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 “
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.
As Iranian-Americans rallied in pro-MeK protests against Ahmadinejad when he spoke at the UN in 2010 and 2011, such well-attended rallies indicate support for the MeK among émigrés, which in turn can be read as evidence of support within Iran. One Iranian specialist who studies the MeK also finds support for the organization in Iran: Patrick Clawson of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy states:
One of the signs that the MEK still has supporters in Iran is that they occasionally provide blockbuster revelations about Iranian clandestine activities. None was more explosive than their revelations about the Iranian nuclear centrifuges at Natanz—revelations that led to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the subsequent unraveling of Iran’s eighteen-year tissue of lies about its nuclear activities, repeatedly condemned by the IAEA and the U.N. Security Council.
More recently, based on similar MeK sources, there was an August 2007 revelation about how the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) dodged international sanctions by using front companies to import nuclear enrichment equipment and take over the Iranian oil and gas sectors, mainstays of the economy. In October 2007 , the U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on the IRGC.
Another revelation on October 14, 2011 , exposed the role of the IRGC-Quds Force (QF) in a plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States and blow up the Saudi Embassy in Washington. That disclosure reinforced additional sanctions Treasury placed on the IRGC-QF three days earlier.
And what is Tehran’s response to evidence of complicity in the assassination plot? The regime blames Israel and the United States and asserts MeK involvement. The State Department promptly denied MeK responsibility and accused Tehran of “fabricating news stories” and spreading “disinformation” to exploit skepticism about the plot.