By Luke Baker
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has created a powerful new intelligence organization to try to quell any further public unrest following June’s disputed election, an exiled Iranian opposition group said on Thursday.
The new organization, responsible for intelligence and security, is an off-shoot of the Revolutionary Guards and will report directly to the supreme leader’s office, according to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a Paris-based group that has followers in Europe and claims many in Iran.
The shift is the largest overhaul of the intelligence structure since 1989, when Iran’s first Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini died, the NCRI believes, and reflects the depth of the leadership’s concern about post-election protests.
“Although the mullahs have made public declarations about the new organization, they have nonetheless concealed its real dimension and true nature,” Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the NCRI, told a news conference in Brussels.
“Its command structure is linked directly to Khamenei. Its formation marks an unprecedented transformation for the regime’s intelligence and suppressive apparatus,” she said, saying the information had come from sources in Iran.
Iranian officials have yet to comment on reports of a revamped intelligence organization.
Iranian media reported last month that the former head of the Basij militia, Hossein Taeb, had been transferred to the Guards. Ebtekar newspaper said Taeb had had previous experience in intelligence but did not disclose his new position.
The organization, called the Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, took shape in June, soon after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected in a vote his opponents said was rigged, a charge the authorities reject. Rajavi said work on the new body had been completed last month.
Alireza Nader, an international affairs analyst at the RAND Corporation who specializes in Iran, said he believed the reports about a reinforced intelligence service were true, but questioned whether Khamenei was behind the move.
“The Revolutionary Guards and security forces are being reorganized not only to provide ultimate control for Khamenei, but for the guards specifically,” he said.
“I question whether Khamenei is the overall or major driver of these changes. The Revolutionary Guards appear to answer to no one.”
The guards were instrumental in violent crackdowns against protests after the June election, when opposition supporters swept onto the streets of Tehran and elsewhere.
Rajavi said the new agency combines seven intelligence and security forces, including Khamenei’s own intelligence body, known as Department 101, a cybersecurity unit, plainclothes agents, the Basij volunteer force and paramilitary police units.
While the NCRI is classified as a terrorist organization in the United States, it operates freely in Europe and says it has a widespread underground following in Iran.
Its actual popularity is hard to gauge — analysts say it is limited because of its collaboration with Iraq during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war — but it was the first group to expose Iran’s covert nuclear program in 2002.
Rajavi said rather than the new intelligence structure reflecting divisions between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, it showed Khamenei felt security and intelligence needed to be controlled from the very top if it was to be effective.
“These changes take place in the context of a weakened and crisis-ridden regime,” she said. “These changes will render the regime even more militarized under Khamenei’s hegemony.”