Unmasking Covert Tactics: Tehran’s Influence Beyond Borders

In March, the removal of Robert Malley, Joe Biden’s special envoy for Iran, shed light on the concerning ties between U.S. officials and Iranian mullahs. This opened a lens on Tehran’s influence beyond borders.

However, this revelation was just the tip of the iceberg, as subsequent investigations exposed a network of high-level agents within the U.S. government and media with direct links to Malley, all actively working to promote the interests of the Iranian regime.

Tehran’s Influence Beyond Borders Program

High Level Iranian Agents

Last month’s revelations underscored a persistent trend of individuals advocating for the appeasement of Iran and the suppression of its democratic opposition within the United States. This disturbing pattern has, over the past three years, contributed to the Iranian regime’s windfall of $100 billion, financing actions that have led to crises such as the October 7 disaster in Israel and its devastating repercussions in Gaza.

Robert Malley - Tehran's influence beyond borders. CSPAN video image.
Robert Malley – Tehran’s influence beyond borders. CSPAN video image.

A critical exposé by Ken Blackwell, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, highlighted the Iran Experts Initiative (IEI). Launched in 2014, this covert influence operation aimed to shape U.S. policies against the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), the foremost opposition movement within Iran. Astonishingly, Malley brought Ariane Tabatabai, an early participant in the IEI, into his State Department team to help shape America’s Iran policy.

The IEI consistently portrayed the MEK as an unviable alternative to diminish international support for the group. Tabatabai played a central role in disseminating this narrative, aligning herself with the regime’s claims regarding the MEK’s purported lack of popular support. These revelations shed light on the clandestine efforts to sway public opinion against the MEK, exposing the manipulation of information to suit the Iranian regime’s agenda.

Ariane Tabatabai. CSPAN video image.
Ariane Tabatabai. CSPAN video image.

Iranian Infiltrators in Albania

Simultaneously, the Iranian regime engaged in a dual strategy of war-mongering in the Middle East and a demonization campaign against its main opposition, the MEK, especially in Albania – a crucial ally of the United States in the Balkans. To facilitate this agenda, an association called Asila was formed in the fall of 2021. Comprising Albanians close to the Iranian Embassy and Iranians associated with Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence (MIOS), Asila aimed to tarnish the image of the MEK at a considerably lower cost.

In July 2022, Albania’s “Special Court against Corruption and Organized Crime” (SPAK), supported by the United States, raised suspicions about Asila’s activities. The court ordered the search and seizure of communication devices belonging to 11 Iranians associated with Asila. SPAK believed that these individuals were receiving funds from the terrorist Quds Force, the external branch of the Iranian regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The fallout from SPAK’s investigation led to the expulsion of several Asila members from Albania, including key figures associated with Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence. Despite these setbacks, the Iranian regime persisted in its efforts to vilify its opposition, particularly in the United States and Europe, portraying the MEK as worse than the regime itself.

Moreover, the Iranian regime sought to create a hostile environment for its opposition in Albania, aiming to suppress and eliminate the MEK by demonizing its members. Following SPAK’s actions against Asila, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence continued its operations in Albania, reorganizing under a new guise called the Albanian Branch of the “Nejat” Society.

MEK Suppression

As victims of the Tehran regime have revealed, the Nejat Society is one of the main branches of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) in Iran. Its primary task is to suppress the families of MEK members. U.S. and European governments must recognize that appeasement with the Iranian regime, particularly against its democratic opposition, results in domestic crackdowns, regional conflicts, and global terrorism.

A crucial first step is suspending the intelligence and espionage agencies of the Iranian regime in the U.S. and Europe, expelling all associated agents. Tehran’s influence beyond borders program is expected to continue.

Pejman Talebi is an Iran & Middle East political and Economic researcher.