The media’s claims about 30,000-strong Iranian “terror and assassination force” are dubious at best

By End the Lie

The cover page of the Federal Research Division's report (Image credit: screenshot of report obtained via ProPublica)

The cover page of the Federal Research Division’s report (Image credit: screenshot of report obtained via ProPublica)

Recently several mainstream media outlets jumped on a report from the Federal Research Division, a branch of the Library of Congress, that claims Iran’s intelligence ministry, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, has what CNN called “a terror and assassination force 30,000 strong,” a number which is at best highly questionable.

The claims about the “terror and assassination force” were especially interesting since U.S. officials have confirmed that Israeli Mossad has trained assassins of Iranian nuclear scientists, mainstream journalists have confirmed Israel is behind the assassination of scientists involved in the Iranian nuclear program, and terrorists were trained on U.S. soil in order to better target Iran.

Furthermore, no one seems to have a problem with a director of a think tank openly promoting terrorism or even promotion of terrorism by former mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani, so long as they say the terrorism should target Iran.

Media outlets ranging from Wired’s Danger Room to CNN to the Takeaway to Frontpage jumped on the report originally published by Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon make a wide variety of quite unsubstantiated claims.

The most insane part is that all of the unsubstantiated claims were based on “an obscure, anonymous website that was simply citing another source,” according to an investigative report by ProPublica.

Ultimately, the 30,000 number can be traced back to Magnus Ranstorp, a Swedish terrorism researcher, quoted in a 2008 Christian Science Monitor article.

Ranstorp isn’t even sure where the number came from. “I think obviously that it would be an inflated number” of formal employees, Ranstorp said.

One of the most astounding perspectives on the Federal Research Division study comes from Gary Sick. According to Columbia University, “Sick served on the National Security Council under Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan. He was the principal White House aide for Iran during the Iranian Revolution and the hostage crisis.”

Sick said the entire study “has all the appearance of a very cheap piece of propaganda and should not be trusted.”

This would hardly be surprising given that the study was produced under an agreement with the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO), a branch of the Pentagon.

Sick pointed out how the study not only uses highly questionable internet sources, but also contains blatant errors.

“In one section, for example, the study lays out in detail how “Iran’s constitution defines” the intelligence ministry’s official functions,” writes ProPublica. “The problem, as Sick notes: Iran’s constitution doesn’t mention an intelligence ministry, let alone define its functions.”

“Whether the figures emanate from Iran or from western reporting, they are generally exaggerated and either meant as self-aggrandizing propaganda, if self-reported by Iran, or just approximations based on usually scant data or evidence,” said Afshon Ostovar, a senior Middle East analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses who frequently writes on Iran.

The number “could be more or less accurate, but there’s no way to know,” Ostovar said.

When asked about the report, Federal Research Division Chief David Osborne told ProPublica it “was leaked to the media without authorization” and declined to comment further “because it is proprietary to the agency for which it was written.”

While the study indeed claims that Iran’s intelligence ministry employs “more than 30,000 officers and support personnel,” it also notes that Iranian intelligence is “a difficult subject to study because so little information about it is publicly available.”

The study doesn’t even pretend to include any original intelligence or reporting whatsoever, instead stating that the sources are Iranian blogs and news websites.

“The reliability of blog-based information may be questionable at times,” the report admits. “But it seems prudent to evaluate and present it in the absence of alternatives.”

In other words, they’re saying that even though they know the information could very well be completely inaccurate, they’re going to publish it anyways.

It seems that the media sources couldn’t even be bothered with questioning the veracity of the report, although a CNN spokeswoman told ProPublica that CNN “checked the number with sources that led us to feel comfortable that the report was in line with the national security community’s understanding.”

CNN then aired a report (see below) detailing what they claimed were “troubling new details” about Iranian intelligence.

The source for the number parroted throughout the media? According to the study, it is IranChannel, a website aggregating news critical of the Iranian government.

IranChannel was citing a 2010 study, “Shariah: the Threat,” published by the Center for Security Policy. That study cited the Christian Science Monitor’s 2008 article.

Interestingly, Ranstorp told ProPublica he “did not recall citing the figure to the Monitor,” although it “might have originated with Kenneth Katzman, a Mideast specialist with the Congressional Research Service who often writes on Iran.”

However, Katzman said that he was not the source of the 30,000 figure and didn’t know of any evidence supporting it, though he said it did not seem “inordinately unreasonable.”

Instead of owning up to the dubious number Gertz said, “In my 30-plus years in reporting on national security issues, I have found that such unclassified reports often use press reporting of such numbers to avoid having to use classified information.”

“I also know that most of the people who write such reports have access to classified information about the subjects they write about and I doubt they would publish a figure that would be contradicted by classified assessments of the number of personnel in the [intelligence ministry],” Gertz added.

In an attempt to support the number and his use of it, Gertz pointed to a 2010 report published by Stratfor which said that as of 2006 Iran’s intelligence ministry had only 15,000 employees.

To make matters even worse, Stratfor didn’t cite a source for the figure.

This just goes to show how easily and shamelessly a highly questionable figure can be used to support the U.S. mainstream media’s narrative. This isn’t all that surprising given the fact that the media has no problem pushing propaganda reports published by groups affiliated with terrorists so long as it is in line with the rest of the propaganda.

Let us know what you think of the mainstream media’s use of this report in the comments section of this post, on our Facebook page or via Twitter.

Did I forget anything or miss any errors? Would you like to make me aware of a story or subject to cover? Or perhaps you want to bring your writing to a wider audience? Feel free to contact me at [email protected] with your concerns, tips, questions, original writings, insults or just about anything that may strike your fancy.

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3 Responses to The media’s claims about 30,000-strong Iranian “terror and assassination force” are dubious at best

  1. Anonymous January 17, 2013 at 7:21 PM

    lol lies lies and more lies from these bullshit propaganda houses

  2. Vitorino Batalim January 18, 2013 at 12:16 AM

    De one who is attacked by any means must react and answer with same means. USA and ISRAHELL are two terrorist states so must be put under terrorist actions. We must allwyas speak the same language of our enemies.

  3. Greg January 18, 2013 at 10:43 AM

    So, the Zionist MSM are disseminating the the turd that Iran has a 30,000-strong Iranian “terror and assassination force” is pure crap. What we should be worried about are the Jewish Sayanim working with the United States. The Jewish Sayanim are more DANGEROUS than al Qaeda cells


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