SILVERTON, Colo. - In his work boots, nylon pants and cotton sweat shirt, Robert Baer blends in to this little mountain town.

You wouldn't guess that he once helped engineer a failed coup against Saddam Hussein, that he speaks Arabic and Farsi, that he once prowled the lawless valleys of Lebanon in service to the Central Intelligence Agency, or that George Clooney played him in the movie "Syriana."

Only his bookshelves, packed with volumes about Iraq and the Middle East, give any clue to Baer's background. A book about the Russian mafia sits next to his chair.

In an interview from that chair, Baer talked about messes in Washington and Iraq, unexplored leads in Iran, and the "curious" town of Silverton.

He has more firsthand experience with terrorists than almost any American, and he is convinced the full story of Sept. 11, 2001, has never been told.

"We don't know what happened on 9/11. The 9/11 Commission Report was written from witnesses that were tortured - Khalid Sheikh Mohammed," Baer said, referring to the man who has confessed to dozens of terrorist plot while in U.S. custody.

"So what do we really know?"

It's a question that helped inspire Baer's first novel, Blow the House Down . The story follows a dissident CIA agent as he tries to untangle a Sept. 11 plot that points to Iran and an American financier who was playing the stock market based on advance knowledge of terrorist attacks.

Just fiction, right?

Not entirely.

"I'm in touch with a guy who went in to his broker at 3 o'clock on 10 September and said, 'Cash me out.' His parting shot going out the door was, 'The market collapses tomorrow morning at 9,"' Baer said. "He's in jail now."

However, Baer doesn't side with the conspiracy theorists who think the U.S. government destroyed the World Trade Center.

"That's very unfortunate. It demonstrates a naivete that's scary," he said. "It's not that these people are crazy, it's just that they're so consistently lied to, from Vietnam through Iraq."

The 9/11 Commission never reported the links between al-Qaida and Iran, Baer said. Since his tour of duty in Lebanon in the early 1980s, when the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut were bombed, Baer has been convinced that the trail of international terrorism often leads to Iran.

And by taking out Saddam Hussein, the United States has played into Iranian hands.

"We've now put Iran in a position of predominance in the Gulf, thanks to Iraq," Baer said. "And in case anybody's forgotten, the Iranian president is a murderer, he's got blood on his hands, and he's crazy."

Before the Iraq war, Baer said Bush administration officials wanted to use his arguments to justify the invasion. luxury homes in Durango Colorado

Although the Washington war drums are beating again - against Iran this time - Baer's phone has stopped ringing.

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"I think they eventually figured out I'm fairly far to the left, especially when it comes to foreign policy. I'm far to the right on immigration, only for environmental reasons," Baer said.

Now 54, he has retired from the CIA and wants no part of Washington anymore. He lives in Silverton with his wife, Dana. He writes a column for Time and skis on Red Mountain. He's also at work on his second book of fiction, a "real novel" about Iran.

He has to send his work through CIA censors, but that doesn't mute his criticism of the agency or the president.

"They absolutely do not care about criticism. They're looking for classified information," Baer said.

He put his Silverton house on the market a few months ago, thinking he might move to California part-time to cure a case of "valley fever." But now he's not sure. He's still trying to understand local politics.

"I try to figure things out here, because it's a curious place. The people here like things the way they are. I sympathize - they do not want Silverton to become Telluride, Aspen or even Durango," he said.

But it is changing, Baer said. He grew up in Aspen and wanted to retire to a place where he could ski. But he's distressed by the population growth and the possibility of even more people crossing the border.

"If you really want to take a state like Colorado and ruin the mountains, you bring in 300 million more people to the United States, because they're going to have to live somewhere," Baer said. "I don't know why the environmentalists don't get this."

But his expertise, he admits, is far from his new home.

"I played Iraqi politics for a long time," Baer said. "So I know Iraq better than I do the United States, in a lot of ways."

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