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Does Iran Have a Hit Team in the US?

Does Iran Have a Hit Team in the US?
Former U.S. and Iranian intelligence officials tell a haunting tale.
By Kenneth R. Timmerman

Iran’s Quds Force, which the Biden White House has reportedly discussed removing from the terrorism list, has more than a hundred active agents operating inside the United States, according to former U.S. and Iranian intelligence officials.

Their current goal is to penetrate the security perimeter surrounding former President Donald J. Trump and to kill him.

The Iranian plot is not a secret: Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamene’I, boasted in January that Iranian agents inside the United States were tracking the former president’s movements, and could penetrate the security systems protecting him.

That boast appeared in the form of a chilling video, posted to the Khamenei’s website and to Twitter by regime sympathizers and intelligence analysts, showing Quds Force operatives targeting the president on the tee of his West Palm Beach golf club. It ended with a photograph of Qassem Soleymani, the Quds Force commander killed by a U.S. drone strike outside the Baghdad airport on Jan. 2, 2020, and a black screen: “Revenge is Definite.”

They have also threatened to kill former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and CIA Director Gina Haspel in retaliation for their role in the drone strike that killed Suleymani and 17 others on Route Irish at the Baghdad airport. “Ironically, that’s the same road where Suleymani had killed dozens of Americans,” said John Maguire, a former CIA deputy station chief who worked in Iraq after the 2003 invasion.

U.S. intelligence agencies, including the FBI, have known for over a decade about Iranian programs to recruit and train Quds Force operatives – preferably non-Iranians – capable of penetrating Western countries.

“The Quds Force started creating this capability in Baghdad in 2004,” Maguire said. “They wanted educated candidates; ideally, candidates with foreign travel documents and experience traveling in the West. The Quds Force organized, controlled, trained and supported this capability.”

The prospective agents learned how to make improvised explosive devices out of common materials, how to identify concealed fire positions for a sniper attack, and how to conduct surveillance and counter-surveillance, among other operational skills. Many went to Lebanon for a full year’s paramilitary and martial arts training with Hezbollah.

Once these “super-agents” had completed their training, they were dispersed around the world “and we lost them,” Maguire said. “But we do know that they have been coming to the US in increasing numbers since 2011.”

I published photographs of a group of these “super-agents” in my 2005 book Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran. I obtained the pictures from former Iranian intelligence officer, Hamid Reza Zakeri. One set showed the group during the armed counter-surveillance training in Tehran. A second set showed the same men back in Iraq in civilian clothes.

Iran’s clandestine U.S. network may have emerged from the shadows in April when the FBI conducted a raid on a Washington, DC, apartment complex and arrested two men for impersonating federal officers.

The two men, Arian Taherzadeh, 40, and Haider Sher-Ali, 35, were found in possession of U.S. driver’s licenses and credit cards in different names, chip cards identifying them as DHS officers, and an astonishing arsenal of weapons, including sniper gear, high-capacity magazines, counter-surveillance detection equipment, a mini door ram and a Halligan tool used for breaching locked doors.

Investigators rushed the arrest because the two men had been tipped off in an email from a U.S. Secret Service agent that they were under investigation. Four Secret Service agents were suspended just before the April 5 arrest, including one on first lady Jill Biden’s personal protection detail, according to the FBI.

“Because of the breakneck pace of the investigation, there are many facts that we still do not know,” federal prosecutors said in a court filing. “But the facts that we do know about the Defendants – that they lied about their identities for years, stored a cache of weapons and surveillance equipment in their apartments, compromised law enforcement agents in sensitive positions, and tried to cover up their crimes – leave no doubt that their release poses a public safety risk.”

Court papers filed by federal prosecutors at the time painted an alarming picture of the two men and their alleged activities. They regularly boasted of their ability to conceal-carry DHS Glock 19 Generation 5 pistols, and provided favors to Secret Service agents, including a rent-free Penthouse apartment. They communicated with their Secret Service friends using official DHS email addresses.

The two men “fit the Quds Force profile well,” former CIA officer Maguire said.

One witness interviewed by the FBI observed Taherzadeh use a Private Identity Verification (“PIV”) card “to access a laptop that is labelled with a “DHS” symbol.” When Taherzadeh logged onto the laptop using the PIV card, the witness “saw a federal logon privacy notice” on the screen. Taherzadeh also boasted of having a list of all the government agents living in their apartment complex.

In a subsequent filing, prosecutors fleshed out the mission of the two men. “They compromised United States Secret Service (USSS) personnel involved in protective details and with access to the White House complex by lavishing gifts upon them, including rent-free living.”

They also “procured, stored, and used all the tools of law enforcement and covert tradecraft: weaponry, including firearms, scopes, and brass knuckles; surveillance equipment, including a drone, antennae, hard drives, and hard drive copying equipment; tools to manufacture identities, including a machine to create Personal Identification Verification (PIV) cards and passport photographs; and tactical gear, including vests, gas masks, breach equipment, police lights, and various law enforcement insignia,” prosecutors alleged.

Heidar Ali told one witness that he had ties to Pakistani intelligence, the ISI, but his passport records also showed four trips to Iran through Mashad, a known hub of the IRGC, and multiple trips to Qatar and to Iraq.

Both men possessed U.S. passports, suggesting they had become naturalized U.S. citizens.

The deeper they dug, the more alarmed prosecutors became. In yet another filing before the court, they noted that “with every new fact uncovered in the investigation…the story only gets worse.”

“Certainly, infiltration of the [Secret Service] presidential detail would be a key goal,” said Charles (Sam) Faddis, a senior CIA operations officer who spent more than twenty years working in the Middle East and South Asia and now publishes the online And Magazine. He is also a former US Army JAG officer.

“I think everything we know about these guys suggests strongly this is a Quds Force Op. They have the profile. The gear recovered is exactly what I would expect to find in a safe house for a team doing the initial casing preparatory to an attack of some kind.”

Defense attorneys argued that prosecutors had failed to prove a foreign connection and were “making a mountain out of a molehill.” The Obama-appointed judge in charge of the case, G. Michael Harvey, agreed and ordered the release of the two suspects, arguing that they did not “pose a danger” to the community.

Judge Harvey is also the presiding justice over many of the Jan. 6 detainees, some of whom have been in pre-trial detention for seventeen months. Obviously, in Judge Harvey’s eyes these grandmas and grandpas pose a much greater “danger to the community” than two heavily armed men with counter-intelligence training and foreign travel to a terrorist nation.

Prosecutors have not alleged that either defendant was a Quds Force operative.

In writing about the case, former CIA operative Sam Faddis noted that Taherzadeh and Ali “began posing as law enforcement agents in February 2020, the month after a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad killed” Qassem Suleymani, and that the Iranians “have made no secret of their intent to get revenge for the killing of “Soleymani.”

The very day the two men were released in Washington, the commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Ground Forces, Mohammad Pakpour, publicly declared that killing US officials was not enough and “we should avenge Qassem Soleymani’s blood in other ways!”

Eventually, the DC court transferred the case to Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who on May 12 denied a request by the Defendants to allow them to travel during supervised home detention.

There are other rumblings that could presage an Iranian terror attack inside the United States in the coming months.

Earlier this month, authorities in Argentina grounded a 747 cargo jet recently sold to Venezuela by Mahan Air, which regularly transports arms and IRGC fighters to Syria and elsewhere.

Among the Iranians listed as crew on the flight was the former CEO of Qeshm Fars Air, designated by the U.S. Department of Treasury for providing “material support” to the Quds Force and to Mahan Air. Officials in Argentina and neighboring Paraguay are investigating whether the aircraft was used to ferry arms or terrorists and have requested assistance from the FBI.

Iran has stepped up its presence elsewhere in Latin America as well, signing a 20 year cooperation agreement with Venezuela on June 10 and dispatching former Revolutionary Guards commander Mohsen Rezai on a secret trip to Nicaragua and Cuba, where he met with security and intelligence officials.

But the Biden administration appears oblivious to the threats. Just last week, in an apparent gesture of appeasement to the Iranian regime, the State Department and Homeland Security loosened immigration restrictions on persons who had “only” provided non-lethal support to terrorist organizations, including the Quds Force, making it easier for Iran to infiltrate agents into this country.

“Given Iran is actively plotting to kill former American officials, the administration should carefully explain if and how this [rule] might apply to a potential affiliate of the IRGC,” former Trump administration official Richard Goldberg told the Washington Free Beacon.

My Iranian sources say that regime officials boast among themselves that they will successfully carry out an attack on President Trump or one of the Trump administration officials involved in the killing of Soleymani before the mid-term elections this November. The daughter of Soleymani mocked former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a recent tweat, “Live in fear, liar.”

We can only pray that the FBI and the Secret Service presidential security detail are up to the task and have not already been compromised.

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