either one of them, too.
It's a catastrophe if Iran and Iraq get nuclear weapons. [They] will use them
against each other one day. ...
I think what we're all talking about is, we all regret the end of the Cold War.
In the Cold War, things were predictable, and you could have worked these
things out. ...
This is such a slippery subject, terrorism, and if you start painting the whole
Islamic world as terrorists, or there's the Russians as supporting terrorism,
where does it all end? I don't know. ... There are terrorists, there are mass
murderers, but we don't know who they are and who supports them and we don't
know how to stop it. ...
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