Why are Iranian hit squads operating in the UK and even the US? Former MI6 intelligence officer and spy novelist Matthew Dunn shares his inside info here!
What We Discuss with Matthew Dunn:
- Iranian hit squads are operating in the UK, the US, and other Western nations, threatening to kidnap, torture, and kill Iranians living abroad who are critical of the current regime.
- These hit squads are not expendable cannon fodder — they’re usually composed of former members of the Iranian security forces and intelligence services who are seriously trained to get the job done.
- This is not a new phenomenon — these hit squads have been working since the ’80s. But how have they kept themselves largely out of the public eye, and why have they suddenly become more active than ever before?
- We’ll examine the threat these hit squads pose to their targets and the general population, and scrutinize whether or not Western intelligence agencies are taking them seriously enough to counter their efforts.
- What function does MI6 serve in the post-Cold War landscape, and how does someone get invited to become part of its team?
- And much more…
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Thanks, Matthew Dunn!
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Resources from This Episode:
- Books by Matthew Dunn | Amazon
- Matthew Dunn | HarperCollins
- Matthew Dunn | Substack
- Matthew Dunn | Facebook
- Matthew Dunn | Instagram
- Matthew Dunn | LinkedIn
- MI6 | Wikipedia
- Iran Vows to Avenge Qassem Soleimani’s Killing Three Years Ago | Al Jazeera
- Three Charged with Iran-Backed Plot to Assassinate Journalist in US | The Guardian
- Iran’s Most Senior Diplomat Summoned to Foreign Office Again after Assassination Threats to UK Journalists | Sky News
- Iran Plans to ‘Kidnap or Kill’ UK Nationals: MI5 Chief | Sky News
- US Intelligence Shows Iran Threats on US Soil, but Blinken and Schiff Say This Shouldn’t Derail New Nuclear Deal | CBS News
- Spy Agency Investigating ‘Credible’ Death Threats from Iran against Individuals in Canada | CBC
- Londongrad | Tortoise
912: Matthew Dunn | Iranian Hit Squads in the UK and US
This transcript is yet untouched by human hands. Please proceed with caution as we sort through what the robots have given us. We appreciate your patience!
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Coming up next on the Jordan Harbinger show.
[00:00:03] Matthew Dunn: The head of m i five, our domestic security service made a public announcement that m i five had faulted at least 10 Iranian assassination attempts. The activity of Iranians intelligence services, including assassination attempts within the UK and particularly London, that Hamid is other parts of the world, the US included.
[00:00:29] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On the Jordan Harbinger show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. Our mission is to help you become a better informed, more critical thinker through long form conversations with a variety of amazing folks from spies to CEOs, athletes, authors, thinkers, and performers.
[00:00:51] Even the occasional arms dealer, drug trafficker, Russian spy, astronaut, or national security advisor. And if you're new to the show or you want to tell your friends about the show, I suggest our episode starter packs. These are collections of our favorite episodes on persuasion, negotiation, psychology, geopolitics, disinformation, and cyber warfare, crime and cults, and more.
[00:01:08] That'll help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on the show. Just visit jordanharbinger. com slash start or search for us in your Spotify app to get started. Today, former MI6 operator and spy novelist Matthew Dunn on Iranian hit squads operating in London and even here in the United States.
[00:01:25] And it sounds fake. It sounds like something you'd find in a spy novel and I suppose you would, but this is actually completely true and happening right now. And like many topics on the show, I just had no idea that this was going on and it really surprised me. It'll surprise you as well, unless you're Iranian and these people have been coming after you too.
[00:01:41] Iran. Apparently has agents working overseas in the U. S. and in the U. K. threatening to kidnap, torture, and kill Iranians living abroad in western nations that are critical of the Iranian regime online, or people that have somehow done wrong to the regime in the past. Absolutely wild and not at all rare, apparently.
[00:02:01] There's something going on all the time with these hit squads. It's really shocking and surprising. I can't believe this is happening in the hearts of Western nations. I think this is a fascinating inside look at the world of espionage and terrorism from, frankly, a totally fresh angle, at least as far as I'm concerned.
[00:02:15] Now, here we go with Matthew Dunn. Now,
[00:02:22] I want to talk about some of the craziness going on here in the UK and globally, and I think you're probably a good guy to be asking about that. Thank you. First, though, tell us why you're a good guy to be asking about that. What qualifies you to know about all this international intrigue, Matthew?
[00:02:37] Matthew Dunn: After leaving university, I was tapped on the shoulder and I joined MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, which is Britain's equivalent of the CIA.
[00:02:49] And I worked for many years in MI6. Specifically, my role was targeting the highest echelons of rogue states and that required me to deploy overseas, typically to hostile territories, and operate largely alone, essentially trying to steal secrets from other countries. and get alongside, in many cases, some quite undesirable people.
[00:03:14] And in the course of that work, it gave me tremendous insight into what was happening in the world and what was happening from a very secret perspective. Yeah, of
[00:03:23] Jordan Harbinger: course, I'm talking tongue in cheek. There's people right now who are like, How dare you question this man's qualifications? It's a not so clever vehicle for getting you to talk about Being a spy, but I'm curious.
[00:03:33] What does it mean when you say tapped on the shoulder because I know for example the Central Intelligence Agency They have various ways of recruiting as well, but tapped on the shoulder for me It was like go to a career fair and there's a booth that says Central Intelligence Agency and they're like, hey I know you thought about analysts and and all that stuff and we were giving you pins But maybe don't take the pins and here's my card.
[00:03:54] It was very much how you get a regular job in many ways It sounds like you had a different path. Maybe they spotted talent in some other way. I mean,
[00:04:02] Matthew Dunn: in retrospect, looking back on it, it was very bizarre. When I was at university, MI6 only recently, I think by about two years had only become what was called publicly avowed, meaning it was declared as official, it existed, but still at the time that I was an undergraduate.
[00:04:21] You couldn't apply to the organization. There was no open application whatsoever. And so it was still very much done in a talent spotting kind of way. And a large part of that was universities. And a large part of that was they would have embedded talent spotters, people on the books of MI6, who would literally just look for people that they thought, yeah, this person potentially could make a spot.
[00:04:42] What happened in my case was, and it was in the second year of my university, I started working very closely with one particular professor, and he then put me in touch with another professor. The other professor, again, I worked very closely with him as well. Just started very sort of subtly and casually just started inquiring about what I wanted to do after graduation.
[00:05:04] Uh, at the time I expressed an interest in something government, something foreign service in particular. But essentially, long story short, it was really about a year and a half of some kind of courtship, if you like, to the point that both I and the professor both knew what we were talking about, but neither mentioned it explicitly.
[00:05:25] And it culminated in the professor saying, look, and this was in my third year of university, So, look, there are some people in London I'd like you to have a chat with. Go down to London, and that's what I did. Very salubrious venue in central London, and spoke to some people there, and pretty much from the get go they said, Look, do you know who you're talking to?
[00:05:43] Because we are not the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in other words the diplomatic corps, or something else. My response to that was, Yes, I do know who you are. You're the Secret Intelligence Service MI6. Answer, Yes, we are. Let's have a chat. And it went from there. And obviously I'm bullet pointing that whole process, but really it was about a year and a half of courtship, or dare I say, dreaded word, grooming to some extent.
[00:06:06] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that word means something else now. But like, beating around the bush is what it sounds like happened for a year.
[00:06:12] Matthew Dunn: And it is most bizarre because I think about it and I think, well, okay, then I went through all the tests, the aptitude tests, all the rest of it, all the interviews, everything else, and that was a very long and protracted thing, and very complex, very tough.
[00:06:26] It begs the question, what if I'd failed any one of those tests, you know, after that preceding year and a half of courtship? But, that was how they used to do it. Now, there is an open application process, everything is different. I would imagine they still have talent spotters in place.
[00:06:41] Jordan Harbinger: I mean, the more I think about this, and for the record, I did not work at the CIA because people are like, wait, did Jordan just accidentally admit that he worked at the Central Intelligence Agency?
[00:06:49] No, it's possible. There's something similar. I had a fellowship where I went to Serbia and that was one of these sort of Fulbright type of things. It wasn't a Fulbright, but it was a precursor to a Fulbright. It's called ACTR excels back then. But then I went to Serbia with it, and people were like, Wait, you didn't go to, like, France with your thing?
[00:07:07] And it's like, No, I went to Ser Why'd you go to Serbia? Well, and then, well, how did you get a visa to stay there for so long? Well, you know, there's finagling, and then I remember she goes, We like finaglers. Don't take the pins. And I said, Why not? And she's like, You don't need the pins. Don't take the pins.
[00:07:21] And what she meant, I think, was don't blab everywhere and give a bunch of these to your friends because we can't recruit you for the thing we're thinking about recruiting you for if you're giving out CIA pins to everybody in your dorm. Which makes sense. But even some of the most basic lessons still need to be taught, I guess.
[00:07:37] So, were you super excited though? Because you don't even know MI6 really exists, or at least it's not publicly avowed. It's basically sort of a... Whispers and conspiracy theory that professor's not telling you what it is and you show up to London What is it Whitehall or whatever and they're like, we're the spy agency and we want to recruit you I mean inside are you not like this is
[00:07:56] Matthew Dunn: awesome Yeah, it was really an odd time because I had absolutely no idea Really what the organization was doing because as far as I was concerned probably like everyone else It's the end of the Cold War collapse of the Soviet Union, etc, etc.
[00:08:11] So what are these guys doing? And also, obviously, pre 9 11 and the rise of big doubt in my mind as to, well actually, am I going into a job that ultimately might just be some kind of desk job and shuffling papers and picking up small bits of information and all the rest of it, so I had no idea what I was walking into.
[00:08:33] It wasn't really until my first day in training, and we were very good at this in the training process of opening up the books, as they call it, giving us past case histories, talking about what they do, all the rest of it. We would have serving and senior intelligence officers and retired, both British and foreign, come in to talk about what they've been doing in the past.
[00:08:53] It was only at that point, But I suddenly realized, my goodness me, this is the real deal, and, uh, this is extremely exciting stuff, but right up until that point, literally right up until day one, I had
[00:09:06] Jordan Harbinger: no idea. Yeah, that does make sense, right? It's the end of the Cold War, and you're thinking, we don't have any enemies.
[00:09:13] The only problems going on in the world are not British problems, maybe, largely. Maybe if you're really sort of educated, you're thinking, Oh, I'm going to be looking at conflicts between Chad and neighboring countries in Africa or something, or looking at atmospheric data in Antarctica or North Korea at best,
[00:09:30] Matthew Dunn: right?
[00:09:31] Yeah, exactly that. You know, I'd studied at university. I wasn't naive to the world. Amongst other things, I'd studied politics, international relations. and early ish 90s there was serious stuff going on, the Balkans for example and things like that, so I knew the world wasn't necessarily a completely safe place.
[00:09:51] But as you say, I kind of got the impression maybe MI6 is operating in specific, almost, dare I say, niche kind of areas, but it was only when I started that I realized, my goodness me, it's business as usual, if not more so.
[00:10:04] Jordan Harbinger: When they brief you, and I know I'm going to be inverging on asking you stuff that you just can't answer, but are they, Hey, here's all these things we're looking at right now.
[00:10:12] And you're like, Oh God, I had no idea that not only was the Balkans a thing, But there's all this mafia operation stuff going on in Russia and that's affecting the drug trade in Western Europe. And then you have Eastern European mafias and human trafficking and then you've got African migration issue.
[00:10:26] I mean, is it, do they just sort of outline all the crap that's going on that you might be working
[00:10:30] Matthew Dunn: on? Yeah, there's an element of that. I mean, the way they cover all of that is really just to give a holistic overview of the service and its structure and what it targets. Okay. So, all the different controllers, as they're called, the different departments, etc.
[00:10:44] So, that really does quite literally map out the world and all the concerns therein. It doesn't go into specific details because one of the things that I imagine it will be the same in the U. S. agencies, how MI6 operates is that it is very, um, a cell like structure. So, we don't get to find out the details of what colleagues in another department are specifically doing or not, but the bigger picture for sure.
[00:11:09] And that, together with learning about, in some cases, very recent case histories, and what happened, things that could be declared, that really gave myself, and as was the other 28, I think it was, new entrance, an almost jaw dropping experience of, my goodness me, you know, this is a completely different world than the one we
[00:11:33] Jordan Harbinger: expected.
[00:11:33] What sort of areas were you working on? Where were you deployed when you worked with MI6?
[00:11:39] Matthew Dunn: I had specific targets. The MI6 is demarcated very much according to targets. So I had very specific targets that I was responsible for. They varied during the course of my career. But in terms of where those targets and activities would take me, that really depended on the job.
[00:11:57] It wouldn't be a huge betrayal for me to say, for example, one target being Russia. And so that didn't mean that I was always going to Russia. I could meet somebody in Hong Kong or New York or, you know, Chile or wherever it would be. I It would be wherever the job would take me, and so that's where I would go, and I always would go there.
[00:12:16] To get the tasks done. As a result of that, I was traveling pretty much constantly to a multitude of different locations.
[00:12:24] Jordan Harbinger: In brief, how does that work? Do they know that you're MI6 or are they like, Oh, there's the guy who does the soil analysis for Oxfam.
[00:12:32] Matthew Dunn: It could well be a soil analyst for Oxfam because the vast majority of what I did was essentially deep cover.
[00:12:40] I mean, I would be going in as somebody completely different, not just in terms of name, background, et cetera, but in terms of what I was doing. And a large part of that was trying to get alongside people, targets. Under some other guise, with a view to cultivating them, forming a relationship with them over a period of time.
[00:13:00] And then getting them to the point where either I would then declare my hand, potentially I am MI6, I would still be a different name, but I am MI6. Or, I would hand them over to somebody else, who would then make that declaration. In terms of the covers that I used, at peak I had 14 different aliases, different lives essentially, which was a lot more than the norm.
[00:13:21] Jordan Harbinger: Wow, 14 is a lot of different identities. Why so many?
[00:13:25] Matthew Dunn: It was unusual. One thing is worth mentioning that perhaps unlike in the movies, books, etc., you know, my work would overlap. I'd have multiple different operations going on at any one particular time. And at one point I had 14 different operations, all at various different stages as well, so it becomes very complicated.
[00:13:43] And in terms of alias cover, that isn't just a case of having a, a dodgy passport and a credit card and a fake name. I had to really have a whole backstory, um, attached to each identity. Obviously the... the job I was doing, the fictitious job I was doing, and all the documentation and cover to back that up, but also almost a plausible life story.
[00:14:05] And the reason for that was very often, there could be bad luck situations, or just casual inquiries, typically, for example, getting through airports, other ports, etc. Where you can have somebody say to you, well, oh yeah, I went to that university, or whatever, you must know so and so, and you've got to have answers ready.
[00:14:24] In case of need or if I was stopped overseas for something casual as a witness to a crime or an accident or something and they want an address and they want to know details about where I live and all that stuff I have to be able to supply that. So quite a lot of detail would have to go into crafting each individual alias,
[00:14:43] Jordan Harbinger: and I had to remember it.
[00:14:44] Yeah, you can't be like, oh, I've just moved. I don't remember my phone number or my address or where I went to college, right? Like, that doesn't work. You can get away with that for one thing if you're like, I just moved the other day. It's on this street, but let me get the number. You can't do that with where you went to elementary school or middle school or high school.
[00:15:01] Like, that doesn't work.
[00:15:01] Matthew Dunn: I mean, the things that plausibly, of course, you could say I can't really remember the name of my first, I don't know, physics teacher at primary school or whatever. Sure. But, um, you've always got to remember, the more doubts you put into an inquiring person's mind, the more likely you are to blow your cover.
[00:15:17] So, best to avoid that. Yeah,
[00:15:19] Jordan Harbinger: that makes sense. It seems like 14, though, is, one, way too many, but two, it would have to be such that there's no chance that any of this is going to overlap, right? Like, you can't be in Dubai. And you're supposed to be Stephen Winkler, right? And then you run into somebody from London where you were not Stephen Winkler, and you're like, oh, shit.
[00:15:38] Because that's not impossible, and it's way more possible when you have 14 different
[00:15:43] Matthew Dunn: identities. Well, I'm sure you and your listeners will all have had moments where we've just bumped into somebody in a random place, and you think, what are the chances of that? And so for people like me, it was always a concern.
[00:15:54] What if I bump into somebody who knows me as something else? Not so bad as it was the UK, London or wherever, but obviously in a foreign country, particularly if it was a hostile country, that could be somewhat disastrous. So it was a concern and people like me would try to make sure as much as possible that there wasn't a chance of any casual encounters or whatever.
[00:16:15] But just taking a step back to the 14 different aliases and operating them, it is a lot, but I should explain that the way that MI6 operates, it's very rifle shot in terms of what it does. So what I would deploy under one alias. That's who I would be for the duration of that deployment, that operation, as we call them.
[00:16:33] It wouldn't be until I got back and sort of figuratively changed hats that I would become somebody else. I wasn't flitting between different identities, typically within one overseas location. or trying to be multiple personalities. That makes
[00:16:47] Jordan Harbinger: sense. You can't bring 14 or even two passports with different names on them through security in Saudi Arabia because if they find that you're totally screwed.
[00:16:56] Yeah, they don't
[00:16:56] Matthew Dunn: like it do they? No, I would imagine not. It's one of the things, a related point about traveling overseas and having anything on your person that could suggest you are something like a spy or even a criminal. The, you know, one of the questions I get asked is about, you know, gadgets and such like that, but it's a very similar thing to what you've just mentioned.
[00:17:14] I mean, try getting a gadget, a spying gadget through airport security and explaining it. So it is a problem. So very typically in terms of movement going from, in my case, the UK to an overseas location, I would have to travel like everybody else on passport. luggage contents that will easily be explained or look perfectly normal.
[00:17:36] If I needed anything unusual in country, I'd have to get it there rather than try and
[00:17:43] Jordan Harbinger: transport it. How do you get it there? You meet somebody from the local embassy or a friendly embassy and they drop it to you somehow? Yeah, you would have
[00:17:50] Matthew Dunn: somebody, yeah. So
[00:17:51] Jordan Harbinger: 14 different identities. All these different operations in different stages.
[00:17:55] Look, I get it that if you're pretending to be a normal person, and then you're pretending to be another normal person, but you obviously have to pretend to be a person who has expertise in a certain area. So, it would be really hard for even a brilliant actor to be both a soil scientist for one person...
[00:18:10] A diplomat from an embassy in the economic sector as another identity, it just gets more and more complex because you have to be living as that person, at least credibly, when you talk with somebody, and I guess people are trusting, but A lot of the people you're talking to are probably not that trusting, right?
[00:18:27] They're like, is this guy, what's up with this guy? Is he really who he says he is? So you have to pass just that level of scrutiny. That can't be easy.
[00:18:35] Matthew Dunn: It's not easy, but your word credibility is key to it all. Just to take a step back, when I would look at a target, an individual of interest, And it would be down to the individual intelligence officer.
[00:18:47] I would then craft cover that I felt A, could get alongside that person, but B, I could carry off convincingly. So let's take your soil analyst scenario. I couldn't do that. I would come up with something that I felt very comfortable doing. So it could well be, so soil analysis, geology, it could be something to do with mining.
[00:19:09] And as a result of that, It could be that I was a consultant, therefore a business person, who was looking at, I don't know, a trade deal for a mining operation in a certain location. I, as a result, know nothing about the technology surrounding drilling and all that comes with it. I'm just the money guy.
[00:19:29] And then I would go in under that guise and try to form a relationship on that basis, and that relationship could be anything. It could be a consultancy arrangement or whatever. So very much, I would try to play to my strengths rather than try to be something that I felt under pressure and over time, I would no longer be able to carry it off convincingly.
[00:19:51] Jordan Harbinger: Okay, that makes a lot of sense. Man, your career is really fascinating. I definitely should have you back and we can talk more. About that. But I don't want to run out of time before we talk about Iranian hit squads in London, which was sort of the impetus for this conversation. I can't remember exactly how I even came to this idea.
[00:20:06] I think you just shot me a note on WhatsApp and we're like, how about talking about Iranian hit squads in London, which like you obviously know how to push the right buttons for this podcaster. I started to research this thinking, Oh, hit squads in London. What are they? Once a decade, they fly over to London and they cause some trouble.
[00:20:23] I had no idea. Yeah. The scope and scale of Iranian operations in just this one major world city, but just one city. It's really something.
[00:20:33] Matthew Dunn: Yeah, it is. In fact, earlier this year, the head of MI5, our domestic security service, made a public announcement that MI5 had thwarted at least 10 Iranian assassination attempts recently.
[00:20:48] I personally think that number is probably downplayed. I think it's probably a lot more. But as you say, the activity of Iranians intelligence services, including assassination attempts within the UK and particularly London, but I mean, it is. A very busy sphere of operations for them, but not just limited to London or the UK.
[00:21:08] Um, it's other parts of the world the US included
[00:21:11] Jordan Harbinger: well, first of all any other cities in the UK come to mind because I sort of thought this was located, relegated mostly to London where a lot of the Iranian dissidents probably live. But I guess if they live in Bristol, there's agents in Bristol.
[00:21:24] Matthew Dunn: Yeah, they'll go wherever they need to go.
[00:21:27] Without getting into detail, there have been other cases that are elsewhere within the UK where there's been credible threats to life. As with the work that I used to do, on the flip side, Iranian agents, operatives, will go wherever they need to go. So if there is somebody in Bristol, or wherever, they'll get on a train or
[00:21:45] Jordan Harbinger: whatever and go there.
[00:21:46] And you said they're also operating in the United States. I assume we have Iranian dissidents in Los Angeles. Does that mean that then there's... potentially Iranian hit squads operating out of Beverly Hills in L. A.? Because that's kind of terrifying. The answer
[00:21:58] Matthew Dunn: to that is yes. And there has been public information that's been revealed about very credible threats within the United States.
[00:22:07] Yes, it is Iranian, um, Diaspora, wherever they are, including on the west coast of America and Iranian death squads, have gone to those places with the sole intention of committing an assassination. Thankfully, their actions have been thwarted so far, but there's a lot of activity. And it's a broader war for Iran.
[00:22:29] And in the case of the United States, it's important to note that a very key figure and this is in 2020, a very key figure within the Iranian regime, a general called Qasem Soleimani was assassinated by a drone attack by the United States. As a result of that, Iranian death squads are on the warpath and want revenge.
[00:22:50] And that means they will be very brazen and they will go onto U. S. soil to avenge their leader.
[00:22:57] Jordan Harbinger: Tell me a little bit about the Soleimani guy, because I know that he was assassinated by drone. I know a lot of people were like, oh, why did we do that? And that was kind of a strange thing to hear, right? You know, if you see Osama bin Laden, the first thing you want to do is grab him or kill him.
[00:23:12] This guy was different even though he was also responsible for the death of lots of Americans, American servicemen, and civilians in other countries through his actions. Was it just a bridge too far to take this guy out or was it more of, hey at least we know where he is and maybe what he's doing and now we don't because we killed him?
[00:23:29] Matthew Dunn: It's the same old conundrum building situ and try to get information or do you ultimately get to the point of thinking, let's take him out? With the case of Soleimani, it was the latter because he had been a very powerful figure within what's called the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is, as the name suggests, the religious army within Iran.
[00:23:54] He was not only a very senior figure within that, but also he was head of what's called the Quds Force, which is an organization within the IRGC. And the Quds Force, its remit is to export terrorism overseas and conduct assassinations. This was the guy that was running that unit. He'd been doing it for a very long time.
[00:24:15] There was no way at all that he could have been recruited, for example, by Western intelligence services to spy on his patch. So, ultimately, the decision was taken, okay, via a drone strike, as you mentioned, in Baghdad. Let's neutralize him. Now, of course, that always begs the question, as it always does in these situations, are the repercussions worth it?
[00:24:36] But obviously, that was carefully considered prior to the drone strike.
[00:24:39] Jordan Harbinger: What's weird about Iran that I don't totally understand, and I think a number of listeners probably share this confusion, is... What do you mean IRGC religious army? Isn't that just the army of Iran? But Iran actually has what regular military forces.
[00:24:53] And then there's a separate religious military force. That's essentially just for the regime. There's like an army like we have in the United States. That's ostensibly for the whole country. But Iran also has just regime, police, and military that only work to keep the current regime in power. Is that accurate?
[00:25:10] Matthew Dunn: is. The structure of Iran, both militarily, but also politically, is somewhat, not entirely complex, but it is somewhat complex. And it is shifting sands. But essentially, to keep it very, um, comprehensible, is there are three real power bases within Iran. One is the conservative religious leadership. The second is the political, which is spearheaded by the President of Iran, and the third is the judiciary.
[00:25:37] And for people like me, when I was in m i six, one of the constant problems I'm looking at, Iran was trying to ascertain who was in ascendancy, who was really pulling the strings. And it could vary between those three pillars as I've described them. The religious army, the I R G C, and also the religious police come directly under the leadership of the conservative leader.
[00:26:00] The Ayatollah, he controls them. The president of Iran does not control the likes of the IRGC, or within it, the Quds Force, or indeed the religious police. So that is a massive weapon that Iran's conservative religious leadership have, and it's a vast army. In terms of capability, it's probably the most meaningful military aspect they have.
[00:26:22] So it's not just a small bunch of fanatics, this is an army they will use to defend their borders and invade others if necessary.
[00:26:32] Jordan Harbinger: You are listening to the Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Matthew Dunn. We'll be right back. This episode is sponsored in part by Commetteer. So I bought a fancy ass coffee machine and the thing was like, well, I don't want to tell you how much it was, it's embarrassing.
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[00:29:53] You can find the course at jordanharbinger. com slash course. Now, back to Matthew Dunn. There's always something rotten. In a country when a regime or figure in the regime has their own army, right? I mean, it's like we have the United States army. Imagine if Joe Biden or Donald Trump just had their own army that was specifically for them and did what they wanted.
[00:30:14] That's terrifying from a democratic perspective, which the regime in Iran is not interested in, right? They're not interested in democracy. Speaking of which, you mentioned there's three power bases, the judiciary, the political where there is a president and the ayatollahs, the conservative religious establishment.
[00:30:30] But I know next to nothing about Iranian politics, but doesn't the president of Iran, aren't the candidates who are eligible to run chosen by the Ayatollah and his homies over there? It's not like anybody can run and they have popular support, right? It's just the Ayatollah says you can pick out of these three people who all agree that I'm in charge.
[00:30:50] Yeah. It
[00:30:50] Matthew Dunn: has to be blessed by the Ayatollah or whatever the right phrase is. So it's tokenism, democracy, it's of course it's not. And even the elections are fully rigged, and all the rest of it. But, we in the West often get used to hearing the President of Iran make speeches, talk about latest Iranian actions, whatever they will be, but it's worth remembering that he is not typically, structurally, The person who's at the top, who's pulling all the strings.
[00:31:17] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I do remember the president of Iran going to, was it Columbia University? And explaining how they don't have gay people in Iran. That went over really well. I'm
[00:31:25] Matthew Dunn: sure it did in Columbia University, yeah.
[00:31:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, Ahmadinejad. I'm probably
[00:31:29] Matthew Dunn: pushing that. Yeah, he was the previous one. Yeah, that's right. Yes. And there's a whole very complex situation.
[00:31:34] And of course, there's a whole backstory to Iran pre the revolution. It was a monarchy in charge and that wasn't necessarily a nice picture either because it was brutality and suppression under the Shah as well as before he was ousted. And so they've had a very complex history within the last hundred plus years.
[00:31:53] From my perspective as somebody who really had to operate against the excesses of Iran, I was also very minded about the country and about its rich history and the arts, philosophy and science and on it goes because Unlike certain other places within the region, if anything, I always felt that the people of Iran, who can also be, you know, charming, engaging people, I always felt that they'd been dealt almost sort of short thrift with the events of the monarchy and then the events of the revolution.
[00:32:26] So for us, it was always a case of perhaps wishful thinking, but it was a case of one day Iran will get back to what it used to be and it will genuinely be democratic.
[00:32:35] Jordan Harbinger: Thank you for saying that because a lot of times on the show I talk about Iran and we have at least 50, downloads. Per month of this show from Iran, which percentage wise for the show is not that much.
[00:32:49] I think for an English speaking podcast by some schmo in California, 50, 000 downloads per month from Iran of all places is pretty decent. I mean, I think the only places that have more downloads besides, you know, it's like the U S Canada, UK, Australia, Germany, France, and then it's maybe there's a few more, but then it's like Iran.
[00:33:07] It's probably my top 10 countries for audience, which when I saw that I thought it was a mistake. I thought that there was an error in the statistics and I double checked other places to make sure that was actually correct and it is and it's consistent every single month. So either they have 50, 000 intelligence agents downloading my show every time to listen to it, or there's actually plenty of people in Iran listening to this podcast, where by the way, our website is often blocked, so they're getting it some way.
[00:33:33] Around whatever internet controls they often have in the country and they're still getting it in those numbers, but I agree with you I think Iran is one of the places where I wish I had gone. I can't go now obviously current regime It's not safe for many people and including people that are from there, but it's definitely not safe for me to go there I love the food.
[00:33:50] I think the people are warm and amazing death squads. Maybe not included in that We'll talk more about those folks in a minute. But when you look at Persian history in Iranian history The crap they're going through right now, it's not a blink of an eye, but it's maybe a few blinks of an eye, right? This is a sad chapter in their history, but it's a long book.
[00:34:08] And I do think that they're eventually going to shake this crappy regime, which is essentially a relic from the cold war and a crappy revolution that didn't go right, in my opinion. And I would love to see the country as soon as it opens up, and I just hope I'm not 85 when it does, and I'm young enough to really enjoy it.
[00:34:26] But yeah, I thank you for being cool about Iran, because we have a lot of Iranian listeners, and you're right, they've been dealt an absolutely terrible hand, in part thanks to the United States meddling in their affairs, and in part due to this crappy revolution, and it's just not their fault. I want to be really clear that the people of Iran are the biggest victims of the Iranian regime, not the biggest perpetrators.
[00:34:48] Matthew Dunn: Also, it's not, I mean, they point the finger at the United States, the great Satan, as you know, nice phrase they have for you, but they have a very odd relationship with Britain as well because MI6, the organization I work for, was heavily involved behind the scenes with the Shah and some of the events that were taking place in Iran towards the sort of downfall of the Shah.
[00:35:08] As a result of that, it was always interesting for me talking to Iranians because they always had this sense that MI6 was still controlling everything there. Which of course was not the case whatsoever, but they had this sort of, oh yes, you know what's really happening and you know what's going on. They had this sort of love hate relationship with Britain, which was, in part, they loved us, but in part, they thought, yeah, we were the ones who were really doing all the stuff behind the scenes, which by no means was the case.
[00:35:36] Yeah, I
[00:35:36] Jordan Harbinger: think that sort of conspiracy thinking is really common in dictatorships, right? Because people don't, there's no transparency. The government blames outside forces for everything. North Korea does that, right? Like, oh, you don't have food? It's the United States because they're at war with us.
[00:35:50] Meanwhile, we're like, what are you talking about? It's because you don't export anything. And yes, that's partly because of sanctions, but it's in part because your government spends billions of dollars on nuclear weapons instead of like, trying to, I don't know, get food from China and South Korea. And they want to keep you hungry because you're not going to have a revolution if you're trying to feed yourself and your kids.
[00:36:08] Exactly. So there's a lot of encouragement to think like, well, we can't have nice things because of the great Satan or the UK, which I guess is what, the mediocre Satan? The mini
[00:36:18] Matthew Dunn: me Satan, I don't know, something like
[00:36:19] Jordan Harbinger: that, yeah. Iranians as a people, 70 percent of them, I read, have a satellite dish, which is illegal.
[00:36:25] That's a huge number of people getting outside media against the law. I don't know if that percentage still holds up, but that, I got that from London Grad, a podcast where actually you did a cameo.
[00:36:35] Matthew Dunn: If you get it from London Grad, then it will be accurate. Okay. That's a wonderful thing though, because if we compare and contrast, to the situation right now in Eastern Europe, Russia.
[00:36:45] Of course, communication within Russia is a major problem. Are the general Russian populace getting the same news, the same information, um, that we're guessing? Are they getting an accurate, um, data about, uh, all their, their sons, uh, uh, you know, dying for in Ukraine, et cetera. So to have, you know, potentially 70 percent of Iranians with some kind of communication access, satellite dishes, that gives hope.
[00:37:12] Because then if that will enable the changes that you and I have spoken about within the country, because they're getting access to information, and then dictatorship or no dictatorship, it becomes almost unstoppable. It becomes a force that inevitably breeds change. Okay,
[00:37:28] Jordan Harbinger: so that's the good of Iran.
[00:37:29] Let's talk about the crazy hit squads that are operating in Western cities all over the world. Sorry, Iranians. Well, actually, they probably find this stuff interesting, too, because I don't know how much they're able to learn. Uh, about this otherwise, especially from their own media. But I, again, on London Grad, which is a podcast we'll link to in the show notes, these hit squads do a lot of pretty horrible things.
[00:37:47] They will threaten to kidnap someone's kids from school, and they apparently have tried this before. They will send mail bombs to people and try to kill them. So who are they trying to hurt, by the way? The main
[00:38:01] Matthew Dunn: targets will be, uh, Iranians living overseas, but not entirely. They will attack anybody, essentially, who will undermine the regime, as is.
[00:38:11] Undermine, but also have some degree of influence over. Oh, great.
[00:38:15] Jordan Harbinger: Where does that put me? How am
[00:38:17] Matthew Dunn: I doing? That puts you, Jordan, in a slight tricky situation. But also, remember you're talking to an ex MI6 officer who also... did some work in the world. Hey, you're still alive. I'll be fine. We're both putting our necks on the line for the sake of good journalism and all the
[00:38:31] Jordan Harbinger: rest of it.
[00:38:32] Dude, if we meet up in the UK, we gotta go to, we gotta like, make our plans on encrypted communication and show up late or something. I don't know. I'll leave that security stuff to you. Maybe we don't need it.
[00:38:41] Matthew Dunn: Persian place. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, we won't, we won't go to H. R. Road in London. We'll go somewhere else.
[00:38:46] But, um, yeah, so they, they will target, um, Iranians, obviously, but also, um, for example, Americans, um, politicians have been, um, non Iranian American politicians have been targeted. Likewise, UK. And as you say, they can be extremely nasty. They don't care. Because, ultimately, what they're trying to do is send a message back to their country, look, this could happen to you as well.
[00:39:09] So, the more savage, the more brutal the act, the stronger the message. They are willing
[00:39:14] Jordan Harbinger: to do that. So some of this is for domestic consumption as well. Exactly. When you see things like Putin killing Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB officer who was poisoned with polonium 212, which is like this really horrible way to go, radioactive poisoning.
[00:39:28] That was particularly brutal and also very much obviously... Directly from the top of the Russian regime because you can't even get that stuff unless you're like working with it at NASA and or you're Vladimir Putin's homeboy. Yeah. So that's for domestic consumption too, right? Where it's like, hey, were you thinking about snitching about your KGB days?
[00:39:46] Look at how we killed this guy. It was definitely us and we made international news and unless you want to be next, maybe just like don't become a double agent or stay
[00:39:55] Matthew Dunn: retired. It's exactly the same modus operandi. The parallels between what Russia has done and what it continues to do and what Iran does in terms of assassinations and the message to its internal populace, I mean they're exact those parallels.
[00:40:10] You know we've seen it in the UK with Litvinenko as you've mentioned and saw more recently the Skripal family in Salisbury who attacked again with a nerve agent. And Iran will do the same thing for the same reason, which is they will want to shut up that person, but also send that message back to Iran saying, don't do similar.
[00:40:29] Jordan Harbinger: heard that there's an average of one kidnap or assassination plot per month in the UK. I'm not sure if that's just London or the whole of UK from Iran alone. And that's quite high, but you had said earlier that you think that maybe that number is downplayed just so people, what, don't panic that there's an assassination attempt every single week in their
[00:40:49] Matthew Dunn: neighborhood?
[00:40:49] Precisely that. I think it's downplayed because, just to quell any sense of panic, but I, without going into detail, do have strong reasons to think it is considerably higher than the number that the DG, the Director General of MI5, stated. But nevertheless, even in the statement that he made earlier this year, Jaws still dropped because it was even for us in the UK.
[00:41:12] It was quite some news that this was happening on our patch Happening right under our noses Extremely active your figure of while kidnapping or attempted kidnapping per month. I don't know about
[00:41:23] Jordan Harbinger: that. It's from London grad So
[00:41:24] Matthew Dunn: that's all I know sounds very feasible Certainly what I can say from my days and in terms of operating was the attempts and the plans going on were constant.
[00:41:35] And they weren't targeting just big sites like London or similar. It could be anywhere around the world. By any means, not just Westerners or Iranians living in the West. It was other people. And of course, we have to then throw into the mix that Iran is Shia and its sworn enemies are Sunnis. So that brings in to a lot of other enemies that are closer to home to the state of
[00:41:57] Jordan Harbinger: Iran.
[00:41:58] So you mentioned before, just to give the audience a little bit of context, you mentioned Sergei Skripal. This is a guy that was, and people might remember, poisoned basically on a park bench with his daughter, former KGB or former FSB agent, who defected and then I guess retired and they, they tried to kill him with Novichok, which is this like military grade poison.
[00:42:18] And that's a Russian example of what Iran is potentially trying to do here in or here in the United States and over in the UK to dissidents or politicians or anybody who might be unfriendly to the Iranian regime. Okay, so why, why are they doing this now? And why is the rate so high? Are there really that many dissidents?
[00:42:38] Props to MI5, which is essentially the British FBI, for lack of a better word, for foiling these, because finding a murderer, I guess, is difficult, but preventing them from killing somebody when they have state backing and resources has got to be quite a challenge. Yeah,
[00:42:54] Matthew Dunn: and my job at MI6 overseas, operating, would very often filter right back to MI5.
[00:43:01] We would work on joint operations, or indeed, I will be working on an operation. and get information, get intelligence, I would then feed back to MI5 and so a starting point could be with me being elsewhere in the world and it could end in somewhere like London or whatever with a plot foiled. A very common thing and the same will apply to the relationship between the CIA and the FBI.
[00:43:24] in terms of that relationship symmetry. But in terms of trying to foil these plots, very complex and required a lot of work, and to some extent, not so much luck, but also a great deal of consideration. The old adage, you know, try and stop as many as you can, but with the knowledge that some will always slip through the net.
[00:43:44] So, let's take that super of 10 that the head of MI5 quoted at the beginning of this year. It wouldn't be unreasonable to say, okay, there was, you know, 10 attempts for Will, but one or two still got through, you know, or nearly got through. So, you know, Will was playing that ratio game. But the other thing to mention, um, in terms of the parallels with Russia, One of the ongoing big concerns, of course, with Iran is its covert nuclear, weapons grade nuclear program, what it's doing.
[00:44:15] And thank goodness, at the moment, Iran does not have a stockpile, if you like, of weapons grade plutonium or whatever that Russia has. So Russia can send two GRU agents to the sleepy cathedral city of Salisbury in the west country of England. and use weapon grade nerve agents. Iran, as far as we're aware, still can't do that.
[00:44:40] So it's still very much sort of blood and guts, knives and guns
[00:44:43] Jordan Harbinger: territory for them. Are we not worried that Russia's going to be like, here's some plutonium or polonium or uranium to go ahead and use? Well,
[00:44:51] Matthew Dunn: we're petrified of it. Yeah, because precisely because of that. Yeah, we've got some left over. Here you go.
[00:44:57] And that was a major concern when I was operating, and a lot of activities happened around that
[00:45:03] Jordan Harbinger: concern. You mentioned that Iran is mostly blood and guts in terms of assassinations, at least in the UK. Can you give us some examples? I know one that stood out to me was, there was a dissident who had left Iran.
[00:45:15] I can't remember exactly why he was wanted, but he had to go to India. Or something like that. And he ended up traveling through Dubai. I don't know if the flight was rerouted and they kidnapped him from Dubai and they executed him. I think they executed him back in Iran. And his wife was essentially watching his location dot on, you know, from his iPhone travel from Dubai.
[00:45:39] Matthew Dunn: Yeah, I mean, in terms of answering your question of some examples, I mean, obviously there are the public reports that are out there, but it goes without saying I have a lot of examples under my belt, which cannot regrettably be made public. But what I can say, and it's interesting you mentioned Dubai, Dubai is an interesting one because obviously it's a major port, it's a transit point, and of course very close to Iran.
[00:46:04] Um, yeah, You know, a lot of activity takes place within that emirate, but the types of activities which would be cross border, kidnapping, assassinations, relocating of people from one jurisdiction to another, and an assassination taking place in the other jurisdiction, that is very familiar territory for
[00:46:24] Jordan Harbinger: me.
[00:46:25] There was one, I did this earlier on the show and I can't remember what episode it was, but there was a guy who was essentially a known terrorist. He had wounded the Ayatollah in a bomb attack. And he fled to somewhere in Scandinavia or the UK and somehow they found him in a Facebook photo of a friend of a friend or a relative, some graduation party, they located him and found him and they were able to get to him.
[00:46:49] So this is not sort of like rogue actors inside the UK, right? These are intelligence agents that have a lot of resources and backing from inside Iran and their full time job is to go and find these people and try to
[00:47:01] Matthew Dunn: end their lives. And in part, people like me, it's a blame, really, for that level of expertise because MI6 helped previous ruler, the Shah, helped his notorious secret services, SAVAK, helped him a lot with the training there in terms of how to conduct proper intelligence, sophisticated intelligence, all the rest of it.
[00:47:21] Now that is still very much in place within Iran. They have an intelligence service. The MOIS, which is a foreign intelligence service, it deploys intelligence officers overseas. They do have a relationship with the more fundamentalists within IRGC and the CODS force. It's a bit of an arm's length relationship, but that relationship exists.
[00:47:43] And as a result of that, in terms of profiling targets, identifying targets, getting intelligence on them, they are certainly a step up compared to the intelligence services of, for example, neighboring countries. And that's because they have had decades and decades of experience of doing that. Again, thanks to the help of certain Western intelligence services who train them.
[00:48:08] Jordan Harbinger: This is the Jordan Harbinger show with our guest Matthew Dunn. We'll be right back. This episode is also sponsored by Something You Should Know podcast. Diving into the vast podcast ocean looking for another golden nugget? Well, I don't know if that analogy makes sense. Whatever. Well, allow me. To reintroduce a gem I've mentioned before.
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[00:49:43] Now for the rest of my conversation with Matthew Dunn. What I found in my research, Is that these guys might get arrested if the plot is foiled, and many of them in the 80s, they just died because the bomb they made in their apartment blew up and killed them or whatever, or at least that's the story. But a lot of times now it seems like they get arrested, but instead of getting tried and thrown in prison, they end up being traded for hostages inside Iran.
[00:50:12] So it really seems like a losing battle, right? Because they can send as many assassins as they want, roll the dice as many times as they need to do what they need to do. The UK grabs these guys, keeps them for a year or two, and then it's like, oh, well, we're going to arrest some random person in Iran that has dual citizenship with the UK, the US, Canada, or whatever.
[00:50:31] And we're going to trade this dude who, I don't know, sells train parts. for spies who attempted to kill somebody on UK soil. And so these hostile regimes, these rogue regimes, they always have the upper hand because they're always acting in bad faith or they're always willing to act in bad faith with hostage diplomacy, right?
[00:50:49] Like somebody might get arrested for a really damn good reason and they'll just go and say, fine, we're not letting out these random other people that are tourists. They haven't done shit, but oh well. Yeah,
[00:51:00] Matthew Dunn: it's exactly that. And Iran, yes, hostage diplomacy, I mean, that's its very crass tactic on that level.
[00:51:06] Begs the question, you know, what do you do? I mean, how do you get around that? The only thing I have noticed, obviously, is a position I'm in now, which is completely out of the loop. But I sense that there is a change of foot. Partly the increase, and I suspect it is an increase, in the activities of death squads.
[00:51:25] other components within the Quds Force, kidnappings, etc. I think the increase in activity partly reflects a higher state of insecurity within the power base of Iran. If anything, they're having to up the ante, do more of it, keep sending that message back to the country because it's fragile. We've seen, again, very recently, a lot of uprisings, demonstrations, some quite violent, the classic one about wearing the headscarf, but other things, schooling, and other things, democratic voting rights, things like that.
[00:51:56] So there is, again, a swell, a mood of change within the population of Iran, and that will be obviously very noted by the powerful elite. And so, why not send its death squads out to do that? And then conversely, what I've also noticed, and it is interesting because, as you say, in the old days, a lot of this just simply wouldn't make the press.
[00:52:17] It wouldn't make the headlines. We wouldn't hear about it. And yet, suddenly we are now, which suggests, certainly in the case of my country, the UK, that they're taking a somewhat more bullish, robust approach with this. That's on the back of relatively recently one or two quite high profile British non spy British people who were imprisoned within Iran on allegations of espionage.
[00:52:41] You know, a long protracted process of negotiating their release. And yet Britain is still being quite open and bullish now. That wasn't the case when I was serving. So it does suggest a bit of a shift in terms of the geopolitical landscape we're talking
[00:52:56] Jordan Harbinger: about. Here's something that I think is a little bit.
[00:52:59] Scary. You mentioned there's an uptick in this in part because the Iranian regime is is on shaky ground with the current uprising about the headscarves and other issues. Are we going to see as regimes like Putin's regime, Iran, these regimes lose stability, lose the grip on the population. Are we going to see more terrorism that they're exporting because of that?
[00:53:20] So because that doesn't bode well for us living in the United States and the UK and Canada and wherever else. If these regimes as they decline, which they are obviously doing, export more and more terrorism, then we can expect a lot more
[00:53:32] Matthew Dunn: terrorism. I regrettably suggest that that would be the case, that there would be.
[00:53:38] And now obviously we can't put a time frame on it, but let's say the dying years or it could even be decades, but if the only way they can Maintain grip, you know, grip of power is to become increasingly more aggressive and do that overseas, then of course, then we are going to be at the receiving end of all of that.
[00:53:57] And the receiving end will be mainland Europe, United Kingdom, America, and Canada in
[00:54:02] Jordan Harbinger: particular. Yeah, it scares me because as Putin or the Ayatollahs gradually realize they have nothing to lose, that's when they start really flailing, and that's terrifying. The Quds Force, we, I remember we were going to sort of go down that road, but we hadn't.
[00:54:15] You mentioned that there's two militaries in Iran, and one is the fundamentalist IRGC, the Revolutionary Guard, is it Council? Or Corps? Corps. Corps, yeah. Corps. And the Quds Force is their, what, external, you said sort of their, how they export terror. Can you expand on that a little?
[00:54:32] Matthew Dunn: Quds component, cadre, full time component of hand picked IRGC, typically military personnel.
[00:54:43] They are highly trained, or at least to their level, highly trained in espionage, tradecraft, all the skills you need as a spy, but also trained in paramilitary activity. And what they typically do is they will train other terrorist organizations or cells or whatever how to conduct terrorism on their patch.
[00:55:04] It wasn't that common for full time Quizforce personnel themselves to conduct an extreme action. Usually they would get a third party, whether, you know, another affiliate, or they would subcontract even to criminals or whoever. They like to be at arm's length from the actual action itself. But nevertheless, they would be involved in planning, logistics, it.
[00:55:28] I think that's partly changing now. I think there is a sense that Critical Force personnel are becoming more proactive directly, more directly involved in the immediate actions. And that again is a slight shift and perhaps an indication, to some extent, of desperation in terms of what they're doing. But as a unit, Quite highly trained, quite good tradecraft skills in terms of a level of expertise of being a spy, not to the level of the likes of CIA or MI6 or DGSE in France, BND Germany, etc.
[00:55:58] But they're good enough. They're good enough to get in and out of countries under different, uh, documentation. They're good enough to organize and plan and do, and pose a very credible threat. And good enough. to draw in a lot of resources to try and thwart
[00:56:13] Jordan Harbinger: their actions. In Londongrad, and I know I keep citing that, whatever, people can go listen, it's a great podcast, and I'll link it in the show notes, it seems that another thing Quds Force does is, and this is kind of spooky the way they phrase this, they monitor Jews, Jewish activity, and Israeli targets.
[00:56:28] Yeah. And they were very sort of specific about separating those, which is kind of creepy that. They're monitoring just Jewish people in New York going to synagogues. I mean, that is about as terroristic as it gets, right? Yeah,
[00:56:40] Matthew Dunn: the differential between the state of Israel and Jews, for example, living in, as you say, New York, that differential was certainly quite heavily in play when I was working, but I've noticed actually it's become far more blurred.
[00:56:54] And I think the reason for that blurring is simply, well, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if they are targeting a staunch supporter of Israel. versus simply targeting a prominent Jewish figure. As far as they're concerned, they're still making the same statement. So as a result of that, it is a very concerning time.
[00:57:14] If one is on the list of, um, perceived enemies of Iran, doesn't matter who you are, um, then it is a concern. In
[00:57:22] Jordan Harbinger: addition, and I think they're tasked with finding nuclear materials for creating nuclear weapons, as you mentioned, facilitating terror abroad and exporting the Iranian revolution outside of Iran.
[00:57:35] So when we think of groups like Hezbollah, what would you say Hezbollah? Hezbollah is interesting, right? Because it's not just they blow things up and it's terrorism. They also run hospitals, they run schools, but it's not quite like. If they're operating in Lebanon, it's like, is it a Lebanese group or is it an Iranian group?
[00:57:51] It's sort of confusing.
[00:57:52] Matthew Dunn: Yeah, it is. And affiliating to the likes of Hezbollah, which, who would define themselves as freedom fighters, essentially, or pilgrims or whatever they want to call themselves. And that very much fits the narrative of Iran. So, you know, the export of the Iranian revolution, I mean, that was almost the equivalent of their constitution after the revolution, that this must be done, the word must be spread, and it must be spread far and wide.
[00:58:15] first and foremost it must should be spread within the middle east and so affiliating with armed groups who in other respects may be quite benign in terms of their activity but nevertheless are terrorists as far as we would define them. That's what they do and they support them with arms, with training, logistics, all the rest of it.
[00:58:33] And the organization at the forefront of that would be the Quds Force.
[00:58:37] Jordan Harbinger: Another thing I found interesting, you mentioned arm's length in the Quds Force and Iran wanting to be arm's length from some of the things that they're doing and that changing. This group, Thieves in Law, have you heard of this? It's like an outlaw.
[00:58:49] gang from the, it's sort of a Soviet relic. Does this ring any bells for you? No, it doesn't
[00:58:53] Matthew Dunn: ring any bells. I suspect I know where you're going with this, but no, that particular name doesn't ring any bells with me. Yeah.
[00:58:59] Jordan Harbinger: I could be wrong about the name or maybe it's translated and you use a different name, but essentially this thieves in law outlaw group.
[00:59:06] Stalin had these full gulags, right, and he developed this, I guess you would call it society, to organize the gulags, I don't really know much about that particular element of it because it's historic and I didn't look into that, but now, they still exist in some way, and yes, they're not in gulags, but I guess this turned into essentially a mafia.
[00:59:25] And they now have Iranian connections and they do dirty work for mafia groups, Iran, probably also Russia and other ex Soviet states, all over the former Soviet Union, but also abroad. And they do, yeah, they do dirty work. They're a criminal proxy for places like Iran. And Iran likes to outsource this type of thing, from what I understand, to proxies because then they can, what, deny that they had anything to do with it?
[00:59:51] How does that work when everyone knows the motive was Iran's and also that this, they work with this group. Like how does that actually work
[00:59:58] Matthew Dunn: in practice? Well, firstly, you're correct in terms of the outsourcing. I mean, that was a very common methodology that I saw when I was working in MI6. Way more so than, um, other hostile intelligence services.
[01:00:12] Iran was right up there with doing that. It was a preferred way of doing it. And some of the best people they could use were criminals who were simply financially motivated to do their dirty work. And who would not shy away from doing the dirty work? As we discussed earlier, some of that dirty work had to be quite brutal in nature.
[01:00:30] So why not approach hardened criminals who weren't battered on it, uh, doing such gruesome work? And the other aspect to it is practical, which is for Iranian nationals who work for the Quds Force or in general IRGC military, it's actually very hard for them to move around even on false passports or whatever, and they do it.
[01:00:55] But it is quite difficult, and they're very minded about that. They're very minded about capture, getting stopped at the border or whatever. And so far easier if they give it to a criminal organization. Let's take the United States, a criminal organization that's already embedded in the United States.
[01:01:11] Give them the job to do it. So it makes it easier for them to do it
[01:01:15] Jordan Harbinger: that way. I guess I still don't quite understand why it's easier, right? Like, okay, look, if I'm a foreign spy and I want to kill someone in the United States, do I go to the, and I'm going to use an antiquated reference here, the Italian mafia and have them do it?
[01:01:28] Because then I got to trust someone there not to screw me over. They're going to, why do they agree to it? Like, oh, right now we're running.
[01:01:47] Matthew Dunn: I'm not saying it's a brilliant way of doing things, but it's certainly the way that they do operate and I mean, unlikely that it's going to be a mafia organization. The FBI is all over and more likely it's going to be some shadowy Eastern European. Type of organization or similar or something or Africa or wherever, but that is seemingly that's how they prefer to work.
[01:02:07] I mean, it's in sharp contrast to the way that Western intelligence services work. So there is a question mark over their tradecraft and rationale behind it. But all I can say is that's
[01:02:18] Jordan Harbinger: what they do. The only thing that comes to mind and again, what do I know? Is if I hire some African organized crime, human traffickers to do something for me and they get caught one.
[01:02:31] Yes, I can deny it. And even if everybody knows it was me, I don't really give a crap if those people are in prison. If I'm Russian and a bunch of Africans get arrested, right? I just don't care. It's not my guy. I don't have to train him. Maybe I lost a little bit of money, but I have an unlimited supply of idiots.
[01:02:44] They're going to do my dirty work for me because I'm paying I'm not losing my own agents. I don't have to trade anybody for them. I mean, that's kind of the only thing I can think of. Yeah,
[01:02:53] Matthew Dunn: so it becomes an element of, yeah, disposable assets or whatever. Yeah, it's, I think, a large element of that. I mean, the one thing that does fly in the face of it is that Iran really does not wish to become deniable.
[01:03:08] You know, it doesn't mind if there's an assassination. It doesn't mind if everyone says, it kind of shrugs its shoulders. It doesn't get indignant about it, and if anything, it wants people to know it was then. Right. So I think it really does come down to that sort of practicality aspect of it, with the question marks over whether it is the best methodology or not, but that just seems to be the way they prefer to work.
[01:03:29] It's been going on for decades, it was noticeable when I was working.
[01:03:31] Jordan Harbinger: In closing here, didn't y'all just arrest three, were they Bulgarian spies, Russian spies over there in the UK? And the headline here in the United States was like, Russians that baked cakes for neighbors arrested as spies, which is dumb.
[01:03:46] Matthew Dunn: I was going to say, you have more information than we have. We didn't hear about the baking of cakes. But yes, we've had three Bulgarians. I think there is talk of whether there's going to be a fourth arrest or whatever. who were arrested in February, but it's only just been made public within the last day or so.
[01:04:00] Oh, wow. I think one in London and two in what we call the home counties outside of London in England, who are Bulgarians with proven links to Russian intelligence services. Who've been active and the three have been active for I think something like 10 years or whatever That information has been released and the conversations i've had Have all warned me that there are legalities surrounding the case and that we can't talk about it openly but that is breaking news and of course is just more of the same in terms of what russia is doing and in the context of How Russia operates that again, there are parallels to how Iran operates because Russia will put people into UK who are just eyes and ears, just pigging out, tittle tattle, you know, that stuff.
[01:04:43] They will also put people into the UK, as we know, who will turn up, as we discussed, with military grade nerve agents and contain enough of it in one bottle to wipe out a hundred thousand people. So, You know, we have to take all of these things very seriously.
[01:04:56] Jordan Harbinger: So people are probably thinking, Oh crap, I've got Persian neighbors.
[01:05:00] There's Iranian kids that go to school with my kids. There's Persian restaurant owners in my neighborhood. I would say, I don't want to increase suspicion of these folks because if anything, these people are more likely to be victims of Iranian intelligence services and death squads than members of those services and
[01:05:18] Matthew Dunn: death squads.
[01:05:19] I completely agree. People living in the West, whether it be in the States or Britain or wherever, tend to be people who have left, either this generation or previous generations have left precisely because they don't like what they've seen to their beloved country, what's been happening politically and religiously.
[01:05:37] My experience of, for example, the Iranians living in the United Kingdom, very erudite, charming, well educated people who are looking at their country almost with a bittersweet sense of thinking, you know, we want to go back, but we want our beloved Iran back, and we don't want this nastiness. So to your listeners who have people in the community, embrace them and talk to them.
[01:05:59] You know, get to understand their way of life and their experience of Iran. Certainly, no concerns.
[01:06:05] Jordan Harbinger: Matthew Dunn, really interesting. I definitely want to hear more about your career at some other point. We'll have to meet up when I'm in the UK, but I guess we can't get Russian food, we can't get Persian food, and there's probably some other categories that I'm forgetting, so McDonald's it is.
[01:06:18] Matthew Dunn: McDonald's, also you missed off here. It's Mollah food, I don't know if there is such a thing. But yeah, we certainly have a list of things we can't do. Basically,
[01:06:26] Jordan Harbinger: all the best food is off limits. Because I'm a huge fan of Persian food. I'm a huge fan of Lebanese food. Russian food is also quite delicious.
[01:06:33] I don't know. We're gonna have to go deep into the Rolodex and figure out where we can go without getting shivved.
[01:06:38] Matthew Dunn: Shock horror. You may have to have British food. No, thank you. I'm good. Yeah, I was gonna say things haven't got that bad.
[01:06:45] Jordan Harbinger: Things will never be that bad. Oh, and no Chinese food either.
[01:06:48] Unfortunately. Yeah. Thank you very much. And, uh, yeah, I'm looking forward to the next time we get to chat. My pleasure. I've got some thoughts on this episode, but before I get into that, I wanted to give you a preview of one of my favorite stories from an earlier episode of the show with Jonah Mendez. She was the chief of disguise for the CIA in Moscow during the latter part of the Cold War.
[01:07:10] We'd really get into the weeds and how they hid people and hid spy gear in one of the most hostile espionage environments anywhere in the world. We invented
[01:07:18] Jonna Mendez: technology that didn't even exist yet. The small batteries, for instance, they're in our watches and our phones and all of that stuff today.
[01:07:26] Jordan Harbinger: They're kind of like Q from James Bond, but it's the CIA. We could
[01:07:30] Jonna Mendez: create any kind of character over your face. Masks that came out of Hollywood. We'd say, great, go down to the cafeteria and have lunch. This is at CIA headquarters, where everybody knows everybody in the cafeteria. And they would go and discover that no one paid any attention to them.
[01:07:47] You go, wow, I'm hiding in plain sight. They were following us just every minute. The case officer would step out of the car, the driver would hit a button, this dummy would pop up, wearing the same clothes as the guy that had just left. Trailing surveillance would come around the corner and they'd follow that car all night.
[01:08:06] They never knew. And if they could get to those people, they would execute them. They were feeding people into these crematoriums, feet first, alive. Unbelievable. A really valuable agent said, I'll work for you on one condition, and that is that you give me the ability to take my own life. Eventually, everybody got arrested.
[01:08:24] So they arrested him. And we had put that L pill we gave him in the cap of the Mont Blanc pen. It was cyanide. And he knew where it was. And they said, we want you to write your confession. So
[01:08:36] Jordan Harbinger: they brought him as a bone block pit. For more with Jonna Mendez, including some incredible spy stories that will really perk your ears, check out episode 344 of the Jordan Harbinger show.
[01:08:48] So this obviously surprised me. There are hit squads from other nations. I think I've told this story on the show in brief before, but years ago I was in New York city. I took a cab, that's how long ago it was, no Uber, and I was talking to the driver, and she said she was from Eritrea, and I got to chatting with her about what that was all about and why she had escaped, because Eritrea is kind of like the North Korea of Africa.
[01:09:09] She actually ended up telling me that there were squads of intelligence agents from Eritrea operating in New York, and they would follow her around, harass her, threaten her, threaten her family. This is going on in New York City to African diaspora. So this doesn't totally surprise me. This isn't the first time I'm hearing about it.
[01:09:27] And with Iran, of course, this has been going on since the eighties and probably was even most intense during the eighties because that was when everything fell apart and the diaspora really started to go overseas and say, Hey, let's take down this crazy theocracy that took over. And Iran, interestingly, they took a break, if you can call it that, on their hit squad business after 9 11 because they really didn't want to F around and find out because the West was taking real action in the war on terror and they didn't want to screw with the bull and get the horns, which is an interesting idea here because for all the crap they talk about, you know, not caring, um, about America and messing with us, they really sat that one out because I think they saw that we were in the red line and they didn't want to be the target of the United States and the U.
[01:10:09] S. military. And they're doing it again. They're doing this all again, with the hit squads and the targeting of dissidents. This is really like a low key domestic conflict that is very much going on only with intelligence agents and maybe FBI or Scotland Yard law enforcement domestically. Really interesting.
[01:10:24] The question then is, Why don't they bring the hammer down harder on these guys? Well, in the UK, they're stricter on state secrets. So there are fewer trials of these people and less reporting on it because, well, intelligence agents want to follow the chain upwards and catch bigger fish. So it's actually better to sit back and watch these guys or release them and then follow them to where they go to report than to punish or imprison them, which is.
[01:10:47] kind of cold comfort for an Iranian who gets their relative murdered or kidnapped by somebody like this, and then that person's just left to go have lunch and dinner at an Iranian restaurant because they're under observation from intelligence agencies. But that's war, I suppose, and this is an intelligence based conflict.
[01:11:03] Of course, I would be remiss if I did not highlight that this is not your Persian neighbors. This is not the citizens of Iran that listen to this show, of which there are many. This is not your friends, uh, that have Iranian kids in your kids school, or their parents, probably. And it's probably not the Persian restaurant owner in your neighborhood either.
[01:11:21] If anything, these people are more likely to be victims of Iranian intelligence services and security services. than they are to be perpetrators, and I always mention this when talking about oppressive regimes, because the odds that you know somebody who's on the good side of that regime are slim to none, and the odds that you know somebody who's fled that regime or is living in fear of them, even if they have moved abroad, is a lot higher.
[01:11:43] So make sure that you have compassion for those who have fled these regimes, but still hold on to their Iranian heritage. Not the same thing, and not the same level of culpability. So relax, you can eat that delicious Persian food guilt free. All things Matthew Dunn will be in the show notes at jordanharbinger.
[01:11:57] com or just ask our AI chatbot on the website. Transcripts, of course, are in the show notes as well. Advertisers, deals, discounts, ways to support this show, all at jordanharbinger. com slash deals. Please consider supporting those who support this show. Also, our newsletter. Every week we dissect an episode of the show, highlights, takeaways, or hey, if you just want to know what to listen to next, the newsletter is a great place to do just that.
[01:12:17] jordanharbinger. com slash news is where you can find it. We'll be doing giveaways there as well. Six Minute Networking, jordanharbinger. com slash course. And if you want to reach me, God knows why you would, but I do answer your messages. Jordan Harbinger on Twitter and Instagram. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn.
[01:12:32] And this show, it's created in association with Podcast One. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jace Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about.
[01:12:50] And I think if you know an Iranian who lives abroad or somebody who's into the spy stuff, definitely share this episode with them. I think they'll really dig it. And in the meantime, I hope you apply what you hear on the show so you can live what you learn. And we'll see you next time. Step
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