Intelligence Organization of the IRGC

Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is an Iranian intelligence agency within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and part of Council for Intelligence Coordination

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Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is an Iranian intelligence agency within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and part of Council for Intelligence Coordination. The Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was established on Khamanei’s initiative in 2009.

According to Stratfor, it is as powerful as Ministry of Intelligence and possibly even more powerful than the other service. The agency appears to be more active at a domestic level while at an international level, the Quds Force is the key operational group. The agency also has a wide range of Basij informers. It has been described as a “more ideological counterpart” to the ministry of the Iranian government devoted to intelligence, (the Ministry of Intelligence and Security), which it “overshadows” and “often” overrules, according to the New York Times.

The Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has become a major intelligence apparatus of the Islamic Republic, having increased its influence and broadened its authorities. Iran’s intelligence apparatus, similar to other control and governance apparatuses in the Islamic Republic, is characterized by power plays, rivalries and redundancy. The Intelligence Organization of the IRGC, which answers to the supreme leader, operates alongside the Ministry of Intelligence, which was established in 1984 and answers to the president. The redundancy and overlap in the authorities of the Ministry of Intelligence and the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization have created disagreements and competition over prestige between the two bodies. In recent years, senior regime officials and officials within the two organizations have attempted to downplay the extent of disagreements between the organizations, and strove to present to domestic and foreign audience a visage of unity.

The IRGC’s Intelligence Organization, in its current form, was established in 2009. The Organization’s origin is in the Intelligence Unit of the IRGC, established shortly after the Islamic Revolution (1979). The Unit underwent several organizational and structural changes, culminating in the establishment of the Intelligence Organization. Since the late 1980s, and even more so in the late 1990s and in the first decade of the 21st century, the intelligence organ of the IRGC has gained power at the expense of the Ministry of Intelligence. The causes for the rise in the power of the IRGC’s intelligence include the blow suffered by the Ministry of Intelligence after the exposure of its involvement in the “chain murders” of Iranian intellectuals; the power struggles between the supreme leader and presidents Muhammad Khatami and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which reinforced the desire of the supreme leader to bolster the intelligence organ of the IRGC, as it is not subject to oversight of the government and the legislative branch; the 2009 Green Movement protests, which demonstrated the need for improved control of the top echelon of the regime, led by the supreme leader, over the means of repression; the waves of protests that erupted in recent years due to the intensifying economic crisis; and growing tensions between Iran and the United States and its allies since the withdrawal of the United States under the leadership of President Trump from the nuclear accord (JCPOA). The upgrade in the status of the Intelligence Organization and the expansion of its authorities is part of a general trend of the rise of the IRGC, which currently plays a significant role in Iran’s political system and economy.

The IRGC Intelligence Organisation (IRGC-IO) was created by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 1997 after the election of reformist President Mohammad Khatami and the presidency has no control over this institution. Amid the protests against the contested presidential election in 2009, Khamenei expanded the organization’s powers.

An April 2018 article by Radio Farda, the Persian-language broadcaster at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), notes that the IRGC-IO is “closely tied to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei” and “operates parallel to President Hassan Rouhani’s Intelligence Ministry” (Radio Farda, 22 April 2018). A November 2015 article of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) provides an historical overview of the IRGC Intelligence Organisation (IRGC-IO) [called “IRGC Intelligence Directorate” up to 2009, remark by ACCORD]:

“The IRGC-IO was established by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 1997 after the election of reformist president Mohammad Khatami as an alternative organization with functions that parallel the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). The IRGC-IO has largely taken over domestic security, though MOIS shares responsibilities for actively thwarting reformists and preventing internal unrest. Shortly after its establishment, the IRGC-IO appears to have been instrumental in suppressing the 1999 student uprisings. […]

“After the contested 2009 presidential elections, Khamenei directed a major reorganization that expanded the IRGC-IO’s intelligence and security powers. In July 2009, Khamenei appointed regime loyalist and close confidant Hossein Taeb, formerly MOIS deputy commander of counterintelligence (1989-1997) and commander of the paramilitary Basij (2008-2009), to head the IRGC-IO. Taeb had been Khamenei’s student in the early days of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and befriended Khamenei’s son during the Iran-Iraq War.” (WINEP, 25 November 2015)

Increasingly, Taeb became Khamenei’s enforcer given his direct access to and personal ties with the Supreme Leader. Under Taeb’s leadership, the IRGC-IO has arrested and interrogated thousands of Iranians accused of being part of a Western-fomented ‘velvet revolution’ to topple the Islamic Republic. The IRGC-IO used the threat of Western infiltration to justify broadening its interrogation and arrest powers, increasing its supervisory role over the media, and tightening regime control of cyberspace. As a senior MOIS official, Taeb developed a reputation as one of the regime’s most violent interrogators of counterrevolutionary and ‘seditionist’ elements.

A June 2015 article of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) (authored by Ali Alfoneh), states that Taeb was appointed head of the IRGC Intelligence Directorate in October 2009 after overseeing the violent crackdown on anti-government protests earlier the same year as commander of the Basij Resistance Force. According to the article, this reflected the Supreme Leader’s dissatisfaction with the Ministry of Intelligence’s “inability to prevent the unrest” (FDD, 19 June 2015). At the same time, “Khamenei issued an edict promoting the IRGC intelligence apparatus to the level of an organization practically on par with the government’s Intelligence Ministry” (Radio Farda, 22 April 2018). The Intelligence Directorate was thus renamed “IRGC Intelligence Organisation” (FDD, 19 June 2015).

A May 2018 CRS report even states that in 2009, the Supreme Leader “gave the IRGC’s intelligence units greater authority, surpassing that of the Ministry of Intelligence.” (CRS, 23 May 2018, p. 19)

The November 2015 WINEP article points to the “IRGC-IO’s lack of accountability to normal government oversight”. It is also noted that there is a “longstanding bureaucratic rivalry” between the IRGC-IO and the MOI. While President Rouhani has control over the MOI and appoints its senior ranks, the president “exerts no authority over the IRGC-IO or the IRGC commander”. (WINEP, 25 November 2015)

In a May 2018 interview with Deutsche Welle (DW), Walter Posch states that the IRGC has an intelligence organization of its own which acts in a very independent manner and over which even the IRGC Commander has very limited control as it reports directly to the Office of the Supreme Leader (DW, 11 May 2018). As noted by Saeid Golkar in his 2015 book Captive Society, “the intelligence branch of the IRGC’s activities has increased dramatically since 2009” (Golkar, 2015, p. 90).

As the same article notes, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stated in September 2015 that no other organisation bears the “institutional responsibility to protect the Islamic Revolution like the IRGC” and called on the IRGC-IO to “constantly monitor all issues and identify threats” to the existing political order. Later the same year, the IRGC-IO “led the investigation and subsequent arrest of Iranians accused of ties to Western intelligence agencies” and “spearheaded a drive against a ‘new wave of sedition,’ arguably the largest state crackdown since 2009”:

“It has arrested at least nine journalists, activists, and businessmen. On October 16, the IRGC-affiliated Fars News Agency reported that Gerdab — an outlet of the IRGC-IO’s cyber division used to publish pictures and identify protestors during the 2009 crackdown — had arrested another 170 individuals associated with social media websites accused of spreading anti-regime propaganda.” (WINEP, 25 November 2015)

The same article goes on to say that “[t]he Taeb-led IRGC Intelligence Organisation intensified its operations against ‘the sedition’, [fetneh], revolutionaries real and imagined, cybercrime and Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities”, noting that agents of the IRGC-IO “systematically censor the internet, engage in cyber-warfare and arrest dissident bloggers” (FDD, 19 June 2015).

The November 2015 WINEP article states that “under [Hossein] Taeb’s leadership, the IRGC-IO has arrested and interrogated thousands of Iranians accused of being part of a Westernfomented ‘velvet revolution’ to topple the Islamic Republic”. It is noted that the IRGC-IO “used the threat of Western infiltration to justify broadening its interrogation and arrest powers, increasing its supervisory role over the media, and tightening regime control of cyberspace”. (WINEP, 25 November 2015)

The CHRI reported that increasing numbers of arrests were carried out by the MOI ahead of the May 2017 presidential elections which may reflect a “growing rivalry between the Intelligence Ministry and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Intelligence Organization, which has also stepped up its arrests” (CHRI, 16 March 2017).

The April 2018 Radio Farda article notes that “analysts and legal experts” including the deputy speaker of the parliament, Ali Motahari, “maintain that the existence of the Intelligence Organization — and specifically its interference in cases related to espionage — explicitly violates the Iranian Constitution”. (Radio Farda, 22 April 2018)

Radio Farda notes that the IRGC-IO “has detained several people charged with espionage, including Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani, an Iranian accountant and member of Rouhani’s delegation in Tehran’s nuclear talks with global powers that led to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015”. Moreover, the organisation “detained several prominent environmentalists on January 24 [2018], including the Iranian-Canadian founder of Iran’s Wildlife Heritage, Kavous Seyyed-Emami” who was found dead in Tehran’s Evin prison two weeks later. It is noted that “Seyyed-Emami and his fellow environmentalists were charged with espionage, while the chairman of the parliamentary Environment Faction, Mohammad Reza Tabesh, cited top officials of the Intelligence Ministry as dismissing the allegation”. (Radio Farda, 22 April 2018)

The January 2018 WINEP article (author: Saeid Golkar) notes similarly to the MOI’s Herasat network, the IRGC-IO “has its own broad social network, the Basij intelligence staff (stead-e khaberi-e Basij), whose members are present throughout Iran’s estimated 4,000 Basij districts”. It is noted that “[m]uch like the Herasat, Basij intelligence officers act as the regime’s eyes and ears by monitoring citizen activities and keeping files on local activists.” (WINEP, 5 January 2018)

In a 15 September 2015 speech to IRGC commanders, Rouhani claimed that the IRGC is not the sole guardian of the Islamic Revolution, stating that ‘the very same duty has been defined for the representatives of parliament, the Supreme National Security Council, the armed forces, and other institutions.’ Rouhani’s attempts to limit the IRGC’s role in domestic politics, while carefully avoiding the Supreme Leader’s redlines on opening the country’s political atmosphere, met obstinate resistance from hardliners.

Person of interests:
– Chairman: Mohammad Kazemi (from 2022)
– Deputy: Hassan Mohaqeq (from 2019)
– Vice-Chairman: Mahdi Sayyari (from 2016)

Involved In:
Human Rights Abuse

Also Known As:
IRGC intelligence
IRGC Intelligence Organization
Sazeman hefazat va ettela’at-e sepah-e pasdaran-e enghelab-e eslami, SHE



Tehran, Iran

Reason for the color:
» Added to the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list maintained by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on October 26, 2022 pursuant to Executive Order 13553 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the IRGC;