Written by Hudson Crozier
The scoop: Iranian officials launched a secret program in 2014 called the Iran Experts Initiative, building an overseas network of researchers and academics and coordinating with them on their work, to promote Iran's views on nuclear weapons negotiations, according to newly released documents.
- Corporate media: The initiative’s network was able to get published in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Foreign Policy, among other major outlets, as part of their goal of influencing policymakers.
- The kicker: These “experts” include a Pentagon policy adviser and two think tank analysts, all of whom have worked for Robert Malley, President Joe Biden’s diplomat to Iran. Malley has been suspended over security concerns that the government has not yet disclosed. The FBI is also investigating him over possible mishandling of classified material.
Why it matters: This makes U.S. foreign policy vulnerable to Iranian influence in serious ways. The Pentagon senior official, Ariane Tabatabai, has access to military secrets via a security clearance. The other two analysts, Ali Vaez and Dina Esfandiary, have given policy advice to U.S. officials. Malley reportedly tried to get Vaez a job in the Biden administration.
Catch up: In 2015, Malley was the chief negotiator for a controversial deal that lifted U.S. sanctions on Iran. Tabatabai and Vaez both assisted him with the negotiations, while Esfandiary and other Iran-backed intellectuals published articles and gave interviews to influence public opinion. Former President Donald Trump ended the deal, but Malley and Biden have sought to revive it.
A national security mess: To make matters worse, Iran’s state-run media obtained and published the State Department’s memo informing Malley of his suspension. Republicans have demanded an investigation to determine if the department has “a leak.” The Pentagon and State Department say that Tabatabai is not a security threat, but lawmakers want her clearance reevaluated.