Kai Bird’s new biography of CIA master spy, Robert Ames, contains a tantalizing side story about the Iranian general, Ali Reza Asgari who either defected or was kidnapped in Turkey in 2007. Bird reveals that Asgari did defect to the west.
As the key Iranian military coordinator with Hezbollah, he had been instrumental in the terror attacks against U.S. targets in Beirut, including the embassy and Marine barracks bombings. On his return to Iran in 1993, he rose through the ranks of the Revolutionary Guards and became the top assistant to Iran’s intelligence minister. But when Mahmoud Ahmedinejad came to power, Asgari and his mentor fell from favor. As a result, Asgari felt ill-used and embittered, which led to his defection.
He came to the U.S. and was given a new identity by the CIA. During his debriefing, he revealed a treasure trove of secrets to his handlers. Among them was his close relationship with Hezbollah’s second in command, Imad Mugniyeh. Knowledge and information Asgari possessed about him led to the former’s assassination by the Mossad in 2008. The Iranian ex-general is also purported to have relayed key intelligence about Syria’s nuclear reactor which the Israeli also used in their attack on it in 2009.
The Snowden documents have revealed a close intelligence relationship between Israel and the U.S. especially focused on the NSA and Unit 8200. They reveal that U.S. officials complained that the relationship was essentially a one way street in which Israel took and the U.S. gave. The Asgari story appears to be yet another example of this. The U.S. debriefed him and learned critical information about Hezbollah, Iran and Syrian military affairs. Much of this was conveyed to the Mossad and used in various Israeli covert operations.
The question is what role, if any, the Mossad played in the defection. If they played a role, as some reporters have said, then such an exchange might be justified. If not, it would be a windfall for Israel for which it did little in return.
I bring up Asgari here because I wrote about him in 2010, after my Israeli source was fed false information about him by a former Israeli agent. You may recall that I was the first foreign media outlet to report that a high-level prisoner had committed suicide in an Israeli prison. He was called at the time Prisoner X. It turns out this suicide was really Ben Zygier, though this was not yet public knowledge. Israeli intelligence decided to use my intense interest in Prisoner X by feeding my source disinformation claiming the suicide was really Ali Reza Asgari.
There’s always a reason why you’re fed false information. It usually involves an attempt to divert attention from a sensitive subject which Israeli intelligence doesn’t want you to know. In this case, it may be that it wanted to relieve itself of the pressure and burden of Iran intensively trying to learn what happened to Asgari. Though my story caused an international uproar in which Iran complained to the UN about Asgari alleged death, it did divert the world’s attention for several years from the fact that Asgari was alive and well during this entire period.