Terrorists? Us? (Mojahedin Khalq, MKO, MEK, Rajavi cult and the Washington Lobby)
(Mojahedin Khalq, MKO, MEK, Rajavi cult and the Washington Lobby)
... Rajavi had to come up with an explanation for the defeat. His unorthodox solution was to tell his fighters they had lost because they had been distracted by love and sex. He commanded members to divorce, become celibate and live in communal, single-sex accommodation, just like soldiers in a regular army. Filled with ideas of self-sacrifice and martyrdom, they did as they were told. (The celibacy rule is to this day so tightly enforced that there are separate times for men and women to use Camp Ashraf’s petrol station.) Members were urged to transfer their passions from their former spouses to their leaders ...
Terror Tagging of an Iranian Dissident Organisation by Raymond Tanter Iran Policy Committee, 217 pp, £10.00, December 2011, ISBN 978 0 9797051 2 0
The story of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, also known as the Mujahedin e Khalq (MEK), is all about the way image management can enable a diehard enemy to become a cherished ally. The MEK is currently campaigning to be officially delisted in the US as a terrorist organisation. Once off the list it will be free to make use of its support on Capitol Hill in order to become America’s most favoured, and no doubt best funded, Iranian opposition group.
The last outfit to achieve something similar was the Iraqi National Congress, the lobby group led by Ahmed Chalabi that talked of democracy and paved the way for the US invasion of Iraq by presenting Washington with highly questionable ‘evidence’ of weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s links with al-Qaida. Then, as George Bush took the US to war, all that remained for the INC and its leaders was to sit back and prepare for government. Many in Washington believe that, for better or worse, the US will go to war with Iran and that the MEK will have a role to play. But first they will have to persuade Hillary Clinton to take the group off the US’s official terrorist list. Some of Clinton’s officials are urging her to keep the MEK on it but some of the big beasts in Washington are angrily demanding that she delist. After an exhaustive inter-agency process the MEK file is now in her in-tray. Recent State Department statements indicate that she is likely to delist the group.
Formed in the 1960s as an anti-imperialist, Islamist organisation with socialist leanings, dedicated to the overthrow of the shah, the MEK originally stood not only for Islamic revolution but also for such causes as women’s rights – an appealing combination on Iran’s university campuses. It went on to build a genuine popular base and played a significant role in overthrowing the shah in 1979. It was popular enough for Ayatollah Khomeini to feel he had to destroy it; throughout the 1980s he instigated show trials and public executions of its members. The MEK retaliated with attacks on senior clerical leaders inside Iran.
Fearing for their lives, MEK members fled first to Paris and later to Iraq, where Saddam Hussein, desperate for allies in the war with Iran, provided them with millions of dollars of funding as well as tanks, artillery pieces and other weapons. He also made land available to them. Camp Ashraf became their home, a citadel in the desert, 80 kilometres north of Baghdad and an hour’s drive from the Iranian border. Since the 1970s, the MEK’s rhetoric has changed from Islamist to secular, from socialist to capitalist, from pro-revolution to anti-revolution. And since Saddam’s fall it has portrayed itself as pro-American, peaceful and dedicated to democracy and human rights. Continual reinvention can be dangerous, however, and the new, pro-Iranian Iraqi government is under pressure from Tehran to close down Camp Ashraf, which has grown over three decades to the size of a small town. And it’s not just Iran. Many Iraqis too bear grudges against the MEK, not only for having worked alongside Saddam Hussein but also for having taken part in his violent suppression of the Kurds and Shias.
Iraqi security personnel have twice attacked Camp Ashraf, in 2009 and 2011, killing more than forty people. Pictures of armoured vehicles running over unarmed Ashraf residents can be seen on YouTube. Iraq has now insisted that Camp Ashraf be closed, and its residents have very reluctantly started moving to Camp Liberty, a former US army base by Baghdad airport which is under UN supervision and guarded by Iraqi security personnel. The UNHCR is now processing the residents with a view to sending them to other countries as refugees, but few countries are willing to take in people the US officially designates as terrorists and who are described by many as members of a cult.
The MEK started to use cultlike methods – isolating members from friends and relatives and managing the flow of information that reached them – after 1989, the year its charismatic husband and wife leadership team, Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, launched Operation Eternal Light. After Saddam’s failure to topple the regime in Iran, this was intended to be the big push that would finally win control of the country. Success, Rajavi told his fighters, was inevitable because the Iranian people, both civilians and military, would switch sides and join them on the march to Tehran. It would, he said, be a walkover. In the event the Iranian counter attack was ferocious. More than a thousand MEK fighters were killed and many others wounded. It lost around a third of its personnel.
Rajavi had to come up with an explanation for the defeat. His unorthodox solution was to tell his fighters they had lost because they had been distracted by love and sex. He commanded members to divorce, become celibate and live in communal, single-sex accommodation, just like soldiers in a regular army. Filled with ideas of self-sacrifice and martyrdom, they did as they were told. (The celibacy rule is to this day so tightly enforced that there are separate times for men and women to use Camp Ashraf’s petrol station.) Members were urged to transfer their passions from their former spouses to their leaders, the Rajavis. Aware that people were becoming sexually frustrated, meetings were organised where members were obliged to confess their sexual fantasies in public. If you did confess to something, other members spat at you. Friendships were also discouraged at Camp Ashraf, and so were children. From the mid-1980s, citing safety concerns, the leadership ordered that several hundred children living in the camp be moved to pro-MEK foster families in Europe and Canada. Some parents have not seen their children for more than twenty years.
These practices, along with frequent indoctrination sessions and the banning of news of the outside world (members were not allowed phones), helped the leadership to assert control. But MEK members outside Iraq also displayed remarkable devotion to the cause. When in 2003 the French authorities detained Maryam Rajavi on terrorism charges (she was later released) ten MEK members around the world set themselves on fire in protest; two of them died. The MEK of course denies being a cult, though many outsiders – senior US military officers, FBI agents, journalists and analysts for the largely Pentagon-funded Rand Corporation – have been to Camp Ashraf and come away believing that it is. One senior State Department official (now retired), sent to Iraq to interview thousands of MEK members after the invasion, concluded that the organisation was a cult; that the weirdly child-free Camp Ashraf was ‘a human tragedy’; that members were ‘misused and misled’ by the leadership; and that many had been tricked into joining.
The MEK has used various recruitment methods. The organisation’s elite joined in Iran before the revolution. Others are former Iranian conscripts captured during the Iran-Iraq war. Saddam’s regime offered them a bargain: if they joined the MEK they could move from POW camps to the more comfortable confines of Camp Ashraf. Some members were recruited on US university campuses and promised jobs, money, new passports and the chance to fight the mullahs. Others were simply deceived. One Iran-based MEK activist was told on a visit to Camp Ashraf that his wife and child had died so he might as well stay. It was ten years before he got hold of a phone; the first thing he did was call home: his family were still alive. Some former MEK members say that on arrival in Iraq they were whisked past immigration control and their passports deliberately left unstamped. If later on they said they wanted to leave Camp Ashraf they were told they would be arrested for entering the country illegally. I have heard hours of such testimony from former members. The MEK insists that all the people who tell such stories are Iranian agents. It also denies misleading families. The tears of parents, spouses and children seemed real enough to me.
Despite all this, some US military officers who worked in Camp Ashraf after the invasion came away convinced that the group could be a useful ally. General David Phillips, a military policeman who spent time there in 2004, argues that the MEK is no more a cult than the US marines: in both organisations you have to wear a uniform, obey orders and follow rituals that seem bizarre to the uninitiated. Positive feelings towards the MEK in the US military are easily explained. In 2003 they had been briefed that it was a heavily armed terrorist outfit expected to fight loyally for Saddam against US forces. In the event the MEK leadership realised quite quickly that Saddam was doomed and executed a political pirouette. When US forces arrived at Camp Ashraf, they were welcomed by courteous English speakers who professed their support. Many American soldiers came to see the camp as a safe haven in a hostile country.
This doesn’t explain the MEK’s popularity among politicians in London, Brussels and Washington. Some of it is paid for. Three dozen former high-ranking American officials regularly speak at MEK-friendly events. They include Rudy Giuliani, Howard Dean, Obama’s former national security adviser General James Jones and the former congressman Lee Hamilton. The rate for a speech is between $20,000 and $40,000 for ten minutes. Subject matter is not a concern: some speakers deliver speeches that barely mention the MEK. In recent months the Obama administration has indicated it may put a halt to these events. The Treasury is investigating whether speakers have been receiving funds from a designated terrorist organisation. What they want to know, in other words, is whether the Iranian exiles who paid the speakers’ fees are an MEK front; those who campaign for the group without being paid will not be affected. Most of those who back the group do so because they will back anything that seeks to upset the regime in Tehran. They seem unaware that the organisation has been called a cult and have not heard the complaints of former members. A number of the most prominent MEK lobbyists say they agreed to speak because they were reassured by the respectability of those who were already doing so.
The MEK also hires Washington lobbyists, who issue lengthy ripostes to criticism. The Rand Corporation’s 105-page report on the MEK was written by a team of four who worked for 15 months in the US and Iraq to produce the most thorough analysis to date of the group’s cultish aspects. The response was a 131-page report from a body called Executive Action, which describes itself as ‘a private CIA and Defense Department available to address your most intractable problems and difficult challenges’. The Executive Action report was entitled ‘Courting Disaster: How a Biased, Inaccurate Rand Corporation Report Imperils Lives, Flouts International Law and Betrays Its Own Standards.’ Neil Livingstone, who is now a Republican candidate for the governorship of Montana, said he was retained by an ‘American citizen’ to assess the objectivity of the Rand report. He concluded that, among other shortcomings, its authors were too inexperienced to write about a subject as complex as the MEK. Its supporters still dismiss the Rand paper, published three years ago, as the work of ‘sophomore students’. Rand says these criticisms are references to the lead author’s assistants, who had relatively minor roles and were given a credit on the title page so they had something to put on their CVs. All this lobbying costs a lot of money. Some of it is collected by the organisation’s very determined door to door fundraisers in the UK and elsewhere. US officials also believe that the MEK has at its disposal the return on the large and well-invested stipend it received from Saddam Hussein.
Most pro-MEK campaigning doesn’t directly address the allegations of cultish behaviour: the lobbyists focus instead on delisting. In 1996, a UN General Assembly resolution established a committee to draft a convention on international terrorism. Officials have met annually ever since to discuss the issue. But they can’t agree on what terrorism is. There are two main sticking points. First, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference insists that movements resisting occupying forces and seeking national liberation – for example in Kashmir – should not be considered terrorists. Second, governments fear that they may themselves fall within any definition the committee reaches. So while some have come up with definitions that suit their own situation, at an international level no consensus has been achieved. Whether or not to label a group as terroristic is of course always a political act: the IRA never made it onto the US list; Nelson Mandela remained a terrorist in US eyes until 2008.
The MEK’s record of mounting attacks goes back to the 1970s, when it opposed the shah and railed against America for backing him. The State Department believes that in 1973 the MEK killed a US Army comptroller stationed in Tehran and that in 1975 it assassinated two members of the US Military Assistance Advisory Group. Three executives from Rockwell International and one from Texaco were also murdered. MEK hostility to the US continued after the revolution. On 4 November 1979 Iranian students occupied the US Embassy in Tehran and kidnapped 52 American diplomats, who were held captive for 444 days. One of the diplomats later said he would not have been in the embassy that day had he not been lured there by MEK contacts. Another said he had no doubt the MEK backed his kidnapping and in fact opposed a diplomatic resolution to the affair. Long after Khomeini decided it was time to settle the issue, the MEK was still pushing for the captive diplomats to be put on trial. The group used to claim that its support for the kidnappings was an elaborate pretence; now it denies it altogether. As for the killings, it says that at the time of the murders, its main leadership had been imprisoned by the shah, which allowed a Marxist faction to hijack the organisation. This faction, effectively a splinter group, carried out the killings, and the attacks ceased when the original leadership was freed and reasserted itself. But perhaps these disputes are moot. The 1970s were a long time ago. Organisations change.
The MEK may have stopped killing Americans, but it maintained its commitment to violent struggle in Iraq and Iran. Its efforts on behalf of Saddam Hussein against the Kurds and the Shias were a sideshow compared to the bombs, assassinations and broader offensives it mounted inside Iran throughout the late 1980s and 1990s. Its violent history is well documented but the organisation insists it’s a thing of the past. This view has received substantial support from the European courts. In 2007, the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, a specialised UK legal body, declared that the MEK had renounced the use of force and upheld the group’s appeal against a Foreign Office decision to keep it on the official list of terrorist organisations. In 2009, the EU delisted the MEK on the more limited, procedural grounds that it should have been told why it was put on the list in the first place.
To keep the group on the US list Hillary Clinton will have to find that the MEK still has the capacity or intent to commit terrorist acts. Its supporters point out that, as well as convincing a British court they are now peaceful, in July 2004 every member at Camp Ashraf signed a document rejecting violence and terrorism. Critics have their doubts. Given what happens at Guantánamo and Bagram air base, they point out, it would have been surprising if members had not signed a renunciation of terrorism. In November 2004, the FBI reported on the group’s activities in Los Angeles, stating that it had recorded phone calls in which the MEK leadership in France discussed ‘specific acts of terrorism to include bombings’. The FBI claimed that French intelligence, as well as police in Cologne, had gathered similar information with wiretaps. The 2004 FBI report has been public for a year, but most of the material on which Clinton will base her decision is classified. In 2010, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled on an MEK lawsuit, and one of the three judges, Karen LeCraft Henderson, remarked that classified material provided ‘substantial support’ for the view that the MEK continues to engage in terrorism or at least retains the capability and intent to do so. A report in February on NBC News cited unnamed US officials as claiming that the MEK had been responsible for the recent assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. While some of its US supporters hint that such actions would be to its credit, the organisation itself has denied involvement.
Raymond Tanter’s book is part of the MEK’s image management campaign, a briefing document for advocates of delisting. Tanter, a long-time supporter of the group, has produced a compact guide, complete with colour pictures and transcripts of speeches by paid MEK advocates. He doesn’t deal with the 1970s attacks or the help the organisation gave Saddam. He also glides over attacks in Iran in the 1990s. Tanter believes that under US law only recent years are relevant to the question of whether or not to delist, and he focuses on the period since 2001. He argues that the MEK offers the best hope of a so-called third option: a way for the US to achieve regime change without relying on sanctions or war. But this exposes a flaw in the argument of the pro-MEK lobbyists. On the one hand, they argue that the MEK has renounced force and should be delisted. But if it really has given up violence, would it not make more sense for the US to back the peaceful protesters who have a proven capability to mobilise huge numbers in contemporary Iran – the Green Movement? In reality the MEK’s US backers believe the organisation has potential precisely because of its history of using force. That’s what they think will shift the mullahs from power.
Since there are no reliable opinion polls in Iran, it’s unclear how much support the MEK has there. Supporters insist it has a strong network inside the country and has maintained its popular base. They argue that the regime would not heap so much abuse on it if it did not fear it. The group’s critics maintain that the regime merely despises it and uses it to advance conspiracy theories about foreign plots. The MEK’s decision to fight alongside Saddam in the Iran-Iraq war, they say, cost it considerable support.
Clinton will not be able to ignore political considerations. The MEK lobby is predicting that MEK activists in Iraq will be massacred. Should Iraq mount another attack on MEK members at Camp Ashraf or should the group provoke one, or stage one, the response from the MEK lobby will be fierce. The State Department’s current priority is to ensure that Camp Ashraf residents are safely moved to Liberty. In February, Clinton said a successful transfer ‘will be a key factor in any decision regarding the MEK’s Foreign Terrorist Organisation status’. Legally, this makes no sense. What does their agreement to leave Camp Ashraf say about the group’s desire or ability to carry out terrorist attacks? Nothing. But it reveals the State Department’s real fear: that out of malice or because of some MEK provocation the Iraqis will attack the MEK for a third time and the State Department will be denounced for ignoring all the warnings. In May, the State Department went so far as to say that it was looking favourably at delisting as long as MEK continues to evacuate its members from Ashraf.
What the statements suggest is that Clinton has all but made up her mind to delist the group – the MEK’s hard work has not been in vain. There’s something else to bear in mind. As one world-weary observer in Washington put it recently, ‘Hillary Clinton is a politico. Right now a lot of her colleagues and associates are making good money from the MEK. They won’t appreciate it if she removes the trough.’ Were the MEK to be delisted, the group could, like Chalabi’s INC before it, receive Congressional funding, and the Rajavis would be seen as likely candidates for office in any government formed after the mullahs’ fall.
A decade ago Donald Rumsfeld and the neocons were so in thrall to the INC’s Ahmed Chalabi that they provided helicopters to bring him and a band of diehard supporters to Nasiriya so he could be seen personally liberating Iraq. But when they landed, it was plain that none of the locals had ever heard of him. Chalabi was beaten to the top job by another former exile, Nouri al-Maliki, and had to satisfy himself with the Oil Ministry. Al-Maliki is now establishing himself as an authoritarian pro-Iranian leader: an outcome far removed from US objectives. But the never-say-die MEK lobbyists in Washington like to look on the bright side. Chalabi, they concede, was not what they thought. But this time it’s different. One retired US colonel who campaigns for the MEK likes to compare Maryam Rajavi with George Washington. The US may be about to demonstrate that once again it has failed to learn its lesson.
MEK Pays US Officials, But Where Do The Iranian Exiles Get Their Money?
(aka; Mojahedin Khalq, MKO, Rajavi cult)
... Currently, there are rumors that the Israeli secret service is paying MEK to carry out assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. Three unnamed U.S. government officials told NBC news last month that Mossad had trained and paid MEK militants to conduct a spate of car bombings against targets like Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a university chemistry professor who doubled as a director of Iran's Natanz uranium-enrichment facility, who was killed in Tehran in January after two assailants on a motorcycle attached a magnetic bomb to his Peugeot 405 ...
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Treasury opened investigations into former government officials who have been paid speaking fees by the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, or MEK, an Iranian resistance group officially listed as a terrorist organization.
The subpoenaing of former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, ex-FBI Director Louis Freeh and retired Gen. Hugh Shelton has cast an harsh light on other U.S. officials, including former New York City Mayor Rudi Giuliani and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, as well as the organization they publicly support.
"They (MEK) are still on the terrorist list. The laws still apply. It is illegal in every sense of the word to finance them right now," said Trita Parsi, founder of the National Iranian American Council, a non-partisan community organization based in Washington.
The actual sum being paid to these officials is vague, but judging by the fees handed to certain individuals, the total could be in the millions. For example, Rendell was allegedly paid $150,000 for "seven or eight speeches," according to reports. Giuliani, who spoke in at a conference in Paris, France on behalf of Iranian resistance figures alongside 18 other international guests, has been known to charge up to $100,000 for a single appearance and sometimes demands private jets to charter him to appearances.
Other former U.S. officials told the New York Times that the American supporters of MEK received between $15,000 and $30,000 per speech, yet others said they made appearances for free.
Where does an organization based in an Iraqi refugee camp for the last 25 years get so much money? While MEK has organized rallies and campaigns to have it delisted as a terrorist group in the past, it has never, by all accounts, spent the amount of money it has over the past year.
Currently, there are rumors that the Israeli secret service is paying MEK to carry out assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. Three unnamed U.S. government officials told NBC news last month that Mossad had trained and paid MEK militants to conduct a spate of car bombings against targets like Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a university chemistry professor who doubled as a director of Iran's Natanz uranium-enrichment facility, who was killed in Tehran in January after two assailants on a motorcycle attached a magnetic bomb to his Peugeot 405.
MEK called the allegations "outright false," but Israel has neither denied nor confirmed its own involvement in the attack.
If the NBC report is true, Israel would not be the first government to pay for MEK's military expertise; from 1980 until the invasion of Iraq in 2003, MEK was funded by Saddam Hussein. Following the adage "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," MEK joined Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War and fought viciously against the Ayatollah's forces. MEK made Camp Ashraf, which is about 55 miles north of Baghdad, its permanent headquarters in 1986.
Some estimate that Hussein was paying as much as $30 million a month for at least 10 months -- some of it allegedly run-off from the UN's failed Oil-for-Food program -- for MEK's services, which included strikes against Kurdish and Shia rebels in Iraq.
Additionally, during the Iran-Iraq War, MEK leader Masoud Rajavi -- whose wife Maryam Rajavi currently runs the National Council of Resistance of Iran, or NCRI, MEK's political arm -- allegedly took control of all of his members' assets, possessions and even their passports so they couldn't leave Camp Ashraf.
"Between 1978, when I became MEK's supporter, till 1996 when I escaped, through use of different techniques of mind manipulation I was forced to give them whatever they asked me," explained Masoud Banisadr, MEK's former U.S. spokesperson and the second cousin of Abolhassan Banisadr, the first president of the Islamic Republic.
"First any capital or material things we had; then any love, attachments or relation we had with our country, our family and friends in Iran; then when they asked all members to divorce their spouses, I lost the love of my life, my dear wife and could not see my children for almost six years; I lost part of my health, and many times were on the edge of dying for them."
In 2003, before the European Union took MEK off of its terror watch list, Maryam Rajavi and some 160 other Mujahedin were arrested by counter-terrorism police in a small town outside Paris. Authorities confiscated around $8 million in cash, which Trita Parsi believes was some of the last remaining funds of Saddam Hussein. All of the suspects were quickly released and the case was eventually dropped.
Follow the Money
MEK was put on the State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in 1997. MEK supporters suggest this was a failed political move by the Clinton administration to soften relations with Tehran. Regardless, the organization says it is now a peaceful and democratic resistance movement, one allied with the U.S in its distrust of the current Iranian regime and Iran's nuclear program. A slew of American officials, including Freeh, FBI Director at the time the terror list designation was made, and a number of military officers of the highest rank, have come to the support of MEK and lobbied for its removal from the terrorist list.
A 2004 FBI investigation uncovered a glut of shady fund-raising operations. According to the report, the voracity of which has been called into question, money raised by the Los Angeles and Washington D.C. "cells" was "transferred overseas through a complex international money laundering operation that uses accounts in Turkey, Germany, France, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates."
At one point, MEK was also operating charities called the Committee for Human Rights and Iran Aid, which claimed to raise money for Iranian refugees persecuted by the Islamic regime, but was later revealed to be a front for MEK's military arm, the National Liberation Army.
All of this could account for some of MEK's resources but would be unlikely to cover the exorbitant speaker fees recently doled out.
Moreover, MEK supporters would claim that if true, these practices were done during a previous incarnation of the group, the middle ground between being a fully-militant organization and a refugee group under U.S. military protection in Iraq.
Almost all of the former U.S. officials who support delisting were not actually paid by MEK, but by Iranian-American cultural organizations like the Iranian American Community of North Texas and the Iranian American Cultural Association of Missouri. This network of non-profits could be the best way to track MEK's funding. According to experts, money from benefactors and pledge drives in Europe is sent to individuals in the United States, then onto front groups and finally given to American politicians. It's complicated, but according to federal law, it's still illegal.
"It's much easier to move around money in Europe because MEK is no longer on the watch list," said Parsi.
None of this may matter soon. MEK has filed a federal suit that would force the State Department, which says it continually evaluates the terrorist organization list anyway, to officially review the organization's status within 30 days.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also said that a successful transfer from Camp Ashraf to former U.S. military base Camp Liberty, which is currently underway, will help speed up any potential delisting. If that happens, former politicians like Giuliani, ex-Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and former U.N. ambassador John Bolton will continue to advocate for the MEK despite criticism and possible legal ramifications.
Training Terrorists in Nevada: Seymour Hersh on U.S. Aid to Iranian Group Tied to Scientist Killings
(Mojahedin Khalq, MKO, MEK, Rajavi cult)
... Journalist Seymour Hersh has revealed that the Bush administration secretly trained an Iranian opposition group on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorists. Hersh reports the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command trained operatives from Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or MEK, at a secret site in Nevada beginning in 2005. According to Hersh, MEK members were trained in intercepting communications, cryptography, weaponry and small unit tactics at the Nevada site up until President Obama took office. The MEK has been listed as a foreign terrorist groups since 1997 and is linked to a number of attacks, spanning from the murders of six U.S. citizens ...
Journalist Seymour Hersh has revealed that the Bush administration secretly trained an Iranian opposition group on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorists. Hersh reports the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command trained operatives from Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or MEK, at a secret site in Nevada beginning in 2005. According to Hersh, MEK members were trained in intercepting communications, cryptography, weaponry and small unit tactics at the Nevada site up until President Obama took office. The MEK has been listed as a foreign terrorist groups since 1997 and is linked to a number of attacks, spanning from the murders of six U.S. citizens in the 1970s to the recent wave of assassinations targeting Iranian nuclear scientists. Hersh also discusses the role of Israeli intelligence and notes the Obama administration knew about the training, "because they have access to what was going on in the previous administration in this area in terms of the MEK, in terms of operations inside Iran." His new report for The New Yorker blog, "Our Men in Iran?," comes as nuclear talks are set to resume this week between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency. [includes rush transcript]
Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative reporter for The New Yorker magazine. His latest piece for their website’s "News Desk" blog is titled "Our Men in Iran?"
... Five Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated since 2007. M.E.K. spokesmen have denied any involvement in the killings, but early last month NBC News quoted two senior Obama Administration officials as confirming that the attacks were carried out by M.E.K. units that were financed and trained by Mossad, the Israeli secret service. NBC further quoted the Administration officials as denying any American involvement in the M.E.K. activities. The former senior intelligence official I spoke with seconded the NBC report that the Israelis were working with the M.E.K., adding ...
From the air, the terrain of the Department of Energy’s Nevada National Security Site, with its arid high plains and remote mountain peaks, has the look of northwest Iran. The site, some sixty-five miles northwest of Las Vegas, was once used for nuclear testing, and now includes a counterintelligence training facility and a private airport capable of handling Boeing 737 aircraft. It’s a restricted area, and inhospitable—in certain sections, the curious are warned that the site’s security personnel are authorized to use deadly force, if necessary, against intruders.
It was here that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) conducted training, beginning in 2005, for members of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a dissident Iranian opposition group known in the West as the M.E.K. The M.E.K. had its beginnings as a Marxist-Islamist student-led group and, in the nineteen-seventies, it was linked to the assassination of six American citizens. It was initially part of the broad-based revolution that led to the 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran. But, within a few years, the group was waging a bloody internal war with the ruling clerics, and, in 1997, it was listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department. In 2002, the M.E.K. earned some international credibility by publicly revealing—accurately—that Iran had begun enriching uranium at a secret underground location. Mohamed ElBaradei, who at the time was the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear monitoring agency, told me later that he had been informed that the information was supplied by the Mossad. The M.E.K.’s ties with Western intelligence deepened after the fall of the Iraqi regime in 2003, and JSOC began operating inside Iran in an effort to substantiate the Bush Administration’s fears that Iran was building the bomb at one or more secret underground locations. Funds were covertly passed to a number of dissident organizations, for intelligence collection and, ultimately, for anti-regime terrorist activities. Directly, or indirectly, the M.E.K. ended up with resources like arms and intelligence. Some American-supported covert operations continue in Iran today, according to past and present intelligence officials and military consultants.
Despite the growing ties, and a much-intensified lobbying effort organized by its advocates, M.E.K. has remained on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations—which meant that secrecy was essential in the Nevada training. “We did train them here, and washed them through the Energy Department because the D.O.E. owns all this land in southern Nevada,” a former senior American intelligence official told me. “We were deploying them over long distances in the desert and mountains, and building their capacity in communications—coördinating commo is a big deal.” (A spokesman for J.S.O.C. said that “U.S. Special Operations Forces were neither aware of nor involved in the training of M.E.K. members.”)
The training ended sometime before President Obama took office, the former official said. In a separate interview, a retired four-star general, who has advised the Bush and Obama Administrations on national-security issues, said that he had been privately briefed in 2005 about the training of Iranians associated with the M.E.K. in Nevada by an American involved in the program. They got “the standard training,” he said, “in commo, crypto [cryptography], small-unit tactics, and weaponry—that went on for six months,” the retired general said. “They were kept in little pods.” He also was told, he said, that the men doing the training were from JSOC, which, by 2005, had become a major instrument in the Bush Administration’s global war on terror. “The JSOC trainers were not front-line guys who had been in the field, but second- and third-tier guys—trainers and the like—and they started going off the reservation. ‘If we’re going to teach you tactics, let me show you some really sexy stuff…’ ”
It was the ad-hoc training that provoked the worried telephone calls to him, the former general said. “I told one of the guys who called me that they were all in over their heads, and all of them could end up trouble unless they got something in writing. The Iranians are very, very good at counterintelligence, and stuff like this is just too hard to contain.” The site in Nevada was being utilized at the same time, he said, for advanced training of élite Iraqi combat units. (The retired general said he only knew of the one M.E.K.-affiliated group that went though the training course; the former senior intelligence official said that he was aware of training that went on through 2007.)
Allan Gerson, a Washington attorney for the M.E.K., notes that the M.E.K. has publicly and repeatedly renounced terror. Gerson said he would not comment on the alleged training in Nevada. But such training, if true, he said, would be “especially incongruent with the State Department’s decision to continue to maintain the M.E.K. on the terrorist list. How can the U.S. train those on State’s foreign terrorist list, when others face criminal penalties for providing a nickel to the same organization?”
Robert Baer, a retired C.I.A. agent who is fluent in Arabic and had worked under cover in Kurdistan and throughout the Middle East in his career, initially had told me in early 2004 of being recruited by a private American company—working, so he believed, on behalf of the Bush Administration—to return to Iraq. “They wanted me to help the M.E.K. collect intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program,” Baer recalled. “They thought I knew Farsi, which I did not. I said I’d get back to them, but never did.” Baer, now living in California, recalled that it was made clear to him at the time that the operation was “a long-term thing—not just a one-shot deal.”
Massoud Khodabandeh, an I.T. expert now living in England who consults for the Iraqi government, was an official with the M.E.K. before defecting in 1996. In a telephone interview, he acknowledged that he is an avowed enemy of the M.E.K., and has advocated against the group. Khodabandeh said that he had been with the group since before the fall of the Shah and, as a computer expert, was deeply involved in intelligence activities as well as providing security for the M.E.K. leadership. For the past decade, he and his English wife have run a support program for other defectors. Khodabandeh told me that he had heard from more recent defectors about the training in Nevada. He was told that the communications training in Nevada involved more than teaching how to keep in contact during attacks—it also involved communication intercepts. The United States, he said, at one point found a way to penetrate some major Iranian communications systems. At the time, he said, the U.S. provided M.E.K. operatives with the ability to intercept telephone calls and text messages inside Iran—which M.E.K. operatives translated and shared with American signals intelligence experts. He does not know whether this activity is ongoing.
Five Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated since 2007. M.E.K. spokesmen have denied any involvement in the killings, but early last month NBC News quoted two senior Obama Administration officials as confirming that the attacks were carried out by M.E.K. units that were financed and trained by Mossad, the Israeli secret service. NBC further quoted the Administration officials as denying any American involvement in the M.E.K. activities. The former senior intelligence official I spoke with seconded the NBC report that the Israelis were working with the M.E.K., adding that the operations benefitted from American intelligence. He said that the targets were not “Einsteins”; “The goal is to affect Iranian psychology and morale,” he said, and to “demoralize the whole system—nuclear delivery vehicles, nuclear enrichment facilities, power plants.” Attacks have also been carried out on pipelines. He added that the operations are “primarily being done by M.E.K. through liaison with the Israelis, but the United States is now providing the intelligence.” An adviser to the special-operations community told me that the links between the United States and M.E.K. activities inside Iran had been long-standing. “Everything being done inside Iran now is being done with surrogates,” he said.
The sources I spoke to were unable to say whether the people trained in Nevada were now involved in operations in Iran or elsewhere. But they pointed to the general benefit of American support. “The M.E.K. was a total joke,” the senior Pentagon consultant said, “and now it’s a real network inside Iran. How did the M.E.K. get so much more efficient?” he asked rhetorically. “Part of it is the training in Nevada. Part of it is logistical support in Kurdistan, and part of it is inside Iran. M.E.K. now has a capacity for efficient operations than it never had before.”
In mid-January, a few days after an assassination by car bomb of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, at a town-hall meeting of soldiers at Fort Bliss, Texas, acknowledged that the U.S. government has “some ideas as to who might be involved, but we don’t know exactly who was involved.” He added, “But I can tell you one thing: the United States was not involved in that kind of effort. That’s not what the United States does.”
... Whether they leave voluntarily, or by force, leave they must. The PMOI has a history of killing Americans and mounting attacks within Iran. But it now says it has renounced violence and should be removed from America's list of designated foreign terrorist organisations. Its high profile PR campaign involves paying senior retired US officials who then speak on its behalf. We report on the way in which a former pariah group accused of killing Americans has won over intelligence experts, generals, and congressmen from both sides of the political divide...
... the world is genuinely working toward a peaceful end to the camp and the release and resettlement of the hostages, it appears Secretary of State Clinton is somewhat ambiguous in her dealing with the situation. Based on a legal ruling, Clinton must make a decision by the end of March whether the State Department remove the MEK from its terrorism list or not. Presenting this as leverage she has introduced a unilateral condition to the MEK’s removal from Iraq; if the MEK cooperate with UNAMI and the Government of Iraq, she has indicated, we will remove them from the US terrorism list. But cooperation with UNAMI is a legal obligation rather than an optional choice for the MEK ...
In November 2011 a large group of interested people met in Baghdad to discuss the seemingly intractable problem of how to dismantle the Mohjahedin-e Khalq foreign terrorist group and remove the members from the country. At the behest of families of the individuals trapped inside Camp Ashraf, the GOI agreed to proceed in a way that would avoid violent confrontation. Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari announced later, “We will refuse them the satisfaction of becoming martyrs on our soil”. The Governor of Diyala, the military head of Diyala province and other authorities all went the extra mile to prevent the MEK from killing more hostages and blaming the Iraqis for it.
Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UN which would allow more time and give oversight of the eviction process to the UN and to representatives of the EU and US.
The Iraqis have kept their side of bargain – the deadline for the MEK’s departure was extended and negotiations were facilitated to persuade the MEK to cooperate in a move from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty where the UNHCR would be able to assess each individual for refugee status. (Remember that no external body, including the GOI, has been able to freely access the inside of Camp Ashraf since the fall of Saddam Hussein.) The first 800 individuals have now moved and another 800 are lined up to move over the next few days in two groups of 400. The MEK leader has not been able to exploit the situation and kill any hostages. The GOI has control of the situation.
UNAMI has been rigorous in its supervision of the move and, by enforcing its own rules and regulations has not allowed propaganda to overshadow activities at either camp. Facilities at the new camp were approved by UN inspectors, the ICRC has been involved and behind the scene EU and US special advisors have been keeping a watchful eye on events. The MEK has ‘character assassinated’ UNAMI and its officials, and others, in the media but UNAMI has not been diverted by the efforts of the MEK and their backers.
But one pernicious factor which has actively impeded proper progress in this task has been the support given to the MEK by Israelis and US Neoconservatives whose clear intent is to politicise what is essentially a humanitarian situation. The MEK is a well-honed tool in the hands of these ideologues and is used to incite hatred against Iran and Iraq among ignorant and lazy political communities. The MEK is far too valuable for them to allow it to disappear. Most recently, the MEK has been used by Mossad to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists.
This being so will make it even more difficult for UNAMI to transfer them to third countries. This ruthless use of the MEK as a mercenary terrorist force has a direct impact on the situation of the hostages trapped in the camp; their future becomes all the more uncertain.
But then, it has been all along, the clear intention of the MEK’s paymasters to keep the MEK intact as a terrorist entity in Iraq, in total disregard for the human beings involved.
If it wasn’t because of the backing of Israel and the Neoconservatives, Rajavi would have had no choice but to open the doors of his closed totalitarian group and allow the individuals trapped inside to walk free. That is the aim of everyone on the ground working to resolve the situation in Iraq. In this respect it is no less the responsibility of the US Government to work with the international community to dismantle this terrorist group and rescue the hostages.
But while the rest of the world is genuinely working toward a peaceful end to the camp and the release and resettlement of the hostages, it appears Secretary of State Clinton is somewhat ambiguous in her dealing with the situation.
Based on a legal ruling, Clinton must make a decision by the end of March whether the State Department remove the MEK from its terrorism list or not. Presenting this as leverage she has introduced a unilateral condition to the MEK’s removal from Iraq; if the MEK cooperate with UNAMI and the Government of Iraq, she has indicated, we will remove them from the US terrorism list. But cooperation with UNAMI is a legal obligation rather than an optional choice for the MEK. So what is really behind this position?
On the surface this would appear as though the USG is prepared to do a political deal to get the MEK to leave Iraq (and in doing so gain credit with the Iraqi government). It is as though the MEK were a far distant uncontrollable threat to US security which needs careful handling to bring it under control before dismantling it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Everything that the MEK’s western owners can do is being done to help the MEK’s leader keep the doors to the camp closed, to keep the hostages inside and to deny them contact with their families – even though this is against all humanitarian, moral or indeed criminal law.
By talking about the terrorism list rather than talking about what is happening in Iraq Clinton is bowing to this pressure. Certainly if UNAMI is allowed to do its job properly – with the support of all the international community – there will not be an organisation left to be listed or not listed. By invoking the US terrorism list, the actual script appears to be whether the MEK can be more useful listed as terrorists or if they are not regarded as terrorists. This false choice disguises the real intent of its proponents which is to keep the group intact as a terrorist group so it can be rearmed and used.
Secretary Clinton, indeed the whole government of America, needs to unhitch the politically charged consideration of the MEK’s inclusion in the US terrorism list from the very real humanitarian situation in Iraq. If the USG’s intention is really to deal properly with this terrorist group, it should reassert the humanitarian focus of American policy toward the MEK and unequivocally support the dismantlement process in Iraq.