Guardian | May 2012 | Banned Iranian terror group lobbies for legitimacy on Capitol Hill

Chris McGreal in Washington
Tuesday 22 May 2012

A banned terrorist group is conducting what members of Congress describe as one of the most effective lobbying campaigns seen on Capitol Hill, winning support from politicians even in the face of a government investigation of its legality.

Former heads of the CIA, FBI, homeland security and the US military have joined members of Congress of both major parties in backing a legal action by the People’s Mujahideen Organisation of Iran, known as the MEK, to be removed from the US list of proscribed terrorist organisations.

But the openness of the campaign and the large amounts of money backing it, with donations to congressional campaign funds and large payments for speeches in support of the MEK, has prompted an investigation into potential breaches of laws against financial dealings with banned organisations and whether the campaign amounts to material support for terrorism.

Among those under investigation are the former chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, General Hugh Shelton, the former FBI director, Louis Freeh, and Michael Mukasey, who, as attorney-general, oversaw the prosecution of terrorism cases.

The heavyweight political backing for the MEK has surprised some US officials because of the organisation’s past as a Marxist-Islamist group responsible for the killing of Americans. At one time the MEK supported the Islamic revolution in Iran.

Double standard

But some critics contend that if the MEK’s supporters were not so powerful, they would face the same treatment as that meted out to less influential Americans jailed after being convicted of supporting terrorism for actions such as offering conflict resolution advice, donating money for schools and rebroadcasting a Hezbollah television station.

Reza Marashi, a former official on the US state department’s Iran desk who was part of the team that reviewed evidence against the MEK and regards the terrorism designation as appropriate, said he is astonished that the group is able to operate so openly.

“My former government colleagues are bewildered by the freedom of movement that a designated terrorist organisation enjoys on Capitol Hill. They’re disgusted by former US government officials willing to make a quick buck by shilling for the MEK,” said Marashi, who is now research director for the National Iranian American Council. “Do we really want to open the door to other terrorist organisations to spend millions of dollars lobbying to get off the terrorist list?”

Among those campaigning for the MEK to be unbanned are former CIA director James Woolsey; former New York mayor Rudolf Giuliani; ex-homeland security chief Tom Ridge; and Barack Obama’s former national security adviser, James Jones.

Cole said he believes that Americans should be free to speak in favour of unbanning the MEK. But he regards it as hypocritical for officials to criminalise similar actions by others.

“The MEK has demonstrated through very, very generous contracts that if you can get a lot of powerful people to speak up for you, you might succeed in getting yourself off the list,” he said. “You need only compare this to the prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation in Dallas, Texas, which was the largest Muslim charity in the United States prior to 9/11. By basically giving aid to build schools and provide healthcare to organisations that were not designated as terrorist, these individuals had committed the crime of supporting terrorism and are spending 65 years in prison.

“There are plenty of people sitting in jail today who were initially investigated by treasury but ultimately prosecuted by the justice department. That said, the people sitting in jail are not people with the power and the connections that Michael Mukasey, Tom Ridge, Ed Rendell, Louis Freeh and Rudi Giuliani have.

“The reality is that people like that are very unlikely to be criminally prosecuted, whereas people without that power and without those connections will be prosecuted and have been. There’s clearly a double standard.”

 

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CNN Opinion | Sep 2011 | Take Iran opponent MEK off terror list

By Louis Freeh, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale and Lord Waddington, Special to CNN
September 12, 2011 7:04 p.m. EDT

Editor’s note: Louis Freeh served as director of the FBI from 1993-2001; Lord Corbett of Castle Vale heads the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom; and Rt. Hon. Lord Waddington QC is a former British home secretary and leader of the House of Lords. Freeh has received payment for travel expenses and speaking at conferences organized by groups that want People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran removed from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.

In 1997, the Clinton administration added the MEK to the State Department’s blacklist in what a senior administration official, according to the Los Angeles Times, described as a good will gesture to Iran — thought at the time to be moving toward a more moderate form of government. The Bush administration maintained the ban, which many saw as an effort to persuade the Iranians to abandon their nuclear weapons program. But Iran is no closer to moderation and its nuclear ambitions get closer and closer to fulfillment.

Former U.S. officials calling for the MEK to be de-listed include former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, three former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, two former directors of the CIA, former commander of NATO Wesley K. Clark, two former U.S. ambassadors to the U.N., former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, a former White House chief of staff, a former commander of the Marine Corps, former U.S. National Security Adviser Fran Townsend, now a CNN contributor; and even President Obama’s recently retired National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones. Their call is backed by 93 members of Congress, who have signed a bipartisan resolution urging the president to revoke the designation, and by prominent Democratic and Republican leaders such as Howard Dean and Rudy Giuliani.

 

The Intercept | Feb 2015 | House of Cards: Tom Ridge’s Code Rich

Feb. 2 2015

by Ken Silverstein

Tom Ridge was not a rich man when he resigned as the chief of the Department of Homeland Security in 2004. His financial disclosure from that year showed he had investments worth between $100,000 and $815,00 in companies. Though modest by the current standards of senior government officials, those investments included companies “with contracts with his department and others who want to profit from homeland security,” a CQ story said at the time.

Yet soon after leaving government service, Ridge bought a property in Chevy Chase, Maryland worth about $2 million. His home, which was featured in Home & Design, aka “The magazine of luxury homes and fine interiors,” boasts custom interior decorations, including a table designed by the brother of the late Princess Diana, a dining room paneled with “native Sweetgum” and artwork “representative of the Tudor period.”

So how exactly has Ridge made all his money?

….

Soon after leaving government in 2004 (and boasting of “more than 22 consecutive years of public service”) Ridge cashed in on the homeland security gravy train.

Like Louis Freeh and many other former government officials, Ridge has been well paid to speak on behalf of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, which was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States between 1997 and 2012, and before many other outfits. Other post-government speaking gigs include the North American Commercial Real Estate Congress. (“Tom Ridge is uniquely qualified to discuss the threats facing real estate,” said a promo.)

 

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NY Post | March 2011 | Ellis Is. honcho in Iran $candal

March 20, 2011

By Isabel Vincent

The group in charge of the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor — bestowed on such icons as Ronald Reagan, Joe DiMaggio and Frank Sinatra — is being sullied by infighting and charges of shady spending, including steering money to Iran.
The nonprofit National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, or NECO, has been hijacked by its millionaire Iranian-born chairman Nasser Kazeminy, who is using the group to serve his own ego, alleges William Fugazy Jr., the son of the group’s founder.
Fugazy also contends Kazeminy has refused to hold a meeting to elect new officers.
“It’s not a p.r. firm for him,” rails Fugazy, who alerted board members like ex-Gov. George Pataki and former FBI Director Louis Freeh, but no one has taken action.
The state Attorney General’s Office in March 2010 told the group to hold a membership meeting within 60 days, but the group never did. The AG is reviewing the situation.
The organization was formed in 1986 by Fugazy’s father, a limo mogul, and others to protest the limited selection of honorees for a new award given for the Statue of Liberty centennial.
Awards are doled out each year during a gala on Ellis Island. This year’s ceremony is set for May 7.
Kazeminy, himself a Medal of Honor winner, joined the board around 2003. The businessman made his fortune in computer leasing.
He heads Minneapolis investment firm NJK Holding Corp.
Documents obtained by The Post show Kazeminy’s company sent $170,000 to NECO in 2006 to transfer to other charities including $50,000 to the Knights of Malta, an ancient Catholic organization.
Kazeminy claims in an online bio he was inducted into the Knights. They say he merely got a commendation.
A year later, documents show, Kazeminy’s company wired another $94,225 to NECO for the Knights.
His firm ordered $20,000 be sent to the California-based Maziar Foundation — which sends funds to the student movement in Iran — through NECO in 2006, according to an e-mail obtained by The Post.
NECO also gave $50,000 in 2006 to California’s Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership organization, which then gave Kazeminy its Albert Schweitzer Leadership Award.
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Foreign Policy | Apr 2015 | Renowned U.S. Arabist Is Second Witness to Refuse to Appear With MEK Leader

BY DAVID FRANCIS APRIL 28, 2015 – 11:41 AM

A house counterterrorism panel is pushing ahead with a hearing on the Islamic State — even though two of its top witnesses are refusing to testify alongside the leader of a controversial Iranian dissidents group that was itself regarded as a terrorist organization as recently as 2012.

Arabist Robert Ford, who served as U.S. ambassador to Syria and also was posted in Baghdad, in Cairo, and across the Mideast, told Foreign Policy on Tuesday that he would not appear on the panel with Maryam Rajavi, leader of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK).

He is the second witness to balk at sharing the spotlight with Rajavi. On Monday, former State Department counterterrorism director Daniel Benjamin pulled out of the hearing, which is scheduled for Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to be on a panel with the MEK. I was shocked they invited the MEK. What the MEK has to do with the Islamic State, I don’t have a clue,” Ford told FP. “I told the committee to put me on a panel without the MEK or I wouldn’t appear.”

Rajavi will not be at the hearing: She is set to testify via videoconference, presumably from Paris, where her National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) is based. The NCRI is an umbrella organization of groups that include the MEK.

Until September 2012, the MEK was designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization for the alleged 1970s killing of six Americans in Iran. The group is led by Iranian exiles who bitterly oppose Tehran’s clerical regime and is widely believed to have allied with Saddam Hussein in neighboring Iraq during the 1980s war between those two nations.

It has bankrolled numerous high-profile U.S. officials and other worldwide dignitaries who appear on the MEK’s behalf, a roster that includes former FBI Director Louis Freeh and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Representatives for the MEK have not returned repeated requests for comment.

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The National Interest Aug 2014 | Beware of the MEK

The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Based on news reports, a number of U.S. officials and former officials have adopted this motto in recent months. They seem to believe the prospect of the nuclear issue being solved and rapprochement with Tehran so threatening that they have rushed to Iran’s great foe: the People’s Mojahdein Organization (MEK).

The MEK is a cult-like dissident group, based outside of Iran, primarily in Iraq and France for much of the past three decades. It was considered a terrorist group by the United States until 2012 and by the European Union until 2009, when it was removed from the list of terrorist organizations and became increasingly viewed as an alternative to Iran’s current regime. This shows that the MEK’s campaign to galvanize support in the West has been relatively successful.

Read more about the group supported by Louis Freeh

NBC News March 2012: Ex-US officials investigated over speeches to Iranian dissident group on terror list

Gen. Hugh Shelton, left, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and ex-FBI Director Louis Freeh are among the top former U.S. government officials whose speaking fees have been subpoenaed.

Speaking firms representing ex-FBI Director Louis Freeh and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Hugh Shelton have received federal subpoenas as part of an expanding investigation into the source of payments to former top government officials who have publicly advocated removing an Iranian dissident group from the State Department list of terrorist groups, three sources familiar with the investigation told NBC News.

The investigation, being conducted by the Treasury Department, is focused on whether the former officials may have received funding, directly or indirectly, from the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK, thereby violating longstanding federal law barring financial dealings with terrorist groups. The sources, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, said that speaking fees given to the former officials total hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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