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Afrasiabi US arrest reveals Iran’s Attempts to Influence Western Policy

Written By | Feb 2, 2021
Afrasiabi, Iran

France: Arrested on charges of extensively violating the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi appeared in federal court on January 19. These charges stem from his actions with various policymakers. Afrasiabi presented himself as an independent foreign relations expert but was paid at least $265,000 during the past 13 years from Iran and itstheocratic dictatorship, according to court documents. (Watertown Political Scientist Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi Charged With Secretly Working For Iran – video)

“For over a decade, Kaveh Afrasiabi pitched himself to Congress, journalists, and the American public as a neutral and objective expert on Iran. However, all the while, Afrasiabi was actually a secret employee of the Government of Iran and the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations (IMUN), who was being paid to spread their propaganda,” said John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for U.S. National Security.

In 2009, Afrasiabi assisted a U.S. Congressperson in drafting a letter to then-President Obama, supporting a fuel swap proposed by Tehran. The most critical work Afrasiabi performed was a continual campaign demonizing the Iranian resistance movement, including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

If convicted of both charges, Afrasiabi faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

The goal is to portray these organizations as terrorists while legitimizing the appeasement policy vis-à-vis the Iranian clerical regime. He, and others like him, continue to spread the false notion that there is no alternative to the Iranian regime.

This example is just one of many demonstrating how the Iranian regime is placing assets strategically to penetrate the media landscape and critical policymaking circles. Another method used by these agents is lobbying efforts by various NGOs that target lawmakers and current administration members, such as the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).

Even if a suspected Iranian asset were to speak out against the Iranian regime’s human rights violations, these actions do not prove that they have no ties to the regime.

Trita Parsi, who is the founder of the NIAC, attempted to mount this defense in a defamation suit, but Judge John Bates rejected it. Judge Bates noting that even a moderate regime agent would have to appear to disagree with the regime from time to time. Yet, he pointed out an “overwhelming pattern” of political alignment between the supposedly self-funded American NGO and the Iranian regime.

It also was noted that the source of the NIAC’s funding has never been identified. During the lawsuit, Parsi admitted that the supposedly 4,000 donors to the NGO were non-existent.

Parsi himself was in direct contact with the Iranian regime’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

As well as other senior officials since the early 2000s when Parsi served as the regime’s ambassador to the United Nations. Articles published by Parsi often have a stamp of approval by Zarif. Even parties and other events organized by the NIAC involve agents of the Iranian regime’s Intelligence Ministry.

The NIAC is known for advocating pro-Iranian positions, putting the organization under a cloud of suspicion throughout the past decade. Despite these concerns and the potential violations of lobbying regulations, the organization was permitted to continue its lobbying.

Critics argue for closer scrutiny of these groups, including their missions and loyalty even before the arrest of Afrasiabi.

In 2020, Senators Mike Braun, Ted Cruz, and Tom Cotton wrote to the Attorney General’s office, urging them to open a formal investigation into Iranian lobbyists and their organizations. Their letter highlighted multiple examples where the NIAC downplayed the regime’s actions while amplifying the U.S.’s role in Iran’s current economic situation and the militant attacks in Iraq that targeted the American Embassy.

The Afrasiabi case should be a wake-up call to the Biden administration regarding how deeply the Iranian regime’s lobbyists have integrated themselves with policymakers.

It should also be noted that these lobbyists have continued to present the regime as stable and free from any form of civil unrest. The uprisings and protests that have dominated Iranian life over the past few years, starting January 2018, demonstrate how weak the regime is.

Poverty is everywhere as Iran’s economy continues to collapse.

Even the regime’s actions during the COVID-19 pandemic focus on retaining power and not caring for their people’s needs during these challenging times.

There have also been three anti-government uprisings under the leadership of the NCRI’s main constituent, the PMOI-MEK. Despite these demonstrations of the Iranian people’s dissatisfaction with the regime, agents like Parsi continue to push the narrative that Iran will remain stable and institute reforms under the current government, not a democratic one.

The U.S. is not the only country targeted by the regime regarding this misinformation campaign.

Countries in Europe have also been lobbied in this same way. The regime uses its embassies as launching points for attacks against the resistance or those who speak out against its rulership.

The 2020 trial of Assadollah Assadi and his three accomplices demonstrate how the regime uses diplomats to target the NCRI and its leadership through terrorist activities.

“The Ministry of Intelligence needs a cover to collect intelligence, whether inside or outside [Iran]. We don’t send an intelligence agent to Germany or America to say I work with the Ministry of Intelligence. A commercial or journalistic cover is needed,” said former regime Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahia in July 2017.

World leaders need to act against this network of spies and terrorists by expelling these agents from their countries. Western media and government officials need to reject those who mimic the regime’s talking points, clearly demonstrating that they are part of the regime’s campaign to hang onto power at the expense of the Iranian people.

Read more from Hamid Enayat on CDN


Hamid Enayat

Hamid Enayat is an independent Iranian political analyst and writer based in Europe.