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Khomeini's right-hand man was a "Jeffersonian Democrat" womanizer — and other FBI stories
Newly-declassified documents shed light on Iranian revolutionary Sadeq Qotbzadeh's run-ins with the FBI.
I just published a new article for The Critic, a British magazine I’ve really enjoyed working with. The topic? A very strange episode from Iranian-American history in the 1960s.
A few months ago, I had published an article on Substack about Sadeq Qotbzadeh, the revolutionary who became foreign minister of Iran after the 1979 revolution, only to be tortured and executed in 1982 on charges of treason. Because Qotbzadeh had studied in America, and had well-known run-ins with the authorities, I requested his file from the FBI archives.
The files mentioned that Qotbzadeh had been interrogated twice in 1962, but didn’t include the actual notes from the interrogations. So I asked the FBI to look again. And they did, turning up a full dossier on Qotbzadeh over a hundred pages long, albeit with some reactions. I also asked for — and received — the thousand-page file on protests against the late Iranian monarch Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
The files included some spicy revelations. Questioned about his rumored Communist ties, Qotbzadeh told the FBI that he wanted a “Jeffersonian Democracy” for Iran, a pretty ironic thing to say for someone who ended up as the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s right-hand man.
It was really striking to see how deeply U.S. intelligence had penetrated the Iranian-American diaspora. The FBI was able to compile such a large file because Iranian expats were constantly snitching on each other, calling to complain that their political rivals were Communist agents. Diaspora activists still do that sort of thing today. It would have been a lot more serious back then, when Communism was a crime and the United States was willing to deport Iranian dissidents.
If this hasn’t been enough to motivate you to read the article…here’s a little teaser. One of the informants was Qotbzadeh’s ex-girlfriend, who ended up marrying an American (likely working for the CIA) and moving back to Tehran. After the revolution, she crossed paths with Qotbzadeh again. You’ll have to read the whole thing to find out what happened next.
And if you want to learn more about Qotbzadeh’s life story after leaving America, the BBC’s Persian service ran a wonderfully-made documentary on him in 2020, recently translated into English. When I sent my first request for documents on Qotbzadeh, the FBI sent back “documents from previous requests regarding your subject.” I suspect it was the BBC producers who requested his file first. But…my second request turned up some stuff the documentary didn’t mention. 😉
So what are you waiting for? Go on, read the article!
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All the images were made by replacing the black-and-white redaction marks in FBI documents with historical images.
Header image: Qotbzadeh and the Ayatollah Khomeini (public domain).