The MEK’s Useful Idiots

If you are a Muslim American who is appalled by U.S. foreign policy, most specifically its penchant for invading Islamic countries in a bid to change their regimes, and you make the mistake of saying something to that effect on the phone or writing about your concerns in an email, there is a good chance that the FBI will come after you. You will in short order find yourself with a new friend who is a Muslim just like you and who shares your frustration with American foreign policy. At a certain point he will reveal his affiliation with a certain overseas group that is interested in obtaining revenge for all the Muslims who have been killed or injured by the United States. He will suggest that doing something about the problem would be neither sinful nor really wrong, and he will hint that he has access to the weapons or bombs that could be used for a revenge attack. You take the bait. The bomb or gun is a dud and the new friend turns out to be an FBI informant. Another “terrorist” is arrested and sent to jail for 20 years. End of story.

Americans who are not Muslim should be concerned by the repeated entrapment of so-called terrorists, first of all because the process reveals that our private communications are no longer very private. Second, the law enforcement use of a planted informant to encourage and enable someone to commit a crime used to be illegal. It is not so anymore.

Many of the terrorism cases are not related to actual terror but rather to what is described as material support. It is interesting to read what exactly the United States Code states. It is 18 USC § 2339A — Providing Material Support to Terrorists:

(a) Offense.— Whoever provides material support or resources or conceals or disguises the nature, location, source, or ownership of material support or resources, knowing or intending that they are to be used in preparation for, or in carrying out, a violation of section [38 sections and acts are cited] or in preparation for, or in carrying out, the concealment of an escape from the commission of any such violation, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both, and, if the death of any person results, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life. A violation of this section may be prosecuted in any Federal judicial district in which the underlying offense was committed, or in any other Federal judicial district as provided by law.

(b) Definitions [my emphasis]: As used in this section—(1) the term “material support or resources” means any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safe houses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, personnel (1 or more individuals who may be or include oneself), and transportation, except medicine or religious materials; … (3) the term “expert advice or assistance” means advice or assistance derived from scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge.

To see how loose the definition of support can be, consider an actual case dating from September 2011. Pakistan-born Jubair Ahmad, 24, was accused of providing material support to the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which is designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization. Ahmad produced and posted a propaganda video for LeT “glorifying violent jihad” in 2010, some three years after he arrived in the United States with his parents and two younger brothers. “Terrorist organizations such as LeT … use the Internet and other media as part of well-orchestrated propaganda campaigns,” the FBI stated in its affidavit on Ahmad. Though the charge is not spelled out in any more detail, one would assume that Ahmad is considered to be guilty of providing “expert advice or assistance” to LeT.

Which brings me to the subject of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, better known as MEK. The MEK has been on the State Department roster of foreign terrorist organizations since the list was established in 1997. Its inclusion derives from its having killed six Americans in the 1970s and from its record of violence both inside and outside Iran since that time. The group was driven out of Iran, denied refuge in France, and eventually armed and given a military base by Saddam Hussein. Saddam used the group to carry out terrorist acts inside Iran. The MEK is widely regarded as a cult and is headed by spouses Massoud and Maryam Rajavi. Its members are required to be celibate, and there are reports that they are subjected to extensive brainwashing, physical torture, severe beatings even unto death, and prolonged solitary confinement if they question the leadership. One scholar who has studied them describes their beliefs as a “weird combination of Marxism and Islamic fundamentalism.” Like many other terrorist groups, the MEK has a political wing that operates openly, the National Council of Resistance, which is based in Paris, and another front organization called Executive Action, which operates in Washington.

The U.S. military and the CIA have in the past recruited MEK agents to enter Iran and report on nuclear facilities. Other MEK agents, recruited and trained by Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, have recently killed a number of Iranian nuclear scientists and officials. The group appears to have ample financial resources, and it is generally believed that at least some of the money comes from Mossad. The MEK is able to place full-page ads in major U.S. newspapers and is also known to pay hefty speaker’s fees to major political figures who are willing to speak publicly on its behalf. The group claims to want regime-change in Iran to restore democracy to the country, an odd assertion as it itself has no internal democracy.

Because the MEK is a resource being used by Israel in its clandestine war against Iran, it is perhaps inevitable that many friends of Israel in the United States are campaigning vigorously to have the group removed from the terrorism list. Indeed, neocons at their various think-tanks and publications as well as AIPAC all support delisting the group. At this moment, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, not surprisingly, appears to be inclined to give in to the pressure and delist the MEK once it completes its departure from Camp Ashraf in Iraq, where it has been based for the past 20 years. There might be some problem in arranging the move, as few countries want to take the MEK supporters, fearing that they would have to be deprogrammed from their brainwashing.

The MEK’s friends argue that the group has not killed anyone since 1999, though the recent assassinations employing MEK members belie that assertion, as do FBI reports revealing terrorist planning as late as 2004. Many speakers defending the MEK have also admitted that they do not know much about the group, most particularly in regard to its cult status, though they insist that their support is based on the fact that the organization is now not lethal (and, of course, the handsome speaking fees they have received).

The well-connected friends of the MEK include well-known neocons like John Bolton and James Woolsey. And there is also the paid supporting cast including former head of the Democratic Party Howard Dean; former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani; ex-CIA director Michael Hayden; former generals Anthony Zinni, Peter Pace, and Hugh Shelton; former congressman Lee Hamilton; ex–attorney general Michael Mukasey; former Homeland Security director Tom Ridge; former national security adviser Jim Jones; ex-senator Robert Torricelli; former FBI director Louis Freeh; and former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson. Current representatives Dana Rohrabacher and Brad Sherman also openly support the MEK and joined 96 other congressmen in calling for the lifting of the terrorism label.

Lee Hamilton has praised the MEK for providing useful intelligence on Iran’s nuclear facility at Natanz, but some of the intelligence in question is believed to be fabricated by the Mossad. Hamilton subsequently admitted that he was paid a “substantial amount” to speak and conceded that he might have been fooled by the group’s democratic credentials. “You always can be misled,” he said. Ethically challenged former senator and current lobbyist Robert Torricelli is less flexible, stating that he is “personally offended” by the group being listed as terrorist, noting that it can be “used” against Iran.

In August 2011, Rep. Ted Poe of Texas struck a similar note, referring to the MEK as “freedom fighters,” the only “real” opposition to the government in Tehran. Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney advocates delisting the group so it can undertake “provocative actions” against Iran, which he describes as killing Iranians if and when they kill Americans. So the objective for some MEK supporters clearly seems to be to give a pass to a terrorist group and to even encourage it to undertake violent action, as long as it is “our” terrorist group attacking people that we consider the bad guys.

Given the history of the MEK as a terrorist organization and the deliberately broad wording of the relevant U.S. statute, it would seem that speaking on behalf of the group amounts to material support of terrorism. So I have to ask why is it that the numerous prominent MEK supporters are walking free while Jubair Ahmad can be called a terrorist for the exercise of what might well appear to be similar First Amendment rights in producing something for a website? Can it be that the richly compensated MEK spokesmen are too important to arrest? Or is there one justice system for working-class Muslims and another for blowhards like John Bolton? Or is it just a fool’s game with the usual Washington crowd queuing up for a bad cause because they are both lining their pockets and thinking they are helping Israel? In any event, it is a poor bargain for the rest of us, but that hardly seems to matter anymore.

Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.