Iran Has Spies Across U.S., Officials Warn After Tehran Posts $3M Bounty on Trump

Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei
Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei / Getty Images
January 21, 2020

Following Iran's announcement of a three million dollar bounty for the assassination of President Donald Trump, U.S. officials and terrorism experts are warning that Tehran has significantly expanded its terror capabilities in America, potentially allowing the Islamic Republic to conduct a domestic attack.

Iranian lawmakers announced on Tuesday that they would pay a "three million dollar award in cash to whoever kills Trump."

The bounty is the latest in a series of increasingly direct threats by Tehran. It has renewed concerns about the Islamic Republic's vast terrorism network, which stretches into the continental United States, U.S. officials and experts told the Washington Free Beacon.

While Iran has failed to pull off a strike in America, it is seen as having the resources necessary to do so. Several Iranian Americans have been arrested in recent years and charged with surveilling potential terror sites for a strike.

Iran's capabilities stretch beyond lone wolves and sleeper cells stationed in America. Iranian terror proxies such as Hezbollah have long operated across Latin America, including along the U.S. southern border. Iran also has established a network of individuals tied to its Quds Force, a wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that specializes in unconventional warfare, sources said.

"As [Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob] Menendez recently said, Iran has sleeper cells across the United States, possibly backed by sympathizers and supporters of the Quds Force," one senior congressional official who works on national security matters told the Free Beacon. "No one who follows this issue or gets regular briefings doubts that danger. The difference is that some people think that's a reason to sanction the mullahs, while other people think it's a reason to appease them."

As recently as 2018, lawmakers warned that Iran poses "a direct threat to the homeland," particularly via "sleeper cell" militants stationed throughout the United States.

The threat of Hezbollah and Iranian support for the group was outlined during a 2018 congressional hearing on Iran's spying ability. Two individuals who had received weapons training from Hezbollah were arrested in 2017 for plotting terror attacks in New York City and Michigan.

Experts on Iran's terror operations told the Free Beacon at the time that Hezbollah poses a serious threat to the United States due to its coordination abilities.

"[Hezbollah is] as good or better at explosive devices than ISIS, they are better at assassinations and developing assassination cells," said Michael Pregent, a former intelligence officer who worked to counter Iranian influence in the region.

"Hezbollah is smart," Pregent said. "They're very good at keeping their communications secure, keeping their operational security secure, and, again, from a high-profile attack perspective, they'd be good at improvised explosive devices."

Iran has also concentrated its efforts on building spy networks across the United States. This activity has focused on recruiting individuals living in the United States.

"Over the past four decades, Tehran has expanded its capabilities to execute terrorist operations in the United States," Saeed Ghasseminejad, a senior Iran adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Free Beacon. "The Quds Force and Ministry of Intelligence are very active in recruiting Shia Arabs around the world."

"Tehran also relies on the Iranian expats in the United States as we saw in the case of Ahmadreza Mohammadi-Doostdar," Ghasseminejad added. Mohammadi-Doostdar is a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen who was recently convicted of spying on Americans for Iran.

The concern has been amplified as Iran continues to send "thousands of pro-regime students and immigrants to the U.S.," according to Ghasseminejad. "While the majority of Iranians in the U.S. are anti-regime, over the years, Tehran has managed to recruit some Iranian-Americans."

"As we saw in the case of Mohsen Dehnavi, a high-ranking member of the Basij Organization, who was denied entry at the border," said Ghasseminejad, "Tehran sends members of Basij and IRGC to the United States under cover as students and researchers. Basij is an IRGC-controlled militia force, its members receive military training and some are picked and trained by the IRGC Intelligence."

Senior Iranian regime figures also continue to send their children and other family members to the United States for school and other trips.

"These family members come to the U.S. with significant financial assets and are placed in the most prestigious universities and institutions," Ghasseminejad said. "They serve as their family's consigliere in the West, overseeing the money laundering and investment operation while at the same time infiltrating the selective elite circles of business and politics. Blanket bans such as travel bans do not prohibit this group from traveling to Washington."

This activity has largely gone unchecked by the U.S. government.

"The United States should create a list of the upper echelon of military, economic, and political elites in Iran," Ghasseminejad said. "Only then, Washington can manage to monitor and control this group."

Published under: Hezbollah , Iran