He may yet turn out to be the avatar of Iranian democracy, but three decades ago Mir-Hossein Mousavi was waging a terrorist war on the United States that included bloody attacks on the U.S. embassy and Marine Corps barracks in Beirut.
Mousavi, prime minister for most of the 1980s, personally selected his point man for the Beirut terror campaign, Ali Akbar Mohtashemi-pur, and dispatched him to Damascus as Iran's ambassador, according to former CIA and military officials.
The ambassador in turn hosted several meetings of the cell that would carry out the Beirut attacks, which were overheard by the National Security Agency.
"We had a tap on the Iranian ambassador to Syria," retired Navy Admiral James "Ace" Lyons related by telephone Monday. In 1983 Lyons was deputy chief of Naval Operations, and deeply involved in the events in Lebanon.
"The Iranian ambassador received instructions from the foreign minister to have various groups target U.S. personnel in Lebanon, but in particular to carry out a 'spectacular action' against the Marines," said Lyons.
"He was prime minister," Lyons said of Mousavi, "so he didn't get down to the details at the lowest levels. "But he was in a principal position and had to be aware of what was going on."
Lyons, sometimes called "the father" of the Navy SEALs' Red Cell counter-terror unit, also fingered Mousavi for the 1988 truck bombing of the U.S. Navy's Fleet Center in Naples, Italy, that killed five persons, including the first Navy woman to die in a terrorist attack.
Bob Baer agrees that Mousawi, who has been celebrated in the West for sparking street demonstrations against the Teheran regime since he lost the elections, was directing the overall 1980s terror campaign.
But Baer, a former CIA Middle East field officer whose exploits were dramatized in the George Clooney movie "Syriana," places Mousavi even closer to the Beirut bombings.
"He dealt directly with Imad Mughniyah," who ran the Beirut terrorist campaign and was "the man largely held responsible for both attacks," Baer wrote in TIME over the weekend.
"When Mousavi was Prime Minister, he oversaw an office that ran operatives abroad, from Lebanon to Kuwait to Iraq," Baer continued.
"This was the heyday of [Ayatollah] Khomeini's theocratic vision, when Iran thought it really could export its revolution across the Middle East, providing money and arms to anyone who claimed he could upend the old order."
Baer added: "Mousavi was not only swept up into this delusion but also actively pursued it."
Retired Adm. Lyons maintained that he could have destroyed the terrorists at a hideout U.S. intelligence had pinpointed, but he was outmaneuvered by others in the cabinet of President Ronald Reagan.
"I was going to take them apart," Lyons said, "but the secretary of defense," Caspar Weinberger, "sabotaged it."
And A Video of the CIA's involvement with Iran.
A former US national security adviser has told Al Jazeera that US intelligence agents are working in Iran.
But Brent Scowcroft said US government support for those in Iran who are protesting against the official results of a recent presidential election would only provoke a more intense crackdown by the government in Tehran.
He told Josh Rushing, the host of Al Jazeera's programme Fault Lines, that the Obama administration has taken the correct approach in dealing with the unrest in Iran.