Sy Hersh: US funded and trained Iranian group on State Dept. terror list

Israel/PalestineMiddle East
on 22 Comments
MEK supporters have been lobbying to take their organization off the State Department terrorist list (Photo: EPA/Al Jazeera English)

Seymour Hersh, the venerable investigative journalist, dropped another bombshell yesterday in the New Yorker: the US military trained members of an Iranian terrorist group in Nevada in 2005.

What’s more, American intelligence continues to be transferred to the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) for use in operations that include the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.

This report, if true, would mean that the US is deeply involved in the business of conducting what can only be described as a low-level, covert war being waged on Iran.

Hersh reports that during the Bush administration, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), an elite Special Operations force, transferred funds, arms and intelligence to the MEK.

While this type of covert activity is standard practice for the US–see Iran-Contra–what makes this revelation shocking is that the MEK is still on the US terrorist list. Because of that fact, the training had to be conducted in secret, away from the eyes of the State Department, at the Department of Energy’s Nevada National Security Site.

It should also be emphasized that the MEK has been implicated in the killing of Americans.

Here’s more from Hersh:

The training ended sometime before President Obama took office, the former official said. In a separate interview, a retired four-star general, who has advised the Bush and Obama Administrations on national-security issues, said that he had been privately briefed in 2005 about the training of Iranians associated with the M.E.K. in Nevada by an American involved in the program. They got “the standard training,” he said, “in commo, crypto [cryptography], small-unit tactics, and weaponry—that went on for six months,” the retired general said. “They were kept in little pods.” He also was told, he said, that the men doing the training were from JSOC, which, by 2005, had become a major instrument in the Bush Administration’s global war on terror. “The JSOC trainers were not front-line guys who had been in the field, but second- and third-tier guys—trainers and the like—and they started going off the reservation. ‘If we’re going to teach you tactics, let me show you some really sexy stuff…’ ”

The training may have ended before Obama’s term began, but Hersh quotes a former senior intelligence officer as saying that US intelligence continues to be used by the MEK.

These revelations come two months after NBC News reported that the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, was training the MEK to carry out assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. The Obama administration denied any involvement then.

Glenn Greenwald comments for Salon on the Hersh story:

If this report is true, it means the U.S. Government actively trained a group that the U.S. Government itself legally categorizes as a “foreign terrorist organization,” a clear felony under U.S. law…

That alone compels serious DOJ and Congressional investigations into these claims. Worse, this reportedly happened at the very same time that the U.S. aggressively prosecuted and imprisoned numerous Muslims for providing material support for groups on that list even though many of those prosecuted provided support that was far, far less than what the U.S. Government itself was providing to MEK. Meanwhile, right at this moment, America’s closest ally — Israel — is clearly a state sponsor of this designated Terrorist organization, providing training, funding and arms to it, and the U.S. may very well be as well (independent of all else, given that Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. aid, the U.S., at the very least, is financing a state sponsor of Terror).

At the same time, a glittering bipartisan cast of former Washington officials is receiving large payments from this designated Terrorist group, meeting with its leaders, and then advocating on its behalf — again, providing far more material support than many powerless, marginalized Muslims who have been and continue to be prosecuted under this law. All of this appears to be clearly criminal regardless of whether MEK belongs on the list — once a group is placed by the State Department on the list, whether justifiably or not, it is a felony to provide material support to it — but MEK appears to be doing exactly that which is typically considered Terrorism: assassinating civilian scientists (and severely wounding their wives) with bombs and causing other civilian-killing explosions on Iranian soil in order to induce fear.

A version of this article originally appeared on AlterNet’s blog.

22 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    April 7, 2012, 11:29 am

    Alex, Alex! “[USA’s support for MEK] can only be described as a low-level, covert war being waged on Iran.”

    Alex! Braven up! Go ahead! Allow that it can also be described as “Terrorism” or “State Support of Terrorism”. (There. Makes me feel so much better. Not since Nicaragua, of course, has the USA supported (any one else’s) terrorism. Or has it?)

    PS: Is it a felony at USA law for the government to what would be a clear felony if citizens did it? And is it a felony when USA citizens (Giuliani, Dean) do it if the government is determined not to prosecute them?

    Let us all celebrate, while we are at it, the USA’s substitution of the “Rule of MEN” for the “Rule of LAW” in this touchy business of terrorism.

    • Alex Kane
      April 7, 2012, 11:53 am

      I agree, Pabelmont! It’s terrorism!

      • LeaNder
        April 8, 2012, 8:41 am

        concerning the Bush administration, this really does not surprise me. But how could the US avoid that its intelligence is passed on, if it is shared in the first place?

      • LeaNder
        April 8, 2012, 11:08 am

        thanks Alex, this is important. The MEK is very active over here again too, collecting.

        But brilliant analysis by Glenn Greenwald. A must read.

      • Alex Kane
        April 8, 2012, 11:15 am

        Some of Hersh’s sources suggest that the intelligence sharing with the MEK is actively ongoing. Others do say that they believe it stopped. Excerpts from his article:

        Some American-supported covert operations continue in Iran today, according to past and present intelligence officials and military consultants…

        Five Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated since 2007. M.E.K. spokesmen have denied any involvement in the killings, but early last month NBC News quoted two senior Obama Administration officials as confirming that the attacks were carried out by M.E.K. units that were financed and trained by Mossad, the Israeli secret service. NBC further quoted the Administration officials as denying any American involvement in the M.E.K. activities. The former senior intelligence official I spoke with seconded the NBC report that the Israelis were working with the M.E.K., adding that the operations benefitted from American intelligence. He said that the targets were not “Einsteins”; “The goal is to affect Iranian psychology and morale,” he said, and to “demoralize the whole system—nuclear delivery vehicles, nuclear enrichment facilities, power plants.” Attacks have also been carried out on pipelines. He added that the operations are “primarily being done by M.E.K. through liaison with the Israelis, but the United States is now providing the intelligence.” An adviser to the special-operations community told me that the links between the United States and M.E.K. activities inside Iran had been long-standing. “Everything being done inside Iran now is being done with surrogates,” he said.

  2. chet
    April 7, 2012, 11:38 am

    No one outside the US is surprised by its hypocrisy and double-dealing – the response to Mr. Hersh’s reporting: a shrug and acceptance of “business as usual”.

  3. Annie Robbins
    April 7, 2012, 12:24 pm

    teeth grinding isn’t it?

    great reporting as usual alex

    • Abierno
      April 7, 2012, 5:45 pm

      It’s far, far more than teeth grinding, when one realizes that while MEK terrorists are being trained in the US, collaboratively with Israel, the Department of Justice
      was prosecuting the Holy Land Foundation (also the Occupied Land Fund) as a
      terrorist foundation for the transmission of funds (for hospitals, schools, etc)
      to Gaza, the Occupied Territories and Jordan. I believe that there was commentary that allegedly several of prosecution witnesses were Israelis
      testifying under assumed identities. Although the appeal was lost, would this be
      an appropriate time for a review of this situation?

      • ritzl
        April 8, 2012, 2:15 am

        I would ask it slightly differently. If such a (so many) clear-cut violation of black letter law is simply ignored, cannot that be used as proof that the law is not the law (somehow)? Or that the law is not intended to mean what it was construed to mean in prosecuting the Holy Land Foundation, et. al.

        This glaring and documented chasm in enforcement [of a crappy law; it shouldn’t be enforced at all, but as GG has pointed out, the only way to get it corrected is to send Guiliani++++++ to jail] must surely have some legal significance and/or common law application. If not, we’re f’d.

  4. Kathleen
    April 7, 2012, 1:37 pm

    This one keeps unfolding

  5. pabelmont
    April 7, 2012, 1:45 pm

    Hersh: “Allan Gerson, a Washington attorney for the M.E.K., notes that the M.E.K. has publicly and repeatedly renounced terror.” One wonders if offering legal advice or service to a terrorist group constitutes a felony. Of course, it should not be a felony to practice law. But the statute involved — 18 USC § 2339A of the US Code “Providing material support to terrorists” — is a weird thing.

    But terrorism and anti-terrorism and foreign policy are so intermingled, aren’t they? “NATO Leaders Guilty Under US Code of Providing Material Support to Terrorists” (Libyan rebels have ties to Al Qa’eda)

  6. Bumblebye
    April 7, 2012, 2:09 pm

    Another group on the terror list is campaigning for more US support:
    link to
    A program on today’s World Service schedule about the weird world of the People’s Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI):
    “We report on the way a former pariah group accused of killing Americans has won over intelligence experts, generals, and congressmen from both sides of the political divide.”

    Actually on air as this comment is written!

  7. riyadh
    April 7, 2012, 3:42 pm

    This is hardly shocking. It’s been America’s MO for the past 50 years.

  8. DICKERSON3870
    April 7, 2012, 4:42 pm

    RE: “Hersh reports that during the Bush administration, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), an elite Special Operations force, transferred funds, arms and intelligence to the MEK.” ~ Alex Kane

    MY COMMENT: I wonder if that is the source of some of the money that is being paid to high-profile Americans to give speeches in favor of removing the MEK from the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Sheesh, what a corrupt, hypocritical country we are!

    SEE: Washington’s high-powered terrorist supporters, by Glenn Greenwald,, 3/12/12
    LINK – link to

    AND SEE: MEK and its material supporters in Washington, by Jeremiah Goulka,, 3/28/12
    LINK – link to

  9. anonymouscomments
    April 7, 2012, 7:23 pm

    in response to these “delist MEK” shirt idiots, we need a counter t-shirt based on US law:

    LIST israel [and some small text on how israel is a proven sponsor of terrorism and commits state terrorism, hence must be listed…]

    those grinning idiots taking money to advocate for terrorist groups are repulsive…

    • Egbert
      April 8, 2012, 8:45 am

      No matter how bright the T’s are, they don’t distract me from Clinton’s ziocaine-induced zombie walk.

      MEK Supporters Support Terrorism.

  10. weindeb
    April 8, 2012, 11:38 am

    I assume that there will be a strong, largely unpublicized attempt to remove MEK from the terrorism list and declare it a basically benign organization. In fact, if I recall correctly, there already is afoot such a push to make MEK, presently our very own de facto terrorist organization, a quite morally acceptable and strategic advantage to American foreign policy – with AIPAC no doubt rubbing its hands in glee. But after all, there was that Cuban criminal a while past who was known to be responsible for destroying a civilian airliner with complete loss of life and who nevertheless was eventually allowed to lead an open and normal life in this country. Once again our very own terrorist and thus not only tolerable, but downright ethical and necessary. Plus ça change….

  11. Les
    April 9, 2012, 1:11 pm

    What is there about “material support” that lawyers Obama, Holder, and Clinton do not understand?

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