March 4, 1999

Spy in the Cold

By Robert Parry

The two decades of U.S. isolation from Iran have permitted the British to rebuild their historically strong intelligence ties to Iran's ruling elites, according to Jamshid Hashemi, an Iranian who worked for both U.S. and British intelligence.

In an interview in the United States, Hashemi said he helped British intelligence regain that edge through his work for the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), the parent organization of MI-6, the British foreign intelligence agency.

Hashemi asserted that he helped the British recruit 17 Iranians in sensitive positions. The total number of Iranians working as British agents, he added, was certainly much higher.

"I'm only one man," he observed.

Now, bitter over his prosecution in Great Britain on fraud charges, Hashemi said he intends to divulge the identities of those Iranians. "The SIS agents should get out of Iran within two months," he warned in the interview on Feb. 16.

When asked if he was disclosing the names because the British had "betrayed" him, Hashemi answered, "Exactly."

Court records in London reveal that Hashemi was recruited by British intelligence in 1985 and that he supplied Great Britain with accurate information about Iran's military needs when that data was unavailable from other sources.

Hashemi's work for British intelligence involved setting up arms deals for Iran that gave his SIS superiors insights into Iranian strategies as well as access to communist-bloc technology. One Hashemi deal bought “silkworm” missiles from China.

British intelligence discontinued its use of Hashemi in spring 1993 because information about Iranian military needs was deemed less vital, the papers said.

Four years later, Great Britain's Serious Fraud Office charged Hashemi in a fraud scheme that used allegedly non-existent commodity deals with Iran to deceive suppliers of American satellite phones, German gas masks and Vietnamese rice.

Hashemi was incarcerated in August 1997 after he tried to flee England on a false Italian passport. Hashemi, 63, who suffers from a serious heart ailment and walks slowly with a cane, was held part of the time at Belmarsh prison, Great Britain's highest security facility.

Eventually, four charges were dropped because British intelligence feared disclosure of state secrets. In December 1998, at a pre-trial hearing at the Old Bailey, Hashemi agreed to plead guilty to four other charges, with the understanding that he would be freed within a few months.

Judge Andrew Collins said he granted Hashemi leniency because of the "valuable information" he had given British intelligence. [The Guardian, Feb. 6, 1999]

Hashemi was released in early February and returned to the United States where he holds citizenship.

Although Hashemi's relations with the U.S. government have been stormy, too, he expressed thanks to the interest section of the U.S. embassy in London, which "helped as much as they could."

Even before Jamshid Hashemi spied for the British, he assisted the CIA and U.S. Customs. His younger brother, Cyrus Hashemi, an international financier, sent for Jamshid in late 1979 after Iranian Islamic radicals had overthrown the U.S.-backed shah of Iran and seized 52 American hostages.

The Hashemis had close ties to the new Islamic government and were seen as useful intermediaries. Cyrus also had business ties to CIA-connected Americans, including businessman John Shaheen and Shaheen's lawyer, William J. Casey.

Jamshid Hashemi arrived in the United States on New Years Day 1980 and promptly met with U.S. officials, including a CIA officer. According to U.S. government records, the Hashemi brothers became conduits for negotiations with Iran about the American hostages.

Jamshid Hashemi has testified that Shaheen and Casey, who became Ronald Reagan's campaign director in February 1980, used the same channels to send Republican messages to Iranian radicals urging them to delay the hostage release only after Reagan was elected, the so-called "October Surprise" conspiracy.

Other October Surprise witnesses, including senior Iranian officials and Middle East intelligence operatives, confirmed key elements of Hashemi's story when it surfaced in 1990-91. But Republicans angrily denied the charges.

A House task force was assigned to examine the October Surprise case. But its leaders -- Reps. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., and Henry Hyde, R-Ill. -- moved quickly to reject the troubling allegations.

The task force concluded that Hashemi had lied about arranging a face-to-face meeting in Madrid between Casey and a senior Iranian cleric in late July 1980. But the task force’s alibis for Casey’s whereabouts collapsed under scrutiny, and Hashemi still insists his account was true. [For details on the bogus alibis, see Robert Parry's Trick or Treason or The October Surprise X-Files.]

Though Hashemi's credibility was assailed, the task force report revealed that the Hashemi brothers were arranging secret military shipments to Iran even before Reagan's inauguration in 1981.

In 1984, federal prosecutors in New York brought arms-trafficking indictments against them. But in Washington, Reagan administration officials tipped them off. They avoided arrest and shifted their base to London.

There, the Hashemis continued to assist U.S. Customs in arranging sting operations against arms dealers violating the Iranian arms embargo. Cyrus also helped the Reagan administration make the initial overtures to Israel and Iran that opened the door to the Iran-contra affair.

In July 1986, as the Iran-contra clouds were building, Cyrus died suddenly in London from what was diagnosed as acute myeloblastic leukemia. Jamshid, however, suspected that his brother had been murdered.

In 1989, in the wake of the Iran-contra scandal, the U.S. indictment against Jamshid Hashemi was dropped. A year later, citing his belief that his brother had been assassinated, Jamshid began to discuss the October Surprise case.

Meanwhile, with Jamshid Hashemi's help, the British rebuilt their historically strong influence within Iran. Those developments brought full circle the U.S.-British relationship to that strategic country.

In the 1950s, CIA officers saw their principal rivals as British intelligence, which had long dominated the oil-rich Middle East.

By orchestrating the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 and restoring the shah to power, the CIA supplanted the British. That advantage was lost in 1979.

Now, according to Hashemi, the British have exploited Washington's long hostility toward Iran to regain their intelligence edge, an advantage that an angry Jamshid Hashemi is threatening to disrupt.

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