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Bad News Baer

The former CIA agent talks about suicide bombers and his dark vision of what Iran?s really up to.

| Wed Jul. 5, 2006 2:00 AM EDT

But who are these people? I immediately jumped to the pat answer that they were psychologically disturbed. Over the years this has been broken down and proved to be wrong. Israeli intelligence has summed it up for me: There is no profile. You’ve got a 47-year-old man with seven children blowing himself up, you have a Lebanese girl—Christian, attractive, young—she blows herself up for nationalism. You have the famous case of a Palestinian woman who was married with two children, had an affair, husband finds out about it. The husband and boyfriend get together and say the way they’re going to solve this problem is by having her blow herself up. And she did.

MJ.com: When you talked with the family members of suicide bombers, they told you they were happy that their children had become martyrs. Do you think that’s just what they tell the cameras, or is that emotion genuine?

RB: Could be. This woman in Tehran was very categorical about it. She said, “suicide is when you have serious personal problems and feel there’s no way out. But we have political reasons.” It’s a sensitive subject; they don’t want to be labeled as having personal problems; it’s political—[they say] their relative died for a purpose, not to wreak havoc. You can reduce it to things like humiliation. There is a feeling of humiliation—“The Israelis are killing us with M-16s; we’re being invaded by the United States in Iraq; our identity is being attacked; we have no way to address grievances except suicide bombings.” It’s all about grievances.

MJ.com: Speaking Arabic, can you get more of the story than a typical Western journalist might have?

RB: Speaking Arabic, you can go in you and just chitchat. I went to a Hezbollah school and was talking to these young girls whose dads had blown themselves up. They’re just teenage girls. I asked them what kind of TV they watch; they said Oprah. And I said, “Come on, you’re sitting here on the border of Israel, at war with the Israelis, and you’re watching Oprah?” They said, “We love Oprah!” And then you ask the obvious question: “If the Israelis invaded again, would you sacrifice a brother, a father?” “Absolutely.” So you have these two worlds.

MJ.com: As a former CIA officer, were you nervous hanging out with Hezbollah or visiting Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley?

RB: No, because they’re sophisticated. It’s not like dealing with the Khmer Rouge or Zarqawi. You wouldn’t tell Zarqawi, “Don’t worry, I’m with the press”—he’d still cut your head off. But you have to be aware of what stage of resistance they’re in. You wouldn’t want to be doing this film in 1984; you wouldn’t be coming back. But now in Lebanon, Hezbollah is ascendant, the Iranians are sophisticated—they obviously agreed to this film. I assume they knew who I was.

MJ.com: In the film, you note that there are more suicide bombings in Iraq in one month than there are in Israel in a year. But in Iraq, it seems that this is not just a reaction to occupation but another tactic in a civil war.

RB: Well, you’ve unleashed hatreds that have been submerged for years. You’ve got the Sunnis cutting the heads off of heads of Shiites and putting them in boxes. We have split open this volcano. We have no control over it. I think the neocons have done more damage to the United States’ reputation and foreign policy than anybody since—I don’t know when. They’ve opened Pandora’s box in Iraq.

MJ.com: You think that Iran started a “secret war” against the United States in Lebanon. What do you mean?

RB: They started off by taking us on directly, when they kidnapped [American University president] David Dodge and took him to Tehran. They brought him back and released him. Then they used surrogates. The idea was to get us out of Lebanon and completely get rid of American influence—journalists, diplomats, everybody. And it worked.

MJ.com: So, if Iran’s been fighting the U.S. since Lebanon, why are we just hearing about it as a threat now?

RB: It’s pure spin. We deal with it superficially. We follow current events; we get a paragraph in the newspaper about Zarqawi or whatever it is. And then we get on with life. It’s not the way [the Iranians] deal with the world. They think they’re in mortal combat against the United States. Their survival is based on this conflict. Our attitude is, “Give us the oil.” We don’t take this part of the world seriously and yet it is so important to us. Iran has always been looked at like a crazy uncle in the attic: Every once in a while he starts knocking things around and breaks a window, but otherwise we just ignore him.

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