Iran intelligence apparatus is comprised of many agencies, including the Council for Intelligence Coordination, the Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Intelligence Protection Organization of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army, the Intelligence Protection Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Iranian Security Police, the Iran Ministry of Intelligence, Oghab 2, the Parallel Intelligence Agency, the Prime Ministry Intelligence Office, the Second Bureau of Imperial Iranian Army, and others about which less is known.
Almost 83 million people live in Iran (2019). Not only does Iranian intelligence collect information about the country’s citizens, but it also has capabilities around the world. In this post, we consider what’s known of Iran intelligence as well as the aims and objectives of these agencies in considering the breadth and depth of their global reach and power projection.
The Council for Intelligence Coordination
Iran’s Council for Intelligence Coordination (the intelligence community) is thought to include 16 intelligence agencies. These agencies operate separately and in concert with each other. The Intelligence Coordinating Council ICC) is comprised of many agency heads. The Fars News Agency first announced the agencies in 2014.
Members of the Council include the Ministry of Intelligence Iran’s primary government-sanctioned intelligence agency. Fars News Agency also cites four other agencies, including the Intelligence Organization of the Revolutionary Guards, the Counter Intelligence and Intelligence of Revolutionary Guards, the Intelligence Unit of the Islamic Republic Army, and the Intelligence Unit of the Islamic Republic Police.
Others include the Iran Cyber Police, the Commander-in-Chief’s General Bureau for Intelligence Protection, the General Security and Intelligence Police, and the Center for Investigating Organized Crime.
The Ministry of Intelligence & Security of the Islamic Republic of Iran
The Ministry of Intelligence is considered the primary Iranian intelligence agency. It is also a member of Iran’s Intelligence Community, also known as VAJA, VEVAK, or MOIS. At inception, the agency was referred to as SAVAMA. When it assumed the Shah’s Iran intelligence apparatus, it was called by the SAVAK moniker. This agency is one of Iran’s three sovereign ministerial bodies because of its domestic and international focus.
Current and reliable data on the Ministry of Intelligence is scarce. For instance, it’s obvious that the SAVAMA entity was supposed to replace SAVAK (the Iran intelligence agency in place during the Shah’s rule), but the amount of continuity between the two is unclear.
The roles of the intelligence organizations are similar although the foundational ideologies appear quite different. Western journalists believe that the post-Shah government wanted to rid itself of the taint of SAVAK but some SAVAK staff was retained after the change. These individuals are believed to have advocated the inclusion of liberal dissidents and members of the Iraq Ba-ath Party.
The Ministry of Intelligence was founded in 1983 after it abandoned, relegated, or subsumed other small intelligence agencies formed in various other government organizations. Since its founding, five ministers are known. The last minister, under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left in 2013.
Chain murders in Iran
In late 1998, a political leader, his wife, and three dissidents were killed over a two-month period. Journalists investigated the killings and, by the middle of the next year, it was determined that the Ministry of Intelligence was in some way to blame for the murders.
In 2019, an online activist in opposition to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence was murdered in Turkey. Later, a Turkish official claimed that the suspect confessed to implementing orders of Iranian intelligence officials of the Iranian consulate.
Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)
The IRGC is overseen by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard as an Iranian intelligence agency. It’s also overseen in part by the Council for Intelligence Organization. It was established under Khamanei’s leadership in 2009.
Stratfor believes that IRGC may be even more powerful than the Ministry of Intelligence. Increased influence and broadened authorities create competition and dissidence between the two authorities. Today, redundancy, powerplays, and rivalries are recognized between the IRGC’s Intelligence and the Ministry of Intelligence. Both have tried to downplay the seriousness of these disagreements in the attempt to present an appearance of unity.
Causes for the IRGC’s rise in power include the Ministry of Intelligence’s presumed role in chain murders (above). Power struggles between the Ministry of Intelligence and the supreme leader also reinforced the supreme leader’s apparent decision to support the IRGC. It’s not subject to government or legislative oversight. In addition, Green Movement protests (2009) called attention to the need for better control of the Ministry of Intelligence’s top echelon. Over subsequent years, protests rose over the worsening economic crisis in Iran. More tensions with the United States and its western allies arose after President Trump withdrew from the JCPOA nuclear accord.
The IRGC’s role in the politics and economy of Iran also led to the expansion of the agency’s authorities. According to IRGC watchers, the agency seems to be most active on a domestic level. Internationally, a group called Quds Force,a paramilitary group, is active.
The Intelligence Protection Organization of Islamic Republic of Iran Army
The organization, referred to by the acronym SAHEFAJA, is an intelligence agency tied to the Iran military apparatus. SAHEFAJA’s missions include counterespionage missions with the armed forces to neutralize, discover or prevent potential coups d’etat, subversion, or sabotages. Its common hierarchy works independently from Iran’s armed forces chain of command.
The Intelligence Protection Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
This Iran intelligence agency within the IRGC is also part of the Council for Intelligence Coordination.
When the agency initially separated from IRGC (1984), it was primarily aligned with military intelligence initiatives. In 1991, the agency resurfaced as an independent agency reporting to Iran’s supreme leader. It was primarily tasked with the surveillance of IRGC personnel in attempts to combat espionage within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The Intelligence and Public Security Police of NAJA “Security Police”
PAVA is the national law enforcement and security agent in Iran. It is an agency of Iran’s Law Enforcement Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran and part of the Council for Intelligence Coordination.
PAVA also has several subordinate branches, including the diplomatic police, surveillance over Iran public facilities, intelligence, Foreign Nationals & Immigrant Affairs, and the Moral Security police:
• PAVA’s intelligence branch gathers operational intelligence, runs informant networks (collecting rumors, information, and news). This branch also identifies and arrests people engaged in illegal religious activity.
• Public Security Police fights against Iranian organized crime and enforces the country’s telecommunications laws. It’s also taken on the role of an economic police force, confronting numerous pyramid schemes and network marketers in Iran.
• Police supervising Public Facilities and Locations regulates and controls businesses, e.g. hotels, shops, and restaurants. It’s involved in the issuance and revocation of permits and licenses for these businesses and their workforce.
• Moral Security Police is an agency of PAVA. It serves as the center of the Islamic religious police force. It enforces sumptuary laws that restrict excessive spending patterns of the people. The Morality Patrol is an agency of this authority.
Iranian Intelligence Outside of Iran
According to a variety of news outlets, Iranian, along with Soviet, Iraqi, Chinese, and Pakistani intelligence extends well beyond Iran’s borders.
The Hill wrote about Department of Justice charges against the Islamic Republic of Iran. The filings charge that Iran directed at least four intelligence operatives to kidnap an Iranian-American journalist working for Voice of America from her New York Home.
President Biden’s administration seems to have downplayed the alleged kidnapping plot in attempts to avoid any disruption of nuclear power negotiations with Iran. Rather than label the incident as an act of terror targeting a citizen of the United States, it’s been called a “regrettable attempt” of Iran’s intelligence operatives to limit the free expression of journalists granted under the United States Constitution.
Indeed, journalists around the world have reported Iran’s history of targeting perceived enemies, e.g. embassies and foreign diplomats. Incidences of targeting so-called enemies began when the Islamic Republic was conceived. Student extremists in Tehran took over the U.S. Embassy on Nov. 4, 1979. Fifty-two Americans were held hostage for 444 days.
Iran intelligence has not failed to fuel the long arm of Tehran. Even during the leadership of self-proclaimed moderate Hassan Rouhani, Iranian intelligence operatives planned attacks or orchestrated assassinations. In 2020, U.S. notified the then-ambassador to South Africa about threats to her life from Iran. In 2021, sleeper cells in Iran planned attacks on UAE missions in Sudan and Ethiopia (U.S. Defense Department).
Iran Intelligence Apparatus and Afghanistan
In reality, the difference between Iran’s moderate and hardline politicians is often unclear. Obviously, Iran spends more on intelligence per citizen than most countries. Actions reported in the news over the past 40 years hint at the nation’s desire for global reach and power projection.
Iran has managed both sides of the equation in Afghanistan’s power struggle. It supported the recent Afghan government along with the Taliban, supporting the divisions in Afghanistan. Tehran improved its relations in Qatar, the Taliban’s political home office, to support the relationship between Iran and the Taliban.
What we know of Iranian intelligence is possibly surpassed by what we don’t know. However, the Shiite regime in Tehran has many reasons, including economic, strategic, ecological, and ideological ones, to back Afghan’s Sunni extremists.
“Defeat in Afghanistan”
On Aug. 6, Dawa Khan Menapal, the hedge of Afghanistan’s government information and media center, was assassinated. He was previously employed as a journalist and went on record about his belief that Iran supports the Taliban.
According to an Aljazeera report, Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi said that The United States’ “defeat” in Afghanistan should be viewed as a chance to “revive life, security and lasting peace” there.
The full list of reasons for Tehran’s backing may also reflect Iran’s need to access the Afghanistan-Iran water supply or to spread religious beliefs and culture to the Afghan people. More simply, Iran may want to eradicate Afghanistan’s alliances with the United States. Either way, Iran seems to be pro-Taliban in Afghanistan.