Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Iran's Ninjas

Amidst some pretty stiff competition, the award for most provocative cable headline released thus far by WikiLeaks goes to United States embassy in Baku.  Entitled “Iran: Ninja Black Belt Master Details Use of Martial Arts Clubs for Repression,” the dispatch dating from September of last year reports rumors that the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has pressed martial arts experts into service to help the country’s security forces put down public dissent.

According to the cable
a licensed martial arts coach and trainer xxxxxxxxxxxx, told Baku Iran watcher that private martial arts clubs and their managersare under intense pressure to cooperate with Iranian intelligence and Revolutionary Guard organizations, both in training members and in working as "enforcers" in repression of protests and politically motivated killings   
Interestingly, the cable conveys news that
Iranian internal security forces are highly suspicious of these clubs as potential vehicles for organization and "combat" training of future protesters and regime opponents. Nonetheless, he asserted that their main motivation is seeking to control these clubs is less driven by such fears as by a desire to deploy their trained membership at will for "special tasks." According to xxxxxxxxxxxx these tasks range from providing martial arts training to Revolutionary Guard members and Basij, assistance in protest repression, intimidation, and crowd control, to political killings. He observed that use of these clubs and their members provides the security forces with "plausible deniability" for dirty undertakings, as well as trained fighters and potential trainers.
Apparently, security forces have had some success in rounding up ninjas to do their dirty work.  The source that provides the information claims that
he personally knew one such martial arts master whom he said was used by the Intelligence service to murder at least six different individuals over the course of several months in xxxxxxxxxxxx said that the victims included intellectuals and young "pro-democracy activists," adding that his assassin acquaintance was ultimately "suicided" by the authorities (i.e., killed in what was subsequently labeled a suicide).
If this story seems like the work of a fanciful imagination, think again. Indeed, if it’s true that the current regime in Tehran is using martial arts experts as assassins, it wouldn’t be without precedent. The cable’s author, Donald Lu, notes that
A xxxxxxxxxxxx student recently echoed some of xxxxxxxxxxxx story, noting that xxxxxxxxxxxx could only be held at night as during the daytime his instructors are "required to train the Revolutionary Guard." The use of martial arts clubs members as political enforcers/repressors existed under the Shah, and, according to sources, exists today in several neighboring countries, including the Republic of Azerbaijan.
While Daniel Schulman over at Mother Jones seems to think that this crew of Iranian ninjas is pretty badass (and he’s got a video to support his case), I’m not convinced.  By the end of the cable, they’re described as being pragmatic to the point of timidity. 
Discussing the elections of 2009, the cable reports that
On the topic of xxxxxxxxxxxx post-election protest activities, xxxxxxxxxxxx said that almost everyone he knew voted for Moussavi, and was angered by the fabricated result. However, he claimed that there was considerable reluctance to turn to the streets once serious repression began. He said that xxxxxxxxxxxx are "very pragmatic"; while not afraid of protesting per se, they will only do so in favor of a tangible end result that they feel is clearly in their interest. He asserted that xxxxxxxxxxxx saw the election and subsequent fallout as a power struggle within the Tehran regime which had little to do with them or their felt interests. "People see it as an issue for Tehranis," he said, and are "reluctant to risk their necks" unless/until they feel that real regional policy changes are achievable.”
Beyond the snark that this cable will surely generate, one has to ask themself just how strong Iran’s supposedly fearsome Revolutionary Guard is if they are both fearful of local karate clubs and reliant on them for training and assistance.  With the Guard’s elite Qods force largely scattered around the world supposedly working in the shadows to further regime interest abroad, could it be that country’s domestic security forces are in fact weaker than we might have otherwise thought? 

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