Caitlin oprysko, Politico, July 04 2021:… BGR Group has inked a $40,000 contract with the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran to help put on the controversial group’s (somewhat) annual conference, according to documents filed with the Justice Department this week. The council is an affiliate of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, a opposition group that’s waged a decades-long campaign against Tehran’s theocratic regime. The MEK was designated in the U.S. as a terrorist outfit for 15 years before it was delisted in 2012 after an intense lobbying campaign, and some analysts now describe the group as a cult. Lobbying For Mujahedin-e-Khalq Terrorists
From A Butter Company To Lobbying For Mujahedin-e-Khalq Terrorists
Why a butter company is lobbying on broadband access
With Daniel Lippman
WHY LAND O’LAKES IS LOBBYING ON BROADBAND ACCESS: When most Americans hear the name Land O’Lakes, they think butter, not broadband. But the dairy co-op is getting into the connectivity game, or at least using its company resources to expand access in the communities where its employees work. The company back in April retained the lobbying help of a team at Cornerstone Government Affairs to assist in that effort, according to new disclosure filings, as lawmakers work to fill out a bipartisan infrastructure framework that is expected to include a hefty investment in expanding Americans’ access to high-speed internet.
— The push stems from a listening tour with farmer-owners that Land O’Lakes chief executive Beth Ford embarked on when she assumed the role several years ago, when she heard complaints across the country about challenges with connectivity, said Stacy Rich, who leads the account for Cornerstone. When the pandemic hit, exacerbating issues with access to internet, the company partnered with other corporations from Microsoft to Tractor Supply Co. to the Mayo Clinic as part of the American Connection Project, which then set up thousands of free wifi locations nationwide.
— Now, the coalition is looking to do more, but because its membership is so broad, the group has coalesced around a number of goals rather than any particular bill. The group is calling for $80 billion for broadband infrastructure, more than the $65 billion included in the bipartisan framework. The group also wants improved mapping, ways to address digital literacy, and the extension of some of the telehealth provisions that Congress approved during the pandemic.
FARA FRIDAY: Here are a couple of notable recent Foreign Agents Registration Act filings, as part of our occasional Friday roundup. BGR Group has inked a $40,000 contract with the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran to help put on the controversial group’s (somewhat) annual conference, according to documents filed with the Justice Department this week. The council is an affiliate of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, a opposition group that’s waged a decades-long campaign against Tehran’s theocratic regime. The MEK was designated in the U.S. as a terrorist outfit for 15 years before it was delisted in 2012 after an intense lobbying campaign, and some analysts now describe the group as a cult.
— The group’s “Free Iran” conference is set to take place virtually on July 10 and will focus on calling for the investigation and prosecution of Iran’s newly elected Ebrahim Raisi over Raisi’s alleged role in overseeing the mass execution of Iranian political prisoners in the 1980s, BGR’s Jeff Birnbaum, who is working on the account, said in an interview. This week, the U.N.’s investigator on human rights in Iran backed such a probe. The conference is set to draw more than two dozen bipartisan members of Congress, according to a filing this week, including at least nine lawmakers slated to speak at the event: Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), Scott Perry (R-Pa.) Don Bacon (R-Neb.) and Joe Wilson (R-S.C.). The event is also set to feature former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former national security adviser James Jones; past attendees have included Rudy Giuliani and former Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Happy Friday and welcome to PI. We’ll be off Monday for the holiday, but I’ll be back in your inboxes Tuesday. Send me a lobbying tip and let me know how you’ll be spending the weekend. I’ll be taking a stab at the axe throwing trend so also send any advice on how not to maim myself: email@example.com. And be sure to follow me on Twitter: @caitlinoprysko.
— Foreign Lobby Report (@foreign_lobby) June 30, 2021
WHITE HOUSE DEPARTURE LOUNGE?: During an interview with POLITICO Playbook co-author Ryan Lizza this morning, Biden senior adviser Anita Dunn said her time in the administration is winding down and that she would return to SKDKnickerbocker “very shortly.” Dunn ping-ponged from Biden’s campaign back to the strategic comms firm and then to the administration for what she said in an email to staffers at the time would be a temporary post. “I do believe when the president asks you directly to come serve, that you have a responsibility to serve, but this was not my intention to be at the White House full time for a longer stint,” she said this morning.
BUYER WANTED: Precision Strategies, the Democratic consulting firm founded by President Joe Biden’s deputy chief of staff, Jen O’Malley Dillon, Stephanie Cutter, a top adviser on the Biden-blessed outside group Building Back Together, and Obama campaign alum Teddy Goff, is in preliminary talks with potential buyers, POLITICO’s Theo Meyer and Alex Thompson report.
— “It’s unclear whether the firm ultimately will decide to sell” and Precision — which has done work for the DNC, corporate clients like General Electric and Lyft, and is representing the Independent Restaurant Coalition in its fight for industry pandemic aid — is staying quiet on the matter. “But two people familiar with the conversations said Cutter has discussed the possibility with associates. At a time when the political world is still adjusting to the Biden era, Precision provides some major muscle with the party in power. Its acquisition would also continue a long Washington, D.C., tradition of big firms snapping up smaller ones with ties to a new administration.”
— One such firm that has had discussions about buying Precision, per a person familiar, is British conglomerate WPP, which owns dozens of firms in D.C. and throughout the globe. Precision’s chief operating officer, Tom Reno, previously worked for Burson Cohn & Wolfe, which is owned by WPP, and the conglomerate has a record of snapping up well-connected firms in the past: During President George W. Bush’s first term, it “bought a lobbying firm co-founded by Ed Gillespie,” a top aide to his campaign and who later went to work in his White House.”
LEAKED REPORT BLAMES INDUSTRY LOBBYING, MISINFORMATION FOR CLIMATE INACTION: “A recently leaked draft report written by some of the world’s top climate scientists blamed disinformation and lobbying campaigns — including by Exxon Mobil — for undermining government efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the dangers of global warming to society,” POLITICO’s Zack Colman and Karl Mathiesen report. “The draft report, which has been reviewed by POLITICO and other news organizations in recent days, is part of an upcoming review of climate science by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body that brings together scientists from around the globe to examine the state of climate research.”
— The draft began leaking days before an environmental activist group put out footage of one of Exxon’s lobbyists admitting the company worked with “shadow groups” that waged disinformation campaigns around climate science. It “blamed think tanks, foundations, trade associations and other third-party groups that represent fossil fuel companies for promoting ‘contrarian’ science that misleads the public and disrupts efforts to implement climate policies needed to address the rising threats.”
LOBBYING ON SURPRISE BILLING MOVES BEHIND THE SCENES: The Biden administration on Thursday published its first major regulation laying out how the federal government will implement last December’s hard-won ban on so-called surprise medical bills, but the pricey and public lobbying battle that delayed a deal on the practice has continued — this time, out of the public eye, The New York Times’ Sarah Kliff and Margot Sanger-Katz report. “Passage of the ban set off another aggressive lobbying effort over how exactly billing conflicts between providers and insurers will be resolved when the law takes effect in 2022. The same actors that made their case to Congress are now equally engaged in a behind-the-scenes effort to nudge the regulations in a more favorable direction. ‘The lobbying is very much still going on,’ said Loren Adler, an associate director of the U.S.C.-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy, whose research on the issue was influential among lawmakers.”
— Michael Blake Bezruki is joining Lobbyit as vice president of government relations, focusing on issues related to infrastructure, housing and construction, and financial services. He was previously part of Wells Fargo‘s government relations team and is a National Association of Home Builders alum.
— Deloitte has hired Logan Tucker as a senior consultant in its Federal Human Capital practice. She most recently served as deputy chief of staff and communications director for Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.).
— Hamilton Place Strategies has promoted Julia Decerega and JinAh Kim to directors.
— Veronica Bonilla will be director of media relations for BAE Systems. She was most recently media director at the Aerospace Industry Association.
— Public affairs firm Prism Group recently added Maggie Ambrose, who previously worked with the European Parliament Liaison Office in Washington, as a senior associate, along with senior associate Alexis D’Amato and associate Olivia Lucanie.
— Kathryn Mitchell-Thomas is now team chief for research and engineering in the office of the assistant secretary of Defense for legislative affairs, per Playbook. She most recently was a strategic comms consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, and is a Jim Langevin and Albio Sires alum.
— Michael Pratt is now senior group director for strategic policy, advocacy and government communicationss at Real Chemistry, Playbook reports. He previously was chief communications officer for Operation Warp Speed in the Trump administration.
From A Butter Company To Lobbying For Mujahedin-e-Khalq Terrorists
Lucrative MEK Fake Accounts Interfering In American Politics
Paul Brian and Arthur Bloom, The American Conservative, (First Published September 03 2020) :… “Amir Basiri and Heshmat Alavi are two fake accounts,” Hassan Heyrani, an MEK defector told TAC. “At Camp Liberty, near the BIAP airport in Iraq, I was in the political unit of the organization with some of the persons who grew up in America and Canada. We worked as a team to write the articles analyzing the Iranian regime. The MEK put them in The Washington Post and all the newspapers in Western countries.” Lucrative MEK Fake Accounts Interfering In American Politics
Lucrative MEK Fake Accounts Interfering In American Politics
Another Opinion Columnist Pushing War With Iran Who Doesn’t Actually Exist
The MEK’s disinformation primarily targeted right-of-center outlets receptive to a hawkish line against Iran
There is at least one more foreign policy opinion writer from the Mujahideen-eKhalq (MEK) whose existence is dubious, based on a study by a social media analyst and statements from a defector from the group. Amir Basiri, who contributed to Forbes 9 times, the Washington Examiner 52 times, OpenDemocracy, Algemeiner, and The Hill once also appears to be a fabrication.
The MEK is an Iranian exile group for which John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, and other foreign policy luminaries have given paid speeches. Dems like Joe Lieberman and Howard Dean have also spoken on their behalf. But the group has American blood on its hands, has been accused of practicing forced sterilization, and their belief system has been described as a mixture of Marxism and Islamism. Its supporters claim they, and their front group the National Council of Resistance of Iran, are a sort of government-in-exile, despite nearly nonexistent support for the group within Iran. They also have waged a substantial disinformation campaign in the Western press, in particular targeting conservative media.
“Amir Basiri and Heshmat Alavi are two fake accounts,” Hassan Heyrani, an MEK defector told TAC. “At Camp Liberty, near the BIAP airport in Iraq, I was in the political unit of the organization with some of the persons who grew up in America and Canada. We worked as a team to write the articles analyzing the Iranian regime. The MEK put them in The Washington Post and all the newspapers in Western countries.”
Basiri’s op-eds focus on the need for regime change in Iran which he claimed is “within reach.” The thrust of Basiri’s writing – last placed at the Examiner in October of 2018 – is to encourage American readers to take an interest and sympathize with the plight of Iranian protesters and dissidents. Basiri consistently argued against the Iran nuclear deal, downplayed terrorism against Iran, called for tougher sanctions as a method of regime change and highlighted the necessity of Trump working with the Iranian opposition.
“We are currently looking into the matter, so I won’t comment on this specific byline,” Philip Klein, Executive Editor and Commentary Editor of the Washington Examiner told TAC. “But I will say that we have recently instituted more rigorous vetting of outside contributors, including but not limited to asking for photo identification if necessary. We are especially on guard when it comes to unsolicited foreign policy commentary.”
A request for comment from OpenDemocracy, a site greatly concerned about disinformation campaigns, has not been returned as of press time. Basiri’s articles on Forbes are no longer online.
The list of MEK disinformation tactics also includes fake online since-deleted sites such as PersiaNow and ArabEye and questionable sites such as Iran Focus whose domain was formerly registered under the name of an NCRI spokesperson and is now anonymously held.
MEK’s recent influence campaign on Facebook spearheaded by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) was recently reported on last year by Lachlan Markey at the Daily Beast. Markey explained how NCRI lobbyist Soheila Aligholi Mayelzadeh has helped place paid ads on Facebook reaching between 500,000 to 1.4 million users as part of the campaign to sway US public opinion in favor of MEK and intervention in Iran.
The list of outright fakes recently in the realm of foreign policy analysis is significant: there is the apparent Emirati fabrication Raphael Badani to MEK sock puppet Alavi, first revealed by The Intercept, to deepfake non-existent anti-Palestinian activist Oliver Taylor, whose work was placed at highly-respected publications in the United States and Israel.
As Adam Rawnsley wrote for the Daily Beast, “Badani is part of a network of at least 19 fake personas that has spent the past year placing more than 90 opinion pieces in 46 different publications. The articles heaped praise on the United Arab Emirates and advocated for a tougher approach to Qatar, Turkey, Iran and its proxy groups in Iraq and Lebanon.”
Geoff Golberg is the founder of Social Forensics, which tracks and monitors online social media networks and disinformation campaigns. Golberg’s run-in and exposure of various pro-MEK personas, sock puppets and boosters came just prior to his Twitter suspension in July of 2019, the official reason for which was calling an account he believed to be fake and interfering in Canada’s elections a “moron.”
“Rather than suspending accounts that blatantly violate Twitter Rules, Dorsey instead opted to silence my voice. Specific to Iranian-focused platform manipulation, along with The Intercept, I helped out ‘Heshmat Alavi’ as a sockpuppet propaganda operation run by the MEK. Remarkably, despite initially suspending the fake account, ‘Heshmat Alavi’ has been reinstated by Twitter and continues to disseminate propaganda,” Golberg said, adding that Basiri – whose account is currently suspended by Twitter – is another fake persona which has been on his radar for some time. He produced the following graphic demonstrating the interconnectedness of the two accounts:
Golberg said he knows little of geopolitics or political aspects and was led to investigate sock puppet accounts fomenting war with Iran because he noticed many oddities about their networks, followers and tweeting patterns. His further research and analysis led him down a rabbit hole of connections and resulted in death threats, mass reporting of his account and accusations that he sympathized with the Ayatollah’s regime.
Rather than the hype over Russian bots, the real danger on platforms like Twitter is fake accounts and troll farm accounts which amplify hashtags, spread lies and bolster the desired propaganda of their paymaster, Golberg says.
“Despite media coverage that tends to focus on ‘bots,’ which simply means fully-automated accounts, Twitter’s much larger problem is actually fake accounts. There are more than 100K fake accounts that exist solely to create the illusion of widespread sentiment that the US should go to war with Iran,” Golberg told TAC, adding, “Take ‘Sheldon,’ @patrick_jane77, for example, an account that reflects having nearly 120K Followers. Very few of the account’s Followers are authentic accounts, yet given Twitter refuses to enforce their own rules, it is easy to mistake “Sheldon” for being a popular account. Twitter’s entire platform is propped up by misleading or inflated Followers/Following counts. Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, has built a house of cards and continues to commit ad fraud at a massive scale.”
Golberg sued Twitter earlier this year, alleging that the platform engaged in “deceptive practices” and hasn’t stood by its own terms of service.
Accusations from MEK supporter Hanif Jazayeri that The American Conservative itself and senior editor Daniel Larison act as a mouthpiece for the mullahs are part of a broader campaign aimed at maligning the reputation and integrity of anyone who opposes regime change in Iran. Tweets calling for investigations of TAC also came from noted MEK sock puppet Alavi, MEK spokesman Shahin Gobadi and NCRI’s Ali Safavi.
A barrage of accounts retweeted Jazayeri’s accusations, many with only a few followers and which solely tweet boosting the MEK and supporting regime change in Iran.
It’s worth noting that Heshmat Alavi was following Amir Basiri prior to his suspension, as were others closely connected to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies such as Jerusalem Post Iran hawk Seth Frantzman, @sfrantzman, Jazayeri and a number of other pro-MEK shills. It is a hall of mirrors amplifying the case for war with Iran, and the ad money from NCRI and pro-MEK accounts seems to have dampened Twitter’s desire to crack down. A request for comment from Twitter was not returned as of press time.
As a matter of journalistic ethics any organization engaging in systematic dishonesty like this has provided a very good reason to blacklist them. Failing to do so will encourage other foreign interests to do the same in the future, so conservative publishers should decline all content and interviews from the MEK in the future. This is not a matter of foreign policy differences: if you wish to see the U.S. pursue regime change in Iran, the MEK does not help make that case. Any publishers or think tanks who are aware of this dishonesty and still treat them like a legitimate opposition group should be considered part of a campaign not wholly different from the last time we were lied into a Mideast war.
Arthur Bloom is the managing editor of TAC.
Paul Brian is a freelance journalist. He has reported for the BBC, Reuters, and Foreign Policy, and contributed to The Week, The Federalist, and others. You can follow him on Twitter @paulrbrian or visit his website www.paulrbrian.com.v
Lucrative MEK Fake Accounts Interfering In American Politics
MEK Impunity Undermining Democracy
Massoud Khodabandeh, Lobe Log, June 18 2019:… This is the tip of the iceberg. MEK interference in the internal affairs of America goes well beyond online attacks on Iran. In 2016, the Organization of Iranian American Communities in the US—a front for the MEK—announced a “General Elections Mobilization Effort,” publicly urging its members to “fulfill their civic duty through active engagement in the 2016 general elections to help inform candidates of our communities’ policy priorities.” MEK Impunity Undermining America’s Democracy .
MEK Impunity Undermining Democracy in America
Even before its inception, the Trump administration was accused of foreign interference and repeated counter allegations that such charges are fake news. Now, even as House Democrats are squeezing whatever advantage they can from the Mueller investigation into Russian influence, a fresh allegation of foreign interference has emerged.
An investigation by The Intercept revealed that the White House used an article written by “Heshmat Alavi” to justify President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018. After probing the propaganda element in Alavi’s other articles, former members of the Iranian Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) have confirmed that the group is linked to the article. According to one such former member, Hassan Heyrani, “Heshmat Alavi is a persona run by a team of people from the political wing of the MEK. This is not and has never been a real person.”
Heyrani said the fake persona has been managed by a team of MEK operatives in Albania, where the group has one of its bases, and is used to spread its message online. Heyrani’s account is echoed by Sara Zahiri, a Farsi-language researcher who focuses on the MEK. Zahiri, who has sources among Iranian government cybersecurity officials, said that Alavi is known inside Iran to be a “group account” run by a team of MEK members and that Alavi himself does not exist.
This new scandal—Heshmatgate—involves a wide political and media class that has become so besotted with an unrealistic anti-Iran agenda that it has left the door open to an unchecked, unverified flow of MEK propaganda throughout American politics and the media. Thanks to these regime-change advocates, a foreign group funded by a foreign government has easily manufactured a false narrative aimed at sending American soldiers to die in a war with Iran that is against U.S. national interests.
The MEK’s target audience is not Iran or Iranians. It barely services its Farsi language outlets. The MEK is almost universally hated by Iranians everywhere and has no credibility among them.
After 2003, the MEK’s military strategy in Iraq under benefactor Saddam Hussein gave way to an intelligence-based strategy under the patronage of Prince Turki Al Faisal, the former intelligence chief of Saudi Arabia. The MEK is now based in Albania where, under more favourable conditions facilitated by the Trump administration, it has been allowed to build and equip a troll farm using the infamous slave labour of its hapless members. Its aim is to influence people in the English-speaking world through online activity.
The Intercept revealed just one case of MEK’s deceptive anti-Iran work. But this is the tip of the iceberg. MEK interference in the internal affairs of America goes well beyond online attacks on Iran. In 2016, the Organization of Iranian American Communities in the US—a front for the MEK—announced a “General Elections Mobilization Effort,” publicly urging its members to “fulfill their civic duty through active engagement in the 2016 general elections to help inform candidates of our communities’ policy priorities.”
In America, warmongers and regime change pundits, John Bolton and Rudi Giuliani in particular, openly support the MEK. The MEK exploits this impunity to the full. Critics of the MEK are subjected to character assassination and defamation campaigns. Journalist Jason Rezaian writes, “These efforts actively sought to undermine our credibility about the best approach to deal with Iran and resorted to personal attacks in order to do so.”
This revelation comes at the tail end of another scandal, the Iran Disinformation Project.This project, funded by the State Department, was ostensibly launched to expose and counter Iranian government propaganda. It paid for social media accounts to smear and discredit Iranian-American human rights activists, academics and journalists who criticize the Trump administration’s hard-line policies on Iran.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo must answer for the actions of the State Department, but who is behind the MEK and the mysterious Heshmat Alavi? How much influence does the MEK wield in Washington? And on whose behalf?
The formula for MEK activity is “the MEK and somebody’s money.” This explains how, back in 2014 just before the European Parliament elections, “somebody’s” money was used to fund the campaign of an Islamophobic far-right party called Vox. Investigations into electoral misconduct revealed that “at least 971,890 euros” was gifted through thousands of contributions ranging from 200 to 5,000 euros from individual MEK members and supporters. The money did not originate with the MEK, but the money laundering was facilitated through the organization by Vox co-founder Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a long-term MEK advocate while he was vice-president of the European Parliament.
In Albania, enjoying the freedom granted by such money and impunity, the MEK is playing out in microcosm what it does in North America and Western Europe. After the MEK arrived in Albania, local journalists were disturbed by its bizarre behavior and filed reports on this activity. In response, the MEK used bribery and corruption to buy publishers and a broadcaster there. They use intimidation tactics to silence journalists. One journalist confessed to me he felt afraid in his own country when the MEK, accompanied by hired armed Albanian security personnel, followed him. In a public space, they photographed him and made verbal threats, demanding that he hand over his phone on which he had earlier filmed activity outside the MEK camp gate.
MEK corruption and deception is insidious and highly dangerous. In America, neoconservatives use the MEK as tool to destroy the Democratic Party. MEK members inside the Albanian troll farms have admitted to me that, in addition to the usual “regime change” and “nuclear” tags they use, more recent additions include the names of various U.S. political candidates and “Virginia” with a view to swaying electoral opinion in the primaries. Since the MEK is not a benign group, it is under heavy surveillance. It would be naïve to believe that the intelligence services do not know the identity of the three individuals behind the Heshmat Alavi persona as well as the others who work in the troll farm.
Saudi money and U.S. political advocacy help the MEK exploit America’s democratic systems to expand its influence. According to The Independent, “MEK articles were picked up by US government funded Voice of America’s Persian-language service.” In 2003, I gave testimony to the UK parliament that the MEK’s cult nature was an even greater threat than its terrorist or violent behavior. The MEK regards its needs superior to any considerations of law, morality, or mortality.
Back in 2001, commentator Elizabeth Rubin warned that the MEK “is not only irrelevant to the cause of Iran’s democratic activists, but a totalitarian cult that will come back to haunt us.”
Massoud Khodabandeh is the director of Middle East Strategy Consultants and has worked long-term with the authorities in Iraq to bring about a peaceful solution to the impasse at Camp Liberty and help rescue other victims of the Mojahedin-e Khalq cult. Among other publications, he co-authored the book “The Life of Camp Ashraf: Victims of Many Masters” with his wife Anne Singleton. They also published an academic paper on the MEK’s use of the Internet.
MEK Impunity Undermining Democracy in America