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, the online edition of The Sunday Times quoted Iranian sources as saying.
This weekend Brigadier General Ali Reza Asgari, 63, the former deputy defense minister, is understood to be undergoing debriefing at a Nato base in Germany after he escaped from Iran, followed by his family, the UK-based newspaper said.
It is unclear which intelligence organization he was spying for, the report said. “He probably was working for Mossad but believed he was working for a European intelligence agency,” an Israeli defense official was quoted by the Times as saying.
According to the Times, a daring getaway via Damascus was organized 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, the report said.
'We have been following him for years'
The Iranian sources told the Times that the escape took several months to arrange. At least 10 close members of his family had to flee the country, they added. The Times said 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 Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad and other terror groups based in the Middle East.
According to the report, Asgari’s escape has provoked alarm in the Iranian regime. “Asgari is a gold mine for western intelligence,” an Israeli defense source was quoted by the Times. “We have been following him for years, especially since the late 1980s when he was commander of the Revolutionary Guard in Lebanon.”
The report said that in 1997 he was appointed deputy defense minister in charge of internal investigations. He uncovered several cases of embezzlement in the Republican Guard that made him unpopular. He was pushed aside after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in 2006. The two had been rivals for many years and Asgari realized that his days were numbered, according to the Times.
During an overseas business trip in 2003 he is said to have met a new business partner, who turned out to be a foreign intelligence officer. “Ali Reza was a wealthy man even before 2003,” an Iranian source told the Times. “Since 2003 he has become a very wealthy man.”
On February 7, four days after arriving in Damascus and having been assured his family was safe, Asgari boarded a flight to Istanbul, the report said. He was given a new passport and left Turkey by car.