Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS)
Vezarat-e Ettela'at va Amniat-e Keshvar (VEVAK)
The Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS, also known as Vezarat-e Ettela'at va Amniat-e Keshvar or VEVAK) was responsible for intelligence collection to support terrorist operations. The ministry was also responsible for liaison activities with supported terrorist groups and Islamic fundamentalist movements. VEVAK also conducted terrorist operations in support of Iranian objectives. Most of these activities have focused on attacks on Iranian dissidents.
Iran according to US estimates was one of the most active sponsors of terrorism in the world. Since the inception of the Islamic state in 1979, the country had used terrorism as an integral part of its foreign and military policies. Iranian leaders viewed terrorism as a valid tool to accomplish their political objectives. Terrorist operations were reviewed and approved at the highest levels of the Iranian government, and the President of Iran was involved in the approval process of all major terrorist operations. Iranian-sponsored terrorism had two major goals: Punishing opponents of the Islamic regime and expanding the Islamic movement throughout the Persian Gulf region.
Iranian-backed political violence had 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 believed to be connected to Iran included the suicide bombings of American and French military barracks in Beirut in 1983 that killed 299, a series of bombings in Paris in September 1986 that killed 12, attacks on the Israeli embassy and a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994 that killed 125, and the bombing that killed 19 Americans in Dhahran in June 1995. Iranian agents were also suspected in the Khobar Towers attack in 1996.
Iranian authorities publically called for such attacks, and attacks on dissidents and others. In one of the most famous cases, on 14 February 1989, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the execution of Salman Rushdie, for his book the Satanic Verses, viewed by Khomeini to be heretical and insulting to Islam. Iranian leaders had consistently denied being able to revoke the fatwa against Salman Rushdie's life, in effect for nearly eight years, claiming that revocation was impossible because the author of the fatwa, Ayatollah Khomeini, was deceased. There was no indication that Tehran was pressuring the 15 Khordad Foundation to withdraw the $2 million reward it was offering to anyone who killed Rushdie. In September 1998, without repudiating the fatwa or the reward for Rushdie's life, the Iranian government distanced itself from the fatwa and the reward.
Perhaps the most famous attack on Iranian dissidents abroad came on 17 September 1992, when 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.
The Iranian government has been involved in a long fight against the Mujahedin El-Khalq or the MEK. MOIS's Third Department was said to deal specifically with the MEK and organizations that were affiliated with it. To combat the MEK's popularity abroad the MOIS was said to have recruited former members of the MEK and sent them to Europe in attempt to gain political asylum. After achieving asylum they were told to report on fabricated rights abuses by the MEK to erode the group's popularity. The MEK have been designated as a terrorist organization by the US Department of State and were heavily implicated in Iraqi atrocities against the Kurdish minority following the Iran-Iraq War. The MEK sided with the Iraqi government, hoping to achieve their goal of a violent overthrow of the post-Revolution Iranian government. MEK and its affiliated organizations such as the National Council for Resistance in Iran based in Paris, consistantly deny various allegations against them as propoganda by the Iranian government. Iranian authorities have attempted and succeeded in killing many officials within the MEK.
During 1988 to 1998, a series of assassinations dubbed the “chain murders” took place, the list of victims included in excess of eighty political activists, writers, poets, translators, and ordinary Iranian citizens. The unsuccessful October 2011 plot to murder the Saudi ambassador to the US with a bomb in a Washington restaurant, where numerous senators dine, was setup by the secret service apparatus with the aid of the Quds Force.
Department 15 is also tasked with “exporting revolution”. Their operatives travel the globe in various guises, often using the cover of an embassy, or that of a front company set up specially for this purpose, to liaise with terrorist groups or resistance movements that share common enemies. Department 15 builds a working relationship with such groups, forging links through carrying out shared military operations, or shipping their proxies’ weapons.
In addition to acting itself, MOIS was very active in supporting various groups abroad. Mujahedin units, said to be supported by Iran assisted in the training of selected Bosnian army elements since 1993. The numbers of Mujahedin operating in Bosnia remained a matter of speculation, with most credible estimates indicate approximately 2,500 members were present by mid-1995. The have also provided assistance to Hamas, Hezbollah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) and Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ). These groups were given safety, weapons training, logistical help and funding by Iran. To a lesser degree Iran had helped terrorist groups in Iraq and Central Asia. Imad Mugniyah one of the most influential members of Hezbollah before his death in 2008 received backing and enjoyed the protection of the MOIS. A member of the MOIS sat on the Hezbollah Council in 1992.
The MOIS even attempted to provide terrorist organizations with weapons such as the American FIM-92 Stinger man-portable surface-to-air missile. Originally, the CIA supplied Afghan rebels with Stinger missiles during the fighting against the Soviet Union in that country in the 1980s. It was estimated that there could be 200 of these missiles that had not yet been accounted for and could find there way into terrorist's hands. In 1994 members of the PIJ traveled to Tehran to pick up a shipment of Stinger missiles, but the missiles did not work. Tehran attempted to buy 6-10 missiles from their owner in Afghanistan, but reportedly stopped when they learned that the United States had become aware of the plan.
Iran's Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi reiterated, in a 31 August 2004 press conference, the official Iranian position that Lebanese Hizballah was a liberation movement. The US State Department had classified Hizballah as a foreign terrorist organization. Responding to a question about US claims that Iran supported terrorism, Yunesi said, "If they mean Iran's support for Hizballah, they should know that the Hizballah is a legal group which was created to fight Israel. It is a defense organization which was established in order to defend the Lebanese people and land." Yunesi added that this was why many states in the region supported Hizballah. According to Yunesi, however, "We do not consider the Intifada [uprising] of the Palestinian people as a terrorist movement... It is the very right of the Palestinians people to defend themselves and all Muslim countries support them."
Iran's reported relationship with Al-Qaeda had been less straightforward than its relationship with Hezbollah or Hamas. In December 1995 Mustafa Hamid, an Egyptian linked with Al Qaeda attempted to arrange a meeting between Bin Laden and Iranian Intelligence officials to cooperate against the United States. The Iranians reportedly agreed and asked if Bin Laden would meet with them in Afghanistan. In 1996 Abdullah Nuri a leader of a Tajik militant group and an ally of Bin Laden urged that Iranian operatives meet with the leader of Al-Qaeda. The Iranian authorities wanted Bin Laden, who was in Jalalabad at the time, to meet them in Taloqan, but Bin Laden refused. It was thought that relations between Al Qaeda and Iran were strained due to Bin Laden's Al Qaeda being a primarily Sunni organization that was supported by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Iran had long disliked that Taliban and even sought to support the Russians and the Northern Alliance fighters in attempts to destroy the Taliban. Iran has arrested and extradited members of Al Qaeda to various other countries. Other members of Al Qaeda had been able to find security and safety within the country and were thought to be protected by members of the Iranian government. Iran's long borders, as well as the large number of Afghani refugees made it difficult to prevent Al Qaeda members from coming into the country.
The MOIS was also implicated in supporting militant groups fighting the US-led Coalition forces in Iraq. During the initial invasion the Iranians were said to have covertly supported the Coalition's attack against Saddam Hussein's regime, seeing an attempt to weaken their most immediate regional opponent. By 2004 the Iranians had switched their sides and were believed by American military forces and other observers to be actively using the Shia militias to push that nation towards civil war, as well as to prevent the United States from being able to work on reconstruction efforts. To do this they worked with Saddam loyalists and Shia militias. The two Shia militias which the Iranians worked the most with were Moqtada Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigade. At several points these two organizations were responsible for killing more Iraqi civilians than Sunni fighters or fighters coming in from other Sunni countries.
Fighters in these two groups were given supplies and training in assassination techniques, bomb making, intelligence gathering, and other skills. Reports that these groups had been provided with RPG-29s, armor piercing roadside bombs (Explosively Formed Penetrators or EFPs), guns, and triggering devices, led US military commanders to publically claim an Iranian connection. Iran was believed to have used the chaotic period following the US-led invasion to set up a very strong and expansive intelligence apparatus in Iraq. Agents were believed to have infiltrated Iraq's security agencies and intelligence cells in Baghdad, Basra, Karbala, Kirkuk, Kut, Najaf, as well as a listening post Southern Iraq. Some sources suggested that agents even went as far as to attempt to put individuals in the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Through these networks the MOIS was believed to have been attempting to gain information concerning American troop movements, American military operations, American weaponry, armor, bases and the activities of the Delta Force. The MOIS also attempted to discover any possible Mossad activity within Kurdistan.
Along with supporting attacks against Coalition forces in Iraq and providing insurgents with weaponry, the United States Government accused former US ally Ahmed Chalabi and his Intelligence Chief Aris Karim Habib of passing classified intelligence to the MOIS 2004. The American Government even claimed that Habib had been in the employment of Iran's intelligence community for several years. The Iranian government admitted having being in frequent contact with Chalabi, but Tehran denied that they received American intelligence from him. The exact content of the information that was reportedly passed to Iranian intelligence was not known, but was thought to concern information on American operations in Iraq, such as communications, plans of the CPA and troop movements. The Jordanian government also provided information to Washington claiming that Chalabi had been funneling American intelligence to Iran. Ahmed Chalabi argued that the CIA was attempting to sully his name or that the charges came as a result of in-fighting between the CIA and the State Department. Some even argued that the faulty intelligence concerning Iraq's weapons of mass destruction production program that Chalabi provided to US authorities might have been presented to him by Iranian intelligence members.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury on 16 February 2012 announced the designation of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), Iran's primary intelligence organization, for its support to terrorist groups as well as its central role in perpetrating human rights abuses against the citizens of Iran and its role in supporting the Syrian regime as it continues to commit human rights abuses against the people of Syria.
These actions were taken in consultation with the Department of State and other agencies, as applicable, pursuant to Executive Orders (E.O.) 13224, 13553 and 13572, which target terrorists and their supporters and those responsible for human rights abuses in Iran and Syria, respectively. Any property or property interests in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons in which the MOIS has an interest are blocked, and U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in transactions with it. As a result of today’s action all members of the MOIS are also ineligible to receive visas from the Department of State.
“Today we have designated the MOIS for abusing the basic human rights of Iranian citizens and exporting its vicious practices to support the Syrian regime’s abhorrent crackdown on its own population,” said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen. “In addition, we are designating the MOIS for its support to terrorist groups, including al Qa’ida, al Qa’ida in Iraq, Hizballah and HAMAS, again exposing the extent of Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism as a matter of Iranian state policy.”
The U.S. Department of the Treasury designated MOIS pursuant to E.O. 13224 (Terrorism) for its support to Hizballah, HAMAS and al Qa’ida. MOIS provides financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to Hizballah, a terrorist organization designated under E.O. 13224. MOIS has participated in multiple joint projects with Hizballah in computer hacking. MOIS provides financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to HAMAS, a terrorist group also designated under E.O. 13224. MOIS has facilitated the movement of al Qa’ida operatives in Iran and provided them with documents, identification cards, and passports. MOIS also provided money and weapons to al Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI), a terrorist group designated under E.O. 13224, and negotiated prisoner releases of AQI operatives.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury also designated MOIS pursuant to E.O. 13572 (Syria Human Rights Abuses) for providing support to the Syrian regime’s violent repression of dissent in Syria. MOIS, like the IRGC-QF, and the Iranian LEF, has provided financial, material, or technological support to the Syrian GID, whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to E.O. 13572. MOIS has provided substantial technical assistance to the Syrian GID for the purpose of assisting the Syrian regime in its violent crackdown on protesters.
The U.S. Departments of the Treasury and State also imposed sanctions against MOIS pursuant to E.O. 13553 (Iran Human Rights Abuses) for being responsible for or complicit in the commission of serious human rights abuses against the Iranian people since June 12, 2009. MOIS agents are responsible for the beatings, sexual abuse, prolonged interrogations, and coerced confessions of prisoners, particularly political prisoners, which occurred in Ward 209 of Evin Prison, which is controlled by MOIS, following the June 2009 elections in Iran.
More generally, MOIS is known to have used abhorrent methods of interrogation such as mock executions and forms of sexual violence. MOIS agents have also arrested and detained members of the Bahai religion without charges.
The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), a New York-based non-profit organization, noted in March 2017 that since late 2016/early 2017, the MOI has “increasingly targeted civil and women’s rights advocates, journalists, dual nationals, ethnic and religious minorities, environmentalists, the administrators of social media pages, and relatives of protesters killed during the state’s crackdown on peaceful protestors following the disputed 2009 presidential election ... The number of arrests carried out by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry, operating under the control of President Hassan Rouhani, increased in the last few months leading up to Iran’s May 2017 presidential election. […] The increasing arrests may be the result of a growing rivalry between the Intelligence Ministry and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Intelligence Organization, which has also stepped up its arrests.”
The CHRI noted that “[t]owards the end of February 2017, Iranian media reports began hinting at the growing rivalry between the Intelligence Ministry and the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization”, which is referred to as being “[t]he most important intelligence agency operating in parallel with the Intelligence Ministry“. The same article goes on to list three possible reasons why the MOI has been arresting more activists and dissidents ahead of the presidential elections of May 2017:
“First, a close examination of the decisions made by the National Intelligence Counci during the Rouhani era indicates that some of them could have resulted from recommendations by the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization or the prosecutor general as a representative of the judicial branch. In other words, the Rouhani administration could be bending to the wishes of hardliners.
Second, hardline core members of the Intelligence Ministry may be initiating the arrests against the wishes of Alavi and Rouhani, both of whom promoted moderate agendas at the beginning of the president’s first term. Rouhani and his intelligence minister may be initiating more arrests to prevent the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization from becoming more powerful and to reduce its dominating role in carrying out widespread arrests of political and civil rights activists.”
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