2 Iranian Spies Arrested on U.S. Soil Plotting Attacks
By Ryan Mauro & Justen Charters
Two Iranian spies in California have been arrested as they gathered intelligence in preparation for possible attacks on Iranians in America who are opposed to the regime and on Jewish targets.
Ahmadreza Mohammadi-Doostdar, an Iranian with dual U.S. citizenship, and Majid Ghorbani, an Iranian national with permanent U.S. residency, were charged with acting as agents on behalf of the Iranian government in federal court on Monday. According to the FBI complaint, Doostdar and Ghorbani were preparing alleged “target packages” on individuals who posed a threat to the Iranian regime on American soil.
Doostdar and Ghorbani, who were arrested on August 9th, ran surveillance on Jewish facilities and events in the United States in support of Mujahdein-e Khalq (MEK) an exiled Iranian resistance group that advocates for the complete overthrow of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Targeting Jews in Chicago
The Iranian regime was apparently considering targeting two synagogues in Chicago.
Doostdar arrived in Chicago in July after visiting Iran. The FBI was watching him in Chicago and saw him meet with an unidentified woman at the Oriental Institute Museum. When Doostdar left, the woman was seen folding a piece of paper. No woman has been charged in this case, so if she is involved in the Iranian operation, then she is still out there.
After leaving the meeting, he took out his phone and took pictures of two Jewish community centers, the Hillel Center and the Rhor Chabad. His photos were consistent with the surveillance necessary for conducting attacks, as he took pictures of the front and back of the buildings, including an iron gate.
The Iranian spy clearly did not want to be seen taking the pictures.
“He also appeared to look into cars and the reflection of store windows as he passed by, consistent with checking for surveillance,” the complaint reads. Yet, he continued to go about his activities.
His counter-surveillance methods continued when he met with Ghorbani a few days later in California.
Just as happened with the earlier meeting with the woman, a piece of folded paper was exchanged.
After the meeting, he started acting like he was walking to one location and then suddenly making a change in his route, and buying drinks at different gas stations in the area.
Spying on the Iranian Opposition in New York & Washington DC
In September of 2017, Ghorbani went to New York to attend a MEK rally. At the event, he photographed multiple participants in attendance. Afterwards, he returned to California. At the time, Doostdar was already back in Iran.
In December of 2017, Doostdar flew into Chicago, where he was stopped by customs agents, and presumably searched. He was in possession of six-thousand dollars, a notebook, and two USB/Drives. The complaint states that one of the drives was hidden in a toy keychain. When asked about any contact with individuals in California during his recent trip, he denied any connection to anyone in the state.
He returned to California to meet with Ghorbani again. During that exchange, they discussed leading members in the MEK and the rally in New York.
Ghorbani said, “I videotaped one of his speeches, with photos, motherf***** is working for Mossad now, he works for these people too, he gets paid, he is one of those motherf***** Jews, I swear; motherf***** needs one shot.”
Alireza Jafarzadeh, the Deputy Director of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and Ali Safavi, who sits on the council’s foreign affairs committee were named in the surveillance recordings.
In addition, Doostdar likely gave Ghorbani a flash drive. Ghorbani also told Doostdar he would be heading back to Iran, to conduct an “in person briefing.”
Ghorbani then printed out photos at a CVS store and placed them in a white and orange envelope.
When Doostdar’s luggage was searched at the Los Angeles Airport, the envelope was discovered with photos from a #FreeIran protest, along with a note that confirmed he paid Ghorbani two thousand dollars.
In March, a search of Ghorbani’s apartment also discovered notes written in Farsi with the names of people in the MEK. He had plans to do more surveillance, though.
Ghobrani attended the 2018 Iran Freedom Convention in Washington D.C. in May. He had managed to infiltrate the group, participating as a member of the California delegation, and sat near the stage.
According to the complaint, he was seen with his smartphone out and the lens pointed at the one of the speakers, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and the crowd.
The FBI concluded that both Ghorbani and Doostdar were acting on behalf of the Iranian government as foreign agents.
The Iranian Regime’s Recent Wave of Terrorism
Charges against Ghorbani and Doostdar come amid other foiled plots targeting the dissidents to Khamenei and his government abroad.
In March, two Iranians were arrested in Albania for planning to attack Iranians who opposed the regime. In June of this year, a bombing attempt believed to be led by Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat, was stopped in Paris. Two Belgians were arrested with homemade explosives and a detection device.
Clarion Project spoke to one of the potential targets in the United States who is named in the affidavit, Alireza Jafarzadeh. Jafarzadeh is best known for exposing Iranian nuclear facilities unknown at the time. He tied the operations against Iranians outside of Iran to the current uprising in Iran.
“The regime feels very threatened by the organized opposition, the MEK network. The regime basically considers us as the engine behind the protests. Resistance units on the ground in various cities, they risk their lives, and pay the price,” he said.
“This basically explains why they’re doing this. It is purely out of desperation. Policies over the past few years have allowed them to build their network. The regime has got so emboldened that they can act on American soil. With happened here in the U.S., we suspect they have more plans to carry out terrorist acts here.”
He touched on how some things fly under the radar in the U.S. when it comes to the Iranian government and how it facilitates its operations.
“There are a whole host of things that are associated with the Iranian regime. Businesses. Foundations. No one was really paying attention to them. There ties have to be determined.”
Jafarzadeh continued, explaining that such actions only empower his organization to do more. “If the purpose is to decrease all activities, it won’t happen. On the contrary, we will step up our engagement more than before.”
While the details of Ghorbani and Doostdar’s training are unclear, there are some clear signs in their use of tradecraft. Clarion talked to novelist JT Patten, a former intelligence specialist and subject matter authority on Iran and it global covert activities.
“Recent charges against Iranian spies are not so ‘bizarre’ when linked to similar incidents in Paris and Germany, among others. I’m not so sure either of the men would be part of a full F3EAD (Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit, Analyze, and Disseminate) cycle, which is troubling.”
Patten mentioned that an elite unit inside of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Quds Force, likely directed the operations.
“This isn’t isolated but rather increasingly prevalent with low cost ops that fly under threat finance thresholds and are potentially masked with greater material support through the vast global bonyand network.”
A bonyad is a charitable trust in Iran.
“So, in actuality, it’s textbook MO, and can easily skirt sanctions and many higher-level preventative measures.”
Frank Montoya Jr., who served as the Counterintelligence Executive for the FBI to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and was briefed when an Iranian plotted to kill the Saudi Ambassador in Washington D.C. also added some insight to the report.
“There are large Iranian expatriate communities around the US. When I worked in San Francisco, one of the largest was nearby in the southern part of the Bay Area. Los Angeles also had a sizable community.
The vast majority in each community were law abiding citizens, but we always worried that a few individuals, particularly travelers, could use their familiarity with those communities to hide illicit activities.”
“We were particularly concerned that the Iranian government could use those illicit activities to raise cash, procure sensitive technologies, identify and target dissidents, or recruit new assets,” Montoya Jr. said.
Reporting by the Clarion Project shows that the Iranian regime and its Hezbollah terrorist proxy have an infrastructure in the U.S. it can use for such operations.
We recently identified three mosques in Michigan that are linked to the Iranian regime and promote its radical ideology.
In 2013, we reviewed grants given by an Iranian front group named the Alavi Foundation that funded over 60 Islamic organizations in America, as well as 30 universities in the U.S. and Canada. In August, a congressman called for an investigation into Iranian funding of American universities and colleges.
These operations are happening at a time when the Iranian regime is in dire need of cash and trying to escape international sanctions. It cannot afford to spend money on intelligence operations without an important purpose. And preparing attacks on U.S. soil at this time is an especially risky endeavor.
This means that the Iranian regime was very serious about preparing attacks on these targets—so serious it was willing to make the investment and risk a ferocious response from the Trump Administration and the international community.
The arrests are proof of how devoted the regime to violent jihad—and how much it fears the power of those it was targeting.
The big takeaway here is that the Iranian regime must be terrified of the anti-regime Iranians in the U.S., so much so that its willing to take enormous risks to kill only a tiny portion of them.
If the regime is terrified of the Iranian opposition in America, then we should make supporting these secular-democratic Iranians our highest priority.
By Ryan Mauro & Justen Charters