Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Is I.R. Iran Losing the Intelligence War?

Tweet It! / Meir Javedanfar

At 10:13 am this morning, the Tehran-based Fars news agency reported that Masoud Ali Mohammadi, a prominent physics lecturer, had been killed by a "terrorist act". According to the report, he was killed by a remote control bomb placed in a motorcycle. The bomb exploded as he left his house in the semi-upmarket Gheytariye neighborhood of Tehran. One hour and nine minutes later, at 11:22 am Tehran time, the same news agency, this time quoting Tehran's chief prosecutor, declared that the victim was in fact a nuclear scientist. According to the same report, the booby-trapped motorcycle which killed him was placed next to his car. The blast was strong enough to smash nearby windows. The news was subsequently picked up by the Tehran-based Press TV. Masoud Ali Mohammadi was a well known lecturer at Tehran University. He specialised in quantum physics and had received his PhD in 1992 from the prestigious Sharif University. This morning the offices of the Oghab-2 counter intelligence bureau must have been be buzzing with questions, and concerns. This bureau was specifically established in December 2005 to prevent information regarding Iran's nuclear programme, its scientists and installations, from falling in the hands of foreign intelligence agencies and domestic opposition groups.

The probability that Mohammadi was assassinated by an Iranian opposition group such as the People's Mujahideen (MKO) may be small. However it can not be dismissed. The MKO have assassinated senior military officials in broad daylight before. A famous example was the assassination of General Ali Seyyed Shirazi, the chief of staff of the Iranian army, on his doorstep in April 1999. Although normally they would have a lot to gain by targeting a political figure, such as a senior politician, assassinating a nuclear scientist could also be beneficial to them. Such people would be highly prized targets, and their elimination a severe embarrassment for Ahmadinejad government. It would also send a strong message to Tehran's government about the increasing intelligence-gathering capabilities of the group. It is also possible that Mohammadi was assassinated by a foreign intelligence agency. Should that be the case, this recent incident comes amid a series of setbacks for the Oghab- 2 counter intelligence bureau. First was the mysterious death of Ardeshir Hassanpour, a nuclear scientist in January 2007. According to the Times of London, he was assassinated. This was followed by the disappearance of General Ali Reza Asgari in March 2007. Some believe that he defected to the US. And this year Shahram Amiri, a nuclear scientist, disappeared during a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. Some believe he defected, while other reports talk about his kidnapping. Either scenario does not bode well for Iran's intelligence community. This was then followed by the exposure of the secret nuclear site in Fordo, near Qom, by President Obama. (Read more...)