Iran Intelligence Essay

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Iran Intelligence

In many ways Iran has learned to do what other developed nations have done to protect their interests: try to specialize. This is exactly what it has done in regards to its intelligence and war capabilities. It now has a diverse military and populous system that it at least publicly presents as being able to undertake very distinct protection and defense tasks both inside and outside of the country. Of course, being involved in nearly constant disputes with powerful forces such as the United State and Israel has also required it turn to guerilla type tactics and strategies that enable it to add other capabilities against modern weapons and tools.

The majority of its intelligence collection capabilities seem to be center on three specific units.[footnoteRef:1] They are the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the Quds (or Jerusalem) forces and the Basij, which is essentially a popular volunteer contingent. The IRGC is the main power force. It is the direct military arm of Iran's government, having evolved into this since 1979 when Iran found itself in numerous fights with the U.S., against Iraq, and with internal movements and regional opponents. As its leadership changed and evolved, the IRGC took on more responsibility and authority and it is now said to be the primary offensive and defensive front with hands-on weapons control. This is the organization that maintains official responsibility for conventional and non-conventional stockpiles of whatever armaments the nation has. [1 A.H. Cordesman, Iran's Revolutionary Guards, the Al Quds Force and Other Intelligence and Paramilitary Forces. Working Draft. Center for Strategic and International Studies: Washington, D.C., 2007. 4]

Like other nations, however, Iran's specialization of services has developed to enable it to use asymmetrical strategies.[footnoteRef:2] The Quds have essentially taken on the role of multi-national counterintelligence activities with a large focus on working against Israeli moves, often by using networks for weapons purchasing and distribution. [2: Ibid., 6.]

The Basij, on the other hand, have evolved to focus the populous forces on building and maintaining internal forces of intelligence gathering. It is thought that they rely on young people, the elderly and even professional groups and associations. In concentrating on these troops, the Basij clearly help to retain internal control for the government, but they also model more contemporary tactics as can be detected in the ways in which the Obama administration has redirected its infiltration methodologies. While the IRGC itself is thought to be behind high-technology strategies to circumvent U.S. monitoring capabilities (such as by burying high-speed transmission cabling), it is the Basij who have friendships and alliances with NGOs and other community organizers. Recent media reports indicate that these approaches have involved influential Iranian and American HIV / AIDS, fashion and even professional and business people that the U.S. has been using as sources of intelligence.[footnoteRef:3] [3: Thomas Erdbrink. Iranian Official Warns U.S. Not to Spy on His Country: Comments Describe a 'Full Fledged Intelligence War'Between U.S., Iran. Washington Post Foreign Services. January 19, 2009. ]

There are several key strengths associated with these three sectors that Iran has built to increase the likelihood that it could (yet again) be successful if a military conflict with the U.S., Israel or another regional power occurs. While the strengths are identifiable, they also have added potential because each is made to appear even more important because of the country's propaganda tactics and its reliance on military bravado. Sources vary greatly on whether there are thousands of hundreds of thousands of troops and informal Basij or other paramilitary participants, but they seldom disagree that Iran pretends it has many to fear. It doesn't hurt this effort that Iran can count on the U.S. And Israel building their relationship on a presumption that Iran is a true and serious threat that can never be taken lightly.[footnoteRef:4] [4 A.H. Cordesman, and M. Kleiber. Iran's Military Forces and Warfighting Capabilities: The threat in the Northern Gulf. Center for Strategic and International Studies: Washington, D.C. 2007. 24]

Strength can be seen in Iran's focus on using small contingents or "mosaic" corps that can infiltrate local settings.[footnoteRef:5] Likely developed for internal control purposes, these groups of three or four people are thought to be able to establish neighborhood credibility where they are prepared to fight with the support of the populous if Iran is attacked or threatened. It is often suggest that these and other guerilla tactics are what has made it possible for Iran and Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries to fend off much larger combatant nations, just as may be happening now. These kinds of camouflage methods are still thought to be good evasion tactics against highly superior modern imaging and tracking technologies. [5: A. Cordesman, Iran's Revolutionary Guards. 2006. 5.]

A final area of importance to Iran is the fact that it has effective control over water and industrial resources that are critical for its own needs and for helping other nations that it counts as friends.[footnoteRef:6] Though its naval and air forces are relatively small, these forces have some degree of presumed effectiveness. They can be tools of piracy or threats against transportation, shipping and business activities in the waters of the region. Iran is one of the few countries in the area with a solid industrial base, though most of this is connected to the making of or supplying resources for energy and weapons manufacturing. It is thought by the U.S. intelligence network that the IRGC controls this element of economic vitality through Mafia-like practices. This capability almost literally enables its most powerful information gathering capacities to "bleed" across sectors to give Iran more authenticity than it might otherwise deserve. [6: E. Blanche, Iran's Golden Arms Network. Current Affairs. The Middle East. March 2010. ]

Iran's weaknesses are also tied to some of its strengths. The bravado they utilize is being questioned more now following the major errors the U.S. made in using weapons of mass destruction and biological threats as a justification for invading Iraq. This has called into question the true size of the country's personnel and armament contingents. Recent assessments seem to suggest than it suggests. Others have noted that factionalism inside the workings of the Iranian government suggests it is not always clear who is in charge of which element of military or intelligence gathering. In a piece on this topic, Samii quotes from a report by a noted journalist about the experiences that occurred in 2002 with the country's Law Enforcement Forces and its Public Establishments Office, which oversees cultural conformity.[footnoteRef:7] Journalists were being harshly questioned about their ties to past Iranian regimes. But it is not supposed to be this arm of government that is thought to be responsible for these kinds of activities, which has made some wonder about whether other cultural forces are trying to exercise influence. It could be seen that this type of instability does not sit well in the face of populous rebellions in other places like Egypt where a strong ruler was overturned because of public dissent. [7 A.W. Samii, Factionalism in Iran's Domestic Security Forces. Middle East Intelligence Bureau. February 2002. Vol. 4. No. 2.]

If Iran found itself in some type of direct conflict now with the U.S. Or Israel today it is likely that its many positive layers would enable it to be successful again.[footnoteRef:8] A key indicator of this appears to be the many ways that Iran and its counterintelligence tentacles have grown their weapons alliances to ready the region against U.S. And Israeli influences. The Quds have long and established ties with the many factions like Hezbollah and the Palestinians. And these associations come from many formal ambassadorial connections. Says Coredesman in his working draft on these issues, "The Quds troops are divided into specific groups or 'corps' for each country or area…[continue]

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