Tuesday , 7 December 2021

How Do Iranian Police Infiltrate Nationwide Protests?

Iranwire – In recent years, the special police force unit NAJA has played a key role in suppressing protests across Iran.

Now a report linked to Iran’s policing federation examines the methods NAJA, known by its Persian acronym, has used to stifle urban protests, with a particular emphasis on the “intelligence oversight” of the unit. The research also looks at NAJA’s infiltration strategies, namely its tactic of sending undercover agents or members of Basij, volunteers for local Revolutionary Guards’ units, into protests to gather information and divert protest routes.

The report, entitled “The Role of Intelligence Oversight in Controlling Unrest by the NAJA Special Unit,” was published in the autumn 2020 issue of the quarterly Journal of Research in Police Science, which is affiliated with the police department for Kerman province. The publication presents the views of the NAJA Special Units brigade commanders, alongside an assessment of NAJA’s strategies for handling protests and the methods the unit uses to suppress them, including the crucial intelligence oversight component.


The Persian year 1399 [March 2020 to March 2021] was a busy year for NAJA, the police’s special forces unit, as it was for all police forces operating in the Islamic Republic. In many towns and cities, NAJA forces were tasked with suppressing protests by workers, the unemployed, the vulnerable, and anyone who took to the streets or rallied outside government buildings or headquarters to protest.

In recent years, the special police unit has boasted of three specific “achievements”: the bloody suppression of the protests in December 2017, August 2018 and November 2019.

Iran has seen other widespread protests, of course, including the post-election 2009 protests and the student protests of 1999. The officials of the Islamic Republic and the regime’s machine of repression were lucky that that the demonstrations in July 1999 were not followed by successive nationwide rallies or unrest, despite the intense economic pressures and people’s overriding dissatisfaction.

The protests that took place in 2020, and in early 2021, the last two and a half months of the Persian calendar year, were mostly sporadic rallies and limited marches carried out by groups of people who tend to protest against living conditions on a relatively routine basis. However, the NAJA unit did not even tolerate these rallies, and severely suppressed some of them, including protests in Gheyzaniyeh and the village of Abolfazl, both near Ahvaz in Khuzestan province, and in the city of Saravan in Sistan and Baluchistan.

For the NAJA unit, the report states, the term “intelligence oversight” means acquiring comprehensive information about the number of protesters expected at a particular rally, the details of the protest’s location and planned time, as well as the perceived or understood motives and demands of the protesters.

The study says that if the NAJA Special Unit is not equipped with fully-fledged intelligence oversight when carrying out its missions, it can be vulnerable to the volatile atmosphere of a protest and can suffer heavy and sometimes irreparable damage at an institutional, community and even high government level as a result.

The report states that, thanks to the special unit’s intelligence oversight operations, its commanders have played a crucial role “calming down urban riots.” All operations are guided by this intelligence and it informs follow-up initiatives and all decision-making.

Unit commanders, the research says, are required to master knowledge covering three areas: the nature of the population or people preparing to protest, the geography or city plan of where a protest takes place, and potential threats posed, particularly in light of the two other factors. These include potential harm that can be caused, how capable the crowds might be of causing wide scale damage, and how and in what way they might exploit various opportunities. The authorities’ goal, the report indicates, is to be able to anticipate, prevent, and/or neutralize the actions of the protesters.

The NAJA Intelligence Agenda

NAJA commanders have set out an agenda for acquiring knowledge and key information, the most important points of which are as follows:

Urbanology: Commanders send police forces to the city where a protest is expected to take place. The aim is for officers to become familiar with the geography, the population and the potential threats. This is particularly relevant for large cities. The unit officers must identify the most volatile areas and communities where protest or unrest is likely to erupt so that the NAJA unit is prepared to suppress protests when they do break out.

Iranology: The study also revealed that NAJA sends personnel from external units into a city or area; in other words, it will not send the local police into assess the situation, and is much more likely to send in officers from neighboring provinces. This security plan is referred to by commanders as “Iranology,” although the name seems to have been adapted from more traditional, generic definitions of the term, which focus more broadly on the country’s languages, history, traditions, and ethnicities, among other areas of study.

The Iranology plan, in addition to identifying the goals specified in the urbanology plan, also involves assessing traffic and transport hubs, as well as the identification of how a particular area can be navigated by road, but also by rail and air travel. Further assessments of the dangers posed by these opportunities for travel are also made.


This Research in Police Science study also identifies the most important objectives for the NAJA Special Unit regarding access to comprehensive information:

1- Development of operational systems and databases

2- Developing the capacities and capabilities of future risks and determining trends

3- Development of infrastructure for monitoring operations

4- Facilitation of access to banks and information systems

5- Development of understanding capacities and capabilities of an area; identification and classification of geographical, sociological, political, and class characteristics of the provinces.

6- Developing the ability to plan and carry out operational exercises in accordance with likely scenarios and threats.

The Role of Infiltrators

The deployment of local forces — the Basij — to position themselves among the protesters and using infiltration to achieve specific goals are also a key focus of the research.

According to the study, Basij infiltrate the ranks of “rioters” to gather information about them, including identifying people or groups leading or who mobilizing crowds. The Basij also help launch psychological operations, which diminishes the capacity of protesters and diverts them from their original path, resulting in frustration and a likely lowering of expectations among protests.

The investigation also interviewed special unit commanders across the country, asking for their view of the role “intelligence oversight” played in suppressing protests.

“Intelligence oversight in the field of insiders and adversaries is effective in disturbance control missions,” commanders told the research team. “ In addition to increasing the ability of commanders to achieve intelligence oversight, infiltration has a great impact on their success in assigned missions,” the report reads. “The key to the success special units have in riot control missions is the reduction of casualties and damage while dealing with the rioters.”

The study also concluded: “Specialized and trained manpower, along with modern and up-to-date technical equipment such as CCTV and video surveillance of the scene and cyberspace monitoring, is effective in raising awareness of social media calls for gatherings and raising the level of intelligence used by the commanders.”

But intelligence oversight  is only one of the NAJA Special Units’ aims. Although it is briefly mentioned in the recent research carried out in association with the Kerman province police force,  psychological warfare is a vital part of these units’ work.  This type of warfare has been key to suppressing protests, and it has been the focus of many academic reports, political and strategic analysis, and news coverage, including by IranWire.