Globe Intell

19 May 2003

by Yvonne Ridley

Hundreds of hi-tech satellite pods and listening devices have been planted in Iran by American secret agents with the help of British soldiers from the SAS. Revelations of one of the biggest-ever espionage operations in US history threatens to tear apart the already fragile relations between Iran and America. The massive spy operation will also fuel speculation that Iran, part of the so-called Axis of Evil, is next on George W Bush’s hit list in the aftermath of the war in neighbouring Iraq.

Documents seen by Globe Intel reveal that Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Unattended Grounds Sensors (UGS) have been placed in Iran in an audacious undercover operation which began more than 12 months ago. The GPS systems, up to three foot in height, are said to be invaluable for land and air navigation enabling precision mapping and targeting to within centimetres. The UGS implants can detect transport and human movement and were also used in the build up to the war in Iraq.

A member of the Hereford-based SAS revealed: “A few of us have been involved

in planting these pods in Iran over the last 12 months across the deserts and in the mountains. All the operations were covert and very time consuming. We have planted literally hundreds.

“We did the same in Iraq months ahead of the war beginning for surveillance

operations. They were American-made systems and were about three foot in height.

“Apart from monitoring movement on the ground they can also detect mobile

missile launchers and assist in precision bombing. It’s a lot safer than having a man with a pair of bins (binoculars) sitting in a foxhole for weeks on end waiting for some movement.”

Defence analyst Paul Beaver said he was not surprised by the Globe Intel story and added: “I am not surprised where Special Forces end up these days. I don’t find this sort of operation that unusual.

“It is probably directly related to operations in Iraq. All precision guided weapons depend on centimetre accuracy. However I would be very surprised if Iran was next on America’s target list - the US would have no support from coalition parties and would find itself alone on such a venture, if that was the case.”

A hybrid CIA-Special Forces team, within the Central Intelligence Agency,

called the Special Activities Division, is thought to have slipped men in to Iran from borders in Pakistan and Afghanistan. US Major Ralph Marino, based in Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base, said none of the 9000 coalition forces were involved in such an operation. However he added: “There are different special forces units here and we don’t know what they are doing, what they are up to or who they are.

“They are out of our control and the special things you are talking about are out of our ballpark.” The Ministry of Defence and the CIA refused to comment on the grounds neither institutions discuss special forces operations or assignments. A spokesman for US Central Command which has a responsibility for 25 countries including Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran said: “I can confirm that we do not have a presence in Iran but I can not speak for any other organisations.”

However it is now known that American forces regularly air-dropped UGS

systems along the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Vietnam War to gather intelligence information but the pods were often detected by enemy forces and the local population. A source close to the CIA told Globe Intel : ‘‘The trouble with air-drops is that some of these UGS need a clear line of sight which is why we have hand installed most of the systems to form an electronic battlefield with clear vision.

“If you airdrop this kit it could easily fall behind a tree or a rock and then it is of no use. Special operations are high risk but missions like this avoid the need to have men on the ground in observational points permanently.

“This reduces the risk of hostage-taking or prisoners of war and also avoids

politically damaging scenarios. The pods have all been placed in vast, isolated areas where there is no significant population.”