Tehran's Anti-MeK Propaganda Machine

The regime in Tehran is spreading lies about MeK. Washington is buying them hook, line and sinker.

If disinformation is defined as deliberate and covert efforts to plant false information to bias media reporting and intelligence collection, the UN’s Durban conferences constitute a prime example. Although organized around an “anti-racist” agenda, they focus on ways to delegitimize Israel and are an icon of intolerance.

A participant in the Durban conferences is the Islamic Republic of Iran. Just as it tries to delegitimize Israel, Iran does the same to its opposition while portraying itself as defender of human rights. By releasing American hostages as a “humanitarian” gesture to “improve” the standing of the regime as President Ahmadinejad arrived at the UN, Tehran shows it is a past master of propaganda.

The Islamic Republic treats Israel and Iranian oppositionists in the same way because both are committed to the rule of law rather than to rule by clerics. In research for my forthcoming book on how to facilitate Iranian democracy, I concluded that the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MeK), an Iranian opposition group, is genuinely committed to democracy and not pretending just to gain support. My conclusions echoed those of under secretary of state George Ball, who stated in 1981 that the MeK intended to replace the Islamist regime “with a modernized Shiite Islam drawing its egalitarian principles from Koranic sources rather than Marx,” and of a State Department report of 1984 asserting: “The Mujahedeen unsuccessfully sought a freely elected constituent assembly to draft a constitution.”

The Iranian regime also misinforms publics, delegitimizes and seeks to destroy the MeK because it challenges clerical rule. By contrast, other dissident organizations, such as the Iranian Green Movement faction headed by Mir Hossein Mousavi, accept clerical rule.

Intelligence communities are targets of Iran’s disinformation. Consider a letter of August 2, 2011, called the “Joint Experts’ Statement on the Mujahedin-e Khalq.” One signatory stands out because of his distinguished background in intelligence: Paul Pillar, former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia and now at Georgetown University.

The letter repeats false allegations of the Iranian regime, such as, “Widespread Iranian distaste for the MeK has been cemented by MeK’s numerous terrorist attacks against innocent Iranian civilians.” It resembles regime propaganda against the MeK; see an allegation in the Fars News Agency, the Islamic Republic’s radio and television network, which broadcast alleged statements of two MeK members who “confessed” they had planned to set off homemade bombs in Iran during June 2010. The broadcast includes an interview with Intelligence Minister Moslehi. But when recounting “terrorism” of the MeK, he only pointed to the group’s political and public-relations activities, including sending information outside the country, rather than actions against civilians.

A search of the Worldwide Incidents Tracking System for that period fails to link the MeK to the alleged incident described in the Fars Broadcast. Since 2001, there have not been any military attacks by the MeK, even against regime targets, much less against civilians. Consequently, there is growing bipartisan support for removing the terrorist tag on the MeK, e.g., at least 96 members of Congress, including Chairs of the House Select Intelligence, Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees.

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