Speaking on a conference call organized by the Clarion Project, Woolsey said he would rather deal with the Soviets he met across the negotiating table decades ago than talk to Tehran.
"They weren't theocratic fanatics," he said of his Soviet interlocutors.
Woolsey now chairs the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which not only looks at Tehran's nuclear program but also its human-rights record.
"Iran is hanging political dissidents every day," he told reporters and an international audience. "The problem is not the Iranian people," he said.
He urged Western powers to encourage average Iranians to "stand up to their 'masters'," and believes with external support Iranians could succeed where their attempted revolution failed in 2009.
However, it was the Iranian nuclear file that dominated Woolsey's remarks. He fears Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will insist, for example, that any deal does not include U.N. inspections of military facilities.
"An agreement is at least as bad as no agreement. Neither is going to stop the Iranian march toward nuclear weapons," he said, calling for a ramping up of financial sanctions.