Skip to comments.With Friends Like These (MEK, Iran & USA)
Posted on 10/01/2005 4:56:56 PM PDT by F14 Pilot
An Iranian group has killed American civilians, allied itself with Saddam Hussein, and holds a spot on the State Departments terrorist watch list. So why might it become Americas newest friend in the Middle East? Hint: Tehran.
In August 2002, intelligence reports revealed secret nuclear facilities in the Iranian cities of Natanz and Arak. The revelation left officials in Tehran speechless, in large part because the evidence was not gathered by the United States or any of its allies. Rather, the courier of such sensitive intelligence was the Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK), a decades-old Iranian dissident group. In most cases, dissident groups who could work so effectively within rogue states would be natural friends with Washington. But in the case of the MEK, its more complicated: The U.S. State Department lists the MEK as a terrorist organization.
There is no doubt the group has a darkly violent past. The MEK opposed Irans Shah in the 1970s, and during its militant opposition, killed U.S. military and civilian personnel in Iran, and backed the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover in Tehran. Though the MEK initially was supportive of the 1979 Islamic revolution, it eventually opposed the clerical regime that came to power. In two 1981 attacks, the MEK killed the Iranian president, premier, chief justice, and 70 other Iranian officials. And with the support of Iraqs Saddam Hussein, the MEK launched attacks on Iran beginning in 1987, during the brutal endgame of the Iran-Iraq war, later claiming that they killed 40,000 of their countrymen during these campaigns.
Decades later, Iran is still a rogue state. But some say that its time to rethink the MEK. I say the enemy of my enemy is my friend, says Raymond Tanter, a former Middle East analyst on Reagans National Security Council, now Washingtons leading MEK booster. They have eyes and ears on the ground. And they can provide us with human intelligence that we just dont have.
That presence on the ground, and its clear opposition to Iran, is winning the MEK support in Washington. President Bush recently called the MEK a dissident group, a clear hat tip, and several U.S. legislators want the MEK removed from the terrorist list, which would allow it to raise money in the United States. MEK fundraisers have challenged the groups terrorist status in court, so far without success. The Iran Freedom Support Act, a House bill clearly intended to help the group, was introduced in April by longtime MEK backer Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. It remains tied up in committee. MEK supporters on Capitol Hill are likely waiting on the State Departments official revocation (or reaffirmation) of the groups terrorist status, expected to take place in early October.
Retro Radicals With a curious ideology somehow melding Marxism and Shiite Islamism, the MEK is a relic of a different timea group of aging student activists who cling to their 1970s radicalism. Comparable American and European groups like the Weather Underground and the Red Brigades faded away long ago, but the MEK has lived on in isolation. Despite its claims to be democratic, the group is actually a strict authoritarian commune, with frequent reports of beatings and torture of members who try to leave. Critics of the MEK dont hesitate to call it a cult, and even some supporters concede that the group is rather unusual. The groups leadership is a gynocracy, with women making up 30 percent of the fighting force and holding a disproportionately large share of military and political leadership positions. All members are subordinate to the President-Elect, Maryam Rajavi and her husband Massoud. Maryams face appears on t-shirts, signs, and pamphlets, and her slogans are repeated by followers with an eerie mantra-like insistence.
But the groups bizarre nature isnt the problem for gaining American backing. Rather, its a more important question: Has the MEK really given up terrorism? The group has foresworn violence, outwardly at least, as it desperately tries to scrub off the terrorist label. The centerpiece of the MEKs new program is a peaceful Third Way to regime change, calling for a highly implausible referendum on a new Iranian government. Now that the group is angling for U.S. patronage, it has dropped the anti-American and overtly Marxist rhetoric from the groups early days, and instead talks of free markets, liberty, freedom, and democracy. The law says if they haven't engaged in terrorist activity for two years, and they don't have the means or intent to perform terrorist acts, they get off the list, argues Tanter, I say, follow the law.
For now, the Bush administration seems to be trying to have it both ways. At a 2004 House International Relations subcommittee hearing, John Bolton, now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said that while the MEK is a terrorist organization, he didnt think that it prohibited us from getting information from them.
During the MEKs long cooperation with Saddam Hussein, it assisted in the brutal suppression of the Kurds and Shiites, earning the enmity of both groups. So it came as no surprise when Iraq's new Shiite-dominated interim Governing Council issued a decree in 2003 (never enforced, by dint of U.S. inaction) saying that the MEK would be expelled from the country. The group got a temporary reprieve from the Iraqis, but is under enormous pressure from official and unofficial groups, including the Shiite Badr Brigade, to leave Iraq as soon as possible, a large-scale relocation that will require American support and diplomatic muscle.
Meanwhile, the MEKs transformation into a tool of U.S. intelligence is fast becoming a fait accompli. U.S. forces have disarmed its military wing in Iraq and news reports suggest demoralized fighters are deserting their base at Camp Ashraf. According to Massoud Khodabandeh, a former MEK security officer who left the group in 1996 and recently testified against its leadership on trial on charges of terrorism in France, more than 300 members have fled [and] 1,000 disaffected members approached the U.S. army and requested to be separated from the organization. Both the mujahedin who have sought protection in U.S. custody and the hardline supporters still with the group clearly need something to doand the Pentagon is holding all the cards.
I'm not saying I always approve of the tactics that the group used in the past, cautioned Shirin Nariman, a longtime MEK member and fundraiser who joined the group in the late 1970s. The whole world has changed, so of course it requires different strategies. And they don't require an army. (Though a member of the MEK, Nariman often refers to the group in the third person). Former member Khodabandeh is blunter: They have this dilemma. On one hand they have [used] violence for 30 years. On the other hand they have to get some support from someone (in America or other places) to survive after Saddam. He dismissed the peaceful rhetoric as tactical posturing by the group, masking its terrorist character.
Friends in Need
When the Iran-Iraq war ended, an MEK commander asked about the future of the group said, We have always adjusted tactics in our fighting. The form of fighting is secondary. Predictably, the group is retooling itself again, and according to some sources, moving its operations to a new frontier.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has granted permission for the MEK to operate from the Baluchistan province of Pakistan, which borders Iran. This decison suggests to some that there is a possibility that the CIA may be deploying the MEK in western Afghanistan as well, to the provinces of Herat and Farah, thus doubling the length of Iranian border open to infiltration. As with Pakistan, the MEK is familiar with that terrain, having infiltrated western Afghanistan in the early 1980s.
Asked what the MEK might be doing, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Rick Francona, a former Air Force intelligence specialist with experience in the Middle East, says: The primary focus will be the collection of intelligence, possibly even setting up infiltration and exfiltration routes and identifying agents in place inside Iran. Francona explains that MEK teams could work in conjunction with any of these activities: While U.S. technical intelligence sensorselectronic and visualare useful, it is always better to have a human source that can penetrate the facility, tell us what is going on inside the buildings, who is doing what, intentions, progress, and so on. A good spy is hard to beat.
But is MEK intelligence any good? Current and former U.S. officials have told Newsweek magazine that they knew of the major revelations about Irans nuclear program before the MEK made them public, and the group has a record of exaggerating intelligence or sometimes simply making things up. U.S. officials have learned to take MEK claims with very large grains of salt. David Kay, the former intelligence official who spent years investigating Iraqs nuclear weapons program, expressed a balanced view: They're often wrong, but occasionally they give you something.
More alarming, however, is Khodabandehs warning that the MEK has been heavily infiltrated by Iranian intelligence, and is of limited utility. However, he concedes, Having said that, I think it is the job of CIA officers to use the available forces on the ground. Khodabandeh also notes that the CIA might be able to clean the organization of Iranian infiltrators, restoring some of its usefulness as a covert ops force. An alternative method, suggests Francona, would involve culling small operating groups of trustworthy individuals from the MEKs ranks, employing them in isolated cells to limit the damage if any one of them is discovered. There is precedent for this, he says, although he refuses to elaborate.
Meanwhile, the latest U.S. intelligence assessment released recently now projects that Iran is a decade away from being able to produce a nuclear bomb. But MEK supporters say the assessment is both naïve and out of date, because of the subsequent election of ultra-conservative hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Irans president in June. Tanter warns, What the elections did was consolidate power under supreme leader Khamenei in such a fashion that theres now very little need to conciliate the moderates in the Iranian government. I anticipate that Iran will take a tougher line on negotiations on Europe. Irans recent rejection of a seemingly generous European grand bargain as insulting would appear to confirm Tanters prediction.
Despite the political changes on the ground, it is still hard to imagine the MEK playing a large role in any future regime change in Iran. With no more than 3,800 aging members, the group could hardly destabilize the Iranian government itself, but it may prove useful as an intelligence asset. With its allies currently frustrating U.S. efforts to refer the Iran nuclear issue to the U.N. Security Council, Washington may be in need of friends and any help may be appreciated. The question is whether the MEK are the kind of friends you can count on.
Erik Sass is a freelance journalist.
Ship the terrorists to Gitmo!
By Kenneth R. Timmerman
Iran.org | September 19, 2005
An outlawed Iranian opposition group, which obtained a permit from the New York Police Department to hold a demonstration in front of the United Nations today, attracted an estimated 2,500 supporters to protest the presence of Irans president at the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly.
But many of the crowd, coming from Denmark, Germany, Canada, Eritrea and Sudan, acknowledged that they had been recruited by the organization to attend the rally for money, and that all their expenses including international air fare, hotels, and a daily stipend - had been paid by the organization.
Basically, what you see is rent-a-crowd, said Kourosh Kalhour, spokesman for a pro-monarchist group, the Constitutionalist Movement of Iran, which held a rival demonstration nearby.
The Mujahedin-e Khalq, also known as the MEK, the MKO, was black-listed by the Department of State in 1994 as an international terrorist organization because its members had assassinated U.S. military officials in Iran in the 1970s.
MEK hit squads also murdered U.S. employees of Rockwell and other defense contractors in the 1970s.
Condemned as a Marxist Islamic cult by the former Shah, the MEK played an active role in the 1979 revolution and supported the taking of U.S. hostages in Tehran. The organization today claims that those actions were not condoned by the current leaders of the organization, but were the actions of a splinter group.
In 1986, the group moved its headquarters from Paris to Baghdad, and attempted to launch an armed invasion of Iran in April 1988, backed by Saddam Hussein. In the 1990s, Saddam used MEK troops to attack opposition militias in the Kurdish safe haven of northern Iraq that today have joined the new Iraqi government.
A front organization, the National Council of the Iranian Resistance, has also been black-listed by the State Department. Speakers at todays event, which included a member of the Canadian parliament, demanded that the United States lift the terrorist designation of the group.
Many U.S. members of Congress have signed letters urging the State Department to remove the group from the terrorist list because they helped to expose the Iranian regimes secret nuclear programs.
While large numbers of Iranians enthusiastically waved portraits of MEK leaders Massoud and Miryam Rajavi, hundreds of non-Iranians stood out in the crowd.
Martin Peterson, 26, of Ringe, Denmark, said MEK representatives contacted him recently in his country and offered to fly him and members of his family to New York for the rally. We thought it was a good cause to support, he said.
Peterson said he flew over from Denmark all expenses paid with a group of 70 Danes, and that similar groups had been recruited in Germany and France.
The MEK flew a group of 25 Africans from Sudan and Eritrea to New York from their homes in Ottowa, Canada,
Elizabeth Val, 35, flew down from Ottowa along with her three children, thanks to MEK recruiters. We want to tell the UN that the same violations of human rights we see in Iran are happening in Darfur region of southern Sudan. We have come to protest human rights violations.
Traveling with her was Sumia Ibrahim, 40, and Abeba Suleiman, 40 both originally of Eritrea. Both women brought children along, on MEK-paid tickets.
Pro-monarchist Iranians demonstrating nearby said a group of 21 MEK-protestors had flown with them overnight from Los Angeles, and talked openly of how they had been recruited by the MEK for the rally.
Rival demonstrations of U.S.-based Iranian exile groups gathered an estimated 800 people outside the UN. Some came in buses from Washington, DC, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Others flew in on a group charter from Los Angeles, with each person paying their own way.
We worked very hard to bring together people who normally dont talk to each other, said Roozbeh Farahanipour, secretary general of Iranians for a Secular Republic (Marzepor Gohar). Farahanipour was a key leader in the July 1999 student uprising in Tehran and fled to the United States two years later.
While not a monarchist, Farahanipour said he felt it was important for Iranian opposition groups who supported non-violent regime change to work together.
That is the important thing, said Zia Atabay, a prominent broadcaster who founded National Iranian TV in Los Angeles. Here we have all these groups together, even if normally they dont talk.
Several speakers called for the United States to prevent Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from holding lobbying sessions with pro-regime groups during his stay in new York.
Others called on the U.S. to arrest him on terrorism charges, stemming from his involvement in the 1979-1981 hostage crisis and his role in the murder of Iranian dissidents in Vienna, Austria and elsewhere.
Non-monarchist groups held a separate rally earlier in the day that included leaders of Marzepor Gohar, Iran Society, SOS Iran, Alliance of Iranians (Texas), National Iranian Congress, Social Democrats, Iranian Council, Iran of Tomorrow, the Pan-Iran party, and the Student Movement Coordinating Committee for a Democratic Iran (SMCCDI). Members of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran protested separately.
Interesting article. Some of it easy to believe based on things known. established for a long time as being factual by historical events, then one bumps into some rather questionable parts as is meantioned with Newsweek. Why should I believe what Newsweek might elude to. At any rate it deserves a temp bookmark. I did find the part about the MEK operating in Iraq approaching US military rather interesting. As for being friends. Wish all would get away from using that term. It is so misleading.
That is a known fact... MEK has no popularity among Iranians and they are called as traitors!
Who, or what other group might there be that would provide the same assistance/resistance?
I was refering to this:
"But is MEK intelligence any good? Current and former U.S. officials have told Newsweek magazine that they knew of the major revelations about Irans nuclear program before the MEK made them public, and the group has a record of exaggerating intelligence or sometimes simply making things up."
Why use Newsweek magazine as a reference after some of the crap they have pulled off, e.g. flushing Qur'ans down the toilet. In retrospect it was a waste of print on my part.
And I wasted your time in having to reply. I am sure as you say, MEK is regarded as traitors. Funny how they helped the revolution come into being, now are on the back burners.
MEK has its own agenda as Ahmad Chalabi & Co did
And I say that my enemy who's the enemy of my enemy is my risky proposition.
We would be very foolish indeed to actually trust these people.