NIAC Responds to State Department’s Decision to Suspend Funding to Grantee Using Funds to Attack U.S. Civil Society

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, May 31, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington D.C. – Today, the State Department announced that it is suspending funding to a grantee of the department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC), the Iran Disinformation Project (Iran Disinfo), after it was revealed that the group was using funds to attack journalists, analysts, and American civil society organizations, like NIAC, online. The suspension of IranDisinfo follows a major astroturf campaign against NIAC last weekend involving hawkish pro-war organizations like Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and radical diaspora groups like the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) – which operates a social media “troll farm” in Albania.

NIAC President Jamal Abdi said in response to these developments:

“Suspending funding for this organization is a fine start. But the American people deserve to know if this is part of a larger conspiracy funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars. We need answers as to whether any member of the Trump Administration or U.S. government agency has been involved in guiding, coordinating, or encouraging attacks and propaganda against critics or political opponents of the Trump Administration.”

Abdi elaborated on the links between the groups in question and the Trump Administration:

“There are close ties between officials in the Trump Administration organizations involved in these attacks. We know that the President’s National Security Advisor John Bolton is fond of the MEK, has advocated publicly for the group, and has likely received payment in the form of speaking fees from this former terrorist organization. We also know that former senior FDD officials now sit in John Bolton’s National Security Council and that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – while he was the CIA Director – took the highly unusual step of declassifying documents and providing them exclusively to FDD to make the case for military action against Iran.”

Abdi continued:

“If the Trump Administration is funneling funds or coordinating with the perpetrators of this campaign, it is incumbent on Congress to get to the bottom of it. We look forward to working to uncover the truth behind these attacks and any involvement by the U.S. government as well as foreign state sponsored actors. We will not let anyone silence our voices and create a chilling effect meant to deter political engagement within our community.”

BACKGROUND

In last week’s online propaganda campaign, IranDisinfo along with FDD and MEK attempted to spread the outrageously false claim that NIAC and any Iranian American journalist, academic, or political candidate who has spoken out against Donald Trump’s Iran policies or opposed war against Iran are supporters of, or even supported by, the Iranian government.

The attacks utilized an army of bots and inauthentic social media accounts to launch hundreds of thousands of tweets intended to create a false narrative that Iranians and Iranian Americans support the Trump Administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” and push for war with Iran. The coordinated assault also aimed to discredit pro-peace Iranian Americans by claiming they are supportive of or even supported by the Islamic Republic.

FDD analyst Saeed Ghasseminejad is the main research contributor to IranDisinfo and FDD operates an identical “IranDisinfo” section on its own website. IranDisinfo’s website is also hosted by Tavanna, another organization that is funded by the State Department, and its Executive Director lists IranDisinfo among her affiliations.

NIAC Statement on Twitter’s Takedown of Thousands of Fake Iran-Linked Accounts

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, May 29, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington D.C. – Yesterday, Twitter’s Head of Site Integrity, Yoel Roth, tweeted that the social platform had removed over 2,800 inauthentic accounts originating in Iran. The accounts are thought to be part of a foreign information operations campaign intending to manipulate information for “national or geopolitical ends.” Separately, Facebook also announced it had removed a number of Iranian origin accounts, groups, and pages that had violated its policy prohibiting “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), issued the following statement in response:

“There is no place for foreign interference in American elections or our political process. We applaud Twitter and Facebook for their efforts to remove accounts, likely Iranian-state backed, that were propagating disinformation or distorting public discourse. At the same time, we are concerned there are still many actors – also potentially state-backed – that are utilizing inauthentic social media accounts and campaigns to manipulate the U.S. political and policy making process.

“Over Memorial Day weekend, a coordinated astroturf campaign was orchestrated on Twitter that slandered and even threatened violence against NIAC and Iranian American journalists, academics, and political candidates who have spoken out against Donald Trump’s Iran policies or otherwise opposed war against Iran.

“Our community has been on the receiving end of attacks from both sides. Iranian-state backed entities have called us agents of Israel and the U.S. government, while fringe groups like the MEK with deep ties to Saudi funding or Israeli-linked groups like the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, have accused us of working for the Islamic Republic.  

“The goal of these latest attacks was to create a false perception that Iranians and Iranian Americans support the Trump Administration’s policies towards Iran, including sanctions and potential war, and that pro-peace voices within the Iranian-American community are supportive of or even supported by the Islamic Republic.

“In the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Bush Administration amplified the voices of Ahmad Chalabi and other Iraqi exiles who helped sell the case that the U.S. would be ‘welcomed as liberators.’ In lieu of an Iranian Chalabi, the forces agitating for war with Iran are using social media manipulation campaigns to fill that role.

“It goes without saying that these outrageous attacks are patently false and that pro-peace advocates, objective analysts, and civil society organizations are integral to the pillars of a functioning American democracy – not products of an Iranian theocracy. 

“We call on platforms like Twitter that are committed to ‘protecting public conversation,’ to review all instances of such coordinated attacks that aim to manipulate American political discourse and undermine or intimidate American civil society. We have already witnessed how social media manipulation helped potentially swing the results of a U.S. Presidential Election, we cannot afford to sit idly by while a similar campaign steers the U.S. into a disastrous war.”