After revelations of an Iranian influence operation, over 30 US senators have called for the immediate revocation of a Pentagon official’s security clearance.
The official in question is ArianeTabatabaei who serves as chief of staff for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict, a senior position with top-secret security clearance.
Earlier this week, Iran International and Semafor reported that Tabatabaei had been a major actor in an information operation initiated by the Iranian foreign ministry to mollify the regime’s image and promote its positions internationally.
The revelation shocked many in Washington. Republican lawmakers demanded explanations. The Pentagon first defended the official but then confirmed Thursday that the matter had to be –and indeed was– being investigated.
Friday afternoon, it emerged that a coalition of Republican Senators, including ranking members from Intelligence, Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, had sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to call for immediate action to ensure that his Department was not “compromised.”
“We urge you to suspend Ms Tabatabaei’s security clearance immediately pending further review, as the State Department did with her former supervisor, Robert Malley.”
Malley was the Biden administration’s special envoy to Iran, playing an instrumental role in the nuclear negotiations and in forming overall US policy towards the regime in Tehran. He is now being investigated by the FBI for mishandling classified material.
It’s not clear if Malley’s suspension is related to the Iranian influence operation, the now-infamous Iran Expert Initiative described in Iran International’s investigative report. By mentioning his name in their letter, however, the senators have hinted that they think the two cases may be linked –and betray a chronic problem in the administration’s Iran policy.
“In March 2021,” the senators note, “shortly after Ms. Tabatabai was appointed senior adviser in the Office of the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Iranian dissidents noted Ms. Tabatabai’s long history of echoing the Iranian regime’s talking points. In April 2021, several House members requested a review of Ms. Tabatabai’s security clearance. In response, the Biden administration dismissed these allegations as smears and slander.”
The senators then write: “the latest allegations… indicate that Ms. Tabatabai may have been engaged in a relationship with the Iranian regime well beyond what even her strongest critics alleged.”
Tabatabaei has been heavily criticized by many users on Persian social media for her comments on the nuclear issue, popular protests in Iran, and the downing of the Ukrainian passenger flight PS752 by the IRGC.
The critics have always maintained that her views –and the views of a few other Iranian ‘experts’ outside Iran, are often indistinguishable from the official line trumpeted by the regime. They have all been accused by regime critics of colluding with the Islamic Republic and whitewashing its crimes. Those accused, however, flatly dismiss the accusations as ‘smear’, ‘slander’ and often ‘misogyny.’
This is the first time that a report substantiates the claims of close, longstanding and lopsided relationship between the Islamic Republic and a loose network of activists, academics and journalists living abroad.
“We find it simply unconscionable that a senior Department official would continue to hold a sensitive position despite her alleged participation in an Iranian government information operation,” reads the Senate letter to the Defense Secretary Austin.
Several American officials, as well as a few Iranian activists outside Iran, have come out in defense of Tabatabaei and her work. Interestingly, the Iranian government has so far remained silent about the affair.