Murtaza Hussain, The Intercept, June 10 2019:… Alavi’s articles also mixed criticisms of Iran and U.S. policy with overt advocacy for the MEK. His pieces in the Daily Caller, The Hill, and other outlets — though less numerous than his contributions to Forbes — employed a similar mix of advocacy against the Iranian regime and praise for the MEK. Though the MEK is known to be widely loathed among Iranians, Alavi described the group as the “main Iranian opposition group” in a 2017 Daily Caller article. MEK Cult Operatives Undermining American Democracy .
MEK Cult Operatives Undermining American Democracy
AN IRANIAN ACTIVIST WROTE DOZENS OF ARTICLES FOR RIGHT-WING OUTLETS. BUT IS HE A REAL PERSON?
IN 2018, PRESIDENT Donald Trump was seeking to jettison the landmark nuclear deal that his predecessor had signed with Iran in 2015, and he was looking for ways to win over a skeptical press. The White House claimed that the nuclear deal had allowed Iran to increase its military budget, and Washington Post reporters Salvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly asked for a source. In response, the White House passed along an article published in Forbes by a writer named Heshmat Alavi.
“Iran’s current budget is funded largely through ‘oil, taxes, increasing bonds, [and] eliminating cash handouts or subsidies’ for Iranians, according to an article by a Forbes contributor, Heshmat Alavi, sent to us by a White House official,” Rizzo and Kelly reported. The White House had used Alavi’s article — itself partly drawn from Iranian sources — to justify its decision to terminate the agreement.
“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.”
There’s a problem, though: Heshmat Alavi appears not to exist. Alavi’s persona is a propaganda operation run by the Iranian opposition group Mojahedin-e-Khalq, which is known by the initials MEK, two sources told The Intercept.
“Heshmat Alavi is a persona run by a team of people from the political wing of the MEK,” said Hassan Heyrani, a high-ranking defector from the MEK who said he had direct knowledge of the operation. “They write whatever they are directed by their commanders and use this name to place articles in the press. 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.
Alavi, whose contributor biography on the Forbes website identifies him as “an Iranian activist with a passion for equal rights,” has published scores of articles on Iran over the past few years at Forbes, The Hill, the Daily Caller, The Federalist, Saudi-owned al-Arabiya English, and other outlets. (Alavi did not respond to The Intercept’s requests for comment by Twitter direct messages or at the Gmail address he used to correspond with news outlets.)
The articles published under Alavi’s name, as well as his social media presence, appear to have been a boon for the MEK. An opposition group deeply unpopular in Iran and known for its sophisticated propaganda, the MEK has over the past decade turned its attention to English-language audiences — especially in countries like the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom, whose foreign policies are crucial nodes in the MEK’s central goal of overthrowing the Iranian regime.
ALAVI’S PERSONA IS said to be managed by a trio of MEK members. Heyrani, who at one time helped coordinate online operations for the group, named the individuals and a commander from MEK’s political wing who have been responsible for writing English-language articles and tweets under Heshmat Alavi’s name, and shared their photographs and names with The Intercept. “They were my friends. We were close friends,” Heyrani said. “We were working together.”
Heyrani explained that the MEK leadership would not look kindly on the fluent English speakers who operate the persona writing under their own names. Rank-and-file members, he said, are discouraged from having prominent public profiles — a reflection of what many critics have said is the MEK’s cult-like operating principles. “The leader of the organization doesn’t allow any person to use their real name,” said Heyrani, “because the leader is the first man in the organization, and everything should be under their shadow.”
The MEK conducts relentless online information campaigns, using an army of bots to flood online debates about Iran with the group’s perspective. One of the goals of the MEK team that manages the Hesmat Alavi account, Heyrani said, is to get articles under Alavi’s name published in the American press. The Intercept’s requests for comment to the MEK’s political wing, along with interview requests to the alleged operators of Alavi’s persona, went unanswered.
Another former MEK member now living in Canada, Reza Sadeghi, confirmed that the trio identified by Heyrani was involved with the group’s online information operations. Sadeghi was a member of the MEK until 2008, involved in lobbying activities in the United States, as well as operations at the MEK’s former base at Camp Ashraf in Iraq. He described a growing online propaganda center run by the group, intended to sway online discourse about Iran.
“We were always active in making false news stories to spread to the foreign press and in Iran,” Sadeghi said. “At Camp Ashraf, there were computers set up to do online information operations. Over the years, this activity got more intense with the introduction of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.”
“We were always active in making false news stories to spread to the foreign press and in Iran. At Camp Ashraf, there were computers set up to do online information operations.”
The MEK is among the most controversial groups seeking to depose the Iranian government. Although today it is mainly involved in political activism and lobbying, the group also has a history of violence. From 1997 until 2012, the MEK was listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. State Department, a status that was finally revoked as part of a diplomatic deal struck by the Obama administration. The group’s last claimed violent attack was in 2001.
The MEK initially sided with the Islamic Revolution but fell out of favor shortly after the establishment of the clerical-led Islamic Republic. The subsequent crackdown forced the group into exile, operating between France and Iraq — where, thanks to Saddam Hussein’s largesse, the group occupied Camp Ashraf, used as a staging ground for its participation on Iraq’s side of the brutal Iran-Iraq War.
The years following the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq were harrowing for the MEK, complicated by the terrorist listing. As the Americans withdrew their military forces, they handed over security at the MEK’s Iraqi base to the Iraqi government; another round of violent crackdowns ensued. The 2012 deal to remove the MEK from the U.S. terror list facilitated the movement of thousands of MEK members from Iraq to Albania, where the group would be housed in a new secretive compound. It is from this base in Albania where, according to the MEK defector Heyrani, some of the MEK members managing the Alavi persona were said to be working.
ALAVI’S ARTICLES TEND to mix scathing denunciations of the Iranian government with not-so-subtle suggestions that it might be replaced by the MEK and its leader, Maryam Rajavi. The group seems to have had great success with Alavi, particularly at Forbes.
The Intercept reached out to editors at the outlets that Alavi has published articles with over the past several years. None of these outlets were able to confirm that they ever spoke with or met Alavi. He was not paid for his writing at Forbes, the Daily Caller, or the Diplomat, according to spokespeople for those publications.
Although Alavi has published articles about Iran in a number of predominantly right-leaning publications, by far the most frequent publisher of his articles is Forbes. In a span of a year, between April 2017 and April 2018, Alavi published a staggering 61 articles for the Forbes website.
A Twitter account created under Alavi’s name in 2014 boasts over 30,000 followers, including a number of journalists and D.C.-based conservative think tank employees. The account frequently shares articles and hashtags praising Rajavi and shares footage of protests and events held by the MEK.
Alavi seems to have gained some purchase in right-wing circles in Washington. In addition to his many articles published by Forbes and other sites, Alavi also appears to run a blog called “Iran Commentary,” which describes its mission as focusing on “issues related to Iran and the Middle East.” One of its reports was recently cited as a source in an article from the Washington Free Beacon, a neoconservative site that takes an ultra-hawkish view on Iran.
The body of work published under Alavi’s name takes a consistently hawkish line toward the Iranian government and President Hassan Rouhani. Alavi’s articles also mixed criticisms of Iran and U.S. policy with overt advocacy for the MEK. His pieces in the Daily Caller, The Hill, and other outlets — though less numerous than his contributions to Forbes — employed a similar mix of advocacy against the Iranian regime and praise for the MEK. Though the MEK is known to be widely loathed among Iranians, Alavi described the group as the “main Iranian opposition group” in a 2017 Daily Caller article.
The Diplomat, a foreign policy website that published a handful of Alavi’s pieces in 2017, said that Alavi sent drafts from a Gmail account. Alavi pitched the outlet dozens of articles, though only a small number were accepted. The Diplomat stopped accepting pitches from Alavi after determining that his articles were not meeting publication standards, said a source who asked for anonymity to discuss internal matters.
The Daily Caller also told The Intercept that the outlet stopped publishing Alavi’s articles over concerns about the quality of his submissions. The Hill, al-Arabiya English, and The Federalist did not respond to requests for comment.
“We terminated our relationship with Heshmat Alvi in early 2018,” a Forbes spokesperson said in a statement to The Intercept. “For your background, all contributors to Forbes.com sign a contract requiring them to disclose any potential conflicts of interest. If we discover a contributor has violated these terms, we investigate the case fully and end our relationship if appropriate.”
THE MEK USES a number of means to gain influence in Washington. The group has paid prominent political figures to give speeches and press conferences, donated money to politicians, and disseminated its messages through these interlocutors’ appearances in media, as well as its own robust social media presence. In 2018, its social media operations were the subject of an Al Jazeera “Listening Post” documentary.
The group has used these public relations efforts to pursue its policy goals. Up until 2012, the MEK was mostly focused on getting itself off the U.S. terror list. In the years that followed, the group focused on attacking nuclear diplomacy between Iran and the U.S., and, after 2015, attacking the deal itself. Throughout, the MEK’s messaging has emphasized regime change — and attempted to present the MEK as a viable alternative to the Islamic Republic’s leadership, offering Rajavi, who has been the group’s public face for a decade and a half, as a potential figure to lead the country.
Alavi’s articles often track closely with these objectives. In his stories, Alavi has included positive references to Rajavi, as well as the MEK’s political wing, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. In an article in Forbes effectively calling for international support for regime change in Iran, Alavi wrote:
The time has come to set aside the “reformist” mirage in Iran. For decades, Maryam Rajavi, as President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is providing the sole, realistic alternative for Iran with a ten-point plan that enjoys the support of thousands of elected officials across the globe.
Like his focus on the MEK’s goal of elevating Rajavi, Alavi’s messaging has also lined up with the group’s efforts to attack the Iran nuclear deal. During the period between 2017 and 2018, when Alavi’s articles appeared in Forbes, the Trump administration was taking steps to extricate the U.S. from the deal, despite objections from European allies and former Obama administration officials. Alavi’s articles egged the administration on, with items such as “Iran Feeling The Heat From Trump On Nuclear Deal” and “How Trump Can Correctly Approach Iran’s Nuclear Deal.” In May 2018, Trump announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing from the agreement — one month after Alavi’s last article was published in Forbes.
The MEK’s messaging emphasizes regime change — and Alavi’s articles often track closely with this objective.
The Alavi article that the White House offered to the Washington Post in 2018 to justify withdrawing from the nuclear deal cited semiofficial Iranian government sources to demonstrate increased military spending by Rouhani government. It concluded with a rhetorical flourish typical of Alavi’s articles, praising the Trump administration for ending “appeasement” policies toward Iran and chastising Europe for “standing alongside the murderous mullahs’ regime against the will of the Iranian people.”
ALAVI’S TACK — EXERTING pressure on political discourse in the United States, rather than in Iran itself — appears to be part of the MEK’s strategy.
“The group barely produces content in Farsi. They seem to have given up on having a domestic audience in Iran. Their point now is to influence people in the English-speaking world,” said Massoud Khodabandeh, a former member of the MEK’s intelligence department who left the group in 1996. “Their online strategy works in Washington; it doesn’t work in Tehran.”
Alongside its social media strategy and periodic articles, the MEK involves itself in higher-stakes information campaigns. In 2002, the MEK helped reveal the existence of a covert Iranian nuclear facility near the city of Natanz. But according to arms control experts, the MEK got crucial details wrong. A 2006 article in the New Yorker also suggested that the intelligence may have been handed to the group by Israeli intelligence, calling into question the MEK’s claims that it operates a potent espionage network inside Iran.
In other instances, the MEK’s information has been less than reliable, causing skepticism among many Western national security analysts. During a 2015 press conference, MEK officials claimed to have evidence of a secret nuclear facility under construction in Iran, complete with clandestine photographs of the site. This claim was partly debunked by a blogger from the liberal website Daily Kos. A reverse image search of a picture of the purported door to the nuclear site revealed that it had actually been taken from a commercial website in Iran that advertised safe boxes.
The MEK has had the most success influencing the debate over Iran policy online through its aggressive social media presence. Any remarks about the group or even Iranian politics in general can be expected to be met by scores of MEK-supporters commenting through replies on Twitter and other social media. Many of the pro-MEK accounts will repeat the same messages, often word for word, swarming the mentions of any commentator.
Geoff Golberg, an expert on social media manipulation and founder of SocialCartograph, a social media mapping firm, took particular note of Alavi’s Twitter account, which appears to act as a node in an online campaign to boost the MEK’s profile. The account is heavily promoted by other pro-MEK accounts, as well as supporters of the group’s policy of confrontation toward Iran. To casual observers, these swarms of online activity can make it seem as though a large number of Iranians are enthusiastic about whatever it is that the MEK is promoting.
“The Heshmat Alavi account is part of a group of accounts, which, for years, have engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior,” said Golberg. “The account is connected to thousands of inauthentic MEK-focused accounts, many of which regularly engage with the account’s tweets. The goal of these efforts is to create the illusion of a larger support base than exists in reality.”
ALAVI HAS LEFT few traces online — aside from his social media, his articles, and his emails to editors. One single photo, a heavily filtered side profile, is used for all of Alavi’s author profiles, his LinkedIn page, and Twitter account. The photo’s origins are unclear.
At a minimum, there are strong indications that the Alavi persona is not what it claims to be. The use of fake identities to conduct political propaganda has become common in recent years. The 2016 U.S. presidential election saw the use of innumerable bots and fake accounts to spread misinformation and paranoia among the public.
A 2018 BBC News investigation looked into another prominent online persona alleged to be false: a Twitter account operating under the name “Sarah Abdallah” that was mixed up heavily in the online debate over the war in Syria. The Sarah Abdallah account was in some ways on the opposite side of the political spectrum as Alavi: Abdallah was a vocal supporter of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, a close Iranian ally. An online research firm determined Abdallah’s account to be “one of the most influential social media accounts in the online conversation about Syria.”
Although the BBC investigation raised serious concerns about the influence of a shadowy online account that was being followed by hundreds of real journalists, it stopped short of concluding that Abdallah was fake or being operated by a front organization.
For all her influence, however, Sarah Abdallah was never able to achieve the success of Heshmat Alavi, whose articles were published in U.S. media outlets and read in the White House.
“The Mojahedin wants to show to the world that their narrative has support, even from people who are not directly members of the group.”
To those unfamiliar with the internal politics of Iran, Alavi could come across in his writings as what he simply claimed to be: “an Iranian activist with a passion for equal rights.” The former MEK member Heyrani says that this framing is exactly what the group was hoping to create with the persona. To the extent that publications like Forbes were indifferent or amenable to Alavi’s message, it seems to have worked.
“The Mojahedin” — the Iranian name for the MEK — “wants to show to the world that their narrative has support, even from people who are not directly members of the group,” Heyrani said. “They want to show that other independent people — writers and activists — support their approach and believe that freedom and democracy will come to Iran through the work of this group.”
MEK Cult Operatives Undermining American Democracy
An Attack On Pro-Peace Iranian Americans And Civil Society
Jamal Abdi, The Iranian (Iranian.com), May 27 2019:… We know well the crowd behind the attacks – from Mark Dubowitz, the architect of Trump’s “maximum pressure” sanctions who heads the hardline pro-Israel organization “Foundation for Defense of Democracies,” to so-called analysts at John Bolton’s former think tank, to hardline Iranian diaspora social media accounts backed by inauthentic “bot armies” that likely include the MEK’s publicly revealed “troll farm” in Albania. Iranian Americans
An Attack On Pro-Peace Iranian Americans And Civil Society
This Memorial Day weekend, the forces working towards war with Iran launched a propaganda attack against NIAC, our allies, Iranian-American analysts, and even Iranian-American political candidates that NIAC Action has endorsed in local elections. With armies of bots, they orchestrated a Tweetstorm aimed at intimidating us and stopping our work for peace and diplomacy.
We know well the crowd behind the attacks – from Mark Dubowitz, the architect of Trump’s “maximum pressure” sanctions who heads the hardline pro-Israel organization “Foundation for Defense of Democracies,” to so-called analysts at John Bolton’s former think tank, to hardline Iranian diaspora social media accounts backed by inauthentic “bot armies” that likely include the MEK’s publicly revealed “troll farm” in Albania.
The goal of these attacks is simple: to divide and weaken our community. To ensure that Iranian Americans do not have a voice, do not hold influential positions in Washington D.C., do not run for office and build political power, and shy away from civic engagement.
Why? Because our community is the biggest threat to plans for war with Iran, and because NIAC continues to organize pro-peace Iranian Americans into a powerful and influential voice.
The goal of these attacks is simple: to divide and weaken our community.
The game plan of Bolton, Dubowitz, and the pro-war crowd is to create a false narrative that the Iranian people, and Iranian Americans, support Donald Trump’s maximum pressure sanctions and welcome a military intervention.
It’s “we will be greeted as liberators” all over again.
That’s what this astroturf campaign is all about: to make it appear as though support for war is coming from our community and our loved ones in Iran. They borrow tactics from the very regime they claim to oppose: demanding total allegiance to a political ideology, silencing dissent through intimidation, labeling civil society and political opponents as treasonous “agents” of the enemy, and distorting the debate through outrageous lies and propaganda.
But NIAC stands in the way of their plans to silence us or speak for us in their quest to destroy Iran and devastate our loved ones. Our #NoWarWithIran campaign has been viewed nearly 150,000 times and counting, and our community has raised their voices and sent over 50,000 messages to Congress.
The attacks are just further evidence of how important our work is – and how important it is that Iranian American’s unite their voices to be even louder in the face of the pro-war crowd’s shameless desperation. We are working closely with journalists, data scientists, and researchers to expose these disinformation campaigns, the network of inauthentic accounts, trolls, and bots, and the agents behind these coordinated efforts to crush Iranian American civil society.
We will not let these people tear our community apart, scare Iranian Americans from engaging in the civic process, and silence our collective voice. We will not let them speak for us.
Cover photo: John Bolton and Mark Dubowitz
An Attack On Pro-Peace Iranian Americans And Civil Society
MEK Cult threat and Sanctions. Danger of destroying Iran’s middle class
Paul Iddon, The New Arab, May 09 2019:… The Trump administration, despite what John Bolton’s dalliances with the cultist Iranian MEK opposition group might have suggested, has clarified that it is not actually pursuing regime change in Iran. Rather, it appears to want Tehran to make more concessions, on its nuclear programme and other issues, before returning to the negotiating table. Dangers of destroying Iran’s middle class. sanctions and MEK threat
Dangers of destroying Iran’s middle class. sanctions and MEK Cult threat
Michael Pregent, an analyst for the Hudson Institute in the United States, recently told the Kurdish news outlet Rudaw that sanctions are having an effect on Tehran.
Asked if the Iran regime could survive another 20 months of the Trump administration, Pregent admitted he did not know. When asked if it could survive another six years with Trump in power Pregent emphatically said “No, especially if the maximum pressure campaign continues.”
If this does happen, however, Iran’s already struggling middle class will be completely pulverized and the chance of the country transitioning into anything less oppressive than the current theocratic government will be severely reduced.
This would bode ill for the future of Iran. For years the country has suffered from a chronic brain drain, with approximately 150,000 educated Iranians leaving their country each year, it’s one one of the worst in the world.
The Trump administration, despite what John Bolton’s dalliances with the cultist Iranian MEK opposition group might have suggested, has clarified that it is not actually pursuing regime change in Iran. Rather, it appears to want Tehran to make more concessions, on its nuclear programme and other issues, before returning to the negotiating table.
Prolonged sanctions will help the Islamic Republic by gradually removing the very middle class that can pose the greatest domestic challenge to it
The administration boasts of applying “maximum pressure” against Iran through a series of crippling sanctions beginning last November, that has most notably targeted the country’s oil exports.
However, as the International Crisis Group learned in January, a “preliminary internal assessment” by the Trump administration itself “purportedly concludes that the US approach has yet to curb Iran’s behaviour or entice Tehran back to the negotiating table”.
“More broadly,” the Crisis Group report added, “there is little historical evidence of any correlation between Iran’s economic performance and regional policies.”
The sanctions on Iran’s oil sector have sparked a major fuel crisis in Syria, which was depending on its patron in Tehran for its energy needs.
One western diplomat cited by The Wall Street Journalargued that the regime in Damascus has attributed the crisis this has caused to the sanctions “in a bid to direct popular anger toward western countries and deflect attention away from its own role of corruption and mismanaging fuel supplies.”
There are few public expressions of dissent against Syria’s regime, and this current crisis is unlikely to spark another major uprising anytime soon, especially after the unrelenting brutality, cruelty and violence Damascus has levelled against the Syrian people almost every single day of this decade.
While Syrians under Assad have little chance of making any significant recovery or progress anytime soon, Iran has the potential – thanks in part to its sizable, well-educated and flourishing middle class population – to do so.
As Stanford Professor Abbas Milani observed, many members of Iran’s middle class were educated in the West and subsequently “constitute a veritable Trojan horse within the Islamic Republic, supporting liberal values, democratic tolerance, and civic responsibility.”
“Whoever succeeds in forging an alliance with this emerging middle class will shape the future of Iran,” he added.
Prolonged US sanctions against Iran of this kind will help the Islamic Republic by gradually removing the very middle class that can pose the greatest domestic challenge to it from the equation and even from existence.
This would dash the country’s best chance of ever reaching a more democratic and liberal post-Islamic Republic order.
This is how the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran is paradoxically helping prolong the rule of the powers that be there.
While sanctions weakened Iraq’s ability to threaten its neighbours, they strengthened the Iraqi regime in relation to the Iraqi people
Historically, wide-ranging economic sanctions had a similarly tragic impact on Iraq in the 1991-2003 period. Kanan Makiya, a noted Iraqi academic on Saddam Hussein’s brutal rule, has outlined how those sanctions ultimately did a lot more harm than good by eradicating Iraq’s middle class.
“The idea behind the sanctions was that they would weaken the regime enough so that the Iraqi people could overthrow it,” he recalled. “But it turns out the theory of sanctions didn’t work out that way in practice. On the contrary, while sanctions weakened Iraq’s ability to threaten its neighbours, they strengthened the Iraqi regime in relation to the Iraqi people.”
Makiya also concluded that the Iraqi middle class was “basically wiped out by the sanctions”.
And, he elaborated, while sanctions against an “aggressive regime” like Iraq’s possibly have some value “in the short run” they can, in the long run, be disastrous.
“If they don’t unseat a regime, such sanctions change the relationship of power within the country to the disadvantage of those very people who could change things,” Makiya explained.
“Because suddenly the black market corruption etc., becomes the leitmotif, and a totalitarian state turns into a criminal state, literally a criminal state, with its own institutions eaten away from within.”
With a precedent like this, while not completely applicable to today’s Iran, Washington should reevaluate its current policy, or lack thereof, towards Tehran to ensure it doesn’t end up making the situation much worse, or unwittingly end up paving the way for the rise of an even worse regime in Iran, down the road.
Paul Iddon is a freelance journalist based in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, who writes about Middle East affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @pauliddon
Are The MEK Cult And Regime Change Finally Running Out Of Road?
Anne and Massoud Khodabandeh, Lobe log, March 09 2019:… Hommerich reported that inside the camp in Albania, MEK militants were still practicing the deadly techniques for combat taught them by Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard—“cutting throats with a knife,” “breaking hands,” “removing eyes with fingers,” and “tearing the mouth open.” In 2017, the Trump administration reversed a 2013 plan by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to establish a De-Radicalisation Institute to disband and rehabilitate the MEK, allowing the dangerous cult to regroup behind closed doors in a de facto extra-territorial enclave and continue its violent practices.
Are The MEK Cult And Regime Change Finally Running Out Of Road?
by Anne and Massoud Khodabandeh
The “regime change in Iran” bandwagon—driven by warmongers, fueled by false prophesy, and hurtling pell-mell down the road to Iran—contains various characters, some new and some old.
The bandwagon itself is an ideological construct created 40 years ago in response to the Iranian Revolution. It has taken on various incarnations over the years, but its central purpose has always been to destroy the Islamic Republic of Iran and replace it with a compliant pro-American government. What that is hardly matters of course, as was the case with Iraq in 2003.
The drivers of this bandwagon are paid large sums to pursue this agenda at any cost. Others are mere passengers, hoping for a role after the vehicle reaches the destination. Among these passengers is the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), formerly a terrorist group and currently “democratic opposition.” The MEK has been a passenger for all 40 years of the journey, hanging on by paying the drivers. These drivers are public persons such as National Security Advisor John Bolton and Trump lawyer Rudi Giuliani, along with a host of other “influential” persons who steer the bandwagon inexorably toward conflict.
But just as the bandwagon appears to be gathering speed and momentum—enough to scare the Trump administration’s opponents—the MEK appears to be running out of road. And that could signal a halt to the whole enterprise.
The first sign of this came in a piece by Eli Clifton, which discussed the provenance of a large payment ($165,000) received by John Bolton in relation to a tweet to “defend a non-governmental anti-Iran pressure group, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI)…”. Clifton’s own tweet was met by a couple of feeble MEK slave troll posts on his thread spouting the usual “no appeasement” and “terrorist Iran” themes. This indicates that the MEK has been outbid by a new bandwagon passenger UANI, since the MEK Cult only managed $40,000 for one of Bolton’s speeches. Also, the MEK trolls are running out of steam back in their closed camp in Albania.
Even while Bolton and the Trump administration, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are pushing for a war with Iran, they are beginning to realize that the MEK is not the stick needed to strike fear into the enemy. Indeed, a look at the recent behaviour of the MEK in Albania reveals a failing group beset by internal crisis.
After a series of critical investigative articles by reporters from Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The Independent, Channel 4 News, NBC, and others, the recent report in Der Spiegel by Luisa Hommerich was apparently the last straw. The MEK issued a Farsi language statement (written and published in Europe) threatening to assassinate her—for just doing her job.
Hommerich reported that inside the camp in Albania, MEK militants were still practicing the deadly techniques for combat taught them by Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard—“cutting throats with a knife,” “breaking hands,” “removing eyes with fingers,” and “tearing the mouth open.” In 2017, the Trump administration reversed a 2013 plan by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to establish a De-Radicalisation Institute to disband and rehabilitate the MEK, allowing the dangerous cult to regroup behind closed doors in a de facto extra-territorial enclave and continue its violent practices.
In spite of this boost, the MEK, beset by exposures and defections, is trying to prevent the total collapse of the group. Around a thousand members have left the group since it relocated to Albania. The front line over which the MEK peers at its enemy, the Islamic Republic, is no longer Iraq but is now represented by a group of 40 former members protesting in Tirana. The MEK claim that these are all “agents of the Iranian regime” who want to kill the remaining cult members. So, instead of orchestrating regime change in Iran, the MEK can’t even deal with 40 destitute former members.
The MEK is engaged in a form of modern slavery by not paying thousands of activists for 30 years or more. Members who leave the group are left destitute because they have nothing but the clothes on their back even after decades of loyal service. The MEK claims that members offer their services as “volunteers.” But the preamble to the UN Declaration of Human Rights states in its opening sentence that human rights are inalienable—that is, they cannot be disowned by anyone for any reason. MEK Cult leader Maryam Rajavi is responsible for such decisions and treatment.
Not only are the defectors that Hommerich profiles impoverished because they have not had financial recompense for their years of devotion, they are also deliberately left stateless. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees brought the MEK to Albania from Iraq on “humanitarian grounds.” But on arrival they were not granted UN refugee status, nor have they been issued Albanian identity documents that would allow them to work or travel. Lack of residency rights also means that they cannot register for a bank account. They have no identity papers whatsoever, except the flimsy piece of paper used to fly them through international airspace from Baghdad to Tirana.
In her pursuit of fame and glory, Maryam Rajavi treats her members as, essentially, cannon fodder. In the idealized future she paints for the members, they will one day march on Tehran, the vanguard of a spontaneous uprising of the Iranian people against their Islamic oppressors, the mullahs. Why would they need money or identity papers?
In the meantime, it suits Rajavi to have her “followers” incarcerated in a closed camp unable to live independent lives, subject to the whims and demands of the struggle that she purports to lead. But that struggle has almost evaporated. Sure, the MEK is still performing propaganda tasks for various Saudis, Israelis, and Americans to advance the anti-Iran push. But even that is becoming more and more irrelevant as the MEK itself begins to fail.
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. Anne Khodabandeh is a UK expert in anti-terrorist activities and a long-standing activist in the field of deradicalization of extremists. She has written several articles and books on this subject, along with her husband, who is of Iranian origin.
The case of MEK Cult operative Mohammad Reza Kolahi’s murder didn’t need to be a mystery
Massoud Khodabandeh, Middle East Strategy Consultants, April 14 2019:… In July 2018 I wrote an article for the Balkans Post titled ‘MEK rebrands by assassinating unwanted members’ in which I brought up the case of Mohammad Reza Kolahi Samadi as one of many examples in which the Mojahedin Khalq have got rid of an affiliated disaffected operative to 1- Cleanse themselves of their terrorist history by eliminating the operatives; 2- Get rid of someone who has gone rogue and may potentially damage the MEK legally and socially if he decided to talk; 3- Make an excuse to attach yet another murder in the west to Iran.
The case of MEK Cult operative Mohammad Reza Kolahi’s murder didn’t need to be a mystery
According to the media in the Netherlands, two Amsterdam criminals have been jailed for the 2015 murder of an Iranian, Mohammad Reza Kolahi Samadi, who lived in the Netherlands hiding behind the false name of Ali Motamed.
In July 2018 I wrote an article for the Balkans Post titled ‘MEK rebrands by assassinating unwanted members’ in which I brought up the case of Mohammad Reza Kolahi Samadi as one of many examples in which the Mojahedin Khalq have got rid of an affiliated disaffected operative to
1- Cleanse themselves of their terrorist history by eliminating the operatives;
2- Get rid of someone who has gone rogue and may potentially damage the MEK legally and socially if he decided to talk;
3- Make an excuse to attach yet another murder in the west to Iran.
In that article I wrote:
“In 2015, in the Netherlands, Mohamad Reza Kolahi was killed by a criminal gang on the order of MEK. Investigators confirmed that Kolahi was responsible for the 1981 bombing of the headquarters of the Islamic Republic Party in Tehran in which 72 high-ranking politicians and party members were killed.”
In January 2019 I wrote a short blog (in Persian) titled ‘Why is no one asking Maryam Rajavi about the fate of Kolahi?’, in which I begged the question, why have the investigators (and the relevant CIA connected Persian speaking media outlets in Prague and Washington) gone well out of their way to attach the murder to Iranian diplomats in Amsterdam and have repeatedly announced that the Iranian embassy in Amsterdam “is not giving a clear answer” as to the reasons behind this murder (as if they could or should). But why does not a single person want to investigate or even ask questions of Maryam Rajavi and her fugitive husband Massoud who was the leader of the Mojahedin Khalq Organisation at the time Mohammad Reza Kolahi carried out his terrorist act in 1981. Kolahi planted the bomb in the HQ of a political party (rivals of the MEK at that time) in the middle of Tehran which killed ten people.
I begged the question, is this because Maryam Rajavi had not told the Netherlands intelligence service of Kolahi’s whereabouts? Or did she tell them (presumably through her CIA contacts) but the Netherlands intelligence service did give him enough protection? Or is it that the Netherlands security service are too afraid of the CIA and Mossad to even question Maryam Rajavi? Or it is simply convenient for them to play the game and accuse Iran in the series of Iran bashing scenarios (presumably planned by Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud and carried out by MEK) that signal the change of direction for the MEK from Saddam-Massoud-military to Turki-Maryam-intelligence.
I knew Kolahi personally. I received him in Kurdistan when he ran away from Iran. (I had transferred a 10 KW radio transmitter and other American made transceivers from Munich to MEK Cult bases just outside Sardasht city and was there to undertake the assembly and commissioning). He worked with me for the next two years (he was an undergraduate Electronics Engineering student) and was then moved to maintenance work at Rajavi’s Camp Ashraf (Saddam’s private army) near Baghdad.
I knew then that he was not a member of MEK Cult or even remotely connected to their ideology when he came to me, and I knew later in Iraq that he could never accept the cultish teachings of Rajavi thereafter (the Ideological Revolution, divorces …), and would remain an outcast with nowhere to go. And this is what happened. Whether he was fooled by MEK Cult to carry out this terrorist act, or whether he was pushed directly by other intelligence agencies which pulled MEK wires in Tehran at that time is a mystery to me. But what is clear is that although he was not a person close to MEK, the task of taking him out of Iran and saving him (and at the same time confining him) was the job assigned to the MEK.
It is inconceivable that Kolahi, with the information that he had, and the danger he could pose to the MEK Cult and their variety of masters if brought in front of a camera, would go to the Netherlands, get married, get a job and start a new life without the help and the blessing of the MEK (Maryam Rajavi). It is also inconceivable that the MEK (or their masters) would have not have a 24/7 control of every aspect of his life (including every telephone conversation) and simply let him go unmonitored.
I am not an investigator but even I can see that all the elements of “means, motive and opportunity” are pointing directly at the Mojahedin Khalq and Maryam Rajavi in person for his murder. What I can’t see is what is it that prevents European judiciary and law enforcement agencies from even approaching the idea of considering Maryam Rajavi as a material witness never mind, God forbid, a suspect.
Maryam Rajavi’s MEK is a defunct force in Iran foreign policy
Massoud Khodabandeh, Middle East Strategy Consultants, February 25 2019:… As the following articles show, the complex issue of ‘dealing’ with Iran cannot be solved by the Trump administration or the European Union using the defunct Mojahedin Khalq (MEK) to shake a stick at the country. Iran’s government and ruling system is proving far too sophisticated for this stupid ‘regime change’ narrative. Iranians – inside and outside – don’t want that. Time for a new policy maybe; one that acknowledges facts on the ground rather than the delusion of empire.
Maryam Rajavi’s MEK is a defunct force in Iran foreign policy
As the following articles show, the complex issue of ‘dealing’ with Iran cannot be solved by the Trump administration or the European Union using the defunct Mojahedin Khalq (MEK) to shake a stick at the country. Iran’s government and ruling system is proving far too sophisticated for this stupid ‘regime change’ narrative. Iranians – inside and outside – don’t want that. Time for a new policy maybe; one that acknowledges facts on the ground rather than the delusion of empire.
1- Pro-Reform Group Condemns U.S. Sanctions As Iranian Opposition Becomes More Vocal
Radio Farda, February 25 2019
Link to the source
In a letter to political parties around the world, Iran’s Freedom Movement (Nehzate Azadi) has called for international condemnation of the United States’ withdrawal from the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), adding that U.S. sanctions will give Iranian hardliners the upper hand in the country’s domestic politics.
The Freedom Movement of Iran (FMI) is a pro-reform group with Shiite sympathies that briefly held the government immediately after the 1979 revolution but has been sidelined and not as active since then.
Calling the JCPOA a “model for the peaceful resolution of international conflicts,” the FMI said in the letter, “Rejection of this agreement weakens the value of endeavors in resolving international conflicts peacefully and the role of the United Nations in acting as a safeguarding mechanism for building international peace. The United States’ rejection of this international agreement also negates the significance of efforts in building pathways for peaceful co-existence of nations based on conflict resolution through negotiation and compromise.”
FMI acknowledged that the JCPOA did not address the United States’ concerns about Iran’s missile program and its ambitions in the Middle East, adding that “JCPOA was not initially intended to include the Iranian government’s regional political behavior – or any other issues,” but expressed the view that “these issues could be legitimately addressed in other forums with the consideration of the national security of all nations involved.”
It is not clear why Freedom Movement believes the Islamic Republic has any intention to discuss these issues with Western governments, particularly the United States. Iranian officials categorically reject any such dialogue.
FMI does not advocate the overthrow of the Islamic Republic, but believes in reforms and its members are tolerated to an extent in Iran and not treated as enemies of the regime. Members of the group even participated in the last local elections without any success.
In more than a decade the group has not been very vocal, preferring not to condemn many of the regime’s human rights abuses or its regional adventures. It has also not clearly supported the popular protests by ordinary people against economic hardship and lack of freedoms.
In the letter, the FMI expressed concern over the impact of sanctions on Iran’s middle class, adding that in Iran, “the middle class is exposed to the ravages of sanctions. The Iranian middle class predominately has been in the forefront of the battle for democracy and acted as the engine of change in the country.”
FMI charged that “the United States, with the support of right-wing politicians in Israel and the ruling elites in Saudi Arabia, has imposed sanctions on Iran which ultimately benefit those who are for war and conflict with this country,” adding that “sanctions have also strengthened the political position and power of the Iranian ultraconservatives who continue to encourage and support discord and antagonism in Iranian foreign policy.”
FMI also warned that “democratic changes cannot be achieved in Iran by Washington encouraging groups from outside of Iran who have aimed at toppling the Iranian government. With regards to Iran, democracy cannot be achieved through war, but rather obtained upon a period of sustained gradual reforms that are supported by the Iranian people and arise from within the country.”
Although the letter appears to support the Islamic Republic of Iran’s positions, the FMI stressed at the end of it that the “Freedom Movement of Iran has been under pressure both from the old and the new regimes, and its leaders and members have been arrested, imprisoned and tortured.”
The letter by a political organization that has not been overtly active for decades is yet another indication that the Iranian opposition has become more vocal after the nationwide protests in late 2017 and early 2018, which has weakened the regime in Tehran.
During the past year, the two main opposition groups outside Iran, the royalists and the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MeK) have been more active than ever and developments about and around them have been given more prominence in the media.
The royalists have highlighted the symbolic significance of Prince Reza Pahlavi and established at least two networks of young Iranian activists (Farashgard) with the aim of toppling the Islamic Republic, and the newly established network of technocrats and academics named Qoqnous (Sphinx) with the objective of reconstructing Iran. Meanwhile, the MeK has been more politically active than ever, garnering support from among political groups and Western officials.
In the latest developments, 10 political groups active in the Iranian provinces of Kurdistan, Azerbaijan and Sistan-Baluchistan formed an alliance in Hanover, Germany on Saturday 23 February. The alliance “Solidarity for Freedom and Equality in Iran” has announced its objective as “toppling the Islamic Republic.”
The coalition includes five militant Kurdish parties as well as other militant groups from Khuzestan and Azarbaijan, and a few groups including democratic secular republicans and Marxists.
The freedom movement of Iran may have noticed the changing situation and its letter to political parties around the world could be its way of making itself known as a player that once had a role in the government, hoping to secure a place in the country’s future in case dramatic changes take place.
2- ‘Enough Is Enough: Iran Won’t Give US More Concessions’
Iran Front Page, February 25 2019
Link to the source
A senior conservative journalist says Tehran has not gained much from the US in return for the many concessions it has given Washington.
Hossein Shariatmadari, the managing director of the conservative Iranian newspaper Kayhan, has, in an editorial published by the daily, taken a swipe at Tehran’s performance in dealing with the US government. The full text of the analytical piece follows.
In his book titled “The Prince,” Niccolò Machiavelli says sometimes it would be very wise to seem crazy! This recommendation is explained by Herman Kahn in one of his books. He says maybe the best way to impose our policies would be to pretend that we are a little nervous and emotional. In this deterrent game, says Kahn, the side which seems to be determined and has left no path to return would have a better chance of gaining concessions from the other side, which has entered the scene with a modest and calm behaviour. He says this is the same place where unwise wisdom is allowed. According to him, pretending to be abiding by an unwise policy may be the best strategy to adopt in the face of a crisis.
It should be noted that when someone feels they are facing an opponent who complies with no laws and regulations and who may make any crazy move when confronted, they prefer to give in to the opponent’s demands in order to spare themselves of this lunatic!
The United States and its European allies have exactly used this ploy in dealing with Iran, and, unfortunately, they have somehow succeeded in taking advantage of this tactic due to the inaction of some Iranian foreign policy officials!
After resigning as US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley said in a speech at Charlotte conference that he always regarded Trump a short-tempered person who was unpredictable during negotiations in order to scare the other side. This was what Trump wanted and the mission assigned to her, she says.
It would be unfair if we do not mention this point. While many politicians across the world and some politicians inside the country have fallen for this ploy by Washington and referred to Trump as a lunatic, the supreme Leader described him as someone who pretends to be mad.
And there are reports that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has extended Iran’s suspension from the FATF’s blacklist for another four months. Why? The only reason for this 4-month suspension would be Iran’s resistance to their humiliating demand with regards to the approval of the four bills related to the FATF, especially the Combating the Financing of Terrorism (CFT) law and the Palermo Convention. The FATF had threatened that Iran would face tough consequences if Iran failed to ratify the bills. However, the ratification of the FATF would mean “suicide for fear of death!”
Despite insistence by the administration and a number of MPs, the Expediency Council was tasked with deciding on whether or not to approve the bills. Fortunately, most members of the council realized the disgraceful and disastrous nature of the FATF and have, so far, refused to give the go-ahead to the ratification of the bills. In other words, when the FATF saw its threats were ineffective, it has suspended Iran on the blacklist in a bid to make the Expediency Council approve the humiliating bills.
Addressing the opponents of the FATF, A pro-government economic analyst says, “Why do you insist that we be regarded as terrorists in the world?”. He claims there are misgivings of treasons when it comes to the opponents of the FATF. In response, we should say, “Why are you insisting on introducing the IRGC, the Quds Force, the Intelligence Ministry, the Defense Ministry, etc., as terrorists? If you are unaware of the contents of the CFT, why are you expressing views on a subject you know nothing about? And if you know about it, then we should ask ‘Isn’t it treason to describe the IRGC, the Quds Force, the Defense Ministry and Intelligence Ministry as terrorists?’ Or ‘Should we [instead] oppose the ratification of bills whose approval would sound the death knell to national security and result in the surrender of Iranian people to Takfiri terrorists? Hasn’t the FATF officially announced that it does not accept Iran’s definition of terrorism, and hasn’t the US Treasury’s website officially described the aforementioned entities as terrorists?’
One should ask those supporting the ratification of the said bills what will happen if Iran does not accept the FATF.
Mr Zarif says, “Neither me, as Foreign Minister, nor Mr Rouhani, as President, can give any guarantees that the ratification of the CFT would solve any of our economic problems! But it can strip the US of some of the pretexts it has!”
Mr Zarif does not explain, first, which pretexts? Isn’t the existence of the Islamic Republic’s establishment the United States’ main pretext? And, second, in return for so many concessions that we have given, what have we gained over the past five years and a few months except the increase of sanctions and the dozens of hostile cases that the White House has opened against us?
Bitten once, no wise person should be bitten again from the same spot. Do we have to be bitten dozens of times before we come to our senses? Just mention one single concession that we have got from them. Go ahead, please!
What is INSTEX, whose implementation has been conditioned by the FATF upon the ratification of the four bills? “Oil for Food and Drugs!” Isn’t this so-called trade channel with Europe anything other than the humiliation of the Iranian nation? We are supposed to transfer to European banks the forex gained from selling oil! In return, we are supposed to purchase goods from European countries, and not any other countries; but what commodities? Only medicines and food! So far, everything is in the Europeans’ interests. Well, what about our share? Will they buy petroleum from us? The answer is “No.” Will European banks lift the sanctions? Again the answer is “No.” Then what is INSTEX and what benefit does it have for us? Practically nothing! Isn’t it so?
And what countries are supposed to monitor its implementation? Read on!
The supervision is based in France, a country which has overtly turned into a safe haven for terrorists. Members of the MKO terrorist group, who, by their own admission, have murdered some 14 thousand Iranians (The true figure is 17,000) are present in France. During the arrest of members of one of the decision-making centres of ISIS terrorists in Iraq, it was revealed that 13 of those apprehended were French officers involved in the terrorist group’s plans.
The project is managed by Germany, a country which wouldn’t allow the plane carrying Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to fuel despite the fact that Zarif was travelling to Germany at the official invitation of that country to attend the Munich conference. Also, Germany has been holding one of Iranian diplomats in detention for months despite his diplomatic immunity.
And the auditing job lies with the government of the UK, a country which, according to Mr., Zarif, does not allow Iran to open even one bank account.
Finally, we hope the recent ploy by the US and its allies will have no bearing on the calculations of the respected members of the Expediency Council and we hope they will keep in mind this part of remarks by Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei that “The proposals made by them (hegemonic powers) generally include deception, deceit and lies. Today, the Iranian nation regards a number of European governments along with the United States as deceitful and unreliable. The government of the Islamic Republic [of Iran] should carefully preserve its borders with them, not step back an inch from its revolutionary and national values and not be afraid of their hollow threats.”
The Many Faces of the MEK, Explained By Its Former Top Spy Massoud Khodabandeh
Ty Joplin, Albawaba, November 18 2018:… Khodabandeh admits that he had a difficult time reintegrating into society, as he struggled to rid himself of the constraints the MEK forces upon its members. He forbade himself from watching television, and did not know the extent of Iraq’s crimes against Iranians during the Iran-Iraq War. But Khodabandeh considers himself lucky; he was able to leave the group while thousands are still trapped inside …
The Many Faces of the MEK, Explained By Its Former Top Spy Massoud Khodabandeh
By Ty Joplin
Before Massoud Khodabandeh settled into his life as a consultant living quietly in the middle of England, he was directing the intelligence operations of a group that’s been labelled as a terrorist cult.
The group is called the Mujahideen al-Khalq (MEK), and Khodabandeh had, for decades, witnessed its changing of faces: from radical student group opposed to the rule of the Shah in Iran, to anti-Ayatollah guerrilla group, to pro-Saddam militia, to what it is now, an inward-looking and reclusive group with no clear identity beyond its obedience to its leader, Maryam Rajavi.
Massoud Khodabandeh left the group and granted Al Bawaba an exclusive interview, where he documents his smuggling of radio equipment into Iran, his spying on Iranian leaders and MEK defectors and his eventual departure from the group.
Khodabandeh details to Al Bawaba his founding of an MEK cell in London and his imprisonment for participating in a sit-in of the Iranian embassy during the 1979 Iran revolution. After that, he began operating covertly in Europe, traversing the continent with secret funding and passports, looking over all of the MEK’s cells working in Europe at the time, slowing becoming one of its most senior and trusted members.
After the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war and the MEK’s falling out with the Iranian regime, Khodabandeh began smuggling radio equipment into Iran via Baghdad, taking powerful radio technology into a secluded station in the mountains of Iranian Kurdistan and surviving attacks by Iranian forces in the process.
As well as helping the MEK cement an international presence, Khodabandeh also remembers helping the MEK’s former leader, Massoud Rajavi, with a particular request. Rajavi asked Khodabandeh to send him dozens of books on cults and psychological manipulation; a request Khodabandeh did not hesitate to fulfill. Decades later, he learned that each book he was smuggling to Massoud was being translated into Farsi and used as a guide on how to transform the MEK into a personalist cult dedicated to serving the will of its leader, Massoud.
After leaving the group, Khodabandeh admits that he had a difficult time reintegrating into society, as he struggled to rid himself of the constraints the MEK forces upon its members.
He forbade himself from watching television, and did not know the extent of Iraq’s crimes against Iranians during the Iran-Iraq War. But Khodabandeh considers himself lucky; he was able to leave the group while thousands are still trapped inside its confines, doomed to be associated with an opposition group many consider a terrorist cult.
To listen to the full conversation, click here:
Speaking in depth about my experiences with the MEK, from my days as a student up to why I left. Thanks to Ty Joplin of Albawaba for the podcast.
‘The Many Faces of the MEK, Explained By Its Former Top Spy Massoud Khodabandeh’ on #SoundCloud #np https://t.co/IvXGbFdqun
— Massoud khodabandeh (@ma_khodabandeh) November 14, 2018