Outspoken MP Ali Motahari criticized the intelligence agencies of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in an open session of parliament on August 16.
“Expansion of the range of activities of the intelligence units of the IRGC is not acceptable,” said the deputy speaker of Iran’s parliament. “Interference of the intelligence organs in each other’s domains is not sustainable.”
Motahari also criticized the current intelligence minister, who has been re-nominated by President Hassan Rouhani.
“Mahmoud Alavi proved not to be an appropriate man for the field of intelligence,” he said.
Motahari was speaking during a session for vetting Alavi’s credentials. He insisted his opposition to reinstating Alavi is in fact rooted in the “structural defect” of Iran’s intelligence institutions and not personal.
Explicitly referring to the expansion of the IRGC’s range of intelligence activities, including its meddling in media and student affairs, Motahari noted, “We need a man who is capable of stopping other institutions and organizations from interference in the country’s intelligence [work]”.
Firing back, Alavi said, “The honorable MP speaks as if somebody has violated our [Intelligence Ministry] authority. That’s not the way it is.”
Alavi maintained that authority is consigned either by the supreme leader or the parliament.
“If the supreme leader orders us to give away all of our authority to another entity, we bow and obey,” he said.
There have been doubts about Rouhani’s ability to control intelligence agencies since his administration’s early days.
In December 2013, former Intelligence Minister Ali Younesi (2000-2005) had lamented that Rouhani’s then newly formed government had not been able to “conquer” the Intelligence Ministry.
However, Rouhani, while defending his ministers on August 15, told the parliament, “I have asked Alavi, as the head of the Council for Intelligence Coordination, to coordinate all intelligence activities, in full force.”
Meanwhile, Rouhani emphasized that all other intelligence entities should operate in coordination with the ministry.
However, the supreme leader has played the main role in creating parallel intelligence apparatuses.
During the presidency of reformist Mohammed Khatami (1997-2005), the first intelligence minister picked by Khamenei became embroiled in a huge scandal, called “chain killings,” the murder of several prominent activists.
It was revealed that the Intelligence Ministry had organized the assassinations, and the minister had to resign. As Khatami insisted on appointing his choice to the post, the IRGC began expanding its own parallel intelligence unit.
Later in 2009, Khamenei made it even more official by converting this unit into an agency and personally appointing the head of the new IRGC Intelligence Agency.
Moreover, the supreme leader and the judiciary have their own special intelligence institutions who are not accountable to the government.
In many cases, including the recent detention of more than 12 Telegram admins, the parallel intelligence entities proved capable of overruling the Intelligence Ministry.
While the ministry was against their detention, the judiciary decided to indict and keep most of the detainees behind bars.
In addition, the intelligence minister, along with Iran’s ministers of foreign affairs, defense, and science and higher education, are always selected with the supreme leader’s consent.
Reportedly, Iran ranks ninth based on the number of intelligence personnel. Iran’s Intelligence Ministry official personnel are estimated to be as many as 19,500. Nevertheless, the number is much higher for all of the parallel intelligence apparatuses personnel, which has been kept secret.
Russia, the United States, and China are at the top of the table with 170,000, 142,000, and 84,000 personnel, respectively.