Ty Joplin, Albawaba, September 30 2018:… It was recently revealed that many of the MEK members in the Tirana base have been operating a troll factory intended to create the false impression that there are untold masses of Iranians who wish for the MEK to overthrow Ayatollah Khamenei and his clerical government.The MEK operates thousands of social media accounts that posts pro-regime …
A Tiny Group on a Compound in Albania are Being Groomed to Destabilize Iran
By Ty Joplin
U.S. President Donald Trump does not like Iran and he has increasingly surrounded himself by people who feel the same way. Understood to be the ghoul siphoning off U.S. power in the Middle East, members of the Trump team have been open about their desire neutralize growing Iranian power.
“We ask all nations to isolate Iran’s regime as long as its aggression continues,” Trump said during his speech to the United Nations’ General Assembly on Sept 25.
“And we ask all nations to support Iran’s people as they struggle to reclaim their religious and righteous destiny,” he added.
White House national security advisor John Bolton promised to bring regime change to Iran by 2019 before stepping back the remarks in a press conference on Sept 24 on the US sanctioning in Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in the same conference regarding the reimposition of sanctions that Iran needs ‘enormous change’ before the U.S. reconsiders its stance. Trump’s lawyer and loyal ally, Rudy Giuliani, said that he hoped the sanctions would bring a “successful revolution” to the nascent country.
Destabilizing the Ayatollah’s regime in Iran is a Herculean task, not least because domestic opposition to it is disorganized and have largely localized, economic concerns.
But the Trump team are convinced that they have an effective tool to antagonize Iran: the Mujahideen al-Khalq (MEK). The MEK claims itself to be Iran’s main opposition group. Bolton, Giuliani and Pompeo have all received thousands of dollars from the MEK to speak on their behalf, championing them as the saviors to the rogue nation.
In reality, the MEK boasts a membership of about 3,000 aging Iranian exiles and former members. Analysts claim the MEK is a cult that shames, tortures and controls everyone inside the group. They live in a military compound in Tirana, Albania, a full 2,130 miles away from Tehran and are only allowed out once a year to attend their annual gathering in Paris. They have virtually no support in Iran.
So how are they the linchpin to the U.S.’ plan for Iran?
The MEK has billed itself to provide two services for those who wish to see a destabilized Iran: a network of spies to provide intelligence and a well-oiled propaganda machine that throws dirt on the regime.
The group’s supposedly deep network of spies inside Iran was given credit for helping to expose the country’s secret nuclear facilities in the early 2000s. In 2002, the MEK’s political wing, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), made a theatrical claim that it had discovered a secret nuclear facility in Natanz, Iran. The claim made the MEK seem like a credible source of insider knowledge into Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons development scheme, but as it turns out, much of it was just for show.
The international body in charge of monitoring nuclear sites, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) already knew about the Natanz site, making the information less than groundbreaking.
In 2015, the NCRI repeated its style of staging a theatrical reveal when it claimed that Iran was developing a secret ‘underground centrifuge facility’ on the outskirts of Tehran, just before the Iran nuclear deal was signed into effect. Some of the details the NCRI discussed about the site, including “3 by 3 meter radiation proof doors that are 40 centimeters thick and weigh about 8 tons … to prevent radiation leak,” are evidently unnecessary for a uranium-enrichment facility, and the images it ‘released’ were ripped from an Iranian company’s website.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson said “Well, we don’t have any information at this time to support the conclusion of the [NCRI’s] report.”
The ‘reveal’ was fake.
The uranium enrichment facility at Natanz (AFP/FILE)
What little actual new information it had produced regarding Iran’s nuclear sites were reportedly fed to them by the Mossad, Israel’s secret intelligence, who wanted to reveal the information but needed an element of plausible deniability. The MEK then, was used as an easy middleman.
The other use of the MEK has been as a kind of anti-Iranian regime propaganda machine.
What little actual new information it had produced regarding Iran’s nuclear sites were reportedly fed to them by the Mossad, Israel’s secret intelligence, who wanted to reveal the information but needed an element of plausible deniability.
The MEK hosts a lavish annual conference, bringing together its members with some of the world’s top politicians, all united against the Ayatollah regime. The MEK’s leader, Maryam Rajavi, speaks of bringing equality and liberal democracy to Iran in each year’s headline speech. Its official news outlets on its website and the MEK-backed Iran News Wire, produce daily stories on unrest inside Iran to convey to the world that the people of Iran are turning against the regime.
Nevermind that no one is protesting in Iran for the MEK to take over.
Much of Iran News Wire’s story revolve around an ongoing labor strike of Iranian truck drivers; an issue that has no apparent link to the MEK
It was recently revealed that many of the MEK members in the Tirana base have been operating a troll factory intended to create the false impression that there are untold masses of Iranians who wish for the MEK to overthrow Ayatollah Khamenei and his clerical government.
The MEK operates thousands of social media accounts that posts pro-regime change messages and fights with the MEK’s detractors.
“The majority of it is abusive, libelous, ad hominem and intended to silence,” Azadeh Moaveni, a fellow at New America said of the posts in an interview with an Al Jazeera team investigating the troll factory.
The posts are often made strategically to create trending hashtags, giving the false impression of a populist insurgency against the regime. To be sure, Iran is experiencing unrests across the country: protests have sporadically broken out over the past year due to the country’s economic woes. Double digit inflation and funding expensive military campaigns in Syria, Iraq and Yemen have hampered the country’s budget, choking off its middle class. The U.S.’ re-imposition of sanctions has only added to that volatility.
While these protests may open the window of opportunity on opposition groups, the MEK is universally reviled in Iran for its role in the Iran-Iraq war and is not a player in the country’s political landscape.
This matters little for those U.S. and European policymakers however, who see a further use in the group. Not as a proxy group or intelligence asset, but a source of money.
The MEK’s Other Use
MEK members (AFP/FILE)
The MEK, with its generous funding sources, has funnelled millions of dollars to politicians since 2003, giving John Bolton at least $180,000 in one year alone, the man now in charge of forming Trump’s foreign policy doctrine. They pay politicians as much as $50,000 to speak at its conferences, and give to both Democrats and Republicans; anyone who will publicly support them in exchange for donations.
Among their beneficiaries are former presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, the late John McCain who received at least seven installments of MEK funds according to Joanne Stocker, an editor at Defense Post. They’ve also given money to former CIA heads, other national security advisors and heads of homeland security.
From this strategy of all-out spending, the MEK has amassed a veritable army of D.C. insiders and kingmakers who speak on the group’s behalf, convincing their colleagues that the group is paving the way towards a free Iran.
In return as well, the MEK has received tens of millions from the U.S. to build and maintain its current facility in Tirana via a donation to the U.N. Refugee Agency, and likely continues to enjoy support from Saudi Arabia.
The MEK, with its generous funding sources, has funnelled millions of dollars to politicians since 2003, giving John Bolton at least $180,000 in one year alone, the man now in charge of forming Trump’s foreign policy doctrine
What this means in practical terms is that Trump’s foreign policy stance towards Iran will likely always include the MEK
“Anything to needle Iran,” Ervand Abrahamian said of the support for the MEK from countries like Saudi Arabia. Abrahamian is a historian at the City University of New York who wrote a book on the group, called “The Iranian Mojahedin.”
The group, which has a history of being funded by Saudi Arabia, continues to enjoy the support of the country: Prince Turki bin Faisal al-Saud, who used to leave Saudi’s intelligence, spoke at the MEK’s 2016 conference in Paris to make his backing of the group public.
According to Abrahamian, the cost of Saudi’s support for the group is a mere “pittance,” compared to the consequences of regime destabilization. Trita Parsi, a prominent critic of the MEK and founder of the National Iranian American Council, told Al Bawaba that the MEK continues to serve a useful role in egging on regime collapse in Iran.
“If your objective is regime collapse… then the MEK is almost a perfect fit,” said Trita Parsi to Al Bawaba in an interview. The MEK, Parsi argued, is a capable force to effect regime collapse due to their years of fighting both inside and outside of Iran and their ability to conduct espionage operations.
The group, in other words, is not still around to help inspire a democratic upheaval in Iran, but to dismember the country, taking its government and its people with them.
That such destabilization may cause war, an uncontrollable humanitarian catastrophe and more resentment against Western meddling in regional affairs does not seem important to those hoping to see a disempowered Iran.
Secret MEK troll factory in Albania uses modern slaves (aka Mojahedin Khalq, MKO, NCRI ,Rajavi cult)
Massoud and Anne Khodabandeh, Balkans Post, September 22 2018:… But, back in Albania if the Al Jazeera interviewer had asked ‘how much money does an MEK member make for spending all day, every day as an internet troll?’ The answer would be “nothing”. MEK does not pay its members anything. It never has and never will. This is because it operates as a cult to which members belong rather than are employed by …
Secret MEK troll factory in Albania uses modern slaves (aka Mojahedin Khalq, MKO, NCRI ,Rajavi cult)
MEK members working in the ‘Twitter troll factory’ in Manez Camp, Albania
At last the world, and in particular the citizens of Albania, have gained a window into the hidden world of the Iranian Mojahedin Khalq (MEK) camp in Manez, Durres. Back in August, the UK’s Channel 4 international editor, Lindsey Hilsum, was blocked from approaching the camp by armed security and MEK zealots. Her report talked about the secrecy which surrounds “the shadowy cult”. Since the group arrived in Albania it has aggressively evaded investigation by all outsiders.
The MEK’s standard response to requests from journalists for interviews is that they are in collusion with the Iranian regime to demonize and destroy the group and therefore pose a threat to their lives in the camp.
This of course is nonsense. As well as being an insult to their host government and the Albanian security services, this answer is in line with the MEK’s history of labelling all and every person who criticises them ‘agents of the Iranian regime’ to deflect enquiry, investigation and accountability.
Now a report by Al Jazeera has revealed some of what they are trying to hide behind the green curtains surrounding the camp. Al Jazeera said, “in spite of the accusations of disinformation and fake news from both sides”, it had “the facts, location and actual personnel explaining the modus operandi of an organized troll factory”; the MEK camp in Albania.
According to this report, MEK has established a Twitter troll factory which, for the past two years, has up to 1,500 MEK members tweeting in support of regime change against Iran.
MEK leader Maryam Rajavi visits members in Albania
In a political context, this is not surprising. The MEK has, according to Ty Joplin of Albawaba, “lobbied itself from terrorist to freedom fighter… Since the downfall of patron Saddam Hussein, the MEK has ‘changed from a terrorist military organisation to an intelligence-based propaganda machine’.”
In response to the revelation, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, made a political point, accusing Twitter of closing the genuine Twitter accounts of Iranians and challenging Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey to look at “actual bots” in Tirana. But while it is fair to bat the ball back to the other side – that’s part of his job – politicizing this issue risks diverting attention from the true scandal behind MEK’s activities.
“Looking at actual bots” is exactly what Al Jazeera managed to do when it interviewed two former MEK members in Tirana. One described how “several thousand accounts are managed by about 1,000-1,500 MEK members… It was all very well organised and there were clear instructions about what needed to be done.” Another said, “Our orders would tell us the hashtags to use in our tweets in order to make them more active.”
What is clear is that this kind of activity costs money. And there is no doubt that the MEK has access to a lot of money. The payments made to high profile speakers over many years and the millions of dollars spent on lavish gatherings to mark Nouruz and the armed struggle testify to deep pockets.
But, back in Albania if the Al Jazeera interviewer had asked ‘how much money does an MEK member make for spending all day, every day as an internet troll?’ The answer would be “nothing”. MEK does not pay its members anything. It never has and never will. This is because it operates as a cult to which members belong rather than are employed by. It is a peculiar relationship, but one worth investigating if we are to have a true picture of how a so-called political group can achieve influence at the highest levels of policy in the USA and deceive public opinion.
As scandals involving child labor and slavery in manufacturing, supply and retail have demonstrated, it is vital to look beyond the superficial profits and share prices when examining a company. So too, in the world of politics there must be proper scrutiny over those who seek to influence public opinion and lobby government policy.
To be absolutely clear, MEK members are not paid for their work. So, none of the one and a half thousand internet trolls that Al Jazeera says are working in the MEK click factory are being paid. In fact, no MEK member is paid.
MEK women have suffered years of unpaid labour in Iraq, now they are unpaid click trolls in Albania
The next time anyone encounters MEK enforcers Behzad Saffari, Farid Toutonchi or Jila Deyhim and in Albania, remember they are not being paid for what they do. When parliamentarians in Britain sit with Hossein Abedini and Dowlat Norouzi to condemn Iran, when MEPs and their assistants are harassed by MEK at the EUP, and when lawmakers and researchers meet with Ali Safavi (video at end) and Ali Reza Jafarzadeh in the US, they should be aware that none of them receive a wage for their work.
Of course, this means they do not have savings or a pension and do not pay tax in their host countries like regular workers. But being unpaid is not even the main issue here. MEK members all suffer the deeper problems associated with cultic abuse and the total control over every aspect of their lives, including their thoughts and beliefs.
Two examples: In the case of Somayeh Mohammadi, MEK cannot allow her to leave their camp and meet even for five minutes alone with her parents. She is not trusted to return to them. But they cannot allow her to leave because she knows sensitive information which MEK do not want to be made public. However, the publicity surrounding her case has almost certainly saved her life. Unfortunately, Malek Sharai who ‘drowned’ in an irrigation channel and whose body was buried without an autopsy was not so lucky. It turns out he was a survivor of the September 1st massacre in Camp Ashraf, Iraq in 2012. Sharai knew exactly what happened that day and who was responsible for the deaths of 53 people.
Albania already has serious problems with mafia gangs and criminals. But this newly imported problem cannot be ignored simply because they are a foreign group hidden away from public scrutiny. It cannot be ignored because the group is supported at the highest levels in the Trump administration. This is a human rights issue and continued exploitation of these victims should not be tolerated – which country condones, let alone legally sanctions the use of slaves? The US pledged money to Albania to de-radicalize and rehabilitate MEK members in Albania as ordinary citizens. It is time now for that to be actioned.