Intelligence experts have been wondering what made Iran’s spiritual ruler Ayaltollah Ali Khamenei order minister of intelligence Ali Younessi this week to perform a radical shake-up of his Ministry of Intelligence and Security -VEVAK, and have it finished by the end of December.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and Tehran sources report that Khamenei demanded that the minister attain a high level of modernization by purging legions of spies. He also announced the ministry would be placed under the jurisdiction of Iran’s judiciary, whose head Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrodi, is a pillar of Khamenei’s hardline rule.
Last week, Shahrodi was granted a second five-year term as chief justice. Now he is presented with the additional gift of the national intelligence service, with responsibility for both its domestic and its foreign operations.
The plan Younessi put before Khamenei, according to our sources, was to break down the intelligence ministry into two large divisions, one for countering terrorism – an Iranian euphemism for domestic dissidents, and the other to wage war against the Islamic republic’s external foes.
What caused surprise among intelligence experts was the attention given VEVAK although it is relatively weak compared with Iran’s many private intelligence organizations. Khamenei’s own spy agency and the intelligence service owned by former president Hashem Rafsanjani are much more powerful than the government agency.
It is possible that the shakeup is aimed at eventually bringing all the services, governmental and private, under a single intelligence umbrella, a process that would take years.
Our Tehran sources stress that the changes in the intelligence system do not hint in the slightest at any relaxations in the rigidly conservative nature of the regime. No advance toward a more liberal or democratic path is indicated. Bolstering the ultra-radical Shahrodi with an intelligence resource carries Iran in the opposite direction.
Younessi will not take any chances. The program of dismissals of government-employed spies he has been ordered to carry out will almost certainly become a thorough purge of any elements whose loyalty to the regime is in doubt or who have exhibited liberal predilections. The new divisions will only then be set up.