US spies can make it harder to do business with Iran. Here's how, says CIA chief Mike Pompeo

Key Points
  • The United States should make it more expensive for Iran to engage in "adventurism" in the Middle East, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Thursday.
  • The intelligence community is trying and struggling to expose Iranian companies with ties to the nation's sanctioned security forces.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo speaks at the FDD National Security Summit in Washington, October 19, 2017.
Yuri Gripas | Reuters

The U.S. intelligence community and Treasury Department can make it harder for Iran to meddle in regional affairs by exposing Iranian businesses that have ties to the nation's elite security force, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said on Thursday.

Their comments suggest the investment climate in Iran could become more challenging just as foreign firms seek to build or restore ties in the country following the lifting of sanctions last year.

The remarks also come as the administration overhauls its policy toward the U.S. adversary. Last week, President Donald Trump refused to certify the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, marking the beginning of a campaign to toughen the terms of the agreement and rein in Iranian activities not addressed by the accord.

Those "transgressions" include Tehran's support for the U.S.-designated terror group Hezbollah, its threats to Israel and Lebanon and its support for Shiite Muslim militias in neighboring Iraq, according to Pompeo.

"It has been far too inexpensive for the Iranians to conduct this adventurism. We should raise the cost of that," Pompeo told an audience at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies' National Security Summit.

The agency has an important roll to play in that task, Pompeo said. He noted that the intelligence community is trying, but struggling, to determine which Iranian companies are controlled by or connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a hardline military faction loyal to Iran's supreme leader that is deeply embedded in the country's economy.

The Trump administration slapped the Revolutionary Guards with new sanctions on Friday to make it harder for them to fund their operations.

"I think we could make it even more difficult," Pompeo said. "To push back against these non-nuclear activities I think is something the president is intent on doing."

The United States is seeking to convince its European allies to put more pressure on Iran at a time when Europe's companies have begun to re-enter the Iranian market. Those include energy companies seeking to develop Iran's vast oil and gas fields.

Speaking at the same summit, McMaster said the Untied States needs to expose the Revolutionary Guards' network, including financial institutions that allow them to work within legitimate institutions to further their agenda.

The message to the international business community is "don't do business with the IRGC. Don't enrich the IRGC. Don't enable their murderous campaign. Don't enable their threat to our friends in the region, especially Israel, but also Saudi Arabia and others," McMaster said, referring to the Guards.

"And so it's in everyone's interest to work on business intelligence," he said.

Pompeo said there is "enormous consensus" among U.S. allies that they should tackle Iran's destabilizing activities. Foreign partners are interested in building intelligence on Iran so they can determine which levers they can pull to curb its behavior, he said.

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