(I agree with Pat’s excellent posting on the eruptions in Tunis and Egypt. Islam is not only a regliion, it is a social order and its ways are not our ways. Inside every Tunisian or Egyptian there is NOT a liberal democrat trying to get out.
But Pat’s mention of Bakthair made me remeber the following.)
In the summer of 1980, I was in Paris for National Public Radio. Khomeini was in power in Iran, and a war between Iraq and Iran was gathering force. Paris, in other words, was a Balkan city at the time of World War I, seething with spies, in such abundance they were tripping over themselves. . Especially prevalent were the CIA guys and their proxies (exiles from Iran), busy exchanging intelligence, estimates, assessments – sizing things up.
I was talking to my own group of agency “advisors” and rich Iranian exiles. One of the latter was a tall, bearded Iranian, a professor of great learning and charm. We were to meet the next morning for coffees at a quaint café. Very early the next morning, (it was still dark,) I was awakened by a call from a friend of the professor. He had been shot in the head and killed the night before. So Paris was a very dangerous place.
I worked hard for several days. I knew the French spooks had my hotel room bugged so every night as I lay and read my book and drank my sherry, I would regale them with their major intelligence failures in Vietnam and Algeria. I had a marvelous bartender who was also a French spy so I played games with him as well. All very affable but still conveying a menage.
The ones to watch were the Khomeini people. They would track you with couples and you had to employ doubling back, using shop windows, parking yourself in the middle of a bridge, to thwart them. Paris was indeed interesting. Several times I was followed by Khomeini spooks including women. I always used the shop windows as mirrors to know where they were. I would suddenly reverse direction and scatter them like pigeons. Once I went into a store, the spook came ion just as I was leaving and outside I waited. He knew he’d been made and trailed off.
Each day when I went out I took the big, heavy, bulbous room key and put it in my pocket. I loved to walk for hours in Paris and one morning I set out on a beautiful, blazing summer day. I soon realized I had a tail. I knew it wasn’t a spook, his movements were too amateur. I crossed a lovely bridge to the Left Bank. On a corner ahead was a large café, a sprinkle of bright colors from its clients getting coffee. I went down a street, then took a sharp right into an ally. There was a brief ally on the left and I darted in. I waited. My tail suddenly stopped and after considering, turned into my ally. I was on him, with my left hand smashing hm into the wood door, my right hand cocked with the key in it. I could have smashed his face, but he seemed pathetic. I told him if I caught im following me I would break his face in.
I left and began to walk home. I went past the café and looked back. To my utter amazement, there he was, tagging along. I hated myself. I should have left him lying on the ground. I thought that maybe he wasn’t an amateur but dangerous. I thought my best safety lay in staying in view of the café and finding a place to fight. I walked to the center of the bridge and halted, facing the safe and the man. If I had to hurt him, whatever occurred would be in full view of the patrons of the café. I stood and waited. The man never ventured onto the bridge. I finally went home.
But to return to Bakhtiar, one afternoon I headed up town in a taxi to see Shahpour Bakhtiar, a former Prime Minster of Iran and a liberal under the shah’s government. To the Iranian revolutionaries the Revolution was “ the destruction of everything not the revolution,” as Robspierre said. The reasoning of revolutionary zealots was that any contact with the tyrant was contaminating and not something you could ever wash off. Your moderation had ended both your credibility and your usefulness in the future.
Shahpour was in exile and working for the French intelligence agency, SDECE. He also had ties with the CIA. As I got out of the cab, I looked up the pleasant, green-treed, sunlit street of north Paris. About ten yards down, I saw four swarthy men crammed inside a small French car. I couldn’t believe it, it was so obvious, but I still felt a pang of anxious disquiet. I went into the courtyard of Bakhtiar’s flat, and was stopped by two armed French body guards, rather callow fellows. They were government guards providing security yet they carried pitted and worn World War II weapons. My disquiet increased.
Bakhtiar’s flat was up on the third floor. You got out of a small elevator and what confronted you as a small room, with a mirror with a bench directly opposite. There was a single shut door to the left. I went and knocked on it and B opened it. There was a bodyguard in the room. On the wall to the left was a gigantic map of Saudi Arabia. This floored me. I had expected Iran. Why Saudi Arabia? One would have expected a densely grided map of Tehran or something similar. I talked with Shahpour and at one point I told him his security was poor. I told him of the car of men and I told him that his guards were not properly armed. Bakhtiar frowned and said something in Farsi to an aide.
Shahpour was charming, urbane, and very frank with me. He told me he was planning a coup using members of Iran’s air force, the sit of the coup somewhere to the north of Tehran. (I was stunned and wish he had kept quiet.) He had that hopeless optimism of all emigres and I suspected it would not succeed but said nothing. As I left, I again emphasized he needed better protection. We left on good terms and began to talk by phone when I got back to Washington.
It wasn’t long before the Khomeini people tried to assassinate Shahpour. One night, he called: killers had come up in the lift and tried to break into his apartment. There was gunfire. The assassins had tried t fire through the door but it was lined by steel plating. They were quickly caught or killed; Shahpour was untouched.
A few weeks past and then one night I got a call one night from Shahpour. The coup had been launched, and he had high hopes. He would keep me posted. I then got further calls, I can’t recall at what intervals but they were close together. During one, Shahpour was in tears, sobbing. The coup had collapsed and friends of his were being slaughtered. I tried to comfort him as best could. It was hard to hear.
At the same time I was talking to a source close to Paul Wolfowitz, then a Pentagon official, and he was full of wild plans for a coup. His idea was to arm the Bakhtiar tribe which would revolt – the US would reorganize the new government, and we would provide military support. I thought it far fetched, yet during George W Bush’s reign, Wolfie would suggest the same daft scheme for Iraq.
The death of Bakhtiar was particularly grisly. several years later, the Khomeini assassins returned and stabbed him repeatedly and horribly until he died. Whatever the man’s weaknesses, and he had many, he did not in any way deserve such a death.