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.

An Attack On Pro-Peace Iranian Americans And Civil Society

This Memorial Day weekend, the forces working towards war with Iran launched a propaganda attack against NIAC, our allies, Iranian-American analysts, and even Iranian-American political candidates that NIAC Action has endorsed in local elections. With armies of bots, they orchestrated a Tweetstorm aimed at intimidating us and stopping our work for peace and diplomacy.

We know well the crowd behind the attacks — from Mark Dubowitz, the architect of Trump’s “maximum pressure” sanctions who heads the hardline pro-Israel organization “Foundation for Defense of Democracies,” to so-called analysts at John Bolton’s former think tank, to hardline Iranian diaspora social media accounts backed by inauthentic “bot armies” that likely include the MEK’s publicly revealed “troll farm” in Albania.

The goal of these attacks is simple: to divide and weaken our community. To ensure that Iranian Americans do not have a voice, do not hold influential positions in Washington D.C., do not run for office and build political power, and shy away from civic engagement.

Why? Because our community is the biggest threat to plans for war with Iran, and because NIAC continues to organize pro-peace Iranian Americans into a powerful and influential voice.

The game plan of Bolton, Dubowitz, and the pro-war crowd is to create a false narrative that the Iranian people, and Iranian Americans, support Donald Trump’s maximum pressure sanctions and welcome a military intervention.

It’s “we will be greeted as liberators” all over again.

That’s what this astroturf campaign is all about: to make it appear as though support for war is coming from our community and our loved ones in Iran. They borrow tactics from the very regime they claim to oppose: demanding total allegiance to a political ideology, silencing dissent through intimidation, labeling civil society and political opponents as treasonous “agents” of the enemy, and distorting the debate through outrageous lies and propaganda.

But NIAC stands in the way of their plans to silence us or speak for us in their quest to destroy Iran and devastate our loved ones. Our #NoWarWithIran campaign has been viewed nearly 150,000 times and counting, and our community has raised their voices and sent over 50,000 messages to Congress.

The attacks are just further evidence of how important our work is — and how important it is that Iranian American’s unite their voices to be even louder in the face of the pro-war crowd’s shameless desperation. We are working closely with journalists, data scientists, and researchers to expose these disinformation campaigns, the network of inauthentic accounts, trolls, and bots, and the agents behind these coordinated efforts to crush Iranian American civil society.

We will not let these people tear our community apart, scare Iranian Americans from engaging in the civic process, and silence our collective voice. We will not let them speak for us.


Originally published at https://iranian.com on May 26, 2019.

FDD Scholar: War with Iran ‘Is On’

“The war is on”, declared Michael Ledeen, a “Freedom Scholar” with the anti-Iran deal Foundation for Defense of Democracies, at an event to discuss Iran policy following President Trump’s appointment of John Bolton and nomination of Mike Pompeo. “We’re in the war now. So all these people who keep on saying, ‘well if we sign, or if we don’t re-sign, or if we renew or we don’t renew (the Iran nuclear deal) then war,’ that’s all crazy. The war — we are in the war.”

Speaking on a panel at the Hudson Institute last week, Ledeen asserted his belief that the Iranian people had asked the U.S. for help in toppling the regime. His assertion was challenged by an Iranian American supporter of NIAC in the audience who asked Ledeen why he felt Iranians would want the United States’ help. “All they have to do is look at the neighboring countries and see that every country the United States has tried to change the leadership there, it has created a stateless country,” she said. “It’s like asking me to go to a doctor who all of his patients have died in the hospital, and asking ‘could you please operate on me?’ Why would they want the United States to aid them for any sort of help in the regime change?”

Ledeen’s response was to insult and bully rather than to engage in serious debate. Ledeen stated, “the question from this woman right here is not a question, but a provocation. So I am sorry that you’ve wasted your time coming here today to voice the line of your friends in Tehran…The reason why the Iranian people look to us for help, support, guidance in carrying out a revolution against the regime is because they hate the regime.” Ledeen then rudely told her to “sit there quietly” as the moderator moved on to the next question. The tense exchange showed both the stakes of the Iran debate in the months ahead – that Trump’s supporters think “war is on” with Iran – and that so-called “freedom scholars” will go out of their way to stifle debate on the road to confrontation.

Hawkishness and dismissiveness of alternative views was not limited to Ledeen. Richard Goldberg, another FDD adviser who served as a staffer for the hawkish former Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), predicted that Trump would kill the deal. Goldberg indicated that with negotiations between Trump and the Europeans stalled and Bolton and Pompeo poised to enter the administration, “we have set the stage now for the likely exit of the U.S. from the nuclear deal and the potential for re-imposition of sanctions – at least on the Central Bank on May 12th, and perhaps much more.” Goldberg went on to argue that the reimposition of such sanctions, which he helped to initially pass as a staffer in Congress, would help topple the Iranian regime but avoid harming the Iranian people.

I asked Goldberg how the re-imposition of sanctions on Iran could be designed to be in favor of the Iranian people and avoid causing mass devastation. “With respect to our sanctions policy, the Iranian people are our greatest asset and we do not target the Iranian people, we do not target them, we have no quarrel with them,” Goldberg said. “And so our policy, when it targets the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), when it targets government banks, when it targets the Supreme Leader’s empire, this is about the lifeblood that keeps the Islamic Republic in business of oppressing its people.”

Goldberg’s answer might sound persuasive, yet the reality is that ordinary Iranians themselves are intricately connected to the Iranian economy and banking system – not just the regime. There is absolutely no way a country’s entire banking system can be sanctioned without its people suffering the consequences of the sanctions. We saw this at the height of nuclear sanctions, where the Iranian people suffered from mass unemployment and sanctions while the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) expanded its business empire.

Michael Pregent, a fellow with the Hudson Institute, stated that president Trump “has his Iran team in place,” with John Bolton in as National Security Advisor and Mike Pompeo hoping to be confirmed as Secretary of State. If Pompeo and Bolton share the Hudson panelists’ proclivities, it appears that war could be very difficult to avoid.

“Peace is not the opposite of war,” Ledeen ominously concluded. “Peace is the result of war. Peace happens when a war is fought and one side beats the other.”