Iranians may have used female spy to ‘honey-trap’ dissident living in France

Ruhollah ZamThe Iranian government may have used a female intelligence officer to lure a leading Iranian dissident from his home in France to Iraq, where he was abducted by Iranian security forces and secretly transported to Iran. Iranian authorities announced the arrest of Ruhollah Zam on October 15. On that day, Iranian state television aired a video showing a blindfolded Zam surrounded by officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Zam, 46, was a prominent online voice of dissent during the 2009 Green Movement, an Iranian youth-based reform campaign whose leaders called for the toppling of the government in Tehran. He joined other young Iranians in launching AmadNews, a website whose stated purpose was “spreading awareness and seeking justice” in Iran. Soon after its emergence, AmadNews became the online voice of the Green Movement. Following a brief period of detention in 2009, Zam fled Iran and settled in France, from where he continued his online work through AmadNews and its successor, a website and Telegram channel called Seda-ye Mardom (Voice of the People).

Earlier this month, the Iranian government announced that Zam had been captured in a “complicated intelligence operation” that used “modern intelligence methods and innovative tactics” to lure Zam out of France and into the hands of the IRGC. But it did not provide further information about the method that was used to convince Zam to travel to Iraq, whose government is closely aligned with Iran’s. A few days ago, however, the London-based newspaper The Times claimed that the IRGC used a woman to gain Zam’s trust and lure him to Iraq.

Citing exiled Iranian activists that work closely with Zam, the British newspaper said that the woman entered his life nearly two years ago, thus pointing to a lengthy intelligence operation by the IRGC. Over time, she won his trust and eventually convinced him to travel to Jordan on October 11, and from there to Baghdad, Iraq, on October 12. The reason for his trip was that, allegedly, the woman convinced him that Ali al-Sistani, one of the most prominent Shiite clerics in Iraq, had agreed to fund Zam’s online activities. However, the cleric needed to confer with the exiled dissident in person before agreeing to fund his work, according to the woman. It is not known whether Zam and the unnamed woman were romantically involved.

The Times also alleged that Zam’s abduction and arrest was met with “at least tacit approval” by the French intelligence services. The latter now expect that two French academics, who have remained imprisoned in Iran for alleged espionage activities for over a year, will be released as part of a swap with Zam.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 October 2019 | Permalink

Iran abducts France-based dissident in ‘complex intelligence operation’

Ruhollah ZamIranian authorities have announced the capture of a Paris-based Iranian dissident, who was reportedly lured out of France and then abducted by Iranian agents in a third country. The kidnapped dissident is Ruhollah Zam, 46, son of  Mohammad-Ali Zam, a well-known reformist cleric who served in top Iranian government posts after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But in 2009 the younger Zam distanced himself from this father and sided with the so-called Green Movement, whose leaders called for the toppling of the government in Tehran. Around that time, Zam was part of a group of Internet-savvy Iranians who launched AmadNews. The website’s stated purpose was “spreading awareness and seeking justice” in Iran, and it soon became the online voice of the Green Movement.

Zam was promptly arrested and jailed for urging Iranian protesters to topple the government. He was eventually released thanks to his father’s status and reputation. He quickly fled Iran and settled in France, from where he continued his online work through AmadNews and its successor, a website and Telegram channel called Seda-ye Mardom (Voice of the People). The Iranian government accuses Zam of inciting violence against the state and claim that his online agitation is funded by the intelligence services of countries like France, Israel and the United States.

On October 15, Iran’s state-owned media network aired a video showing a bound and blindfolded Zam surrounded by armed officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The Iranian government announced that Zam had been captured following a “complicated intelligence operation” using “modern intelligence methods and innovative tactics” to lure Zam out of France and into the hands of the IRGC. It eventually emerged that Zam had flown from France to Jordan on October 11, and from there to Baghdad, Iraq, on October 12. He appeared to be under the impression that he would travel to the Iraqi city of Najaf in order to meet Ali al-Sistani, arguably the most senior Shiite cleric in Iraq.

In the same video, Zam is shown sitting in an armchair next to an Iranian flag, making a statement. He calmly looks at the camera and says that he “fully regrets” his actions directed against Iran. He then says that he made the mistake of entrusting his security to the intelligence services of France. Finally, he warns other dissidents who are involved in agitation against the Iranian state to not trust foreign governments. He names the latter as “the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey”. Iranian officials have not responded to questions about Zam’s current status and fate.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 October 2019 | Permalink

Mossad chief comments on policy of assassinations in rare interview

Yossi CohenYossi Cohen, the chief of the Mossad —Israel’s main external intelligence agency— said he has authorized “more than a few” assassinations during his tenure and warned that more may be on the way. Cohen, 57, who took command of the Mossad in 2016, spoke last week to Mishpacha, a magazine aimed at ultra-orthodox Jews. His comments were covered widely by Israeli media over the weekend.

Cohen was asked to respond to recent allegations made by the Iranian government that Israel worked with “Arab countries” to assassinate General Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force, an elite paramilitary unit in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Suleimani claimed that several individuals were arrested last month in connection with the alleged plot. He also said that Israel tried to kill him and Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah group, in 2006.

The head of the Mossad told Mishpacha that Suleimani had not “necessarily committed the mistake yet that would place him on the prestigious list of Mossad’s assassination targets”. However, “he knows very well that his assassination is not impossible” because “the infrastructure he built presents a serious challenge for Israel”, said Cohen. Regarding Nasrallah, Cohen said that the Hezbollah strongman “knows we have the option of eliminating him”. When asked why the Mossad had not exercised that option, Cohen said he preferred not to answer.

In regards to Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, Cohen admitted that the Mossad has been behind a string of assassinations of Hamas officials around the world in recent years. “If there is one target that we eliminate without hesitation, it is Hamas officials abroad. [These range] from local agents to those who manage acquisitions of weapons pointed towards Israel”, said Cohen. He added that there had been “more than a few assassinations” in recent years, but not all were admitted to by Hamas. “The enemy has changed tactics. It is not quick to attribute assassination to us, for its own reasons”, said the Mossad chief.

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

US offensive cyber campaign disabled Iran’s strike capabilities, say sources

IRGC IranThe Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is still recovering from the damage it suffered by an offensive American cyber campaign against it that took place in June, according to sources. The attack allegedly degraded the IRGC’s ability to strike at oil tankers and other ships in the Persian Gulf. The New York Times said on Thursday that the cyber attack took place on June 20, hours after United States President Donald Trump called off airstrikes on Iran. The White House had considered launching the airstrikes in retaliation against the downing of an American surveillance drone by Iranian forces and their alleged use of limpet mines against commercial oil tankers by the IRGC the previous month.

The paper did not reveal details of the cyber campaign, but said it did not target any part of Iran’s missile or other defense programs. Its mission was to degrade the covert strike capabilities of the IRGC, which operates in a paramilitary capacity and is not supervised by the military. Washington blamed the IRGC for the limpet mine attacks against oil tankers, and expressed concerns that they would continue. The cyber attack corrupted the computer databases and communications networks that the IRGC uses to co-ordinate covert operations at sea, and resulted in the temporary cessation of IRGC attacks on oil tankers, said The Times.

The June 20 cyber attacks were not meant to be permanent but their effects have endured much longer than was expected, according to the paper. It cited claims by anonymous senior American officials that the IRGC is “still trying to repair critical communications systems and has not recovered the data lost in the attack”. It is also worth noting that, according to US sources, Iran did not escalate its own cyber attacks against Western targets in retaliation to the American cyber campaign against the IRGC.

However, according to The Times, some American officials have expressed doubts about the wisdom and long-term impact of the cyber operation. They claim that the cyber attack gave the Iranians the opportunity to collect valuable information about US cyber capabilities. It also allowed them to detect and fix their vulnerabilities so that they are now better able to defend against future cyber attacks. Lastly, the attacks neutralized IRGC communications networks, which the US had penetrated and was collecting vital intelligence from, they argue.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 August 2019 | Permalink

Mossad chief sees historic shift of alliances as Arab states side with Israel against Iran

Yossi CohenIn a rare public appearance, the director of the Mossad spy agency said that the Middle East is witnessing a historic shift of alliances as many Arab states are forming tacit pacts with Israel against Iran and its proxies. Yosef “Yossi” Cohen spoke on Monday morning at the Herzliya Conference, a security-themed event organized by the Interdisciplinary Center, a university in Herzliya, just north of Tel Aviv.

In his 40-minute speech Cohen said that the Mossad had identified the present time as “a rare opportunity —perhaps the first in the history of the Middle East— to reach a regional understanding that would lead to an inclusive regional peace agreement” between Israel and most of the Arab states. He justified his reasoning by claiming that many Arab states are siding with Israel to pursue “common interests [such as] the fight against rivals like Iran and jihadist terrorism”. This historic shift in alliances is happening as Israel is enjoying “close relations with the White House” and keeping open “channels of communication with the Kremlin”, said the spy chief. These factors “combine to create what might be a one-time window of opportunity” for Israel to form a strategic alliance with the majority of its Arab neighbors, said Cohen.

The Mossad chief went on to allege that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were behind the recent bombings of commercial oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. He told the conference that he could “say with certainty that Iran was behind these attacks” and that they were “approved by the Iranian leadership and carried out by the [IRGC]”. Cohen cited “the best sources of Israeli and Western intelligence” but did not provide specific evidence to support his allegation, which Iran denies. Later in his speech, Cohen said that the IRGC and Iranian intelligence agencies had carried out assassinations throughout Europe and had discussed further plans to attack Jewish and Israeli targets in Denmark, Azerbaijan and the North America. “And that is only the tip of the iceberg”, said Cohen, and went on to claim that the IRGC had set up a network of 300 agents in the African continent and was heavily present in Syria, mainly through its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah.

At the conclusion of his speech, the Mossad chief repeated prior warnings by Israeli officials that the Jewish state would never allow the development of an Iranian nuclear arsenal. “Mossad and the State of Israel have not signed the nuclear deal and will do all to ensure Iran will never possess a nuclear arsenal”, said Cohen.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 July 2019 | Permalink

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 Islamic 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

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 Islamic 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