A Treasury Department probe cast a wider net than previously known, according to NBC News, to collect information on advocacy by multiple American former politicians and officials for a controversial exiled Iranian opposition group. Last Friday, the Washington Times broke the story that former Democratic Party leader and Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell’s speakers’ bureau received a subpoena.
The stories relate the former officials’ advocacy to have the Mojahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) — a group with a long and winding history that was founded as an armed revolutionary group in Iran in the 1960s — removed from the U.S. State Department’s list of “foreign terrorist organizations.”
In addition to Rendell, NBC reports, Treasury’s Department of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces sanctions and international financial regulations, also requested records from the speakers’ bureaus of former F.B.I. head Louis Freeh and former Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Hugh Shelton. Shelton denied wrong doing:
We’re all pretty miffed. None of us involved in this would say a good word about anyone suspected of being a terrorist.
But the MEK is not only suspected to be a terrorist group, they are designated as such by the U.S. government. (That designation is under review because of a court order, but no decision on reinstating or withdrawing it has been forthcoming from the State Department.) An Obama administration official speaking to NBC made the point:
This is about finding out where the money is coming from. This has been a source of enormous concern for a long time now. You have to ask the question, whether this is a prima facie case of material support for terrorism.
Many of the some 40 former officials who advocate for the MEK to be delisted receive high speaking fees for speeches to pro-MEK conferences and rallies both in the United States and in Europe, where the leadership of the group is based. Further complicating matters, some of the speakers work with stateside groups that support the MEK, but are not part of the organization itself. The NBC story, however, mentions at least one incident — which it suggests was a catalyst for the wider probe — where the political wing of the MEK, the National Council for Resistance in Iran (also a designated terror group), worked directly with U.S. speakers’ bureaus:
A small Pennsylvania-based speakers firm called Speakers Access wrote an email in September inviting a Washington based national security expert to speak at a conference in Geneva, Switzerland “on behalf of our client, National Council of Resistance of Iran, Foreign Affairs Committee.”
Reporter Justin Elliott, at the time with Salon, broke a similar story in September of a different speakers’ bureau that was offering cash for speaking engagements on behalf of the NCRI.