Iranian Agencies

Ministry of Security [SAVAK]

Shah-an-Shah [King of Kings] Mohammad Reza Pahlevi was restored to the Peacock Throne of Iran with the assistance of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1953. CIA mounted a coup against the left-leaning government of Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq, which had planned to nationalize Iran's oil industry. CIA subsequently provided organizational and and training assistance for the establishment of an intelligence organization for the Shah. With training focused on domestic security and interrogation, the primary purpose of the intelligence unit, headed by General Teymur Bakhtiar, was to eliminate threats to Shah. Formed under the guidance of United States and Israeli intelligence officers in 1957, SAVAK developed into an effective secret agency. Bakhtiar was appointed its first director, only to be dismissed in 1961, allegedly for organizing a coup; he was assassinated in 1970 under mysterious circumstances, probably on the shah's direct order. His successor, General Hosain Pakravan, was dismissed in 1966, allegedly for having failed to crush the clerical opposition in the early 1960s. The shah turned to his childhood friend and classmate, General Nematollah Nassiri, to rebuild SAVAK and properly "serve" the monarch. Mansur Rafizadeh, the SAVAK director in the United States throughout the 1970s, claimed that General Nassiri's telephone was tapped by SAVAK agents reporting directly to the shah, an example of the level of mistrust pervading the government on the eve of the Revolution. SAVAK increasingly to symbolized the Shah's rule from 1963-79, a period of corruption in the royal family, one-party rule, the torture and execution of thousands of political prisoners, suppression of dissent, and alienation of the religious masses. The United States reinforced its position as the Shah's protector and supporter, sowing the seeds of the anti-Americanism that later manifested itself in the revolution against the monarchy.

Accurate information concerning SAVAK remains publicly unavailable. A flurry of pamphlets issued by the revolutionary regime after 1979 indicated that SAVAK had been a full-scale intelligence agency with more than 15,000 full-time personnel and thousands of part-time informants. SAVAK was attached to the Office of the Prime Minister, and its director assumed the title of deputy to the prime minister for national security affairs. Although officially a civilian agency, SAVAK had close ties to the military; many of its officers served simultaneously in branches of the armed forces. Another childhood friend and close confidant of the shah, Major General Hosain Fardust, was deputy director of SAVAK until the early 1970s, when the shah promoted him to the directorship of the Special Intelligence Bureau, which operated inside Niavaran Palace, independently of SAVAK. Founded to round up members of the outlawed Tudeh, SAVAK expanded its activities to include gathering intelligence and neutralizing the regime's opponents. An elaborate system was created to monitor all facets of political life. For example, a censorship office was established to monitor journalists, literary figures, and academics throughout the country; it took appropriate measures against those who fell out of line. Universities, labor unions, and peasant organizations, among others, were all subjected to intense surveillance by SAVAK agents and paid informants. The agency was also active abroad, especially in monitoring Iranian students who publicly opposed Pahlavi rule. SAVAK paid Rockwell International to implement a large communications monitoring system called IBEX. The Stanford Technology Corp. [STC, owned by Hakim] had a $5.5 million contract to supply the CIA-promoted IBEX project. STC had another $7.5 million contract with Iran's air force for a telephone monitoring system, operated by SAVAK, to enable the Shah to track his top commanders' communications. Over the years, SAVAK became a law unto itself, having legal authority to arrest and detain suspected persons indefinitely. SAVAK operated its own prisons in Tehran (the Komiteh and Evin facilities) and, many suspected, throughout the country as well. SAVAK's torture methods included electric shock, whipping, beating, inserting brokon glass and pouring boiling water into the rectum, tying weights to the testicles, and the extraction of teeth and nails. Many of these activities were carried out without any institutional checks.

At the peak its influence under the Shah SAVAK had at least 13 full-time case officers running a network of informers and infiltration covering 30,000 Iranian students on United States college campuses. The head of the SAVAK agents in the United States operated under the cover of an attache at the Iranian Mission to the United Nations, with the FBI, CIA, and State Department fully aware of these activities. In 1978 the deepening opposition to the Shah errupted in widespread demonstrations and rioting. SAVAK and the military responded with widespread repression that killed twelve to fifteen thousand people and seriously injured another fifty thousand. Recognizing that even this level of violence had failed to crush the rebellion, the Shah abdicated the Peacock Throne and departed Iran on 16 January 1979. Despite decades of pervasive surveillance by SAVAK, working closely with CIA, the extent of public opposition to the Shah, and his sudden departure, came as a considerable suprise to the US intelligence community and national leadership. As late as September 28, 1978 the US Defence Intelligence Agency reported that the shah "is expected to remain actively in power over the next ten years." However, it was no surprise that SAVAK was singled out as a primary target for reprisals, its headquarters overrun, and prominent leaders tried and executed by komiteh representatives. High-ranking SAVAK agents were purged between 1979 and 1981; there were 61 SAVAK officials among 248 military personnel executed between February and September 1979. The organization was officially dissolved by Khomeini shortly after he came to power in 1979.

Joint Committee for Special Operations

The Iranian intelligence and security apparatus remains one of the most secretive in the world, and is very poorly characterized in the open literature. Available sources provide only extremely sparse and fragmentary information concerning internal organizational structure, and information on budgets, personnel levels or facility locations is almost entirely lacking in the open literature. The concept of Velayt-e-Faqih ("Supreme Religious Guardian"), or the right of clerics to rule over the Islamic community, is central to the interpretation of Islam of Ayatollah Khomeini and his successors. This concepts holds that Muslims throughout the world constitute a single community – the Ummah – who must be ruled by a single government. The mullahs of Iran assert that by virtue of the 1979 revolution they have acquired the status of "guardians" of all Muslims throughout the world. The preamble to the Iranian Constitution vests supreme authority in the faqih, the just and pious jurist who is recognized by the majority of the people at any period as best qualified to lead the nation. Khomeini was the first faqih. The duties of the faqih include appointing the jurists to the Council of Guardians; the chief judges of the judicial branch; the chief of staff of the armed forces; the commander of the Pasdaran (Pasdaran-e Enghelab-e Islami, or Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, or Revolutionary Guards); the personal representatives of the faqih to the Supreme Defense Council; and the commanders of the army, air force, and navy, following their nomination by the Supreme Defense Council. The faqih also is authorized to approve candidates for presidential elections. The years 1981 and 1982 were marked by extensive political violence as the political elite other groups contested for power, with organized gangs attacking individuals and organizations considered to be enemies of the Revolution. The government responded by carrying out mass arrests and executions. At the height of the confrontation, an average of 50 persons per day were executed; on several days during September 1981, the total number executed throughout the country exceeded 100. The government dramatized its resolve to crush the uprising by conducting many of these mass executions in public. By the end of 1982 an estimated 7,500 persons had been executed or killed in street battles with the Pasdaran.

The reign of terror officially ended in December 1982 when Khomeini issued an eight-point decree that effectively instructed the courts to ensure that the civil and due process rights of citizens be safeguarded. The decree forbade forcible entry of homes and businesses, arrest and detention without judges' orders, property expropriation without court authorization, and all forms of government spying on private persons. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei served as President under the Ayatollah Khomeini from 1982-1989. After Khomeini's death Khamenei succeeded to the office of faqih. Consequently, he has direct control of the armed forces, the intelligence services and the Foreign Ministry. The Joint Committee for Special Operations consists of Iran’s president, its top religious authority, and other senior security officials, including representatives of the Pasdaran [Guardians of the Revolution], the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Security and Intelligence. It is responsible for coordinating activities devoted to gathering intelligence and special weapons technology abroad, as well as activities within the Iranian exile community. Iran’s relations with Germany and to a larger extent with the EU have been strained by the trial starting in 1992, and, subsequently, the recent ruling by a German court regarding the Mykonos murders in Berlin. On 10 April 1997, a German court found Mr. Darabi and his chief accomplice, Abbas Rhayel, guilty of murder and and sentenced the two men to life in prison. Two other men, Youssef Amin and Mohammed Atris were given terms of 11 years and 5 years and three months. A fifth man, Atallah Ayad, was acquited. The German court also said that the highest levels of the Iranian government, through its Committee for Special Operations, had been involved in the slaying of three Kurdish dissidents and their translator at the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin.

Iranian intelligence agencies are also mounting extensive operations in Bosnia to gather information and counter Western influence. As of late 1997 more than 200 Iranian agents have insinuated themselves into Bosnian Muslim political and social circles, and infiltrated the US program to train the Bosnian army. Iranian is collaborating with a pro-Iranian faction in Bosnia's intelligence service, the Agency for Investigation and Documentation. But Iran's intelligence operations extend far beyond the training program, and are aimed at influencing a broad range of Bosnian institutions.

Ministry of Intelligence and Security [MOIS] / Vezarat-e Ettela'at va Amniat-e Keshvar VEVAK

Little public information exists on SAVAK's successor agency, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security [Vezarat-e Ettela'at va Amniat-e Keshvar - VEVAK ], initially known by the acronym SAVAMA. The agency's first director was Major General Fardust, who was arrested in December 1985 for being a "Soviet informer." But after this major arrest the revolutionary government's keen desire to gain an upper hand over leftist guerrilla organizations may have influenced certain IRP leaders to relax their previously unrelenting pursuit of military intelligence personnel. A 1984 reorganization of the security organization led by Mohammadi Rayshahri, concurrently the head of the Army Military Revolutionary Tribunal, created the Ministry of Information and Security which assumed the role formerly played by SAVAMA. Key religious leaders, including Majlis speaker Hashemi-Rafsanjani, insisted on recalling former agents to help the regime eliminate domestic opposition. Consequently, some intelligence officers and low-ranking SAVAK and army intelligence officials were asked to return to government service because of their specialized knowledge of the Iranian left. Others had acquired in-depth knowledge of Iraq's Baath Party and proved to be invaluable in helping decision makers. Although it was impossible to verify, observers speculated that some of SAVAK's intelligence-gathering operations were turned over to VEVAK. However, the ideological underpinnings of the new agency were radicallyl different from its Imperial predecessor. The Islamic Republic of Iran is Khomeini' philosophy of Velayat-e Faqih, or "Islamic Rule," which calls for imposing absolute authority over the populace, and on the other upon extending this authority to all Muslims, i.e. "exporting revolution." With a large budget and extensive organization, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security is of the most powerful ministries in the Iranian government. The ministry has traditionally operated under the guidance of the Velayat-e Faqih apparatus of Ali Khamenei.

Ministry of Security and Intelligence personnel are either attached as diplomats in Iranian embassies and consulate offices or as Ministry of Guidance and Propaganda representatives. Non-official covers include Iran Air [the official airline of Iran] or as students, merchants, mechanics, shopkeepers, bank clerks, as well as members of opposition groups. VEVAK has frequently relied on the foreign branches of Iranian state-controlled banks to place intelligence agents and to finance terrorist operations. In Germany, for instance, the most prominent is Bank Melli, which maintains branches in Hamburg, Frankfurt, and Dusseldorf. Iran is the most active sponsor of terrorism in the world. Since the inception of the Islamic state in 1979, the country has used terrorism as an integral part of its foreign and military policies. Iranian leaders view terrorism as a valid tool to accomplish their political objectives. Terrorist operations are reviewed and approved at the highest levels of the Iranian government, and the President of Iran is involved in the approval process of all major terrorist operations. Iranian-sponsored terrorism has had two major goals: Punishing opponents of the Islamic regime and expanding the Islamic movement throughout the Persian Gulf region. Iranian-backed political violence has killed more than 1,000 people in over 200 terrorist attacks since the 1979 revolution, including some 80 assassinations of Iranian dissidents around the world. Major attacks include the suicide bombings of American and French military barracks in Beirut in 1983 which killed 299, a series of bombings in Paris in September 1986 which killed 12, attacks on the Israeli embassy and a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994 which killed 125, and the bombing that killed 19 Americans in Dhahran in June 1995. The Ministry of Intelligence and Security is responsible for intelligence collection to support terrorist operations. The ministry is also responsible for liaison activities with supported terrorist groups and Islamic fundamentalist movements. VEVAK has also conducted terrorist operations in support of Iranian objectives. Most of these activities have focused on attacks on Iranian dissidents.

On 17 September 1992 Sadegh Sharaf-Kindi, leader of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI), was gunned down along with 3 colleagues at the Mykonos, a Greek restaurant in Berlin. An Iranian and four Lebanese were soon arrested and charged, and in March 1996 the German Federal Prosecutor issued an international arrest warrant for Iranian intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian for having ordered the killings. In final statements in late November 1996, German prosecutors charged Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei and Iranian President Rafsanjani with approving the operation. Guilty verdicts for four of the accused were announced in April 1997. Iranian leaders have consistently denied being able to revoke the fatwa against Salman Rushdie's life, in effect for nearly eight years, claiming that revocation is impossible because the author of the fatwa is deceased. There is no indication that Tehran is pressuring the 15 Khordad Foundation to withdraw the $2 million reward it is offering to anyone who will kill Rushdie. Mujahedin units supported by Iran have assisted in the training of selected Bosnian army elements since 1993. Although the numbers of Mujahedin operating in Bosnia remained a matter of speculation, most credible estimates indicate approximately 2,500 members were present by mid-1995.

Jerusalem Force, Guardians of the Islamic Revolution / Qods, Pasdaran- e Enghelab-e Islami

While the Constitution of Iran entrusts the military with guarding Iran's territorial integrity and political independence, it gives the Revolutionary Guard [Pasdaran] the responsibility of guarding the Revolution itself. Established under a decree issued by Khomeini on May 5, 1979, the Pasdaran was intended to guard the Revolution and to assist the ruling clerics in the day-to-day enforcement of the government's Islamic codes and morality. The Revolution also needed to rely on a force of its own rather than borrowing the previous regime's tainted units. By 1986 the Pasdaran consisted of 350,000 personnel organized in battalion-size units that operated either independently or with units of the regular armed forces. In 1986 the Pasdaran acquired small naval and air elements. By 1996 the ground and naval forces were reported to number 100,000 and 20,000, respectively.

Domestic Operations

The Pasdaran has maintained an intelligence branch to monitor the regime's domestic adversaries and to participate in their arrests and trials. Khomeini implied Pasdaran involvement in intelligence when he congratulated the Pasdaran on the arrest of Iranian communist Tudeh leaders. The Baseej (volunteers) come under the control of the Revolutionary Guards. In 1988, up to 900,000 baseej were mobilized. The Baseej allegedly also monitor the activities of citizens, and harass or arrest women whose clothing does not cover the hair and all of the body except hands and face, or those who wear makeup. During the year ending in June 1995, they reportedly "notified 907,246 people verbally and issued 370,079 written notices against ‘social corruption’ and arrested 86,190 people, and also broke up 542 ‘corrupt gangs’, arresting their 2,618 members, and seized 86,597 indecent videocassettes and photographs. The Ashura Brigades force was reportedly created in 1993 after anti-government riots erupted in various Iranian cities and it consists of 17,000 Islamic militia men and women. The Ashura Brigades are reportedly composed of elements of the Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) and the Baseej volunteer militia. In August 1994, some Pasdaran units, rushed to quell riots in the city of Ghazvin, 150 km. west of Tehran, reportedly refused orders from the Interior Minister to intervene in the clashes, which left more than 30 people dead, 400 wounded and over 1,000 arrested. Subsequently, senior officers in the army, air force and the usually loyal Islamic Revolutionary Guard reportedly stated that they would no longer order their troops into battle to quell civil disorder. A Pasdaran commander was among four senior army officers who are said to have sent a letter to the country's political leadership, warning the clerical rulers against "using the armed forces to crush civilian unrest and internal conflicts." In a communiqué sent to Ayatollah Ali Khameini, stated that "the role of the country’s armed forces is to defend its borders and to repel foreign enemies from its soil, not to control the internal situation or to strengthen one political faction above another." They are said to have then recommended the use of Baseej volunteers for this purpose. In a move believed to indicate a shift in the trust of the ruling clerics from the Pasdaran to the Baseej volunteer force, on 17 April 1995 Ayatollah Ali Khameini reportedly promoted a civilian, veterinary surgeon Hassan Firuzabadi, to the rank of full general, placing him above both Brigadier-General Mohsen Rezai, commander-in-chief of the Pasdaran and Brigadier General Ali Shahbazi of the regular armed forces.

Foreign Operations

The foreign operations by the Guardians, which also encompass the activities of Hizballah and Islamic Jihad are usually carried out through the Committee on Foreign Intelligence Abroad and the Committee on Implementation of Actions Abroad. As with agents of Ministry of Intelligence, Pasdaran personnel operate through front companies and non-governmental organizations, employees or officials of trading companies, banks, cultural centers or as representatives of the Foundation of the Oppressed and Dispossessed (Bonyade-e- Mostafazan), or the Martyrs Foundation. The Qods (Jerusalem) Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is responsible for extraterritorial operations, including terrorist operations. A primary focus for the Qods Force is training Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups. Currently, the Qods Force conducts training activities in Iran and in Sudan. The Qods Force is also responsible for gathering information required for targeting and attack planning. The Pasdaran has contacts with underground movements in the Gulf region, and Pasdaran members are assigned to Iranian diplomatic missions, where, in the course of routine intelligence activities they monitor dissidents. Pasdaran influence has been particularly important in Kuwait, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. The largest branch of Pasdaran foreign operations consists of approximately 12,000 Arabic speaking Iranians, Afghans, Iraqis, Lebanese shi’ites and North Africans who trained in Iran or received training in Afghanistan during the Afghan war years. Presently these foreign operatives receive training in Iran, Sudan and Lebanon, and include the Hizballah ["Party of Allah"] intelligence, logistics and operational units in Lebanon [Hizballah is primarily a social and political rather than military organization]. The second largest Pasdaran foreign operations relates to the Kurds (particularly Iraqi Kurds), while the third largest relates to the Kashmiri’s, the Balouchi’s and the Afghans. The Pasdaran has also supported the establishment of Hizballah branches in Lebanon, Iraqi Kurdistan, Jordan and Palestine, and the Islamic Jihad in many other Moslem countries including Egypt, Turkey, Chechnya and in Caucasia. Hizballah has been implicated in the counterfeiting of U.S. dollars and European currencies, both to finance its operations and to disrupt Western economies by impairing international trade and tourism.

The Office of Liberation Movements has established a Gulf Section tasked with forming a Gulf Battalion as part of the Jerusalem Forces. In April 1995 a number of international organizations linked to international terrorism (including the Japanese Red Army, the Armenian Secret Army, and the Kurdistan Workers' Party) were reported to have met in Beirut with representatives of the Iraqi Da'wah Party, the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, Hizballah, Iran's "Office of Liberation Movements," and Iran's Guardians of the Revolution. Tehran's objective was to destabilize Arab Gulf states by supporting fundamentalists with military, financial, and logistical support. Members of these and other organizations receive military training at a Guardians of the Revolution facility some 100 kilometers south of Tehran. A variety of of training courses are conducted at the facility for fundamentalists from the Gulf states, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, and Lebanon, including naval operations, mines, and diving operations in a special camp near the Orontes River.

Military Intelligence / J2 Intelligence and Security

The Joint Staff of the armed forces, composed of officers assigned from the various services, the Pasdaran, the National Police, and the Gendarmerie, is responsible for all operational military matters. Its primary tasks included military planning and coordination and operational control over the regular services, combat units of the Pasdaran, and units of the Gendarmerie and National Police assigned to the war front. Joint Staff members are also empowered to integrate fully the regular and paramilitary forces in operational planning. The components of the armed forces Joint Staff were modeled on the United States joint and combined staff system. Personnel of J2 Intelligence and Security carry out operational control for intelligence planning, intelligence operations, intelligence training, counterintelligence, and security for all elements of the armed forces. They also handle liaison with the komitehs (revolutionary committees) for internal security matters and with MOIS for foreign intelligence.


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