In September 2011, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Iranian descent was arrested for allegedly plotting to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States.
The wheels for the plot were reportedly put into motion by members of the Quds Force, a wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard that works to serve that nation’s interests overseas.
Was this an isolated incident, or a manifestation of the organization’s desires to carry out operations in the U.S homeland?
Steven O’Hern, a former U.S. intelligence official in Iraq, and author of the book, “Iran’s Revolutionary Guard: The Threat That Grows While America Sleeps,” makes a case that the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei’s personal force does have designs on the homeland.
The Revolutionary Guard is a “unique organization that plays several roles — secret police, theocracy, intelligence agency, commando force, military adviser to rebel armies, and a thriving business empire,” O’Hern wrote.
The approximately 125,000 members do not answer to civilian rule and are separate from the regular military. He quotes a U.S. official describing the Quds Force as “taking the CIA, special forces and the State Department and rolling them all into one.”
As a former intelligence officer in Iraq during the depths of the insurgency there, O’Hern went toe-to-toe with Quds Force operatives. The book gives a detailed description of the Guard’s activities both in Iran and abroad.
The Revolutionary Guard works through proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The book documents cases of Lebanese immigrants actively involved in illegally raising funds to send back to Hezbollah in their home country.
However, there is no evidence that these law-breakers are setting out to attack the homeland, he notes.
“The activity that most threatens U.S. civilians is also the most difficult to prove as a valid threat — the sleeper cell,” he wrote.
He defines them as innocent-appearing residents who carry out normal lives while awaiting orders from a foreign power to carry out terrorist attacks. Such plots are the stuff of Hollywood movies, O’Hern admitted. And if his contacts in federal law enforcement know of any such cells, they did not reveal their existence to him.
Rumors of Iraqi sleeper cells awaiting Saddam Hussein’s orders emerged in the weeks prior to the 1990 and 2003 invasions of that nation, but there were no attacks on the homeland.
In the case of Manssor Arbabsiar — the Corpus Christi, Texas, used-car salesman and restaurant owner, who was reportedly recruited to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C. — he was allegedly working with Mexican drug traffickers to carry out the plot. (One turned out to be a Drug Enforcement Agency informant). O’Hern acknowledged that there are those skeptical that the Quds Force would be involved in such a ham-handed plot and that it would form an alliance with drug cartels.
As for Hezbollah, he quotes U.S. officials testifying at a House subcommittee on international terrorism hearing that the organization does have global reach and a network in the United States.
Both Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guard are active in Latin America, particularly in countries with unfriendly relations to the United States such as Venezuela.
O’Hern speculates, but provides no concrete evidence, that Hezbollah operatives could carry out suicide attacks on U.S. soil or launch missiles from inside Mexico as Hamas has done — targeting Israel — from inside the Gaza Strip.
“The Hezbollah presence in America is little noticed by the public and seems to be ignored by policymakers, but it has given the Revolutionary Guard a powerful weapon to use against the United States,” O’Hern wrote.