Giorgio Cafiero, Inside Arabia, August 05 2019:… The People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or Mujahedin-e Khalq ( MEK ), has a dark history of violence and acts of terrorism against American interests. Established in the 1960s, the Marxist-Islamist group killed members of the Shah’s security apparatus on the streets of Iranian cities. Anti-American to its core, the MEK quickly earned a negative reputation in Washington for killing six US citizens, and for targeting American-owned hotels, airlines, and energy companies in Iran. The lyrics from an MEK song illustrate the vitriol which the organization held for the US during its early years: “Death to America by blood and bonfire on the lips of every Muslim is the cry of the Iranian people.”. MEK : Totalitarian Cult , or Iran’s Brightest Hope for Democracy ?
MEK : Totalitarian Cult , or Iran’s Brightest Hope for Democracy ?
Certain Trump administration officials favor the US government supporting the MEK, an Iranian opposition group exiled in Albania. Yet a look at the MEK’s history paints a disturbing picture that should give officials in Washington major concerns about any plans for enhancing US cooperation with the organization.
The People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or Mujahedin-e Khalq ( MEK ), has a dark history of violence and acts of terrorism against American interests. Established in the 1960s, the Marxist-Islamist group killed members of the Shah’s security apparatus on the streets of Iranian cities. Anti-American to its core, the MEK quickly earned a negative reputation in Washington for killing six US citizens, and for targeting American-owned hotels, airlines, and energy companies in Iran. The lyrics from an MEK song illustrate the vitriol which the organization held for the US during its early years: “Death to America by blood and bonfire on the lips of every Muslim is the cry of the Iranian people.”
The revolutionary student-led group played an important role in the Shah’s 1979 ouster. However, after Ayatollah Khomeini’s ascendancy and the Islamic Republic’s consolidation of power, Khomeini and his loyalists refused to share power with their former ally and began to crackdown on MEK protests. MEK responded by accusing Khomeini’s loyalists of monopolizing power, and then resorted to acts of violence and terrorism, including the bombing of the Office of the Prime Minister, killing both President Mohammad-Ali Rajai and Prime Minister Mohammad Javad Bahonar.
Having been forced to take refuge in Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s protection, the MEK sided with Baghdad in the eight-year conflict with Iran. In 1986, Saddam Hussein provided the MEK with a military base at Camp Ashraf, located 50 miles from the Iranian border. From there, the organization waged attacks in Iran with arms provided by the Iraqi government. Immediately after the implementation of the ceasefire between Iran and Iraq in 1988, roughly 7,000 Iraqi-backed MEK fighters launched Operation Forugh-e Javidan (Eternal Light) aiming to oust the regime in Tehran, only to be crushed in a counter-offensive days later by Iranian forces. In 1999, the MEK took its revenge by assassinating Lieutenant General Ali Sayyad-Shirazi, Deputy Chief of Iranian Armed Forces Chief of Staff, who had suppressed the MEK’s incursion.
As part of its overture to Iran, former President Bill Clinton’s administration designated the MEK a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). In 2002, when President George W. Bush was seeking to build up international support for his plans to invade Iraq, he cited Saddam Hussein’s record of sponsoring “terrorist organizations that direct violence against Iran, Israel, and Western governments”, a tacit reference to Baghdad’s patronage of the MEK. Meanwhile, in the post-Saddam environment, more figures in the US government began to view the MEK as a tool to pressure the Islamic Republic. As such, the US military began secretly training the MEK in Nevada. “We did train them here, and washed them through the Energy Department because the Department of Energy owns all this land in southern Nevada,” a former senior US intelligence official told investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.
In Baghdad however, the Shi’a government no longer welcomed MEK’s presence in Iraq, and tacitly allowed the Iranian military to attack MEK’s base on its territory. By 2012, when it became clear that the MEK had no security in Iraq, the Obama administration, under much pressure from well-funded lobbyists, removed the group from the State Department’s FTO list. Meanwhile, the US government reached a secret deal that would relocate roughly 3,000 MEK members from Iraq, where they no longer had security, to Albania. As one former US diplomat involved in the deal explained, the relocation agreement had to be done secretly given the extent to which many government officials in France, Iraq, and Iran would have objected had they been aware of it at the time.
How has a Marxist-Islamist group that defined itself based on an ideology hostile to America gained popularity in Washington?
As the MEK openly calls for the overthrow of the Iranian government, and the recognition of Maryam Rajavi (the wife of MEK’s founder) as Iran’s next leader, the group has garnered strong support from Trump administration officials. But how, one must ask, has a Marxist-Islamist group that defined itself based on an ideology hostile to America gained popularity in Washington?
MEK’s role in exposing Iran’s nuclear activities during the early 2000s, gained the support of DC, where some officials unwisely began seeing it as a force capable of leading Iran into a post-Islamic Republic. Credible reports further suggest that MEK has paid handsome speaking fees to US officials for their appearance. Addressing MEK’s “Free Iran” conference in 2017, National Security Advisor John Bolton proclaimed that “the only solution is to change the [Iranian] regime itself.” Bolton also predicted that before 2019 “we here will celebrate in Tehran.” In January 2019, Ayatollah Khamenei, told a Qom audience that “… one of the US politicians [Bolton] said that he hopes and wishes to celebrate this year’s Christmas in Tehran. Christmas celebration was a few days ago… they are truly first-class idiots.”
Vagueness and a lack of transparency surround the MEK’s source(s) of funding. Numerous investigative journalists in Albania have explored this question. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia shows support for the MEK politically, yet there is no solid evidence to back up the common assumption that the Saudi government finances the group.
Fortunately for Tehran, opposition to the Islamic Republic has been fragmented. Deep divisions between various opposing factions—including the MEK, monarchists, and various non-Persian ethnic minorities —have thwarted the establishment of any unified opposition. As the Middle East expert Borzou Daragahi recently explained, a common perception among Iran’s ethnic minorities is that for all their reasons to loathe the Islamic Republic regime, both the MEK and the monarchists would be more hostile to them than their ruling government.
Daragahi also noted that officials in Tehran do not perceive the MEK as a grave threat to the regime’s survival, using it instead as a prop to persuade more Iranians that the “opposition” is dark and beholden to hostile foreign powers targeting Iran since 1979.
Realistically, the MEK lacks any means to mobilize support in Iran for an overthrow of the regime.
Realistically, the MEK lacks any means to mobilize support in Iran for an overthrow of the regime. Furthermore, if there is one thing that unites all Iranians of different affiliations, it is the loathing for a cult that sided with Iraq during its war against their homeland. But for American and British officials who vocally support it, public displays of solidarity with the MEK serve to enrage Iran’s government. They, on the other hand, continue to isolate the country politically and depress its economy through comprehensive sanctions. However, beyond angering those in power in Tehran, it is not clear what the US could achieve by providing more support to the MEK.
Notwithstanding objections to the MEK on moral grounds, it makes little sense to sponsor an organization that is struggling to survive, and has no support within the Iranian population. Since relocating to Albania, approximately 1,000 MEK members have left the group’s base outside of Tirana. The MEK later accused 40 of its former members, who subsequently held protests against it in Albania’s capital, of being “agents of the Iranian regime.” Hence, it is difficult to imagine a group, which still castigates its defecting members, successfully orchestrating a regime change in Iran, let alone one that is coordinated from southeastern Europe.
Shrouded in secrecy and controversy while harmed by global media reports about its conduct in Albania, the MEK has justified its reputation as a cult organization. After the disappearance of her husband Massoud, the 65-year-old Maryam Rajavi has been living in a delusional dream that one day she and her “followers” will march on Tehran to lead a revolution that ends the Islamic Republic. More realistically, MEK’s supporters in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the US, will continue heaping praise on the group and support its formal and social media campaigns, which align with their anti-Iran agendas.
Yet none of the actors that want to see the Iranian regime fall should have any reason to believe that the MEK is a reliable actor capable of bringing about the desired outcome. It seems though that they all have reached the conclusion that supporting the MEK can be an effective tool to harass the Islamic Republic and use the group that the State Department once had on its FTO list as a bargaining tool. Nevertheless, Washington policy makers should keep in mind that regardless of the fate of the Islamic Republic, the widely despised MEK will have no political future in Iran.
MEK : Totalitarian Cult , or Iran’s Brightest Hope for Democracy ?
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