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Media Watch | The New Yorker: MKO Trained by US Special Ops Command

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI

06 Apr 2012 23:43Comments
hersh-iran.jpgFormer U.S. officials, MKO defector: Nevada site used for intelligence, paramilitary training.

[ in focus ] The Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO, often referred to as the MEK in the United States) is a violent cult that has been on the State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) since 1997. It is despised by Iranians for siding with the regime of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War and attacking Iran with the help of Hussein's regime at the end of the war in July 1988. In recent years, it has been able to recruit and field an army of former U.S. government officials, both Republican and Democrat, to lobby for its removal from the FTO list.

The MKO has repeatedly claimed that it renounced terrorism in 2004, a claim not given credence by most Iranians. Over the past two years, several Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated, and it is widely believed, especially within Iran, that the MKO has played an important role in the killings. An NBC News report in January that Israel has been working with the MKO to assassinate the scientists lent support to that belief. At the time, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that the U.S. government had "some ideas as to who might be involved, but we don't know exactly who was involved." He added, "But I can tell you one thing: the United States was not involved in that kind of effort. That's not what the United States does."

Investigative journalist Seymour M. Hersh now reports on allegations by former U.S. military and intelligence officials and a high-ranking MKO defector that the United States was involved in training MKO members, which would refute Panetta's claim. According to Hersh's Friday posting on the New Yorker website, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) conducted training, beginning in 2005, for members of the MKO at the Department of Energy's Nevada National Security Site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. He writes, "The M.E.K.'s ties with Western intelligence deepened after the fall of the Iraqi regime in 2003, and JSOC began operating inside Iran in an effort to substantiate the Bush Administration's fears that Iran was building the bomb at one or more secret underground locations. Funds were covertly passed to a number of dissident organizations, for intelligence collection and, ultimately, for anti-regime terrorist activities. Directly, or indirectly, the M.E.K. ended up with resources like arms and intelligence."

Hersh quotes a former senior intelligence official's description of the Nevada-based training: "We were deploying them over long distances in the desert and mountains, and building their capacity in communications -- coordinating commo is a big deal." A retired four-star general who has advised the Bush and Obama administrations on national-security issues told Hersh that the MKO got what the general called

the standard training in commo, crypto [cryptography], small-unit tactics, and weaponry -- that went on for six months. [...] The JSOC trainers were not front-line guys who had been in the field, but second- and third-tier guys -- trainers and the like -- and they started going off the reservation. "If we're going to teach you tactics, let me show you some really sexy stuff..." [...] I told one of the guys who called me that they were all in over their heads, and all of them could end up [in] trouble unless they got something in writing. The Iranians are very, very good at counterintelligence, and stuff like this is just too hard to contain.

According to Hersh, the former senior intelligence official also confirmed the January NBC report and added that the Israel-MKO operations take advantage of American intelligence. "The goal is to affect Iranian psychology and morale," Hersh quotes the former official as saying, and to "demoralize the whole system -- nuclear delivery vehicles, nuclear enrichment facilities, power plants." The individuals targeted were not "Einsteins," he told the reporter. Hersh also notes that pipelines have been struck; this past November, the Washington Post's Thomas Erdbrink observed that at least 17 gas pipeline explosions had been reported in Iran over the preceding year. The former official told Hersh that the operations are "primarily being done by M.E.K. through liaison with the Israelis, but the United States is now providing the intelligence. [...] Everything being done inside Iran now is being done with surrogates."

"The M.E.K. was a total joke," said the former general, according to Hersh, "and now it's a real network inside Iran. How did the M.E.K. get so much more efficient? Part of it is the training in Nevada. Part of it is logistical support in Kurdistan [where Israel has been very active], and part of it is inside Iran. M.E.K. now has a capacity for efficient operations than it never had before."

Such reports seem unlikely to deter those who, one way or another, lend support to the MKO, justifying its terrorist operations inside Iran. For example, Patrick Clawson, research director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and senior editor of Middle East Quarterly, appears to justify the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists as a U.S. foreign policy tool; Clawson has been advocating the aggressive disruption of Iran's nuclear program since as far back as 2004. Meanwhile, figures as prominent as Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel have recently joined former U.S. government officials such as United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, Vermont Governor and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy in the push to remove the MKO from the State Department's terrorist organizations list.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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