Erfan Fard

Defending America: Neutralizing MOIS Sleeper Cells

Esmaeil Khatib, a Shia mullah who has been serving as the minister of Intelligence Service (MOIS) since August 2021./ Picture in Iranian social media/ free for use in any platform

On January 29, 2024, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), in a coordinated effort with the United Kingdom, announced targeted sanctions against an Iranian transnational terrorist network. This network, led by the Iranian regime and spearheaded by notorious narcotics trafficker Naji Ibrahim Sharifi-Zindashti, has been implicated in a series of chilling operations, including assassinations and kidnappings spanning the Middle East, Europe, and significantly, the United States.

These actions mark a disturbing expansion of Iran’s domestic repression onto the global stage, posing a direct threat to US national security and the stability of the Western Hemisphere. This move underscores the extensive capabilities and the determined will of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) to execute acts of atrocity on American soil, extending their reach beyond traditional espionage and foreign influence campaigns.

The MOIS’s history of leveraging organized crime groups for operations abroad reveals a sophisticated understanding of how to navigate and exploit the legal and societal frameworks of Western nations. This adaptability and willingness to collaborate with elements of the criminal underworld augment the MOIS’s capacity to conduct a range of operations from surveillance to direct action against dissidents, critics, and any targets deemed adversarial to the Iranian regime‘s interests.

The presence of sleeper cells within the US presents a particularly insidious threat. These networks of operatives, quietly embedded within communities, can be activated to execute assassination, kidnapping, and sabotage operations with little to no warning. This reality complicates the task of national security agencies in preempting and neutralizing such threats, illuminating the grim perspective of the MOIS, which views the United States not merely as a geopolitical adversary but as an active operational theater.

Moreover, the acknowledgment of planned operations on U.S. soil not only raises alarms about the sleeper cells’ existence but also demands a vigilant and coordinated response. The Iranian regime’s capacity to activate these cells at a moment’s notice underscores the need for a robust and proactive response from the U.S. national security apparatus. This includes enhancing domestic intelligence capabilities, fostering international law enforcement collaborations, and leveraging diplomatic channels to pressure states that harbor or support Iranian operatives.

Public awareness and community engagement are crucial in countering the MOIS threat. By fostering strong relationships between national security agencies and communities, especially those potentially targeted by MOIS operations, the U.S. can bolster its domestic counterintelligence posture. This collaborative approach aids in identifying and neutralizing MOIS activities before they can escalate to violence.

In confronting the MOIS’s capabilities for atrocity on U.S. soil, it is also essential to consider Iran’s broader strategy of transnational repression. This strategy, part of its efforts to assert influence and suppress dissent both domestically and abroad, necessitates a holistic response that addresses the root causes of Iran’s belligerence. Effective countermeasures require a combination of diplomatic engagement, economic measures, and direct security interventions.

The critical roles of the Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Counterterrorism and Threat Prevention in defending against potential MOIS-orchestrated atrocities within American borders cannot be overstated. These entities are pivotal in identifying, preventing, and responding to threats, thus maintaining national security and safeguarding American lives. Their efforts, which include pooling resources, expertise, and intelligence across various law enforcement levels, underscore a comprehensive approach to neutralizing threats.

Their adaptability to evolving threats, including leveraging technology for surveillance and fostering community outreach programs to prevent radicalization, is paramount. Furthermore, interagency collaboration, extending beyond U.S. borders and engaging international allies, is crucial in dismantling networks that support Iranian state-sponsored terrorism. Sharing intelligence, resources, and best practices enhances the effectiveness of countering the MOIS’s global operations, thereby reducing the risk of attacks both on U.S. soil and abroad.

The designation of individuals and entities involved in MOIS operations serves as a clarion call for a broader strategy to counter Iran’s transnational repression. It highlights the need for vigilance, resilience, and international collaboration to confront and neutralize threats that transcend borders. As we commend the efforts of the OFAC, the UK, and the Department of Justice, we recognize the ongoing challenge they represent. The fight against state-sponsored transnational repression requires a sustained, global response—one that upholds the rights and safety of individuals everywhere against the overreach of authoritarian regimes.

This detailed analysis serves not only as a testament to the ongoing efforts to counter the MOIS’s nefarious activities but also as a reminder of the complexities involved in safeguarding national security against such pervasive threats. It underscores the importance of unity, resilience, and a proactive stance in the face of challenges that threaten the very fabric of democratic societies. The battle against the MOIS and its terrorist proxies is a critical front in the broader struggle for security, human rights, and the preservation of democratic values against the shadow of authoritarianism.

About the Author
Erfan Fard is a counter-terrorism analyst and Middle East Studies researcher based in Washington, DC. He is in Middle Eastern regional security affairs with a particular focus on Iran, Counter terrorism, IRGC, MOIS and Ethnic conflicts in MENA. \He graduated in International Security Studies (London M. University, UK), and in International Relations (CSU-LA), and is fluent in Persian, Kurdish, Arabic and English. Follow him in this twitter account @EQFARD