UPDATE: The Library of Congress report that was the source of many media outlets' coverage of Iran's spy agency has been pulled from ciriculation after questions surfaced about how it was created.
The ongoing turmoil in the Middle East has pushed Iran into building one of the largest intelligence agencies in the country.
Noah Shachtman, contributing editor for Wired Magazine and editor of its national security blog, "Danger Room,” says Iran's spy agency, called the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, has a network of about 30,000 agents spread throughout Iran and overseas.
“It’s primarily a domestic internal security agency. Think of it almost as like the Islamic version of Hoover’s FBI trying to clamp down on dissidents, but dissident networks are woven throughout the globe and so they do overseas operations as well," he said.
But the Iranian spy agency has been around much longer than the current crisis. When John Brennan, the soon-to-be CIA chief, was still the head of a station in Saudi Arabia, he used to have interactions with people from Iran's intelligence service.
“It’s been going on for a long time and obviously the mullahs have been looking to control their own population for a long time," Shachtman said. "But with unrest in Syria, there’s new impudence for them to lock down even tighter."
The agency is multidimensional, Shachtman said, made up of informers and agents who also do a lot of counter intelligence, trying to expose foreign agents in Iran.
“There’s also a whole disinformation wing of this ministry that publishes propaganda and it sort of names and shames people that they believe to be American or Zionist spies," he said.
But whether there's a connection between the Iranian hackers who got into the International banking system and Iran's spy agency, Shachtman says, isn't clear at the moment.
"Some computer security professionals believe the attacks were very sophisticated and therefore (were) government backed," he said. "But clearly this is a group, that did the bank hacking, that’s hostile to the U.S. and it shows that we’re not the only ones with pretty sophisticated capabilities to reach out and screw with people’s computers.”
There's a growing shadow war between the West and Iran being fought by these spy agencies, Shachtman said.
"I think you'll only see more of it to come," he said.