A former member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards who secretly spied for the CIA during the 1980s and ’90s says that Canada is a major target of Iranian espionage.
Reza Kahlili is the pseudonym of an Iranian national now living in the U.S. who joined the Guards shortly after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and quickly became disgusted by the violence and radicalism that followed. Kahlili, who attended university in California, agreed to spy for the CIA during a visit to America in 1981. He described his time in the intelligence agency in A Time to Betray, a memoir published earlier this year.
As a well-connected member of the Guards, Kahlili says he learned much about the organization’s activities outside Iran and says numerous agents were sent to North America. “Canada was their favourite spot because it was very easy to get into,” he told Maclean’s. “They would send students over there, businessmen. They would set up a business but would actually be part of the network.” Canada is also attractive to Iranian intelligence agencies because of its proximity to the U.S.
Kahlili says he still has contacts within the Guards, and that this practice is ongoing. He says agents spy on Iranians in Canada and report on who opposes the Islamic Republic. Those who do may find themselves arrested when they return to Iran, or their families in Iran may be punished.
The CIA declined comment when contacted by Maclean’s. The Washington Post’s David Ignatius spoke with three former CIA officers who ran Iranian operations in the 1980s. All were unaware of Kahlili’s work. But a current U.S. government official told Ignatius that Kahlili was indeed a spy. And Ignatius spoke with one of Kahlili’s former case officers who described the Iranian as “legit” and “a very brave guy.”
Looking for more?
Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.