Report: U.S. Group Tracking Iran's Possible Sanctions Violations

United Against Nuclear Iran, a privately financed group founded by former ambassadors and Middle East experts, tracks movement of Iranian ships, the New York Times reports.

United Against Nuclear Iran, a privately financed advocacy group, is tracking and monitoring the movements of Iranian ships in an attempt to thwart Tehran's efforts to circumvent international sanctions, according to a report in the New York Times.

The organization, operating out of offices in Manhattan, uses a system it calls Marine Intelligence Network and Rogue Vessel Analysis (MINERVA) to track publicly available information from Iranian ship transponders. The group uses a variety of advanced techniques to identify suspicious behavior and reports on what they identify as Iranian embargo-avoiding tactics.

“Iran thrives on deception and disguise,” Mark D. Wallace, the chief executive of United Against Nuclear Iran, told the New York Times. According to the report, Iran employs a litany of tactics to cover its tracks, including reflagging ships, renaming them or clandestinely purchasing them. In addition, the Iranians secretly transfer oil from ship to ship to mask its place of origin and tinker with the ships' transponders to avoid detection.

United Against Nuclear Iran was founded in 2008 by Wallace, the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, former CIA Director Jim Woolsey and Middle East expert Dennis Ross. The group focuses on ending economic and financial support provided to the Iranian regime by corporations, in an attempt to thwart its nuclear ambitions.

In April, the group warned Maltese authorities that an Iranian tanker sailing under a Tanzanian flag was en route to one of its ports, Wallace told the Times. The Maltese government turned the ship away.

In another incident, the group informed Medallion Reederei GmbH, a German shipping company, that three of its ships docked in sanctioned Iranian ports. In response, the company's managing director, Falk Holtmann, sent a letter assuring the group he would “not tolerate any breach of international sanctions.”

Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for Iran’s United Nations mission, told the Times that the group’s founders had “worked within or were close to the U.S. government” and that Iran considered it “counterproductive and contrary to the policy announced by the new administration in early 2009, which purportedly sought to diplomatically interact with Iran."