On Aug. 23, just two days after Iran celebrated the inauguration of its first nuclear reactor at Bushehr, debkafile's exclusive Iranian sources report a battle in the streets of Tehran flared between rival intelligence factions of the Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) and the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) – as mutual suspicions boiled over.
The IRGC directors of Iran's nuclear program have long suspected senior politicians of passing nuclear secrets to clandestine agencies in the West, especially American, British and Dutch – often to tip the scales in factional feuds within the regime.
The Ministry of Intelligence, for its part, is incensed over secret reports that members of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's inner circle have been trading disloyal gossip about supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, some even sneering that his end was near. The MOIS is totally loyal to the supreme leader.
The shoot-out between them, revealed for the first time here, was completely blacked out by the regime.
debkafile's intelligence sources reveal that it erupted after an Intelligence Ministry team broke into a luxury apartment belonging to an IRGC officer in one of the high-rise buildings of northern Tehran's exclusive Shaid Babaee – known as Mini-City – opposite IRGC staff offices. It is there that most of the Guards senior officers and officials live.
In the living room, the MOIS searchers discovered two bugs hooked up to eavesdropping devices in other apartments and a mini-camera for spying on the comings and goings to and from the IRGC offices.
They extended their search to other apartments in the building – only to find to their astonishment listening devices in living rooms, bedrooms, dining rooms and even bathrooms. More surveillance bugs were also found and video cameras broadcasting to a facility outside the building.
Their search complete, they prepared to depart with their findings. But on their way out, the Ministry agents were jumped on by men in civilian clothes who tried to grab the gadgets they had collected.
The MOIS searchers backed into the building, barricaded themselves there and called for back-up.
The reinforcements summoned were stopped at roadblocks manned by more men in civilian clothes who were armed. The two groups started shooting. The gunfire spread into the apartment building and around the surrounding streets, causing an unknown number of casualties.
When the ministry agents realized that the men in civilian clothes were in fact members of IRGC Special Intelligence units and they too had summoned reinforcements, they threw in the towel and handed over the surveillance equipment they had collected.
Only later, was it discovered that the network of bugs had been planted in the IRGC apartment building by a third undercover agency called Shahid Fahmideh, which is directly answerable to Khameini in person and the IRGC's Nuclear Administration. It was installed under the supervision of Hossein Taeb, Director of the IRGC Intelligence Branch and a former commander of the Basijj militia, and Mojtaba Khamenei, the supreme leader's son.
This incident, though kept under tight wraps, brought to the surface the extent to which Iran's many-faceted clandestine services are riddled with mutual suspicion and how far distrust has burrowed under relations among Khamenei and his party, IRGC factions and the Ahmadinejad clique.
Each faction suspects the other of trafficking in Iran's nuclear secrets to promote its interests – either selling them to Western intelligence agencies or trading them to buy influence within the regime's political and military systems.