ONE STEP BACK: An Excerpt

Posted: February 3, 2018 in One Step Back

Chapter 1

Tehran, Iran
October 6, 2014

I was ahead of schedule. Even though I was supposed to meet my asset, Farid Kazim, near Zafaranieh Plaza at eleven o’clock, I was at the designated location an hour early.

Some Agency operatives might consider my early arrival a little excessive. They could be right.

On the other hand, those operatives hadn’t been living in Tehran for the past two years.

I’d arrived in Iran two years ago as Hammid Salimi, the son of an Iranian watchmaker and a Swiss businesswoman. According to my legend—the false identity prepared for me by Support Services at the CIA—I was in Tehran to open up a market for my parents’ line of luxury watches and jewelry.

In reality, I was in Tehran to identify potential assets who might be willing to help fund the opposition and topple the government.

To that end, I’d spent the last two years rubbing shoulders with some of the upper-class members of Iranian society, making friends with businessmen, as well as bankers, and cultivating ties with wealthy entrepreneurs.

During that time, I’d recruited six individuals who were now the core of my Iranian network. Three of them were bankers, two of them were businessmen, and one was a rich playboy.

Farid was the rich playboy.

His father, Asadi Kazim, owned three hotels in Iran; two in Tehran and one in Mashhad. All three of them had been built during the Shah’s regime, and, when the Shah was ousted from power in 1979, Asadi had been allowed to keep the hotels.

According to Farid, his father had always been an ardent Islamist and had publically supported the revolution from the beginning. Allowing him to keep his hotels was the Supreme Leader’s way of rewarding him.

Now, the Parisian Asadi Hotels were the only hotels in Iran with a five-star rating. However, the rooms were under constant surveillance by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and foreign dignitaries were warned to use caution when staying there.

Despite that, diplomats, as well as international investors, used the Asadi Hotels almost exclusively, and, in return, the IRGC supplemented Asadi Kazim’s income for catering to them.

Outwardly, Farid appeared to be an Islamist like his father, but a few months after I’d recruited him, Farid had confessed to being an atheist.

I had my doubts about that.

While I believed Farid despised his father and blamed him for his mother’s death, it was hard for me to believe a man who had been praying, fasting, and memorizing the Quran all his life didn’t believe in a god of some sort.

Granted, I had no real belief system of my own, so I might not be the best person to judge someone else’s faith.

Farid had chosen a passive aggressive method for exacting revenge on his father. His means of retribution included spending his father’s fortune on expensive toys, associating with members of the Iranian opposition, and becoming a CIA asset.

As recruits go, Farid had been an easy target.

A member of one of the Iranian opposition groups, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, had given me Farid’s name, and I’d taken it from there.

After introducing myself to Farid at the wedding of a high-ranking IRGC official, I’d handed him my business card, and, in the midst of a discussion about the groom’s father, I’d told Farid a less than flattering story about my father’s treatment of my mother.

My anecdote was part of Hammid Salimi’s fictional background and totally fabricated, but I could tell it resonated with him.

He’d called me a few days later.

Although he said he was calling because he wanted to purchase a watch for his girlfriend, when he showed up at my apartment, he seemed more interested in hearing about the hatred I had for my father than in buying my baubles and beads.

The two of us met often after that, and it wasn’t long before I realized I’d become a kind of surrogate father to him. Since I was only in my late forties, I had a hard time identifying with this role, but it appeared to be working, so I went with it.

Within six months of meeting Farid, I’d recruited him as my asset. Now, not only was he feeding me intel from his contacts inside the IRGC, he was also supplying me with information about some of the guests at the Asadi hotels.

Douglas Carlton, the head of the Middle East desk at the CIA and my operations officer, had congratulated me on my recruitment of Farid during one of my rare video conferences with the Ops Center. I’d even seen him smile when I’d delivered Farid’s first product—a recording of a conversation between a Russian general and a member of the Iranian President’s security council.

Discerning how Carlton felt—even when I knew I’d exceeded his expectations—was never an easy task. On the other hand, he was sure to let me know exactly how he felt if I messed up—which I occasionally did.

With my own assets, I took the opposite approach. If the intel they delivered was an outstanding product, yielding measurable results, I showered them with praise—along with gifts or a bundle of cash. However, I seldom said anything about the superfluous stuff they dropped on me.

Today, I planned to commend Farid for the information he’d given me on the Syrian President’s recent visit to Tehran. As a token of how useful Farid’s information had been to the rebels trying to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria, I was planning to slip him an envelope full of American dollars.

When I glanced down at my watch, I realized I still had ten minutes left until Farid’s scheduled arrival, and I decided there was enough time for me to do a third recon of the plaza.

Was I yielding to my compulsive tendencies by doing the extra recon?

Probably.

However, two years ago, when Carlton had briefed me on Operation Torchlight, he’d warned me about becoming complacent during my long-term assignment.

Although I didn’t always listen to my boss, this time I did.

Purchase your copy of One Step Back on Amazon here. 

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