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The FBI’s counterterrorism operations against Iran’s terrorist sleeper cells

To secure the homeland, Iran must be prevented from unleashing domestic terror in the United States.

Federal Bureau of Investigation J. Edgar Hoover FBI. building in Washington, D.C. Credit: Gianna Song/Shutterstock.
Federal Bureau of Investigation J. Edgar Hoover FBI. building in Washington, D.C. Credit: Gianna Song/Shutterstock.
Erfan Fard
Erfan Fard is a counter-terrorism analyst and Middle East Studies researcher based in Washington, D.C.

The invisible but alarming threat of Iranian terrorist sleeper cells in the United States has become a major concern for the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Most notoriously, the Iranian regime has sought to target former President Donald Trump and individuals close to him, including former U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former National Security Advisor John Bolton and former CIA Director Gina Haspel.

The Iranian regime is ruthlessly seeking revenge for the Trump-ordered execution of terror kingpin and head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force Qassem Soleimani. As a result, the FBI closely monitors charities, religious centers, schools and medical centers linked to Tehran.

The use of terror to get its way is par for the course for Iran. The regime’s Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS, in Persian VAJA) has a dark legacy of silencing opposition through assassination. Hundreds of victims have been killed both in Iran itself and abroad.

This long history of both thwarted plots and grim successes, especially against Israeli interests, is part of a broader strategy of Iranian intimidation that transcends national boundaries. The new effort to expand operations to American soil, however, is a significant escalation. The FBI’s shadow campaign against Iran’s covert terrorist units is essential to ensuring national security and safeguarding the homeland.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s assertion that seeking revenge is a duty incumbent upon all Muslims suggests that Iran seeks to sponsor terrorist attacks while disavowing any direct involvement, part of a classic strategy of denial and obfuscation.

Iran’s military and clandestine intelligence operations in the Western hemisphere are a clear and present danger to the national security and interests of the U.S. The January 2024 assassination of three Americans, unquestionably by Iranian proxies, showed the Islamic Republic’s brazen willingness to strike at the heart of American life.

In response, the U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism communities must be vigilant. The multiplicity of threats, from cyber espionage to traditional surveillance, requires an adaptive and comprehensive approach to the problem. The FBI’s role in counteracting such threats, while daunting, is critical in preempting and neutralizing potential acts of terror and espionage on American soil. The FBI stands on the front lines of this clandestine war; it is America’s shield.

As tensions between the United States and Iran reach a boiling point, the menace of sleeper cells hangs like a Sword of Damocles over American domestic security. The solution to the problem is not simple. It demands a concerted effort from intelligence agencies, policymakers and international partners to dismantle these terror networks and prevent further escalation.

Until the destructive regime in Tehran undergoes a radical shift towards genuine peace and diplomacy, the U.S. and indeed the world must remain on high alert. The threat of domestic Iranian terror is not just a matter of national security but a stark reminder of the enduring struggle between the forces of terror and the ideals of freedom and peace.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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