Wall Street Journal: Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard has sidelined the country's intelligence ministry, forming a new organization that reports directly to the Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Wall Street Journal
Intelligence Agency Replaced by New Organization Reporting to Khamenei; Fallout From Massive Street Protests Over Election
By MARC CHAMPION
BRUSSELS — Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard has sidelined the country's intelligence ministry, forming a new organization that reports directly to the Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Interviews with Iranian analysts and opposition figures, along with recent government announcements, depict a shift under way since Iran's clerical regime was shaken by the massive street protests that followed disputed presidential elections in June.
Iranian plainclothes security clashed with antigovernment demonstrators Nov. 4; ongoing protests spurred a move to remake Iran's intelligence service.
The loyalty of the intelligence and security services became a major concern for hard-liners running the regime, analysts say. The changes could have the effect of formalizing the tough and sometimes brutal approach taken with dissidents and protesters in the months since the election.
Some of the intelligence takeover has been publicized. Ayatollah Khamenei announced recently that the Revolutionary Guard's small existing intelligence unit would be elevated to become a much larger official organization. State media named Hassan Taeb, previously commander of the Basij volunteer paramilitary organization, as the head of the new intelligence operation.
On Wednesday, the Iranian opposition group responsible for exposing much of Iran's controversial nuclear-fuel program claimed in an interview that seven different agencies have now been subordinated to Mr. Taeb's group, the Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, gutting the intelligence ministry of power.
Maryam Rajavi, leader of the National Council for Resistance in Iran, said in an interview at the European Parliament in Brussels that the seven agencies include the old intelligence directorate of the Revolutionary Guard, as well as its cyberdefense unit; the intelligence directorate of the Basij; parts of the now-gutted intelligence ministry; Mr. Khamenei's own intelligence unit, known as Office 101; and the plainclothes units and Tehran Revolutionary Guard headquarters tasked with controlling street protests in the capital.
"Khamenei wants to have absolute control," said Ms. Rajavi, saying that the NCRI's network of supporters in Iran has established that Mr. Taeb reports directly to Mr. Khamenei's chief of staff, Ali Asghar Hejazi. That would consolidate power in the hands of Mr. Khamenei and his loyalists at a time when deep fissures have emerged within the regime over his handling of the elections.
Officials of the new intelligence agency couldn't be reached for comment.
It isn't possible to verify Ms. Rajavi's specific claims. The NCRI is listed in the U.S. as a terrorist organization, though not in Europe. While Iran experts dismiss the group's claim that it has widespread support inside Iran, the NCRI was the first to expose Iran's covert nuclear-fuel program in 2002. The NCRI also warned of a second nuclear-fuel facility at Qom in 2005, a claim confirmed recently by the U.S. and Tehran.
The Revolutionary Guard is already a military, economic and political powerhouse in Iran. It controls the country's long-range missile program, as well as multiple business enterprises, including lucrative oil and gas projects. On Wednesday, the Guard's engineering unit won the tender for a $2.5 billion rail link to the south-eastern port of Chabahar, Reuters reported. Numerous former Guard officers are in top political posts, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In an October speech, Revolutionary Guard commander Maj. Gen. Mohamad Ali Jafari said the Guard was changing to meet the demands of the times. "Our enemy has changed face. We face the threat of a soft overthrow instead of military invasion, so the Guard must also transform accordingly."
Created in 1979 as an elite military force, the Revolutionary Guard was the chief intelligence apparatus for several years. But in 1984, under pressure from the parliament, Iran's leaders agreed to create a new ministry of information. "The two organizations have always had overlapping responsibility along with rivalry and an unhealthy competition," said Ali Alfoneh, an expert on the Guard and a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Almost immediately after the June 12 election unrest began, signs surfaced of the Guard taking control of security and intelligence. It unleashed the Basij into the streets to crack down on opposition supporters and took the lead in making arrests.
High-profile political detainees are held in a ward inside Tehran's Evin prison known as "2A" controlled and operated by the Guard. Lawyers have said the ward is off-limits to prison guards, the judiciary and even the intelligence ministry.
Journalists working in Iran during the election protests were warned by the information ministry that the Revolutionary Guard had taken over security. If arrested, reporters were told their contacts at the intelligence ministry wouldn't be able to locate them or help release them. "The Guards are in complete control of the country, they are running the show," said Iranian dissident journalist Roozbeh MirEbrahimi.