March 11, 2007

The Friends Of Ali Reza Asgari, Part II

The defection of Iranian intelligence officer Ali Reza Asgari did not represent a recent flip of a spy chief as first presumed. The Times of London reports that Asgari worked as a mole for years, passing information to the West, until he could get his family out of Iran and escape:

AN Iranian general who defected to the West last month had been spying on Iran since 2003 when he was recruited on an overseas business trip, according to Iranian sources.

This weekend Brigadier General Ali Reza Asgari, 63, the former deputy defence minister, is understood to be undergoing debriefing at a Nato base in Germany after he escaped from Iran, followed by his family.

A daring getaway via Damascus was organised by western intelligence agencies after it became clear that his cover was about to be blown. Iran’s notorious secret service, the Vavak, is believed to have suspected that he was a high-level mole.

According to the Iranian sources, the escape took several months to arrange. At least 10 close members of his family had to flee the country. Asgari has two sons, a daughter and several grandchildren and it is believed that all, including his daughters-in-law, are now out of Iran. Their final destination is unknown.

Asgari is said to have carried with him documents disclosing Iran’s links to terrorists in the Middle East. It is not thought that he had details of the country’s nuclear programme.

This explains a few points that seemed rather unclear at first. Iran's insistence on publicly identifying Asgari and pursuing his disappearance through Interpol seemed rather odd. When key members of the intelligence service drop off the face of the earth, their countries generally try to use lower-key methods to retrieve them, without tipping off too many other people to their disappearance -- especially if one suspects that they may have turned double agent. In this case, Iran knew it had nothing left to lose by going public, especially after Asgari's family slipped away.

Asgari must have provided a wealth of information to his handling agency, whose identity remains unclear. The Times suspects the Mossad, perhaps with a more acceptable (to an Iranian) Western intel agency as a middleman. Asgari might not have information on the nuclear-weapons program, but he has plenty of data on Iranian support for terrorism, especially Hezbollah, and probably good data on other weapons systems and unit dispositions for the Revolutionary Guard. No one has mentioned this yet, but an officer at that level of the intelligence service might also have some information on crypto, which would be a devastating blow to operational security for Iranian military and intelligence agencies.

However, it seems pretty clear now that Asgari has come close to the end of his usefulness. His defection ends his value as a mole; we assumed that he had defected in order to get us information, but it really leaves us a little more blind from February 7th onwards. He will be able to analyze information coming out of Iran for Western intel agencies and his experience will prove valuable, but having Asgari inside the Iranian establishment was a much better situation for us than having him outside of it.

The defection embarrasses Teheran, and it will touch off destructive mole hunts and damage control purges that almost certainly will reduce the readiness and effectiveness of its military and intel organizations. It makes the mullahcracy look like a bunch of amateurs playing at Great Game aspirations, and it further undermines their credibility at home. The only positive for Teheran is that Asgari can no longer get new information to the West, but that may well be akin to locking the barn door after the horse has bolted -- and leaving Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to clean up the stable.


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» Iranian Defector Was Spying Since 2003 from JammieWearingFool
According to this report, Iranian General Ali Reza Asgari had been spying on Iran for several years and it appears Mossad may have aided in his defection, which is sure to further enrage the Iranians. [Read More]

» More on l'Affaire Asgari from Public Secrets: from the files of the Irishspy
According to the UK's Sunday Times, Ali Reza Asgari, the Iranian general thought to have defected to the West, may also have been a spy for Western powers. His defection may have been prompted by fears his cover was about [Read More]

» That missing Iranian General? Our man for years. from Bill's Bites
Iranian Defector Has Spied Since 2003 John Hinderaker The Times of London has a lot more information about defector Gen. Ali Reza Asgari, mostly from Iranian and Israeli sources. There is lots of interesting stuff, but the most important fact [Read More]