Assal Rad, Lobe Log, July 02 2019:… The MEK also utilizes promoted content on news sites. For instance, The Hill is running a 10-week mini-series on Iran sponsored by the Organization of Iranian-American Communities (OIAC), a front group for the MEK. Even more unsettling is the MEK’s creation of fake personas that publish in major U.S. outlets as a way to promote the pro-regime change narrative, falsely inflate support for war, and secure legitimacy as real “analysts.” Outlets such as Forbes and The Hill continue to host the writings of a person that is not real, a character created by the MEK called Heshmat Alavi. MEK Treacherous Operation . Propaganda War To Real War
MEK Treacherous Operation . Propaganda War To Real War
by Assal Rad
Under the guise of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and ties to al-Qaeda, the Bush administration invaded Iraq in 2003—and the consequences have reverberated across the Middle East to this day. With the specter of war again on the horizon, striking parallels have emerged between the lead-up to the Iraq War and the current discourse on Iran. The media has parroted the Trump administration’s claims regarding Iranian “threats,” and U.S. media outlets continue to provide a pulpit for fringe Iranian opposition groups like the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a formerly designated terrorist organization.
Just as the Bush administration hinged their hopes of Saddam Hussein’s fall on the exiles of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) who duped U.S. officials with the now infamous “Curveball,”
Trump and his regime-change cabinet are now touting the MEK as a viable alternative to the current government in Iran. Despite these parallels, the mainstream media continues to give a platform to radical groups like the MEK, which are weaving together a questionable story to build a case for regime change and war with Iran.
Also similar to the INC, which claimed that it did not seek power in Iraq, the MEK pretends to work for democracy in Iran in the name of the Iranian people. Though both organizations have used fabrications to push their agenda, the tools of disinformation have evolved over time and the MEK has mastered the art of false narratives.
Coordinated efforts by small interest groups to undermine critics of Trump’s Iran policy and stifle pro-peace and pro-diplomacy voices have become increasingly hostile. Revelations have come to light on the role of the MEK in magnifying efforts at misrepresentation through inauthentic social media accounts aimed at manufacturing “Iranian” support for the Trump administration’s pro-war policies. The MEK also utilizes promoted content on news sites. For instance, The Hill is running a 10-week mini-series on Iran sponsored by the Organization of Iranian-American Communities (OIAC), a front group for the MEK.
Even more unsettling is the MEK’s creation of fake personas that publish in major U.S. outlets as a way to promote the pro-regime change narrative, falsely inflate support for war, and secure legitimacy as real “analysts.” Outlets such as Forbes and The Hill continue to host the writings of a person that is not real, a character created by the MEK called Heshmat Alavi.
Evidence of MEK machinations are substantiated by online campaigns intended to influence the narrative on Iran in favor of regime change. Former MEK members have confirmed the operation of MEK troll farms based in Albania, where members create thousands of inauthentic accounts and promote hashtags, propaganda, and tweets targeting anyone that favors diplomacy with Iran. The group also uses front organizations, like the OIAC, to take out paid ads that advance its cause at the expense of U.S. security interests in the region.
Despite its propaganda mission, the MEK is loathed inside Iran and has no support as an opposition force. Support for the fringe group fares no better in the Iranian diaspora. According to a 2018 poll among Iranian-Americans, only 6 percent said that they supported the MEK as a legitimate alternative to the current regime in Iran. The history of this enmity can be traced back to the Iran-Iraq War, when the MEK fought alongside Saddam Hussein.
The United States first placed the MEK on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list when the list was established in the 1990s based on their role in the murders of Iranians as well as Americans in bombings at U.S. companies in Iran in the 1970s. Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the MEK has continued to carry out assassinations and terror attacks inside Iran.
The group’s ideological premise is a subversion of Islam. In his seminal study of the history of the MEK, Ervand Abrahamian argues that it “developed an all-consuming hatred for the clerical regime and, at the same time, the burning conviction that its own radical version of Shiism was the one and only true interpretation of Islam.”
Although the MEK outwardly espouses human rights as a guiding principle, it is itself a cult-like group with a history of abuse and torture against its own members. According to a report by RAND, the group’s disturbing human rights cruelties against its members include physical abuse, seizure of assets, imprisonment, mandatory divorce, emotional isolation, and forced labor—to name but a few. Former MEK members who have escaped the group also report sexual abuse and forced marriages during their captivity. One of their more nefarious practices of authoritarian control over members is removing children from their parents.
The group’s removal from the terror list in 2012 was a result of a well-funded PR campaign led by paid spokespeople, including National Security Advisor John Bolton, who has received at least $40,000 in “speaking fees” from the group. Other members of the Trump team, such as his attorney Rudy Giuliani, have also received money from the MEK to lend their endorsement and speak at rallies calling for the overthrow of the Iranian government. The MEK has never revealed the source of its funding, although evidence suggests that Saudi Arabia may play an integral role in propping up the organization to manipulate U.S. policy and sow discord in Iran.
Ultimately, despite the parallels between the run-up to the Iraq War and today’s escalating tensions with Iran, the MEK and other radical faux-opposition forces with no legitimacy in Iran continue to be given platforms to propagate distorted Iran narratives. Despite the failures of the Iraq War, the experience seems to have done little to impel the mainstream media to produce more accurate, nuanced reporting.
Assal Rad is a research fellow at the National Iranian American Council. She received her PhD in History at the University of California, Irvine
MEK Treacherous Operation . Propaganda War To Real War
MEK Iran and John Bolton regime change Noises
Joshua Keating, The Slate, May 07 2019:… Bolton, who has given paid speeches to the controversial Iranian opposition group M.E.K., has long advocated regime change in Iran. As Dexter Filkins’ recent New Yorker profile of the national security adviser explained, President Donald Trump, a skeptic about military intervention, may be less enthusiastic about that strategy. MEK Iran and John Bolton regime change Noises
John Bolton Makes Loud Noises at Iran
MEK Iran and John Bolton regime change Noises
In an unusual statement for a national security adviser to make, John Bolton announced on Sunday night that an aircraft carrier strike group is being deployed as a warning to Iran:
In response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings, the United States is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the U.S. Central Command region to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force. The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces.
This all sounds pretty alarming, but a couple of facts are worth keeping in mind. First, the White House probably did not actually decide to do this over the weekend. The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group had already left in early April on what the Navy press release called a “regularly scheduled deployment.” As Rand Corp. analyst Becca Wasser tweets, “chances are this deployment has been long-planned. [White House] message is piggybacking on planned ops to make a point.” (Hopefully the ships are at least headed in the right direction this time.)
Second, it’s not clear what “troubling and escalatory indications” Bolton is referring to. According to the New York Times, citing an American military official, “as of late Friday, military analysts were not tracking any new, imminent or clearly defined Iranian or Iranian-backed threats against Americans in Iraq or the region.”
Update, May 6, 2019: U.S. Officials are now saying, according to CNN, that the move was ordered in response to “serious and credible” intelligence suggesting a threat to U.S. forces in Syria, Iraq, and at sea from Iranian forces and proxies.
So, there’s no sign that anything actually “happened” over the weekend. Iran didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, that we know of, and neither did the United States. But the escalating rhetoric could still be worrisome.
Bolton’s latest rhetorical volley follows a series of moves by the Trump administration to dial up the pressure on Tehran, including designating the regime’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization and ending sanctions waivers for countries importing Iranian oil.
Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, warned of unspecified “consequences” in response.
Iranian officials have suggested several times in recent weeks that they could retaliate by shutting down the Strait of Hormuz, the crucial waterway through which 20 percent of the world’s oil flows, a move that would cause an immediate spike in global oil prices and significantly raise the risk of armed conflict. Iran has threatened to do this several times over the years and has never followed through, but the latest signals from Tehran may have been what prompted Bolton’s missive.
There have also been reports that Iran could announce later this week that it is withdrawing from at least some of its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal. This week will mark one year since the U.S. withdrew from the deal.
Bolton, who has given paid speeches to the controversial Iranian opposition group M.E.K., has long advocated regime change in Iran. As Dexter Filkins’ recent New Yorker profile of the national security adviser explained, President Donald Trump, a skeptic about military intervention, may be less enthusiastic about that strategy. (As one source told Filkins, “Bolton’s worst nightmare is that Khamenei will write Trump a letter saying, ‘Why don’t we get together and talk?’ Because he knows that Trump would jump at that opportunity.”)
Iran’s Zarif surmised this in a recent interview, describing Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed as the “B team” who were looking to provoke Iran into doing something that could provide a pretext for military action, as opposed to Trump, who wanted to pressure Iran into negotiation.
While Trump has often seemed less preoccupied with Iran than some of his advisers have, he clearly sees a hard line as politically advantageous and has been letting Bolton—as well as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—set the aggressive tone. We may see the consequences very soon.
MEK Iran and John Bolton . MEK Treacherous Operation . Propaganda War To Real War
Bolton’s Alternative is M.E.K. Mujahedeen Khalq
The New York Times, May 15 2019:… Bolton’s Alternative is Mujahedeen Khalq, M.E.K.. Tensions between the United States and Iran have sharply increased. John Bolton, the national security adviser, has long pushed for regime change in Iran. One of his chosen replacements is the dissident group Mujahedeen Khalq, known as M.E.K.
Skeptical U.S. Allies Resist Trump’s New Claims of Threats From Iran
Bolton’s Alternative is M.E.K. Mujahedeen Khalq
Tensions between the United States and Iran have sharply increased. John Bolton, the national security adviser, has long pushed for regime change in Iran. One of his chosen replacements is the dissident group Mujahedeen Khalq, known as M.E.K. CreditCreditDoug Mills/The New York Times
Bolton’s Alternative is M.E.K. Mujahedeen Khalq
WASHINGTON — As the Trump administration draws up war plans against Iran over what it says are threats to American troops and interests, a senior British military official told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday that he saw no increased risk from Iran or allied militias in Iraq or Syria.
A few hours later, the United States Central Command issued an unusual rebuke: The remarks from the British official — Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika, who is also the deputy commander of the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State — run “counter to the identified credible threats available to intelligence from U.S. and allies regarding Iranian-backed forces in the region.”
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The rare public dispute highlights a central problem for the Trump administration as it seeks to rally allies and global opinion against Iran.
Over the last year, Washington has said Iran is threatening United States interests in the Middle East, encouraging aggression by Shiite militias in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, shipping missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen and allowing its naval forces to behave belligerently in the Persian Gulf.
All are concerns that have been leveled against Iranian forces for years.
“We are aware of their presence clearly and we monitor them along with a whole range of others because of the environment we are in,” General Ghika said.
But he said, “No, there has been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq or Syria.”
Intelligence and military officials in Europe as well as in the United States said that over the past year, most aggressive moves have originated not in Tehran, but in Washington — where John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, has prodded President Trump into backing Iran into a corner.
One American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential internal planning, said the new intelligence of an increased Iranian threat was “small stuff” and did not merit the military planning being driven by Mr. Bolton. The official also said the ultimate goal of the yearlong economic sanctions campaign by the Trump administration was to draw Iran into an armed conflict with the United States.
Since May 2018, the Trump administration has withdrawn from the major powers agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program, reimposed punishing sanctions on Tehran, demanded that allies choose between Iranian oil and doing business in the American market, and declared the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist organization.
And on Tuesday, the State Department ordered a partial evacuation of the American Embassy in Baghdad as a heightened security measure.
The anti-Iran push has proved difficult even among the allies, which remember a similar campaign against Iraq that was led in part by Mr. Bolton and was fueled by false claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s efforts this week to recruit European countries to back the administration’s steely posture on Iran are being received coolly.
Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, called for “maximum restraint” after meeting on Monday in Brussels with Mr. Pompeo, a proponent of the “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.
Iraqi officials said they were skeptical of the American intelligence that Mr. Pompeo presented last week on a surprise trip to Baghdad. Mr. Pompeo said the threat was to American “facilities” and military personnel in Iraq.
In September, Trump administration officials blamed Shiite militiaswith ties to Iran for firing a few rockets into the area near the United States Embassy in Baghdad and the American Consulate in Basra. There were no injuries, but Mr. Pompeo ordered the Basra Consulate closed.
Privately, several European officials described Mr. Bolton and Mr. Pompeo as pushing an unsuspecting Mr. Trump through a series of steps that could put the United States on a course to war before the president realizes it.
While Mr. Trump has made no secret of his reluctance to engage in another military conflict in the Middle East, and has ordered American troops home from Syria, his secretary of state and his national security adviser have pushed a maximalist hard-line approach on Iran. Mr. Bolton, in particular, has repeatedly called for American military strikes against Tehran.
Officials said Mr. Trump was aware that Mr. Bolton’s instinctual approach to Iran could lead to war; aides suggested that the president’s own aversion to drawn-out overseas conflicts would be the best hope of putting the brakes on military escalation.
A spokesman for Mr. Bolton declined to comment.
The Trump administration is looking at plans to send as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons, The New York Times reported. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump dismissed that as “fake news.” “We have not planned for that,” he told reporters.
But he immediately added, “If we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”
Some of the president’s critics accept that Iran continues to engage in what United States officials call “malign behavior,” be it in Yemen, Syria or the Palestinian territories. But they blamed the administration for aggravating the standoff with Tehran.
“This is a crisis that has entirely been manufactured by the Trump administration,” said Vali R. Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
He pointed to Mr. Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, coupled with the administration’s failure to get any other nations to do so.
“None of the other signatories to the deal were persuaded by the case the U.S. was making,” Mr. Nasr said. “And that is because this administration’s policy on Iran, at a fundamental level, does not have credibility.”
That lack of trust has proved to be a major obstacle in convincing allies that Iranian behavior in the region warrants military action.
And while the acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, has carefully cultivated a more acquiescent stance to Mr. Bolton’s demands than did his predecessor, Jim Mattis, many military officials and congressional representatives worry about the escalating tensions. Mr. Mattis had balked at Mr. Bolton’s request for military options against Iran after the rockets landed on the American Embassy grounds in Baghdad.
“Bolton did the same with President George W. Bush and Iraq,” Representative Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts and an Iraq war veteran, said in a statement last week. “As someone sent four times to that misguided war, I have seen the costs of Bolton’s disastrous foreign policy in a way he never will — firsthand, and at the loss of thousands of American lives.”
One big worry is that the Trump administration has issued the most expansive type of warning to Iran, without drawing specific red lines. That has increased the chance of a military conflict over misinterpretations and miscalculations.
In a statement this month, Mr. Bolton outlined vague terms of what appeared to be conditions for military engagement, responding to what he said were “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings.”
He said “any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.” And he warned that the administration was “fully prepared to respond to any attack” by the Iranian military or a “proxy” — one of the Middle East’s many Arab militias that are supported by Iran.
Those militias often do not operate under direct command and control from Iran, and they have varying levels of allegiance to the Iran military.
In Yemen’s civil war, the Houthis are Shiite-offshoot rebels who oppose a government backed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Sunni nations. The Houthis’ ties to Iran are murky. But the Trump administration labels the rebels as Iranian proxies, and Mr. Bolton’s statement left open the possibility that a Houthi attack on Saudi Arabia or the U.A.E. — both United States allies — could set off an American military assault against Iran.
In statements, Iranian leaders have reacted with both belligerence and diplomatic restraint to a series of American actions that they see as provocative. In a tweet on Tuesday, the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, ridiculed Mr. Bolton and three anti-Iran foreign leaders in the Middle East as a “B Team.”
“In interviews in April, I predicted ‘accidents’ — not because I’m a genius — but because #B_Team is so brazenly following @AmbJohnBolton’s script,” Mr. Zarif said. “After all, half of B-Team were co-conspirators in disastrous Iraq war.”
The hard-line tactics against Iran could backfire in two ways, said Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group. If the sanctions crush its economy, then Iran could act with less restraint, he said. And if the sanctions do not work well, then some American officials will advocate military action, a move that Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are likely to support.
“There will be people in Washington who will push for limited kinetic action against the Iranian regime to cut it down to size,” he said.
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Bolton Zarif MEK Iran MEK Treacherous Operation . Propaganda War To Real War
MEK, Iranian friends of the Far Right Spanish VOX
Sohail Jannessar, Darren Loucaides, Foreign Policy, April 28 2019:… “You look at it and say, ‘Oh, Mojahedin are funding [Vox].’ No, they are not. The ones that are funding that party are funding Mojahedin as well.” Khodabandeh said he himself was involved in moving money for the MEK and its funders during the reign of Saddam Hussein. “I went to Riyadh and recovered three trucks of gold bars from agents of [the] Saudi intelligence agency [at that time] led by Prince Turki bin Faisal. We transferred them to Baghdad and then to Jordan. We sold the bars in Jordan,” he claimed.
Spain’s Vox Party Hates Muslims—Except the Ones Who Fund It (MEK)
(MEK, Iranian friends of the Far Right Spanish VOX)
MEK Treacherous Operation . Propaganda War To Real War
The upstart far-right party is unapologetically Islamophobic, but without donations from Iranian exiles, it may have never gotten off the ground.
pain’s far-right party Vox launched its 2019 election campaign this month in the tiny town of Covadonga. Situated in a lush valley in the northern region of Asturias, with fewer than 100 inhabitants, Covadonga is sometimes referred to as the “cradle of Spain.” According to the historical narrative of Spanish conservatives, Covadonga was the site of the first victory by Christian Hispania against Spain’s then-Muslim rulers, and the start of the Reconquista, the 780-year process of reclaiming Iberian lands for Christendom.
“Europe is what it is thanks to Spain—thanks to our contribution, ever since the Middle Ages, of stopping the spread and the expanse of Islam,” Iván Espinosa de los Monteros, Vox’s vice secretary of international relations and a candidate in the April 28 elections, told Foreign Policy over the phone on his way to Covadonga. At the campaign launch, Vox leader Santiago Abascal added: “History matters, and we shouldn’t be afraid of that,” to cries of “¡Viva España!”
While Spain’s right-wing has previously been relatively light on anti-Islam rhetoric, preferring to rail against secessionists in Catalonia and elsewhere, Vox has no such compunction. One of the party’s earliest controversies was a wildly Islamophobic video conjuring a future in which Muslims had imposed sharia in southern Spain, turning the Cathedral of Córdoba back into a mosque and forcing women to cover up. Recently, Vox’s No. 2, Javier Ortega Smith, was investigated by Spanish prosecutors for hate speech after he spoke of an “Islamist invasion” that was the “enemy of Europe.”
Given Vox’s staunch Islamophobia, it was an embarrassment for the party when reports of Iranian funding emerged in January.
Vox’s racist, homophobic, and sexist policies had already provided plenty of ammunition for its critics and rival parties; the claims that Vox had been established with the help of Iranian money in 2013 was less expected. However, Vox was not actually funded by Iran itself. The reality is even more surprising.
Documents leaked to the Spanish newspaper El País show that almost 1 million euros donated to Vox between its founding in December 2013 and the European Parliament elections in May 2014 came via supporters of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled Iranian group. The NCRI was set up in the 1980s by Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) and a number of other Iranian dissidents and opposition groups. The MEK’s allies later abandoned the NCRI, making the organization functionally an alias for the MEK.
The MEK and NCRI dispute that they are synonymous, but many disagree, including Daniel Benjamin, a former coordinator for counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department, who refers to the NCRI as the MEK’s “front organization.” The MEK and NCRI also share the same leader, Maryam Rajavi. The U.S. government and a U.S. Court of Appeals decision affirm that the NCRI is an alias of the MEK, while a 2009 Rand Corp. report sponsored by the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense refers to the NCRI as an “MeK subsidiary.”
The MEK is billed by U.S. politicians like Rudy Giuliani and current National Security Advisor John Bolton as the legitimate opposition to the current Iranian government. But the MEK also happens to be a former Islamist-Marxist organization that was only taken off the U.S. list of terrorist organizations in 2012—raising the question of why supporters of such a group would want to back an Islamophobic, hard-right Spanish party like Vox.
In Spain, much has been made of Vox’s links to U.S. President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon, who met a senior figure from the party in Washington last year, and has promised to tour Spain in the near future. But the mysterious MEK-linked funding points to another controversial relationship.
With Vox poised to win more than 10 percent of the vote in this weekend’s Spanish elections, the party could end up propping up a new right-wing government, as happened in regional elections in Spain’s southern region of Andalusia in December. It would be the first time a Spanish government has depended on a far-right party since Francisco Franco, and this would send shockwaves through Spain’s entire political system.
The question of Vox’s funding is now more burning than ever.
In 1953, a U.S.- and British-backed coup overthrew the democratically elected prime minister of Iran and propped up a monarchical dictatorship led by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Waves of oppression followed, including scores of executions, thousands of incarcerations, and the choking of civil society. In the ensuing political vacuum, many radical groups popped up. One such group, the MEK, or People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, combined both Marxism and Islamism. The MEK set about fighting the Western-backed dictatorship, staging attacks against the shah’s regime and U.S. targets. The shah responded in kind, torturing and executing opposition leaders, including those of the MEK.
In the months preceding the Islamic Revolution of 1979, thousands of prisoners were set free, including Massoud Rajavi, a prominent MEK figure. Rajavi was a young, charismatic orator, who rejuvenated the organization and even met Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the revolution’s leader, hoping to secure his endorsement for the MEK. Khomeini refused. Rajavi then tried to run as a candidate in Iran’s first-ever presidential election, but confronted with Khomeini’s disapproval, he was forced to drop out. The winner of that election, Abolhassan Banisadr, was not an ally of Khomeini either. The MEK saw an opening and allied itself with Banisadr.
In 1981, Rajavi and Banisadr fled Iran together after Banisadr was impeached and removed from office with Khomeini’s blessing and MEK followers had lost deadly street battles with Khomeini loyalists that had threatened to turn into a civil war. The MEK was now an official enemy of the Islamic Republic, which was at the time fighting a bloody war with Iraq, so the MEK came to see Iraq’s Saddam Hussein as a viable ally. The MEK started helping Saddam in his war against Iran.
Since that moment, the group has been widely seen as a pariah among the Iranian public. Later, the MEK reportedly helped Saddam in his massacres of Kurds and Iraqi Shiites. As stated in the Rand report: “MEK officials strenuously deny any involvement in the atrocities against the Shia and Kurds. … However, the allegations of the group’s complicity with Saddam are corroborated by press reports that quote Maryam Rajavi encouraging MEK members to ‘take the Kurds under your tanks, and save your bullets for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards,’ as well as the timing of Saddam’s conferring the Rafedeen Medallion—a high honor in the Iraqi military—on Masoud Rajavi.” In return, Saddam gave the MEK near-unlimited funding and a stretch of land to build itself a city, about 60 miles north of Baghdad and just 50 miles away from the Iranian border.
When the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 overthrew Saddam, the MEK lost its biggest ally.
The country was now ruled by parties and people the MEK had helped suppress, friends of Iran’s Islamic Republic, and a United States at the height of its global war on terrorism and which had designated the MEK as a terrorist group. What’s more, the MEK had by now morphed into something resembling a cult, according to allegations by various people who have left the group.
Hassan Heyrani, a former member of the MEK’s political department who defected in 2018, told Foreign Policy about group rituals and routines designed to completely subjugate the individual self, including members’ sexual lives and the slightest hint of free thinking, while forcing near-religious worship of MEK leader Massoud Rajavi. Women were made to adhere to a strict dress code. Members were obliged to record the details of their daily activities and thoughts in personal notebooks and then share them in group meetings, with the risk of public shaming and punishments, according to Heyrani. The MEK did not respond to requests for comment for this article, but its representatives have denied such claims in the past.
Despite the MEK’s metamorphosis from an opposition group to designated terrorist organization, hawks in the George W. Bush administration decided that they could use the MEK in their redrawing of the Middle East. Instead of apprehending members of the group as terrorists, during the occupation the U.S. Army was instructed to defend the MEK’s base from possible attacks by Iraqi forces, various Iraqi militias, or forces loyal to the Iranian government.
The MEK quickly seized on Washington’s change of heart. The organization started an intense lobbying campaign to have itself removed from terrorist lists in the United States and European Union. A vast and impressive range of current and former U.S. politicians and officials ended up being linked to this effort, from Giuliani and Bolton on the right to Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean on the left. In Europe, the list included Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a now-retired Spanish politician, who previously served as one of the 14 vice presidents in the EU Parliament. The MEK was finally delisted by the U.S. government in 2012 and by the EU in 2009.
Spain’s Vidal-Quadras went on to help found Vox in late 2013. And supporters of the NCRI provided the funding needed to launch the right-wing party and contest the 2014 European elections, according to El País.
“From the day it was founded in December 2013—the same day that it registered as a political party with the Spanish Ministry of Interior—Vox started to receive Iranian funds,” said Joaquín Gil, one of the El País journalists who first reported on NCRI-linked funding of Vox. The donations came from dozens of individual sources, from several countries including the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and Italy in amounts ranging from 60 to 35,000 euros, totaling almost 972,000 euros, in the period from December 2013 to April 2014, shortly before the European parliamentary elections.
According to Gil, Vidal-Quadras said he had “asked his friends at NCRI … to instruct its followers to make a series of money transfers.” Vidal-Quadras told El País that he had informed the current leader of the party, Abascal, about his relationship with the organization and that the NCRI would finance the party. Vidal-Quadras has confirmed that the NCRI organized the international fundraising campaign for Vox and the group was willing to discuss the matter with Spanish journalists.
This money would be fundamental to the launch of the party—without it, Gil suggested, Vox wouldn’t exist. But the NCRI had already achieved the goal of having the MEK removed from the EU terrorist list years earlier, so why did its supporters agree to fund a fringe Spanish party? “It’s totally surreal,” Gil admitted.
When asked about the party’s links to the NCRI, Espinosa, the Vox vice secretary of international relations, told Foreign Policy: “We don’t have any relationship with them.” The funding of Vox by the NCRI came out of a “personal relationship” with Vidal-Quadras, who had supported the Iranian organization throughout his stint in the EU Parliament until 2014, when he lost his race to win a seat as part of the newly founded Vox. (Vidal-Quadras had previously been a lifetime member of Spain’s conservative People’s Party, or PP.) “They supported him,” Espinosa claimed. “Not the party so much as him. And when he left,” Espinosa added, “when the campaign was over, they never came back.” Like the NCRI and MEK, Vidal-Quadras did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article.
In December 2013, Spain’s electoral commission reminded the political parties that foreigners were not allowed to finance parties during the 2014 European elections campaign. Spain’s electoral law prohibits parties from receiving money from foreign entities or individuals 54 days before elections, although foreign funding is permitted outside of the campaign period.
While there is no evidence that Vox has broken Spanish or EU funding rules, Espinosa clearly had no qualms about accepting foreign funding:
“I try to get as much funding from abroad as I can—not to say that it’s significant, but I’d be lying if I told you nobody from abroad [had made donations].”
Espinosa, who was part of Vox’s European parliamentary candidates list in 2014 alongside Vidal-Quadras (Vox narrowly missed winning a seat), went on to emphasize that the noncampaign funding was entirely legal, transparent, and came through verified bank wires by “professionals—lawyers, bankers, dentists, doctors who live abroad.” Other parties remain suspicious.
Spain’s ruling Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), currently in a minority in the Senate, has asked the Senate’s majority party, the PP, to request that Vox appear in front of the Commission of Investigation for Funding of Parties. The conservative PP, which would likely need Vox’s support to have any chance of forming a right-wing coalition government after the election, has expressed concerns about Vox’s funding but has stopped short of a Senate investigation, instead urging Spain’s Court of Auditors to investigate Vox. Espinosa told Foreign Policy that the party has presented all the related documents to the Court of Auditors.
Espinosa also insisted that Vox’s funding had never come from “foundations, organizations, parties”—only individuals. But while the donations to Vox technically came from followers of the MEK rather than directly from the organization, the distinction between “members,” as in those actually part of the MEK, and so-called “supporters” outside the organization itself is false, claimed Heyrani. “Those in other countries are also members. They have daily schedules. There are circles led by MEK offices in each country, and they act upon their orders,” he said. NCRI and MEK representatives have not responded to requests from Foreign Policy for comment on this allegation.
The MEK may have just been returning the favor to a long ally, Vidal-Quadras, who has been supportive of the MEK for years. But as one former member of the MEK executive committee told Foreign Policy, the financial resources the group gained under Saddam Hussein have likely run out—which suggests that it may have another source of funding today.
“Mojahedin [MEK] are the tool, not the funders. They aren’t that big. They facilitate,” said Massoud Khodabandeh, who once served in the MEK’s security department; Khodabandeh defected in 1996, a year before the MEK was designated by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization. “You look at it and say, ‘Oh, Mojahedin are funding [Vox].’ No, they are not. The ones that are funding that party are funding Mojahedin as well.”
Khodabandeh said he himself was involved in moving money for the MEK and its funders during the reign of Saddam Hussein. “I went to Riyadh and recovered three trucks of gold bars from agents of [the] Saudi intelligence agency [at that time] led by Prince Turki bin Faisal. We transferred them to Baghdad and then to Jordan. We sold the bars in Jordan,” he claimed.
Khodabandeh’s account raises the question of where the MEK’s money is coming from today. Heyrani, the recent MEK defector, also handled parts of the organization’s finances in Iraq and was blunt when asked about the current financial backing of the MEK: “Saudi Arabia. Without a doubt,” he said. Once the MEK was given a safe haven in Albania after U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, with no U.S. Army to defend the group’s camp and the Iraqi government wanting them gone, one of the ranking members of the political department told Heyrani that Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud had finally laid a “golden egg.”
The so-called egg was the massive installation, or camp, based just outside Tirana, Albania, which has been used by the MEK as its base of operations since 2016. “Habib Rezaei [a top-ranking member] told me that we will bring some U.S. senators to parade in front of Albanians so that they know who they’re dealing with,” Heyrani said. (In August 2017, Republican Sens. Roy Blunt, John Cornyn, and Thom Tillis visited the MEK in Albania and met with Maryam Rajavi.)
Saudi Arabia’s state-run television channels have given friendly coverage to the MEK, and Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, even appeared in July 2016 at an MEK rally in Paris.
“I want to topple the regime too,” the prince said, to cheers. It has also been widely reported that the MEK has collaborated with Israel’s Mossad, including in attacks against Iranian nuclear scientists, according to U.S. officials. The MEK has called the allegations of their role in assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists “patently false.”
There is evidence that Gulf leaders, fearful of Iranian influence and Islamist movements at home, are warming to anti-Islam parties in Europe, as Ola Salem and Hassan Hassan have argued in Foreign Policy. Khodabandeh agreed. “It’s all over Europe,” he said. “Far-right, anti-EU parties have support that comes from lots of places. … There is outside backing. This backing is the same as [those backing] MEK.”
Experts in the United States have reached similar conclusions about the source of the MEK’s funds. “Group supporters claimed the money came from the contributions of ordinary Iranians in exile, but the sums seemed far too great,” wrote Benjamin, the former State Department counterterrorism official, who added that some believed Arab governments of the Persian Gulf to be behind the MEK “lucre,” as he put it.
Even so, a fringe party in Spain just getting off the ground does not seem to be a natural destination for supporters of an organization dedicated to overthrowing the Iranian government, much less a party whose ideology was not known to the NCRI and MEK at the time of those donations, according to an NCRI spokesperson quoted in the El País report. Moreover, Spain’s governments and its royal family have long enjoyed amicable relations with the Gulf monarchies, reducing the likelihood of these governments wanting to prop up an extremist far-right party in Spain.
Ultimately, the revelations by El País about MEK-linked funding being used to establish Vox leave more questions than answers. As Benjamin wrote in 2016, the removal of the MEK from the list of foreign terrorist organizations ended “any hope of gathering more information from MEK proponents on their financial relations with the group, or where all that money came from.”
Renowned enemies of the Iranian government may have been happy to see their funding reach a European supporter of the MEK, given that the organization has been promoted internationally by some as the legitimate Iranian opposition-in-exile, but either these alleged financial backers didn’t realize their cash would ultimately be used to fund a far-right party—or they didn’t care.
Sohail Jannessari is a doctoral candidate in political science at Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University and a contributor to BBC Persian TV and other Persian-language media. Twitter: @SoJannessari
MEK Treacherous Operation . Propaganda War To Real War