Secrecy News

An Open Source Look at Iran’s Intelligence Ministry

Updated below

Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security is believed to employ more than 30,000 intelligence officers and support personnel, making it “one of the largest and most active intelligence agencies in the Middle East,” according to a new report from the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress.

“The Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) uses all means at its disposal to protect the Islamic Revolution of Iran, utilizing such methods as infiltrating internal opposition groups, monitoring domestic threats and expatriate dissent, arresting alleged spies and dissidents, exposing conspiracies deemed threatening, and maintaining liaison with other foreign intelligence agencies as well as with organizations that protect the Islamic Republic’s interests around the world,” the report states.

See “Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security: A Profile,” December 2012.

The report was first obtained and reported by Bill Gertz in “Iran Spy Network 30,000 Strong,” Washington Free Beacon, January 3, 2013.

The new report provides an informative account of the Ministry’s history, organizational structure, and recruitment practices, as far as these can be discerned from published sources.

“The information in this report was collected mainly from Farsi and English journals, online news Web sites, and Iranian blogs,” the Preface states.  (Some older information from the FAS web site is cited at a couple of points.)

“Needless to say, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security does not publish information about its activities on Iranian Web sites. Consequently, in the absence of official government information, this report occasionally relies on social media, in particular blogs, as a source of information more than might ordinarily be warranted. The reliability of blog-based information may be questionable at times, but it seems prudent to evaluate and present it in the absence of alternatives.”

“Every minister of intelligence must hold a degree in ijtihad (the ability to interpret Islamic sources such as the Quran and the words of the Prophet and imams) from a religious school, abstain from membership in any political party or group, have a reputation for personal integrity, and possess a strong political and management background,” the report says.

A newly disclosed U.S. Army intelligence document explains how to determine whether weapons that were captured in Iraq were manufactured in Iran.

Iranian weapons systems “have several distinctive visual identification markings that identify their source” which are described in the Army publication.  The document was partially declassified last month and was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Matthew Schroeder of the FAS Arms Sales Monitoring Project.

See “Identifying Small Arms and RPGs Produced in Iran,” U.S. Army National Ground Intelligence Center, 2004.

Update (1/15/13): The assertion in the Library of Congress report that Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security employs on the order of 30,000 personnel could not be independently corroborated, and the LOC/FRD report has been harshly criticized by some area experts. See How a Government Report Spread a Questionable Claim About Iran by Justin Elliott, ProPublica, January 14, 2013.

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