July 6, 2004
By Peter Brookes
Those security guards at the Iranian mission to the United
Nations sure are avid shutterbugs.
At least four times in the last five years, U.S. authorities
have spotted them conducting highly suspicious camera shoots around
New York City. (No telling how many photo sessions went
Over the last two years, FBI counterintelligence officials found
three of the incidents so alarming that they expelled the Iranians
from the United States for "activities incompatible with their
This euphemistic language means the Iranians were using their
diplomatic accreditation (and immunity) to do work other than
diplomacy. Of course, an official at the Iranian mission denies any
such mischief, saying: "Like anybody who visits New York, they
[security guards] visit tourist sites - sightseeing and videotaping
themselves, looking at the Metropolitan Museum [of Art], places
Now it's true that the Iranian mission security guards did
videotape some predictable N.Y.C. landmarks such as Times Square,
Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Statue of
But the pair most recently expelled from the U.S. also
videotaped MTA buses and were noted trying to shield the camera
with their bodies.
Over the last five years, security guards from the Iranian
mission also were found filming critical infrastructure and
transportation nodes such as the Brooklyn Bridge, a Queens subway
station, the Queens-Midtown tunnel and the Staten Island Ferry
Terminal. Should we be concerned about Iranian security guards
running around the Big Apple taking happy snaps? Heck, yeah! These
aren't security guards at all. They're members of the Iranian
Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) or perhaps even of the
paramilitary Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
And it's safe to say they weren't sightseeing. They were out
gathering intelligence for possible terrorist strikes on N.Y.C.
Videotaping is an excellent way to case a potential target.
Terrorists have been doing it for years.
A number of videotapes containing surveillance footage of
potential terrorist targets were found in al Qaeda camps in
The discovery of one set of videotapes in December 2001 helped
avert a major terrorist attack by Jemaah Islamiya (al Qaeda's
Southeast Asia franchise) against the American, British, Australian
and Israeli embassies in Singapore.
Both the MOIS and the IRGC have strong working relationships
with terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas and
Palestinian Islamic Jihad, providing these groups with funding,
safehaven, training and weapons.
These Iranian security services also have a relationship with al
Qaeda. Iran is harboring a number of senior al Qaeda operatives,
including Osama bin Laden's son, Saad bin Laden, and Saif al Adel,
mastermind of the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya
and Tanzania. Iran has provided safe haven to members of the Iraqi
al Qaeda-associated group Ansar al Islam as well.
The 9/11 Commission recently noted in one of its reports that
Iran's terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, and al Qaeda collaborated on the
1996 bombing of the American barracks at Khobar Towers, Saudi
Arabia, which killed 19 U.S. servicemen.
And don't forget that in 1983, Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah
killed 241 U.S. Marines in Beirut, Lebanon.
Are Iranian or Iranian-supported attacks in the United States on
the drawing board? Most likely.
Supporting this assertion: a) the suitability of the places the
Iranians videotaped for terrorist attacks; and b) Iran's cozy
relationship with international terrorism. (The State Department
fingers Iran as the world's most active state sponsor of
Would Iran provide videotape and other valuable targeting
information to al Qaeda or Hezbollah - both of which have terrorist
cells in the United States and Canada? If history is any indicator
The words of a top, hard-line IRGC ideologue, Hassan Abassi,
only add to the concerns about an Iranian-facilitated attack. "We
will map 29 sensitive sites in the United States and give the
information to all international terror organizations," Abassi said
It's no secret that relations between Washington and Tehran are
strained over Iran's nuclear (weapons) program, its sponsorship of
international terrorism and Iran's (political, religious and
insurgent) meddling in Iraq.
Because of this, the FBI (and others) must crack down
aggressively now on any suspicious activities in New York. With
thousands of tourists and high-rolling politicos (including
President Bush) descending on the city for the Republican
convention this summer, the Big Apple is a ripe target for a
The dots of terrorism are appearing again - this time we have to
connect them before it's too late.
Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow.
First appeared in the New York Post
Those security guards at the Iranian mission to the United Nations sure are avid shutterbugs.
Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
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