Iran has suffered an embarrassing security setback after a cameraman, who accompanied President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to New York for the meetings of the United Nations General Assembly defected and applied for asylum, according to a report published by the Telegraph on Monday.
It is likely that Hassan Gol Khanban has planned his defection in advance of his trip to the U.S. his lawyer, Paul O'Dwyer, was quoted as saying by the Telegraph, adding that he took steps to have his family flee Iran in the hope that they too can gain asylum.
O’Dwyer said that Khanban’s wife and two children had left Iran while he was in New York and that efforts were being made to bring them to the United States.
Khanban had worked for the Iranian state broadcaster IRIB for several years. He has accompanied Ahmadinejad to New York once before. He was clearly trusted by the regime.
According to O’Dwyer, Khanban’s application for asylum had already been submitted to the department of Homeland Security and that applications would be made on behalf of his wife and children at a later date.
Khanban “was due to leave the U.S. last Thursday. He was part of the U.N. delegation. They left and he just did not go to the airport. There are obvious security concerns about revealing his location,” the Telegraph quoted the lawyer as saying.
O’Dwyer declined to comment on Kanbhan’s whereabouts, but said he was awaiting an asylum interview with U.S. authorities that could take months.
Iranian opposition websites said Khanban had worked on a number of television programs about military and defense issues; however, according to the Telegraph report, it was unclear whether he had sensitive information that he could offer the U.S. authorities in exchange for asylum.
O’Dwyer was quoted as saying that that Khanban had been in touch with the U.S. government to allay any fears they may have about his defection.
“If you have a diplomatic delegation and someone does not leave, particularly from a state perceived to have such an antagonistic relationship with the U.S. as Iran does, the government may be concerned about those people who have not left,” he said.
O’Dwyer told CNN on Monday that Hassan Kanbhan feared persecution over his opposition to the Iranian government.
“He’s afraid to return to Iran... He’s perceived as not being a supporter, or being an opponent of the Iranian regime,” O’Dwyer said. “Somebody who has betrayed the regime and who can no longer be trusted by them.”
The lawyer said suspicions about Kanbhan’s political views had arisen during the trip.
“There were things that he was expected to do that he was uncomfortable with doing,” O’Dwyer said, without providing further details. “While he was here... his position on certain things became known to the Iranian government.”
The United States and its allies have ramped up sanctions in recent years to try to halt Iran’s nuclear program, which Western nations and Israel view as part of a secret effort to develop a nuclear weapon.
Israel -- the sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state in the Middle East -- has hinted it may take military action if Iran crosses a “red line” in its uranium enrichment.
Iran insists its program is entirely peaceful and has vowed massive retaliation for any attack on its territory.