Iran: The Untold Story, Part 5
On the streets of modern Iran… open dissent:
“Down with Dictator! Down with Khamenei! Down with Rouhani!”
Who was behind this gutsy rebellion against an authoritarian state?
Iran’s Supreme Leader left no doubt: It was the outlawed MEK.
“They were prepared months ago. The media of the MEK admitted to this…”
In Iran… in 1965… three Muslim university graduates created the MEK, or People’s Mujahedin of Iran, to foster social and political change.
Iran was ruled at the time by the Shah… a US-supported monarch whose corruption and extravagant living were legendary.
The Shah’s secret police, SAVAK, known for its torture of opponents, would ultimately arrest most of MEK’s leaders and members.
The Shah’s military tribunals sentenced MEK’s leaders to death. Most, including the founders, were shot by firing squad in 1972.
The only surviving MEK leader was Massoud Rajavi [RAJ-a-vee]. His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after international pressure. He was released days before the fall of the Shah.
The MEK led the anti-Shah resistance, and quickly became Iran’s largest political party. Its rallies attracted big crowds, including women and young protestors.
“How sensational it is to once again speak of freedom, in universities being the home of martyrs of freedom. Yes, without the guarantee of freedom for all parties and beliefs and pens, there is no foreseeable progress for the revolution.”
But after fundamentalist Mullahs usurped the leadership of the 1979 revolution… and took over the US Embassy… they turned on the MEK. Unlike Khomeini, who fanned the flames of anti-Americanism, the MEK was focused on freedom.
“When Khomeini’s people saw that they had mobilized the nation to come out in the streets, which they did in June of 1981, they opened fire on everyone…”
“The Reign of Terror had begun…”
SEXTON: We’re joined now by Ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield. He’s authored a book on MEK and served for years in the State Department and Department of Defense. Ambassador Bloomfield, welcome, thank you for being here.
BLOOMFIELD: Thanks, Buck.
SEXTON: Now, a lot of experts seem to be very critical of Mujahedin-e-Khalq, the MEK. Why is that?
BLOOMFIELD: Well, first you’d have to ask them. But they all say the same thing. It’s almost uncanny how the criticism is the same and has stayed the same for many years. I started looking at this group in earnest about eight years ago. And I looked at some of the allegations against them using Western sources, the best that I could find. And what turned out is that what they thought was true wasn’t exactly the way they said it. And so, I kept digging. And that led to a book in 2013 which told the 52-year history of an untold story: that there’s been a lot of deception and exaggeration and falsehood about this group. And I’ve waited five years to see if I would be proven wrong. And I have to tell you, sitting here today I’m just finishing another piece which essentially says we’ve been right and much of Washington has been wrong, and hoping to explain that to people so that the U.S. government is not on the wrong track.
SEXTON: What are the most serious of the Iranian opposition groups? Is the MEK the single most well-known and strongest in terms of opposing the Iranian regime?
BLOOMFIELD: I can’t speak for the 80 million people of Iran. And neither can anyone else because if you say anything favorable to the MEK, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or the political umbrella organization in Paris, the National Council of Resistance on Iran, the NCRI, you could face imprisonment, amputation, execution, or if the religious judge likes you, exile. So, you know, you can’t get a good read on that. They are very well organized. They’re very competent. And actually what people don’t realize, it’s a woman-led organization not only at the top level but almost at every level. This is a woman-run political opposition. And they’re very competent.
SEXTON: Now, in a previous segment, Congressman Brad Sherman recognized the critical role that the MEK played in revealing Iran’s nuclear weapons program back in 2002. What can you tell us about that?
BLOOMFIELD: Well, I can tell you that President Bush also acknowledged that an opposition group had come up with this information. There were certain sites that were unknown until it was revealed by members of the opposition. So, and this was at a time, by the way, when the U.S. and the European Union were negotiating with Iran on their nuclear program. And it turned out that there was deception going on. And when it was discovered that the Iranians were dealing with bad faith, something that today’s President Rouhani bragged about later on, that’s when the UN put very strict sanctions at the Security Council on Iran in 2009. And that led them, I think, to the negotiating table.
SEXTON: Let’s look at one of the biggest criticisms, one of the biggest allegations against the Mujahedin-e-Khalq: terrorism. What can you tell us about the truth of whether there is a reality to the terrorism allegations against MEK and have they ever been listed as a terrorist group?
BLOOMFIELD: They’ve been listed as a terrorist group by the United States from 1997 to 2012. And the story that needs to be told is that they have never been terrorists. There have been four major court cases, including in the United States, that led Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to take them off the list because they couldn’t come up with any credible evidence that the MEK had been terrorists in the past. Now, they had armed opposition to the regime for about 20 years. And they did go after some notorious regime figures who had imprisoned and killed thousands of their own people. That was reviewed by a French magistrate in an eight-year investigation. And when he finally came out with the verdict, he said that not only have none of these people committed terrorism, but at any time in the past nothing that they did was terrorism. It was legitimate resistance to tyranny. The EU, the UK also had major court cases. They’ve been exonerated fully. Not one member of this group, not one, in 54 years has ever been prosecuted or convicted of terrorism in a country ruled by the rule of law with due process.
SEXTON: What can you tell me about this allegation against the MEK of murdering several Americans in Tehran in the 1970s and that there was a role that they may have played in seizing the U.S. Embassy? Any truth to this?
BLOOMFIELD: Well, there were people who called themselves Mujahedin, Marxist-Leninist, there was a splinter group of left-wing people who associated themselves and were attracted to the prestige of the Islamic, the real MEK. Most of the MEK was secret for six years. They started in 1965 as a student group that was studying revolutions and how can we get rid of the Shah, he’s a corrupt Western-influenced. We don’t want Communism, what can we do? And they looked at other countries that had had a nationalist uprising. They never committed terrorism for six years. They were going to sort of embarrass the Shah in 1971 and about 100 of them were arrested. Many of them were executed. All of the original leaders except for one, Masoud Rajavi, were executed. Masoud Rajavi was spared. There were outsiders, Francois Mitterrand appealed to the Iranians. They kept him in jail. Other people came right in and said, “Well, we’re the Mujahedin.” They changed some of the symbols. They made it more left wing. They didn’t have Islam. And they killed the Americans. We know who did this. The Washington Post reported it. They interviewed the killers. And those same people turned against the real MEK and killed some of them too. So that story, my story of the inside story will be in print. The State Department admitted this. It was in the terrorism report in about 2005 and then it disappeared the next year and never appeared again. So, that’s one of the stories I tell, why isn’t the truth of the MEK known in Washington?
SEXTON: There are also critics of the MEK who say that it operates like a cult. What are they referring to?
BLOOMFIELD: Well, they’re referring to the intense loyalty that all of the supporters of the National Council of Resistance and the MEK, who are now in Albania, have for each other, including supporters in the United States and around the world. They have a level of trust which spooks some people who look at them. But if you realize that tens of thousands of their relatives, brothers, parents, kids, have been jailed, tortured and murdered over the years, perhaps as may as 120,000 of these people who are suspected MEK sympathizers have been put to death by the regime, all their survivors stick together. They trust each other. And they probably don’t trust anyone else. They’re always on the lookout to see if an assassin or a terrorist team—there were five countries in Europe that had Iran terrorist teams caught last year trying chasing them and pursuing them, and including in the United States, surveilling members of the NCRI. So they are basically being chased. I don’t know what I would do, I don’t now what you would do if you thought you were being hunted. Who would you really trust? That’s what we’re talking about. It’s not a cult.
SEXTON: Does the MEK have substantial support inside of Iran still?
BLOOMFIELD: That is a great question, and to be perfectly honest, not only do I not know, but neither does anyone else. But I’ll tell you one thing, the regime wouldn’t allow anyone to talk about them for 39 years. But in the last year, with all these protests going on, they can’t stop talking about the MEK. There are complaints coming from senior clerics in Iran blaming the MEK for organizing the demonstrations in cities and towns across Iran. And President Rouhani called Macron in France in January of last year, asking him to roll up the NCRI because they’re organizing the protests inside Iran. They have satellite television that broadcasts 24/7 in Farsi. The regime has tried to block the signal. They’ve tried to steal the satellite dishes and roll over them with tanks in several cities. We’ve got all the photos. But the message gets through. They know, the Iranian people have exposure all day to what’s really happening on the outside. They know the truth. So, I can’t answer that. But one more point, Buck. The NCRI is the only group that is proposing a process to find out what the 80 million Iranian people want because they’re offering a roadmap to a legitimate election process under a new constitution. They are not trying to take over the country. The country has been taken over five times since 1906. They’ve always been frustrated when they’ve tried to move in a democratic direction. The NCRI is the only group that is proposing a real process to find out what every man and woman would vote for in Iran.
SEXTON: What brought you to be somebody who not just researches this group but defends them openly, and I’m sure deals with a fair amount of criticism? Why stick your neck out?
BLOOMFIELD: Well, if you’ve listened to what I’ve said so far, Buck, you’ll see that everything I’m saying is trying to get at what’s true and what’s not true. That’s where I am. I’ve spent—I was in five U.S. administrations, not only the Pentagon and the State Department, I was in the White House as well during the nuclear era working for the Vice President. So, national security is in my core. I’m a Cold Warrior. So what brought me to this was some experience being exposed to Iran but wanting to make sure that my government wasn’t being essentially misled by falsehood and that we weren’t negotiating with a very strong country, Iran, on the nuclear issue on false pretenses, not really knowing the vulnerability they have, what they’ve really done behind the scenes, how guilty they are of war crimes and crimes against humanity. All of this, to me, I would want to know if I were the Secretary of State or Defense or National Security Advisor, I would want all of this information. And I don’t think our leaders have it.
SEXTON: And are you paid by anyone in the MEK to say anything at all about the group?
BLOOMFIELD: I’ve never accepted any money for any—I’ve never given speeches for money or any of that. But I don’t like to point that out because I respect the Americans who have gone overseas and been criticized for standing up for them. I’ll stand with those people, generals, senior leaders, they have been demeaned as if you can rent their reputation and they’ll say anything that they’re paid to say. That’s false. These people have done an enormous amount of work offline. They stay in touch with each other. They’re very committed to this issue. They have a strong point of view. Maybe they would do it not for pay. I can afford to do that. I did receive money from a law firm when I first got involved. They were being hired by a group of Americans, the OIAC. One of their constituencies wanted the help of a law firm to get them off the terrorism list. I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a lobbyist, but I am a Middle East policy expert and so I looked into this and started to study this group. And what I found was there’s something not right about the information. So, I’ve just been pulling the string ever since.
SEXTON: How effective and how widespread are the Iranian regime’s anti-MEK propaganda efforts? Are they focused in on this?
BLOOMFIELD: The piece that I’m about to come out with, it’s about an 11,000 word essays that says folks—it’s for Washington—that says, here’s the truth. And the answer is, they’ve been extremely effective. They’ve had 40 years of success in, to use an old Pentagon expression, blowing smoke up our skirt—forgive me for that but that’s what they’ve been doing. They have repeated these things. They’ve actually exaggerated and embellished and added things onto the list that the MEK had nothing to do with ,to the point, and repeated it so often and had people placed in the West in think tanks and media and whatnot, pretending to be independent voices that people in Washington came to believe it. Now I’m not sure that hat’s the whole story. If I were a correspondent, and I’m trying to be kind here, but I and I wanted a visa to Tehran, I wanted to come back in one piece and I wanted to get an interview with Foreign Minister Zharif, I would never say a word about this group. Because the minute you say something about the NCRI or MEK that’s real, you’re never going to Iran again. You’ll never get another interview. So, I think the media has been deeply compromised by self-censorship on this issue and that’s why I’m speaking out.
SEXTON: And you have been working on Mideast issues, security issues for a long time. What should the U.S. government’s approach going forward with the MEK be?
BLOOMFIELD: Well, the points that I would focus on have nothing to do with military confrontation. I think that that would unite Iranians behind their own government, that’s a natural reaction. I think what we really should be doing is showing what specific people in this regime have been guilty of. If you look at the Argentina bombings in the 1990s, if you look at assassinations and machine gun killings throughout Europe and Southeast Asia and all sorts of places, people who are in power right now are guilty of these things. You know, we thought that President Rouhani would be a moderate. When we were negotiating the nuclear agreement in 2013, he was the new president. His Defense Minister was the same man who first trained Hezbollah in the Beqaa Valley and oversaw the bombing of the Marines. I was the country director for Lebanon for Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger when the Marines were hit, all right? So, I do have some exposure to Iran’s aggression. This man who oversaw the bombing was the Defense Minister for four years. And he only left in 2017 after President Trump brought in three Marine four-star generals as his top aides. This man disappeared. There are two senior judicial leaders, the Chief Justice, those people in Iran were all part of death panels in 1988 who committed a serious crime against humanity. Thirty thousand people who were not sentenced to death were all put to death at Khomeini’s order in July and August of 1988. And this is now being investigated, there’s proof that it happened, and so audio recordings from ayatollahs have come out. So this needs to be—I would put war crimes dossiers together. I would take the senior leaders of Iran to The Hague and prosecute them for war crimes, that’s one thing I would do. To get that information, someone needs to talk to the NCRI because they have a great intelligence operation, they have a lot of information. I have access to it, why doesn’t my government?
SEXTON: Ambassador Bloomfield, really appreciate your expertise today, sir. Thank you for joining us.
BLOOMFIELD: Thank you.