As President Barack Obama's new national security team ponders its options for containing and rolling back Iran's nuclear ambitions, it must factor that before the sanctions have had their full effect, and before a single shot is fired, an aggressive, well-funded intelligence war is evidently well under way.
According to the report, the prime targets of the MOIS are the various opposition groups and dissidents seeking to undermine or supplant the regime. These groups have varying degree of sway in the United States but are hated and feared in Tehran.
The MOIS has in particular focused on demonizing the People's Mujahedin of Iran, which has emerged as the main voice for a democratic, secular, non-nuclear Iran and the lead player in the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a coalition led by Maryam Rajavi.
The 64-page Pentagon report notes that the MOIS has assessed the PMOI as its most serious internal threat and has launched a serious disinformation campaign in the United States and the West designed to drain political and moral support for the group. This campaign has a novel strategy. It concedes the political reality that Iran is a pariah in the United States but positions PMOI and other dissidents as worse.
This strategy, it is believed, will keep the United States at the negotiating table and the PMOI marginalized as a viable policy option for regime change.
The PMOI was once placed on the U.S. State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations at the insistence of Tehran as a precondition for negotiations. Since the removal of the PMOI from the list last October, MOIS efforts have redoubled, as it tries to undermine PMOI's status as the main alternative to Tehran.
For example, the report states that "MOIS recruited former members of the (People's Mujahedin of Iran) in Europe and used them to launch a disinformation campaign against (PMOI)."
Among those named in the report are Massoud Khodabandeh and his British wife, Anne. The Pentagon report details how these two individuals, formerly affiliated with the PMOI, were recruited by the MOIS in mid-1990s and used as assets against the opposition. The couple has spearheaded several campaigns to demonize the PMOI.
The report points to the couple's development of the website "Iran-interlink" explicitly on Tehran's orders. The website is a hodgepodge of articles taken from mainstream news sources and altered to fit the anti-PMOI narrative, while other articles are explicitly from the regime's own news sources.
For example, one article originally written by The Sacramento Bee covered the tragic massacre at Camp Ashraf by Iraqi soldiers in April 2011. The article was originally entitled "Iraqi Soldiers Kill Former Sacramentan at Camp of Iranian Ex-pats". The article was reposted to the Iran-interlink and retitled "Pakistani-born American Girl Latest Victim of Rajavi Cult (Mojahedin Khalq, MKO, MEK) Violence in Camp New Iraq, Formerly Ashraf [sic]." This type of deception, the Pentagon report says, is typical of the MOIS and its agents.
In fact, the accusations against the PMOI throughout the website are rehashed verbatim from the regime's own propaganda material. Interviews and clips from the regime's own outlet Press TV are littered throughout the site, despite the preposterous claim by the owners to support a "democratic secular" Iran.
Not coincidentally, Anne Khodabandeh was paid $2,378 by Trita Parsi, a Swedish-Iranian, who came to the United States more than a decade ago to set up his shop, NIAC, to promote engagement with Tehran and undercut the imposition of international sanctions on the regime. Parsi recently lost a court case last year when he unsuccessfully sued an Iranian-American who had accused him of being an agent of the Iranian dictatorship.
It is time for the United States to fight back in these information wars. For one, Iranian agents must not be allowed to abuse freedoms and democracy in our country to undermine the effort to bring democracy to Iran. These individuals and the front organizations they operate should be rooted out.
Support should also be increased to other U.S.-backed sources of objective information to counter Iranian state propaganda.
And above all, the United States must not shape its policy options around the regime's disinformation. Talks with Iran have foundered for decades; meanwhile legitimate opposition groups have languished on the sidelines and Iran has had the time to march abated toward nuclear weapons capability.
(Richard R. Schoeberl is a former FBI special agent with more than 16 years of counter-intelligence, terrorism and law enforcement experience, which ranged from service as a field agent to leadership responsibilities in executive positions at FBI Headquarters and the National Counterterrorism Center. Schoeberl held collateral duties in the FBI as a Certified Instructor and a member of the FBI Special Weapons and Tactics program.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)