A Time To Betray: The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent Inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran

A Time To Betray: The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent Inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran




Even though this book is several years old, some of the advice it contains is still as timely as ever.


A true story as exhilarating as a great spy thriller, as turbulent as today’s headlines from the Middle East, A Time to Betray reveals what no other previous CIA operative’s memoir possibly could: the inner workings of the notorious Revolutionary Guards of Iran, as witnessed by an Iranian man inside their ranks who spied for the American government. It is a human story, a chronicle of family and friendships torn apart by a terror-mongering regime, and how the adult choices of three childhood mates during the Islamic Republic yielded divisive and tragic fates. And it is the stunningly courageous account of one man’s decades-long commitment to lead a shocking double life informing on the beloved country of his birth, a place that once offered the promise of freedom and enlightenment—but instead ruled by murderous violence and spirit-crushing oppression.

Reza Kahlili grew up in Tehran surrounded by his close-knit family and two spirited boyhood friends. The Iran of his youth allowed Reza to think and act freely, and even indulge a penchant for rebellious pranks in the face of the local mullahs. His political and personal freedoms flourished while he studied computer science at the University of Southern California in the 1970s. But his carefree time in America was cut short with the sudden death of his father, and Reza returned home to find a country on the cusp of change. The revolution of 1979 plunged Iran into a dark age of religious fundamentalism under the Ayatollah Khomeini, and Reza, clinging to the hope of a Persian Renaissance, joined the Revolutionary Guards, an elite force at the beck and call of the Ayatollah. But as Khomeini’s tyrannies unfolded, as his fellow countrymen turned on each other, and after the horror he witnessed inside Evin Prison, a shattered and disillusioned Reza returned to America to dangerously become “Wally,” a spy for the CIA.

In the wake of an Iranian election that sparked global outrage, at a time when Iran’s nuclear program holds the world’s anxious attention, the revelations inside A Time to Betray could not be more powerful or timely. Now resigned from his secretive life to reclaim precious time with his loved ones, Reza documents scenes from history with heart-wrenching clarity, as he supplies vital information from the Iran-Iraq War, the Marine barracks bombings in Beirut, the catastrophes of Pan Am Flight 103, the scandal of the Iran-Contra affair, and more…a chain of incredible events that culminates in a nation’s fight for freedom that continues to this very day.


In some ways the story of Reza Kahlili is not unfamiliar. He grew up in a family that was relatively wealthy in the Iran of the 1960s and early 1970s. Kahlili came to the United States to attend the University of Southern California and major in computer science. While he was in the United States he got a taste of American culture during the 1970s for better or worse.
Upon returning to Iran, Kahlili got caught up in the revolution that would see the Ayatollah Khomeini swept into power and would also spark the hostage crisis that would plague the Carter administration. But like so many in countless revolutions throughout history, Kahlili would discover that what his countrymen were promised and what they actually received were two different things entirely.
The story of Reza Kahlili is one of great loss and great bravery. He saw friendships fractured and loved ones die in the name of the revolution. After seeing the torture tactics of the Khomeini regime up close and personal, Kahlili decided to return to America and contact the CIA to provide them with intelligence.
The decision was not an easy one, as it put Kahlili and his family in very real danger. The consequences of getting found out would surely have been death for both he and his family. Yet for all of his justified paranoia, Kahlili never really wavered from his mission. It is likely going to be very difficult for the average American to understand just how valuable Kahlili’s intelligence and overall contribution has been to the CIA over the years.
The book expresses some disappointment that Kahlili has felt over the years. He feels that, at times, America has not done all that it can to put a stop to the Iranian regime. Kahlili does not believe that this is the type of government that can be negotiated with and is critical of several presidential administrations throughout the book for the way they attempted to handle the Iranian problem.
Kahlili’s views on the Iranian situation are as timely now as ever. While he has been out of the country for decades and the leadership within the government has changed over the years, the philosophy is still the same. Politicians at the highest levels of government would be a lot better off if they listened to this man and took his advice to heart.
As much as the book is instructive in world affairs, it is ultimately a personal story. It is the story of a man and his struggles. He wants to be a good Muslim and a good citizen,t but he can not sit back and watch his government torture innocent people. He wants to be loyal to his friends and to their memory, but his role with the CIA is in direct conflict with all of that.
Reza Kahlili has lived a difficult life, and one can’t help but wonder if it was all worth it and if he’d do it the same way if given the chance. But his struggle makes for a compelling if difficult read.


Reza Kahlili is in fact a pseudonym. The author’s real identity must still be kept secret for safety reasons. That in and of itself should tell you just how badly forces in the Iranian government would like to carry out revenge, even all these years later.


The late Richard Allen gives a big performance. He adds emotion to Reza Kahlili’s struggles and low points that he faces throughout the book. I can’t vouch for pronunciations or accents but it all sounded natural enough to me.


The Tantor download contains 32 individual files, one for each of the book’s chapters. There is no music to be found on any of the tracks, nor are any sound effects used.
The track sounds pretty good overall, although I believe that there are a few instances where an echo can be heard.


‘A Time to Betray’ is a moving account of one man’s struggle. Reza Kahlili faced a lot of turmoil after he made his decision to become a spy for the CIA and lived with constant fear that he might be found out.
The author felt like he was betraying his friends and their memory, and even his own family. His mother passed away without ever knowing her son’s reasons for staying in the revolutionary guards. He sacrificed time with his wife and young son in the child’s earliest years. Yet Reza Kahlili kept working for the CIA because he wanted to do whatever he could, large or small, to effect real change in a country that he loves.
This is an autobiography that is moving and heartbreaking. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the activities in the Middle East and the more modern history of the region.


Title Author Narrator Publisher Genre Release Date Running Time Score
A Time to Betray: The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent Inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran Reza Kahlili Richard Allen Tantor Audio History 07/12/2010 13 hours, 58 minutes 8.5/10