Very rarely do any of us on the outside world know with much clarity about what exactly is going on in the world of Iranian intelligence. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iranian military intelligence, and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security are notorious for their secrecy and efficiency. General Qassem Soleimani, the long-time director of the IRGC’s Quds Force, is one of the most popular public figures in Iran today and has long been a household name (and a major irritant) for U.S. intelligence officers. For those of us who don’t have access to the classified intelligence, we have often see Soleimani as the Iranian military man with the thin, white beard who travels to war zones in Syria, poses for pictures on the frontlines with his fatigues, and organizes and deploys irregular Shia militias to to bail out Tehran’s strategic allies (like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad) when they are dangerously close to being pushed out of power.
A remarkable collaborative project between The Intercept and the New York Times, however, has provided the general public with a little more insight into the Iranian spy-games. Composed of hundreds of reports and cables written within the 2014 and 2015 timeframe and crafted by Iranian intelligence operatives on the ground, the project is a reminder of the proficiency, ruthlessness, cunning, and stone-cold pragmatism of a country frequently described in Washington, D.C. as an emerging 21st century Persian Empire acting solely on emotion and religious fanaticism. While it’s always tricky business to extrapolate from a sample, the reports leaked to the Times and The Intercept point to a nation that is more than willing to push ideology aside in favor of cold-blooded calculation—particularly in next-door Iraq. Three things stand out:
1. Iran has great sources: