Who is the MEK? Why are they protected in Iraq? (Part two)
The War on Terror. The Iraqi occupation. The neoconservative idealist notion of liberating the Middle East. Regime change in Iran. All of the points reach a nexus with the Mujahideen-e Khalq [MEK], an anti-Iranian regime Foreign Terrorist Organization in Iraq with US backing. In this second installment of the series, I cover the Congressional and neoconservative support for the MEK and the MEK’s role as misinformed of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
"I know about support on Capitol Hill for this group, and I think it’s atrocious," said Dan Brumberg of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "I think it’s due to total ignorance and political manipulation."
In late 2001, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) tells the Village Voice, "I don’t give a shit if they are undemocratic. OK, so the [MEK] is a terrorist organization based in Iraq, which is a terrorist state. They are fighting Iran, which is another terrorist state. I say let’s help them fight each other as much as they want. Once they all are destroyed, I can celebrate twice over."
"This group loves the United States. They’re assisting us in the war on terrorism; they’re pro-US," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). "This group has not been fighting against the US. It’s simply not true."…"In no meeting or briefing I have ever attended has anyone called this group an anti-US, terrorist organization," she continued, adding that the group has provided useful intelligence to the US government on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
"In November [of 2002], Ros-Lehtinen released a letter of support for the MEK that she said had the backing of 150 colleagues, whom she repeatedly refused to identify. Among the 150 signers are reportedly 30 committee and sub-committee members and 35 committee and subcommittee ranking members. "Because of the [Iranian President Mohammed] Khatami’s well-funded campaign on propaganda, lies and misinformation, I have decided not to release the names of these signers."
A month earlier, as Ros-Lehtinen’s letter circulated throughout the House, Reps. Henry Hyde (R-IL) and Tom Lantos (D-CA), also wrote to their colleagues, giving them a "full" and "accurate" picture of the MEK.
"We are strong opponents of the current government of Iran but do not believe that it is necessary to use terrorism or make common cause … [with] Saddam Hussein to change Iran’s government."…"Particularly in view of the fact that the MEK is based in Iraq, has taken part in operations against the Kurds and Shia, has been responsible for killing Americans in Iran, and has supported the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran, we wanted you to have the full background on this organization as most recently reported by the Department of State, so that you may best decide whether to lend your name to the letter" of support. It further advised, "Some colleagues have signed similar letters in the past and then been embarrassed when confronted with accurate information about the MEK."
Ros-Lehtinen dismissed the US intelligence reports of the group’s involvement in Hussein-led campaigns against Kurds and Shia as "hogwash" and "part of the Khatami propaganda machine." Before the Iraq invasion, Yleem Poblette, staff director for the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia and aid to Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, stated, "In the months leading up to the war, we made it very clear that these folks are pro-democracy, anti-fundamentalism, anti-terrorism…They are our friends, not our enemies."
On January 15, 2003, the New York Times ran a full-page ad on page A8 advocating for MEK support. The ad printed six photographs of current Congressional supporters, including Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Tancredo (R-CO), Filner (D-CA), Towns (D-NY), Jackson-Lee (D-TX) and Diaz-Balart (R-FL). Insight on the News reported the MEK had given to former Senator Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) more than $136,000 in hard money and several thousand to Towns and Ros-Lehtinen. Source.
Bob Ney (R-OH), who was once a supporter of MEK, summarized MEK support as anti-Iranian zeal. "I think a lot of people just hear [MEK] folks coming in saying, `We’re for democracy.’ These members [who support the MEK] are American members of Congress. I don’t question their patriotism or their loyalty to the United States. But on this issue, they just aren’t looking at the facts." Ney on MEK’s lobbying access, "We better watch those characters coming into the building. They’re a terrorist group. I do not believe that we need to allow them access to our physical Capitol grounds."
In late April, 2003, Bob Ney wrote a letter to the editor of the The Hill, MEK of same lot as al Al Qaeda and Hamas, in response to a recent full-page ad and letter to the editor from the group:
"In fact, because of the MEK’s long association with and support with Saddam Hussein’s regime, the former Iraqi information minister may very well have been the one who taught the MEK his craft of making false statements in the face of incontrovertible facts." Ney later alleged the reason behind Ros-Lehtinen’s refusal to publish her list of 150 Congressional supporters: "it does not exist." "At one point, it may have; in fact, when MEK representatives first visited my office several years ago, preaching democracy in Iran, I was glad to join them in what appeared to be their effort. However, I quickly discovered that the MEK are not the proponents of democracy they claim to be but are in fact documented terrorists with a history of killing American citizens and supporting Saddam Hussein. Today, no more than a handful of members supports the MEK, and even that number is dwindling."
While the frequency of public comments in favor of the MEK has declined, it is safe to assume that the same ideology which fostered Congressional support for the MEK (a fierce desire to spread democracy to Iran by any means necessary), largely remains among some Congressional hawks.
Just months after Ney’s letter, following the June arrests in France of leader Maryam Rajavi and others as well as the seizure of $1.5 million in MEK funds, members of Congress wrote a letter to President Chirac urging the immediate release of Rajavi and the others. Among the signatures were Reps. William Lacy Clay (D-MI), Dennis Moore (D-KS), Tom Tancredo (R-CO), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), and Edolphus Towns (D-NY).
Tom Tancredo (R-CO), always good for a genius soundbyte, stated his support for the MEK because they are an "asset to US intelligence" and "the most reliable source of information for the region." Tancredo’s press secretary, Carlos Espinosa, commented, "Are these guys saints? No…If there’s a problem, it’s that the MEK is on the [FTO] list." Espinosa added that the intelligence the MEK has supplied to America has been `100 percent true.’ "Call them what you want, but they’re not liars." Elsewhere, Tancredo has defended his support of the MEK by comparing Ted Kennedy’s support of the IRA.
In January 2004, the MEK would take part in a fundraiser in `solidarity’ with the `Iranian resistance.’ The American Red Cross, which hosted the event, later refused to accept the funds raised by the event because of its political nature. The US had temporarily lifted a ban on US donations to Iranian organizations in order to increase humanitarian aid. This allowed for the Iranian-American Solidarity Society of Kansas City and the Society of Iranian-American Medical Professionals, both led by MEK member Saeid Sajadi, and the Association of Iranian Women, led by MEK member Behjat Dehghan to sponsor the event. According to the IRS, 17 of the 23 sponsors were MEK front organizations. The event was addressed by neoconservative thinker and Bush advisor Richard Perle, British Labour MP and MEK supporter Win Griffiths and MEK leader and "president-elect" Maryam Rajavi (via satellite link). This appears to be in direct breach of Executive Order 13224 on terrorist financing. Perle later commented that he was under the impression the event was in support of an earthquake in Bam and that the proceeds would go to the Red Cross and was not aware of any ties the fundraiser had to the MEK. Perle also commented that "it did not have the aura of an event with terrorist sponsorship." (The basis of that observation is remains rather puzzling.) FBI agents were also in attendance at the event, reportedly as part of an ongoing investigation. Days later, the Treasury Department froze the assets of the event’s prime organizer.
In 2005, Ed Towns (D-NY) responded to a Human Rights Watch report which cited numerous human rights violations, including torture, beatings and solitary confinement by the MEK on its enemies and internal members who have sought to leave the group.
"It is an outrage to see the Iranian regime is using the American NGP, Human Rights Watch, to politically attack and tarnish the reputation of its main opponent the [MEK]."…"Human Rights Watch should view the MEK as its partner in defense of human rights in Iran not perpetrators. I firmly believe HRW’s report on the MEK published on May 18th will only advance Tehran’s agenda to derail the fight for democracy and human rights in Iran," calling on the group "to retract the report and provide a more factual account of rights violations in Iran."
On April 6, 2005, Tancredo and Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA), co-chaired an Iran Human Rights and Democracy Caucus meeting, with the Iran Policy Committee in attendance as panelists. During the meeting, the caucus and the IPC members agreed on the need to remove the MEK from the FTO list. Among the IPC are neoconservatives Raymond Tanter, Paul E. Vallely (Fox News pundit and advocate for regime change in Iran, North Korea and Syria), and Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney (also a Fox News pundit and advocate for regime change in Iran, North Korea and Syria).
A week following the caucus, the National Convention for a Democratic, Secular Republic in Iran was held, also in Washington. Maryam Rajavi again speaks via satellite. Filner was also in attendance commenting that, "Unless we deal with Iran, there will never be a solution in Iraq." The neoconservatives are even more passionate in their
"Although [MEK] agents have claimed that the inclusion [of MEK as a terrorist organization] was part of Clinton’s appeal to the reformist government in Iran, the argument is no longer cogent in light of the fact that during Bush’s 5 years in office he has yet to remove the [MEK] as a terrorist group despite significant political pressure by various neo-conservatives (this includes Daniel Pipes who currently has a chair with the US Institute of Peace) and Republican representatives."
"Not only were the [MEK] re-designated as a terrorist group under the executive order by Bush on Nov. 2, 2001, but the President used the MEK as an example of Saddam’s support for terrorism during the drive up to the Iraqi war when stating: `Iraqi shelters terrorist groups including the Mujahideen-e Khalq, which has used terrorist violence against Iran and in the 1970s was responsible for killing several US military personnel and US civilians.’"
The Asia Times reports:
"The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported `AIPAC is spurring Congress to pass a sanctions bill against Iran.’ AIPAC is also pressuring the US to support the Iranian MEK (a.k.a. the NCRI) for use against Iran’s mullahs."
Michael Ledeen on the MEK:
"The MEK, an organization I do not admire, but whose information is generally credible on such matters, claimed that more than 50,000 workers participated , from Pakdast and Varamin near Tehran, to Golestan province in the north and Khorassan province in the east [against the Iranian regime]."
(The MEK is notorious for inflating the numbers of protestors and the severity of its military forces in order to create an impression of formidable opposition.)
Douglas Feith, undersecretary for policy at the Department of Defense has argued that since the MEK hasn’t attacked any Americans since the 1970s, it needn’t stay in the FTO list.
The Asia Times’ A Spector of the Iran Contra Affair is Hauting Washington:
"it appears certain elements in the Pentagon leadership, specifically Douglas Feith, are trying to sabotage sensitive talks between Tehran and the State Department to promote cooperation over Al Qaeda and other pressing issues affecting Afghanistan and Iraq. The Pentagon clique thinks Ledeen’s old friend Ghorbanifar can help, according to Newsday, which reported August 8 that two of Feith’s senior aides – without notice to the other agencies – have held several meetings with the Iranian, whom the CIA has long considered "an intelligence fabricator and nuisance."
Daniel Pipes wrote a column on his blog pleading the MEK’s case:
"Is the MEK a terrorist group? No. It used terrorism decades ago, when its members attacked Americans. For the last 15 years, however, the MEK has been organized as an army, and its only violent activities have been directed against the Iranian regime."
"Can the MEK be useful? Yes. Western spy agencies are short on "human intelligence" – meaning spies on the ground in Iran, as distinct from eyes in the sky. Coalition military commanders should seek out the MEK for information on the Iranian mullahs’ agents in Iraq. The MEK can also supply key information on development in Iran – where, despite a tendency towards exaggeration, it has had some major scoops. Its information in mid-2002 about Iran’s nuclear program, for example, was better than what the IEAE knew, thereby leading a shocked US government to kick off an investigation that confirmed just how far advanced the Iranians are toward building a nuclear bomb."
"Finally, because Iran’s mullahs irrationally fear the MEK (as shown by their 1988 massacre in the jails of Iran of 10,000 long-imprisoned MEK members and supporters), maintaining the MEK as an organized group in separate camps in Iraq offers an excellent way to intimidate and gain leverage in Tehran."
British historian Ali Ansari comments on the MEK, "They are trying desperately to set themselves up as Iran’s equivalent of the Iraqi National Congress. The Iranians will be aware that the Americans are trying to keep them as a potential INC."
"They [want] to make us mercenaries," a MEK official told Newsweek, referring to the US.
Raymond Tanter, writing in response to reports in the Washington Post that Iran was some ten years from nuclear weapons capability, disagreed:
"The intelligence community has not had a good track record regarding Iran. Most of the major nuclear sites that are now known to the outside world and are inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency, including the uranium enrichment site in Natanz and the heavy water facility in Arak, were revealed by Iran’s main opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)." Tanter compares the IEAE’s findings to a "disinformation program" from the Iranian regime. "If American analysts are using ‘creative analysis’ to make up for lack of current, actionable intelligence from assets on the ground, it would argue for using information from Iranian dissidents to provide ‘lead intelligence,’ information that can be used to verify intelligence obtained from other sources and methods," according to Tanter.
On September 15, 2005, Tanter is set to hold another Iran Policy Committee seminar (he is the co-chair) in support of the MEK. In mid-October, the MEK is up for State Department review of its terrorist status. If the State Department removes the MEK from the list of foreign terrorist organizations, the MEK stands to receive large sums of aid to help them carry out any number of murderous deeds inside Iran in order to overthrow the regime.
Media influence and intelligence supply
Intelligence supply as credibility building
"In August 2002, the group revealed the existence of the Arak heavy water facility and a massive underground uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, both of which Tehran later declared to the IAEA, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog."
The press conference in question was held in downtown Washington, DC. The NCRI also alleged that the Iranian government was using a front company, the Mesbah Energy Company, to hide unwanted disclosures associated with the project. Iran maintained that its rationale for opening the facilities were strictly for energy purposes, "In the next 20 years, Iran has to produce 6,000 megawatts of electricity by nuclear plants and the launch of these two centers are aimed at producing necessary fuel for these plants," Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said.
Under IAEA regulations, Iran was not required to notify the watchdog until it had begun "source or special nuclear materials" at Arak or Natanz.
"However, the satellite images of the site put on [the] internet by an American specialized firm a day after confirmed that the information was provided to the group by some Pentagon sources keen to get the [MEK] out of the terrorist list, giving it the image of a group that has reliable sources inside Iran."
(Because if you can help the Americans with intelligence, you’re should no longer be deemed a terrorist.)
Later, a CIA source would comment, "’We had all these information and have reported them to the Administration,’…frustrated at the leak of sensitive intelligence documents to the terrorist group."
"Evidence of these effects can already be seen by [MEK]’s effectiveness in persuading the mass news agencies to publish stories advocating that newly elected President Ahmadinejad was pictured directly involved in the 1979 hostage [taking]."
"Every few weeks these Chalabi-like, men-in-black characters-and also Fox News commentators-come up with some `top secret satellite photos’ showing non-existent nuclear weapons sites in Iran (how a US-designated terrorist organization gets top secret satellite photos is, of course, beyond anyone’s imagination.)"
"Some [MEK] tips have led to recent revelations about key aspects of Iran’s clandestine nuclear program, though many others have proven unreliable. Long a diplomatic hot potato, which Tehran has offered to solve by exchanging [MEK] militants for Al Qaeda players now in Tehran, the [MEK] continues to complicate US-Iran-Iraq relations."
(But, as you’ll see later, the neoconservatives refused to give up their grunts.)
In September of 2004, just days before an International Atomic Energy Agency meeting, the National Council of Resistance of Iran held a meeting in London, the NCRI claimed that it had unearthed more information about Tehran nuclear weapons program. They claimed that Iran secretly had a nuclear weapons facility in Bandar Abbas and that it is the "second largest facility for converting uranium to yellow cake. This site has not been disclosed before and it is in its final stage of being fully installed."
Cameron Brown, assistant director of Israel’s Global Research in International Affairs, said she believed the information but warned, "Remember the lousy information that the United States had on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction also came from dissidents."
However, on January 24, 2005, the AP ran a story clearing Iran and dismissing the NCRI’s allegations. "Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s former envoy to the Vienna-based IAEA, said Iran had informed the agency in 2003 about the Bandar Abbas facility."
"August 18, 2005 – In a press conference in London, Hossein Abedini of the National Council of Resistance of Iran told reporters that Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had secretly produced the centrifuges on the orders of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini."
A day later, Reuters ran a story with the NCRI as their source, presumably from the same press conference, claiming that Iranian officials had recently expressed their pleasure with the progress being made at Iran’s heavy water program in Arak. The NCRI claimed that the site could produce plutonium.
On August 20, a former senior member of the MEK told the Iran Press Service:
"All the information that [MEK] provides the western media is pure lies and fabricated to discredit the Iranian regime and help the United States and Israel to put more pressure on Iran."
The article also reports that the MEK simply tells the media "what the CIA feeds them." Later, Mas’oud Khodabandeh, a former senior MEK officer, would confess,
"Except the information on Natanz and Arak the group disclosed, documents that were given to them by the Americans, all other material the [MEK] gave to the media are open secret, most of them from the Iranian press, like the name of companies and firms that works for the Defense Ministry and are known to the IAEA."
Khodabandeh deserted from the [MEK] and now runs a website, Iran-Interlink.org, which exposes the true face of the MEK, and leads the Association for the Support of Victims of MEK.
The MEK campaign to spread misinformation doesn’t stop at holding press conferences and writing press releases. The MEK has adjusted to the web and hosts Iran Focus, and Iran Terror are MEK-affiliated news sites. In addition, the NCRI has a website, featuring the latest publications of their misinformation and, even, an RSS feed. The blog, Iranian Truth, has more background on MEK’s media affiliates.
In the third and last installment, I’ll focus exclusively on the deal that never was. For several months, the US (backed by the State Department) was vigorously attempting an exchange of captive MEK members in Iraq for five top Al Qaeda members, including Saad bin Laden, the son of Osama bin Laden, and Saif al Adl, intelligence chief. The neoconservatives would ultimately prevail, the deal was dropped, and they kept their pawn.