Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Iran’s intelligence penetrates the wall of China | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Iran is busy with its maneuvers on numerous fronts. With regards to America, it is flexing its military muscles, dazzling the naïve, and providing fuel for its trainees waiting to carry out its deeds. As for Russia, Iran feigns that relations between the two countries are “cordial”, for at least they meet in the Syrian trench, although each has its own goal. However, at present, Iran’s main emphasis is on China.

Iran’s stance towards China is very interesting: on the one hand Iran is furious at China’s cooperation with some of the sanctions imposed upon Iranian banks, but on the other hand China still holds the “key” to the effectiveness of the international sanctions. Besides, Iran believes that China and Russia are striking a balance between the mounting pressure of the US and its Western partners, and extending economic relations with Iran as protection against international sanctions. Hence, Iran is also striving to develop greater ties with China through alluring oil deals. However, the West has noticed that China, which imports 11 percent of its oil from Iran, has cut its imports during the past two months, yet it is not known whether China has sought to diversify its oil supply, or whether it is still seeking to purchase Iranian oil but on better terms.

Iran’s temptations mask its secret activities in China, as it fears Beijing’s policies are two-fold; China is using its influence to reduce the pressure mounted on Iran in order to protect its interests there, but it would eventually submit to the Security Council’s resolutions in order not to provoke other members.

China was a major cause for the disagreement between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Minister of Intelligence Heyder Moslehi, who criticized the manner in which agents were being recruited in the Far East, and gained the support of the Supreme Leader.

For nearly a month, Moslehi has been supervising a “mission” in China that incorporates Chinese agents who began work for the Iranian regime in early 2011, and are providing Tehran with significant intelligence information. Iran’s long-term objective is to “impose” a shift on Chinese political stances and learn how China determines its relations with “arrogant and aggressor states” (Western states, mainly the US), with regards to the West’s standoff with Iran over nuclear weapons.

Recruiting in China has been something of a successful coup for Iran, because Chinese recruits have access the sources of information that Iran seeks to exploit. Whilst such clandestine activity is being undertaken by Iran, it is kept separate from diplomatic relations with China to the extent that Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi recently paid a visit to Beijing, shortly after these activities had begun.

Many of the Chinese agents recruited by Iran are either diplomats or civil servants in Beijing, who are required to provide Iran with details of China’s political stances towards upcoming issues expected to be deliberated at the Security Council. This includes the new sanctions imposed by the US and Britain, as well as the upcoming measures to be taken by the International Atomic Agency.

The reason why these Chinese government employees agreed to leak information and why they believed their [Iranian] interlocutors is unclear. The Iranian officers who were assigned to contact the Chinese agents are using aliases and claim to be businessmen from other countries. The concerned Chinese officials do not seem to be aware that they are aiding the Iranian regime directly. In recent weeks, they have been updating the Iranians on Western efforts to urge importers of Iranian oil to cut trade significantly.

The mission assignment was ordered by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who requested that the Intelligence Ministry should take active steps to secretly recruit agents fluent in Mandarin Chinese. It was decided that this particular ministry should be used as a tool to aid the establishment of a secret Iranian-Chinese economic project. Hence, Iran is recruiting Chinese businessmen linked with fake trade firms under the direct supervision of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry with the aim of evading international surveillance of their businesses. Attempts are also being made to bribe senior state officials in the Chinese trade sector and banking system, in a bid to steal a march over rivals seeking to win lucrative deals, specifically in the energy sector.

The office of the Iranian Supreme Leader has emphasized the need to keep these plans secret, fearing potentially devastating consequences if they were discovered by the Chinese. Khamenei has emphasized the importance of China’s economic ties with Iran (Iran is among major exporters of crude oil to China), but his international affairs advisor Ali Akbar Velayati has suggested that these relations are effectively guaranteed: “China relies on Iran. Such a partnership is useful to them as well.” Velayati added that “Iranian officials could in fact extend their influence in China, for Iran is significant to the Chinese economy.”

There has been some opposition to the plan from within the Iranian Intelligence Ministry itself, out of fear of possible political consequences if the plan is exposed. The Intelligence Ministry was forced to intensify its counter-surveillance operations after Indian Navy marine commandos stopped a trade ship (Nafis-1) flying the Iranian flag inside Indian waters on the 14th August 2011, with eight African crew-members onboard and a cargo of equipment from the Far East. Ever since this incident, the Intelligence Ministry has undertaken desperate efforts to prevent its activities being tracked. Despite such a setback, the “mission” is still active in China because Moslehi, Velayati and the inner circle of Khamenei are convinced that such recruitment serves the prime objective which they believe will lead towards the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and the land-to-land missile project. This is apart from the significant information and materials that have been obtained from North Korea, and are now being developed in Iran.

The new information which Iran has obtained through its Chinese recruits is extremely sensitive, including 60 possible exporters of dual-use nuclear equipment (some of which is produced by Japanese firms), and the raw materials which Iran requires. Through these new channels, Iranian intelligence has found a way to obtain high-quality carbon fibers, which Iran requires to construct more advanced centrifuges than those installed in Natanz, south of Tehran. Other items sourced include special oils and minerals that are necessary for these projects, as well as computer machines manufactured by the Chinese company “SMTCL” (the transactions and dealings are carried out between the identified company and the holding companies established by the Iranian government, so that Iran can purchase electronic equipment to produce the main components of missiles).

Moslehi is aware that this new supply chain will dramatically increase Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities in Natanz, as well as in other major nuclear sites in Iran. The obtained information also included a stock inventory list of certain Chinese companies, which Iran can use to circumvent the official sanctions imposed by China and its international partners.

As a result of the successes achieved by the Moslehi “mission” in China, Khamenei has ordered that an additional 80 million Riyals (US $ 55.7million) be paid to the Intelligence Ministry, and deposited in the fund for Iranian interests in China 2011 – 2012. Part of the sum will be invested in “human resources”, with emphasis laid on teaching the Chinese language to Iranian officers in Tehran, so that they can work efficiently on the secret documents they receive from China.

The Iranian military and espionage circus is at its very peak, but as for the Iranian people’s living standards, these will be determined by the Iranian elections in March 2012.