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Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran

Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran

by Kenneth R. Timmerman

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In his chilling new book, New York Times bestselling author Kenneth R. Timmerman blows the lid off the greatest threat America faces: the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Using his exclusive access to previously classified documents, Iranian defectors and officials, and high-level sources in the U.S. government and intelligence community, Timmerman blows the


In his chilling new book, New York Times bestselling author Kenneth R. Timmerman blows the lid off the greatest threat America faces: the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Using his exclusive access to previously classified documents, Iranian defectors and officials, and high-level sources in the U.S. government and intelligence community, Timmerman blows the lid off previously unreported threats and our intelligence community's failure to deal with these dangers.

And now it could be too late.

To get the complete story on Iran's radical Islamic regime, Timmerman crisscrosses the globe, taking the reader into secret terrorist gatherings in Tehran, into tense meetings in the White House, to debriefings at an obscure CIA outpost in Azerbaijan, to diplomatic face-offs in the Kremlin, and to many other spots along the way. His extensive investigative reporting allows him to lay bare the true nature of the Iranian threat.

For Americans interested in the truth about Iran, Countdown to Crisis may amount to a call for action-or even a case for war.

Editorial Reviews

Cal Thomas
"Ken Timmerman delivers another blockbuster, this time on Iran and its clandestine nuclear program. Few things are more relevant to today's world than what happens in the Middle East-especially in Iran, a major player in the 'axis of evil.' Read this book, be warned, and then equip yourself for battle."
nationally syndicated columnist
John F. Lehman
"With so many amateur intelligence experts clouding the public dialogue, it is a pleasure to read the work of an author of real professionalism. Timmerman adds texture and clarity to the gross failures of our intelligence establishment and new visibility to the role of Iran in the Islamist war against America."
9/11 Commission member and former Secretary of the Navy

Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.39(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.38(d)

Read an Excerpt


On July 26, 2001, an Iranian intelligence officer named Hamid Reza Zakeri walked into the U.S. embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan, and asked to speak to the CIA. As a trusted security official, Zakeri had a diplomatic passport with permanent visas, allowing him to leave his country at will. He told the local receptionist that he had important information concerning the security of the United States and wanted to convey it to the station chief in person.

The Azeri shrugged. We have no CIA officers here, he said. But the Marine guard behind him had been trained for this type of occasion and discreetly phoned up to the CIA station. The forty-one-year-old Zakeri was known as a "walk-in" in the intelligence trade. Like an itinerant peddler, he had goods for sale. It was the CIA's job to evaluate those goods.

On the one hand, it was easy to get taken in by the Willy Lomans of the intelligence trade. But on the other, if the peddler's wares were good, it was the station chief's job to pay him a fair price and pass the information on to Langley for further evaluation and exploitation. Walk-ins had provided vital information to Western intelligence agencies during the Cold War, including secrets of Soviet spy rings that specialized in stealing our high-technology secrets. It would be irresponsible to reject a live one without carefully scrutinizing his wares.

Azerbaijan was not exactly what CIA covert operators considered a plum assignment. The tiny station was headed by a junior officer ("Oh, you mean that GS-10 woman they sent out there?" sneered one former clandestine operator I asked about the encounter.) When the station chief finally met Zakeri in an anteroom off the main lobby, she introduced herself as "Joan."

"Joan" may not have been a senior officer, but she was a professional. She listened to his tale, made no promises, and sent a message back to headquarters asking them to dispatch an evaluation team. She didn't have a clue what to make of the claims being advanced by this Iranian of a "huge" impending attack on America, but she figured that at least she should pass it along. There was so much chatter about potential terrorist attacks circulating these days, she felt a bit like the little boy crying wolf.

After several days of debriefings with Joan at a CIA safe house in Baku, the "expert" arrived from Washington to evaluate his intelligence. That meeting did not go well.

The officer introduced himself as "George." He was around forty years old, very tall, and very sure of himself. He had read the five-page letter Zakeri had written in Persian that described what he knew of the impending terrorist attack. He made clear that he thought Zakeri was lying.

You say you work for a "shadow" intelligence organization that operates out of the Supreme Leader's office? he said. That's news to me. A shadow intelligence organization in Iran! How come I don't know about this?

Zakeri drew him an organization chart. Hojjat-ol eslam Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, the well-known former Majles speaker,* was the top man in the Leader's office. His official title was "head of inspection." Zakeri's boss, Mustafa Hadadian, reported to him. As head of Section 110, Hadadian ran intelligence operations, including physical security for visiting VIPs, counterintelligence, and planning for overseas terrorist attacks. Each of his twelve deputies was listed by his "real" name and his "work" name and had a unique numeric code, like a telephone extension. Hadadian's code was 2500; his real name was Mustafa Sanaie-pour.

George looked at the chart with Hadadian in the center, his deputies arrayed around him in a circle, and burst out laughing. This is preposterous, he said.

There's going to be a big attack on America on the twentieth of Shahrivar, Zakeri insisted. That's the date my boss told us to be ready. Six people who have been trained as pilots have just left Iran.

George consulted a calendar that gave the corresponding Western dates. So we're talking about September 10, right? I'll mark my date book, he added sarcastically. He paid Zakeri a few hundred dollars for his time and sent him away.

"They were not correct with me," Zakeri complained later, during one of many interviews I conducted with him. "They said unacceptable things. They accused me of lying. They said I was telling them false stories to confuse them."

On nearly a dozen occasions over a two-year period, including face-to-face debriefings over five days in Paris and a Middle East country I have agreed not to disclose, Zakeri never contradicted the extremely detailed information he had provided to me. He provided documents and photographs to buttress his claims. As I investigated his claims during this time I discovered that other defectors—and intelligence reports that surfaced well after the September 11 attacks—independently corroborated key parts of his story.

But thanks to "CIA George" and his bosses back in Langley, Zakeri's warnings were never taken seriously.


There's an old saying in the intelligence business as in life: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

For nearly four years after the violent birth of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, the nation's ruling clerics failed to establish a formal ministry of intelligence. It wasn't that Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers refused to engage in skullduggery. Nor did they have any qualms about using extreme violence to seize and maintain their grip on power. In a way, they were victims of their own success.

Before the revolution, Iran's future rulers had complained about the brutality of SAVAK, the National Organization for Intelligence and Security, getting reporters and human rights activists to refer to it universally as the shah's "dreaded" intelligence service. To establish a successor too soon after the revolution would give the lie to the bogus claims they had peddled to sympathetic reporters and foolish Western leaders that their revolution had replaced one of the world's most horrific tyrannies with a new form of democracy.

When they finally announced the creation of the Ministry of Information and Security (MOIS) in 1983, Iran was mired in war on so many fronts that no one cared about the old lies anymore. Nor did anyone seem to notice when the new minister, Hojjat-ol eslam Mohammad "Nick" Reyshahri, a Soviet-trained intelligence professional, drafted entire overseas networks formerly run by SAVAK. He generalized the use of torture, which SAVAK had in fact used quite sparingly, notwithstanding the loud complaints from international human rights organizations.Reyshahri further showed his respect for his predecessors by taking over the former SAVAK headquarters in Sultanatabad, in northern Tehran, whose enormous underground holding pens now resounded with the screams of the damned.

The display area in the entry hall of the majmoueh etelaat building in Sultanatabad was well known to Zakeri and his colleagues. It was here that their bosses posted photographs of Iranian dissidents shortly before MOIS or Iranian Revolutionary Guard hit squads assassinated them in Europe. This "target wall," as they called it, was a not-so-subtle way of spreading the word to insiders as to who was going to become the regime's next target—a typically Persian bit of braggadocio. It was one of those things that Western intelligence officers found so difficult to understand about Iran.

Hamid Reza Zakeri didn't share the visceral hatred of all things American that animated many of his colleagues at MOIS. Indeed, a four-year stint in Canada from 1988 to 1992, where he could see firsthand how well his compatriots were doing in exile, had given him a certain respect, even envy, for the United States. So a chill went down his spine that hot afternoon in the early summer of 2001 when he saw the huge display along the target wall. He understood instantly that the planning phase was over.

On the left was a blow-up of the World Trade Center, nearly 5 feet high, mounted on foamboard. Next to it stood a 3-D model of the White House, lit from inside by a red light as if it was running with blood. To the right was a photograph of CIA headquarters; then a huge, 7-foot-high model of the Pentagon, canted upward so he could see into the inner courtyard. The target display was completed by a smaller photograph of three low buildings, which a printed label identified as Camp David.

Suspended from the ceiling, a missile with a black warhead was bearing in on the Pentagon. Nearly 3 meters long, it was hung so that anyone who walked down the hallway would pass directly beneath it. Along the body of the missile a phrase had been written in blood-red ink. It read, "Al-mohtal America"—"Death to America"—in Arabic, not Farsi.

As Zakeri looked at the display, he understood that his government was preparing to help the Arabs who had come to Iran seeking assistance earlier that year and that their goal was to murder as many Americans as possible.


Zakeri was a security specialist, not a high-ranking clandestine operator or intelligence planner. He began working immediately after the revolution as a bodyguard, in charge of the close protection detail of the top five leaders of the Islamic Republic.When MOIS was established in 1983 (known to Iranians by its Persian acronym, VEVAK, and later, VAJA), he left the Revolutionary Guards Corps and moved there, eventually getting an overseas posting in 1988.

The CIA tried to recruit him in Ottawa, Canada, in 1992, and when he returned to Iran he told his immediate boss, a family member, the whole story. He also revealed that the CIA had recruited an Iranian named Tavakoli who was working as an MOIS department director. Zakeri's boss, who headed Department 12 at MOIS headquarters, was pleased at this sign of loyalty and promoted him to office director. The CIA never forgot Zakeri's betrayal.

According to a note presented to a federal court in Hamburg, Germany, on January 21, 2004, by the Bundeskrimalamt (BKA)—the German equivalent of the FBI—Department 12 was responsible for "the protection of persons and institutions." It was clear from the dismissive tone of the note that the BKA thought this was too lowly a position for someone claiming knowledge of international terrorist operations, as Zakeri was doing. He was little more than a glorified bodyguard, in the eyes of the BKA.

Two other German intelligence agencies did a similar evaluation of Zakeri's credentials in preparation for his appearance as a government witness in the trial in Hamburg of a thirty-year-old Moroccan named Abdelghani Mzoudi, who was facing 3,066 counts of accessory to murder for having allegedly provided material assistance to 9/11 hijackers Mohammad Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah.Both agencies confirmed his employment at MOIS and noted that in 1999, Zakeri said he had been transferred to the newly formed Intelligence Office of the Supreme Leader, the "shadow" intelligence outfit whose existence the CIA found "preposterous."

In his new position, Zakeri once again handled security arrangements for the nation's top leaders and most senior intelligence operators.That was how he got to meet Osama bin Laden's chief deputy, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahri, and bin Laden's eldest son, Saad. "I organized the security for their meetings with my bosses," Zakeri told me.

When I traveled to Karlsruhe, Germany, to talk with German prosecutors about Zakeri, they said he was "unreliable." I was curious whether they meant he was an imposter who had lied about his past employment with Iranian intelligence. No, they said: German intelligence had confirmed his employment record. It was his testimony on Mzoudi that was unreliable, because he claimed Mzoudi was in Iran in 1997 when the Germans had confirmed that he was actually in Germany. I pointed out that in my conversations with Zakeri leading up to the trial, he had never mentioned Mzoudi. That information came from an e-mail Zakeri had received on December 17, 2003, from a source in Iran. (See appendix.) Zakeri casually mentioned Mzoudi's training in Iran at a lunch with a German intelligence officer. Two days later, he listened with astonishment as the Voice of America announced he was a "surprise new witness" in the 9/11 trial in Hamburg. Without him, the Germans didn't have a case.

In fact, once the Germans told him they planned to put him on the stand, Zakeri pleaded with them to give him enough time to get his source out of Iran to provide detailed testimony. They agreed to postpone Zakeri's court appearance by ten days, but no more. It wasn't enough.

A few weeks after the trial, Zakeri did manage to get his source out of Iran and took a videotaped deposition of his testimony at a location I have agreed not to disclose, along with Andreas Schultz, a lawyer for the German victims of the September 11 attacks. Zakeri showed me the 18-minute videotape. His source was part of the Revolutionary Guards security detail that handled foreign terrorists coming to Iran for special training. He picked out Mzoudi from a series of eleven photographs and said he first saw him arriving at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport in early November 1999—two years after the date Zakeri had understood from his cryptic e-mail. Mzoudi was coming in from Damascus on an Iran Air flight, along with five other Arab "trainees." Zakeri's source took them to the former U.S. embassy in Tehran, where the IRGC keeps its main computers. "They have a special place there for teaching transmissions and codes," he said. "Number Six [Mzoudi] received that training." He also recognized Mzoudi's codefendant, Moatesseq, among the trainees.

"Zakeri did say something about meetings in Iran before 9/11," the lead prosecutor acknowledged, "but he didn't say if the 9/11 attacks were planned there. And he didn't participate in those meetings directly. He was in charge of security for the people who attended the meetings." I could detect a note of contempt in the prosecutor's voice, although he had just confirmed one of the most astonishing—and previously unknown—details about the planning phase of the 9/11 attacks. The 9/11 hijackers and al-Qaeda planners had been in constant contact with senior Iranian officials and intelligence officers before September 11. It was not a casual relationship or a chance encounter here and there, but a steady stream of contacts.

The Germans never asked Zakeri about those meetings during the Mzoudi trial. They didn't care.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Kenneth R. Timmerman is the New York Times bestselling author of The French Betrayal of America, Preachers of Hate: Islam and the War on America, and Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq.

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