A Time to Betray is the purported life story of Kahlili, a young Iranian computer engineer who left the United States and returned to Iran on the eve of the 1979 revolution to join the nascent Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Eventually disillusioned by the horrors of revolutionary Iran, Kahlili initiated cooperation with the CIA during a subsequent visit to the United States. With the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, Kahlili returned to the United States with his family, ending his CIA tenure after less than ten years.
Kahlili's account is astonishing, but for the wrong reasons. The author displays a shocking lack of interest to detail: Where was his office in Tehran? How many IRGC people were working in his office? These and other questions are unanswered by the author who instead indulges in long, sentimental passages about his family life and rituals of the Iranian New Year.
Kahlili also provides no new information about the IRGC. Worse yet, he seems totally ignorant of some basic features of the organization of which he claims to have been a part. For example, on the eve of the revolution, there were not one but at least four pro-Khomeini armed militias claiming to defend the revolutionary leadership. He does not mention these groups or their rivalry, which complicated matters for the IRGC during the early days of the revolution The author claims to have witnessed firsthand the November 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran and fingers the IRGC in the attack yet fails to mention the most obvious proof of their involvement known from open sources: The IRGC's canteen provided the food for the hostage-takers during the seizure of the embassy.
Further questions of veracity arise. The author relates that he listened to the BBC to confirm that "Iraq was firing long-range missiles on Tehran and other Iranian cities." Why would an active Revolutionary Guardsman need to rely on the BBC when Tehran was bombarded on a daily basis with Scud missiles? Kahlili also regales the reader with the thrilling story of his interrogation at Evin Prison; unfortunately, suspect IRGC members were not interrogated in Evin at that time, but at facilities run by the IRGC counter-intelligence.
There are few books on the IRGC available to non-Persian speakers, and Kenneth Katzman's Warriors of Islam remains the best. Kahlili's book certainly does not remedy this shortage. Deficiencies in A Time to Betray may be due to the author's attempts at preserving his anonymity, or he may simply not be who he claims to be. But Kahlili betrays no one and nothing but the trust of his readers.
Ali Alfoneh is a resident fellow at AEI