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Buying your way to respectability

Maybe you’ve heard the saying “money talks, bullshit walks”? Well on Capitol Hill, money and bullshit are often the same thing, and they both get to talk as long as they want or until the cash runs out, whichever comes first. Take the People’s Mujahedin, or Mujahedin-i Khalq (MEK), an Iranian exile group that I’ve written about in the past. MEK used to reside on the State Department’s list of terrorist groups until 2012, when a massive PR campaign led by the most prominent collection of lobbyists that money could buy, bolstered by some strategic donations to the right politicians, convinced Hillary Clinton to remove them from the list. To be fair, the EU had already delisted MEK as a terror group in 2009, and Canada delisted them right after the US did, and obviously there’s no corruption in either Europe or Canada, so I’m sure this was all on the up and up. All MEK did to get listed as a terror group in the first place was little stuff like assassinating a half-dozen or so Americans and blowing up a few US-owned buildings in Iran in the 1970s, before the revolution. Totally innocent stuff, you know.

MEK, known for its opposition to Iran’s current clerical government, was actually founded in the 1960s as a Marxist group opposed to the Shah and his decadent, Western, corrupt, yadda yadda, you know the drill. After the Iranian Revolution, which MEK fully supported, its leader, Massoud Rajavi, found himself getting the short end of the stick in the new Iranian order, so he fled the country before Ayatollah Khomeini could throw him in prison. He set up in Iraq and struck up a friendship with an amiable fellow named Saddam Hussein, and also started dropping MEK’s previous anti-Western and Marxist rhetoric in an effort to get on America’s good side. Also, where MEK had criticized the Shah for having cordial relations with Israel, after the Revolution it started working with the Israelis to carry out covert attacks inside Iran, particularly assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. In 2002, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which claims to be Iran’s “government-in-exile” but is really MEK’s cuddlier political front group, claimed to have revealed information about the existence of Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility to the US, which is true inasmuch as you’re willing to ignore the fact that the US already knew about Natanz before NCRI/MEK said anything.

Since he took firm control of the group after the 1979 revolution, MEK has essentially existed as Massoud Rajavi’s personal entourage/fan club. It’s got a creepy cult of personality vibe about it even when you get past the fact that it has demonstrably engaged in numerous real-deal terror attacks over the course of its existence (it supposedly “renounced violence” in 2001, but it kept right on assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists, so…). It’s even mirrored that not-at-all creepy US cult, Scientology, in that, not unlike David Miscavige’s missing-since-2007 wife, Shelly, nobody has seen or heard from Massoud Rajavi in over a decade, since the Iraq War, when the US actually targeted MEK camps (they were, after all, still on the terror list) and upended things for Massoud’s bro Saddam. MEK insists that Massoud is alive and well and in hiding, but control over the organization appears to have gone to his wife, Maryam Rajavi.

All of this is prelude to the news that Maryam Rajavi will testify tomorrow by videoconference to the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade about…the fight against ISIS. Maryam Rajavi has no experience as a counterterrorism expert, nor does MEK have any experience fighting (or any reason to fight, let’s be honest) against ISIS. Subcommittee chair Ted Poe (R-TX) claims that he invited her to testify “about the threats the Islamic State (IS) poses to MEK members who remain at Camp Liberty in Baghdad,” but, and this may come as a shock so sit down before you read it, she plans on explaining how the US should fight ISIS by overthrowing the clerical government in Iran. That makes no logical sense, but MEK has never been about “making sense.”

Rajavi’s invitation to testify has caused a bit of a kerfuffle around tomorrow’s hearing, as both former US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford and former State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin have flatly refused to appear alongside Rajavi (Ford has said he would be willing to testify on a different panel, which the subcommittee apparently has decided to do, but Benjamin seems to have pulled out of the hearing altogether). Benjamin cited MEK’s past terrorist activity, including its participation in the 1979 US embassy hostage crisis, as the reason for his unwillingness to testify alongside Rajavi, while Ford was a little blunter:

“The committee handled this abysmally,” Ford told Al-Monitor in a phone call late Monday. “What the fuck do the MEK know about the Islamic State?”

Poe has been defending his decision to include Rajavi in the hearing (at the cost, mind you, of getting testimony from an actual counter-terrorism expert) because she can testify about how threatened the MEK members in Baghdad are by ISIS (which, if they’re in Baghdad, is “hardly at all”). The problem with that is a) she’s planning on testifying about regime change in Tehran instead and b) why doesn’t Poe invite someone from, say, Iraq’s Yazidi community, which is actually directly threatened by ISIS, to testify before his subcommittee? Maybe (SPOILER ALERT: here’s where the money comes in) it has something to do with the fact that nobody from the Yazidi community has managed to put a cool $38K in cash and prizes in Ted Poe’s pockets the way MEK has:

Poe received $17,900 in campaign contributions from supporters of the MEK between 2009 and 2014, according to an analysis I conducted of campaign finance data. Surprisingly, nearly half—or $8,600—of the total flowed into his campaign while the group was still on the State Department’s terrorism list between 2009 and its delisting in 2012.

In 2013 and 2014, the group also paid for $19,671 in travel expenses (including business-class plane fare) for Poe’s travel to MEK events in France.

So, hey, if you’ve ever wanted to testify before Congress but there’s no discernible reason why they should invite you to do so, plus maybe you’ve got some unsavory things in your past that could complicate matters, don’t worry! Just fork over a few tens of thousands to your favorite congressperson and you could soon find yourself offering your “expertise” (or irrelevant ranting, but whatever, you bought your time fair and square) to our nation’s top legislators! Good luck!


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