The Trump administration placed Iran hawks in charge of its foreign policy. One of those hawks is Mike Pompeo, the director of the CIA. In June 2017, the Trump administration created the Iran Mission Center inside the CIA to escalate US actions in Iran. The administration has also coordinated with Israel and Saudi Arabia to target Iran and is using the recent protests to further regime change efforts.
The Hill reported on new the anti-Iran infrastructure created by the Trump administration: “The organization, dubbed the Iran Mission Center, will include CIA analysts, personnel and specialists to support the CIA’s abilities on the matter, including covert action.”
The report on the new Iran escalation effort came after Trump visited Saudi Arabia and Israel in May, 2017. Trump said he wanted to work with the Saudis to “isolate” the Shia-majority nation. Trump also went to Israel and met with Benjamin Netanyahu. Among the issues they discussed was how the two countries can confront Iran. Additional meetings were held in December, a few weeks before the recent protests.
Shortly after the Spring visits, the Wall Street Journal reported on the Iran Mission Center. On June 2, 2017, they described it as part of Trump’s plan to make Iran a higher priority in US foreign policy. The Wall Street Journal described the Center, writing:
The Iran Mission Center will bring together analysts, operations personnel and specialists from across the CIA to bring to bear the range of the agency’s capabilities, including covert action. In that respect it is similar to a new Korea Mission Center that the CIA announced last month to address North Korea’s efforts to develop long-range nuclear missiles.
The CIA didn’t publicly announce the new Iran organization. The agency declined to comment.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Mission Center is a stand alone entity built on the CIA’s Iran Operations Division, known inside the CIA as the Persia House, which brought analysts and operational personnel under one roof to address Iran.
Pompeo put veteran intelligence officer, Michael D’Andrea, who recently oversaw the agency’s program of lethal drone strikes, in charge of the center. People inside the agency call him the “Dark Prince,” “Ayatollah Mike” and the “Undertaker.” The New York Times reported that D’Andrea is a former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, which he began to direct in early 2006 and where he spent the next nine years hunting militants around the world. He is known for his aggressive stance toward Iran.
The Tasnim news center in Tehran reported that the creation of the Center is consistent with Trump’s campaign pledge to take a “hard line” with Iran. They also point out that CIA Director Mike Pompeo is a longtime Iran hawk and that his emphasis on the alleged threat Iran poses to US national security interests is reflected in the establishment of the new center.
Iran’s Press TV reported on the new Iran Mission Center with this video:
This builds on long-term US efforts for regime change in Iran. In an article published on Popular Resistance, based on an interview with Iranian journalist and filmmaker, Mostafa Afzalzadeh, we described the history of the State Department’s Office of Iranian Affairs, created in 2006. The US has spent tens of millions of dollars annually to build opposition to the Islamic Revolution. Other agencies involved include the National Endowment for Democracy, National Republican Institute, Freedom House, the Iran Democracy Fund of the Bush era, which was followed by the Near East Regional Democracy Fund in the Obama era, and the US Agency for International Development.
In Mintpress News, Whitney Webb writes about the Brookings Institution’s manual, published in 2009, “Which Path to Persia? Options for a New American Strategy toward Iran.” The manual includes an entire section on regime change strategies, i.e. “supporting a popular uprising” and “inspiring an insurgency” by “supporting Iranian minority and opposition groups.” Webb also writes about US plans to support an uprising against the Iranian regime and how the CIA Mission Center fits into those plans:
Though the plan to support a popular uprising depended on the organic emergence of some unrest, however minimal, within Iran, the plan to inspire an insurgency requires more careful preparation. Given the establishment of a new CIA “mission center” focused on “turning up the heat” in Iran last June — which has sought to make Iran “a higher priority target for American spies” — along with the U.S. operation in Syria, the groundwork for such an insurgency has now been laid.
Of particular concern is the fact that the CIA officer in charge of the center is Michael D’Andrea, a Wahhabist who has overseen the agency’s drone bombing program and was a key player in the CIA’s torture program. According to Moon of Alabama, he is believed to be the mastermind behind U.S. cooperation with extreme Wahhabi groups in Libya, Iraq and Syria.
All of these actions are consistent with advice given to Trump, as Moon of Alabama reports, by a proponent of “coerced democratization,” Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who urged President Trump to “go on the offensive against the Iranian regime” by “weakening the Iranian regime’s finances” through “massive economic sanctions,” while also “undermin[ing] Iran’s rulers by strengthening pro-democracy forces” inside Iran. This strategy has gained traction in the Trump administration and has received public support from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
In addition to working with Saudi Arabia, the US has also been working with Israel on developing a plan for regime change in Iran. A few weeks before the most recent protests, Moon of Alabama reports, the White House and Israel prepared for a new assault on Iran:
A delegation led by Israel’s National Security Adviser met with senior American officials in the White House earlier this month for a joint discussion on strategy to counter Iran’s aggression in the Middle East, a senior U.S. official confirmed to Haaretz.
Another report about the meeting quotes Israeli officials:
“[T]he U.S. and Israel see eye to eye the different developments in the region and especially those that are connected to Iran. We reached at understandings regarding the strategy and the policy needed to counter Iran. Our understandings deal with the overall strategy but also with concrete goals, way of action and the means which need to be used to get obtain those goals.“
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that one of the agreements at these meetings is that the US was given the green light to assassinate key Iranian officials. In particular, they focused on Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, the external arm of Iran‘s Revolutionary Guard. An Israeli assasination attempt against Soleimani was stopped during the Obama administration.
Iran’s prosecutor general, Jafar Montazeri, specifically named Michael D’Andrea as being behind the recent protests. He further claimed the plan was to to create waves of unrest from outside to the center and turn the protest into an armed insurrection in mid-February during the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Al Jazeera reports that Andrea “the CIA operative and an agent affiliated with Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency were in charge of masterminding the unrest, while Saudi Arabia paid for all the expenses,” quoting Montazeri. Further, they report “Planning for the plot – dubbed “Consequential Convergence Doctrine” – was initiated four years ago.” No physical evidence was provided to support Montazeri’s claims but he claimed there were two operation centers created by the CIA in Ebril of Iraq and Heart in Afghanistan.
While the recent protests have died down, regime change efforts by the US and its allies will continue. The US has put in place agreements with Israel and Saudi Arabia on Iran, as well as infrastructure at the CIA and State Department to pursue regime change. This is a long-term campaign the United States has pursued through multiple presidencies.
In response, Iran is vigilant in preparing for regime change campaigns by the US. Farhad Rezaei, an author and analyst on Iran, writes that regime change efforts are doomed to fail:
The history of the Islamic Republic shows that the Iranians have been effective in ferreting out nascent challenges. This is known in intelligence parlance as “denied territory,” meaning that due to denied access to the target country, it would be difficult to gather intelligence and even more difficult to foment civil resistance. The agency has extremely limited access to the country due to the fact that there is no open American Embassy to provide diplomatic cover. Not to mention that Iran has a long history of being vigilant toward anyone it suspects of working for the United States. The intelligence services in Iran have spent almost forty years to counter covert American-Israeli operations.
The regime change strategy is counterproductive because it strengthens hardliners in Iran, intensifies repression, makes it more difficult for the US to develop relationships in Iran and discredits real opposition and dissidents. Pressure is needed from inside the United States by peace and justice activists calling on the United States to stop regime change efforts in Iran and live up to the requirements of the nuclear agreement.