Owen Bennett-Jones, Dawn, July 27 2017:… I once asked a serving member of the US Senate, who did not support the MEK and who was known for his deep knowledge of the Middle East, to explain why so many his colleagues backed the organisation. “Beats me,” he said. “Sometimes colleagues ask my advice, saying they have been approached by the MEK and want to know whether they should support them.” “And what do you say?” I asked. “I say that since the MEK killed Americans …
THE alliance that defeated the militant Islamic State group in Mosul was unusual. Fighting alongside the Iraqi army were not only US forces but also Iran-backed militias. A few weeks ago, with IS on the point of defeat, I spoke to a US officer in Baghdad and suggested he might want to praise Tehran for having stood shoulder to shoulder with Washington in such an important military effort. He declined the offer.
America’s loathing of the Iranian clerical regime knows few bounds. In March 2003, the US desperately needed to understand the strength of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Having invaded the country and initially swept through it, the occupying US forces soon came to fear that an insurgency was getting under way. They needed to know the extent to which Al Qaeda was the source of that opposition. After all, 9/11 was still fresh in the memory and Al Qaeda was US enemy number one.
State Department official Ryan Crocker, accompanied by president Bush’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, approached Tehran. The US diplomats were aware that, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, some senior Al Qaeda operatives and some of Osama bin Laden’s relatives had found a safe haven in Iran.
Iran made a unique offer. The US turned it down.
Tehran’s motives for taking in these Sunni jihadists and giving them sanctuary remain unclear but it seems likely that one factor in the decision to accept them was the idea that Tehran would have a diplomatic card to be played at some date in the future. And with the US showing an interest, Tehran figured the time to play that card had come.
Iran made an extraordinary offer: if the US would hand over the leaders of an obscure Iraq-based cult called the People’s Mujahideen of Iran or Mujahideen-i-Khalq (MEK), that opposed the Iranian government, Tehran would give the US most of Al Qaeda’s military council and bin Laden’s family. Astonishingly, the Bush White House turned down that opportunity.
The story of the MEK itself illustrates the depth of the US hostility to Iran. At the time of the Iranian revolution, the MEK tried to combine Islamic revolutionary fervour with a leftish and feminist agenda that attracted support on the university campuses. Although the group denies it, there is overwhelming evidence that it had killed Americans before the revolution and was fully involved in the 1979 siege of the US embassy. Despite that history, Washington has subsequently come to embrace the MEK as a potential source of opposition to the clerical regime.
In 2012, Hillary Clinton gave into a very well-financed lobbying campaign and officially delisted the MEK as a terrorist organisation. As a result, the organisation now has an office in Washington. At a recent party conference in Paris, the MEK attracted American luminaries such as Rudy Guliani and former senator Joe Lieberman.
I once asked a serving member of the US Senate, who did not support the MEK and who was known for his deep knowledge of the Middle East, to explain why so many his colleagues backed the organisation. “Beats me,” he said. “Sometimes colleagues ask my advice, saying they have been approached by the MEK and want to know whether they should support them.”
“And what do you say?” I asked.
“I say that since the MEK killed Americans there is always a risk of a voter asking why their senator is backing a group that killed their relative. You have to be careful of that kind of thing.”
“And does that put them off?”
For all the mutual vitriol between Iran and the US, a case can be made that Iran’s Shia Islamists could be more natural allies of the US than the Sunni states that sponsor violent jihadists. On the few occasions that their views are revealed, many young Iranians show that despite having absorbed a lifetime of propaganda about the Great Satan they remain attracted by Western values. Many Sunni youths in the Middle East have far greater distrust of the West than their Shia equivalents. It is no accident that the 9/11 attackers came not from Iran, but from Sunni states.
For many years, it was argued that the US hostility to Iran could be traced back to the US embassy siege of 1979. The humiliation suffered by the US at that time was keenly felt and left a deep mark. Yet the US has got over far greater humiliations — for example, at the hands of the North Vietnamese. Today, US presidents are quite comfortable visiting Hanoi despite what happened there. The difference, perhaps, relates to Israel. Ever since the destruction of Iraq, Prime Minister Netanyahu has made no secret of his view that Iran now poses the most significant threat to the state of Israel. By continuing to oppose Iran, the US is supporting its closest ally.
The writer is a British journalist and author of Pakistan: Eye of the Storm.
Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2017
(Mojahedin Khalq, MKO, MEK, Rajavi cult and the Washington Lobby)
… Rajavi had to come up with an explanation for the defeat. His unorthodox solution was to tell his fighters they had lost because they had been distracted by love and sex. He commanded members to divorce, become celibate and live in communal, single-sex accommodation, just like soldiers in a regular army. Filled with ideas of self-sacrifice and martyrdom, they did as they were told. (The celibacy rule is to this day so tightly enforced that there are separate times for men and women to use Camp Ashraf’s petrol station.) Members were urged to transfer their passions from their former spouses to their leaders …
Owen Bennett-Jones, London Review of Books, June 01 2012
Terror Tagging of an Iranian Dissident Organisation by Raymond Tanter
Iran Policy Committee, 217 pp, £10.00, December 2011, ISBN 978 0 9797051 2 0
The story of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, also known as the Mujahedin e Khalq (MEK), is all about the way image management can enable a diehard enemy to become a cherished ally. The MEK is currently campaigning to be officially delisted in the US as a terrorist organisation. Once off the list it will be free to make use of its support on Capitol Hill in order to become America’s most favoured, and no doubt best funded, Iranian opposition group.
The last outfit to achieve something similar was the Iraqi National Congress, the lobby group led by Ahmed Chalabi that talked of democracy and paved the way for the US invasion of Iraq by presenting Washington with highly questionable ‘evidence’ of weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s links with al-Qaida. Then, as George Bush took the US to war, all that remained for the INC and its leaders was to sit back and prepare for government. Many in Washington believe that, for better or worse, the US will go to war with Iran and that the MEK will have a role to play. But first they will have to persuade Hillary Clinton to take the group off the US’s official terrorist list. Some of Clinton’s officials are urging her to keep the MEK on it but some of the big beasts in Washington are angrily demanding that she delist. After an exhaustive inter-agency process the MEK file is now in her in-tray. Recent State Department statements indicate that she is likely to delist the group.
Formed in the 1960s as an anti-imperialist, Islamist organisation with socialist leanings, dedicated to the overthrow of the shah, the MEK originally stood not only for Islamic revolution but also for such causes as women’s rights – an appealing combination on Iran’s university campuses. It went on to build a genuine popular base and played a significant role in overthrowing the shah in 1979. It was popular enough for Ayatollah Khomeini to feel he had to destroy it; throughout the 1980s he instigated show trials and public executions of its members. The MEK retaliated with attacks on senior clerical leaders inside Iran.
Fearing for their lives, MEK members fled first to Paris and later to Iraq, where Saddam Hussein, desperate for allies in the war with Iran, provided them with millions of dollars of funding as well as tanks, artillery pieces and other weapons. He also made land available to them. Camp Ashraf became their home, a citadel in the desert, 80 kilometres north of Baghdad and an hour’s drive from the Iranian border. Since the 1970s, the MEK’s rhetoric has changed from Islamist to secular, from socialist to capitalist, from pro-revolution to anti-revolution. And since Saddam’s fall it has portrayed itself as pro-American, peaceful and dedicated to democracy and human rights. Continual reinvention can be dangerous, however, and the new, pro-Iranian Iraqi government is under pressure from Tehran to close down Camp Ashraf, which has grown over three decades to the size of a small town. And it’s not just Iran. Many Iraqis too bear grudges against the MEK, not only for having worked alongside Saddam Hussein but also for having taken part in his violent suppression of the Kurds and Shias.
Iraqi security personnel have twice attacked Camp Ashraf, in 2009 and 2011, killing more than forty people. Pictures of armoured vehicles running over unarmed Ashraf residents can be seen on YouTube. Iraq has now insisted that Camp Ashraf be closed, and its residents have very reluctantly started moving to Camp Liberty, a former US army base by Baghdad airport which is under UN supervision and guarded by Iraqi security personnel. The UNHCR is now processing the residents with a view to sending them to other countries as refugees, but few countries are willing to take in people the US officially designates as terrorists and who are described by many as members of a cult.
The MEK started to use cultlike methods – isolating members from friends and relatives and managing the flow of information that reached them – after 1989, the year its charismatic husband and wife leadership team, Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, launched Operation Eternal Light. After Saddam’s failure to topple the regime in Iran, this was intended to be the big push that would finally win control of the country. Success, Rajavi told his fighters, was inevitable because the Iranian people, both civilians and military, would switch sides and join them on the march to Tehran. It would, he said, be a walkover. In the event the Iranian counter attack was ferocious. More than a thousand MEK fighters were killed and many others wounded. It lost around a third of its personnel.
Rajavi had to come up with an explanation for the defeat. His unorthodox solution was to tell his fighters they had lost because they had been distracted by love and sex. He commanded members to divorce, become celibate and live in communal, single-sex accommodation, just like soldiers in a regular army. Filled with ideas of self-sacrifice and martyrdom, they did as they were told. (The celibacy rule is to this day so tightly enforced that there are separate times for men and women to use Camp Ashraf’s petrol station.) Members were urged to transfer their passions from their former spouses to their leaders, the Rajavis. Aware that people were becoming sexually frustrated, meetings were organised where members were obliged to confess their sexual fantasies in public. If you did confess to something, other members spat at you. Friendships were also discouraged at Camp Ashraf, and so were children. From the mid-1980s, citing safety concerns, the leadership ordered that several hundred children living in the camp be moved to pro-MEK foster families in Europe and Canada. Some parents have not seen their children for more than twenty years.
These practices, along with frequent indoctrination sessions and the banning of news of the outside world (members were not allowed phones), helped the leadership to assert control. But MEK members outside Iraq also displayed remarkable devotion to the cause. When in 2003 the French authorities detained Maryam Rajavi on terrorism charges (she was later released) ten MEK members around the world set themselves on fire in protest; two of them died. The MEK of course denies being a cult, though many outsiders – senior US military officers, FBI agents, journalists and analysts for the largely Pentagon-funded Rand Corporation – have been to Camp Ashraf and come away believing that it is. One senior State Department official (now retired), sent to Iraq to interview thousands of MEK members after the invasion, concluded that the organisation was a cult; that the weirdly child-free Camp Ashraf was ‘a human tragedy’; that members were ‘misused and misled’ by the leadership; and that many had been tricked into joining.
The MEK has used various recruitment methods. The organisation’s elite joined in Iran before the revolution. Others are former Iranian conscripts captured during the Iran-Iraq war. Saddam’s regime offered them a bargain: if they joined the MEK they could move from POW camps to the more comfortable confines of Camp Ashraf. Some members were recruited on US university campuses and promised jobs, money, new passports and the chance to fight the mullahs. Others were simply deceived. One Iran-based MEK activist was told on a visit to Camp Ashraf that his wife and child had died so he might as well stay. It was ten years before he got hold of a phone; the first thing he did was call home: his family were still alive. Some former MEK members say that on arrival in Iraq they were whisked past immigration control and their passports deliberately left unstamped. If later on they said they wanted to leave Camp Ashraf they were told they would be arrested for entering the country illegally. I have heard hours of such testimony from former members. The MEK insists that all the people who tell such stories are Iranian agents. It also denies misleading families. The tears of parents, spouses and children seemed real enough to me.
Despite all this, some US military officers who worked in Camp Ashraf after the invasion came away convinced that the group could be a useful ally. General David Phillips, a military policeman who spent time there in 2004, argues that the MEK is no more a cult than the US marines: in both organisations you have to wear a uniform, obey orders and follow rituals that seem bizarre to the uninitiated. Positive feelings towards the MEK in the US military are easily explained. In 2003 they had been briefed that it was a heavily armed terrorist outfit expected to fight loyally for Saddam against US forces. In the event the MEK leadership realised quite quickly that Saddam was doomed and executed a political pirouette. When US forces arrived at Camp Ashraf, they were welcomed by courteous English speakers who professed their support. Many American soldiers came to see the camp as a safe haven in a hostile country.
This doesn’t explain the MEK’s popularity among politicians in London, Brussels and Washington. Some of it is paid for. Three dozen former high-ranking American officials regularly speak at MEK-friendly events. They include Rudy Giuliani, Howard Dean, Obama’s former national security adviser General James Jones and the former congressman Lee Hamilton. The rate for a speech is between $20,000 and $40,000 for ten minutes. Subject matter is not a concern: some speakers deliver speeches that barely mention the MEK. In recent months the Obama administration has indicated it may put a halt to these events. The Treasury is investigating whether speakers have been receiving funds from a designated terrorist organisation. What they want to know, in other words, is whether the Iranian exiles who paid the speakers’ fees are an MEK front; those who campaign for the group without being paid will not be affected. Most of those who back the group do so because they will back anything that seeks to upset the regime in Tehran. They seem unaware that the organisation has been called a cult and have not heard the complaints of former members. A number of the most prominent MEK lobbyists say they agreed to speak because they were reassured by the respectability of those who were already doing so.
The MEK also hires Washington lobbyists, who issue lengthy ripostes to criticism. The Rand Corporation’s 105-page report on the MEK was written by a team of four who worked for 15 months in the US and Iraq to produce the most thorough analysis to date of the group’s cultish aspects. The response was a 131-page report from a body called Executive Action, which describes itself as ‘a private CIA and Defense Department available to address your most intractable problems and difficult challenges’. The Executive Action report was entitled ‘Courting Disaster: How a Biased, Inaccurate Rand Corporation Report Imperils Lives, Flouts International Law and Betrays Its Own Standards.’ Neil Livingstone, who is now a Republican candidate for the governorship of Montana, said he was retained by an ‘American citizen’ to assess the objectivity of the Rand report. He concluded that, among other shortcomings, its authors were too inexperienced to write about a subject as complex as the MEK. Its supporters still dismiss the Rand paper, published three years ago, as the work of ‘sophomore students’. Rand says these criticisms are references to the lead author’s assistants, who had relatively minor roles and were given a credit on the title page so they had something to put on their CVs. All this lobbying costs a lot of money. Some of it is collected by the organisation’s very determined door to door fundraisers in the UK and elsewhere. US officials also believe that the MEK has at its disposal the return on the large and well-invested stipend it received from Saddam Hussein.
Most pro-MEK campaigning doesn’t directly address the allegations of cultish behaviour: the lobbyists focus instead on delisting. In 1996, a UN General Assembly resolution established a committee to draft a convention on international terrorism. Officials have met annually ever since to discuss the issue. But they can’t agree on what terrorism is. There are two main sticking points. First, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference insists that movements resisting occupying forces and seeking national liberation – for example in Kashmir – should not be considered terrorists. Second, governments fear that they may themselves fall within any definition the committee reaches. So while some have come up with definitions that suit their own situation, at an international level no consensus has been achieved. Whether or not to label a group as terroristic is of course always a political act: the IRA never made it onto the US list; Nelson Mandela remained a terrorist in US eyes until 2008.
The MEK’s record of mounting attacks goes back to the 1970s, when it opposed the shah and railed against America for backing him. The State Department believes that in 1973 the MEK killed a US Army comptroller stationed in Tehran and that in 1975 it assassinated two members of the US Military Assistance Advisory Group. Three executives from Rockwell International and one from Texaco were also murdered. MEK hostility to the US continued after the revolution. On 4 November 1979 Iranian students occupied the US Embassy in Tehran and kidnapped 52 American diplomats, who were held captive for 444 days. One of the diplomats later said he would not have been in the embassy that day had he not been lured there by MEK contacts. Another said he had no doubt the MEK backed his kidnapping and in fact opposed a diplomatic resolution to the affair. Long after Khomeini decided it was time to settle the issue, the MEK was still pushing for the captive diplomats to be put on trial. The group used to claim that its support for the kidnappings was an elaborate pretence; now it denies it altogether. As for the killings, it says that at the time of the murders, its main leadership had been imprisoned by the shah, which allowed a Marxist faction to hijack the organisation. This faction, effectively a splinter group, carried out the killings, and the attacks ceased when the original leadership was freed and reasserted itself. But perhaps these disputes are moot. The 1970s were a long time ago. Organisations change.
The MEK may have stopped killing Americans, but it maintained its commitment to violent struggle in Iraq and Iran. Its efforts on behalf of Saddam Hussein against the Kurds and the Shias were a sideshow compared to the bombs, assassinations and broader offensives it mounted inside Iran throughout the late 1980s and 1990s. Its violent history is well documented but the organisation insists it’s a thing of the past. This view has received substantial support from the European courts. In 2007, the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, a specialised UK legal body, declared that the MEK had renounced the use of force and upheld the group’s appeal against a Foreign Office decision to keep it on the official list of terrorist organisations. In 2009, the EU delisted the MEK on the more limited, procedural grounds that it should have been told why it was put on the list in the first place.
To keep the group on the US list Hillary Clinton will have to find that the MEK still has the capacity or intent to commit terrorist acts. Its supporters point out that, as well as convincing a British court they are now peaceful, in July 2004 every member at Camp Ashraf signed a document rejecting violence and terrorism. Critics have their doubts. Given what happens at Guantánamo and Bagram air base, they point out, it would have been surprising if members had not signed a renunciation of terrorism. In November 2004, the FBI reported on the group’s activities in Los Angeles, stating that it had recorded phone calls in which the MEK leadership in France discussed ‘specific acts of terrorism to include bombings’. The FBI claimed that French intelligence, as well as police in Cologne, had gathered similar information with wiretaps. The 2004 FBI report has been public for a year, but most of the material on which Clinton will base her decision is classified. In 2010, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled on an MEK lawsuit, and one of the three judges, Karen LeCraft Henderson, remarked that classified material provided ‘substantial support’ for the view that the MEK continues to engage in terrorism or at least retains the capability and intent to do so. A report in February on NBC News cited unnamed US officials as claiming that the MEK had been responsible for the recent assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. While some of its US supporters hint that such actions would be to its credit, the organisation itself has denied involvement.
Raymond Tanter’s book is part of the MEK’s image management campaign, a briefing document for advocates of delisting. Tanter, a long-time supporter of the group, has produced a compact guide, complete with colour pictures and transcripts of speeches by paid MEK advocates. He doesn’t deal with the 1970s attacks or the help the organisation gave Saddam. He also glides over attacks in Iran in the 1990s. Tanter believes that under US law only recent years are relevant to the question of whether or not to delist, and he focuses on the period since 2001. He argues that the MEK offers the best hope of a so-called third option: a way for the US to achieve regime change without relying on sanctions or war. But this exposes a flaw in the argument of the pro-MEK lobbyists. On the one hand, they argue that the MEK has renounced force and should be delisted. But if it really has given up violence, would it not make more sense for the US to back the peaceful protesters who have a proven capability to mobilise huge numbers in contemporary Iran – the Green Movement? In reality the MEK’s US backers believe the organisation has potential precisely because of its history of using force. That’s what they think will shift the mullahs from power.
Since there are no reliable opinion polls in Iran, it’s unclear how much support the MEK has there. Supporters insist it has a strong network inside the country and has maintained its popular base. They argue that the regime would not heap so much abuse on it if it did not fear it. The group’s critics maintain that the regime merely despises it and uses it to advance conspiracy theories about foreign plots. The MEK’s decision to fight alongside Saddam in the Iran-Iraq war, they say, cost it considerable support.
Clinton will not be able to ignore political considerations. The MEK lobby is predicting that MEK activists in Iraq will be massacred. Should Iraq mount another attack on MEK members at Camp Ashraf or should the group provoke one, or stage one, the response from the MEK lobby will be fierce. The State Department’s current priority is to ensure that Camp Ashraf residents are safely moved to Liberty. In February, Clinton said a successful transfer ‘will be a key factor in any decision regarding the MEK’s Foreign Terrorist Organisation status’. Legally, this makes no sense. What does their agreement to leave Camp Ashraf say about the group’s desire or ability to carry out terrorist attacks? Nothing. But it reveals the State Department’s real fear: that out of malice or because of some MEK provocation the Iraqis will attack the MEK for a third time and the State Department will be denounced for ignoring all the warnings. In May, the State Department went so far as to say that it was looking favourably at delisting as long as MEK continues to evacuate its members from Ashraf.
What the statements suggest is that Clinton has all but made up her mind to delist the group – the MEK’s hard work has not been in vain. There’s something else to bear in mind. As one world-weary observer in Washington put it recently, ‘Hillary Clinton is a politico. Right now a lot of her colleagues and associates are making good money from the MEK. They won’t appreciate it if she removes the trough.’ Were the MEK to be delisted, the group could, like Chalabi’s INC before it, receive Congressional funding, and the Rajavis would be seen as likely candidates for office in any government formed after the mullahs’ fall.
A decade ago Donald Rumsfeld and the neocons were so in thrall to the INC’s Ahmed Chalabi that they provided helicopters to bring him and a band of diehard supporters to Nasiriya so he could be seen personally liberating Iraq. But when they landed, it was plain that none of the locals had ever heard of him. Chalabi was beaten to the top job by another former exile, Nouri al-Maliki, and had to satisfy himself with the Oil Ministry. Al-Maliki is now establishing himself as an authoritarian pro-Iranian leader: an outcome far removed from US objectives. But the never-say-die MEK lobbyists in Washington like to look on the bright side. Chalabi, they concede, was not what they thought. But this time it’s different. One retired US colonel who campaigns for the MEK likes to compare Maryam Rajavi with George Washington. The US may be about to demonstrate that once again it has failed to learn its lesson.
The Strange World of the People’s Mujahedin
(aka; MKO, MEK, Rajavi cult)
… Whether they leave voluntarily, or by force, leave they must. The PMOI has a history of killing Americans and mounting attacks within Iran. But it now says it has renounced violence and should be removed from America’s list of designated foreign terrorist organisations. Its high profile PR campaign involves paying senior retired US officials who then speak on its behalf. We report on the way in which a former pariah group accused of killing Americans has won over intelligence experts, generals, and congressmen from both sides of the political divide…
Owen Bennett Jones, BBC World Service, April 11 2012
Link to download the file:
The People’s Mujahedin of Iran – a group of dissident Iranians who have been fighting to topple the Mullahs since the 1980s – say they fear they are about to be massacred.
Over 3,000 PMOI members – designated terrorists by the US and a cult by some former members – live in Iraq at Camp Ashraf, 40 miles north of Baghdad and 70 miles from Iran itself.
The camp residents say they are vulnerable because with the US now having left Iraq, they are at the mercy of the pro-Iranian, Iraqi government, which is demanding the camp be closed down.
Whether they leave voluntarily, or by force, leave they must.
The PMOI has a history of killing Americans and mounting attacks within Iran.
But it now says it has renounced violence and should be removed from America’s list of designated foreign terrorist organisations.
Its high profile PR campaign involves paying senior retired US officials who then speak on its behalf.
We report on the way in which a former pariah group accused of killing Americans has won over intelligence experts, generals, and congressmen from both sides of the political divide.
As the deadline for the closing of Camp Ashraf draws near we ask just who are the People’s Mujahedin of Iran – terrorists or freedom fighters?
A cult or a deeply committed army who could be used by the US to fight for change in Iran?
Four ways the West got the Iran nuclear issue wrong
Gareth Porter, Middle East Eye, January 11 2015:… Contrary to the cover story that the documents were passed on to Western intelligence by a participant in a covert Iranian programme or by a German spy, a former senior German foreign office official has now revealed that the German intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, obtained them …
Four ways the West got the Iran nuclear issue wrong
First denying Iran’s nuclear rights and then using suspect intelligence
to build a false picture of its programme
For more than three decades, the United States and its European allies have committed one fundamental error after another in the process of creating a commonly held narrative that Iran was secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. The story of how suspicions of the Iranian programme hardened into convictions is a cautionary tale of political and institutional interests systematically distorting the judgments of both policymakers and intelligence analysts.
Too many of these basic errors have been committed along the way to cover them all in a single article. But four major failures of policymaking and intelligence represent the broad outlines of this systematic problem.
1. Denial of Iranian rights, followed by denial of the truth
The first failure, which set in train all the others, involved the US trying to strangle the nuclear programme of the Islamic Republic in its cradle and then blithely acting as though it bore no responsibility for the resulting shift in Iranian nuclear policy. It all started with a decision by the Reagan administration early in the Iran-Iraq war in 1983 to put diplomatic pressure on its allies to stop all nuclear cooperation with Iran. France was pressed to forbid a French-based multilateral consortium from providing the nuclear fuel that Iran had counted on for its lone nuclear reactor at Bushehr.
The US State Department acknowledged at the time that it had no evidence that Iran was working on or even wanted nuclear weapons. That US effort to choke off any nuclear assistance to Iran thus represented an extremely serious violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which guaranteed Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear technology.
Not surprisingly Iran responded to that US denial of its nuclear rights by defying US wishes and acquiring the technology to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel itself on the black market and later through negotiations with China and Russia. US aggressiveness toward Iran’s nuclear programme had backfired.
But instead of recognising that it had made a serious error, Washington compounded the original policy blunder by treating the Iranian response as prima facie evidence of nuclear weapons intent. In 1995 Secretary of State Warren Christopher, in the course of explaining an order by President Bill Clinton banning all US trade and investment in Iran, accused Iran of having an “organised structure dedicated to acquiring and developing nuclear weapons.” That was an obvious reference to the Iranian efforts to acquire centrifuge and other enrichment technology. The Clinton administration thus acted as though there was no relationship between Iran’s interest in obtaining gas centrifuge technology and the US denial policy that preceded it.
2. The intelligence goes wrong
The CIA and other Western intelligence agencies began to drift away from reality on the Iran nuclear issue in the early 1990s, when Western intelligence agencies were gleefully poring over intercepted telexes from Sharif University in Tehran seeking various “dual use” technologies – those that could be used either for a nuclear programme or for non-nuclear applications. They had found that the telex number on many of the messages was that of the Physics Research Centre, which was known to do research for the Iranian defence ministry. That was enough to convince them that Iran was pursuing a covert nuclear weapons programme.
The telexes ultimately turned out to be false positives, however. In late 2007 and early 2008, Iran turned over detailed documentation showing that every one of the “dual use” procurement items sought in those telexes had been requested by various faculties of Sharif University for faculty and student research. And the Physics Research Centre’s telex number was on the telexes because the former head of the organisation was teaching at the university and had been asked to help in the procurement of the items. The intelligence analysts had wrongly interpreted the inherently ambiguous “dual use” evidence as confirming pre-existing suspicions of Iran’s intentions.
That analytical failure was a template for a series of four intelligence assessments of the Iranian nuclear programme by the CIA’s Nonproliferation Center and later by the US intelligence community as a whole that falsely concluded that Iran had an active nuclear weapons development programme as of the time of the assessment. That string of false positives raises serious questions about the 2007 US national intelligence estimate by a team of analysts that had just repeated the same mistake in a draft estimate only a few months earlier.
3. Ignoring the Fatwa against chemical weapons
The belief of Western governments that Iran must have pursued nuclear weapons has been based on their ignorance of a pivotal historical episode that should have caused them to question that belief. During the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, Saddam’s troops attacked Iran with chemical weapons many times, killing 20,000 Iranians and severely injuring 100,000. Yet Iran never retaliated with its own chemical weapons, as Joost Hiltermann’s A Poisonous Affair, the authoritative source on chemical attacks in that war, has documented.
That fact poses a fundamental challenge to the Western narrative on the Iran nuclear issue, because there is no credible explanation for the Iranian failure to retaliate with chemical weapons other than the fact that supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had forbidden the possession and use of all weapons of mass destruction as illicit in Islam. The Revolutionary Guards acted on their own to acquire the capability to produce mustard gas weapons, as the wartime Iranian Minister for military procurement has confirmed in a recent interview. But his account of his meetings with supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini also confirms that Khomeini pronounced a fatwa against such weapons early in the war and repeated it in 1987.
The implications of that historical episode for an understanding of the politics of WMD policy in Iran are obviously far-reaching. It lends strong credibility to the Iranian claim that the current supreme leader’s fatwa against nuclear weapons is an absolute bar to Iran possessing such weapons. But the news media has continued to dismiss the problem by clinging to an old narrative, which was based on false information that Iran not only had possessed chemical weapons but also had used them.
4. Refusing to acknowledge the weaponisation evidence is tainted
For nearly a decade, the international politics of the Iran nuclear issue have revolved around intelligence documents and reports of Iran nuclear weapons work. A 1,000-page cache of documents that surfaced in 2004 showed the redesign of Iran’s Shahab-3 missile to accommodate a nuclear weapon and high explosives experiments that could only be used for nuclear weapons. More incriminating intelligence documents followed in 2008-09. The IAEA has now been investigating them for nine years.
But Western governments, abetted by compliant news media coverage, have chosen to ignore the considerable evidence that these documents were of very dubious origins. Contrary to the cover story that the documents were passed on to Western intelligence by a participant in a covert Iranian programme or by a German spy, a former senior German foreign office official has now revealed that the German intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, obtained them from a sometime source who was a member of the Iranian exile terrorist organisation Mujahedeen E-Khalq (MEK). The MEK was then serving Israel’s Mossad as a means of laundering alleged intelligence, so it is safe to assume that the documents came from Israel.
IAEA director general Mohamed El Baradei (1997-2009), who insisted that the documents had not been authenticated, recalled in his memoirs, “No-one knew if any of this was real.” Against the wishes of the Bush administration, he refused to use them as evidence against Iran.
Major contradictions between information in the papers and the independently verifiable timelines of Iran’s missile and nuclear programmes indicated that the authors were not Iranian specialists. The re-entry vehicle depicted in the studies, for example, was not the one that Iran was redesigning at the time and that was revealed to the world only after the documents were handed over.
El Baradei also revealed that a subsequent series of intelligence documents, which included the claim that Iran had installed a large cylinder at Parchin to test atomic weapons designs, had been passed on to the IAEA directly by Israel. That intelligence proved to be equally problematic: former IAEA nuclear weapons expert Robert Kelley found the Parchin cylinder claim technically implausible.
The US government and its Western allies have all closed their eyes, however, to the evidence that these documents were designed to justify US action by the United States against the Islamic republic. The political convenience of the accepted narrative of the Iran nuclear issue has continued to suppress any active interest in learning the truth.
– Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian writing on US national security policy. His latest book, “Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare,” was published in February 2014.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
National Iranian American Council (NIAC), December 09 2016:… Lieberman is chairman of UANI and formerly an advisory board member of an AIPAC organization explicitly established to kill the nuclear deal. In addition to the UANI panel, he appeared at a Capitol Hill event this week organized by the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a shadowy group formerly designated as a terrorist organization …
Orlando Crowcroft, International Business Times, December 08 2016:… suggested that the former New York mayor’s active public campaigning for the role may have put Trump off. Giuliani has faced searching questions about his international business ties, including revelations that he has earned more than $11m (£8.6m) from lucrative speaking contracts… he has also given speeches to the Iranian MEK, which …
Mazda Parsi, Nejat Society, December 08 2016:… “According to a financial disclosure reported on by The New York Times, Giuliani has been speechifying at hyper speed for years, collecting $11.4 million for 124 appearances in just one year—and that was before signing up for the MeK gravy train around 2011. Perhaps he just didn’t have time to consider the character of his paymaster,” adds Daniel Benjamin …
Press TV, December 06 2016:… The terrorist group of “Mojahedin-e-Khalq Organization,” also called “MEK” or “MKO,” which is featured among some countries’ lists of terrorist groups is being protected in a small town only 30 kilometers from Paris, in Auvers-sur-Oise; this has resulted in neglect of public interest and freedom of speech. During the years, the organization has been responsible …
Phioip Giraldi, The Unz Review, November 30 2016:… Israel’s Mossad planned and prepared the killing of the scientists with a little help from the U.S., attacks which were almost certainly carried out by associates of the radical Marxist group Mujaheddin e Khalq (MEK), which is now being seen favorably by several Trump advisors even though the group is Marxist, cult-like and has killed Americans …
Jacob Sullum, Newsweek, November 29 2016:… “My ties to them are very open,” Giuliani, a former U.S. attorney, recently toldThe New York Times. “We worked very hard to get them delisted.” But under the broad understanding of the federal ban on “material assistance” to terrorist groups that the Supreme Court upheld in 2010, that work was pretty clearly a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison …
Press TV, November 28 2016:… Describing MKO as “bizarre and brutal” with “plenty of American blood on its hands, as well as that of thousands of Iranians killed while the group was a strike force serving [former Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein” during his war on Iran in the 1980s, US-based magazine Politicorevealed in a Saturday report that former New York City’s Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former
Daniel Larison, The American Conservatives, November 27 2016:… One of the more troubling things about American MEK supporters is their willingness to whitewash the group’s past as well as its present-day behavior. They aren’t content to work with an avowedly bad group against a common enemy, but feel compelled to pretend that the group is upstanding and noble. At an appearance in Paris last year, Giuliani …
Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, Politico Magazine, November 24 2016:… Press accounts of MeK support by Giuliani and these others often treat their ties as a curiosity or, at most, some kind of peccadillo, because the group was taken off the State Department list in 2012. I was the coordinator for counterterrorism at that time, and my office was responsible for leading the effort to decide whether …
Mazda Parsi, Nejat Society, November 22 2016:… In March 2012, Giuliani traveled to Paris to speak at an MEK conference alongside the group’s secretive leader Maryam Rajavi. While there, he called the U.S. military base in Iraq where the United States wanted to relocate the MEK a “concentration camp.” Those comments later appeared in an MEK ad in the New York Times, according to josh Rogin …
Eric Lipton and Russ Buettnernov, New York Times, November 18 2016:… The speeches that have drawn the greatest scrutiny are those he gave from 2012 through last year at events organized by the Mujahedeen Khalq. Mr. Giuliani was paid for “three or four” speeches he delivered to the group, said Robert G. Torricelli, a former senator from New Jersey who served as a lawyer for the M.E.K., as the …
Jessica Schulberg, Huffington Post, November 18 2016:… Bolton has attended rallies in support of Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), an exiled Iranian dissident group that the U.S. classified as a terrorist organization until 2012. The obvious disconnect between the worldviews of Trump and Bolton makes it hard to grasp why the president-elect is considering Bolton to be his top diplomat. But lacking any foreign policy …
New York Times, Editorial Board, November 17 2016:… Mr. Giuliani for instance, he was paid to deliver speeches in 2011 and 2012 defending a cultlike Iranian exile group that was on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. In the long list of ridiculous things Mr. Giuliani has said, his remarks about President Obama in February 2015, when the presidential campaign was gearing up, were particularly disgraceful ..
Isaac Arnsdorf, Politico, November 17 2016:… In 2011, an exiled Iranian political party called the Mujahedin e-Khalq, known as the MEK, paid Giuliani to give a speech in Washington calling on the State Department to remove the group from its list of terrorist organizations. The MEK recruited a host of other formal officials to its cause and succeeded in reversing the terrorist designation in 2012. A subsidiary …
Eli Clifton, Lobelog, November 16 2016:… The MEK is known for paying generous sums to former officials who speak at their events. Lee Hamilton, a former chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee who headed the Woodrow Wilson Center for 12 years, told InterPress Service that he was paid “a substantial amount” to appear on an MEK panel in 2011. Giuliani, Bolton, Lopez, and Gingrich have all sung …
Josh Rogin, Washington Post, November 15 2016:… For years, Giuliani has been one of the most prominent American officials to advocate on behalf of the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), a Marxist Iranian opposition group that claims to be the legitimate government of Iran and resembles a cult. A Treasury Department investigation in 2012 examined whether speaking fees paid by several MEK front groups to a long list …
Michael Rubin, Community Magazine, November 15 2016:… If the goal of the Trump administration is to contain, weaken, and roll back the influence of the Islamic Republic, then outreach to the MKO is the worst possible move because it would rally Iranians around the flag and strengthen the current regime. The simple fact is this: if there is any consensus within Iran, it is that the MKO is the only thing worse than …
Eldar Mamedov, Lobelog, November 13 2016:… New Gingrich, John Bolton, and Rudy Giuliani, are slated for top jobs in the Trump administration, including the crucial secretary-of-state job. All three have deep tieswith the Iranian dissident cult MEK, on the US terror list until 2012, bitterly opposed to the current Iranian government and advocating regime change in Iran. Although the Saudis …
Land Destroyer, November 13 2016:… Lobbying for MEK terrorists alongside Bolton was former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich. They and other fixtures of American Neo-Conservatism backed MEK along with the Royal Saudi Family, according to the US State Department’s own Voice of America (VOA) media platform. VOA’s article, “Saudi Backing of Iranian Exile Group Inflames …
Massoud Khodabandeh, Huffington Post, November 12 2016:… In particular, Rudi Giuliani, John Bolton and Newt Gingrich. Putting aside their weak personalities as well as their individual neoconservative agendas, the common thread which links these names together is their decade long support for the Mojahedin Khalq terrorist organisation (also known as Saddam’s Private Army or Rajavi cult). It is certain that …
Arash Azizi, Global voice, Nobember 12 2016:… John Bolton called for a military attack on Iran and “vigorous American support” for MEK “aimed at regime change in Tehran”. Last summer, Gingrich spoke at MEK’s rally in Paris alongside Turki bin Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence. Gingrich went as far as to solemnly bow down to MEK’s leader, Maryam Rajavi, calling her by her favored title …
Eli Clifton, Lobelog, November 16 2016:… The MEK is known for paying generous sums to former officials who speak at their events. Lee Hamilton, a former chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee who headed the Woodrow Wilson Center for 12 years, told InterPress Service that he was paid “a substantial amount” to appear on an MEK panel in 2011. Giuliani, Bolton, Lopez, and Gingrich have all sung …