Enabling the Iranian Regime's Machinery of Terror and Repression Under the Cover of Journalism
Statement by the NCRI representative office in Oslo
The four-decade-long terrorism and disinformation by the Iranian regime against the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and the broader coalition of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) has recently taken unprecedented dimensions.
They are considered at two sides of the Iranian regime’s desperate attempt to evade the existing crises engulfing the regime and threatening its very existence.
The Iranian regime’s terrorist plots in Albania, France, the U.S. and Denmark in 2018 could only be understood in the context of a policy which includes disseminating disinformation against the Iranian Resistance in western news outlets spending large sums of money and using fake accounts in the social media.
During the past few months, Norway has also been witnessing the Iranian regime’s terrorism and espionage activities involving the regime’s embassy in Oslo. The close relationship between Mohammad Davoodzadeh (a Norwegian of the Iranian origin), currently imprisoned in Denmark, and the regime’s ambassador in Norway, and the case of former Norwegian Fisheries Minister’s contacts with the clerical regime’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) are examples of such illegal activities.
The Iranian regime has recently launched a disinformation campaign against the Iranian Resistance in Norway.
1. On March 27, 2019, in a suspicious step without prior notification, Eskil Engdal, a reporter of the Dagens Næringsliv daily, went to the entrance of Ashraf-3 (home to the PMOI members in Albania) in the company of Gjergii Thanasi, a notorious agent of the Iranian regime’s infamous security services. . The two engaged in photography and filming of the site despite a ban on photography and in disregard of warnings by the Albanian security service present on location.
It is common knowledge that the PMOI has been a target of the Iranian regime’s security services in Albania. On April 19, 2018, the Albanian Prime Minister revealed a foiled plot to bomb the PMOI’s New Year celebration in March of that year.
Ghomahossein Mohammadnia, the Iranian regime’s ambassador to Albania, and Mostafa Roodaki, the MOIS station chief in that country, were subsequently expelled from that country in December of the same year.
2. In a letter on April 1, 2019 to Dagens Næringsliv ‘s editor, PMOI’s legal advisor in Albania expressed concern about the security of Ashraf-3 residents, adding that Eskil Engdal had met with a number of MOIS agents posing as former PMOI members. He wrote: “Gjergji Thanasi is involved in espionage and dirty activities against PMOI members in Albania. The Iranian Intelligence Ministry (MOIS) took him to Iran under cover of a journalist for further briefing and instructions in January 2019. In the past, under the guise of a chauffeur or interpreter, he has approached the PMOI compound for espionage, filming and collecting information about security systems of the compound that are to protect the members from attacks by the Iranian regime’s terrorists”.
3. After nearly two months, no response was received to the letter, while reports from inside Iran showed that Eskil Engdal continued his ties with agents and mercenaries of the regime against PMOI. The PMOI advisor then published his letter to the editor and I personally wrote to the Justice Minister on May 27, explaining the facts and sharing the Iranian Resistance’s alarm over the conspiracies of the mullahs’ regime in Albania and the manipulation of the Norwegian journalist.
4. On June 4, the same journalist sent two emails repeating a series of totally false allegations concocted by the mullahs’ regime against PMOI. He issued ultimatum, asking for replies to those allegations within 48 hours. The objective was to be able to claim “neutrality” and that the PMOI had been given the opportunity to respond, of which it had not availed itself. No reasonable person would have played into such an obvious ploy that was nothing more than a thinly veiled effort meant to justify a biased article. Eskil Engdal had been preparing this mission in the past three months but chose to approach the PMOI on the last day of the project.
5. The approach is reminiscent of how interrogators deal with prisoners, demanding that they respond to allegations not even knowing where and when such claims were made or by whom.
The narrative is always the same, by asserting that “several sources claim,” “a source in Albania says,” “a defector from MEK “claims, “former MEK- members claim”, “a source” says, “a former member of MEK says that MEK destroyed her life”, etc.
6. Needless to say, the PMOI knows most of these sources. Nevertheless, the minimum adherence to journalistic ethics and neutrality would have required making public the names of such sources, and the time of such allegations. This would have enabled the PMOI to explain the true nature and the reasons for such totally false claims. Of course, one might claim that those sources have their own security considerations or are afraid from “vengeance on the part of the PMOI”. Acting under the direction of the MOIS, the same sources parrot the same claims openly against the PMOI, but in order to avoid the scandalous consequences of his report Mr. Engdal refuses to divulge who are his sources.
7. The claims and allegations cited in Engdal’s June 4 email have been repeated thousands of times by the mullahs’ regime. They have been repeatedly debunked by independent and scholarly studies available publicly. It is utterly ridiculous to claim that PMOI members are prevent from contacting their relatives or are being imprisoned in a country like Albania. I have visited Albania and Ashraf-3 several times. PMOI members are able and free to go anywhere at any time. Hundreds of Albanians and foreigners visit Ashraf-3 regularly. Ironically, the PMOI is blamed for allowing 1,000 of its members to have access to the internet every day. One does not know which claim to believe, control and lack of contact or open access to the Internet?!
Ten years ago, in September 2009, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi met with Gunnar Sønsteby, the Norwegian national hero, the PMOI was still on the U.S. terrorist list. In a report on the meeting, Aftenposten wrote on September 6, 2009, “That this resistance organization is controversial does not surprise Sønsteby. He says, ‘whenever a resistance is determined to replace dictatorship with democracy, it would always be controversial. It is important to show to the world what will happen.’”
8. Western intelligence and security agencies know full well that those interviewed by Engdal under the cover of former members of the PMOI are agents and mercenaries of the Iranian regime. Annual reports by German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution the Dutch intelligence Agency and many other European countries explicitly affirm that the main targets of the Iranian regime’s intelligence services abroad are the PMOI and the NCRI, and that they employ former members to this end.
9. Engdal writes in his June 4 email: “The retired United States Army Colonel and former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Lawrence B. Wilkerson, claims the following regarding MEK: “They are a terrorist group, a cult, and a very dangerous, brutal, brain-washed collection of individuals who would do--and have done--almost anything to gain power in Tehran.” Could you please give your comments on that?”
First of all, Wilkerson is the last person to be quoted as a credible witness. It was his Department that bamboozled U.S. Congress into a disastrous war in Iraq by relying of false information about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, whose source was an Iranian regime’s double agent.
That said, hundreds of US officers based in Ashraf camp in Iraq from 2003 to 2009 have come to know the PMOI closely. Anybody with a genuine desire to know the truth could have easily contacted them. Mr. Wilkerson lamented that a deal with the Iranian regime in 2003, to engage in human barter and hand over PMOI members in Iraq to the Iranian regime had been rejected by the White House. According to a piece aired on the BBC’s Newsnight program on January 18, 2007, in 2003, the Iranian regime had proposed to the Americans to “end support for Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups and help to stabilize Iraq” and “make its nuclear program more transparent”. “In return, Tehran asked Washington… to disband the Iranian rebel group the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq and repatriate its members. One of the then Secretary of State Colin Powell's top aides told the BBC the state department was keen on the plan - but was over-ruled. "We thought it was a very propitious moment to do that," Lawrence Wilkerson told Newsnight. "But as soon as it got to the White House, and as soon as it got to the Vice-President's office, the old mantra of 'We don't talk to evil'... reasserted itself."
10. Anyone with a genuine desire to know the truth could have easily contacted General Raymond T. Odierno, who, two days after negotiating with Camp Ashraf residents told the AFP on May 10, 2003: “They are ’committed to democracy in Iran‘ and ’the United States should prompt a review of their ’terrorist” status.’”
He could have equally reached out to Brigadier General David Phillips, in charge of protecting Ashraf residents in 2004. While still in active duty, he wrote to the Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth in 2005, "I am the commander of the 89th Military Police Brigade and in that role was responsible for the safety and security of Camp Ashraf from January- December 2004. Over the year long period I was apprised of numerous reports of torture, concealed weapons and people being held against their will by the leadership of the Mujahedin e-Khalq. I directed my subordinate units to investigate each allegation. In many cases I personally led inspection teams on unannounced visits to the MEK/PMOI facilities where the alleged abuses were reported to occur. Each report of torture, kidnapping and psychological depravation turned out to be unsubstantiated. The MEK/PMOI in fact notified us on a routine basis of people who desired to leave the organization and then transported them to our gate.
“I am very familiar with the leadership of the MEK/PMOI and personally know many of the 3000+ protected people. I've visited male and female units on a routine basis.
Sometimes these visits were announced, but most frequently they were unannounced inspections. My subordinate units would randomly select billets, headquarters, warehouses and bunkers for no-notice inspections. Not one time did they discover any improper conduct on the part of the MEK. Also, the MEK never denied entry to any of their facilities....
“I have spoken to large groups of MEK members and have also had one on one private conversations with individual members. At no time did any member, ranging from young male and females to the very senior leadership, ever report any of the type conduct outlined in your recent report”.
Colonel Julie Norman, in charge of Ashraf’s protection during 2005 and 2006, wrote in an official memorandum at the end of her mission on August 24, 2006, “…. Normally, PMOI members invite their families, friends, and colleagues who live in Iran or foreign countries to Ashraf for visits. These visitors are welcomed to a secure environment and hosted by the PMOI. On occasion and with the visitor's permission, the PMOI may extend an invitation to the JIATF staff to meet with them.
“… There exists no prison or any obligation to stay in Ashraf; everyone is free to leave PMOI anytime he/she wishes to.”
11. Engdal’s allegations in his email have been reviewed by various courts in the US, UK, France, Switzerland, Germany, the European Court of Justice, etc. All these august bodies have rejected these and other allegations against the PMOI. In 2003, after the occupation of Iraq, when the US military took control of Camp Ashraf, every single member of the PMOI was privately screened by seven different US agencies. After a 16-month review, the US concluded that there was no basis to charge any member of the PMOI with the violation of American law. Accordingly, all PMOI members were granted “protect persons” status under the Fourth Geneva Convention. The New York Times wrote on July 27, 2004, “senior American officials said extensive interviews by officials of the State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation had not come up with any basis to bring charges against any members of the group”.
12. In his indictment Engdal cites the same anonymous sources that the PMOI makes use of false social media accounts, an allegation which is a clear repetition of the mullahs’ Foreign Minister Zarif and a failed attempt to divert attention from the fake social media accounts used by the Iranian regime in the social media. This is an attempt to sugar coat the Iranian regime’s image cyber space where thousands of regime accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google have been closed since last year. The last such step was in late May 2019. A Twitter authority wrote on May 28:
“Earlier this month, we removed more than 2800 inauthentic accounts originating in Iran”.
The mullahs’ Foreign Minister Zarif twitted on September 16, 2018: “Hello Jack. Twitter has shuttered accounts of real Iranians, incl TV presenters & students, for supposedly being part of an 'influence op'. How about looking at actual bots in Tirana used to prop up 'regime change' propaganda spewed out of DC?”
Engdal writes, “The American data-scientist Geoff Golberg have found hundreds of inauthentic MEK-accounts in his analysis. Could you please comment on that”?
This so-called data-scientist is merely a tool in the hands of the regime and its lobby in their propaganda against the Iranian Resistance. The overwhelming majority of Iranians who use social media despise him. Interestingly, he keeps complaining that no one pays attention to his complaints about the PMOI. He wrote that “Twitter has restricted my accounts” and concluded that Twitter is a “huge house of cards.”
This is what one must call vulgarizing journalism in the service of a religious dictatorship.
Representative of the National Council of Resistance of Iran
Oslo - June 5, 2019