Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Makhmalbaf: Secrets of Khamenei's life - part 2 - His entourage and Household operations

This is part 2 of a 4-part series.
For part 1 - His interests, please click here.
For part 3 - His wealth, please click here.

Mohsen Makhmalbaf, internationally renowned filmmaker and the Iranian opposition's main spokesman abroad since the disputed presidential election, posted an article, entitled 'The secrets of Khamenei's life,' on his web site on Monday, December 28, 2009. Makhmalbaf has been living in exile in Paris. The original article in Farsi can be read here.

The following is a translation of the second part of the article. My notes are in italics.

Note: The term 'beyteh rahbari' has been translated as the Leader's Household in the broadest sense, which includes Ali Khamenei's personal office and inner circle.

The Secrets of Khamenei's Life - Part 2

Mohsen Makhmalbaf

I compiled this text which is based on information relayed to me by former staff members of the Leader's Household and the Intelligence Ministry who have escaped abroad.

Khamenei's relationship with his wife and children
Khamenei's wife is called Khojasteh. She is very much under Khamenei's thumb, but she is also dominated by her brothers. The oil company's hospital was once closed off so Khojasteh could have liposuction performed on her stomach. She was twice operated in London for an inflammation of the large intestine. Mojtaba, Khamenei's second son, has great influence on his father, but he can count on his mother's support if there are any shortcomings in that regard.

L to R, Massoud, Mojtaba, unknown, Mostafa, Meysam
Khojasta is about 67 years old. One of her brothers was linked to the Mojahedin Khalgh (NB Also known as the MKO, an armed resistance group which is broadly disliked by Iranians because of its collaboration with the Saddam government during the Iran-Iraq War) and has escaped to Sweden. Apart from the exiled brother, she has three other brothers who are involved in very large business operations. Khojasteh's brother Hassan has the run of the Islamic Republic's television broadcaster. He has a monopoly on commissions from the sale of Sony cameras and monitors. Iranian television's total purchases of Sony equipmenet, from cameras to editing systems, do not represent a large figure: about $50 to $60 million per year. But the people buy about $500 to $600 million of Sony equipment a year, of which 7% goes to Hassan, Khojasteh's brother. An Iranian in Dubai initially had the exclusive license to sell Sony equipment in Iran, but he was threatened and he gave up his license out of fear. Despite a prosperous lifestyle, Khojasteh is constantly worried that their life may appear too simple to outside observers. She has three ladies-in-waiting. She never goes to beauty salons outside of the house and has hairdressers brought to their home. She likes massages and a Korean woman is her masseuse.

Batool, [Islamic Republic founder Ruhollah] Khomeini's wife, really disliked [Khojasteh] and believed that she was arrogant like her husband and that [Khojasteh] considered herself to be Leader of Iranian women ever since Khamenei had become Leader.

Khojasteh used to cook, but it has been seven or eight years since she has been able to carry out that task. An old man called Seyed is in charge of cooking now.

Khojasteh is in charge of choosing husbands and wives in Khamenei's home. She first selects families close to the Leader's Household or top clerics and gets to know them by socializing. Her investigations are completed by the Intelligence Ministry, special division. Then the Khamenei daughters and sons make their choice among the candidates selected by their mother and approved by the Leader. These marriages sometimes encounter serious problems. The fact that Mojtaba's wife (Haddad Adel's daughter (NB Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, a regime apologist in academic circles and a former Speaker of the Majlis)) had difficulty getting pregnant almost led to divorce. In Massoud's case (married to Ayatollah Kharrazi's daughter), political differences have split the couple and Soussan Kharrazi has returned to her father's home in order to obtain a divorce.

Appearances within the family are strictly maintained in the presence of outsiders. For example, the children refer to their father as Agha (NB Sir, mister, or gentleman), Leader, or His Excellency the Ayatollah. Khamenei also employs honorifics when calling his children. He usually says, Agha Mostafa, Agha Mojtaba, Agha Massoud, or Agha Meysam. His daughters' names rarely come up in such encounters, except in family reunions. On such occasions, he refers to them as Boshra Khanoum or Boshra Sadat, Hoda Khanoum or Hoda Sadat.

If the topic of conversation turns to Mr. Khamanei's election [as Leader] by the [Assembly of] Experts, the children, especially Mojtaba say, 'The Experts did not elect Mr. Khamanei, but rather discovered him. He is the surrogate of the Imam Zaman (NB The Messiah figure in Shiism, the Hidden Imam who will return at an undisclosed time) and God endowed the Muslim scholars and Experts with the ability to discover him.'

This form of respect is maintained by the executives and employees of the Leader's Household. Whenever an individual comes out of an audience with Mr. Khamenei, these executives and employees tell the person, 'May your pilgrimage be accepted [by God]' (NB Ziarat ghaboul, in Farsi. Pilgrimage is used in the sense of visiting a sacred place). No one in Mr. Khamenei's office is allowed to say he is going to meet Mr. Khamenei or has a meeting with him. Rather, he must say, 'I am going to be honored' or 'I am going on a pilgrimage.' More than anyone, Hejazi (his chief of staff (NB Asghar Hejazi)) insists on this form of respect.

Communal prayer at the Leader's Household
(NB Communal prayer or namazeh jamaat takes place when an imam stands in front of a group of worshippers and leads them in any one of the five daily prayers.)
Communal prayers are performed at the Household three to four times a week. About 15 people have the honor of being led in these prayers. Ten of them, executives in the Leader's Household, are regulars and five to four people are guests. The guest slots have a price. The bazaar merchants who have problems to resolve participate in the Agha's (NB Khamenei's) prayers and seek his advice, and their business picks up. They are willing to pay the 'lease' on the guest slots, about 500 million toumans (NB About $500,000), to Hejazi or Mohammadi Golpayegani (NB Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani). These prayer followers make back their payment of 500 million toumans severalfold through the Agha's advice. Therefore customers of the Agha's communal prayer are usually bazaar merchants. Those within the security apparatus who seek promotion are also frequent worshippers at the communal prayer.

Khamanei's relation with his devotees
When Mr. Khamanei visits Mashhad and takes a sugar cube out of a sugar bowl, that bowl becomes sacred for his devotees. When he walks past a place on his way to a pilgrimage, his followers kiss the ground he has walked on. Videos of devotees kissing Khamanei's footprints are available on YouTube. It is unclear how shocked these dovotees would be if they found out about Khamenei's gadehs (NB Explained in part 1 of this article) and how Mullah Rashed's vulgar jokes have him in stitches. Would they consider the leftover sugar cubes from his tea to be as sacred?

Khamenei's catchphrase for the past twenty years has been, 'Do this, but don't let the people find out' or 'Do that, but make sure no one finds out.' And those who hear this phrase know that all the power of the Leader's Household depends on keeping the people ignorant of the secrets of Mr. Khamenei's life and the behind-the-curtains activities of the Leader's office.

Until the Friday Prayer that took place a week after the election (NB June 19, when Khamenei led Tehran's Friday Prayer and cast his lot with Ahmadinejad in a fiery speech against the opposition), Khamenei never took responsibility for anything and people believed that he played the role of an arbiter who maintained a balance of power between the various factions. But that Friday Prayer suddenly revealed everything and showed Khamenei's biased role in politics and his guilt in the oppression.

Those in charge of Khamenei's protection
[Islamic Republic founder Ruhollah] Khomeini's protection team consisted of 200 people, but 10,000 individuals guard Khamenei (reminiscent of the Shah's Javidan Guard (NB The Immortals) whose numbers never diminished). The two key players are Din Shoari and Hossein Jabari, who stand guard outside his door at night and are the only individuals allowed to be armed around Khamenei. They have been Khamenei's main bodyguards for thirty years. But the individuals in charge of Khamenei's protection team over the years have been the following:
1. Khosro Vafa (head of the Janbazan unit)
2. Asgharzadeh (Majlis representative)
3. Motevalian (Sepah (NB Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps))
4. Ramezani (Sepah intelligence)
5. Nejat (Security Council (NB Supreme National Security Council))
6. Cheyzari (He is the current head of the protection team)

The close guards, who consist of 200 individuals and who witness the trips and the life in the palaces, each possess a home which is worth at least one billion toumans (NB about $1 million). Those who consider Khamenei to be pious and who lead austere lives themselves are not permitted to enter the first ring of guards, lest they become conflicted. These selfless guards are not allowed to marry the daughters of senior bodyguards, even if they fall in love. Marriages are organized within the senior political families or clergy. But those who kiss the ground Khamenei has walked on, steal sugar cubes from sugar bowls rendered sacred by Khamenei, and are prepared to sacrifice themselves for him have never been considered worthy enough to marry the daughter of a senior figure.

500 individuals guard the family members. (The extended family of 40 is guarded: The daughters-in-law, sons-in-law, daughters, sons, brothers, brothers-in-law, and even some of the children of the brothers and brothers-in-law.)

Entering the bodyguard team requires passing three security clearances and takes a very long time. The monthly salary of bodyguards is at least $1,000 and at most $12,000. When someone enters the bodyguard team, he is helped to purchase a residence. The individuals also have access to an official residence in the place where they are stationed.

About 1,000 of the 10,000 bodyguards are women and usually no one knows that they are bodyguards.

Khamenei's medical care
Former health minister Dr. Marandi is Khamenei's medical coordinator (NB Professor Alireza Marandi. Alireza Marandi's son is Seyed Mohammad Marandi, professor of North American Studies at Tehran University, a vocal supporter of the regime and one of the few people in Tehran who has no problem obtaining a satellite feed to be interviewed by foreign news outlets. In July, CNN's Fareed Zakaria asked Seyed Mohammad Marandi if he had any problem appearing like 'a mouthpiece for a dying repressive regime:')

Marandi chooses the team of doctors and brings them to him when necessary. The Leader's Household has an underground hospital with four doctors on duty 24 hours a day. A mobile hospital follows Khamenei during his land trips. A bus-hospital with an operating room also follows Khamanei on his land journeys. An airplane hospital with two operating rooms is available for long-haul trips. Khamenei has been operated three times in the past thirty years: on his hand after the explosion in the early days of the revolution (NB A failed assassination attempt in 1981 paralyzed his right hand), on his small intestine, and on his prostate.

Whenever Khamenei is ill, differences boil to the surface at the Leader's Household. People who have committed crimes and fear that the people will take revenge on them when Khamenei dies become worried about their future. But as soon as Khamenei's health improves, everything is quickly forgotten.

A lady who is the sister of Deputy Defense Minister Ahmad Vahid Dastjerdi and is a gynecologist is the personal physician of Khamenei's wife, daughters, and daughters-in-law. (NB This sentence appears to indicate that Makhmalbaf prepared at least this section of the report in the summer. The 'lady' in question is Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi who was confirmed by the Majlis as the new Health Minister on September 3, 2009.)

Khamenei has suffered from depression for years. Some doctors believe it is caused by his habit of listening to recordings before bed. Given that only recordings of people speaking against Khamanei are considered noteworthy, Khamenei is constantly listening to recordings of remarks against himself. In order to preserve his system, Khamenei usually listens to 20 minutes of recorded conversations against himself, between opponents or even officials, every night before sleeping. This contributes to his depression. Every night before sleeping, he reaches the conclusion that no one loves him and the next morning he opens his eyes onto people who plead their loyalty in order to attain power and wealth or in order to avoid his rage.

[His wife] Khojasteh, who has sometimes listened to these recordings, has little patience for the daily groveling of many people. More than anyone, she says that the Iranian people are fawning liars and traitors.

Khamenei sometimes gets a massage from an Iranian physiotherapist. The massages initially focused on the hand that was disabled in the explosion, but later and on the recommendation of physicians, it became a part of the weekly schedule.

The system of recordings
Once Khamenei became Leader, Ahmad Ghadirian was responsible for the recordings for a period of two years. But Taeb has been in charge of this task for 15 years now (NB Possibly referring to Hojjatoleslam Hossein Taeb, former head of the Basij and currently in charge of the intelligence unit of the Revolutionary Guards). The recordings are divided into three parts: recordings of senior officials, recordings of security officials, and recordings of the people. Even the bedrooms of security officials are tapped in order to keep an eye on any possible treachery. The conversations of ordinary people are recorded to understand the climate in the country and allow Khamenei to confront it. This third type of recording is a form of poll.

Two main centers are tasked with the recordings, one in Tochal and the other at the telecommunications center. A team which is based behind Khamenei's residence on Pasteur Street compiles the recordings related to Khamenei into a 20-minute segment and prepares a two-page report. Five minutes of the recordings concern the society's morality. All of Khamenei's meetings are openly recorded and he even tells the attendees that they are being recorded. For example, he records all of his meetings with [Assembly of Experts and Expediency Council chief] Hashemi Rafsanjani, [former President Mohammad] Khatami, [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, and other officials. The main people in chargeof the recordings are Taeb and Engineer Hamid, Vahid Haghanian's brother.

In this way, Khamenei possesses secret files on all officials and knows their strengths and weaknesses. But very few people know about Khamenei, except Reyshahri (who in Khomeini's time was responsible for investigating all officials, including Khamenei), and in recent years Hejazi (NB Asghar Hejazi, chief of staff) and Mohammadi Golpayegani, who know all the secrets. (NB Ayatollah Mohammadi Reyshahri, aka Mohammad Mohammadi Nik, former Intelligence Minister).

Reyshahri wanted to become the trustee of the town of Rey (NB His birthplace and the reason he has the alias Reyshahri, which means from the town of Rey), and even though he opposed this, Khamenei gave him the town as a bribe. In Khomeini's time, Reyshahri would investigate the sexual, financial, and political background of all officials, including Khamenei.

In the political field: When [current opposition leader Mir Hossein] Mousavi was the prime minister (NB 1981 to 1989) and Khomeini supported his economic policies, Khamenei was president but did not legally have the same power as Mousavi within the goverment. Khamenei would criticize Khomeini's support for Mousavi in private.

In the financial field: Khamenei's interference in commisions from oil sales was under question.

In the sexual field: Khamenei's two temporary wives in Mashhad had been discovered (NB Sigheh. Explained in greater detail in part 1).

Of course, none of these issues dispelled Khomeini's trust in Khamenei. But if the story of his two sigheh women in Mashhad, which took place when he was young, had been divulged, his reputation may have suffered. There have been no reported cases of his womanizing after the revolution.

Khamenei's travels
Khamenei travels about 100 days out of the year. He resides in the palace he has built in Mashhad (NB His birthplace) for one month in the summer, one week for the Nowrouz holiday (NB Iranian new year's day, first day of spring), and one week in the winter. Also around Nowrouz, he spends a week in the Dezfoul air force base in Khuzestan province, which enjoys a good climate in that time of the year. He also spends a month along the Caspian Sea, usually in Ziba Kenar, Sari, Ramsar, or Bisheh Kenar. He spends every Thursday and Friday (NB The Iranian weekend) in Niavaran Palace, Jamshidiyeh Palace, or Lavasanat Palace. When Khamenei is traveling, a plane carries officials back and forth once a day. Three protective rings are set up around his place of residence. All of his close guard and the second circle of bodyguards, 1,200 individuals in all, must travel with him. Consequently, every day of his travels costs a minimum of 50 million toumans (NB About $50,000).

When he is in Mashhad, an A330 airplane usually transports his and Mojtaba's favorite horses and various articles of furniture.

Khamenei sometimes wants to travel like ordinary people. To this end, a special bullet-proof bus was built at a cost of 500 million toumans ($500,000). The bus is equipped with two bedrooms, a lavatory, and a bathroom. It also has a small kitchen, in which Seyed, the Agha's trusted cook, prepares meals. The Agha's escort secretly precedes and follows the bus.

This is part 2 of a series.
For part 1 - His interests, please click here.
For part 3 - His wealth, please click here.