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As a CIA spy, I saw in Iran what the West cannot ignore

We must defend freedom in Iran soon – or deal with nuclear-armed fanatics later.

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Today the West must make one of the most important decisions of our era. Will we defend what remains of democracy and freedom in Iran, or will we succumb to Tehran's murderous government?

It's a question that goes to the heart of our own security. Iran is a thugocracy of Islamic mullahs, and it will soon have nuclear arms. Any misconception about the intentions of fanatics with nuclear bombs will have grave consequences.

I know because I spent years alongside them as a CIA spy working under cover in Iran's Revolutionary Guards starting in the 1980s.

The Guards Corps was set up as a check on the regular Army and to serve and secure the Islamic revolution. Thirty years of Western appeasement hasn't stopped them from terrorizing the West – or Iranians. Today, with Tehran's leaders caught in a power struggle over the June 12 election and the legitimacy of the regime, the Guards, led by zealots, are calling the shots.

The Guards – and the hardliner clerics they protect – are vulnerable, however. This summer's grass-roots uprising has put them on the defensive. A strong Western hand now could tip the balance.

We don't have a moment to lose. If we can't upend the Guards now, how can we do so once they have nuclear bombs?

Washington could lead the way by refusing to recognize President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who earlier today took the oath of office for his second, four-year term. Instead, the United States should demand the freedom – and the freedom of speech – for all who've been arrested and tortured in recent weeks. And we should toughen sanctions to include cutting off Iran's gasoline supplies.

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