Revelations, U.S. Representative Office National Council of Resistance of Iran

NCRIUS-2dec2015-2

As a scholar studying Iranian opposition groups, I am posting this information for the general public.

Click to see the online conference on Wednesday, December 2, 2015, Alireza Jafarzadeh, Deputy Director of the U.S. Representative Office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, revealed the composition and modus operandi of the secret committee that was set up in Tehran to deceive the IAEA on its probe of the possible military dimensions (PMD) of the Iranian regime’s nuclear program. The revelation was based on reports from various entities and institutions within the clerical regime.

In the conference, specific cases of Tehran’s measures to conceal nature of its nuclear project was examined and exposed.

For the text of the presentation, click here.

The final disposition of the true nature of Tehran’s nuclear program was one of the major points of dispute between world community and the Iranian regime. Following the nuclear agreement in July 2015, Tehran pledged again that it would fully answer the IAEA long-standing questions on the nature of the Iranian regime’s nuclear program. The IAEA report on its findings about PMD was released in December 2015.

Below are the initial reactions of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS):

  • Despite obfuscation and stonewalling by Iran, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had a coordinated nuclear weapons development program until the end of 2003 and conducted some weapons development activities after 2003.
  • Overall, Iran provided little real cooperation.  Denials and lack of truthfulness should not be confused with cooperation in the context of the JCPOA, any more than such “cooperation” by a defendant in a criminal investigation would be construed as real cooperation.
  • Faced with such outright Iranian efforts to deceive the inspectors, the IAEA broke relatively little new ground.
  • The truth of Iran’s work on nuclear weapons is probably far more extensive than outlined by the IAEA in this report.
  • The IAEA drew conclusions where it was able to.  The bottom line is that the IAEA’s investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programs cannot be understood to be concluded, certainly it cannot be closed.

Click here to see the IAEA report.

Is Iran About to Lash Out at Its Dissidents?

495442311_720The United States and five other major powers negotiating about the Iranian nuclear program agreed to a four-month extension of the talks until Nov. 24. This period is a time of peril for opponents of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who have been of great value in revealing intelligence about its nuclear cheating. It’s possible that Tehran may use its negotiating leverage in this phase to attack its dissidents in Iraq, including the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the main resistance group that rejects clerical rule, and its largest unit, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK).

Because the resistance is instrumental in exposing double-dealing by Tehran, it may attack to end dissidents’ ability to reveal regime secrets. It’s time for Washington, for which the regime opponents have long been a useful ray of light on the covert Iranian nuclear weapons program, to use its diplomatic leverage with Baghdad to protect them while getting the dissidents out of Iraq to safer countries, including the United States.

As the July 20 target date approached for reaching the nuclear accord, the Iranian regime’s media person at the U.N. penned a letter to the Wall Street Journal, which I countered with an accompanying one. The regime spokesman launched an ad hominem attack on the main source of a Journal editorial, the NCRI, without dealing with the substance of the evidence. Because that organization has an excellent track record exposing the regime’s lack of transparency and noncompliance with its financial and nuclear commitments, the PR attack failed.

During his first news conference in June 2013, Iran’s President-Elect Hassan Rouhani claimed that its nuclear programs were completely transparent but promised “even more.” Because of Iran’s deceitful record on financial and trade sanctions, however, Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), demonstrate there is “no such thing as a good Iranian Bank.” They argue, “History will judge whether the president [Barack Obama] was right to compromise with a regime that has a long track record of nuclear mendacity.”

Despite Rouhani’s claims, Tehran is not transparent in its nuclear program, particularly regarding possible military dimensions. In referring to NCRI revelations about Tehran’s nuclear activities, President George W. Bush stated in 2005, “Iran has concealed its…nuclear program. That became discovered not because of compliance” with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “but because a dissident group pointed it out to the world.”

Read more: atfp.co/1sC399a

The Mysteries of Nuclear Iran—Two letters responding to ‘Iran’s Nuclear Masters’ (editorial, 27 May 2014), 3 June 2014

Requires Subscription at: http://on.wsj.com/1kpl1jW

 Image<– (Iran’s uranium processing site just outside the city of Isfahan)

Hamid Babaei,Counselor and head of press office, Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations, New York

 Regarding your editorial “Iran’s Nuclear Masters” (May 28th): It is highly unfortunate that The Wall Street Journal has opted to choose the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, a known terrorist group which until recently had been listed as a terrorist group in the U.S., and still is in many other places around the world, as its main source of information.

This has resulted the aforementioned article to become an unfounded set of allegations against the exclusively peaceful nuclear program of Iran. Such fabrications only serve as means to derail the ongoing talks between Iran and P5+1 as well as ongoing cooperation of Iran with the International Atomic Energy Agency to resolve this issue in a comprehensive manner.

————–

Raymond Tanter, Professor Emeritus, University of Michigan, Washington DC

[The following letter is slightly edited from the published version in the WSJ, e.g., with the addition of hyperlinks that do not require subscription to access]:

Kudos for your editorial on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear-weaponization program! As a former member of the senior staff of the Reagan National Security Council and a scholar of Iranian dissidents, I follow Tehran’s nuclear cheating closely.

The editorial uses information from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS); and the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the Iranian opposition group also known as MEK, which has done much to expose the mullahs’ nuclear-weapons program in the past.

“The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) revelations about Iran’s secret nuclear program did prove to be the trigger point in inviting the IAEA into Tehran for inspections,” the Center for Strategic and International Studies declared in a 2006 report (though the report questioned some aspects of those revelations).

The MEK in August 2002 exposed a secret nuclear facility near Natanz. ISIS confirmed the revelation, identified the site as a uranium-enrichment facility and released imagery of Natanz in December 2002.

Also in August 2002, NCRI intelligence blew the lid on Iran’s heavy-water production facility at Arak. As ISIS has written: “The existence of this facility was first revealed publicly by the Iranian opposition group, National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), in August 2002. ISIS then located the site in commercial satellite imagery after a wide-area search.”

Regarding a nuclear facility at Lavizan-Shian, ISIS wrotein a 2004 report: “This site first came to public attention in May 2003 when the Iranian opposition group, National Council for Resistance of Iran, announced that the site, called the Lavizan-Shian Technical Research Center, was associated with biological weapons research.”

In August 2004, NCRI exposed a laser enrichment facility, Lavizan 2, built with equipment removed from the Lavizan-Shian site, which had been kept off limits to international inspectors.

In December 2005, NCRI revealed a site near Qom, where tunneling activity in the mountains was initiated in 2000 to construct an underground nuclear facility; the Western allies publicly acknowledgedthe Qom site in September 2009.

NCRI intelligence revealed in September two additional sites in and near Tehran, where the Iranian regime may be working on detonators for nuclear warheads. Prompted by publicity, the Iranian regime admitted in September existence of a uranium enrichment facility about 20 miles north of Qom. And by January 2012, Iran stated it had begun enrichment at the heavily fortified site—the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant. I could go on.

The record shows that Tehran’s nuclear mendacity has been and can continue to be exposed by the NCRI.

Clinton’s diplomatic missile launched at Tehran

CLICK HERE FOR ORIGINAL ARTICLE FROM THE JERUSALEM POST
By Raymond Tanter, Ivan Sascha Sheehan
03 October 2012

Clinton revoked the US terrorist designation of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), causing much dismay in the Islamic Republic.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blasted Tehran with a diplomatic bombshell that is ricocheting throughout the mosques and bazaars of Iran: Clinton revoked the US terrorist designation of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), causing much dismay in the Islamic Republic. Iran’s foreign ministry strongly condemned the decision to revoke the designation and stated that it held the United States responsible for terrorist acts of the MEK in the “past, present, and the future.”
IN CONTRAST, dozens of major Iranian-American organizations hailed Secretary Clinton for her decision to de-list the group. Because the MEK is the main Iranian dissident group that rejects Iranian clerical rule, Tehran pays the most attention to it and dislikes the MEK more than all other opposition organizations combined, according to one study. The de-listing does little to disabuse the regime of their dislike and, in fact, stokes its fears.
It is no coincidence that human rights organizations indicate that most of those sentenced to death or executed after the 2009 summer uprising in Iran belonged to the MEK. A reason the regime pays so little attention to other oppositionists is that they toe the line with Tehran. Consider a leader of the so-called Iranian “Green Movement” faction, Mir Hossein Mousavi, whom many in the West misconstrue as a moderate. Mousavi not only accepts clerical rule in Iran, he also has a history of anti-Israel activities, such as calling for it to be “annihilated.”
And according to documents of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) supplied to the organization by Tehran, Mousavi also approved the secret purchase of centrifuges for Iran’s covert nuclear program when he was prime minister in March 1987. At the time he noted that the “consequences of giving up the country’s nuclear program would be ‘irreparable.’”
In contrast to Mousavi, the MEK opposes an Iranian nuclear capability or weapon; and to back up its words, the MEK has revealed Tehran’s covert activities to procure uranium enrichment and weaponization materials. If the organization wanted to keep open the option of developing such arms, it would hardly disclose intelligence about them.In issuing blockbuster information on Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapons capability, moreover, the MEK and its parliament in exile, the National Council for Resistance of Iran (NCRI) laid the framework for international inspections of Iran, according to the Center for International and Strategic Studies.In response to the revocation of the terrorist listing, Maryam Rajavi, president- elect of the NCRI, states in no uncertain terms, “We propose a nonnuclear Iran.” And in Rajavi’s 10 Point Platform for a Future Iran, she writes, “We want the free Iran of tomorrow to be devoid of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction.”Consistent with such statements, during August 2002, NCRI intelligence exposed a secret nuclear facility near the City of Natanz. An independent think tank, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), confirmed the revelation, identified the site as a uranium enrichment facility, and released imagery of Natanz in December 2002.

NCRI intelligence was the source of several other critical revelations, including in August 2002, a heavy water production facility at Arak, Iran.

The ISIS stated, “The existence of this facility was first revealed publicly by the Iranian opposition group, National Council of Resistance of Iran in August 2002. ISIS then located the site in commercial satellite imagery after a wide-area search. By United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737 (2006), Iran was to suspend all work on heavy water-related projects.”

NCRI intelligence exposed a nuclear facility at Lavizan-Shian, Iran. Again working independently from the NCRI, the ISIS wrote: “This site first came to public attention in May 2003 when the Iranian opposition group, National Council for Resistance of Iran, announced… the site.”

In December 2005, intelligence disseminated by the NCRI revealed a nuclear site near the city of Qum: Tunneling activity in the mountains was initiated in 2000 to construct an underground nuclear facility; the Western allies publicly acknowledged the Qum site in September 2009.

NCRI intelligence revealed, during September 2009, two additional sites in and near Tehran, where the Iranian regime may be working on detonators for nuclear warheads. The matter became a point of dispute between the IAEA and Tehran and also in the nuclear negotiations involving the P5+1.

Prompted by such publicity, the Iranian regime admitted in September of that year existence of a uranium enrichment facility about 20 miles north of Qum. And by January 2012, Iran stated it had begun enrichment at the heavily fortified site, the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant.

IN VIEW of such prior revelations, the Iranian regime is rightly concerned that the terrorist revocation of what it calls “Enemies of God,” will jump-start their intelligence collection activities. It will.

Unburdened by the need to allocate scarce resources to getting off the US terrorist list – and especially after the issue of Camps Ashraf and Liberty in Iraq are resolved and Camp Liberty is stabilized – the NCRI and its largest unit, the MEK, can accelerate exposing Tehran’s progress toward becoming a nuclear-armed state. At the same time, de-listing provides an avenue to empower Iranian dissident organizations to work in tandem against the regime.

Clinton’s diplomatic missile launched at Tehran has unleashed the Iranian regime’s main opponents that reject clerical rule at a time when Israel and the United States are in dire need of independent sources of information about Iran, as well as an internal counterbalance to keep the regime in check.

This is the time to align with the MEK, which has a proven capacity to obtain “lead intelligence” from its sources on the ground in Iran. Such insights can, of course, be compared with information collected via other sources and methods.

To paraphrase the great Rabbi Hillel, “If not now, when? If not the MEK, who?” Now is the time, and the MEK is the movement. As a part of the diverse opposition coalition of the NCRI, they can grow by incorporating other groups that reject clerical rule. Together, they can deter and facilitate regime change in Iran before the clerics get the Bomb.

Prof. Raymond Tanter served on the senior staff of the National Security Council in the Reagan White House, is a frequent visiting professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and is president of the Iran Policy Committee.

Prof. Ivan Sascha Sheehan is director of the Negotiation and Conflict Management graduate program in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore.

Delaying or Preventing a Nuclear-Armed Iran

Professor Raymond Tanter

Paper Presented to the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT)
Twelfth World Summit on Counter-Terrorism, Herzliya, Israel 10-13 September 2012

Paper Delivered to DACOR (formerly Diplomats and Consular Officers Retired)

An Organization of Foreign Affairs Professionals

Bacon House Foundation Annual Conference, 28 September 2012, Washington DC

Scenarios for the World Order in the 21st Century

Panel on Authoritarianism & the End of the First Nuclear Era:

The Cases of Pakistan, Iran, & North Korea

CLICK HERE FOR ARTICLE ON THE INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR COUNTER-TERRORISM WEBSITE

Introduction

In discussing how to delay or prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, consider the political system of the Iranian regime and its proliferation activities. The main argument is that because of the central role of ideology in the authoritarian nature of the Islamic Republic of Iran, traditional means of influence based on national interests have little prospect of success. Hence, there needs to be increased attention paid to bringing about regime change from within to avoid a choice between bombing Iran or living with a nuclear-armed Iran.

Given the revolutionary religious ideology of an authoritarian Iran, it is instructive to compare it with other states that have little or no freedom but have achieved nuclear weapons status, such as Pakistan and North Korea. Neither Islamabad nor Pyongyang is religion the ideology of the state. Although the official name of Pakistan is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and religion plays an increasing role in its culture and domestic politics, religion is not as dominant in Islamabad as in Tehran. As a result, it is more likely that Pakistan and North Korea would be subject to bargaining about national interest than Iran.

Freedom in the World 2012, published by Freedom House, applies one of three broad designations to states and territories: Free; Partly Free; and Not Free, based largely on respect for political rights and civil liberties. Pakistan is in the group of Partly Free, trending toward less freedom because of blasphemy laws and an increase in official attempts to censor internet-based content. Iran is in the Not Free category, trending toward even less freedom, due to imposition of stark restrictions on nongovernmental organizations and prosecution of an increasing number of civic leaders.

Of the 48 countries designated as Not Free, nine have the lowest possible rating for both political rights and civil liberties. North Korea is a one- party regime that received the dubious distinction of being in the Worst of the Worst category. Despite being in the Not Free category, Pyongyang is more capable of striking a deal based on national interest negotiations than is Tehran.

At issue is the connection among freedom, proliferation, and deterrence, other factors being equal, which they are not. Assume an early version of democratic peace theory holds; then the fewer the political rights and civil liberties within a country, the more likely the regime will be aggressive in its international relations and hence the more dangerous it would be with nuclear weapons.

But in the context of stable deterrence, e.g., during the Cold War, the nature of the political system is less relevant because of national interest calculations. If ideology trumps interest, as in the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran, however, the nature of the political system is even more important in the hands of Iranian Islamists with nuclear weapons. And if the political system is unstable, as is the case of Pakistan, nuclear arms might fall into the hands of Islamists less likely to be deterred by a nuclear-armed India.

So, Pakistan and Iran may be more dangerous than North Korea—Islamabad because of the prospects for regime change from within that allows Islamists to seize the weapons and Tehran because its ideology is more important than interests, it is less deterrable, and potential for internal regime change are slim because dissidents are so divided and not empowered by outside forces.

What Makes Teheran Tick

Raymond Tanter and
Thomas McInerney,
What Makes Tehran Tick, Iran Policy Committee, Washington DC, 2006

Figure 1 demonstrates that Iran perceives threats to pan-Islamism and the Islamic Revolution with greater intensity than threats to its national interests. These include regional hegemony in the Persian Gulf, establishment of a sphere of influence around Iran, and prevention of a renewed threat from Iraq. While ideological imperatives and national interest considerations may be pursued at the same time, assume for the moment they can be separated enough to determine their relative impact on Iranian decisionmaking. In this respect, a primary conclusion of the Iran Policy Committee (IPC) book from which Figures 1-3 derive, What Makes Tehran Tick, is that Tehran is more motivated by its Islamist ideology than by its national interests.

As one analyst states:

Iran’s leadership clings to policies derived largely from [Ayatollah] Khomeini’s ideological vision even when such policies are detrimental to the country’s other stated national interests and even when a sizable portion of the ruling elite rejects them.

In other words, Iran’s revolutionary elite reinforces the regime’s ideological nature by adopting confrontation as a modus operandi. In this respect, “The Islamic Republic is different from its revolutionary counterparts in that the ideology of its state is its religion.” To maintain the ideological character of the Islamic Republic, Khomeini ordered the execution of political prisoners during 1988, as a litmus test of fealty to revolutionary ideals.

For the first decade of clerical rule, Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri was anointed as the successor of Khomeini, founder and leader of the regime. In March 1989, however, Khomeini dismissed Montazeri because of his protest against the massacre of members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) and the other opponents of the clerical rule. About 30,000 political prisoners were executed in a very short period.

In view of this discussion of the domestic situation in Iran, consider how its ideology relates to Israel and the America. The regime seeks the destruction of countries, as well as the Sunni “apostate” countries in the Middle East. Consequently, there is very little about which to negotiate with Iran, and a regional realignment that isolates Tehran has a much greater chance of success on its nuclear file than an engagement strategy that seeks to negotiate national interest trade-offs. Now consider how Iran’s authoritarian and ideological nature relates to its hostility toward Israel and the United States as well as its perception of threat from them.

Fig. 2 and 3

Islamist Ideology Trumps Interests

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a prime-time example of an authoritarian state run by ideologically-determined clerics. The Iranian regime’s desire to destroy Israel arises mainly from incompatibility of values more than perceived economic or military threats. In this regard, consider the Figures 2 and 3 above.

During 2006, an Iran Policy Committee research team of Farsi and English speakers collected over 2,400 statements for the period 1979-2005. These statements came from the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (available in microfiche and via World News Connection) and BBC Worldwide Monitoring (via Lexis-Nexis). Search parameters were “Iran and United States” and “Iran and Israel.” The team searched for three two-week periods each year surrounding specific dates: Embassy Takeover Day (4 November), Jerusalem Day (the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan), and May Day (1 May). The team sorted the collected statements according to perception of threat and expression of hostility.

Figure 2 shows that out of a universe of Iranian expression of hostility statements, 36% (515) were directed at Israel and 64% (919) were directed at the United States. By contrast, Iran seems to perceive very little threat from Israel. The number of perception of threat statements referring to the United States remained relatively constant (938), but only 137 statements (13% of total) assessed a threat from Israel (Figure 3).

Figure 3 indicates that Iran perceives little direct threat from Israel, but Tehran nonetheless is extremely hostile toward Israel. Indeed, the number of Iranian statements reflecting perceived threat from Israel was so low that there were not enough to conduct a reliable statistical analysis of their intensity over time. The near absence from the Iranian leadership of perception of threat statements about Israel strengthens the argument that Iran’s expressed hostility toward Israel reflects ideological rhetoric rather than any genuine sense of threat emanating from Israel.

The regime’s hostility toward Israel derives its momentum from Iran’s existential engagement in an ideological two-front war: the war for leadership of the international Islamic revival and the war against the West. The fact that Tehran perceives no direct threat from Israel, however, does not mean its hostility should be discounted.

Because the unelected clerical rulers of Iran lack popular legitimacy, they claim the legitimacy of God, terming their principal opposition that rejects the ruling order, “Mohareb,” or “Enemies of God.” Velayat-e faqih, or rule by the jurisprudent, is the Islamic Republic’s ruling principle. The Faqih is an Islamic legal expert who also exerts worldly power. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, considers himself as the Faqih.

In addition to the Supreme Leader, unelected regime institutions include the Guardian Council, which is the most influential body; it consists of six theologians appointed by the Supreme Leader and six jurists nominated by the judiciary and approved by parliament. It has the authority to vet and ban candidates from standing for elections to parliament, presidency, and Assembly of Experts. The latter appoints the Supreme Leader, monitors his performance, and in principle, could remove him if deemed incapable of carrying out his duties.

At the summit for the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement convened in Iran on 30 August 2012, the Supreme Leader invoked the authority of the cloth to say that Tehran considers nuclear, chemical, and similar weapons “a great and unforgivable sin.” This declaration is in contrasts to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report (also of 30 August 2012): It stated that the IAEA is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran; therefore the Agency is not able to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is for peaceful purposes.

Based in part on the IAEA report, the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) proposed to the IAEA Board of Governors a 13 September 2012 Resolution on Iran; The Board passed the Resolution, which stated that Iran “continues to defy” requirements and obligations of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the IAEA.

A Triangle of Influence on Iran

In view of the authoritarian nature of the Iranian regime and uncertainties about whether it is engaged in prohibited nuclear activities, one of the most pressing issues of the day is how to delay or even prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Figure 4 contains three legs of a triangle of options to influence Iran—threats, sanctions, and negotiations. Covert action and clandestine activities conducted by intelligence services undergird the triangle.

Threat of Military action is at the apex, an option of last resort when the other legs fail; although that threat remains on the table, military action per se is not one of the current legs of the triangle because it has yet to occur.

Also at the apex is regime change from within, which is only partly under the influence of external players. In the context of American military force used to change regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is little support for an externally-driven regime change strategy to delay or prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. With Tehran’s suppression of street protests after the 2009 Iranian elections, there is scant expectation that regime change from within is viable.  Also, critics counter that the regime change clock ticks slower than Iran’s nuclear progress or Israel’s closing window of opportunity for a successful attack on Tehran’s uranium enrichment, detonator research, and missile sites. But unless internal regime change is on the table, its clock cannot begin to tick.

A first step toward regime change from within was to remove the U.S. terrorist tag from the main opposition organizations that reject clerical rule in Iran, the National Council of Resistance of Iran and its largest unit, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), which the Department of State did during September 2012.

A second step would be to persuade dissident organizations to work together for political change in Iran, despite their prior and current enmity toward each other. It is in the infamous tradition of revolutionary moments for there to be hostility among resistance groups that jockey for power as they envision regime change.

A third step is to continue applying each tool of the triangle under the assumption that together they constitute collective action short of war, yet do not preclude use of force or pursuit of a regime change at the end of the day. Such combined efforts by the international community might eventually destabilize the regime and pave the way for democratic change in Iran.

At the base of the triangle are covert action and clandestine activities conducted by intelligence services. They also collect and share invaluable intelligence on Iran’s nuclear progress, degree to which sanctions are working, and whether diplomacy is likely to persuade Iran to comply with international demands to cease enriching uranium, place a cap on level of enrichment, and remove all enriched uranium from Iranian territory; abstain from weaponization, and refrain from marrying highly enriched uranium with a trigger mechanism and missile delivery system.

Despite use of these tools of influence by the major powers, Tehran continues on a seemingly unstoppable path to become a nuclear-armed state. Although there is little publicly available evidence to indicate the Iranian regime has made a strategic decision to produce an actual nuclear weapon, it has taken preliminary steps to do so.

Fig. 4 - The Triangle of Influence on Iran

Intelligence underlies the triangle of influence on Iran. Without public acknowledgement, nation states like Israel and the United States benefit from nonstate, independent sources of information based on other methods of human collection, e.g., “lead intelligence,” to compare with that derived via other means. Without facilitating such collection, Jerusalem and Washington have gained insights on Iranian nuclear facilities from the NCRI and its largest unit, the MEK, which operates clandestinely within Iran to collect sensitive intelligence.

Talks

The last round of senior-level negotiations between Iran and the major powers failed in Moscow on 19 June; lower-level talks on 26 June between a senior EU envoy and Iran’s deputy nuclear negotiator to restart higher negotiations also failed.

In a meeting in Istanbul on 18 September, Saeed Jalili, Iran’s lead negotiator in talks with the major powers, called negotiations with European Union foreign policy head, Catherine Ashton, “constructive and helpful,” although the meeting did not produce any breakthroughs or even an announcement of follow-on discussions.

Despite threats of military force and additional sanctions as drivers, negotiators have deadlocked over issues like opening up Iran’s Parchin underground munitions testing facility. The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) reports private satellite imagery from 25 July 2012 of what appears to be sanitization and earth displacement activity at Parchin.

It appears as if Tehran is hiding evidence from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors. IAEA and ISIS reports of November 2011 and August 2012, respectively, raised the issue of whether the Parchin site has been used for testing high explosives for nuclear arms. If it were true, then the regime would be cheating like it did for almost two decades until the NCRI exposed its double-dealing in a series of revelations beginning in 2002.

Sanctions

Although sanctions alone are not likely to reverse Tehran’s quest for nuclear capability or the bomb, they have been useful in creating an alignment against the Islamic Republic. Sanctions make sense, moreover, if they remove the economic base for manufacturing a nuclear weapon or are followed by military action when sanctions no longer seem to be removing that base before Iran acquires nuclear capability or weapon.

Consider the state of play for U.S. sanctions against Iran. During the first week of August, the U.S. House voted 421-6 in favor of the Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Human Rights Act of 2012 to deprive Iran of revenue from energy production and shipping, its largest export sectors. The Senate passed the bill on a voice vote, and the measure went to President Obama for signature. The legislation punishes financial institutions, insurance companies, and shippers that help Iran sell its oil and closes loopholes that permitted Tehran to evade present sanctions. Despite such sanctions, there is evidence in recent international money-transfer investigations that Chinese banks may have flouted United States sanctions against Iran.

The president had already issued an Executive Order on 30 July that expands upon sanctions in the National Defense Authorization Act to make sanctionable knowingly conducting or facilitating significant transactions with a private or public foreign financial institution or other entity for the purchase or acquisition of Iranian oil.

Covert Actions

Sanctions combined with covert actions and clandestine activities also pressure Iran. In 2009, The New York Times reported that President Obama gave the order to speed up a wave of cyberattacks against Iran one whose existence had been exposed just three years before. But, “Tehran sensed his vulnerability, resumed enriching uranium at an underground site at Natanz, one whose existence had been exposed just three years before.”

16 sep 2002 Natanz

But The Washington Post correctly credited, “An exiled opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, [which] first publicly revealed the existence of Iran’s much larger uranium facility at Natanz in 2002.”

Additional aspects of covert action are attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists. Although Tehran incredibly blames Jerusalem as working with the largest unit within the NCRI, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), a book by two journalists, Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv, Spies Against Armageddon, more plausibly suggests the assassinations are “blue and white,” conducted by Israeli agents from start to finish. Jerusalem, however, neither confirms nor denies whether it collaborates with the MEK but benefits from the regime’s uncertainty regarding such a potential alignment. There are even unsubstantiated rumors that Jerusalem supplied intelligence to the MEK to make its 2002 revelations, among others.

Other illustrations of covert action are assaults against Iranian installations short of war. Iran’s senior atomic energy official revealed on 17 September 2012 that a month earlier there were separate explosions, which he ascribed to sabotage. They targeted power supplies leading to Iran’s two main uranium enrichment facilities, including an underground site that is the most invulnerable to bombing.

Clandestine Activities and Intelligence

Clandestine activities (passive information collection conducted in secret), aided by the Iranian opposition, would create a toxic mix to make the Iranian regime concerned that its nuclear program has been so penetrated by foreign intelligence services and dissidents that it would not be able to conduct a secret breakout without getting caught.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on 16 September 2012 that Iran would have enough enriched uranium in six to seven months. He said that by mid-2013, Tehran would be 90 percent of the way toward enough enriched uranium for a bomb. It is unclear, however, whether the Netanyahu statement derives from a formal intelligence estimate by Israel’s professionals.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak had already introduced the much-debated notion of Tehran’s “immunity threshold,” a concept that begs for enhanced intelligence collection. Created by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Intelligence Corps, the Iranian zone of invulnerability refers to the regime’s hardening and hiding critical parts of its nuclear program in sites basically secure from external military attack.

Barak stated on CNN during April, “There is no difference in the assessment of intelligence” between Jerusalem and Washington; despite or perhaps because of such apparent consensus, there is a need for an independent source of information based on other methods of human collection, e.g., “lead intelligence” from the Iranian resistance.

But until September 2012, the NCRI and MEK were designated on the U.S. terrorist list, which the U.S. Federal judiciary increasingly saw as illegal; similarly, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey of the George W. Bush administration wrote in the Foreword to Terror Tagging of an Iranian Dissident Organization how the designation was both unwarranted and unwise. And even President Bush credited the NCRI with revelations that led to inspections of and sanctions against Iran.

The ill-advised designation diverted MEK resources from undermining the regime internally and collecting intelligence to struggling with consequences of designation. Although constrained, the resistance has still made blockbuster revelations that helped make the case for against Iran, according to an assessment by a scholar at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote, “The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) revelations about Iran’s secret nuclear program did prove to be the trigger point in inviting the IAEA into Tehran for inspections…” And such inspections led to negotiations between Iran and the major powers.

Iranian Nuclear Installations

Iranian Nuclear Installations

As discussed above, during August 2002, NCRI intelligence exposed a secret nuclear facility near the City of Natanz. An independent think tank, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), confirmed the revelation, identified the site as a uranium enrichment facility, and released imagery of Natanz in December 2002.

NCRI intelligence was the source of several other critical revelations, including:

August 2002, a heavy water production facility at Arak

ISIS stated, “The existence of this facility was first revealed publicly by the Iranian opposition group, National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), in August 2002. ISIS then located the site in commercial satellite imagery after a wide-area search. By United Nations Security Council resolution 1737 (2006), Iran was to suspend all work on heavy water related projects.”

Arak Installation

A nuclear facility at Lavizan-Shian

Again working independently from the NCRI, the ISIS wrote: “This site first came to public attention in May 2003 when the Iranian opposition group, National Council for Resistance of Iran, announced…the site.”

Lavizan-Shian 1

August 2004, laser enrichment facility at the Center for Readiness and New Defense Technology (known as Lavizan 2), built with equipment removed from the Lavizan-Shian site, kept off limits to international inspectors since its revelation by the NCRI.

Lavizan-Shiam 2

ISIS obtained imagery of the site located in Tehran from August 2003; it showed large buildings inside a secure perimeter. In imagery taken on March 2004, the buildings have been removed. Further clearing can be seen in imagery from May 2004. The site’s dismantlement raises serious concerns because it is the type of measure Iran might take if it were trying to defeat environmental sampling capabilities of the IAEA.

In December 2005, intelligence of National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) revealed a nuclear site near the city of Qum: Tunneling activity in the mountains was initiated in 2000 to construct an underground nuclear facility; the Western allies publicly acknowledged the Qum site in September 2009.

Qum 2

Left image:DigitalGlobe image of the Qum site in June 2007. Construction materials may be seen adjacent to tunnel entrances and at construction staging areas. Right image: Image from DigitalGlobe of the Qum site in January 2009. There is much more construction and excavation activity two years later.

NCRI intelligence revealed, during September 2009, two additional sites in and near Tehran, where the Iranian regime may be working on detonators for nuclear warheads, one of the points in dispute between the IAEA and Tehran and in the nuclear negotiations.

Prompted by such publicity, the Iranian regime admitted in September of that year existence of a uranium enrichment facility about 20 miles north of Qum. And by January 2012, Iran stated it had begun enrichment at the heavily fortified site—the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant.

One aspect of validation concerns how there has been subsequent follow-on of revelations in which the NCRI also played a role. With respect to the Fordow facility, built beneath a mountain outside Qum, the IAEA report of August 2012 focuses on Fordow and Parchin, two facilities publicly identified in NCRI intelligence revelations before they became part of the mainstream public narratives about Iran. Again working independently of the NCRI, an ISIS report of September 2004 suggested Parchin was a suspect nuclear site, which complements revelations of the NCRI a year later.

Fordow

Left image:Satellite image of Iran’s Fordow enrichment facility near the city of Qum, 27 September 2009. Right image: Image from DigitalGlobe of the same site. There is much more construction and excavation activity, 15 August 2012

Regarding the validity of Iranian resistance revelations, Dr. Frank Pabian, Senior Nonproliferation Analyst at the U.S. Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, stated, ‘They’re [the NCRI] right 90 percent of the time. That doesn’t mean they’re perfect, but 90 percent is a pretty good record.” Even if the NCRI and MEK did not have such an impressive track record, nonstate intelligence from resistance sources is at least of value as a “lead” to compare with State-derived information using other sources and methods.

From Authoritarianism toward a Free Iran

First, it was and is in the interest of both Jerusalem and Washington that the State Department removed the NCRI and the MEK from the Department’s terrorist list in September 2012, as a first step to embrace and thus empower the Iranian resistance that rejects clerical rule in Tehran and augment collection of intelligence about Iran. Now that the terror tag has been removed, collection of dissident information as lead intelligence can accelerate and complement that of western services to bolster talks and sanctions regarding Iran. Removal of the terrorist label enhances collection of intelligence because resources used by the resistance to get off the terrorist list will be available again for intelligence collection and dissemination.

Second, facilitating resettlement of Iranian members of the MEK who remain in Iraq would help energize the organization’s intelligence capacity against Iran, and the worldwide pro-Israel community has a chance to become active in such a cause via its contacts in western parliaments.

Third, because sanctions and talks are failing to change the trajectory of the Iranian regime to become a nuclear-weapons capable state, now is the time to enhance the quality of intelligence about Iran by empowering efforts of dissident organizations that reject clerical rule and have a demonstrated capacity for collecting and distributing intelligence about Iranian nuclear progress—the National Council of Resistance and Iran and its largest unit, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq.

Finally as freedom replaces authoritarianism in Iran, whether it has nuclear weapons or not would be of less consequence than it is now. And as an ideologically-driven Iranian regime transitions to a more secular democracy, the nuclear issue would be less of a threat to global and regional international security.

————

Professor Raymond Tanter is former member of the senior staff at the U.S. National Security Council, 1981-82; former representative of the U.S. Secretary of Defense to arms control talks in Europe, 1983-84; President of the Washington-based Iran Policy Committee since 2005; and Professor Emeritus at The University of Michigan since 1999.

Tehran’s Anti-MeK Propaganda Machine

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by Raymond Tanter
The National Interest
October 27, 2011

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 (WITS) for that period fails to link the MeK to the alleged incident described in the Fars Broadcast. (The U.S. National Counterterrorism Center no longer publishes the WITS.) 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.

In its efforts to suppress dissent, the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) shapes opinion about the MeK throughout the world. The MOIS also targets the American intelligence community. The ministry plants false stories in the media; then they are used by U.S. intelligence to justify a false narrative against the MeK.

On September 12, 2007, the Mehr News Agency, a MOIS news outlet, announced that before one of the bombings in Karbala, closed-circuit cameras around the Imam Hossein shrine caught a woman and a youngster gathering information from various entrances of the shrine: “After their arrest, it became clear that they had been sent by the Mojahedin Khalq Organization [MeK] to locate ways to sneak into the shrine for terrorist operations, ”states Mehr.

Iran’s Habilian Society, a regime-sponsored group posing as a human-rights organization, published a U.S. Federal Appeals Court’s description of declassified American documents. One carried Iranian stories alleging MeK involvement in Karbala. Several state-run media reproduced the report. On August 14, 2010, Fars wrote:

According to reports recently published by the U.S. intelligence community, the Monafeqin [MeK] maintain their readiness to conduct terrorist attacks and resort to violence; based on recently declassified documents, the U.S. intelligence community emphasized…that…[the MeK] claim regarding having voluntarily renounced violence in 2001 was nothing but a hoax, and this organization maintains its capability to conduct terrorism.

The U.S. intelligence community classified a news account that had been planted in the media by the Iranian regime, allowing it to complete a disinformation cycle—a news-intelligence-news loop. The MOIS plants false allegations in its media, which become classified U.S. documents in the middle and end with Tehran reporting declassified U.S. intelligence as “proof” of MeK involvement in terrorist planning. But during this time period, the MeK in Iraq was under U.S. or Iraqi electronic surveillance. Thus, the MeK could not secretly plan or implement attacks on Karbala without being detected.

Under pressure of the Federal Court order, the State Department on May 20, 2011, released additional classified documents relevant to the terrorist designation of the MeK. One was an AP report of February 9, 2008, about alleged MeK involvement in Karbala plotting. In addition to the irony of classifying a public report later used to justify redesignating the MeK, the report also recalled statements about MeK training of suicide bombers placed in the media by Tehran.

General James Conway, U.S. Marine Corps (retired), former commandant of the Marine Corps who participated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the first battle of Fallujah, paints a picture of disinformation by the Iranian regime against the MeK:

The MOIS plants stories in the press of potential threats faced by American military commanders. And then the MOIS goes to those individuals and says, ‘You know, Camp Ashraf, where MeK members reside in Iraq, is a den for suicide bombers. The MeK is training them, and that’s a threat to American forces.’

Regarding Paul Pillar, he is a noted critic of “politicization of intelligence”—and thus it is surprising to find his name among those who wish to keep the MeK listed as a terrorist group. Because the absence of terrorism or terrorist activities during a legally relevant period of two years prior to a redesignation decision does not support maintaining the MeK on the list and there is hard public evidence of a political motivation for the listing, those who oppose politicization of intelligence should also support removal of the MeK from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list.

As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton makes her decision whether to remove the MeK, there is also a need to encourage others to act against bona fide terrorists. So long as the MeK is on the terrorist list despite its absence of terrorism and terrorist activities, the list is politically suspect. And if a decision to redesignate a group as terrorist were made on political grounds instead of evidence, the list would become a political instrument and reduce counterterrorism utility.

Finally, as the State Department dithers in its decision to remove the MeK terrorist designation, Tehran delegitimizes its main opposition, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force pressures Baghdad to destroy members of the MeK in Camp Ashraf Iraq near the Iranian border.

Monday: Muhammad Sahimi, lead political columnist for Tehran Bureau, responds to Dr. Tanter.

Raymond Tanter served on National Security Council staff and as personal representative of the Secretary of Defense to arms control talks in the Reagan-Bush administration. A professor emeritus at the University of Michigan, he is currently an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. His most recent book is Terror Tagging of an Iranian Opposition Organization (Iran Policy Committee, December 2011).

Image: www.kremlin.ru

Outside View: Nuclear Revelations and Nuclear Talks with Iran

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Mehdi Abrishamchi, chairman of NCRI’s Peace Committee

WASHINGTON, June 14, 2012

After a brief wave of optimism, talks with Iran slowed as senior inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog, said they had made no progress in gaining access to Iranian restricted sites suspected of being used to test potential triggers for nuclear warheads. On one hand, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator stated the next round of talks, set to open in Moscow June 18-19, could end in failure. On the other hand, European Union officials announced that Iran agreed to discuss a proposal from the six world powers to curb production of high-grade uranium in Moscow, seemingly deescalating tensions ahead of the talks.

Irrespective of the flip-flopping by Tehran, the story behind the story is how the international community gains information on such sites: Iranian nuclear intelligence comes from a variety of sources, including Tehran’s opposition.

In December 2005, one dissident group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), revealed a nuclear site near the city of Qom: Tunneling activity in the mountains outside of Qom was initiated in 2000, with the goal of constructing an underground nuclear facility; the United States and its allies publicly acknowledged the Qom site in 2009. And the NCRI revealed in September 2009 two additional sites in and near Tehran; there, the Iranian regime may be working on detonators for nuclear warheads.

In a seemingly unrelated story, which was the main input to calls for congressional inquiries, The New York Times reported that upon coming to office in 2009, President Obama gave the order to speed up a wave of cyberattacks against Iran. The article states, “Tehran sensed his vulnerability, resumed enriching uranium at an underground site at Natanz, one whose existence had been exposed just three years before.”The Washington Post, however, credited, “An exiled opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, [which] first publicly revealed the existence of Iran’s much larger uranium facility at Natanz in 2002.”

And the NCRI revealed in September 2009 two additional sites in and near Tehran; there, the Iranian regime may be working on detonators for nuclear warheads.

But the NCRI and its largest unit, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), are designated on the U.S. terrorist list, although the U.S. judiciary increasingly sees the listing as illegal; similarly, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey in the George W. Bush administration finds the designation both unwarranted and unwise. And President Bush even credited the NCRI with revelations that led to inspections of and sanctions against Iran.

The ill-advised designation diverts MEK resources from undermining the regime internally and collecting intelligence to struggling with consequences of designation. Although constrained, the resistance has made blockbuster revelations that helped make the case for international sanctions against Iran. The Center for Strategic and International Studies states, “The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) revelations about Iran’s secret nuclear program did prove to be the trigger point in inviting the IAEA into Tehran for inspections…”

In August 2002, the NCRI exposed a secret nuclear facility near an Iranian city called Natanz. An independent think tank, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), confirmed the revelation, identified the site as a uranium enrichment facility, and released imagery of Natanz in December 2002.

The NCRI made several other critical revelations, including:

  • August 2002, a heavy water production facility at Arak

ISIS stated, “The existence of this facility was first revealed publicly by the Iranian opposition group, National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), in August 2002. ISIS then located the site in commercial satellite imagery after a wide-area search. By United Nations Security Council resolution 1737 (2006), Iran was to suspend all work on heavy water related projects.”

  • A nuclear facility at Lavizan-Shian

Again working independently from the NCRI, the ISIS wrote: “This site first came to public attention in May 2003 when the Iranian opposition group, National Council for Resistance of Iran, announced…the site.”

  • August 2004 laser enrichment facility at the Center for Readiness and New Defense Technology (known as Lavizan 2), built with equipment removed from the Lavizan-Shian site, kept off limits to international inspectors since its revelation by the NCRI

Regarding the validity of these Iranian resistance revelations, Dr. Frank Pabian, Senior Nonproliferation Analyst at the U.S. Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, stated, ‘They’re [the NCRI] right 90 percent of the time. That doesn’t mean they’re perfect, but 90 percent is a pretty good record.” Even if the NCRI and MEK did not have such an impressive track record, intelligence, especially those from resistance sources, is at least a “lead” to compare with information using other sources and methods.

Regarding sources of intelligence revelations, a U.S. Federal Court informed the State Department that the Court will delist the MEK (and the larger coalition, NCRI) unless State acts to continue the listing or remove it before October 1, 2012. The bottom line is that the MEK designation hampers the resistance from pursuing its opposition against the Iranian regime and harms intelligence collection on Tehran’s nuclear progress, let alone cyberattacks and military operations against Iran.

———-

Raymond Tanter served on the White House National Security Council senior staff in the Reagan-Bush administration, and is Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan.

Empowering Iran’s Opposition for Regime Change from within

CLICK HERE FOR ORIGINAL POST FROM HAARETZ, AN ISRAELI NEWSPAPER

8 June 2012

To facilitate regime change from within Iran, it is critical to remove the terrorist designation from the MEK, and to protect and resettle its members.

To bring about regime change from within Iran requires a dissident organization with the kind of leadership skills that helped create a coalition to overthrow the shah of Iran. Only one viable group that rejects clerical rule in Iran remains from the days of the Islamic Revolution – the Iraq-based Mujahideen-e-Khalq, the largest group within the National Council of Resistance of Iran (the Paris-based parliament-in-exile ). Although primarily based in Iraq and France, both groups exercise considerable influence within Iran.

In a study of several formal Iranian opposition organizations during 2005, the Iran Policy Committee concluded that the MEK and the NCRI have the expertise and means to join and lead a coalition for political change in Iran; and in a follow-up study, the IPC found that despite the law and facts, these two dissident groups were hampered from doing so because of being tagged as terrorist organizations by the U.S. Government. In addition, the terrorist tag harmed the ability of the MEK and NCRI to collect intelligence on the Iranian regime, information that had been instrumental in bringing about international inspections and sanctions.

Regarding the origins of the inspections-sanctions link, The New York Times reported that upon coming to office in 2009, President Obama gave the order to speed up a wave of cyberattacks against Iran. The article states, “Tehran sensed his vulnerability, resumed enriching uranium at an underground site at Natanz, one whose existence had been exposed just three years before.” But, in fact, The Washington Post correctly credited, “An exiled opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, [which] first publicly revealed the existence of Iran’s much larger uranium facility at Natanz in 2002.”

Indeed, during August 2002, the NCRI reported the existence of a secret nuclear facility near Natanz. An independent think tank, the Institute for Science and International Security, confirmed the revelation, identified the site as a uranium enrichment facility, and that December, released imagery of Natanz.

In a 2006 study, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, (CSIS), a Washington, D.C. think tank, found that “The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) revelations about Iran’s secret nuclear program did prove to be the trigger point in inviting the IAEA into Tehran for inspections…”

Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to examine US strategic objectives towards Iran. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

On 3-4 June 2012, David Cohen, the U.S. Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, was in Israel, where he discussed additional sanctions against Iran with the heads of both the Mossad and IDF Intelligence. On 8 June, UN nuclear watchdog agency chief Yukiya Amano met in Vienna with Iranian representatives to negotiate access for inspectors to a suspect nuclear site, but such talks failed to reach agreement and reinforced the need for sanctions to coerce Tehran to negotiate seriously. The Cohen and Amano visits highlight the nexus of inspections and sanctions.

Considering the continued blacklisting of the MEK (and NCRI), it’s worthwhile to examine essential aspects of the organization: its ideology, support within Iran, and how the group relates to Israel.

In IPC research, we have interviewed most of the MEK leaders in both Iraq and France, as well as analyzed their foundational statements and documents. We determined their positions to be consistent with democratic principles. Tehran seeks to delegitimize and link Israel and the MEK, partly because both are committed to the rule of law rather than reign by unelected clerics. We found that leaders and rank-and-file of the MEK support a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem and Israel’s right to exist. In contrast, other dissidents have called for the annihilation of Israel, as well as preservation of the nuclear program.

Abroad, no other dissident organization can mobilize similar numbers of expatriates at its rallies. (See two references to the work of Daniel Pipes below this post.) On June 23, MEK supporters will hold their 9th annual rally in Villepinte, France. The event regularly draws upward of 80,000 supporters, including many Arabs, Christians, and Jews.

Back in Iran, the disproportionate number of summer 2009 protesters arrested, sentenced to death, and hanged because of their association with the MEK also indicates the organization’s significant presence on the Iranian street. And the vast majority of an estimated 30,000 political prisoners massacred in summer 1988 belonged to the MEK. Risking one’s life to divulge highly classified intelligence is a clear indication that even in the most sensitive field of national security, there are MEK supporters.

The IPC conducted a content analysis of references to all formal Iranian opposition groups in regime media during 2005, in both Farsi and English. The team found that state-run media paid 350 percent more attention to the MEK than all other organizations combined.

And yet, since 1997, the MEK has been on the list of foreign terror organizations compiled by the State Department. The designation almost paralyzes a group that operates openly, and makes it illegal for U.S. citizens to provide it with material support. The more recent roots of this ongoing aberration go back to the summer of 1997, when a “moderate” cleric, Mohammad Khatami, was elected as Iran’s new president. The Clinton administration saw inclusion of the MEK on the terrorist list as a goodwill gesture to the new regime, with which it was hoping to open a dialogue.

On June 1, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington informed the State Department that it had until October 1 to make a decision on the status of the MEK; otherwise the court would order its revocation from the list. The Department can be expected to allow that full period to pass to delay delisting out of a desire to keep alive the moribund nuclear talks with Iran, which threatens to end talks if the MEK were delisted.

To facilitate regime change from within Iran, it is critical to remove the terrorist designation from the MEK, and to protect and resettle its members who are under constant attacks and threats from Iran and its proxies in Iraq. The Iranian people, as well as Jerusalem and Washington, all have an interest in empowering the Iranian opposition. The current policy does just the opposite; it empowers the regime in Iran.

Prof. Raymond Tanter served on the senior staff of the National Security Council in the Reagan administration, and has been a visiting professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His most recent book is “Terror Tagging of an Iranian Dissident Organization” (Amazon Kindle).