Profile: People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK)
a.k.a. Mujahedeen-e Khalq, Mojahedin-e-Khalq, National Liberation Army of Iran, Monafiqeen, PMOI, MKO
People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK) was a participant or observer in the following events:
About 500 Iranian students take over the American Embassy in Tehran and hold 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) is one of the groups that supports the take-over. [US Department of State, 4/30/2003; PBS, 1/15/2006]
The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) is expelled from Iran and takes refuge in Iraq. In exile, the group develops an overseas support structure and creates the National Liberation Army (NLA), which acquires tanks, armored vehicles, and heavy artillery. The group will receive support from Saddam Hussein until he is toppled by a US invasion in 2003 (see March 19, 2003). [US Department of State, 4/30/2003]
The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group, bombs the Islamic Republic Party headquarters and the Premier’s office, killing some 70 high-ranking Iranian officials, including chief Justice Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, President Mohammad-Ali Rajaei, and Premier Mohammad-Javad Bahonar. [US Department of State, 4/30/2003]
The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group, helps Saddam Hussein suppress the Shia uprisings in southern Iraq and the Kurdish uprisings in the north. [US Department of State, 4/30/2003]
Various cells of Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group, attack Iranian embassies and installations in 13 different countries. [US Department of State, 4/30/2003]
The National Council of Resistance, a front group for the Mujahedeen-e Khalq [MEK], elects Maryam Rajavi to serve as the interim president in Iran in the event that the mullahs are overthrown. She and her husband, Massoud, have headed the MEK since 1985. [Iran-e-Azad (.org), 6/10/2005]
The US State Department includes the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group, in its list of foreign terrorist organizations. [Executive Office of the President, 9/12/2002 ; Newsweek, 9/26/2002; US Department of State, 4/30/2003] MEK, which in English means, “People’s Holy Warriors,” [Christian Science Monitor, 7/29/2004] is later described by its former members as a cult. Its husband-and-wife leaders, Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, exercise absolute control over the group’s rank-and-file, requiring that members worship them and practice Mao-style self-denunciations. Many of the MEK’s members are tricked into joining the group. For example, the parents of Roshan Amini will tell the Christian Science Monitor in 2003 that their son joined because he had been told he would be able to complete two school grades in one year and earn a place in college. But after joining, Amini was not permitted to leave. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/31/2003; Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2004]
The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group, assassinates the deputy chief of the Iranian Armed Forces General Staff. [US Department of State, 4/30/2003]
As part of “Operation Great Bahman,” the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group, conducts mortar attacks and hit-and-run raids on Iranian military and law-enforcement units and government buildings near Iran’s border with Iraq. [US Department of State, 4/30/2003]
US Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) agents arrest Mahnaz Samadi, a leading spokeswoman for the National Council of Resistance, at the Canadian border because several years earlier, when she was seeking political asylum in the US, she had not disclosed her past “terrorist” ties as an MEK “military commander” or the fact that she had trained in an MEK camp that was located in Iraq. Hearing about the case from his constituents, Missouri Senator John Ashcroft comes to the rescue and writes a letter on May 10, 2000 to Attorney General Janet Reno opposing Samadi’s arrest. In his letter, he calls her a “highly regarded human-rights activist.” [Newsweek, 9/26/2002; Slate, 3/21/2003; US Department of State, 4/30/2003]
The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group, launches a mortar attack against the leadership complex in Tehran where the offices of the Supreme Leader and the president are located. [US Department of State, 4/30/2003]
The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group, attempts to assassinate the commander of Nasr headquarters in Tehran, Iran’s interagency board responsible for coordinating policies on Iraq. [US Department of State, 4/30/2003]
When the Iranian National Council of Resistance, a front group for the militant Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), holds a demonstration outside the United Nations protesting a speech by Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, Republican Senators Ashcroft and Chris Bond from Missouri issue a joint statement expressing solidarity with the organization. [Newsweek, 9/26/2002; Slate, 3/21/2003; US Department of State, 4/30/2003]
The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) claims responsibility for mortar attacks against two separate headquarters of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards in Tehran. The attacks are described by Iranian television as an “indiscriminate act of terrorism.” [BBC, 10/22/2000]
The British government adds 25 groups to its list of organizations whose assets it wants to freeze as part of the fight against terrorism. The list includes the Mujahedeen-e Khalq Organization (MEK), but not the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an organization that is later tied to MEK and included on the US list of terrorist organizations in August 2004 (see August 15, 2003). [BBC, 11/2/2001]
Manucher Ghorbanifar. [Source: Ted Thai / Getty Images]The Bush administration sends two defense officials, Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin, to meet with Iranians in Rome in response to an Iranian government offer to provide information relevant to the war on terrorism. The offer had been backchanneled by the Iranians to the White House through Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms trader and a central person in the Iran-Contra affair, who contacted another Iran-Contra figure, Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute. Ledeen passed the information on to his friends in the Defense Department who then relayed the offer to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Hadley, who expressed no reservations about the proposed meeting, informed CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage. According to officials interviewed by the New York Times, the United States Embassy in Rome was not notified of the planned meeting as required by standard interagency procedures. Neither the US embassy nor the CIA station chief in Rome learns of the three-day meeting until after it happens (see December 12, 2001). When they do catch wind of the meeting, they notify CIA and State Department headquarters in Washington which complain to the administration about how the meetings were arranged. [Newsday, 8/9/2003; Washington Post, 8/9/2003; New York Times, 12/7/2003] In addition to Ghorbanifar, Ledeen, Franklin, and Rhode, the meeting is attended by Nicolo Pollari, head of SISMI, and Antonio Martino, Italy’s minister of defense. [Washington Monthly, 9/2004]
Destabilizing the Iraqi Government - According to the Boston Globe, either at this meeting, a similar one in June (see June 2002), or both, Ledeen and Ghorbanifar discuss ways to destabilize the Iranian government, possibly using the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a US-designated terrorist group, as a US proxy. [Boston Globe, 8/31/2004] The meetings are suspected of being an attempt by what investigative reporters Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Paul Gastris will later call “a rogue faction at the Pentagon… trying to work outside normal US foreign policy channels to advance a ‘regime-change’ agenda.” The fact that MEK members attend the meetings adds weight to the claim. [Unger, 2007, pp. 234-235]
Italian Intelligence on Iraq-Niger Allegations - Additionally, according to an unnamed SISMI source, Pollari speaks with Ledeen about intelligence his agency has collected (see October 15, 2001) suggesting that Iraq made a deal with Niger to purchase several tons of uranium. SISMI already sent a report to Washington on the matter in mid-October (see October 15, 2001). Reportedly, Pollari has also approached CIA Station Chief Jeff Castelli about the report, but Castelli has since indicated he is not interested in the information. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005]
Entity Tags: Manucher Ghorbanifar, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, Paul Gastris, Stephen J. Hadley, Michael Ledeen, Larry Franklin, Nicolo Pollari, Harold Rhode, Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, George J. Tenet, Antonio Martino
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iran-Contra Affair, Neoconservative Influence, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The Asia Times reports that Osama bin Laden has sought refuge in Iran and is being sheltered by members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK). The report—citing Pakistani jihadi who fought in Afghanistan, journalists, and intelligence sources—says bin Laden crossed into Iran from Afghanistan around the time of the surrender of Kandahar (see November 25, 2001). [Asia Times, 12/19/2001] This report will later be shown to wildly clash with more reliable evidence placing bin Laden in Tora Bora near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border at this time instead.
The conservative National Review publishes an op-ed article by Sam Dealy titled “A Very, Very Bad Bunch,” commenting on the Iranian opposition group known as People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK) and “its surprising American friends.” Dealy’s piece is an attack on Congresspersons who support the MEK despite the exile group’s past history of anti-Americanism (see 1970s and November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). “How has a terrorist group managed to win the support of mainstream US politicians?” he asks. “Simple: Its political representatives in the US have worked hard to repackage the group as a legitimate dissident organization fighting for democracy in Iran—by whitewashing its record and duping our leaders.” Dealy emphasizes that the group’s initial ideological underpinning had been influenced by the likes of Marx, Ho Chi Minh, and Che Guevara, whose ideas the MEK attempted to apply to Shiite society. [National Review, 3/25/2002]
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida circulates a letter in Congress that expresses support for the Mujahedeen-e Khalq [MEK]. At the same time, however, Republican Congressmen, Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) and Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), outspoken critics of Iran’s government, circulate a dissident letter chastising Ros-Lehtinen for including partial and inaccurate information in her letter. “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,” they write. “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 this letter.” Ros-Lehtinen adds, “Some colleagues have signed similar letters in the past and then been embarrassed when confronted with accurate information about the MEK.” [Hill, 4/8/2003]
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) releases a report saying that satellite photos indicate that Iran is constructing two nuclear facilities (see August 2002). The report says the first facility, near Arak, is a heavy-water production facility, which raises concerns that Iran might be constructing a nuclear reactor moderated by heavy water. Lending further suspicion to the purpose behind the heavy-water facility is the fact that the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear reactor does not use heavy water. Additionally, ISIS reports, Iran’s existing research reactors do not consume enough heavy water to warrant the need for a heavy-water plant. The report also says that Iran appears to be building a uranium enrichment plant, possibly using gas centrifuge technology, at a site called Natanz, 25 miles southeast of the city of Kashan. [Institute for Science and International Security, 12/12/2002; Nuclear Threat Initiative, 12/13/2002] The following day, Iran’s UN Ambassador Javad Zarif tells CNN that his country is not developing nuclear weapons. “No. Absolutely not,” Zarif says in response to a question on whether Iran is developing a nuclear weapons program. “Iran is a member of the [Nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty. We have safeguard agreements with the IAEA. Nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction do not have a place in our defense doctrine. We have stated that clearly. And we have shown it.” [CNN, 12/13/2002]
The US orders the bombing of Mujahedeen-e Khalq’s (MEK) camps in Iraq. But the orders are called off after the MEK voluntarily disarms and negotiates a cease-fire agreement with US authorities. The MEK will be held in US custody at Camp Ashraf, located roughly 60 miles north of Baghdad, and its members will be screened for war crimes and terrorism. [Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2004]
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) defends her support for the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) (see October 2002), a militant Iranian opposition group that has been included in the US State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations since 1997 (see 1997). “This group loves the United States” and they are “assisting us in the war on terrorism; they’re pro-US,” she says. “This group has not been fighting against the US. It’s simply not true.” Regarding the group’s past history, which has included lethal attacks against US citizens, collusion with Saddam Hussein, and terrorist attacks against Iran, she says that they are “past history,” asserting that they have “no bearing on what is going on right now in the field.” Ros-Lehtinen further says that there is “wide support” in Congress for the group and that the MEK will be “one of the leading groups in establishing a secular government in Iran.” Ros-Lehtinen currently chairs the House International Relations Committee’s Central Asia and Middle East Subcommittee. [Hill, 4/8/2003]
In an article about Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s support for the Mujahedeen-e Khalq [MEK] (see April 2003), The Hill quotes Iran experts who dispute the notion that MEK’s history of terrorism and collusion with Saddam Hussein is insignificant, as Ros-Lehtinen has argued. “I know about support on Capitol Hill for this group, and I think it’s atrocious,” Dan Brumberg of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace tells The Hill. “I think it’s due to total ignorance and political manipulation.…There’s not much debate [about the MEK] in the academic circles of those who know Iran and Iraq.” Similarly, Elahe Hicks of Human Rights Watch notes that “many, many Iranians resent” the MEK. “Because this group is so extremely resented inside Iran, the Iranian government actually benefits from having an opposition group like this.” And James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation says: “When they sided with Iraq against Iran in the [1980-88] war, that was the kiss of death for their political future. Even Iranians who might have sympathized with them were enraged that they became the junior partner of their longstanding rival.” He adds that even though “Some of their representatives are very articulate,… they are a terrorist group” and they have “a longstanding alliance with Saddam Hussein, and they have gone after some of the Kurds at the behest of Saddam Hussein.” [Hill, 4/8/2003]
The US Department of State releases its annual “Patterns of Global Terrorism” report. Included in its list of terrorist organizations is the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group in Iraq that has offices in Washington, DC. The report notes that the MEK helped Saddam Hussein during Iraq’s war with Iran and assisted the dictator in suppressing the Shia uprisings in southern Iraq and the Kurdish uprisings in the north after the first Gulf War. [US Department of State, 4/30/2003] During a press briefing that coincides with the release of the report, US Ambassador Cofer Black, Coordinator for Counterterrorism in the US State Department, is asked to explain why the US has permitted MEK to have an office in Washington. “The Secretary has recommended that the president determine that the laws that apply to countries that support terrorism no longer apply to Iraq,” Black explains. “The president’s determination to provide greater flexibility in permitting certain types of trade with and assistance to Iraq; thus, we can treat Iraq like any other country not on the terrorist list.” He insists that the “United States Government does not negotiate with terrorists,” but contends that MEK “is a pretty special group” and that the US considers the agreement as a “prelude to the group’s surrender.” [US Department of State, 4/30/2003]
Sadegh Kharrazi. [Source: University of Cambridge]In the wake of the US-led conquest of Iraq, the government of Iran worries that they will be targeted for US invasion next. Sadegh Kharrazi, Iran’s ambassador to France and the nephew of Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, drafts a bold proposal to negotiate with the US on all the outstanding conflicts between them. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] Diplomats refer to the proposal as “the grand bargain.” The US sends neoconservative Zalmay Khalilzad, a senior National Security Council official, to talk with Iran’s UN ambassador, Javad Zarif. [Vanity Fair, 3/2007] The proposal was reviewed and approved by Iran’s top leaders Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mohammad Khatami, and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. Tim Guldimann, the Swiss ambassador to Iran, is used as an intermediary since the US and Iran do not have formal diplomatic relations. [Washington Post, 2/14/2007]
According to the language of the proposal, it offers “decisive action against any terrorists (above all, al-Qaeda) in Iranian territory” and “full cooperation and exchange of all relevant information.” In return, Iran wants “pursuit of anti-Iranian terrorists, above all [the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK)],” a dissident Iranian group which the US officially lists as a terrorist organization.
Iran also offers to accept much tighter controls by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in exchange for “full access to peaceful nuclear technology.” It proposes “full transparency for security [assurance] that there are no Iranian endeavors to develop or possess WMD” and “full cooperation with IAEA based on Iranian adoption of all relevant instruments (93+2 and all further IAEA protocols).” That is a references to IAEA protocols that would guarantee the IAEA access to any declared or undeclared facility on short notice.
The proposal also offers a dramatic change in Iranian policy towards Israel. Iran would accept an Arab league declaration approving a land-for-peace principle and a comprehensive peace with Israel in return for Israel’s withdrawal to 1967 lines, a softening of Iran’s usual policy.
The proposal further offers to stop any Iranian support of Palestinian opposition groups such as Hamas and proposes to convert Hezbollah into “a mere political organization within Lebanon.” It further offers “coordination of Iranian influence for activity supporting political stabilization and the establishment of democratic institutions and a nonreligious government” in Iraq.
In return, Iran wants a democratic government in Iran, which would mean its Shiite allies would come to power since the Shiites make up a majority of the Iraqi population. The proposal wants the US to remove Iran from its “axis of evil” and list of terrorism sponsors. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006]
US Rejects Offer - The US flatly rejects the idea. “We’re not interested in any grand bargain,” says
Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton. [Vanity Fair, 3/2007] The American Prospect will later comment that “Iran’s historic proposal for a broad diplomatic agreement should have prompted high-level discussions over the details of an American response.” State Department counterterrorism expert Flynt Leverett will later call it a “respectable effort” to start negotiations with the US. But within days, the US rejects the proposal without even holding an interagency meeting to discuss its possible merits. Guldimann, the Swiss intermediary, is reprimanded for having passed the proposal to the US. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] Larry Wilkerson, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, will later say that it was a significant proposal for beginning “meaningful talks” between the US and Iran but that it “was a non-starter so long as [Dick] Cheney was Vice President and the principal influence on Bush.” [Newsweek, 2/8/2007] He will also say that the State Department supported the offer, “[b]ut as soon as it got to the Vice President’s office, the old mantra of ‘We don’t talk to evil‘… reasserted itself” and Cheney’s office turned the offer down. [BBC, 1/18/2007] Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage will later claim that, “We couldn’t determine what was the Iranians’ and what was the Swiss ambassador’s,” and says that he though the Iranians “were trying to put too much on the table.” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will say of the proposal, “Perhaps somebody saw something of the like” but “I just don’t remember ever seeing any such thing.” [Newsweek, 2/8/2007] Colin Powell will later say that President Bush simply didn’t want to negotiate with an Iranian government that he believed should not be in power. “My position… was that we ought to find ways to restart talks with Iran… But there was a reluctance on the part of the president to do that.” He also says, “You can’t negotiate when you tell the other side, ‘Give us what a negotiation would produce before the negotiations start.’” [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] Days later, Iran will propose a more limited exchange of al-Qaeda prisoners for MEK prisoners, but the US will reject that too (see Mid-May 2003). Author Craig Unger will later write, “The grand bargain was dead. Flush with a false sense of victory, Bush, Cheney, and [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld felt no need to negotiate with the enormous oil-rich country that shared a border with the country America had just invaded.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 308-309]
Proposal Echoed Four Years Later - In 2007, the BBC will note, “Observers say the Iranian offer as outlined nearly four years ago corresponds pretty closely to what Washington is demanding from Tehran now.” [BBC, 1/18/2007]
Entity Tags: Kamal Kharrazi, Lawrence Wilkerson, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, Richard Armitage, International Atomic Energy Agency, Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Flynt Leverett, Hamas, Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Hezbollah, Condoleezza Rice, Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Donald Rumsfeld, Tim Guldimann, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline
Saif al-Adel. [Source: FBI]Around May 4, 2003, Iran attempted to start negotiations in an attempt to resolve all outstanding issues between Iran and the US. The US completely rejected the offer within days. Iran immediately comes back with a more limited proposal, offering to hand over a group of al-Qaeda leaders being held in Iran in return for the US to hand over leaders of the Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK). The US had already officially listed MEK as a terrorist group. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] Iran is believed to be holding a number of top al-Qaeda leaders, including military commander Saif al-Adel and Osama bin Laden’s son Saad bin Laden (see Spring 2002). The US had captured about 4,000 members of MEK in Iraq the month before, in bases where they had been staging attacks against Iran. Iran pledges to grant amnesty to most of the MEK prisoners, try only 65 leaders, forgo the death penalty on them, and allow the Red Cross to supervise the transfer. [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] Iran proposes to start with an exchange of information, offering to share the list of names of al-Qaeda operatives they are detaining in return for the US to share the list of names of MEK operatives US forces has captured in Iraq. This exchange of names is discussed at a White House meeting. Hardliners in favor of regime change in Iran argue that MEK is different than al-Qaeda. President Bush is said to respond, “But we say there is no such thing as a good terrorist.” [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] And he initially seems in favor of a prisoner exchange, saying about the MEK, “Why not? They’re terrorists.” [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] But Bush does not immediately approve the exchange of names, although he does approve the disarming of MEK who have surrendered to US troops and he allows the State Department to continue secret negotiations on the issue of exchanging names and prisoners in Switzerland. But on May 12, 2003, a bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia kills a number of US citizens (see May 12, 2003). Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney, and other neoconservatives argue that the bombing was planned by al-Qaeda leaders being held in Iran. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] The Washington Post will report in 2007 that, “US intelligence officials said there are suspicions, but no proof, that one of [the al-Qaeda leaders in Iran] may have been involved from afar in planning” the Riyadh bombing. Some of Bush’s top advisers argue in favor of trading the prisoners, suggesting that directly interrogating the al-Qaeda leaders could result in important new intelligence leads. But Cheney and Rumsfeld argue that any deal would legitimize Iran’s government. Bush ultimately offers to accept information about the al-Qaeda leaders without offering anything in return. Not surprisingly, Iran refuses. [Washington Post, 2/10/2007] A planned meeting between US and Iranian officials on May 21 is canceled and negotiations come to a halt. The American Prospect will later comment, “In a masterstroke, Rumsfeld and Cheney had shut down the only diplomatic avenue available for communicating with Iran and convinced Bush that Iran was on the same side as al-Qaeda.” [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] Flynt Leverett, a State Department official dealing with Middle East policy, will later say, “Why we didn’t cut this deal is beyond me.” [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] One anonymous senior US official will later say, “One reason nothing came of it was because we knew that there were parts of the US government who didn’t want to give them the MEK because they had other plans for them… like overthrowing the Iranian government.” [MSNBC, 6/24/205]
France’s Secret Service raids the compound of the Iranian terrorist opposition group, Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), an anti-Iranian group that has been on the US State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations since 1997. Among those arrested are husband-and-wife leaders Maryam and Massoud Rajavi. Following the arrests, nine MEK members across Europe set themselves on fire in protest. At least three of the protesters die. Critics claim that the self-immolations were ordered by MEK’s leadership. [New York Post, 6/17/2003; CNN, 6/22/2003; BBC, 7/1/2003; Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2004]
On order of US Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control freezes the financial assets of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which a State Department official says functions “as a part of the MEK [Mujahedeen-e Khalq].” Powell’s order also calls for the closure of the organization’s two offices in Washington. NCRI has hitherto enjoyed the support of several US legislators. [Voice of America, 8/15/2003; Associated Press, 8/15/2003] Powell’s order amends Executive Order 13224 on terrorist financing [US Department of State, 8/15/2003] , issued on September 23, 2001, which blocked the assets of organizations and individuals that US authorities believe are linked to terrorism. [US President, 9/23/2002]
The US-appointed Iraq Governing Council orders the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) to leave Iraq by the end of year citing its “black history” in Iraq as a “terrorist organization,” a reference to the militant organization’s long history of working with Saddam Hussein (see 1991 and December 2003). But Pentagon officials do not want the MEK to leave Iraq, as they are considering plans to use the group against Iran. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/31/2003]
Pentagon adviser Richard N. Perle speaks at a charity event whose stated purpose is to express “solidarity with Iran” and raise money for Iran earthquake victims. During the event, statements are made in support of “regime change in Iran.” The event is attended by FBI agents because of suspicions that the event has connections to the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group that is included on the state department’s list terrorist organizations. The US Treasury Department will freeze the assets of the event’s prime organizer, the Iranian-American Community of Northern Virginia, two days later (see January 26, 2004). Perle tells the Washington Post that he was unaware of possible connections to MEK. [Washington Post, 1/29/2004]
The US Treasury Department freezes the assets of the Iranian-American Community of Northern Virginia after the organization holds a fundraising event (see January 24, 2004), the stated purpose of which was to provide support to Iranian earthquake victims. The FBI believes that some of the money raised was also meant to fund the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a US-designated terrorist organization whose mission is to overthrow the government of Iran. [Washington Post, 1/29/2004]
An Iranian man appears in Turkey with a laptop computer and the phone number of a German intelligence officer. He calls the number, and 24 hours later, CIA analysts are poring over thousands of documents containing information and sketches. The CIA concludes that Iran is trying to retrofit its longest-range missile, the Shahab III, to carry a nuclear payload. The retrofit project is designated Project 1-11, the documents say, and analysts believe that the laptop information confirms their belief that Iran has a viable and active nuclear weapons program. Though the information on the laptop is from 2003 and earlier, it leads to the issuance of a National Intelligence Estimate (see August 2, 2005) that declares “with high confidence” Iran is working on a nuclear bomb, and will give ammunition to the Bush administration’s attempts to pressure Russia, China, and the US’s European allies to sanction Iran if it does not give up its uranium enrichment program. [Washington Post, 12/8/2007]
Origin of Laptop - The laptop was stolen by the Iranian citizen from an Iranian engineer, who some intelligence sources say may now be dead. The laptop contains designs by a firm called Kimeya Madon for a small facility to produce uranium gas, a substance that could be enriched for fuel or nuclear weapons. The laptop also contains drawings relating to the retrofitting of the Shahab III. The laptop’s information, so extensive that some say it may have been designed by an entire team of engineers, will be given unsubstantiated confirmation from an imprisoned Pakistani arms dealer, who will say that Iran took delivery of several advanced centrifuges that would greatly increase its nuclear knowledge. Although the documents are not verified, US intelligence considers them authentic.
Possible Forgeries - However, analysts admit it is possible that the documents are forgeries, perhaps from internal opponents of the Iranian government, or perhaps from the government itself in an attempt to convince Western intelligence agencies that its nuclear weapons program is still in an embryonic stage. The US denies that the documents were provided through the auspices of any Iranian dissident groups such as the Mujahedeen-e Khalq. [New York Times, 11/13/2005; Washington Post, 2/8/2006] The identity of the Iranian “walk-in” may be revealed four years later (see February 2007). By November 2004, administration officials begin to admit that they cannot confirm the reliability of the laptop’s documents (see November 2004 and November 17-18, 2004).
After a 16-month review by the US State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bush administration says it has found no basis to charge any of the 3,800 Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) fighters held in custody by the US at Camp Ashraf with violations of American law. The decision is made in spite of the group’s long history of collusion with Saddam Hussein. MEK fought alongside Iraqi forces against Iran during the 1980s (see December 2003) and helped Saddam’s internal security forces brutally put down the 1991 Shia uprisings (see 1991). The organization was also responsible for a number of American deaths during the 1970s (see 1970s) and has been listed on the State Department’s list of “foreign terrorist organizations” since 1997 (see 1997). “A member of a terrorist organization is not necessarily a terrorist,” a senior American official explains. “To take action against somebody, you have to demonstrate that they have done something.” [New York Times, 7/27/2004; Christian Science Monitor, 7/29/2004]
Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, the deputy commanding general in Iraq, says in a memorandum that the US has designated members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) as “protected persons.” According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, people who are designated as “protected” cannot be punished collectively or forced to leave an occupied country. The members were afforded the new status only after signing an agreement rejecting violence and terrorism, the memo says. [New York Times, 7/27/2004; Christian Science Monitor, 7/29/2004] The memorandum angers Tehran. “We already knew that America was not serious in fighting terrorism,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi says, adding that by affording MEK fighters the new status, the US has created a new category of “good terrorists.” “The American resort to the Geneva Conventions to support the terrorist hypocrites [MKO] is naive and unacceptable,” he says. Despite the members’ new status and despite having been cleared of any wrongdoing, the US military and the MEK leadership do not allow any of the group’s members to leave Camp Ashraf. Several of the members say they were lured into joining the group with false promises and now want to return home to Iran. The MEK has been called cult-like (see January 2005) and its leadership compared to Stalin by former members of the group. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/31/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 7/29/2004]
Iran claims to have arrested dozens of spies: “The Intelligence Ministry has arrested several spies who were transferring Iran’s nuclear secrets out of the country,” Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi says. But he provides few details about the identities of those arrested, other than to say that members of the armed opposition group Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) played prominently in the operation. [Reuters, 8/31/2004; Associated Press, 9/1/2004]
In Washington, 15,000 attend a rally supporting the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group that has an office in the capital. Representative Bob Filner (D-CA) speaks at the demonstration and calls for the removal of MEK from the State Department’s terrorist list. [Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2004; San Francisco Chronicle, 1/25/2005]
An Iranian exile group says it has evidence that Iran is still enriching uranium and will continue to do so despite an agreement it signed pledging it to halt such activities. The group, the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), the political arm of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), also charges that in the mid-1990s, Iran bought the plans for a Chinese nuclear bomb from the global nuclear technology network led by Pakistan’s A. Q. Khan. Khan’s network sold the same type of bomb blueprint to Libya, which has renounced its nuclear ambitions (see December 2003). The NCRI’s Mohammed Mohaddessin says the Khan network also provided Iran with a small amount of highly enriched uranium, though the amount is too small to use for a weapon. While the NCRI provided information in 2002 that helped disclose Iran’s secret nuclear program, many of its subsequent allegations have been proven false.
Claims - Mohaddessin uses satellite photos to show what he says is a new nuclear facility inside Tehran’s Center for the Development of Advanced Defense Technology (CDADT). He says that the CDADT also houses chemical and biological weapons programs, and that Iran began enriching uranium at the site in early 2003. Mohaddessin refuses to provide any evidence for his claims, instead saying, “Our sources were 100 percent sure about their intelligence.” Those sources, he says, are scientists and other people working in the facilities, and local citizens living near the facilities who see what he calls suspicious activities.
Reaction - Many diplomats and arms control experts dismiss the NCRI’s claims, saying the claims are an attempt to undermine the recent agreement Tehran signed with Britain, France, and Germany to restrict its uranium enrichment program. In return, the agreement says, Iran can continue working on developing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. [Washington Post, 11/18/2004]
The New York Times reports that according to unnamed diplomats, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) believes that satellite photographs indicate Iran may be testing high explosives and that procurement records suggest Iran may have the equipment necessary for making bomb-grade uranium. [China Daily, 12/2/2004] This information was reportedly provided by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) an alleged front group for the Iranian resistance group and designated terrorist organization Mujahedeen-e Khalq. [BBC, 11/18/2004] UN diplomats tell Reuters that inspectors for the IAEA would like to inspect Iranian military sites at Parchin, southeast of Tehran, and Lavizan II, in northeastern Tehran. However, the IAEA is not permitted to inspect those sites because it only has legal authority to visit sites where there are declared civilian nuclear programs. [China Daily, 12/2/2004] Five buildings in Parchin will later be inspected by the IAEA in January 2005 (see Mid-January 2005).
Knight Ridder reports that, according to US officials, congressional aides and other sources, Pentagon and White House officials “are developing plans to increase public criticism of Iran’s human-rights record, offer stronger backing to exiles and other opponents of Iran’s repressive theocratic government and collect better intelligence on Iran.” Additionally, the administration would like to withdraw troops from Iraq so Bush would have “greater flexibility in dealing with Iran,” one official tells the newspaper. [Knight Ridder, 12/8/2004] The news agency also says that the US is using the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) as a source for intelligence on Iran’s weapons programs, even though the organization “remains on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist groups.” [Knight Ridder, 12/8/2004]
The US sends teams of US-trained former Iranian exiles, sometimes accompanied by US Special Forces, from Iraq into southern and eastern Iran to search for underground nuclear installations. [New Yorker, 1/24/2005; United Press International, 1/26/2005; Guardian, 1/29/2005] In the north, Israeli-trained Kurds from northern Iraq, occasionally assisted by US forces, look for signs of nuclear activity as well. [United Press International, 1/26/2005] Both teams are tasked with planting remote detection devices, known as “sniffers,” which can sense radioactive emissions and other indicators of nuclear-enrichment programs while also helping US war planners establish targets. [New Yorker, 1/24/2005; United Press International, 1/26/2005] The former Iranian exiles operating in the south and east are members of Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a group that has been included in the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations since 1997 (see 1997) and included in a government white paper (see September 12, 2002) that criticized Iraq for its support of the group. After the US invaded Iraq, members of MEK were “consolidated, detained, disarmed, and screened for any past terrorist acts” by the US (see July 2004) and designated as “protected persons.” (see July 21, 2004) Initially, the MEK operate from Camp Habib in Basra, but they later launch their incursions from the Baluchi region in Pakistan. [United Press International, 1/26/2005; Newsweek, 2/15/2005] They are assisted by information from Pakistani scientists and technicians who have knowledge of Iran’s nuclear program. [New Yorker, 1/24/2005] Pakistan apparently agreed to cooperate with the US in exchange for assurances that Pakistan would not have to turn over A. Q. Khan, the so-called “father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb,” to the IAEA or to any other international authorities for questioning. Khan, who is “linked to a vast consortium of nuclear black-market activities,” could potentially be of great assistance to these agencies in their efforts to undermine nuclear weapons proliferation. [New Yorker, 1/24/2005] In addition to allowing Pakistan to keep Khan, the US looks the other way as Pakistan continues to buy parts for its nuclear-weapons arsenal in the black market, according to a former high-level Pakistani diplomat interviewed by Seymour Hersh [New Yorker, 1/24/2005] The United States’ use of MEK is criticized by Western diplomats and analysts who agree with many Iranians who consider the group to be traitors because they fought alongside Iraqi troops against Iran in the 1980s. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/31/2003]
The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) says that it has provided the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with information that Iran is now producing polonium-210, beryllium, and neutron generators, giving Iran the capability to produce a detonator. MEK claims that Iran plans to have a nuclear weapon by the end of 2005. Mohammed Mohaddessin, head of the group’s foreign affairs committee, tells reporters that the information was obtained from “the Iranian people” and MEK’s network inside Iran. [Associated Press, 2/3/2005; Associated Press, 2/3/2005]
Newsweek interviews Maryam Rajavi, one of the leaders of Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), at the organization’s compound in the French village of Auvers sur Oise. “I believe increasingly the Americans have come to realize that the solution is an Iranian force that is able to get rid of the Islamic fundamentalists in power in Iran,” Rajavi tells the magazine. She also insists that her group’s history of anti-Americanism has long past. [Newsweek, 2/15/2005]
Newsweek reports that there is disagreement in the Bush administration over what to do with 3,800 Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) fighters being held in custody by the US at Camp Ashraf (see April 2003). The magazine says that parts of the Defense Department want “to cull useful MEK members as operatives for use against Tehran, all while insisting that it does not deal with the MEK as a group.” They would be sent to Iran to gather intelligence and possibly reawaken a democratic movement in Iran. The CIA however has objected to this strategy “because senior officers regard them as unreliable cultists under the sway of [Maryam] Rajavi and her husband,” Newsweek explains. A Defense Department spokesman however denies there is any “cooperation agreement” with the MEK and claims that the Pentagon has no plans for using MEK members in any capacity. But an MEK official interviewed by Newsweek said the opposite: “They [want] to make us mercenaries.” Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA) also feels the Defense Department has plans for MEK members. “The Defense Department is thinking of them as buddies and the State Department sees them as terrorists. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle,” he told Newsweek. [Newsweek, 2/15/2005]
More than 250 members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group, return to Iran from Camp Ashraf in Iraq, accepting Iran’s December offer of amnesty. For years, the MEK leadership has assured the group’s members they faced certain death if they returned to Iran. Many remaining MEK members, over 3,500 in Iraq alone, say they are skeptical of the Iranian government’s promises and [Christian Science Monitor, 3/22/2005] dismiss the defectors as “quitters.” According to the Los Angeles Times, which interviewed several of Camp Ashraf’s residents, remaining MEK members appear to “show no interest” in going back. [Los Angeles Times, 3/19/2005]
The Mujahedeen-e Khalq’s (MEK) political wing, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), holds a press conference in Paris. Mohammed Mohaddessin of the NCRI tells reporters, “In mid-2004, [Iran’s supreme leader] Khamenei allocated $2.5 billion to obtain three nuclear warheads.” Mohaddessin claims the Iranian regime is accelerating work on a reactor in Arak, 150 miles south of Tehran, which could produce enough plutonium for one atomic bomb per year.
“The regime told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) the reactor would be operational in 2014, but in reality, they want to start it in 2006 or 2007,” he says. In August 2002, the NCRI first revealed information about the Arak heavy-water production plant, along with the Natanz uranium enrichment plant (see August 2002) describing it then as part of a secret nuclear weapons program. Iran later declared both sites to the IAEA. [Reuters, 3/31/2005; National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, 5/12/2005]
The National Convention for a Democratic, Secular Republic in Iran is held in Washington, DC and attended by about 300 supporters. Speakers at the event include members of Congress, legal scholars, and Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the political wing of Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK). Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA.) tells the crowd, “Unless we deal with Iran, there will never be a solution in Iraq.” [US Newswire, 4/13/2005; National Convention for a Democratic Secular Republic in Iran, 5/27/2005]
Human Rights Watch reports that 12 former members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) have alleged they were subjected to routine detention, solitary confinement, beatings, and torture as punishment for criticizing MEK leadership or trying to leave its ranks. The former MEK members, now in Europe, told Human Rights Watch that they spent several years in Abu Ghraib prison until Saddam Hussein released them during his last year in power. One of those interviewed, according to the report, recalled that during the mid-1990s a prisoner died after an intense beating. Two other former MEK members said they were held in solitary confinement for extensive periods of time, one for five years, and the other for eight and a half years. After the report’s release, Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) denies the allegations cited in the report. [Human Rights Watch, 5/2005; BBC, 5/19/2005]
About 500 protesters demonstrate in Huntington Beach, near Los Angeles, calling on the Bush administration to back the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group, and remove the organization from the State Department’s list of US-designated foreign terrorist organizations. One of the speakers at the event is Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the political front for the MEK. Addressing the crowd via satellite, she tells them that she believes the opposition’s efforts will soon payoff. [Los Angeles Times, 5/23/2005]
Raymond Tanter. [Source: PBS]Neoconservative Raymond Tanter, a member of the Institute for Near East Policy and a fervent advocate of regime change in Iran, tells the National Press Club that the Bush administration should use the Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) and its political arm, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) as an insurgent militia against the Iranian government. “The National Council of Resistance of Iran and the Mujahedeen-e Khalq are not only the best source for intelligence on Iran’s potential violations of the nonproliferation regime,” Tanter says, but “[t]he NCRI and MEK are also a possible ally of the West in bringing about regime change in Tehran” (see January 2005). Tanter also advocates using nuclear weapons against Iran’s nuclear program, and suggests that Israel might use bombs sold to it by the US to avoid conflicts with the UN’s Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Israel has refused to sign. He says that the Bush administration should “delist” MEK and the NCRI from its list of terrorist organizations: “The international community should realize that there is only one group to which the regime pays attention and fears: the Mujahedeen-e Khalq and the political coalition of which the MEK is a part, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. By delisting the NCRI and MEK from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations listing maintained by the Department of State, it would allow regime change to be on the table in Tehran. With regime change in the open, Tehran would have to face a choice about whether to slow down in its drive to acquire nuclear weapons or not.” [Iran Policy Committee, 11/21/2005; Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
The US is receiving false and misleading information about Iran’s nuclear capabilities from an Iranian dissident group labeled as a terrorist organization, says a former UN weapons inspector. The Mujahedeen-e Khalq, or MEK (see 1970s), is an exile group labeled by the US State Department as a terrorist organization, but embraced by many Washington neoconservatives, including a key group of White House officials operating inside Vice President Dick Cheney’s office and another working with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says, “We should be very suspicious about what our leaders or the exile groups say about Iran’s nuclear capacity. There’s a drumbeat of allegations, but there’s not a whole lot of solid information. It may be that Iran has not made the decision to build nuclear weapons. We have to be very careful not to overstate the intelligence.” Albright says the information from MEK is somewhat more believable than the extravagantly false information provided by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraq National Congress, which was used to bolster Bush administration allegations that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq posed a grave and imminent threat to world peace and US security (see (1994). In 2002, MEK provided critical information about Iran’s nuclear-enrichment complex at Natanz and a heavy-water production facility at Arak (see August 2002). It is unclear if Iran is pursuing a nuclear-weapons program; one UN official says of the information gleaned by the IAEA, “It’s a mixed bag.” Of MEK, he says, “The Mujahedeen Khalq appears to have some real sources inside Iran, but you can’t trust them all the time.” Iran has not been fully compliant with IAEA attempts to determine the nature and extent of its nuclear program. Nevertheless, some Congressional lawmakers say that, in light of the misinformation surrounding the claims of Iraq’s weapons programs, policy makers need to be doubly cautious about making claims and pursuing aggressive deterrence operations against Iran. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says, “In Iran, as well as North Korea, Syria, and so on, we need accurate, unbiased and timely intelligence. Iraq has shown that our intelligence products have a credibility problem and improvements are critically needed.” Iranian journalist Emadeddin Baghi, a columnist for the liberal Sharq newspaper who served two years in prison for criticizing the religious establishment, says that in Iran, skepticism runs deep. “Many Iranians instinctively disbelieve anything their own government says, but they also disbelieve the Americans, and what has happened in Iraq has strengthened that,” Baghi says. “Iranians see the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and they see the American accusations about nuclear weapons as just another pretext for other hidden aims.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/26/2006]
Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, David Albright, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Emadeddin Baghi, International Atomic Energy Agency, Jane Harman, Paul Wolfowitz, US Department of State, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Saddam Hussein, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, House Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
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