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Missing IRGC General Alive And Living In US, 17 Years After Defection To West

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Asgari’s Turn: Was He Recruited as a Spy in Thailand?

Asgari’s profile certainly made him a desirable target for recruitment.

Having served in several high-profile positions within the influential Islamic Revolutionary Guards, Asgari was a former commander of the IRGC in Lebanon, the previous chief of IRGC operations, and the deputy inspector of the Ministry of Defense during Mohammad Khatami’s presidency.

In an apparent souring of Asgari’s relationship with parts of the regime’s apparatus in the early 2000s, he was arrested over alleged corruption charges and jailed for 18 months.

He was immediately retired mid-2004 upon his release – nearly 2.5 years before he would leave Iran for good.

At the time of his disappearance, Asgari had two wives, four daughters, and a son.

Before his last trip to Syria and Turkey, Asgari’s wife Ziba Ahmadi mentioned that he had also traveled to Thailand. It is believed that there, Asgari may have met with CIA agents.

“Thailand has long been a favorite location for Western intelligence services to recruit spies from Iran and other Middle Eastern countries. It’s said that the CIA might have recruited Asgari during one of his trips while he was the deputy at the Ministry of Defense, but in my opinion, considering that he turned against the Islamic Republic after the ruthless interrogations during his detention, Asgari probably initiated contact with the CIA during this trip to Thailand,” a US intelligence source told Iran International.

A Critical Shift: How Ali-Reza Asgari’s Intelligence Altered US War Plans on Iran’s Nuclear Program

Asgari’s transfer to the US was a well-kept secret for years – even within the US intelligence apparatus.

“At least until the release of the National Intelligence Estimate in December 2007, only a limited number of top officials in the CIA, White House, Pentagon, and a few other American intelligence agencies involved in this case knew about this significant intelligence achievement,” a US intelligence source told Iran International.

Every year, the 16 US intelligence agencies compile a secret National Intelligence Estimate  – or NIE – on a national security topic for the President, who, along with the Director of National Intelligence, can declassify any portion of it.

But, what was in that 2007 NIE?

Much of the assessment, spanning 147 pages with 9 of them declassified, appears to have focused on Iran’s nuclear intentions and capabilities.

“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program. We also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons … We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop,” it stated.

This decisive statement was made even though these same agencies had asserted in their 2005 assessment that they assessed with “high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressure, but [they] do not assess that Iran is immovable”.

These assessments can be crucial. It was, after all, the 2002 NIE, that served as a key piece of evidence for George Bush’s administration to argue that then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program posed an immediate threat – ultimately becoming the primary rationale for the initiation of the US-led invasion.

Indeed, at the time, Bush had ordered the Pentagon to plan an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, as revealed in the former President’s memoir: “I directed the Pentagon to study what would be necessary for a strike.” He adds: “This would be to stop the bomb clock, at least temporarily.”

In 2006 and 2007, the political circles in Washington seriously entertained the notion that the US was planning to attack Iran, an intelligence source told Iran International.

“At that time, there wasn’t a day when I wasn’t asked about America’s plan to attack Iran. Everyone thought a plan was in place and that an attack was imminent, but the publication of the 2007 assessment in early December was like throwing cold water on fire. It effectively diluted all speculations about a potential attack on Iran, and if there indeed had been a plan, it was practically shelved,” the source said.

In a book published by the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence regarding the outcomes and significance of the 2007 NIE, critics argued that the presented judgment weakened any rationale for military action against Iran.

The 2007 assessment suggested that Iran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program was a response to increased international scrutiny and pressure following the revelation of its previously undeclared nuclear activities.

From the assessment, some intelligence analysts concluded that applying targeted political and economic pressure – rather than military action – can effectively influence Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Some went further, arguing that the intelligence community’s assessment was a preemptive strike against the Bush administration, discouraging it from its hasty plans to attack Iran.

But, what really caused the seemingly drastic turnaround of the 2007 NIE – and stopped a potential attack on Iran?

Just a few days after the 2007 assessment’s publication, the Guardian reported that diplomatic and security sources in Washington said the new assessment was the result of physical information likely obtained from Asgari.

The New York Times reported that new insights into Iran’s nuclear program came from wiretapped conversations between two Iranian officials, one identified by The Wall Street Journal as Mohsen Fakhrizadeh – an Iranian nuclear physicist and scientist.

In a 2006 conversation, Fakhrizadeh mentioned cuts to the military nuclear program’s budget since 2003 and the closure of a specific project. The New York Times added that Asgari had verified these conversations in his CIA reports. Additionally, Israeli sources told The Times of London that Asgari had disclosed details about Iran’s nuclear program to American intelligence.

An analytical report by the Arms Control Institute in 2010 said that Asgari’s provided information confirmed the non-military nature of the nuclear program.

Intelligence sources speaking with Iran International believe the most crucial information Asgari provided was related to Iran’s nuclear program – with significant consequences: “After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, while George Bush named Iran as part of the ‘axis of evil’ and the Islamic Republic was accused of attempting to build a nuclear bomb, perhaps only one piece of news could sideline the idea of an American attack on Iran: Tehran’s cessation of efforts to build the bomb.”

One of the intelligence sources indicates that the dramatic shift in understanding Iran’s nuclear program was based on tangible evidence. This evidence, likely including tapes, documents, and detailed information provided by Asgari to the CIA, was pivotal in changing the perception of the nature of Iran’s nuclear activities.

“The recorded voice of Fakhrizadeh is from 2006. After his name appeared in the laptop documents, Fakhrizadeh was fully protected, and naturally, his communications were highly secure. In this situation, in my opinion, Ali-Reza Asgari, due to his friendship and access, was someone who could intentionally and systematically have a phone or in-person conversation with Fakhrizadeh, and those talks must have been recorded there,” the source said.

The documents from the referenced laptop, which first introduced Fakhrizadeh’s name, reached Western intelligence in mid-2004. But, doubts about their authenticity and expert confirmation that some photos were fake meant they led to no specific action against Fakhrizadeh.
Ultimately, it was Asgari who decisively confirmed Fakhrizadeh’s identity and significant role to the Americans – nearly three years after the initial appearance of the laptop documents, multiple sources confirmed to Iran International.

“Asgari provided his name and information as the director and mastermind of Iran’s nuclear program to the Americans,” the sources said.

The immediate result was the inclusion of Fakhrizadeh’s name in the UN sanctions under Security Council Resolution 1747 on March 24, 2007.

In 2020, Israeli’s Mossad assassinated Fakhrizadeh in a reported road ambush about 70 km from Tehran, using an autonomous satellite-operated gun.

Operation Orchard: Asgari’s Tip-off and destruction of a secret Syrian Nuclear Reactor

But, the intelligence Asgari offered up was not just related to Iran’s own nuclear activities – it would also help the West in identifying a covert Syrian nuclear reactor.

On September 6, 2007, at midnight, the Israeli Air Force’s Squadron 69 bombed and destroyed a military complex in Deir al-Zor, Syria.

Months after the airstrike, the US declared that the targeted complex was a nuclear site with military objectives, constructed with North Korean assistance. Four years later, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that the facility Israel destroyed in 2007 was indeed a nuclear reactor.
Once again, it was Asgari who had provided crucial information about Syria’s nuclear project in Deir al-Zor – leading directly to its identification and subsequent Israeli airstrike on the Al Kibar reactor at this site.

Confirming Asgari’s role a few years later was Hans Rühle, the former head of planning staff at the German Ministry of Defense and former commander of NATO headquarters in Germany.

Rühle also highlighted a significant oversight by the intelligence community – were it not for Asgari’s intelligence.

“No one in the American and Israeli intelligence communities had heard about this nuclear site until then. The recent case was even more embarrassing because the Israeli government had always claimed there was nothing in Syria they did not know about,” Rühle said.