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

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The Disappearance: Asgari Vanishes In Turkey

On December 9, 2006, during a trip to Turkey, Ali-Reza Asgari would switch off his cell phone – never to be heard from or seen again.

The retired IRGC General had left Tehran for Damascus some time before his arrival in Istanbul.

Just two days before his mysterious disappearance, he checked into the 5-star Ceylan Hotel in the heart of the city.

Over a month after Asgari vanished, Tehran notified Interpol.

“Iranian authorities reported the disappearance of this former military official to Interpol on January 25, 2007, but they informed us of the incident on February 4, 2007,” a Turkish government source told Iran International.

Contrary to many Western media reports, Asgari disappeared well before the purported date of February 7, 2007 – which is close to when Iran briefed Turkey.

It would take the Iranian government nearly three months to publicly confirm and acknowledge Asgari’s disappearance at a Foreign Ministry press conference – which occurred days after the news had already broken in the media.

Various international media began citing Western intelligence sources, reporting that Asgari had been in contact with the CIA and had willingly defected to the United States.

His wife Ziba Ahmadi refuted those claims, instead suggesting that he was in Syria and Turkey on business – allegedly connected to the olive oil trade. Some of Asgari’s friends echoed her assertion, saying he was on a business trip though other friends and former Iranian officials later claimed Asgari had sought asylum.

Over the years, other Iranian regime officials have also claimed that Mossad or CIA abducted the retired IRGC commander.

In the years following Asgari’s disappearance, dozens of reports emerged – leaving many questions unanswered.

Did the former General go to the US voluntarily? Was he already eagerly cooperating with Western intelligence agencies? Was Asgari’s defection a major coup for the US intelligence community? Or, had he been doing so for many years? Was he transferred to a NATO base in Germany? Was he being interrogated?

On record, Western officials appeared unable to answer questions about Asgari’s whereabouts.

When asked about Asgari’s presence in Germany, Franz Josef Jung, the then-Minister of Defense, refrained from dismissing the claim instead saying: “I cannot say anything on this issue.”

Similarly, Sean McCormack, the spokesman for the US State Department at the time, offered no confirmation or denial about Asgari’s presence in the US, stating, “I couldn’t tell you.”

But, reports persisted that Asgari was sharing sensitive intelligence with the West.

By the end of 2007, it was reported that the information obtained from Asgari was so confidential it was sent directly to the head of the CIA: “People who would normally know, and should know, are completely out of the loop.”

Several years later, in 2014, author Kai Bird wrote about Asgari’s disappearance in his book “The Good Spy”, that based on 40 intelligence sources Asgari was given asylum in the US in exchange for information about Iran’s nuclear program.

In the book a Bush administration official, in conversation about Bush’s decision to grant Asgari asylum in 2007, said: “At the unclassified level, I cannot elaborate on this issue.”

For 17 years – the former General’s fate has been shrouded in mystery.

Today, based on interviews with a senior European diplomatic source and three American intelligence sources, Iran International has exclusively established a clear narrative of Asgari’s disappearance.

After arriving in Turkey, the former IRGC General was taken—with his consent—by American operatives to a US military base in Germany. About two months later, he was transferred to the US, where he continues to live today under a new identity within the witness protection program.

Defections to the US were not completely uncommon – several scientists active in Iran’s nuclear program had fled the country as part of a secret CIA programme, dubbed “the Brain Drain”.

That programme aimed to undermine Iran’s nuclear ambitions, by persuading scientists and key officials involved to defect to America.

Asgari allegedly had gone to the US as part of that very programme.

 “These individuals are always encouraged to cooperate with intelligence, but many do not. Nonetheless, merely severing their ties with Iran is considered a victory for Western intelligence,” US intelligence sources told Iran International.

Asgari’s case though was an exception: he was neither a scientist nor a key official in Iran’s nuclear program.

Yet, the intelligence he would ultimately provide to the West was so crucial that an Israeli military official characterized him as a “gold mine”.

In at least four instances, this “golden source” would offer up intelligence to the US that led to long-term foreign policy consequences – most notably in regards to Iran’s nuclear program.

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.