Human Lives Human Rights: In the late 2000s, three major lobbying firms in Washington paid a total of nearly one and a half million dollars to pressure the US government and lawmakers to support the removal of the Mojahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) from the list of terrorist groups and the protection of its members in Iraqi camps.
On July 27, 2009, an appeals court in Washington, DC ruled that it was wrong to keep the People’s Mojahedin Organization on the US terrorist list and that the US State Department should reconsider this designation.
This issue is considered a great victory for this organization, which has been trying to get off the US terrorist list for 13 years.
Before that, on February 7, 2007, the Council of Ministers of the European Union agreed to remove the name of the People’s Mojahedin Organization from the terrorist list of the European Union.
Prior to that, a special court in the United Kingdom in the fall of 2006, ruled that the government of this country should remove the name of the People’s Mojahedin Khalq Organization from the list of terrorist groups and declare their activities legal in the United Kingdom.
The People’s Mojahedin Khalq Organization pursued a strategy to remove its name from the list of foreign terrorist organizations and engaged in two campaigns. First, efforts in the field of public relations and attracting the attention of the most famous figures in America and secondly, filing a lawsuit against the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the United States.
What follows is a description of the Mojahedin Khalq organization’s strategy for rebranding and changing its face in the media arena of Western media.
Exit from terror list by paying money
By spending millions of dollars in the campaign of financial aid, the supporters of the terrorist organization Mujahideen Khalq, hiring lobbyist groups in Washington and paying money to the officials of the American government at the time were able to make the decision of an appeals court in their favor.
Research by some Western media such as The Guardian, which used data from the Center for Responsive Politics, has tracked the influence of money in US politics. These traces have shown that a constant flow of money from key Iranian-American organizations and their leaders has played a role in removing the People’s Mojahedin Khalq organization from the list of terrorist organizations.
The campaign to bury the history of bloodshed by the Mojahedin Khalq organization through bombings and assassinations that killed American businessmen, Iranian politicians, and thousands of civilians, and portraying this organization as a loyal ally of the United States against Iran, through money laundering, has pursued three main goals: Members of Congress, Washington lobby groups and former officials.
One of the most prominent members of Congress who have benefited from these funds is Ilina Ross Lehtinen, the former chairman of the US House Foreign Relations Committee. He has received at least 20,000 dollars from Iranian-American groups and this money has been deposited into the political campaign fund.
Other recipients of the money include Congressman Bob Filner, who traveled to France twice to speak at pro-MEK supporters’ programs. He has also presented bills in the House of Representatives and demanded the cancellation of the ban on the activities of this group.
Filner’s trip to Paris was paid for by the head of an Iranian-American group in the amount of $14,000. Also, nearly one million dollars has been paid to a Washington lobbying company that was trying to cancel the ban on the Mojahedin Khalq organization.
In 2011, the Financial Times newspaper revealed in a report that the Mojahedin Khalq Organization paid a large bribe to some American officials to remove the name of this group from the list of American terrorist groups.
The Guardian revealed several former heads of the CIA and FBI organizations and former US security officials as well as several army generals of this country as supporters of this plan. American authorities support the MKO lobby in the US Congress, while this group has carried out hundreds of terrorist operations between the 70s and 80s, which has resulted in the martyrdom of many innocent people of our country.
The Guardian newspaper has also mentioned the financial resources of the MKO in its report. Some American officials believe that the money spent by the MKO lobby was received from sources such as Saudi Arabia and Israel.
American officials, whose names were not mentioned by the Guardian, say that Israel used MKO to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists and paid them in exchange for this service.
On the other hand, despite the efforts of the MKO to leave the list of terrorist groups, the committee for the defense of the victims of the terrorist group of the MKO in Iraq announced that this committee will soon prosecute some of the criminals of this group through international courts.
Nafi Al-Eisa also mentioned: If the members of the MKO group leave Iraq, we will prosecute them through international courts, because one can never ignore the rights of the nation and the violation of rights committed against them by the members of the MKO terrorist group.
Therefore, on September 28, 2012, Hillary Clinton, the former US Secretary of State, officially removed the Mojahedin Khalq terrorist group from the list of terrorist organizations of this ministry.
At that time, this action took place while the mysterious and cult-like behavior of the leaders of the People’s Mojahedin and their behavior with the members was not a matter that remained hidden from the eyes of Western sources and newspapers, and they repeatedly resorted to the People’s Mojahedin’s inhumane methods such as de-identification of the members, the forced indoctrination of ideology to them, forced divorce, separating children from their parents, providing grounds for the formation of a cult of personality for the Rajavi couple, false enticements and threats, etc. have been mentioned as common phenomena in the People’s Mojahedin Organization.
For example, shortly before the decision of the US State Department, the United Nations Refugee Agency had described the People’s Mojahedin Khalq group as an organization based on “personality cult” and admitted its discredit to various political movements in Iran.
Also, a large number of investigative journalists in Western countries such as “Scott Patterson” (American reporter of the Christian Science Monitor), “Scott Shin” (New York Times reporter), “Green Greenwald” (prominent journalist and winner of the Pulitzer Prize Guardian) and “Joby Warrick” (prominent Washington Post Journalist) revealed the records of the People’s Mojahedin in keeping the members inside mental and social fences, brainwashing, forced divorces, imposing complete celibacy and even cutting off the members’ contact with friends and family, destroying the power of valuing people and finally imposing their wishes on the members.
Research on the connection between terrorism and the People’s Mojahedin Khalq in Western sources also shows that this group is one of the main shareholders of the Bank of Terrorist Actions.
In a comprehensive research conducted by the University of Maryland from information related to terrorist attacks in different parts of the world from 1970 to 2010, 49 cases of terrorist acts by the People’s Mujahideen were recorded, 42 of which were in different cities of Iran, 3 in Beirut, 1 in Madrid, 1 case in Oslo, 1 case in Washington and 1 case in Hamburg.
Therefore, the withdrawal from the list of American terrorist organizations took place despite the fact that extensive evidence indicated that there was no change in the identity and terrorist-sectarian characteristics of the Mojahedin Khalq, which was the basis for their entry into this list, nor had the People’s Mojahedin been brought before a court and held accountable for their actions in the assassination of American military and civilian personnel and thousands of Iranian citizens.
In addition, several sets of media sources, academic research and analysis of governments and think tanks proved that the People’s Mojahedin had to accompany Saddam during the Iran-Iran war and the assassination of Iranian citizens and soldiers, both when they were removed from the list of American terrorist organizations and after that, they are considered among the most hated groups among different sections of Iranian society.
The interesting point is that one of these investigations was conducted in 2011 by the US State Department. A part of it stated: “Anecdotal evidence collected from ordinary citizens inside Iran, as well as groups of Iranians outside this country, as well as Iranian analysts show that the Iranians, showing a rare kind of unity, do not express any support for the opposition group of the People’s Mojahedin Khalq. As far as the Iranian respondents know the People’s Mojahedin, they express deep hatred for this group’s association with Saddam Hussein during Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq.”
Most notably, a 2009 report by the National Defense Research Institute (RAND) for the U.S. Department of Defense while revealing the violent ideologies and illegal actions of the Mojahedin – from money laundering and fraud to forcing members to record their dreams, thoughts and sexual desires – it was admitted that the American practice in granting protected status to members of this group was incorrect.
“Chris McGrail”, an investigative reporter of the Guardian newspaper in Washington, was the first western researcher who conducted extensive research to answer this question in September 2012, and revealed the “multi-million dollar campaign” of the Mojahedin Khalq to lobby among the members of Congress and to recruit former American officials and law firms in Washington to be removed from the list of terrorist groups.
Supporter of ISIS in the payroll of Mojahedin Khalq
In the introduction section of this research, he writes: “A multi-million dollar campaign to bury the MEK’s bloody history of bombings and assassinations that killed American businessmen, Iranian politicians and thousands of civilians, and to portray it as a loyal US ally against the Islamic government in Tehran has seen large sums of money directed at three principal targets: members of Congress, Washington lobby groups and influential former officials.”
In the list that the “Guardian” journalist mentions as American legislators receiving gifts from the terrorists of the People’s Mojahedin Khalq, the names of the most anti-Iranian representatives of the American Congress and the producers of the most severe sanctions plans against Iran can be seen.
For example, “Dina Rohrabacher”, a legislator from the state of California in the US House of Representatives, who according to the Guardian’s research, receives tens of thousands of dollars in gifts from the People’s Mujahideen every year, is the same representative who supported the attacks of the ISIS terrorist group in Iran’s Islamic Council in 2016. Rohrabacher has also called for support for sectarian-ethnic wars in order to divide Iran.
Prominent among the members of Congress who have received fund is Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chair of the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee. She has accepted at least $20,000 in donations from Iranian American groups or their leaders to her political campaign fund.
Other recipients include Congressman Bob Filner, who was twice flown to address pro-MEK events in France and has pushed resolutions resolutions in the House of Representatives calling for the group to be unbanned. More than $14,000 in expenses for Filner’s Paris trips were met by the head of an Iranian American group who also paid close to $1m to a Washington lobby firm working to get the MEK unbanned.
After the Guardian’s report, in the past years, the connections of more representatives in the US Congress with the terrorist group the People’s Mojahedin Khalq have been revealed. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, are two of the most prominent among them.
Another part of the Guardian’s report reveals the role of lobbying companies in Washington in the campaign to remove the Mojahedin Khalq from the list of terrorist organizations.
According to this research, three top Washington lobby firms – DLA Piper; Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; and DiGenova & Toensing – have been paid a total of nearly $1.5 million over the past year to press the US administration and legislators to support the delisting of the MEK and protection for its members in camps in Iraq.
Two other lobby groups were hired for much smaller amounts. The firms employed former members of Congress to press their ex-colleagues on Capitol Hill to back the unbanning of the MEK.
Scores of former senior officials have been paid up to $40,000 to make speeches in support of the MEK’s delisting. Those who have received money include the former chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, General Hugh Shelton; ex-FBI director Louis Freeh; and Michael Mukasey, who as attorney general oversaw the prosecution of terrorism cases.
The former Pennsylvania governor, Ed Rendell, has accepted more than $150,000 in speaking fees at events in support of the MEK’s unbanning. Clarence Page, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, was paid $20,000 to speak at the rally. Part of the money has been paid through speakers bureaus on the US east coast.
Others accepted only travel costs, although in some cases that involved expensive trips to Europe.
John Bolton, the US national security adviser, Rudy Giuliani, the adviser to the Trump administration, and Nate Gingrich, the former speaker of the US House of Representatives, were other officials who were on the payroll of the Mojahedin Khalq, but were not mentioned in the Guardian’s report.
“MSNBC” news channel, in a documentary, mentioned the payment of at least 180 thousand dollars to “John Bolton” and other unknown amounts to “Giuliani”, “John McCain”, “Barack Obama” and “George W. Bush”.
Daniel Benjamin, who was the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism coordinator from 2009 to 2012, said in an interview with the New York Times that the Mojahedin Khalq group contacted him and bribed him.
He said in that interview: “The interesting thing is that the People’s Mojahedin wants to buy almost everything. They approached me to do some work in support of this organization. You know, for someone on the phone to offer you $15,000 to $20,000 to speak at a meeting is not a small amount because for former diplomats, this is not something that happens every day.”
Where do the terrorists of Mojahedin Khalq get the necessary financial resources for these expenses?
Previously, there were speculations about the role of Saudi oil dollars in the activities of the Mojahedin Khalq. For example, an Arab source made statements about the Saudis’ monthly aid of $82 million to the Mojahedin Khalq terrorists.
One of the members of the People’s Mujahideen said in an interview with “MSNBC” that he personally transferred gold and money from Iraq to Saudi Arabia for the terrorist group.
Some of these former politicians and officials launched a campaign to publish articles and notes in newspapers and online publications with the aim of changing the face of the People’s Mojahedin Khalq. The campaign was financed in part by substantial donations from Iranian Americans and a network of organizations that stretched from Florida to Texas and California.
The Guardian newspaper disclosed the names of some of the people who donated most of the financial aid:
Saeed Ghaemi, head of the Iranian American community of Colorado, who gave nearly $900,000 of his money to a lobbying company in Washington to pay for the lifting of the ban on the Mojahedin Khalq organization. Ali Sudjani, president of the Iranian American Association of Texas. Between 2007 and 2012, he contributed nearly $100,000 to congressional campaign funds. His organization paid more than $110,000 to lobbyists in 2011. Ahmad Moinimanesh, leader of the Iranian American community in Northern California. The group paid $400,000 to a lobbying company. Even though his constituency is thousands of miles away from where he lives, Moinimanesh made personal contributions to Ras Lehtinen’s election campaign.
Some of these payments prompted the US Treasury Department to launch an investigation. The department reviewed the payments to Shelton, Frey, Moccasey and Randle, and possibly others, to see if they violated laws against “providing material support to terrorist groups.”
In cases involving links to other banned organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, individuals have been sentenced to long prison terms for indirect financial support. The original source of significant sums is not always clear, however, because groups that provide political donations or fund lobbying firms are not required to disclose the source of their money.
Ed Rendell, a former representative of the Democratic Party and chairman of the National Committee of this party, is one of the American officials who was investigated. According to reports, former Federal Justice Minister Michael Mukasey and former FBI Director Louis Freeh, two supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization, also got lawyers for conducting this investigation. Freeh announced that he did not receive money for the cases that he attended various gatherings on behalf of the People’s Mojahedin Organization.
Steven Schniboom, one of the lawyers of the People’s Mojahedin Khalq Organization, argued that these American officials have the right to support a group according to “Article 1” of the Constitution, even if this group is known as a terrorist organization.
Paul Pilar, a professor at Georgetown University and one of the critics of the People’s Mojahedin Organization, says that this group has disobeyed the prohibitions and restrictions of the United States in various ways by paying money to these American officials.
Pilar says, “The People’s Mojahedin Khalq organization has used a number of fictitious names or organizations to find ways to raise money and invest in this campaign.” If you look at the big advertisements they have printed in the newspapers, you will not realize that this is the advertisement of the People’s Mojahedin Khalq Organization. For example, they write: “British researchers from Iran or something like that.” The establishment of lobbying organizations such as Iran Democratic Association and the organization of American communities living in America known as OYAK has tried not to operate under its own flag in the American political arena and instead to operate under new brands.
The People’s Mojahedin Organization pursues two goals with this work; First, erasing its bloody and black history from its activity record and second, using new names and titles to attract young sympathizers and supporters; Young supporters who are busy with new names and titles are less likely to find a way to the Mojahedin organization and therefore do not inquire about the history of this organization.
This strategy by the MKO is nothing but the intensification of sanctions, a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, abandoning the JCPOA, and finally changing the regime in Iran.