A Terrifying Iranian Intimidation Campaign in the Halls of Congress

Report by: Omid Biniaz

On July 7th, 2011, the families and friends of the residents of Camp Ashraf who attended a congressional hearing into Iraq’s massacre at Camp Ashraf last month, and its implications for US policy, faced a terrifying experience of their own. Two NIAC operatives were following them and taking their pictures.

The hearing was held by the Oversight and Investigations Sub-committee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. On April 8, 2011, Iraqi forces raided Camp Ashraf, killing 36 residents and wounding 345 others.

Taking pictures of individuals is a tactic used by the Iranian government agents abroad and on the streets, universities and factories in Iran. This tactic is used both as an intimidation instrument, as well as a means of identifying opposition members in preparation for further action. These NIAC operatives were clearly on the spot, electronically transmitting the pictures taken. Within minutes, NIAC chief Trita Parsi used the pictures on his Tweets, lashing out at the hearing.

In recent years NIAC and Trita Parsi have come under public scrutiny. Parsi, according to investigative journalists, was accused of skirting lobbying rules in 2009, as a defender of the Iranian regime and lobbyist for pursuing the objectives of the Iranian regime.
Documents discovered during an ongoing legal case revealed extensive communications and meetings between Parsi and Iranian officials, including several secret meetings with the Iranian president Ahmadinejad. Same lawsuit revealed documents that NIAC had grossly exaggerated its membership from an actual number of barely a few hundred to tens of thousands.

To repair NIAC’s public image, following the uprising in summer 2009 in Iran, Parsi had tried to reinvent NIAC as an organization that also deals with human rights and that it supports the green movement in Iran. However, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, an acclaimed Iranian filmmaker and unofficial spokesman for Iran’s opposition Green Movement, said, “I think Trita Parsi does not belong to the Green Movement. I feel his lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic.”

The intimidation tactics borrowed from Tehran’s Revolutionary Guards have no place in the halls of the United States Congress. Given Parsi and NIAC’s admitted contacts with the Iranian regime, taking pictures of the activities of the Iranian-Americans in the United States could even be described beyond intimidation, perhaps tantamount to spying for Tehran. This is something that law enforcement agencies must vigorously work to prevent.