One thing Iran’s sprawling intelligence machine does not lack is a proliferation of spy agencies. Yet supreme (unelected) leader Ali Khamenei‘s has invented a new one as a sure remedy for a pressing problem.
The new branch that has come into being in recent weeks is called, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources, Eghab-2, or “Islamic Punishment” – the kind meted out to sinners. Directly controlled from the supreme ruler’s office, the new agency is tailored specifically to the mission of catching nuclear spies. Its cover comes from being placed formally under the Ministry of Intelligence and State Security (VAVAK) headed by Hojat-Ol Eslam Ali Younessi.
Khamenei’s bureau already runs the Hefazat-Ettelaat field security agency, which is overseen by his chief of staff, and the Islamic Propagation Organization (IPO). The IPO, not content with spreading the word of the Prophet around the world, also maintains covert intelligence and counter-intelligence units.
To keep a close eye on the spymasters, Khamenei sends a personal representative to every meeting of Iran’s intelligence agencies. With the new branch, the office of Iran’s turbaned strongman becomes the most powerful intelligence hub in the country.
Eghab-2 was born in response to 18 months of accurate leaks to the West on Iran’s nuclear weapons program (starting with DEBKA-Net-Weekly 82 and 85 issues in October 2002). The Mujahideen a-Khalq, the leading Iranian opposition group in Iran and outside the Islamic Republic, chipped in with top-secret nuclear information released at a Washington news conference, whereupon Khamenei ordered a full investigation to find the “traitors.”
Another shock to Iran’s closed ruling system came in July 2004, at the height of negotiations Iran was conducting with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Europeans on a freeze of its uranium enrichment program and other nuclear issues, such as the heavy water reactor in Arak. From comments European representatives let slip during the talks, the Iranians deduced that moles were punching security holes in their secrecy-shrouded nuclear program.
Iran’s existing intelligence agencies were ordered to plug the leak, but failed. Several Iranian nuclear scientists came under suspicion, but the secret services were unable to nail the culprits passing classified information or identify its recipients.
With so many intelligence branches engaged in the same investigation, the embarrassment of treading on each other’s feet and contradictory announcements was unavoidable.
Leaks galore, still no detentions
The first arrests were trumpeted last November. (See DNW 182, November 19, 2004.)
However, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefil and cabinet secretary Abdollah Ramezan Zadeh claimed eight spies had been caught, whereas intelligence minister Younessi put the figure “at about 10.” He added only three detainees had actually worked on a nuclear development project.
If this bumbling performance hardly added to the credibility of Iran’s undercover agencies, faces turned really red when finally, after years of digging, US intelligence came up with proof of two nuclear sites operating in the suburbs of Tehran. The first, Lavizan-2, northwest of the capital, is a huge military base built by the Shah. Iran set up nuclear testing facilities at the facility but had to destroy them when they were discovered. The second site, at Parchin, southeast of Teheran, is where Iran assembles Shahab-3 missiles, which have a range of 1,300 km (780 miles), and the Shahab-4, which can hit targets up to 5,000 km (3,000 miles) away. It is at Parchin that Iran has been concentrating its efforts to match nuclear warheads to the Shahab missiles.
Exposure of the two sites hit the Iranian government hard. Eghab-2 was the result.
In the last few days, its agents have interrogated dozens of scientists with the help of lie detectors. But so far no spies have been found.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources can reveal exclusively the makeup of the new intelligence agency’s directorate – all Khamenei trusties:
Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) representative Ahmed Haidari; military intelligence chief Gen. Akbar Dianat Far; police intelligence representative Ali Naghdi: internal security and Vayak’s counterintelligence agency representative, Gen. Ali Rabiei: and Ali Reza Afshar of the Bassij militia’s intelligence apparatus.
The supreme ruler’s personal representative is a leading light on the Eghab-2 directorate. He is Gen. Seyyed Mohammad Hejazi who advises Khamenei on security and defense matters and is also commander of Iran’s military reserve, known as the Revolutionary Enlisted Forces.
Eghab-2’s operational commanders are: Gholam-Reza Mehrabil, Pasdaran’s deputy commander for intelligence affairs, and Ali-Mohammad Shahroudi, head of the intelligence ministry’s operations department.