Spies and the CITC

Today, we're revealing one of the worst-kept secrets of Iran's spy agency, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (وزارت اطّلاعات جمهوری اسلامی ایران). Well - perhaps we're not quite so much revealing, given that this secret has been revealed several times before. More like reminding!

Here's the secret. Iran's Center for Innovation and Technology Cooperation CITC - the centrepiece of Iran's high-tech diplomacy and technology acquisition efforts around the world - is clandestinely controlled, operated and staffed by Iran's intelligence service, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security: VAJA

1

The Centre for Innovation and Technology Cooperation, or CITC (مرکز همکاریهای فناوری و نوآوری ریاست جمهوری) is duplicitous in only the way that a spy agency can be. Publicly, it promotes high-tech trade with Iran on all sorts of fronts, from running this a wannabe Silicon Valley Techpark.ir on the outskirts of Tehran to funding biotechnology ventures in Africa. Turn up to a technology conference anywhere in the world and you just might bump into a representative from CITC prepping up on the latest nanotechnology or biotechnology research.

There's a more nefarious side to CITC's work. They've tried over a long period of time to discreetly buy specialised equipment from abroad for Iran's strategic industries, military efforts, and nuclear programme. Discretion, unfortunately, hasn't always been achieved. In the year 2000, for example, a CITC official named Mansour Soltan Roknizadeh (منصور سلطان رکنی زاده) was booted out of Russia after he was caught creaming a little too much profit off the arms deals he was making for Tehran. And in 2010, the EU sanctioned CITC's predecessor organisation, calling it out as a procurer for Iran's nuclear and missile programmes.

Another thing CITC is known for is recruiting foreigners with niche military-related and WMD-related expertise. Redline has written already here on the credible claims that CITC was responsible for hiring Vyacheslav Danilenko, the former Soviet nuclear weapons scientist who provided Mohsen Fakhrizadeh's AMAD organisation with expertise to miniaturise a nuclear warhead. And at about the same time as Danilenko's recruitment, CITC representatives were also trawling Russia's neglected biological warfare research complexes to find scientists with BW expertise who could help out Iran's own fledgling biological warfare programme (more on this in a minute).

Given this history, it's frankly amazing that CITC still exists - and that they can still convince foreign governments to set up joint research ventures. This state of affairs is even more galling given that CITC has been under EU sanctions since 2010 and under US Treasury and State Department sanctions since 2012.

Maybe CITC hangs onto existence thanks to some clever shape-shifting. As the graphic below shows, in between episodes of egregiously blatant WMD-related procurement, CITC has indulged in some Prince-style nomenclature changes. They've gone from calling themselves the Office of Scientific and Industrial Studies (OSIS - دفتر مطالعات علمی و صنعتی) to the Technology Cooperation Office (TCO - دفتر همكاري هاي فن‌آوري رياست جمهوري) to the CITC.

1

Anyway, back to OSIS/TCO/CITC's worst-kept secret. As several credible sources have reported over the past decade - but, it seems, many people have forgotten - CITC is actually part of Iran's intelligence apparatus. Yes, CITC is a spy agency, and is owned and operated wholesale by Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security, or MOIS.*

We're not the first ones to have said so. Here's why Redline is so confident in tying CITC to MOIS:

1). Because the New York Times says that CITC is an Iranian intelligence outfit.

There's a great New York Times article from 1998 about Dr Seyed Mehdi Rezayat Sorkhabadi (سید مهدی رضایت سرخ آبادی), an Iranian pharmacologist who spent much of 1997 roaming about the former Soviet Union trying to recruit former members of the Soviets' massive biological warfare programme for Iran's own efforts.

Rezayat wasn't the most adroit spy around. The New York Times says that he gave out a business card (epic tradecraft fail) which stated that he was a representative of OSIS, the forerunner to TCO and CITC. And OSIS, the New York Times states, is "an Iranian intelligence office that covertly shops for talent and technology involving nuclear, chemical and biological weapons." Oops.

Did the OSIS leopard change its spots when it became the TCO, and then CITC? Probably not. Redline is happy to chalk CITC up as very much still "an Iranian intelligence office".

2). Because the most reputable book ever about the Soviet biological weapons programme said that CITC is part of Iranian intelligence.

In case you think the New York Times made some sort of libellous slip in characterising OSIS/TCO/CITC as part of MOIS, which the newspaper later recanted - um, no. They didn't.

Indeed, here's another equally reputable source which repeats the very same claim. Buy yourself a copy here of Leitenberg and Zilinskas's "The Soviet Biological Weapons Program: A History". Turn to page 493 There, you'll find the same claim as that made by the New York Times - that OSIS (they use the later term TCO) is "an Iranian intelligence shop".

3). Because Intelligence Online said that the "TCB" is linked to Iranian intelligence.

In 2009, French publication Intelligence Online reported on a burgeoning effort by Iran to acquire sensitive, dual-use biological technology and expertise from Venezuela. This effort was run, the newspaper said, by the "Technical Cooperation Bureau, which answers to the Iranian President's office. Linked to Iranian intelligence, the organization has been frequently found to be trying to acquire sensitive civil and military capacities. "

Technical Cooperation Bureau? Might that be the Technology Cooperation Office? It's either that or Elvis never really leave the building at all and has in fact been running the Latin American wing of an Iranian spy agency (hey, stranger things have happened).

4). Because Iranian dissidents have explicitly stated that CITC is part of MOIS.

This is the nail in the coffin for CITC. Two Farsi-language blogs have stated in fairly brutal terms that the TCO/CITC is the subset of MOIS that is responsible for technology procurement: the links are here and here

If you've got some command of Persian language, here's what these dissidents say about CITC:

مراکز واواک در تهران و شهرهای دیگر ایران، اغلب به صورت خانه ها یا محل های اداری معمولی هستند. مثلا دفتر همکاری های فن آوری ریاست جمهوری (در خیابان دریان نو تهران) یکی از زیرمجموعه های معاونت فنی واواک می باشد.

And for those who'd like an English approximation:

"MOIS centers exist in Tehran and other Iranian cities, often in homes or regular places of business. For example, the President's Technology Cooperation Office (Tehran, Daryan-e No Street) is a technical assistance subset of MOIS."

TCO is "a subset of MOIS." Redline would certainly not disagree with that.

Anyway, Redline would like to politely suggest to CITC that it's time for another name change. There's not much use in trying to be a clandestine WMD technology acquisition outfit for Iranian intelligence when everyone knows that's precisely what their role is.

Can we suggest a reversion to "TCB"? Right then, the t-shirts are already underway.

3

*MOIS used to be called Vezarat-e Ettela'at va Amniat-e Keshvar or VEVAK; now it's known formally as Vezarat Ettela'at Jomhuri Eslami Iran or VAJA and you can find their HQ here.

Comment on this article...

Enter text shown below:

All comments will be moderated before submission. Please allow some time for them to appear.