Iranian deep-covered agent Kaveh Afrasiabi, who, according to an article by Todd Bensman, published in The Investigative Project on Terrorism, came to the United States in 1973, became a legal permanent resident in 1984 and then became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Iran’s Permanent Mission at the United Nations in New York “surreptitiously” put Afrasiabi on its payroll in 2007. Despite specific evidences mentioned by Todd Bensman, a 23-year former investigative newspaper reporter and government intelligence official with master’s degrees in journalism and security studies; Kaveh Afrasiabi has denied his involvement with the Iranian intelligence agency.
At the comment section of Blitz article about the dubious activities of Kaveh Afrasiabi, he wrote: “This article is incredibly biased, parrots the baseless allegations against me. The emails attributed to me were never written by me and have been planted by hackers, as part of the systematic effort to smear me. I never showed any of my articles to any Iranian official for pre-approval and I have published a compendium of my articles that speak for themselves, titled Agent of Peace. Please look for it on Amazon. I had a legal and transparent part-time consulting role with Iran’s mission, nothing “secret” about it. Rather shameful that the most elementary basis of journalism is overlooked here. I ask the editors of Blitz to allow me to respond to this biased article. If the editor had one iota of objectivity he would have asked why the US kept silent for 13 years until the last two days of that rogue administration that excelled in the art of lawlessness at home and abroad? Has he bothered to read any of my books that are highly praised in Foreign Affairs, Middle East Journal, and others? Of course not. Kaveh Afrasiabi, Ph.D”.
Facts about the Iranian deep-cover agent
The Iranian press secretary, according to the DOJ complaint, “directed Afrasiabi to publish an article advocating” what the Iranian regime wanted to have happen. The article should call for the European Union to penalize Bahrain if it did not stop arresting Shiites and also to call for a Saudi troop withdrawal.
“[W]hat we can do on Bahrain? You know that situation is very trategic (sic)?” the Iranian press secretary emailed Afrasiabi. “Can we talk to publish some article on that?”
A couple of weeks later, an article co-authored by Afrasiabi appeared in the Guardian newspaper, advocating diplomatic and economic reprisals against Bahrain, travel bans on its officials, and a demand that Saudi Arabia withdraw forces, the DOJ complaint notes.
Like the American news outlets, the Guardian’s story remains online, with no update acknowledging the charges against Afrasiabi.
For another article in February 2013, Afrasiabi emailed an unpublished draft version to the Iran mission’s deputy ambassador asking, “please check the attached article. I will appreciate any input. It has been accepted and gone through revisions. It is in line with leader’s latest speech.”
The obliging deputy emailed back with notes and suggested changes.
“The below issues are dangerous and are contrary to our national positions and actions.” The deputy listed four points that Afrasiabi should remove from the article.
Afrasiabi did as instructed and submitted the new version to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, later sending a link to the deputy ambassador in an email stating: “Salam, here is the article, thank you again, I got rid of all those points you raised.”
Such direct regime involvement in Afrasiabi’s writing operation and television appearances was not uncommon, judging by other incidents alleged in the DOJ’s narrative. The Iranian mission’s press secretary, for instance, provided the talking points for numerous 2014 television interviews in which Afrasiabi denied allegations in a new documentary that blamed Iran for the 1988 bombing of Pan-American Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
The same happened in 2016 when Iran captured 10 American Navy sailors in the Persian Gulf. Afrasiabi went on television – again supplied with the Iranian press secretary’s specific talking points, the DOJ complaint states. He said the sailors had all been treated so well that when Iran released the Americans 16 hours later, they had all “laughed and left with big smiles on their faces.”
The DOJ complaint details similar sleights of hand well through 2020, where the Iranian regime had Afrasiabi reserve special ire for President Donald Trump’s airstrike on Al Quds Force General Qasem Soleimani.
Using his Status to Access American Power-Brokers
The government’s story is that Afrasiabi parlayed his initial portfolio of prestige editorials into access on Capitol Hill, where he lobbied hard for Iran during extremely sensitive nuclear negotiations. The DOJ complaint details operations in which the regime directed Afrasiabi to play on his New York Times and National Public Radio articles to pry open doors to lawmakers. Afrasiabi would send story links to congressional staffers, pitching himself as an independent Iran expert with important information to offer – and to ask for some in return.
“I am clear about lobbying us for swap deal,” he emailed one of his Iranian bosses at the UN mission in 2009, two years into the job.
This was a reference to a December 2009 effort in which Afrasiabi helped an unidentified congressman draft a letter to President Barack Obama, urging the new president to accept a “fuel swap” proposal Iran’s nuclear negotiators had floated. The letter was sent to Obama, but the Iranians lost contact with how it had played.
Afrasiabi was on the case. He emailed a “senior U.S. State Department official” seeking the administration’s “latest thinking” on that matter. In asking for a meeting, Afrasiabi cited his “repeatedly” written op-eds, the links to which he helpfully sent.
In 2012, now seeking a final copy of that 2009 letter, Afrasiabi emailed a staff member complaining the congressman had not gotten back to him, which he saw as a slight to such a prominent writer.
“I have not heard from the Congressman. I am an Iran expert and with high visibility – as can be seen in below samples of my interviews on NPR, Christian Science Monitor, Al-Jazeera, Agence France, oped in NY Times, and feel a little disrespected here…”
The tactic worked. After he provided links to various articles and television interviews again, another staff member emailed a copy of the 2009 letter to Afrasiabi and then carried out his request to schedule an Iran experts panel where he would teach lawmakers and staff about U.S.-Iranian relations.
Afrasiabi went on for years more to trade on his prominent writings and television appearances for access to American decision-makers.
All That is Left Hanging
After his arrest, Afrasiabi told the Algemeiner news site that Iran’s UN mission did pay him for years, but that “it never occurred to me that I was doing anything illegal. My conscience is clear, and if the US government had an iota of sense of appreciation, they would thank me for all my tireless activities for the cause of détente, non-proliferation, human rights, inter-religious dialogue and understanding.”
Afrasiabi has yet to address any of the government’s specific investigative findings. But news organizations caught up in this operation have all gone just as mum. Explanations and discussions are warranted about what news organizations knew or suspected about Afrasiabi, and how they will vet all future guest commentators with track records of tireless support for American adversaries. This discussion need not wait for criminal judicial processes to play out.
Maybe editors at the New York Times and elsewhere merely got duped for years and years. None, after all, were in position to demand Afrasiabi’s personal bank records showing his relationship with Iran.
Still, newspapers and academic journals who enabled the Iranian operation are not volunteering whether they ever wondered why a writer whose consistent pattern of support for Iran always seemed to fall in line with official Iranian positions.
The U.S. intelligence community also is on the hook here for an eventual explanation as to how long agencies were aware of Afrasiabi and what they may also know about the media outlet involvement. Did they miss the operation for years, too?
No one and no entity involved in the Afrasiabi affair deserves a pass on explaining it to the American public.