The 5,000-member Iranian secret police force SAVAK (a contraction of the Farsi words for security and information organization) has long been Iran's most hated and feared institution. With virtually unlimited powers to arrest and interrogate, SAVAK has tortured and murdered thousands of the Shah's opponents. Last week, in fulfillment of a promise made by Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar, the assembly approved a bill abolishing SAVAK and establishing a new National Intelligence Center, without police powers. The No. 2 man in SAVAK agreed to an unprecedented interview with TIME Correspondent David S. Jackson at the organization's heavily guarded, marble-decorated fortress headquarters in north Tehran. The official stipulated that his name could not be disclosed. His views offer a revealing insight into the thinking of an efficient and dreaded intelligence agency. Excerpts:
On Iran's revolution: During the past few years, there have been dissident factions among several ranks of our society. Internal and external elements have intensified this dissatisfaction for their own gains. To succeed, they used the people's belief in religion. But inside these events, if you carefully study them, you will find leftists. It is obvious that the religious leaders have no capability to rule Iran's economy, politics or the social affairs of the country. So, after the hand of the religious leaders is used to topple the regime, it will be cut off and an entirely new regime will be set up. We have already seen the blueprint of this plan in our neighbor, Afghanistan.
On charges against SAVAK: We do admit there have been some mistakes in the past. But they have been distorted. It is said that SAVAK has been brutal. If SAVAK receives information about a terrorist group, and we go to arrest this group, do you think they will not resist? Of course they will. Resistance brings violence, and you should expect a similar response from our side. We're like the CIA. If we have ten activities and nine of them are successful, only the failure gets worldwide attention. You never hear the good things we do. Some people think that to improve the country they need a scapegoat. For them, SAVAK is the scapegoat.
On political prisoners: In January, demonstrators paraded a man who was blind and had lost his arms. They said SAVAK did this to him, and they called him a hero. In fact, he was a terrorist who lost his sight and was maimed when a bomb he was making exploded. If SAVAK had been responsible for his injuries, we could easily have got rid of him. We would not have let him live as a document of torture.
On SAVAK's future: Those of us who have reached retirement age will be retired. Those who are not needed or who have bad records will be let go. Others will be transferred to other organizations or to the Prime Minister's office. Some will go to the new National Intelligence Center. It will be worse for the younger agents. They have not been working long enough to prove themselves; yet they are blamed in all the bad publicity, and they can do nothing about it. Now they will lose their salaries. Many of us will have problems making ends meet, and that includes me.
On Prime Minister Bakhtiar: He has obtained his position legally. We are working for the position he holds, not for the person who holds it. What will happen to Bakhtiar, we don't know.