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February 1979: Site T-1, Caspian Coast, Iran

Azad Shirazi, consumed by an ominous sense of unease, examined the deserted operations center. Racks of electronic equipment glowed softly in near darkness. Days ago, Azad had a secure job and comfortable lifestyle. Working at the intelligence-gathering site instilled a sense of pride and patriotism. Now, the turbulent events of the past few weeks had turned his world upside down.

Site T-1 offered an awe-inspiring view of the Caspian Sea. The facility, one of five ground stations of Project IBEX, a joint American-Iranian intelligence effort aimed at the Soviet Union. The primary mission was to intercept telemetry transmissions from missile launches at Tyuratam in Central Asia. From the first moments of launch to splashdown, the missile streamed a flood of vital telemetry data. Signal intercepts allowed analysts to measure Soviet missile performance and development.

An electrical engineering graduate, Azad's job had been to oversee the electrical system. Whenever the emergency generator kicked in, everyone knew what to do — 'Call Azad.'

Azad, a slender man in his early thirties, hailed from the desert garden city of Shiraz, proud of his surname that echoed his heritage. He viewed himself as a perfect Persian, the inheritor of thousands of years of culture. He longed for his home city of Shiraz. The people on the Caspian coast spoke a different dialect and the region was far from his beloved Shiraz.

A devout Muslim, he managed the temptations of the West and the strict code of his religion. His faith gave comfort and stability as he worked among strangers. It had been a satisfying job, defending his country against the godless Communists. They stood for everything evil in the world, until now.

Three weeks before, the impossible happened. The Shah fled the country in the wake of escalating riots and protests. Azad had been sure the Americans would never let that happen. They did nothing. Two weeks later, American technicians abandoned the facility leaving the equipment running, intercepts sent to a satellite. Khomeini returned from exile and a few days later took over the government. Azad, ever faithful, stayed on the job, his skills needed to keep the facility running. Without doubt, the new regime would want to be on guard against the Russians.

Five days ago, his worst fear came true. A delegation from the Committee of the Islamic Revolution showed up at the gate. The men were not Mazandarani from the local area, but an advance group from Tehran. They arrested the remaining local employees and took them away.

Azad pleaded with the leader, a young Mullah wearing a green armband, to spare him. Azad insisted he was from the south, a real Persian, not one of the locals. He was an electrical engineering graduate, they needed him to maintain the equipment. It worked. The leader of the group ordered him to stay at the facility and keep it running. Guards posted outside the main gate had orders to allow no one in or out.

A different faction returned the next day. They called themselves Basij-e Mostaz'afin, the Mobilization Resistance Force. A young Mullah led the group made up of rough characters, men from the street. Azad sensed danger.

The Mullah, an intense man wearing wire-rimmed glasses, asked questions. "Why did you work for the American Satan? Why did you work for the Shah against the Iranian people?"

Azad tried to explain: he was protecting the country against the godless Communists. He was a patriotic Iranian. They did not believe him.

The interrogation began. Azad told them what they wanted to hear, but to no avail. A large angry man administered a professional beating. Azad, at the edge of consciousness pleaded, told them he was a good Muslim and prayed five times a day. He worked for the Americans only to spy on them.

They demanded proof he was spying on the American Satan. Desperate, he told how the Americans sent their data back to the den of spies in Washington. The data transmitted to a satellite in space and beamed back to the United States for analysis. They drug him outside. He pointed out the satellite dish. A volley of bullets destroyed the last means of communication.

In the end, his job saved his life. They needed his unique skills to maintain the facility until the new regime decided what to do. The Mullah instructed Azad to stay and keep the equipment running. He did not tell them the automated collection system continued to run. Tapes collected intercepts, but no longer transmitted data.

Trapped, his future uncertain, Azad kept his established routine. Check the electrical circuits every two hours. Start the emergency generator daily. Wait for the unknown. It had been three days since they left, but he realized they would return. In his heart, he knew he was expendable.

He sank into a chair in the operations center, desperate for an idea. Anything that would save him from an uncertain fate.

Startled when a tape machine began recording, Azad eased over to the bank of equipment. He placed a hand on the lever intent on halting the process, hesitated for a moment, and looked back at the intercept operator's console. Although not a trained operator, he had seen the Americans in action.

The panoramic display flashed with the unmistakable signature of a Soviet missile launch. He knew that much for sure. Antennas focused on targets in Turkmenistan across the Caspian Sea monitored Soviet missile telemetry. His hand released the lever and hurried back to the console.

For a full five minutes, he stared at the display, pausing only to look back at the revolving tape reel. The germ of an idea began to form. The Americans always celebrated a successful intercept. It was an important occasion. This was a test they would never know about, unless Azad took the tape.


Late September 1979: Tehran, Iran

Azad walked through the grand bazaar in Tehran, searching for a stall. The shop of a friend from university. Amin, wise to the ways of the world, would know what to do.

Azad spent a difficult six months at the site under control of the Mullah. New technicians arrived and tried to restart the intelligence facility. The Basij tried to listen to the American Navy, whom they believed were about to invade. Their efforts proved fruitless. The antennas oriented towards the Soviet Union, not towards the Americans. After six months, the facility closed. The Mullah's had better things to do, such as an unfinished revolution.

Released from his semi-captivity, Azad made his way to Tehran. A frugal man, he saved money to pay his fare and the necessary bribes, with enough left over to live on for a while. Now he was in Tehran, the heart of the revolution.

An insulated thermos held a ten-meter length of tape. His one remaining asset, one he counted on to get him out of his beloved and cursed Iran. The Chinese made jug, with a hand painted panda design, was common in Iran.

Around a corner, he found the shop. A small stall selling cheap Chinese made electronic equipment. His friend Amin sat on a low stool surrounded by wares. "Amin, it is me, Azad." Amin's eyes showed recognition, but he did not respond. "It is me…"

"What do you want?" asked Amin, the cold expression on his face unchanging.

"I am now in Tehran…"

"I am no fool. I see you are in Tehran. What do you want?"

Azad, confused by his friend's belligerence, "What is wrong, I have come to visit you. Am I not still your friend?"

"You have worked for the American Satan. You are not my friend. Go away."

Shocked, Azad stood speechless. They had not communicated in over a year, but now it seemed, the revolution had robbed him of his best friend.

Amin sprang to his feet. "Leave or I will call for the Revolutionary Guards, I will denounce you as a traitor, so go — leave now."

Azad wheeled and fled from of the bazaar.

*  *  *

Back at his room, Azad considered his options. If he were to use the tape, he would need to contact the American embassy. On the first day in Tehran, he strolled by the compound on the opposite side of the street. The area was filled with protestors. He knew if he tried to enter, they would want to know why he was consorting with the den of spies of the Great Satan. It was too dangerous. He needed to come up with another solution to his problem.

The next day he approached a hotel frequented by Americans hoping to find someone to share his story. A half block away he concluded that was a bad idea. A squad of Revolutionary Guards stood guard in front of the hotel. They were checking the identification of all who entered or left — both foreigners and Iranians. He kept walking, not having a credible story to tell the men wearing green armbands.

The situation was the same at the next hotel, and the next. Any contact would have to be away from a hotel. Passing a restaurant, he spied a lone figure, a Black-African man sitting at a table, someone he recognized. The man, a foreigner not from Africa but an American, had visited the facility several times. The other Iranian employees believed him to be a CIA man from Tehran. Azad could not believe his good luck. Azad had never spoken with the man but believed the American would recognize him.

He passed the restaurant, halted, and brooded over how best to contact the man. Too dangerous to approach the American on the street, the restaurant was his only option. Azad carefully glanced around. No one seemed to be watching the place. He drew a deep breath and entered. The cafe had few customers, it was after the normal mealtime. He took a table next to the man, who glanced up from his meal, but offered no sign of recognition.

The waiter approached, and Azad ordered a simple meal. Alone again he spoke to the man in English, "I know you from the site T-1."

The stocky man dressed in a brown corduroy sport coat and tan cotton slacks moved his head slightly but did not respond.

"I have worked there. My name is Azad Shirazi. Please help me, I have information for you."

The man continued to ignore his pleas and took another bite of his meal.

"Please sir, I know you are the CIA man. I have seen you many times. I work with the IBEX project and have tape of Russian rocket test."

The man gave Azad a quick glance with only a slight movement of his head.

"I took it after the satellite dish was destroyed. The automated equipment made the tape. Please help me."

The man examined Azad's face. "I'm sorry, but I don't know what you're talking about."

The man, Samuel Brooks, was in fact an officer of the Central Intelligence Agency. He had indeed visited T-1 many times and did recognize Azad but didn't want to reveal that fact. Iran was in flux, he dared not trust anyone without verification. Azad was who he said he was, but Brooks could not be sure what he was. A desperate Iranian trying to sell dubious information with a hope to escape the turmoil, or he could be a joker in the deck, trying to trap him in a compromising situation. He had to be careful and be sure.

The man smiled, wiped his mouth, and paid his bill. He turned to Azad, "This is a fine place to eat. I eat here twice a week. Maybe we will meet again." He stood, put his hat on, and strode out of the cafe.

Azad relaxed. He was sure the man would help him. He had to. The man was his only chance.