Sunday, September 17, 2006

Iran’s VEVAK: Disinformation, Inc.

Professor Daniel M. Zucker, Global Politician:
For the past twenty-seven years, we in the West, especially in the United States, have been on the receiving end of a very, very sophisticated campaign of disinformation dished out by the Islamic Republic of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), or in Farsi "Vezarat-e Ettela at va Amniat-e Keshvar (VEVAK)."

VEVAK learned its methodology from the Soviet KGB and many of the Islamist revolutionaries who supported Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini actually studied at Moscow's Patrice Lumumba Friendship University, the Oxford of terrorism.

Documented Iranian alumni include the current Supreme Leader - the faqih - Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, under whose Velayat-e Faqih (Rule of the Islamic Jurisprudent) apparatus it has traditionally operated. Its current head is Cabinet Minister Hojatoleslam Gholam-Hussein Mohseni-Ezhei, a graduate of Qom's Haqqani School, noted for its extremist position advocating violence against enemies and strict clerical control of society and government. The Ministry is very well funded and its charge, like that of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps - the Pasdaran - is to guard the revolutionary Islamic Iranian regime at all costs and under all contingencies.

From the KGB playbook, VEVAK learned the art of disinformation. It's not so difficult to learn: tell the truth 80% of the time and lie 20%. Depending on how well a VEVAK agent wants to cover his/her tracks, the ratio may go up to 90/10, but it never drops below the 80/20 mark as such would risk suspicion and possible detection. The regime in Teheran has gone to great lengths to place its agents in locations around the world. Many of these operatives have been educated in the West, including the U.K. and the United States. Iranian government agencies such as embassies, consulates, Islamic cultural centers, and airline offices regularly provide cover for the work of VEVAK agents who dress well and are clean shaven, and move comfortably within our society. In this country, because of the severance of diplomatic relations, the principal site of VEVAK activities begins at the offices of Iran's Permanent Mission to the UN in New York.

Teheran has worked diligently to place its operatives in important think tanks and government agencies in the West. Some of its personnel have been recruited while in prison through torture or more often through bribery, or a combination of both. Others are Islamist revolutionaries that have been set up to look like dissidents - often having been arrested and imprisoned, but released for ⌠medical reasons. The clue to detecting the fake ⌠dissident is to read carefully what he/she writes, and to ask why this vocal ⌠dissident was released from prison when other real dissidents have not been released, indeed have been grievously tortured and executed. Other agents have been placed in this country for over twenty-five years to slowly go through the system and rise to positions of academic prominence due to their knowledge of Farsi and Shia Islam or Islamist fundamentalism.

One of the usual tactics of VEVAK is to co-opt academia to its purposes. Using various forms of bribery, academics are bought to defend the Islamic Republic or slander its enemies. Another method is to assign bright students to train for academic posts as specialists in Iranian or Middle East affairs. Once established, such individuals are often consulted by our government as it tries to get a better idea of how it should deal with Iran. These academics then are in a position to skew the information, suggesting the utility of extended dialogue and negotiation, or the danger and futility of confronting a strong Iran or its proxies such as Hizballah (Hezbollah). These academics serve to shield the regime from an aggressive American or Western policy, and thereby buy more time for the regime to attain its goals, especially in regards to its nuclear weaponry and missile programs.

MOIS likes to use the media, especially electronic media, to its advantage. One of VEVAK's favorite tricks is setting up web sites that look like they are opposition sites but which are actually controlled by the regime. These sites often will be multilingual, including Farsi, German, Arabic French, and English. Some are crafted carefully and are very subtle in how they skew their information (e.g., Iran-Interlink, set up and run by Massoud Khodabandeh and his wife Ann Singleton from Leeds, England); others are less subtle, simply providing the regime's point of view on facts and events in the news (e.g., or This latter group is aimed at the more gullible in our open society and unfortunately such a market exists. However, if one begins to do one's homework, asking careful questions, the material on these fake sites generally does not add up.

Let's examine a few examples of VEVAK's work in the United States. READ MORE

In late October, 2005, VEVAK sent three of its agents to Washington to stage a press event in which the principal Iranian resistance movement, the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MeK), was to be slandered. Veteran VEVAK agent Karim Haqi flew from Amsterdam to Canada where he was joined by VEVAK's Ottawa agents Amir-Hossein Kord Rostami and Mahin (Parvin-Mahrokh) Haji, and the three flew from Toronto to Washington. Fortunately the resistance had been tracking these three, informed the FBI of their presence in Washington, and when the three tried to hold a press conference, the resistance had people assigned to ask pointed questions of them so that they ended the interview prematurely and fled back to Canada.

Abolghasem Bayyenet is a member of the Iranian government. He serves as a trade expert for the Ministry of Commerce. But his background of study and service in the Foreign Ministry indicates that Bayyenet is more than just an economist or a suave and savvy businessman. In an article published in Global Politician on April 23, 2006, entitled Is Regime Change Possible in Iran?, Bayyenet leads his audience to think that he is a neutral observer, concerned lest the United States make an error in its assessment of Iran similar to the errors of intelligence and judgment that led to our 2003 invasion of Iraq, with its less than successful outcome. However, his carefully crafted bottom line is that the people of Iran are not going to support regime change and that hardliner President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad actually has achieved greater popularity than his predecessors because of his concern for the problems of the poor and his fight for economic and social justice. To the naive, Bayyenet makes Ahmadinejad sound positively saintly. Conveniently overlooked is the occurrence of over four thousand acts of protest, strikes, anti-regime rallies, riots, and even political assassinations by the people of Iran against the government in the year since Ahmadinejad assumed office. So too, the following facts are ignored: the sizeable flight of capital, the increase in unemployment, and the rising two-figure rate of inflation, all within this last year. Bayyenet is a regime apologist, and when one is familiar with the facts, his arguments ring very hollow. However, his English skills are excellent, and so the naОve might be beguiled by his commentary.

Mohsen Sazegara is VEVAK's reformed revolutionary. A student supporter of Khomeini before the 1979 revolution, Sazegara joined the ⌠imam on his return from exile and served in the government for a decade before supposedly growing disillusioned.

He formed several reformist newspapers but ran afoul of the hardliners in 2003 and was arrested and imprisoned by VEVAK. Following ⌠hunger strikes, Sazegara was released for health reasons and permitted to seek treatment abroad. Although critical of the government and particularly of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, Sazegara is yet more critical of opposition groups, leaving the impression that he favors internal regime change but sees no one to lead such a movement for the foreseeable future. His bottom line: no one is capable of doing what needs to be done, so we must bide our time. Very slick, but his shadow shows his likely remaining ties to the MOIS.

Trita Parsi is another individual that serves the purposes of VEVAK. Claiming to be an exiled dissident by way of years spent in Sweden, Dr. Parsi managed to serve as foreign affairs advisor to Ohio's Congressman Bob Ney before going on to Johns Hopkins University for a PhD in International Relations. Formerly the director of the American-Iranian Council, and now the president of the National Iranian-American Council, Trita Parsi's task is to convince the United States that it is a mistake to consider military options or even regime change as a means of dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat. Parsi criticizes the US support of Israel and consistently says that dialogue with Iran is the only way to solve the crisis. Parsi also bends the truth over Iranian acts of conciliation towards the US, attempting to make Teheran appear ⌠misunderstood by the current administration. Trita Parsi serves the regime's interests as a consistent advocate of a policy of appeasement. That seems to be a strange attitude for a dissident to hold.

Smooth as glass is Dr. Vali Nasr, aka Dr. Sayeed Vali Reza Nasr, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and the hottest commodity on the Iran commentators circuit today. Born in Iran, to the Iranian-American scholar Professor Sayeed Hossein Nasr with whom he has authored several classics on Shia doctrine and philosophy, Vali Nasr was reared in Scotland and the United States following the family's departure from Iran in 1979. Nasr's perpetual manta suggests that Iran and her Lebanese proxy Hizballah are too strong to oppose and so it is necessary for the United States and its allies to negotiate with both. In article after article, and repeated testimony before Congressional committees and the White House, Nasr beats the same drum: Iran is already too powerful for the U.S. to oppose because of its control of Iraq through the Shia militias and Lebanon through Hizballah; it would be better for this country to come to an accommodation with the current regime. It may be that Nasr has no connection to VEVAK, but it is curious as to why he never wavers from suggesting accommodation with a regime that caused his family's emigration from its homeland.

Unfortunately our intelligence system has been in shambles ever since a massive CIA foul-up in 1989 resulted in the destruction of our espionage network in Iran. On the other hand, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been busy since day one of its existence in planting its agents in strategic locations here and around the world. It is hoped that this brief essay sheds enough light on the subject that those who are charged with protecting our nation's security begin to take appropriate notice and action.

PS: Examination of the financial records, here and abroad, of the figures mentioned above, as well as telephone and internet logs might prove very interesting to the CIA, DIA, and FBI, as well as the Treasury Department, although most VEVAK operatives are very good at covering their tracks.

Professor Daniel M. Zucker is a Chairman of Americans for Democracy in the Middle-East.