In confirmation hearings in June 2021, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Christine Abizaid warned that the United States faced an “intensifying confrontation with Iran,” which the United States viewed as the foremost state sponsor of terrorism. Iran employed terrorism as a key tool to counter U.S. influence, she told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
In 2022, she also said that Iran still threatened former President Trump and senior national security officials more than two years after the U.S. assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards Qods Force in 2020. “Iran is pursuing a diverse campaign that employs legal, financial, and lethal action in pursuit of its revenge,” Abizaid said in congressional testimony on the annual assessment of terrorism threats on November 17.
In 2023, Abizaid said that Iran and its network of proxies, including in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, were plotting new operations. “What I see is a pretty brazen Iranian threat network that is willing to explore avenues for attack internationally and in the region,” Abizaid said in remarks at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on January 10. The following is a rundown of what Abizaid has said about Iran since her confirmation hearing.
At the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on January 10, 2023:
On the Iranian threat: “I would describe Iran's interest in conducting terrorist attacks overseas as one of the most striking developments coming back into the CT community as I've relearned where we are in the overall threat environment. They are very active and intent on revenge for Soleimani. They are very active and intent on escalatory tit-for-tat with the Israelis.”
“You look at the degree to which they are engaged with their Shia militant proxies in the Middle East—whether it's in Syria, whether it's in Iraq or Yemen, or elsewhere, the kind of proliferation of technology that's happening to those Shia militant proxies. What I see is a pretty brazen Iranian threat network that is willing to explore avenues for attack internationally and in the region that I would have thought they would have been deterred from in our past analysis.”
“The news of the plot against a former national security advisor here in the United States—it reminds me of a 2011 plot to kill the Saudi ambassador at a restaurant in Washington, DC. It's both incredibly brazen [and] also not inconsistent with things we've seen them do in the past. But we're seeing it more often and in a way that I am very concerned about—how well metered it is and how well we are all actors in this sort of play, how well we understand the escalation ladder that we are on, or could be on, as things occur.”
“Just a couple of days ago we saw the release of yet another threatening video from an IRGC-affiliated at least account naming former President Trump, [a] former national security advisor, [a] former CENTCOM commander, as key targets in a revenge campaign. And that interest continues, they're very public about that interest. And that we have actual evidence of them trying to pursue that interest inside the United States is a real concern. And the threats against Iranian activists and journalists here in the United States are also persistent and concerning. Iran is keeping it interesting, and it's not just a proxy battle. It's something that Iran is leveraging its own capability to threaten various actors across the world.”
On Lebanese Hezbollah: “I'm always worried about activity carried out by Lebanese Hezbollah. Certainly in the region. Certainly as an extension of the Iranian state. Of the [Iranian] proxies, it is the most capable. And almost the most mature in a way—Hezbollah has its own interests that it'll take after, that it will take care of even as the Iranian government looks to leverage it in in multiple scenarios.”
“But Hezbollah has a history of capability that goes well outside the region, and they have a level of operational security, a level of sophisticated tradecraft that [makes] them a very difficult target to understand and track. And so, I never count Hezbollah out. I never consider their next evolution one that will be purely political. We've seen time and again the usefulness to Iran of them maintaining both a significant military capability, but also a clandestine capability that could be leveraged in extreme circumstances. We remain focused on them as a major CT actor.”
In testimony to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Nov. 17, 2022:
On the Iranian threat: “Iran continues to encourage and support plots against the United States at home and abroad, especially in the Middle East. Iran and Lebanese Hizballah have remained intent on retaliating for the death of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) Commander Soleimani, with Iran plotting attacks against former U.S. officials.”
On Iran’s tactics: “Iran is pursuing a diverse campaign that employs legal, financial, and lethal action in pursuit of its revenge. Tehran has publicly threatened to conduct lethal operations including against former President Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, and has recently increased its threats of lethal action in the Homeland. In August 2022, an Iran-based IRGC member was charged with attempting to arrange the murder of former National Security Advisor John Bolton in the United States.”
“Iran also pursues a campaign against anti-Iranian regime dissidents around the world, including in the United States. In July 2021, U.S. law enforcement charged an Iranian intelligence official and four others with attempting to kidnap an Iranian-American journalist in New York and forcibly returning her to Iran. At the end of July 2022, a man with a loaded assault weapon was arrested after behaving suspiciously outside the same journalist’s home.”
On Iran’s support for terrorism: “Iran has also demonstrated its willingness to engage in terrorism in the Middle East, as evidenced in June when Turkish authorities arrested members of an Iranian cell planning to kidnap and assassinate Israeli citizens in Istanbul. The plot was intended as retaliation for an alleged Israeli operation in Tehran. Separately, Iran-backed militants in Iraq and Syria target U.S. forces with unmanned aircraft systems and indirect fire attacks as they try to compel their withdrawal from the region.”
In remarks made during her confirmation hearing on June 9, 2021:
On Iran’s support for terrorism: “The U.S. also faces an intensifying confrontation with Iran, which remains the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism. Tehran views terrorism as a key tool to counter U.S. influence and uses the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Forces (IRGC-QF) to provide weapons, funding, and training to a range of terrorist and militant proxies throughout the Middle East.”