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The Ayatollah’s Den of Espionage

How Iran Came to See Its Revolutionary Core as Compromised

Members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Navy march during a parade in Tehran, September 2011 Reuters

Forty years ago last week, a group called Muslim Students Following the Line of the Imam stormed the American embassy in Tehran and took its staff hostage. Iran’s new revolutionary government, under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, dubbed the embassy the “den of espionage.”

The ensuing hostage crisis cast a long shadow over Iran’s relations with the United States—one still visible today. Perhaps less remarked upon in Washington, however, is the lasting influence of the event and its symbolism on the Iranian government’s view of intelligence and counterintelligence.

From the time of the embassy takeover, the Islamic Republic would spend decades looking for spies and infiltrators wherever there was a strong trace of the West. The mentality, which revolutionary ideology served to bolster, was one that ultimately directed the suspicions of the security apparatus toward individuals and institutions associated with the elected components of the

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