Iran Pulse

Iran's low-key reaction to bugging of supreme leader

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Article Summary
Iran's response to reports that the US National Security Agency bugged Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a trip to the Kurdistan region of Iran in 2009 has been relatively muted and has not affected Iran's position on negotiations with the P5+1.

TEHRAN, Iran — While Iranian diplomats and officials have been working for the past two months in successive meetings to lower the walls of distrust between Iran and the governments of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, or P5+1, the revelation of that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who enjoys a special sanctity in the Iranian power structure, had been bugged by the Americans has not been met with a strong reaction from Iran.

The most recent reports based on former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden's documents show that the NSA had bugged Khamenei during his trip to the Kurdistan region in 2009, a month before the presidential elections. According to these documents, when the NSA became aware of Khamenei’s trip to the Kurdistan region of Iran, it organized a mission with advanced espionage technology under the code name Dreadnought.

In this mission, not only was the supreme leader’s trip monitored, but also his speeches, the conversations of his security detail, his pilots, and his airplane and helicopter mechanics' wireless conversations. The NSA also bugged the wireless conversations of the leader's security detail. The goal of this bugging was said to be to find “communications fingerprinting,” which would have facilitated NSA efforts to monitor the leader's future conversations and connections.

One political analyst in Iran said, “I was shocked to hear this news.” He continued, “I have no doubt that those close to the supreme leader and the supreme leader himself are very furious over it. The interesting thing is that he and his supporters who have championed him over the past 25 years since he came to power made him out to be invulnerable. But now, he has been bugged. If one were to examine this news, it would deal a sharp blow to the prestige of Iran's leader.”

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Interestingly, this news which was met with a meaningful silence in Iran's domestic media. In the week since this news was reported, most of the well-known conservative press, such as KayhanResalat, and Jomhuriye Eslami, have not published anything about it.

The Principlist site Harf-e No wrote to discredit the bugging of the Iranian leader's trip. “It is worth noting regarding the claim about this espionage plot that the Supreme Leader of the Revolution's trip to the provinces was discussed in the days before the trip by the national media and the press throughout the country and by the people themselves, and the entire program, both its essentials and its margins, were covered by the national media and the provincial channels and all the country's media.”

A reliable reporter for a reformist newspaper who spoke anonymously with Al-Monitor said media editors were officially asked to avoid this topic, although Sharq apparently did not take this warning seriously. Sharq quoted Esma'il Kosari, a senior member of the parliament’s National Security Commission, as saying that there is a problem of  electronic eavesdropping by the United States, “but since they want to drag talk about the Supreme Leader into this, we must say that he does not carry a telephone with him, nor does he speak on the wireless, and this talk is nothing more than a bluff, and it must be said that he himself is sufficiently aware that America's filthiness is so vast that they want to make disorder and bug all the deliberations of the country's leaders and officials.”

Kosari said he believed the reports that the NSA spied on Iran’s supreme leader were meant to deflect from the diplomatic crisis that the US was spying on its own allies, such as Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. He said, “These statements are now purely a bluff to get out from under the transgressions they committed against the European leaders,” adding,  “They could get absolutely nothing out of the supreme leader.”

One of the young members of the Participation Front — one of two original reformist parties which were dissolved nearly four years ago — believes that it was fortunate that Khameini was not the only world leader listened to surreptitiously. “When the United States spies on Germany, France and its other allies in Europe, Khamenei certainly could not be very upset that he, America's most important enemy, was spied on too. That is, assuming he had actually been spied on.”

This political activist suggested that Khamenei’s reaction could perhaps be viewed by the supreme leader’s speech on Nov 4. On the 34th anniversary of the occupation of the American embassy in Tehran, he said, “In those days, our youth named the American embassy the Den of Spies and today, after the passing of three decades, the American embassies in the European countries, which are American allies, are called dens of spies. This shows that our youth have been 30 years ahead of their time.”

The activist said, “It is very clear that he was reacting to the subject of spying.”

For all that, a member of the Participation Front said, “I consider it unlikely that this news will have an effect on Ayatollah Khamenei's policies on the nuclear negotiations. You have seen how Foreign Minister Zarif and Secretary of State John Kerry conversed for five hours in Geneva yesterday.” Indeed, in that Nov. 4 speech Khamenei strongly supported his negotiators and publicly warned against criticizing any one of their negotiators.

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Found in: spyware, spies, security and intelligence, national security agency, khamenei, iranian supreme leader sayyed ali khamenei, iranian politics, intelligence

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