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Context of 'December 8, 2004: Pentagon, White House Planning to Escalate Public Pressure on Iran, Make Further Use of MEK'

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Knight Ridder reports that, according to US officials, congressional aides and other sources, Pentagon and White House officials “are developing plans to increase public criticism of Iran’s human-rights record, offer stronger backing to exiles and other opponents of Iran’s repressive theocratic government and collect better intelligence on Iran.” Additionally, the administration would like to withdraw troops from Iraq so Bush would have “greater flexibility in dealing with Iran,” one official tells the newspaper. [Knight Ridder, 12/8/2004] The news agency also says that the US is using the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) as a source for intelligence on Iran’s weapons programs, even though the organization “remains on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist groups.” [Knight Ridder, 12/8/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Bush administration (43), People’s Mujahedin of Iran

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Newsweek reports that there is disagreement in the Bush administration over what to do with 3,800 Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) fighters being held in custody by the US at Camp Ashraf (see April 2003). The magazine says that parts of the Defense Department want “to cull useful MEK members as operatives for use against Tehran, all while insisting that it does not deal with the MEK as a group.” They would be sent to Iran to gather intelligence and possibly reawaken a democratic movement in Iran. The CIA however has objected to this strategy “because senior officers regard them as unreliable cultists under the sway of [Maryam] Rajavi and her husband,” Newsweek explains. A Defense Department spokesman however denies there is any “cooperation agreement” with the MEK and claims that the Pentagon has no plans for using MEK members in any capacity. But an MEK official interviewed by Newsweek said the opposite: “They [want] to make us mercenaries.” Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA) also feels the Defense Department has plans for MEK members. “The Defense Department is thinking of them as buddies and the State Department sees them as terrorists. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle,” he told Newsweek. [Newsweek, 2/15/2005]

Entity Tags: Brad Sherman, Maryam Rajavi, US Department of Defense, People’s Mujahedin of Iran

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

The US is receiving false and misleading information about Iran’s nuclear capabilities from an Iranian dissident group labeled as a terrorist organization, says a former UN weapons inspector. The Mujahedeen-e Khalq, or MEK (see 1970s), is an exile group labeled by the US State Department as a terrorist organization, but embraced by many Washington neoconservatives, including a key group of White House officials operating inside Vice President Dick Cheney’s office and another working with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says, “We should be very suspicious about what our leaders or the exile groups say about Iran’s nuclear capacity. There’s a drumbeat of allegations, but there’s not a whole lot of solid information. It may be that Iran has not made the decision to build nuclear weapons. We have to be very careful not to overstate the intelligence.” Albright says the information from MEK is somewhat more believable than the extravagantly false information provided by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraq National Congress, which was used to bolster Bush administration allegations that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq posed a grave and imminent threat to world peace and US security (see (1994). In 2002, MEK provided critical information about Iran’s nuclear-enrichment complex at Natanz and a heavy-water production facility at Arak (see August 2002). It is unclear if Iran is pursuing a nuclear-weapons program; one UN official says of the information gleaned by the IAEA, “It’s a mixed bag.” Of MEK, he says, “The Mujahedeen Khalq appears to have some real sources inside Iran, but you can’t trust them all the time.” Iran has not been fully compliant with IAEA attempts to determine the nature and extent of its nuclear program. Nevertheless, some Congressional lawmakers say that, in light of the misinformation surrounding the claims of Iraq’s weapons programs, policy makers need to be doubly cautious about making claims and pursuing aggressive deterrence operations against Iran. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says, “In Iran, as well as North Korea, Syria, and so on, we need accurate, unbiased and timely intelligence. Iraq has shown that our intelligence products have a credibility problem and improvements are critically needed.” Iranian journalist Emadeddin Baghi, a columnist for the liberal Sharq newspaper who served two years in prison for criticizing the religious establishment, says that in Iran, skepticism runs deep. “Many Iranians instinctively disbelieve anything their own government says, but they also disbelieve the Americans, and what has happened in Iraq has strengthened that,” Baghi says. “Iranians see the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and they see the American accusations about nuclear weapons as just another pretext for other hidden aims.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/26/2006]

Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, David Albright, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Emadeddin Baghi, International Atomic Energy Agency, Jane Harman, Paul Wolfowitz, US Department of State, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Saddam Hussein, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, House Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

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