Iran says it dismantled a ‘complicated’ CIA cyber operation in several countries

Ali ShamkhaniA senior Iranian security official said on Monday that Tehran had dismantled “one of the most complicated” espionage operations by the United States Central Intelligence Agency, leading to “arrests and confessions” of suspects in several countries. The announcement was made by Ali Shamkhani (pictured), secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, the Islamic Republic’s highest security decision-making body, which is chaired by the country’s president.

Speaking in Tehran to reporters from pro-government news agencies, including IRIB and Fars News, Shamkhani said that Iran had “exposed” what he described as a CIA-run cyber espionage network, which carried out “operations in different countries”. He said the alleged espionage network had been detected by Iranian counterintelligence agencies “some time ago and was dismantled”. Iran’s counterintelligence actions had led to the “identification and arrest of CIA intelligence agents”, said Shamkhani, many of whom had been arrested “in different countries”. The arrests occurred after Iran “shared the information about the exposed network with our allies”, said Shamkhani, which led to the “disclosure and dismantling of a network of CIA officers” as well as the “detention and punishment of several spies”. Shamkhani did not specify the number of people arrested, or in which countries, but appeared to refer to both CIA personnel and local assets. He concluded his remarks by saying that Iran was building a regional alliance “to counter American espionage”. He also urged Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence to release “videos and confessions” relating to the arrests.

Meanwhile, Iranian anti-government groups based abroad alleged on Monday that a senior official in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps was arrested in Tehran for allegedly working for Israel. The unidentified individual is believed to have helped Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency gain access to the archive of the Iranian nuclear program in 2018, and steal an unspecified number of classified documents. It is not known whether this alleged arrest is connected with Shamkhani’s announcement on Monday.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 June 2019 | Permalink

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Iran abruptly replaces head of Revolutionary Guard Corps —no reason given

Hossein SalamiAuthorities in Tehran revealed on Sunday the sudden replacement of the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The unexpected move was announced by pro-government media, but no explanation was given. Since 2007, the IRGC has been led by Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, 61, a conservative military commander who is widely believed to have consolidated the IRGC’s role within Iran’s power structure. Under his leadership, the IRGC has come to be seen as the staunchest defender of the principles of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Many Western observers describe the IRGC as a ‘praetorian guard’ whose members possess immense power and often wealth. Today the IRGC is a military force with a command structure that is distinct from that of Iran’s regular Armed Forces. It maintains its own army, navy and air force, has its own paramilitary and political protection units, and is in charge of Iran’s nuclear program.

But in a brief report aired on Sunday, Iranian state media announced that Jafari had stepped down from the leadership of the IRGC after 11 years at the helm. The report said that Jafari had been replaced by the IRGC’s deputy commander, Major General, Hossein Salami. Like Jafari, Salami, 59, is believed to be close to the Iranian regime’s hardliners; he is thus critical of the reformers who support President Hassan Rouhani —seen by most as the architect of the Iranian nuclear deal. Moreover, like Jafari, Salami is known for his asymmetrical warfare thinking, which the Iranians employed with considerable success in Iraq following the military invasion of the country by the United States in 2003. The same tactics were utilized by the IRGC in Lebanon during the 2006 conflict between Israel and Iranian ally Hezbollah.

Jafari’s surprise replacement came two weeks after Washington announced that it would designate the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization —a move that most observers saw as a clear move by the White House to undermine the Iranian government. Explaining the decision, US President Donald Trump said in a statement that the IRGC was the primary vehicle through which the government in Tehran “directed and implemented […] terrorism as a tool of statecraft”. Among other things, the new designation means that the US government is now able to bring criminal charges against any individual or organization that is found to have political or financial dealings with the IRGC.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 April 2019 | Permalink

FBI seeks arrest of US counterintelligence officer who defected to Iran

Monica WittAn American intelligence officer, who held the highest level of security clearance for over a decade, defected to Iran in 2012 and has been spying against the United States ever since, it was revealed yesterday. Monica Witt, 39, was a counterintelligence officer for the United States Air Force from 1997 until 2008, specializing in the Middle East. Throughout her career, she was deployed by the US military to the Middle East on several occasions, in order to carry out counterintelligence missions the details of which remain classified to this day.

According to the US government, one of these missions involved her attendance of an international conference organized by New Horizon Organization. The group is believed to operate as a public relations arm of the Quds Force —the intelligence and paramilitary wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, whose mission is to spread the ideals of the Islamic Revolution around the world. Witt’s mission was allegedly to monitor the conference proceedings and collect information on attendees. It was while attending that conference that, according to US government documents, Witt started to become attracted to the Iranian government’s world view. She left the US Air Force in 2008 and moved to Central Asia, initially teaching English in Afghanistan and later in Tajikistan. A year later, she vanished. She allegedly reemerged in Iran in 2013, where she appeared on several television programs in which she renounced United States policy on the Middle East and publicly espoused Shi’a Islam. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, soon after she defected to Iran, Witt used social media to identify and then compile lists of the whereabouts of several of her colleagues in US Air Force counterintelligence. She then gave this information to the Iranian intelligence services, which used it to launch a series of operations targeting current and former US intelligence personnel.

At a press conference held yesterday in Washington, DC, officials from the FBI, the Department of State and the Department of Treasury announced criminal charges against Witt and New Horizon Organization, which they accused of conducting espionage against the US. They also announced charges against employees of the Iranian-registered Net Peygard Samavat Company, which they said used Witt’s information to launch targeted information operations against American government personnel. Witt remains at large and is believed to reside in Iran.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 February 2019 | Permalink

Iran warns of repercussions as US intensifies campaign against Tehran

IRGC IranIranian military officials have warned of extracting “revenge from foreign intelligence services”, as Reuters reported that an aggressive campaign against Tehran has been launched by Washington. On Sunday, the Reuters news agency said that senior officials in the administration of US President Donald Trump had launched a concerted offensive “meant to foment unrest” in the Islamic Republic. Citing information from “more than half a dozen current and former officials”, Reuters said that the US offensive is directly supported by President Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his National Security Adviser John Bolton. Both officials are known for their aggressive stance against the Iranian government.

The campaign, said Reuters, is meant to “work in concert” with President Trump’s push to “economically throttle Iran”. The US leader announced a series of economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic and has intensified his critical statements against Tehran after May of this year, when Washington pulled out of the Iran nuclear agreement. Known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the international agreement was reached in 2015 between Iran and a group of nations known as the P5+1, namely the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. As part of the deal, Iran agreed to halt its nuclear weapons program in exchange for an end to economic sanctions by the West. But President Trump abandoned the agreement, saying it was a form of appeasing Tehran.

According to Reuters, Washington’s campaign involves the spreading of information that “paints Iranian leaders in a harsh light” and in some cases makes claims about Tehran that are “exaggerated”. For example, said Reuters, some social media posts by the US Department of State’s Farsi-language news service claim that Iran is close to al-Qaeda, despite the fact that Shiite Islam, which is Iran’s state religion, is viewed as a heresy by Sunni members of al-Qaeda. Other –perhaps more believable– accusations include claims that the leaders of Iran are wasting funds released by the JCPOA instead of using it for their people’s welfare, and that Tehran funds the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), arguably the most powerful branch of the Iranian Armed Forces, issued a warning on Sunday against “foreign intelligence services”. The spokesman, Brigadier General Ramezan Sharif, said Iran would take revenge on foreign spy services “who try to disrupt the security of Iran’s borders”. He was referring to an armed attack that took place on Saturday in Iran’s northwestern Marivan region, near the Iran-Iraq border. The attack concentrated on an Iranian military compound in the village of Dari and culminated with the bombing of an IRGC arms depot. According to Iranian media reports, the explosion killed 11 Iranian border guards. Reuters said it contacted the White House and the Department of State about the alleged campaign against Iran, but that both declined to comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 July 2018 | Permalink

Security firm says it shut down extensive Iranian cyber spy program

IRGC IranA security firm with headquarters in Israel and the United States says it detected and neutralized an extensive cyber espionage program with direct ties to the government of Iran. The firm, called Check Point Software, which has offices in Tel Aviv and California, says it dubbed the cyber espionage program ROCKET KITTEN. In a media statement published on its website on Monday, Check Point claims that the hacker group maintained a high-profile target list of 1,600 individuals. The list reportedly includes members of the Saudi royal family and government, American and European officials, North Atlantic Treaty Organization officers and nuclear scientists working for the government of Israel. The list is said to include even the names of spouses of senior military officials from numerous nations.

News agency Reuters quoted Check Point Software’s research group manager Shahar Tal, who said that his team was able to compromise the ROCKET KITTEN databases and acquire the list of espionage targets maintained by the group. Most targets were from Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States, he said, although countries like Turkey and Venezuela were also on the list. Tal told Reuters that the hackers had compromised servers in the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands, and that they were using these and other facilities in Europe to launch attacks on their unsuspecting targets. According to Check Point, the hacker group was under the command of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, a branch of the Iranian military that is ideologically committed to the defense of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Reuters said it contacted the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and Europol, but that both agencies refused comment, as did the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, an unnamed official representing the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, said that ROCKET KITTEN “is familiar to us and is being attended to”. The official declined to provide further details. Meanwhile, Check Point said it would issue a detailed report on the subject late on Monday.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 November 2015 | Permalink

Western intelligence points to new Syrian nuclear plant: report

Al-Qusayr, SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Western intelligence indicates that the government of Syria is in the process of constructing a new secret nuclear plant aimed at producing nuclear weapons. In the early hours of September 7, 2007, an air attack believed to have been carried out by Israel destroyed a mysterious facility deep in the Syro-Arabian Desert. The site, named al-Kibar, located 20 miles from Deir el-Zor in eastern Syria, is widely thought to have been a nuclear reactor under construction by Damascus. The Syrian government has never commented or protested about the incident. But in late 2008, the Israeli government told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Syria was once again “actively involved in plutonium production” and that Damascus had renewed its nuclear collaboration with North Korea, which was actively supplying Syria “with nuclear materials and research”. Now a report in leading German newsmagazine Der Spiegel claims that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had transported 8,000 fuel rods that had been destined for al-Kibar to a new location in the southwest of the country. The report, published on Saturday, cited information from “Western intelligence sources”, which it did not identify. The newsmagazine said it had seen intelligence reports containing satellite photographs and transcriptions of intercepted radio traffic, which left little doubt that the Syrian government was in the process of constructing a new nuclear reactor. The German-language publication said the plant is being constructed deep underground in a remote mountainous region near the small town of Al-Qusayr, located less than two miles from the northern Lebanese border. According to the report, construction on the al-Qusayr plant, which the Syrians appear to have codenamed “Zamzam”, began in 2009 under the watchful eye of Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah, which currently guards the plant with “elite units”. The site appears ideal, said Der Spiegel, as it is adjacent to significant supplies of water, and is connected to the energy grid through special access nodes. The newsmagazine said radio traffic intercepts include conversations between senior Syrian military officials and Ibrahim Othman, head of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission. The discussions seem to indicate that the construction project is being assisted by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The article points out that Western monitors are certain the technical aspects of the project are being led by North Korean experts, and that some of them are currently in Damascus. According to the IAEA, the Syrian government is in possession of approximately 50 tons of natural uranium, which, if enriched, could provide material for up to three nuclear bombs.

Iran says it foiled Mossad assassination of nuclear scientist

Yaqoub BaqeriBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A senior Iranian military official has claimed that Tehran foiled an attempt by Israeli spies to assassinate a scientist working for Iran’s nuclear program. In a report filed on Saturday, Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Colonel Yaqoub Baqeri saying that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) had managed to prevent Israel from killing the scientist “during the last two years”. Baqeri is deputy chief liaison officer in the air force division of the IRGC, a branch of Iran’s armed forces dedicated to protecting and furthering the goals of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Baqueri told Fars, which is known to have strong links with the IRGC, that Israel’s covert-action agency, the Mossad, had been “trying hard to assassinate an Iranian nuclear scientist”, but that the well-timed involvement of the IRGC had “thwarted the terrorist operation”. At least five Iranian nuclear scientists have been targeted by unknown assailants since 2007, when Ardeshire Hassanpour, who worked at Iran’s Isfahan nuclear facility, was found dead in his Tehran apartment, allegedly having suffocated in his sleep from fumes from a faulty gas pipe. Another Iranian nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, disappeared in 2009, while Masoud Ali Mohammadi, described by the Iranian government as a “dedicated revolutionary professor”, was killed in 2010 by a remotely controlled explosive device that had been planted at the entrance of his residence. Later that year, two near-simultaneous bomb attacks killed Majid Shahriari and injured Fereydoon Abbasi Davan, nuclear researchers and professors at the Shahid Beheshti University. The two were attacked in separate incidents by motorcyclists who targeted them during the morning rush hour in Tehran as they were driving to work. The assailants attached small bombs to the car surfaces of their targets and detonated them from a relatively safe distance before speeding away through heavy traffic. The Fars News Agency report also claimed that Iran’s intelligence agencies had uncovered secret training bases run by the Mossad and located “within the territories of one of Iran’s western neighbors”, in which teams of assassins were allegedly being “trained and assisted” by the Israelis. In 2012, Israel’s two leading intelligence correspondents, Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, claimed in their book Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, that the “decapitation program” against the Iranian nuclear effort was led by Israel with the expressed but passive endorsement of the United States.