Michael Rubin, The National Interest, July 31 2021:… The MKO is correct to condemn incoming Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi for his role in the 1988 massacres of several thousand political prisoners. Everyone should. But having been the victims of persecution in the decade after they helped bring Khomeini to power does not change the fact that the MKO’s tendency to cry wolf hinder and obstruct the real fights against the Iranian regime, Iranian terrorism, and the Islamic Republic’s covert nuclear program. The Trouble With Mujahedin Khalq
The Trouble With Mujahedin Khalq
The MKO’s tendency to cry wolf hinder and obstruct the real fights against the Iranian regime, Iranian terrorism, and the Islamic Republic’s covert nuclear program.
by Michael Rubin
The Mujahedin al-Khalq (MKO) formed against the backdrop of the anti-shah opposition in the 1960s and evolved to become an important component of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s revolutionary coalition. But Khomeini turned on the MKO as he consolidated his dictatorship. Unlike others forced out of power, persecuted domestically, or sent into exile, the MKO fought back: They both sponsored a terror campaign targeting regime officials—killing many innocent bystanders in the process—and they accepted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s protection, a move ordinary Iranians considered treasonous. Within Iran, the Islamic Republic is deeply unpopular. Khomeini promised Islamic democracy, but delivered a regime as dictatorial, more corrupt, and less tolerant than that which preceded it. Inside the Islamic Republic, Iranians remain curious about opposition groups. They watch diaspora television channels, following the opposition on Telegram channels, and ask about high-profile figures like Reza Pahlavi, the son of the ousted shah. About the MKO, however, they voice only opprobrium.
The hatred ordinary rank-and-file Iranians feel for the MKO is the group’s Achilles’ heel. MKO activists counter both by accusing anyone who criticizes them as being a regime agent and arguing that their record of success exposing Iranian secrets shows the depth to which they have infiltrated the Iranian regime. If the MKO is able to so deeply implant themselves in Iran’s most sensitive and security-conscious organs, the logic goes, it demonstrates that they both have support and are far better positioned as an opposition group than anyone else. The former is betrays crass amateurishness, and the latter is simply false.
Consider just how many exposés and supposed intelligence coups the MKO have bungled or gotten wrong. More than two decades ago, the group announced that Ahmad Behbahani, an alleged high-ranking Iranian intelligence officer, defected. Behbahani gave an off-camera interview to “60 Minutes” implicating Iran in a number of operations in which claimed to play a central role. Much of what he said, however, was nonsense. Nor was the alleged Bebahani the age or height of the real figure. The MKO may have to attract attention to its own cause, but doing so threw a wrench into real investigations and created a situation in which the Islamic Republic could dismiss real evidence as fraudulent in the future.
Between 2002 and 2004, I worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as an aide on both the Iran and Iraq desks. When Iranians and Iraqis would request meetings with more senior leaders, I was a gatekeeper: I would sit down and do a preliminary meeting to understand their agenda and, ultimately, determine who in the Defense leadership they should meet, if at all. It was not uncommon for Iranian American activists from a range of organizations with very little presence or history to request such meetings. They would present us with documents purporting to be smoking guns of one sort or another.
Provenance was always a concern: How did the person in front of me or my colleagues acquire such a document? Without exception, when we investigated, the documents turned out to be fraudulent, and often had figurative MKO fingerprints on them. In effect, it was a time waste that distracted from the battle against Iranian terrorism and the regime’s nuclear program. Had any of those group members gotten through, the result would have been an embarrassment to top officials and a delegitimization of their work on Iran at a time when, according to subsequent U.S. National Intelligence Estimates, the Iranian nuclear weapons program was still ongoing.
In 2012, a website affiliated with the MKO said there had been a nuclear leak at an Isfahan reactor. Again, this was nonsense. Western journalists, however, often bite and give the group the publicity off which it thrives. The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the MKO’s political umbrella and the same group that now sponsors lavish galas in France or Albania in which prominent politicians like Rudy Giuliani and former officials like Michele Flournoy speak in exchange for honorarium filtered through various front groups, often gives bombshell announcements about new discoveries in Iran. On February 24, 2015, Ali Reza Jafarzadeh, NCRI deputy director, gave a presentation at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, in which he purported to expose a new secret uranium enrichment facility. “Despite the Iranian regime’s claims that all of its enrichment activities are transparent,” Jafarzadeh said, “It has in fact been engaged in research and development with advanced centrifuges at a secret nuclear site called Lavizan-3.” It turns out, however, there was less there than met the eye. An image the NCRI provided of an “underground hall” was actually a screenshot from a company making safes. Nor did the facility have the electrical infrastructure necessary to run an operation Jafarzadeh described.
The MKO purports to derive their intelligence from a spying network not only in Iran but also inside the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. A 2016 report about atrocities in Syria, however, suggests the MKO relies less on secret access and more that the organization recycles Israeli, American, and Iranian media reports, for example, with regard to Qods Force training of Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani militias. Likewise, while the group reported that the Iranian Martyr Foundation in Syria pays Syrian mercenaries, none of this is new. The Foundation was hardly secret, however. It has a line item in the Iranian budget each year. In 2007, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned it.
The Trump administration was burnt in 2018 when the White House justified some of the president’s claims about Iran’s military spending by citing a Forbes article written by Heshmat Alavi. Alavi, however, does not exist but rather seems to be the creation of MKO operatives in Albania to play the American press. Forbes was not the only publication the MKO fooled. The Hill, The Federalist, al-Arabiya, and the Daily Caller also published Alavi. The problem was not Alavi’s arguments as much as the methods with which the MKO operated. Rather than win debates, the group increased the Islamic Republic’s ability to avoid them by citing the bogus claims.
This is not to say the MKO and NCRI are always wrong: The group was most famously responsible for publicizing word of Iran’s then-covert enrichment facility at Natanz. The U.S. government, however, knew about Iran’s covert work several months earlier. While the MKO says its exposés are proof of the degree of its infiltration, a more plausible explanation is that the intelligence services of other countries use the group to launder information. In the case of Natanz, many regional countries that may have known about Iran’s covert nuclear enrichment could have provided the information to the MKO in order to inject it into the public sphere while maintaining their own plausible deniability. There is also the question about exposés that blindsided even the MKO. If the MKO had really infiltrated Iran’s nuclear program to the extent they claim, then why did the organization not know in advance about the covert nuclear archives that Israeli agents spirited out of the country?
The MKO is correct to condemn incoming Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi for his role in the 1988 massacres of several thousand political prisoners. Everyone should. But having been the victims of persecution in the decade after they helped bring Khomeini to power does not change the fact that the MKO’s tendency to cry wolf hinder and obstruct the real fights against the Iranian regime, Iranian terrorism, and the Islamic Republic’s covert nuclear program.
Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). You can follow him on Twitter: @mrubin1971.
The Trouble With Mujahedin Khalq
A Deranged Cult and Our Warped Foreign Policy
Daniel Larison, AntiWar, July 15 2021:… This show of support for the MEK reflects the extent to which our foreign policy debates are distorted and corrupted by the lobbying efforts of foreign groups and governments alike. No one knows for sure where the MEK gets its money, but there is reason to believe that it may be coming from the Saudi government and/or Saudi individuals. In recent years, prominent Saudis have begun participating in MEK events, and that coincided with the kingdom’s intensifying hostility towards Iran in the last decade. A Deranged Cult and Our Warped Foreign Policy
A Deranged Cult and Our Warped Foreign Policy
by Daniel Larison Posted on July 14, 2021
Every year the notorious cult and “former” terrorist group Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) holds a political conference to promote its propaganda and call for regime change in Iran, and every year many current and former American, Canadian, and European officials and elected representatives line up to pay homage to the group and their leader, Maryam Rajavi. Members of both major parties in the U.S. have either traveled to the group’s compound in Albania or spoken remotely through video messages in exchange for hefty speaking fees for the last ten years. The annual parade of prominent officeholders and policymakers that offer up effusive praise to such a wretched group is an ongoing disgrace for the United States and its allies, and it is a symptom of deeper problems with our foreign policy.
This show of support for the MEK reflects the extent to which our foreign policy debates are distorted and corrupted by the lobbying efforts of foreign groups and governments alike. No one knows for sure where the MEK gets its money, but there is reason to believe that it may be coming from the Saudi government and/or Saudi individuals. In recent years, prominent Saudis have begun participating in MEK events, and that coincided with the kingdom’s intensifying hostility towards Iran in the last decade. Our Iran policy debate is being influenced to an alarming degree by an extremist cult and an increasingly repressive authoritarian client state, and none of that can be good for American interests or democratic accountability in our foreign policy.
American support for the MEK reminds us that bipartisanship in foreign policy usually means rallying behind exceptionally bad causes. This year’s conference was described in one report as a “rare moment of bipartisan unity,” as if this somehow made cheering on a deranged cult better. The pro-MEK boosterism also shows that there are far too many people in and around our government that will make common cause with absolutely anyone if they are in favor of regime change in Iran. That in turn is a measure of just how irrational our government’s fixation on Iran is.
The MEK was originally an armed group opposed to the Iranian monarchy before the revolution, and during that period it was also responsible for killing several Americans. The MEK supported taking and keeping US diplomats hostage. After the group fell out with Khomeini and were brutally purged, the group relocated to Iraq where they joined with Saddam Hussein to attack their own country. Their participation in Iraq’s attack on Iran has earned them the enduring loathing of almost all Iranians everywhere, and for that reason and others they have virtually no support in Iran or in the diaspora. While the MEK was officially removed from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations in 2012 after an extensive lobbying campaign, it remains a totalitarian, cultish organization that abuses its own members. There is good reason to believe that members of the group still act as cat’s paws for Israeli intelligence in carrying out assassinations and acts of sabotage inside Iran. As part of the group’s effort to remake its image, it uses a political front organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), to create the impression that the MEK has changed and committed itself to democracy.
The MEK has not changed. They remain at their core the same militant and extremist organization they have been for decades. Cheering on the MEK is as crazy and irresponsible as endorsing the Lord’s Resistance Army or defending the Khmer Rouge, and it is not an accident that the group has sometimes been likened to the latter. Unfortunately, because they hate the Iranian government and make the right noises about democracy, they are given a free pass and Iran hawks embrace them as allies. In the past, participants in MEK summits have ranged from Newt Gingrich, John Bolton, and Rudy Giuliani to Joe Lieberman, Tom Ridge, and John McCain. This year it included former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, the current Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez, his fellow New Jerseyan Sen. Cory Booker, and many other members of Congress. The speakers routinely declare that the MEK and its allies are the “real” opposition working towards “secular democracy,” they denounce the Iranian government, and they call for some form of regime change.
Flournoy’s participation in the conference this year proved to be especially controversial since she is a major figure in Democratic national security circles and had frequently been mentioned as a possible Biden nominee for Secretary of Defense earlier in the year. In her remarks, she expressed hope for “internal regime change” in Iran, and congratulated the assembled audience for their work: “we must continue to applaud and support the important work of Diaspora groups like yours that keep alive the vision of a secular, free, and democratic Iran.”
Faced with a swift backlash online, Flournoy now claims that she didn’t know that she was speaking at an MEK event and wouldn’t have participated had she known, but it strains credulity that she was unaware of the nature of the event and its sponsor. A simple web search would have shown the relationship between the NCRI and the MEK, as well as the violent and disturbing history of the cult. Frankly, it is impossible to believe that she didn’t know who she was addressing.
The language that Flournoy used in her speech sounds too much like the standard pro-MEK talking points that other speakers have used for the last decade, and the MEK’s lobbying efforts are too well-known and have been going on too long for her to plead ignorance. It is notable that Flournoy felt the need to concoct a cover story to excuse her participation, since most pro-MEK shills take pride in what they do, but her excuse isn’t credible. Even if her explanation were true, it doesn’t excuse the horrible lack of judgment that she displayed here. If she didn’t understand that she was addressing an MEK event, she shouldn’t be offering advice on Iran policy or holding forth on the political future of Iran.
The MEK is a dangerous and disreputable group. They ought to be so politically radioactive that no one would want to be associated with them, but that has not happened because Iran hawks from both parties and in many other Western countries find the MEK useful to their agenda. Supporting the MEK allows them to mislead ignorant audiences into falsely believing that their hard-line policies enjoy support from the Iranian Diaspora No one who knows anything about Iran thinks that the MEK deserves support or has any support back in Iran, so whenever someone celebrates the group that is all the proof you need that nothing else that person says about Iran and Iran policy should be taken seriously.
Iran hawks and the MEK are both obsessed with regime change in Iran. Since they cannot achieve it from within Iran, it is just a matter of time before the cult’s yes-men in Washington push for military action aimed at toppling the government. Just as they sided with Saddam Hussein to attack their own country over forty years ago, the MEK wants to rope the US into fighting another war against Iran. If we want to prevent that war from happening in the future, the MEK’s cheerleaders need to be exposed to ridicule and criticism over their willingness to support a group that has both American and Iranian blood on its hands.
Daniel Larison is a contributing editor and weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.
A Deranged Cult and Our Warped Foreign Policy
Michele Flournoy Albania Terrorists and Americans Reaction
Eli Clifton and Matthew Petti, Responsible Statescraft, and Press TV, July 13 2021:.. Former defense official Michèle Flournoy called for regime change in Iran at a conference on Saturday sponsored by the Mojahedin-e Khalq — an Iranian militant group once listed as a terrorist organization. A spokesperson for Flournoy’s consultancy, WestExec Advisors, which she co-founded with President Joe Biden’s now-Secretary of State Antony Blinken, attempted to walk back her appearance, telling both The Daily Beast and Responsible Statecraft … Michele Flournoy Albania Terrorists and Americans Reaction
Michele Flournoy Albania Terrorists and Americans Reaction
A Deranged Cult Mujahedin Khalq In Albania
1- Biden-linked expert backs regime change at event sponsored by Iranian militant group
Michele Flournoy claims she was ‘unaware’ her hosts are part of a well-known former terrorist organization.
(Eli Clifton and Matthew Petti, Responsible Statescraft)
Former defense official Michèle Flournoy called for regime change in Iran at a conference on Saturday sponsored by the Mojahedin-e Khalq — an Iranian militant group once listed as a terrorist organization.
A spokesperson for Flournoy’s consultancy, WestExec Advisors, which she co-founded with President Joe Biden’s now-Secretary of State Antony Blinken, attempted to walk back her appearance, telling both The Daily Beast and Responsible Statecraft:
When she agreed to the engagement, Ms. Flournoy was unaware of the affiliation. She would not have participated had she known of it, and she refused payment for the engagement once she learned of it. She has no affiliation with the MEK and will never appear at their conference again.
But at the MEK-sponsored conference, Flournoy referred to her hosts as an “important” diaspora group and called for “internal regime change” in Iran.
“When there is an internal regime change — when a government comes to power that renounces its revolutionary aims and terrorism — the United States will be the first in line to engage it,” Flournoy told this year’s Free Iran World Summit. “In the meantime, we must continue to applaud and support the important work of diaspora groups like yours that keep alive the vision of a secular, free, and democratic Iran.”
That position isn’t shared by experts at the Center for a New American Security, which Flournoy founded and whose board she continues to chair. A 2020 CNAS paper, “Reengaging Iran: A New Strategy for the United States,” described the MEK as irrelevant and ineffective.
The paper proposed diplomatic measures the next administration should undertake to, among other objectives, “de-escalate regional tensions that perpetuate instability and proxy-fueled competition in the Middle East,” and recommended exploring an “agreement on noninterference in internal affairs” which “may set a useful precedent for how regional actors can deal with one another.”
“The benefit of this agenda item is that the non-state groups involved are relatively ineffective and are not major threats to the governments in question,” said the paper. “However, these groups create deep bitterness and suspicion. For example, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) has little chance of playing a meaningful role in destabilizing or overthrowing the Islamic Republic, but international support for it absolutely infuriates Iran’s leadership.”
CNAS took an even more mocking tone toward the MEK in a 2008 blog post, writing:
Iran hawks in the U.S. can be a funny bunch, especially when they start arguing for terrorist groups opposed to the regime in Tehran to be de-listed as terror groups simply because they’re the enemies of our enemies. Because the rest of the world certainly wouldn’t see that as hypocritical in any way, shape or form. Oh no.
The MEK participated in the Iranian revolution of 1979, assassinating several Americans working in Iran and mocking Iranian leaders as soft for failing to execute their American hostages. But the organization soon fell out with the revolutionary regime and defected to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
The MEK was listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department until 2012. It has been accused of torturing and abusing its own members in exile.
However, the MEK has rehabilitated its image through its Paris-based political branch, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Numerous Democratic and Republican politicians have appeared at NCRI conferences, sometimes in exchange for speaking fees as high as $50,000.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D–N.J.) and former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Donna Brazile also spoke at Saturday’s conference. So did former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said that the MEK should be “blessed and protected.”
In a Twitter statement on Saturday, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh accused these politicians of selling “themselves cheap for a Europe-hosted circus arranged by a once Saddam-backed terrorist cult with Iranian blood on its hands.”
Bought western politicians (incl #LyingCheatingStealing Pompeo) sell themselves cheap for a Europe-hosted circus arranged by a once Saddam-backed terrorist cult with Iranian blood on its hands.
Insatiable thirst for $$ & anti-Iran obsession is driving shameful western hypocrisy.
— Saeed Khatibzadeh (@SKhatibzadeh) July 10, 2021
Flournoy’s voice was perhaps the most significant, as she had nearly been appointed to President Joe Biden’s cabinet earlier this year. Numerous high-profile Democrats had urged Biden to nominate Flournoy for secretary of defense, and Biden had been widely expected to do so before instead choosing General Lloyd Austin to run the Department of Defense at the last minute.
“Since 1979, every U.S. administration has had to deal with the threat posed by Iran’s revolutionary regime,” Flournoy said at the MEK-sponsored conference. “Iran’s use of terrorism abroad is paired with its systemic torture and oppression at home.”
She warned that the Iranian government “should not expect an easy ride from this administration or Congress.”
Flournoy did not respond to questions about why she chose to speak at the event or how much she was offered as payment for speaking.
2- Social media abuzz with reactions to Michele Flournoy’s speech at MKO summi
Social media has been abuzz with words of condemnation from journalists and other users who said it was both “shocking” and “embarrassing” for Michele Flournoy, former US undersecretary of defense for policy, to address the annual summit of the notorious anti-Iran Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) terrorist group.
Addressing the virtual event on Saturday, Flournoy, once considered a front runner to be President Joe Biden’s defense secretary, accused Iran of posing a threat to the security of the Middle East, the United States, and to its own people.
“Since 1979, every US administration has had to deal with the threat posed by Iran’s revolutionary regime and the Biden administration is no different,” she told the convention. “Iran is one of the most urgent foreign policy issues on the president’s desk.”
Flournoy called for what she described as an “internal regime change” in the Islamic Republic.