Foreign Policy Blogs

Iran’s Intelligence Operations – Are They Suffering?

Amir Mirzaei Hekmati – sentenced to death in Iran for espionage (credit: IRIB TV)

There’s a lot of rhetoric out there concerning Iran, so I wanted to draw attention to a few ideas that should better allow us to analyze Iran’s foreign policy in respect to the US and its nuclear program. First, I recommend that everyone reads the Non-Proliferation Treaty – it’s pretty short, but it lays out the principles that signatories to the treaty are supposed to adhere to and, hence, allows one to see arguments for or against the idea that Iran’s behavior has not been in keeping with the treaty.

Second, I recommend that anyone interested in Iran definitely follows FRONTLINE’s Tehran Bureau because of its many insightful pieces on Iran, especially discord surrounding its nuclear program. One of the Tehran Bureau’s recent pieces is a solid re-cap of the covert war that has been persisting against Iran – once you read it, you’ll be reminded of how lucky we are things haven’t really spiraled out of control much earlier.

A third point I would like to draw attention to is the recent conviction of Amir Mirzaei Hekmati for attempting to conduct espionage in Iran on behalf of the CIA. Hekmati’s case has received a great deal of attention in the press, so I will not discuss its merit – it’s most likely entirely baseless, though. Rather, what I find interesting is Iran’s policy towards using Iranian-Americans, or other Iranian diaspora, in its war with the West. (Evidently, I won’t be visiting Iran anytime soon). Contrary to most popular narratives, Iran is very calculative about national or international-level steps that it takes. We definitely can assume that the decisions to utilize Hekmati and countless others as pawns in Iran’s tug-of-war with the West have received continual sign-off from Khamenei and the Pasdaran. My question, however, is how does Iran’s intelligence ministry – the MOIS – feel about it?

Any seasoned intelligence professional can look at Iran’s behavior in respect to its diaspora and certify that it greatly damages Iran’s ability to recruit diaspora as intelligence sources. Lastly, while Iran arguably perceives that it benefits greater than it suffers in light of this behavior, how has Iranian foreign policy and intelligence become isolated because of the disdain and mistrust the regime has fostered?

In some sense, one could say Evin Prison has served as Iran’s proving-ground for failed policies.



Ali A. Riazi
Ali A. Riazi

Ali is an independent advisor on conflict and foreign affairs and an advocate for civilian protection. He has advised the Office of the Secretary of Defense, US military, NGOs, and intelligence oversight staff on topics, such as Afghanistan, civilian protection, irregular warfare, and civil-military affairs. His 13+ years of career experience have spanned humanitarian and national security circles and involved extensive experience throughout the Near East and Central Asia.

Ali earned a BA in Government & Politics (summa cum laude) and a Minor in International Development & Conflict Management from the University of Maryland, College Park. Additionally, he served as an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant in International Political Economy. He is currently pursuing an MLitt in Terrorism Studies through the University of St. Andrews.

Ali's other blog interests can be followed at, and he can be found on Twitter at!/ali_riazi.

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