Lauri: Welcome everyone to the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) Webinar on Iranian Influence Operations in the United States, featuring Gabriel Noronha. I want to thank you all for joining and supporting EMET. We really appreciate your continued support. As you can imagine during this very difficult time, we are quite busy working on the Hill to ensure the continued support of Israel. The support for Israel has been really unprecedented and, I believe, our work contributes to that. I also wanted to remind everybody to save the date for December 5th, our Rays of Light in the Darkness dinner gala in Washington DC. We hope you all can join us there.
Gabriel Noronha is the Executive Director of Polaris National Security. In 2022, he joined JINSA as a fellow in the Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy. From 2019 to 2021, Gabriel served as the special advisor for Iran at the Department of State where he coordinated policy and directed the department’s communications and congressional affairs for Iran. From 2017 to 2019, he worked as special assistant to the Senate Armed Services Committee under Chairman John McCain and Jim Inhofe. In this capacity, he helped write and pass the National Defense Authorization Act. Before this, between 2015 and 2016, Gabriel worked for US Senator Kelly Ayotte. Gabriel currently works on a wide range of national security and political projects He speaks and conducts research in Spanish, Russian, and Mandarin. Thank you so much for joining us this afternoon, Gabriel.
Gabriel: Thanks for having me.
Lauri: We appreciate all the work you’re doing and know how hard you are working at this time. I want to talk about the Hamas terrorists who invaded Israel. The Wall Street Journal reported that Iran was directly involved with the planning, training, and funding of the attacks, and gave the green light for the operation days before it occurred. The Biden administration still refuses to acknowledge Iran’s direct involvement in the attacks. They continue to claim there is no evidence implicating Iran. This denial led to Omri Ceren tweeting that Team Biden was once again behaving as Iran’s lawyer. Biden’s mouthpiece, the New York Times, even published a report claiming the mullahs in Iran were taken by surprise at the attack. I think Biden does not want the public to believe that Iran had a direct role in the attacks since this would make his administration complicit. Before we get into the specifics of Iran’s influence operations in the US, please explain Iran’s role in the Hamas attack on Israel to our audience. Please address why the Obama-Biden policy of Iranian appeasement has failed. The Biden administration has allowed more than $100 billion to flow to Iran. Please cover how these funds contributed to the invasion of Israel by Hamas.
Gabriel: The idea that Ayatollah Khamenei was surprised when he woke up on Saturday, October 8th and saw the attacks, is not plausible. I cannot speak to the intelligence failures because I no longer receive intelligence. However, Iran provides 93% of all Hamas funding. If any of you fund 93% of anything, you know you have full command and control over those funds. Because Iran provides the vast proportion of Hamas funding, it does not take too much to conclude Iran is fully responsible for everything that Hamas did. Historically, Iran has given Hamas $100 million a year. In 2019 and 2020, during maximum pressure, the amount was reduced significantly and Hamas had to go under an austerity plan. In 2022, after two years under the Biden administration, that number increased from less than a 100 million to 350 million. That additional funding gave Hamas the confidence, the training and the equipment to be able to conduct these attacks. Without that additional funding, it would not have been possible. Additionally, Iran has been training Hamas fighters since 1992. There are reports that they even trained 6,500 fighters at Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) bases in southern Iran.
For the reasons discussed, I think it highly inappropriate that President Biden has yet to utter the word Iran in any of his speeches. I this this allows Iran to get away with denying its role in the attacks. I do, however, respect a lot of what the president has said on Israel. He has been a lot stronger than many of us expected and should be applauded for that.
Lauri: Yeah, I think we all noticed the President did not mention Iran. I did want to point out that today is the day that the UN sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program are officially lifted We had the ability to block that at the UN, did we not? I agree Biden has spoken out quite strongly on Israel and I commend him for that as well. However. Iran is a big issue here. Is Biden going to continue down the path of appeasement in hopes of signing some sort of agreement or enter into some sort of secret agreement? What about the UN sanctions relief on Iran today?
Gabriel: I will provide the background for viewers. From 2006 to 2009, the UN imposed permanent restrictions on a number of Iranian activities. These included the selling and buying of conventional arms like planes and tanks and an arms embargo against Iran selling and buying ballistic missiles, drones, and anything related to nuclear delivery systems. In 2015 President Obama negotiated a deal, which set those restrictions to expire today, October 18th, 2023. Those restrictions as of midnight last night, have now expired. What that means is that Iran could buy an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from China, which could hit New York City, or Paris, or Los Angeles. If they have a nuclear weapon, they can attach a nuclear weapon to that missile. It means that they can legally sell ballistic missiles and suicide drones to Russia for their war against Ukraine. It also means they can legally buy and sell ballistic missiles and suicide drones to Hamas and Hezbollah.
This is something that was extremely concerning and the Trump administration saw it coming. In the 2015 deal, there was the legal right for any nation, including the United States, to snap back those UN sanctions and permanently restore them to their status from the 2000s. That is what the Trump administration did in August and September of 2020. It was a contested process. The other parties to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) argued that we no longer had that right. We argued that we did and snapped back those sanctions. Others sort of pretended that we had not done so. Biden’s first act in office was to rescind that snapback which restored Iran’s ability to export arms to countries. It also set us on this path to allow those ballistic missile and drone restrictions to expire.
Right now, Europe, France, Germany, and the UK could go to the UN and snap back those sanctions. They have refused to do so because they allege this would provoke Iran. That is the same argument they used in 2020. They said, “If we snap back those sanctions, we are afraid that Iran will go and enrich uranium at 20%.” Well, Iran went and enriched uranium at 20%. Then they told us they were afraid to snap back sanctions because Iran might enrich uranium at 60%. Iran did so anyway and Europe did nothing. Now, Europe’s line is that Iran may enrich to 90% if they snapped back sanctions. Well, Iran has gone to 84% enrichment and Europe has still not snapped backed. The reality here is Europe has been deterred by Iranian threats and they refuse to respond. Europe could fix this at any moment, but they refuse. This is a complete failure of leadership. This is the same kind of weakness that allowed Putin to invade Ukraine because knew there wouldn’t be much of a response from Europe.
Lauri: Thank you for that, Gabriel. I’m going to now turn to the Iran Experts Initiative (IEI). A major story broke in September, revealing senior US government officials and former top advisors were part of the Iran’s IEI. The report was based on materials gathered by an Iranian national and included emails showing US government officials’ participation in this secret Iranian government influence scheme. Before getting into the specifics of the individual government officials involved, please share what the IEI is and when, and why it was established. Also, how long you believe US-Iranian policymakers were part of it. You have pointed out that President Rouhani’s propaganda machine was announced to his cabinet in a meeting in March of 2020, but wasn’t the IEI actually established in 2014?
Gabriel: The IEI was a covert project initiated by Iran’s foreign ministry in 2014. At this time, former President Hassan Rouhani and his foreign minister Javad Zarif made a very strong effort downplay the threat from Iran and advance Iranian claims. This propaganda effort was not focused on general Twitter or Facebook users but on the highest echelons of policymakers and influencers who shape US and European strategic thinking. They did this by reaching out to Iranian diaspora members to become part of top Western think tanks. They inculcated Iranian Europeans or Iranian talking points and perspectives into these think tanks instead of advancing the views and values of the United States and Europe.
These efforts continued from 2014 all the way through the end of the Rouhani administration in 2021. Rouhani publicly announced his propaganda network in the spring of 2020. President Ebraham Raisi, elected in 2021, is an ultra-hardliner with zero interest in rapprochement or any relations with the West. Since Raisi’s election, they have done a lot less propaganda peddling. The current administration has actually sort of attacked some of the individuals who want relations between Iran and the West. They have no interest in these relations whatsoever. The reality is a lot of the individuals recruited under the IEI were still active after 2021, with some even serving in highest-ranking areas in the US government.
Lauri: It seems like the success of Iran’s influence peddling can be seen through the easing, waiving and lifting of US sanctions under the Biden administration. The Biden administration basically obliterated Trump’s maximum pressure campaign. This resulted in hundreds of billions of dollars in oil and other revenue flowing to Iran. You wrote a recent column entitled, How an Iranian Influence Campaign infiltrated US Congress. In this column you point out how an Iranian-backed fighter in Syria stated that the golden days were gone and would never return because Iran did not have enough money to give them. This was prior to the reversal of the maximum pressure campaign,
Biden’s reversal of maximum pressure sanctions opened the spigot of funds, which flowed through Iran to Hamas to fund the killing of Jews. In your article, you also discussed how the Iranian regime used Covid as a means to further their propaganda campaign. In this regard they claimed US sanctions were blocking Iran from getting help to deal with the health crisis despite their rejection of US offers to send aid. Can you share with us exactly how Iran used Covid propaganda to influence US policy and the role that Congress played in that? I think Covid is a good example of how the IEI works or worked.
Gabriel: I will take you back to 2019 when US sanctions had just come into place and were far stricter than Iran anticipated or thought possible. At this time, they had about $90 billion in assets frozen abroad and their economy started contracting massively. The Supreme Leader tasked the foreign ministry with enacting a public relations campaign twinned with their foreign policy to try and get those assets unfrozen. They no longer had the budget to fund their terror programs and they needed a way around that. The foreign minister relaunched a campaign spreading the message that sanctions hurt innocent Iranians because they restrict Iran’s ability to have food and medicine to take care of their people. Anyone who has actually seen the inner workings of the Iranian system knows that this is not true because (1) US sanctions do not target food and medicine and (2) the food and medicine that Iran does receive from abroad is overwhelmingly sold on the black market to raise funds for the regime. These funds are transferred to the regime’s elite and their terror and military arms and do not reach everyday people.
These untruths about sanctions, however, resonated among gullible western reporters in the United States and Europe, including the New York Times. Foreign Minister Zarif saw Covid as an opportunity to double down on that narrative. The Iranians formed a central propaganda hub on a site called Corona Two Plus. They used this site to coordinate their messaging. The Iranian sent graphics and talking points to all their ambassadors abroad for use on their websites and in op-eds. The whole point of this initiative was to get frozen money unfrozen and to obtain sanctions relief. They no plan whatsoever to use that money for medicine. The Supreme Leader was actually asked to send a billion Euros to the Ministry of Health. Instead, he sent the money to double the budget of a domestic riot squad, the Basij Resistance Force, and increased the budget of the IRGC by 32%. Nonetheless, you saw many people write articles supporting the Iranian position. These included Robert Malley and his deputy Ali Vaez who was outside of government at the time. They were amongst others arguing that US sanctions had hurt Iranian access to medicine.
These people repeated Iranian talking points which were untrue. 31 senators and representatives, wrote to the State Department repeating lines from Iran’s central propaganda hub. Most of the signatories were in the progressive wing of the government and included many members of the Squad. Iran’s messaging campaign, through various proxies and experts, was so effective that they got members of Congress to repeat unsubstantiated Iranian lies. That to me, is the most successful influence operation campaign you can achieve. You succeed in getting members of your enemies’ parliament, Congress in our case, to repeat your own talking points. That is how a good information operation works.
Lauri: I am glad you brought up Robert Malley. I think he is the starting point for US infiltration by IEI members. Robert Malley, for those who don’t know, served as Biden’s Iran Envoy. Earlier this year he was quietly placed on leave by the Biden administration. His security clearance has been revoked and he is under investigation by the FBI. We have heard nothing further about him other than the fact that he’s still listed as a senior fellow on the website of the Yale Jackson School of Global Affairs.
I want to point out that candidate Obama hired Malley for his foreign policy team in 2008. At that time, my friend Ed Lasky wrote an extensive piece for the American Thinker about his shady past and ideology. That article is well worth revisiting. It is also worth learning more, in general, about Malley’s anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and pro-Hamas past. Malley spoke out in admiration of Hamas claiming it is a charitable and not fanatical organization. Ed was prescient when he wrote, “Malley has served as a willing propagandist bending the truth and more to serve an agenda that is marked by anti-Israel bias. He heads a group of Middle East policy advisors for a think tank funded in part by anti-Israel billionaire activist George Soros and now is on the foreign policy staff of a leading presidential contender. Each step up the ladder seems to be a step closer towards his goal of empowering radicals and weakening the ties between America and our ally Israel”.
Since Ed’s column, Malley has continued to move up the ranks culminating in his position with Biden. You also stated in a New York Post column recently that Malley and others created an incredibly permissive environment for Hamas and for Iran. Have the various roles that he played in both the Obama and Biden administrations threatened our national security and that of Israel? So please share with us what you know about Malley and US Iran policy.
Gabriel: Malley is a Harvard and Yale-educated individual against whom I have no personal animus. My comments on Malley relate to his service in the US government. In my view his role in the government opens him up for fair criticism. He served in in President Clinton’s National Security Council (NSC) and worked there on Israel negotiations. What he said at the time, has been characterized to me as defending Yasser Arafat’s positions. In 2008, he was on President Obama’s campaign and was ultimately fired for his ties and meetings with Hamas. He said, in an interview, “Look, they’re very misunderstood. They’re deeply embedded in Palestinian society. They do charitable things, and they have rationality”. I think that is a stretch, to say the least.
Malley ended up being President Obama’s second-term Iran negotiator for the JCPOA at the NSC. In spite of protests by large numbers of Iranian Americans groups, Malley was appointed Iran envoy in 2021. Many Iranian Americans expressed grave concerns about how he ignored Iranian aggressions and repeated Iranian talking points. His posts on social media were, as the kids these days say, ratioed. This means that many people posted negative comments. Iranians posted negative comments saying everything he was saying was incorrect. It was an unprecedented instance of a diplomat not being respected, and even being despised, by the people he allegedly represented on both sides.
The concerns I have are primarily policy related. The first things the Biden administration did was to rescind all pressure on Iran. For 15 months, they stopped enforcing oil sanctions entirely. Even though the US gave dozens of small and large concessions to Iran, they were not able to secure a deal Iran. The Iranian leaders realized they were getting everything they wanted from the United States without a deal. They could export all the oil they wanted and take potshots at American forces in the region without reprisal. They had no need for a deal when the status quo was good enough. Ultimately, I think negotiations did not succeed because Iran realized it could get away with everything it wanted without a deal.
With respect to Malley, I imagine there were many warning signs. There were many people in the government telling me personally that Malley was not representing US interests. They told me he was acting like an intermediary between the US and Iran, rather than representing the US interests.
Lauri: Do you think Malley was placed on leave because the administration became aware that the story about him was about to break and they needed to cover themselves? They are doing a really good job of keeping the whole Malley fiasco a secret. I did read, however, that he is being subpoenaed by the House Oversight Committee. Do we think we will ever get to the bottom of what happened with him, why he was secretly let go and why he lost his security clearance?
Gabriel: The strangest part of this story is that most publicly available information on this is from the Tehran Times and not from Congress or the Administration. The Tehran Times is an Iranian state-run propaganda outlet. The Times released the memo diplomatic security sent to him on April 23rd of this year. The memo informed him his clearance had been suspended due to his personal conduct, mishandling of classified information, and mishandling of information technology, which refers to misuse of classified network systems on one’s computer. I believe the memo to be authentic. Congress requested to have him brief members in a classified session, and the response was that he was sick or on family leave. In reality, however, he could not brief congress because his clearance had been suspended. Members of the public did not know his clearance was suspended for over two months.
In my view the administration was hoping that this would go away. They hoped his clearance would be restored or he would resign and Congress would never learn about it. There are examples where the government can fairly refuse to disclose personal records in cases where they suspend a security clearance. One such example might be of a very low-level staffer who has a clearance suspended for drug use or something else like that. However, the case of a senior, under-secretary level US State Department official working on Iran is very different from the example provided of the low-level staffer. This was a coverup because senior members of the State Department lied to Congress repeatedly. They were hoping that Congress would never learn about the Malley issue. When the issue was exposed, they hid behind the idea that records are private. And as a result, we have had to learn from the Iranians and not from the administration about what’s happening.
How the Iranians obtained the memo is a good question. My view is that it is likely the Iranians hacked US government emails and are weaponizing them. I certainly hope that no US government employee would leak to the Tehran Times, an Iranian state propaganda outlet.
Lauri: Another high-level government official involved in the IEI is Iranian Ariane Tabatabai. Tabatabai, a former advisor at the State Department, now serves in the Pentagon as chief of staff to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict. Tabatabai advises the defense secretary on counter-terrorism. Her father is a close associate of former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and he was photographed with the grandson of Ayatollah Khamenei, the founder and leader of the 1979 Revolution. In 2016, she co-wrote an article arguing that the US should work together with Iran militarily and share intelligence with them in the fight against ISIS. In 2021, when she was brought in as a senior advisor to the office of the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, several lawmakers demanded that the Biden administration revoke her security clearance and conduct an investigation into her ties to the Iranian regime.
The Biden administration, however, ignored those calls. Lee Smith characterized the situation as follows, “The Biden administration allowed Malley to push an Iranian agent into sensitive national security positions because she was best equipped to carry out the administration’s own policy to appease a terror regime with American blood on its hands because the number of American officials who want to be responsible for protecting Iran’s nuclear weapons program is limited. The White House went outside the federal bureaucracy for someone who was well-connected to the regime and would relish the job of advancing its interests.”
Can you share what we have learned about Tabatabai from the cache of emails? Maybe share some of the statements and ideas she has promoted and explain her role in influencing US policy.
Gabriel: Certainly. I will say at the outset, I don’t agree with everything that Lee wrote. But let me back up and talk about Ariane. She has been a talented Iran analyst. Her writings were informative and thoughtful on many issues. However, there were many times her writings sounded like Iranian propaganda which now appears they were.
We know now that Dr. Tabatabai joined the IEI in 2014 and consulted Zarif’s foreign minister and top advisor on very sensitive issues. In one case, she asked permission from them to go to Israel. She had been invited to attend a workshop in Israel. She said that she wanted to counter Israeli propaganda at that workshop and asked them whether she should go. In another case, she was set to testify before Congress, and basically asked the Iranian foreign ministry for talking points with respect to what she should tell Congress. None of that was disclosed to Congress. The fact that we had someone advising members of Congress on what were effectively Iranian talking points should concern every American. That, to me, should completely disqualify someone to work in the US government.
Her family ties are also deeply concerning. If anyone had a parent who was close friends with Putin or with Xi Jinping, they would not be allowed in the US government. They simply would not. I have tried to hire people in the Senate whose grandparents were still in South Korea, for example, and they could not get a clearance. In my opinion, someone with ties like hers to the Iranian regime, should be completely disqualified from obtaining clearance. I am not saying that she is a spy handing over documents. I am saying she is someone who is intellectually and diplomatically compromised. The Iranian foreign very likely has information on her that the US government does not. She certainly should not be in the position of chief of staff for special operations. There are a lot of things that that office does relating to Iran, some of which are public and some of which are not.
Security clearance is a privilege not a right. It is a privilege you deserve if you can advance the national security views of this government. In her case, the risk is far too high and she simply should not be in government. There have now been several letters from members of Congress to the Pentagon demanding an investigation of her clearance. The Pentagon has responded and basically said they have no interest investigating her. To me that displays a level of callousness and lack of seriousness that is completely inappropriate for the Department of Defense. If you want to go have her work on Peru issues, maybe that’s one thing, but not on Iran.
There is some nuance here, I think. Tabatabai was hired by Malley. However, she resigned in protest over Malley’s conduct and his appeasement of the regime. This is one of the reasons I do not believe she is a spy. I am told by a number of individuals that she thought that Malley was appeasing the regime too much. Although there is a level of nuance here, she has no business being in the US government.
Lauri: I was going to ask about the security clearance and what was happening with that. I know Ned Price defended her in 2021 noting that she had been vetted. He basically intimated anyone who questions her clearance is racist, or something to that effect.
Gabriel: I will say the US government’s security vetting of individuals is not very good. Without going into much more detail, I do not have a lot of trust and faith and confidence in our security adjudication process. They get things wrong many times. All you need to know is that that a 19-year-old Massachusetts National Guard, who was posting top-secret information all over the internet, was given a top-secret security clearance. His clearance was not revoked even after his supervisors noted multiple times that he was mishandling information.
Lauri: Ali Vaez is closely linked with Tabatabai and is currently a senior Middle East advisor to George Soros’ International Crisis Group. Vaez was also involved in the IEI. There are so many connections between the International Crisis Group in the IEI, it almost appears like they were one at times. Vaez joined the Crisis Group in 2012 and served as Malley’s deputy there. One of the emails revealed Vaez swore allegiance to the Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. Zarif, in turn, has bragged that he used Vaez to influence Western negotiators. Malley attempted to bring Vaez into the State Department, but was denied clearance.
One thing he was not denied, however, was access to the White House. We recently learned that Vaez visited the Biden White House at least five times for high-level meetings with senior US officials, including National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and NSC’s coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, Brett McGurk. Both of these officials have played critical roles in negotiations with Iran, including the payment of the $6 billion ransom. Can you discuss Vaez’s involvement with Biden’s Iran policy? Do you think the Administration was aware of his role with IEI and do you believe that the Soros Crisis Group continues to influence Biden State Department policy?
Gabriel: Ali Vaez is an Iranian-American professor, or associate professor, at Georgetown. Ali is a very smart individual. That is not the problem. The problem is that he was recruited into the IEI as one of the founding members. As you mentioned, in one email to Zarif he says he has a loyal and patriotic duty to Iran to help Zarif in any way that he can. Ali Vaez has been advising Rob Malley. He was Rob Malley’s deputy in the Crisis Group and had an enormous amount of access to the White House. The part that concerns me most is that he was given a large amount of non-public confidential information by the White House and the State Department. For example, when the New York Times announced the $6 billion hostage deal with Iran in August, Ali was quoted as being fully knowledgeable about the arrangement. He was briefing the New York Times on the details of the hostage deal.
Members of Congress were not briefed on that hostage deal. Members of Congress and their staff were not given any information from the administration even though they requested it repeatedly. The fact that someone who has sworn loyalty to the Iranian foreign ministry has access to this information should concern everyone. Also, this type of information should be distributed to Congress first and then everyone else.
Malley was the president and CEO of the Crisis Group for many years. Some of their programs are fine but their Iran program has largely been allied with the goals of foreign minister Zarif. They echo Iranian propaganda and strategic thinking. They present Iran as a victim and themselves as victims who deserve to maintain their security clearances. It is similar to the Russians declaring they need their sphere of influence and breathing room. We should not give the Russians that largesse and we certainly should not give it to the Iranians. The International Crisis Group has done an immense amount of leg work for the Iranian regime and have advanced their propaganda both in the United States and in Europe.
I think there is another issue here that has not been reported. This issue is the way Ali Vaez and Rob Malley worked together at the State Department, even when Ali was not part of the US government. There are allegations that he wrote Malley’s tweets. There is an allegation that he somehow participated in the Vienna negotiations in 2021 and 2022 and spoke to the Russians on our behalf as a sort of weird intermediary. Acting in this capacity is not the role of outside think tankers, and especially not ones with his past.
Lauri: Do you believe there will ever be mea culpa of sorts? Will there ever be an admission at the State Department they were basically infiltrated by Iranian agents who influenced our Iran policy? Do we not need to put our Iran policy on hold until we understand more about what occurred? I am guessing the answer to that is no since the Obama-Biden Iranian appeasement policy seems to be part of the Democrat DNA at this point. That said, do you think Obama and Biden hired Malley because they believed that empowering Iran at the expense of our allies to realign the region was a good idea or did Malley and others bring that ideology to Obama and Biden? It is a chicken or the egg question.
Gabriel: It is important to also understand that Malley went to high school with Secretary Blinken. They are close childhood friends and this is personal for some of them. I think the idea they would admit they were wrong is quite unlikely. Perhaps Blinken will admit in his memoirs that his policy has been a catastrophic failure and has led to everything we are seeing in the Middle East. I am not going to hold my breath and I probably will not buy the book. The other issue here is these folks have been influencing each other’s thoughts and strategies for the better part of two decades now. They have convinced themselves that they are right. One of the things Secretary Blinken pledged at the start of his administration was that he was going to bring in a diverse advisory team. He understood Malley was controversial and pledged to bring in some people in who did not agree with him. All those people resigned in protest. There were three, if not four political appointees dealing with Iran who resigned within the first year of the Biden administration. That is unprecedented. That never happened in any office of the State Department that I worked in. Something of such importance should be deeply concerning. You had another part to your question.
Lauri: Well, I was focused on the chicken and the egg question, but also asked whether there is any self-reflection at the State Department that may cause them to put the Iranian appeasement policy and pursuit of a nuclear deal on hold. I heard on a webinar this morning that the Biden administration is moving full steam ahead with Iran.
Gabriel: Iran is directly responsible for the murder of 30 Americans and the kidnapping of around a dozen more. It is important that the United States respond to that. As of March, there have been 84 attacks by Iranians or their proxies against Americans and we have responded four times. Iran believes it can get away with attacking and killing Americans because it has gotten away with this before. The Biden administration refuses to extract an economic cost, diplomatic or military cost from them for their actions. Until these individuals are out of the White House, I do not think anything will change.
One other thing I will note is that the President and the Secretary of State are the ones who call the shots. It is the job of the special envoy or special representative to provide options to the President and the Secretary but they make the final decisions. The President and the Secretary of State are responsible for the decisions that have led us to this point. Malley is certainly to blame, but he is not alone.
Lauri: On Sunday, you tweeted something about the Islamic Education Center of Houston. I watched the videos you posted of hundreds of Muslim children in Houston dressed in traditional Arab garb and singing an ode to Kassam Soleimani and Supreme leader Khamenei. It was shocking to hear them sing, “I will be your soldier, I will be your martyr”. Many of us are familiar with videos of little children in Gaza being brainwashed but did not expect to see this in Houston. You also pointed out that this indoctrination has been going on for at least a decade, and it not limited to Houston. There are videos of children from other parts of the country wearing keffiyehs and talking about the occupation of Palestine while pledging allegiance to Khamenei. This help explain the multitudes of pro-Hamas protestors across the country. How extensive is this indoctrination in young Muslims in the US and what can we do about it, if anything? I presume Iran is funding diaspora indoctrination as part of its influence-peddling scheme. Is there a financial way to address these sanctions? What can be done?
Gabriel: I want to emphasize that I think this is about Iranian influence and not about Moslems. I know many Muslims who despise the Iranian regime and those in Iran often despise it the most. Over 44 years ago the Shah set up the Alavi Foundation to advance Iran’s cultural diplomacy in the United States. After the revolution, Supreme Leader Khamenei, the first Supreme Leader, took control of the foundation and started using it to spread Iranian propaganda. He used it to establish a network of control of various mosques and religious institutions in the United States. He appointed representatives to actually run many of those organizations. The foundation was run by the Iranian ambassador to the UN for decades and funded this Islamic Education Center in Houston. The same foundation funded centers in Potomac, Maryland, in Manassas, Virginia, and elsewhere around the country. They do some Islamic teachings, but the focus is on pledging loyalty to Khamenei, praising Soleimani, and railing against Iran’s geopolitical enemies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. I grew up going to churches and there was no discussion of America’s geopolitical enemies in sermons. That is not a common feature.
This center also hosts Cub Scout packs where they rail against US sanctions and discuss the evil superpowers, US and Israel. I was an Eagle Scout. That is not how any scouting program that I am aware of operates and these are Iranian influence operations. Their sermons include snippets from Press TV, Iran’s main propaganda channel in English. This channel was recently sanctioned by the Biden administration. In my view, these activities are un-American and likely illegal, because they support a state sponsor of terrorism. I certainly hope that the FBI and Department of Justice look into this. I do not want to get political but they should not be investigating these activities rather than parent teacher meetings or Catholic churches. I do not care about the religion aspect. I do care about the foreign influence and monies coming in from an enemy county and potentially being used to indoctrinate children into attacking American citizens. We know that Iran has assassination plots against Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, my former Ross Brian Hook and about ten others. The people discussed are ideal candidates who could be recruited to execute such assassinations. We need to get serious here in the United States about disrupting the potential for such events.
Lauri: Is there any news about the investigation into Malley’s security breaches and is there an expected replacement for Malley? Given the administration, do we expect anything to come of the FBI investigation into Malley? I am glad that the House Oversight Committee has now subpoenaed him or is about to subpoena him. People seem a little cynical about whether anything is really going to come of this.
Gabriel: What the FBI does is usually kept in a black box until they indict someone or decide not to press charges. As such, I have no way of judging the status of the FBI investigation into Malley. There’s a separate State Department investigation to determine if he deserves to maintain his clearance or it should be pulled. If it is pulled, Malley gets the opportunity to appeal it and it goes to a final adjudication. It is not an impossibility that he has his clearance returned and he goes back into office. One thing to note, the House of Representatives passed an amendment three weeks ago that would reduce his salary to $1. As such, it would be shocking to me that they would put someone like that back in office without giving the American people a full accounting of why he was suspended in the first place.
Lauri: Someone asked if you can comment on the parallel between this situation and the American officials were found to be Soviet spies in the 1940s, documented by Haynes and Klehr. Someone else made an Alger Hiss comparison. Do you have thoughts on that comparison?
Gabriel: Here is the way I would phrase it. Russians have espionage operations and influence operations in the United States. No one is out there denying that is the case. The Chinese government has influence and espionage operations on our soil, and no one denies that is the case. For some reason, the moment you replace those words with Iran, you get an outcry from journalists and others denying the accusations as baseless and maintaining they are all innuendo based. The notion that a nation of 84 million people with a very elaborate and well-funded security and military apparatus would not have espionage and influence operations in the United States is preposterous. That’s just what nations do. We do it too. We have espionage operations all over the world. That’s what a good CIA and a good intelligence operation does.
Firstly, I think it’s important to admit that Iran does have espionage and influence operations in the US. Once we do that, we can look at where they are, how they operate and what their interests are. It is a sort of the follow-the-money type of response. I say determine what Iran’s interests are and the ideas they want to advance. Then determine who is advancing those arguments, how they are getting paid and who their associates are.
I do not believe that just because you’re an Iranian American, you should be investigated. I worked with a lot of really talented, passionate Iranian Americans who are 100% loyal to our government and who fight against our enemies every single day. My issue is with people who are intellectually compromised or who are potentially compromised by intelligence held by the Iranian government. I don’t have the classified intelligence to know exactly who is involved but there are some. I think much of the media and think tank community is delusional if they believe there is nothing going on.
Lauri: Do you think these delusions emanate from the Obama-Biden team and obsession with Iran and entering into a new agreement realigning the Middle East? Is it all tied together?
Gabriel: In 2014 and 2015, the administration began aligning with actors who did not have the US best interests at heart. The Obama administration created this temporary alignment of interests with these actors to assist them in pushing the Iran deal across the finish line. They began meeting, cooperating and sharing talking points with organizations which cared about Iranian objectives and not those of Obama. The individuals involved on both sides have socialized, talked and mixed together so closely that many in the Biden administration and progressive movement now trust them and believe they are trying to advance US national security interests. That is not the case.
Lauri: Sarah Stern, our founder and president, asked if Robert Malley was expected to appear before Congress after his security clearance was taken away and the if US Department of State actually covered up for him by saying there was an illness in his family. She asked if it is legal for the US Department of State to lie before Congress.
Gabriel: Good question. There are penalties if you are sworn in. If you are at a hearing and you are sworn in, it is a criminal offense to lie. It is not a criminal offense, if you are, say, a State Department official who writes something in an email subsequently proven to be untrue. However, the individual should be disqualified from working in that arena and there should a political cost. I happen to know the individuals who lied to Congress. I am not going to name them because I am told that they are not malicious actors who deliberately tried to deceive others. My concern is about those who provided information to them. This is something that the Secretary of State would have known about. The Secretary of State would have known that Robert Malley, his friend from high school, had been suspended.
Secretary Blinken has a responsibility to convey information to Congress and to the public openly and transparently. He did not do any such thing. There is deep rot and mishandling relating to how this was executed. As someone who was in the secretary’s office for two years and who dealt with on these issues, I know there are special procedures. These procedures have to be followed painstakingly and it is not always easy. This, however, was not a little innocent mistake. This was, in my view, an intentional coverup from the top, from the secretary. Perhaps even the president was briefed. I am not sure.
Lauri: Someone asked, “Why is Biden still willing to make deals with Iran even after Malley has gone?”
Gabriel: There is a naivete in the highest levels of government and a belief that we have to appease Iran because of their nuclear program. They believe we cannot afford to have a nuclear confrontation given the situation with Russia and potentially China, and therefore we have to push this ball down the road. My view is when postpone dealing with an issue, it becomes snowball that starts an avalanche. In my view, the Biden administration needs to cut out these negotiations. This administration is obsessed with talking. We send four different cabinet secretaries to Beijing with multiple policy concessions, to try and open dialogue with China. We have made policy concessions to be able to meet with the Iranians. We have made concessions to meet with the Russians to try to prevent their war. We are allowing Venezuela to pump oil right now to secure meetings with them. This is not an appropriate policy. This is not how a powerful a superpower ought to behave. Countries ought to make concessions to meet with us, not the other way around. We have power and influence. If the Biden administration is willing to exercise that authority, we have not seen it yet.
Lauri: Gabriel, is there any evidence that the American Iranians we discussed receive funds or other material inducements from Iran?
Gabriel: There are indications that they receive free airfare and lodging perhaps in Tehran itself. If that is the case, it is illegal under the Foreign Agent Registration Act. Some of these think tankers and their organizations have insisted they paid for everything. I do not really trust them at their word. The Department of Justice has indicted Iranian agents in the United States. On January 19th, 2021, the Department of Justice arrested a Boston college professor who was getting paychecks from the Iranian mission at the UN and was writing opinion articles in US papers. He wrote around a dozen letters and op-eds in the New York Times and never declared that he was an Iranian agent.
There are links between him and the others we discussed. He co-authored repeatedly with the one of the top professors at Princeton, the former Iranian ambassador to the UN. That professor has co-authored with Ali Vaez. All these people have co-authored with known Iranian foreign agents and foreign officials. They are all in a tight network together. They all talk to each other and the smart ones do not leave a trail that can get them indicted by the Department of Justice. The issue is that our major papers, our major think tanks, and our US government officials don’t call them for what they are, which is Iranian agents. We have freedom of speech here and they can be Iranian and propaganda agents. If they declare what they are, that is okay but they should be transparent about what they are. The media and American experts also need to be transparent and admit that they are advancing Iranian interests. They have that right under the constitution, but that’s exactly what they are. They should not pretend to be neutral experts as they often do.
Lauri: Thank you, Gabriel. We are going to have a webinar tomorrow morning with Brigadier General Amira Avivi of the IDF for an update on the war. I cannot thank you enough, Gabriel, for joining us this afternoon. You were, as I expected, full of information. I wish we had another hour to go over more detail, but we’ll bring you back another time. Thank you for all the work you do. I encourage everybody to follow Gabriel’s work. You can follow him on Twitter. You’ll learn a lot from doing so. Thank you all for joining this afternoon and we’ll see you tomorrow morning. Have a good afternoon.
Further Israel update with Brigadier General (res.) Amir Avivi Transcript
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