On June 13, the New York federal court unsealed the indictment of five Iranian nationals operating on behalf of Iran Intelligence who conspired to kidnap a Brooklyn journalist, author and human rights activist. The court documents reveal Iranian intelligence’s robust operational activities within the borders of the United States and references Iranian intelligence targeting of others located in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates.

Field Security Officers (FSO) should avail the court documents as part of their ongoing counterintelligence briefings when discussing the Iranian intelligence threat given the detail provided on Iranian modus operandi. Furthermore, FSO’s should ensure U.S. citizen employees who have familiar ties to Iran are briefed on this potential Iranian threat to their person.

Iran Intelligence Network

The Iranian network which handled the operational task of kidnapping and ultimately rendering the targeted individual to Iran was headed up by Iranian intelligence officer Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani aka Vezerat Slaimi and Haj Ali, age 50, an Iranian citizen.  The court documents tell us that Farahani manages a network of sources, and assets which included Mahmoud Khazein, Omid Noori and Kiya Sadeghi who are charged as co-conspirators.

In addition to the identified U.S. target, Farahani attempted to recruit the services of private investigators, in June 2020, to conduct surveillance on three individual targets resident in Canada and the United Kingdom . The private investigators were given pretext sham stories as to the reason why, and delivered pattern of movement and  photographs of the targets movements and residences. In the United Arab Emirates, Farahani directly tasked Iranian resources to conduct surveillance on targets of interest there. Readers will recall our 2019 series on the 2013 defection of former U.S. Air Force technical sergeant, Monica Witt to Iran that she was held in transit in the United Arab Emirates by Iranian intelligence in 2019 as they prepared her for movement into Iran.

The network required cover for their actions, as well as resources to move money, personnel and ultimately the targets from the location where they were to be kidnapped back to Iran. Mahoud Khazein, identified as a chief executive of a group of Iranian companies involved in import of marine, construction and agricultural equipment. Khazein was identified by DoJ as an intelligence asset of Iran intelligence.  In 1999, Khazein was made a member of the Basij (voluntary auxiliary of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Force (IRGC)). Since 2016, he has served as an expert advisor to the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) with respect to the construction of the Iranian University for Intelligence and Security. His fingers were deep into the operational efforts which U.S. target resident in Brooklyn, to include the target’s resident and nautical travel routes from New York to Caracas (a circuitous path from the U.S. to Iran).

The private investigators in the U.S. and UK were hired by Kiya Sadeghi, who resides in Iran. Sadeghi’s cover story had him working for a company located in Dubai and was running down the location of those who owed his firm money. Sadeghi laundered the money from Iran to the United States from where the contracted privates surveillance was paid.

In a support role, Omid Noori, resident of Iran, also received and paid for the results of surveillance for all of the victims of the Farahani network’s targeting efforts from Sadeghi.

Additionally, Niloufar Bahadorifar aka Nellie, originally from Iran is currently resident in California, where she works in a department store. For those unfamiliar with the demographics of the Iranian expat community in the United States, southern California hosts an ethnic Iranian community of approximately 700,000 individuals, the largest concentration of ethnic Iranians outside of Iran. Bahadorifar provided financial and other services to Mahmoud Khazein since at least 2015. Bahadorifar was the recipient of the laundered money from Sadeghi and made 98 cash deposits (all under $10,000) to her bank account from July 2020 more than $472,000 has been deposited into her bank account. Bahadorifar’s role was to pay for the commercially available services used by the Farahani network in their targeting effort, to include the use of private investigators to conduct physical surveillance on the target.

“As alleged, four of the defendants monitored and planned to kidnap a U.S. citizen of Iranian origin who has been critical of the regime’s autocracy, and to forcibly take their intended victim to Iran, where the victim’s fate would have been uncertain at best,” said U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss for the Southern District of New York.

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of securelytravel.com