BRIEF

After Savak
A briefing on the security-intelligence complex of Iran. By Houshang Asadi

A satellite view of Evin Prison in Tehran: Google Maps.

T

he Islamic Republic of Iran has one of the most complex security machinery of our time, which is operated by brutal thugs. The ideology that fuels this system has no restraints, when it comes to the crushing of any kind of opposition. In fact, the current security and intelligence apparatus of Iran is remnant of the system deployed by the infamous Shah and his cronies. In 1956, Iran established the second large-scale intelligence apparatus in the Islamic world, after Turkey. Initially, the intelligence bureaucracy was run by military officers who were co-conspirators in the US-British orchestrated coup of

1953. That coup, which changed the course of history in Iran, overthrew the nationalist government of Mohammad Mosaddegh, and centralised all power in the hands of the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. At that point of time, the State Security and Intelligence Organisation, commonly known by its Persian acronym Savak, was put under the direct supervision of the Shah. In addition to Savak, the military and law enforcement forces had their own special security agencies which were all ultimately under the command of the Shah, through the military hierarchy. In 1971, when the insurgent

movement in Iran heightened, all the security agencies in the country were put under a single command known as the Komite Moshtarak Mobareze ba Kharabkari (Joint committee to combat sabotage). The headquarters of this committee was in a notorious prison in the centre of Tehran. In 1979, the offices of the Komite were stormed and taken over by the public. But a year later, the newly created Intelligence Centre of the Islamic Pasdaran Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) began using the complex for its own purposes and turned it into one of the most horrendous prisons in the world. In my recently released book, Letters

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to my torturer, I have written about my personal experience in that very Moshtarak prison. For a period in 1975, I shared a cell in that prison with Seyyed Ali Khamenei, then an influential leader of the Islamic clergy, now the supreme leader. Eventually, when he became the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, I was imprisoned once again in the same prison. This time, arrested and brutally tortured for six years by the agents of my former cell-mate. My torturer and minder, a young Islamic revolutionary known as Brother Hamid [real name: Naser Sarmadi Parsa], later became the Iranian ambassador to Tajikistan. The fact is that the Islamic republic has expanded the security apparatus of the Shah, and has turned it into one of the most extensive and most horrific systems in the world. After 1979, Savak was dismantled and the revolutionary Islamic regime even executed some of the most infamous Savak torturers. However, the counterintelligence units and the anti-communist sections of the agency were kept intact. Those were put under the command of young Islamic revolutionaries. Thus, the expertise of the old-timers were put to use, and the foundation of the current intelligence apparatus of the Islamic

Letters to my torturer Love, revolution, and imprisonment in Iran By Houshang Asadi Oneworld Publications, 2010

republic was facilitated. At the same time, the committees that were founded post-1979, to replace the official police forces of the Pahlavi regime, started to create their own special intelligence units. They soon took over the Evin prison, which today has earned international notoriety. The majority of the members of these committees were city thugs who took over the local police stations within three days of the fall of the Shah. Soon, the Pasdaran Guards/IRGC was created. And then, religious youth along with left-leaning clerics who had a role in creating the IRGC embarked to create a new intelligence agency. Intense rivalry among the three groups, who tried to dominate the security-intelligence complex of Iran, was noticeable from the very beginning. That was until 1984, when the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security officially became operational. After much debate, the new agency was put under immediate command of the government, instead of supervision of the supreme leader. Using the intelligence assets and resources of the IRGC, the Ministry of Intelligence became formally responsible for the security and intelligence affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran. One of the first projects undertaken by the agency was the creation of a security university in Iran. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ministry recruited former KGB agents and used their expertise to expand its operational knowledge base – including interrogation techniques, forcing prisoners to repent, and parading detainees in front of television cameras to incriminate themselves. The committees which had taken over Evin prison also created a judicial apparatus known as the revolutionary prosecutor. Not only they expanded the prison, soon they built a number of other prisons across the country. The Ministry of Intelligence followed the same methods practised at Evin. The Iranian police, which was reformed and remodelled according to the needs and standards of the Islamic republic, changed its name to Niruye Entezami (Law Enforcement Forces), and created its own intelligence bureau along

For a period in 1975, I shared a cell in that prison with Seyyed Ali Khamenei, then an influential leader of the Islamic clergy, now the supreme leader. Eventually, when he became the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, I was imprisoned once again in the same prison. This time, arrested and brutally tortured for six years by the agents of my former cell-mate.
with own detention centres. The Iranian military followed the same path. Even the Tehran municipality eventually built is own intelligence and prison system. One of the first acts of these security structures, each of which were sponsored and guided by a specific political group, was to crush opposition groups active in Iran. Today, the ruling groups in the Islamic republic are battling and crushing each other. In the events of the last fourteen months, which resulted in the birth of the Green movement, rival security groups inside the regime have even engaged in fighting each other. Today, a network of security agencies operate under the direct supervision of the supreme leader of the Islamic republic, under the firm control of senior officials. With the purge of traditional cadres from the Ministry of Intelligence, the securityintelligence complex in Iran looks more and more like the one deployed by the Shah. �

Houshang Asadi is the author of Letters to my torturer: Love, revolution, and imprisonment in Iran (Oneworld, 2010), that details his imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Islamic regime in Iran. He is now in exile in France along with his wife journalist Nooshabeh Amiri. Weblog: houasadi.wordpress.com

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