A bi-partisan panel of members of U.S. Congress and senior former public officials and national security experts entitled “U.S. Policy, Iran and Camp Ashraf: The panel, held at the U.S. House of Representatives to make it the policy of the United States to “prevent the forcible relocation of Camp Ashraf residents inside Iraq and facilitate the robust presence of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq in Camp Ashraf.”
The House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL); Rep. Bob Filner, (D-CA), Co-Chair, Iran Human Rights and Democracy Caucus; Representatives “Judge” Ted Poe (R-TX); Judy Chu (D-CA); Dan Lungren (R-CA); Trent Franks (R-AZ); Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX); and Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) were joined by John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; Andrew Card, former White House Chief of Staff; Michael Mukasey, former Attorney General of the United States; John Sano, former Deputy Director of CIA for National Clandestine Service; Robert Torricelli, former United States Senator; and Professor Steven Schneebaum, Counsel for U.S. families of Camp Ashraf Residents.
Below is an excerpt of the speech by Hon. John Sano. Mr. Sano spent 28 years in the Central Intelligence Agency and was appointed the National Clandestine Service’s (formerly the Directorate of Operations) first Deputy Director in November 2005. Mr. Sano came to this position after having previously served as Chief of the East Asia Division in the Directorate of Operations in 2005.
Thank you. Good afternoon. It’s a real pleasure to be here, although it’s a little humbling particularly in the presence of such of luminaries sitting on the panel here.
Just by a little bit of the background, you may recall the state of the union speech given my President Bush back in January of 2002 where he described the axis of evil; Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, and in the intelligence unit we review to those three countries and a few others as hard targets, and that includes Russia, China, a few other locations, maybe Libya.
But in the axis of evil the intelligence community that means a hard target, you’re the most impenetrable, the most difficult to access, the most hard to decipher, the most difficult to actually get to to acquire information on. So we expend a tremendous amount of our budget, a lot of our manpower and resources dedicated to cracking that.
The general perception has always been, particularly on the axis of evil, and I’ve worked against intelligence operations against each of those countries. You make an assumption that the people in the regime and the leadership are one in the same.
It is very unique in the sense that when we in the intelligence community, not just CIA, that when we talked about Iran that there was a difference and it had to do with the people of Iran.
There was an affinity that the people of Iran did not — and this is not just recently, this goes back years and years. That the people of Iran did not agree with what the leadership, did not see themselves in that same light and it was almost unique in terms of that affinity to the intelligence operatives and analysts had for the people of Iran.
And I think given events over the past few years, and when you look at an organization like the MEK you look at the trials and tribulations transcribe of what’s occurring in Ashraf, and that bears witness to the fact that it is unique, all people’s can be considered the same, all people’s desire freedom, freedom from oppression, freedom from torture; but when you compare it to a country like North Korea where the people have been systematically brainwashed and have given up the will to survive in a democratic society. Those same up truces that have been applied to the people of Iran have not taken the same toll. So, again, there’s the difference.
Now, as the good Senator briefly stated in his introduction, I was a spy for nearly 30 years spending the majority of that time overseas, operating in foreign countries for the United States. And during that time I came into contact with more than a few number of fellow operatives or spies from other countries. The majority of whom were from nations that did not necessarily share America’s goals, ideals, or strategies.
These foreign intelligence agencies have the authority to operate with complete ambiguity in their own countries and across the globe, not like the intelligence community of the United States where there is a tremendous amount of oversight and regulations, laws that have to be maintained and protected.
So, in essence, these other foreign entities can serve both in their own countries and internationally as powerful and secret weapons for their own leadership, and nowhere was this more evident than the case of the Iranian minister of the intelligence and security, the MOIS.
I’ve had personal contact with MOIS field operatives in my career overseas, but in the case of the MOIS they operate obviously throughout Iran as well as across the globe, they target dissidents where even if they believe or they’ve been told are potential threats to the regime.
Their activities are not limited to intimidation, assassination, and torture. While these are certainly the most egregious of their actions, they also engage in more subtle activities which have equally damaging political consequences.
On the political front these activities are designed to present to the world a different face of Iran to depict those that stand up for democracy for basic human rights, such as freedom of expression and association, to be free from arbitrary arrest and detention as well as torture.
The MOIS is treating these people as subversives and terrorists. This is done in a rather futile attempt to shape world opinion. Make the (inaudible) in their own cause and their own case, now that’s failing obviously.
If that becomes an effort at a minimum to get the world to turn a blind eye towards their regime’s atrocities, and they don’t just do that in the region in their own country, they do it across the globe. They have far-reaching efforts.
The situation in Camp Ashraf and the recent massacre which occurred there only three months ago is the perfect example in terms of what the MOIS is able to do in attempting to shape world opinion.
It’s been their consistent maligning of the MEK as a subversive and terrorist organization. This in direct contravention of the reports of here in the United States and internationally that have provided the true story behind the massacre which occurred and the reality of the MEK as peace loving, pro democratic, nonviolent organization seeking only to promote a system with freedom of speech, assembly, and political parties, as separation of church and state and gender equality while the Iranian regime would like us to believe that the massacre was, in fact,provoked, or that it did not even occur.
Both the UN high commission for human rights as well as the Spanish national court as well as Congress and other international organizations know the truth.
They’ve condemned the massacre calling for international and as well as Iraqi investigations and for greater protections for the residents of Camp Ashraf as stipulated in the multinational force of Iraq, agreement of July 2004. Also an Article 45 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which recognizes the residents of Ashraf as protected persons and is called for recently in the house resolution 322.
It is an annual report to the UN security council just a week ago to Security General Ban Ki-moon called for respecting human rights of Ashraf residents and urged for a solution to the situation.
In addition as been pointed out previously, the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously approved an amendment to the Foreign Relations Organizations Act that make it a policy of the U.S. to, quote, take all necessary and appropriate steps to prevent the forcible relocation of Camp Ashraf residents inside Iraq and facilitate the robust presence of the UN assistance mission in Iraq at Camp Ashraf. The residents of Camp Ashraf have called this their own for over 25 years, but still they’re being massacred, they’re being abused, they’re being denied their basic human rights.
Iraq has called for the forcible disbursement of the residents of Camp Ashraf and one can only imagine what would happen to them if they were forcibly moved to a remote location in Iraq away from the international communities watchful eyes.
A recent comment by the U.S. ambassador to Iraq to endorse this proposal subject to Iraqi president Al-Maliki’s recent visit to Iran, when he returned made a report on Camp Ashraf to the U.S. embassy from none other than the Iranian regime’s supreme leader while the international community has cause for a humanitarian and consensus has called for a humanitarian and consensus solution to the plight of the residents of Camp Ashraf.
The current U.S. position in Iraq neither observes the residents’ rights nor does it provide a consensus solution. In fact, it is the opposite. HR resolution 332 urges the President of the United States to again, quote, take all necessary and appropriate steps to prevent a force relocation of Camp Ashraf residents either within or outside of Iraq in violation of the relevant provisions of international humanitarian law.
In addition European parlante, United Nations and predominantly independent Iraq officials as well as residents of the camp itself have all vehemently rejected forcible displacement.
The only exceptions are Tehran, a complicit Baghdad in what appears to be unfortunately the U.S. Department of State. As the former chairman of the Joint Chief of State, General Hugh Shelton, stated, this is a recipe for disaster. It’s a recipe for ethic cleansing far outside of the reaches now of the international community.
Abandoning Ashraf is tantamount to giving the Iranian regime an incredible stronger hand in Iraq. Instead of lining with the Iranian regime we should be calling for a robust presence of U.S. assistance mission in Iraq monitoring teams to be placed in the camp to protect the residents against further massacres, and as the House Foreign Affairs Committee has stipulated, the U.S. should endorse the European partnership proposal to relocate the residents to third countries after the negotiations are conducted on the condition that the situation in the camp would be normalized first.
This is the only plan that both respects Iraq’s sovranty while ensuing that the human rights of Ashraf residents are protected.
Now, Tehran obviously views the presence of the MEK in Iraq as a threat, a very large treat, and, hence, it’s no surprise that the regime not only publicly supports the idea of displacement in Iraq, but actively lobbies for it in Baghdad and elsewhere. Much of this so-called lobby is orchestrated by the MOIS through provisions on misleading, actually completely erroneous information disinformation, as we use in the spy world, disinformation campaigns basically are feeble attempt to convince the United States and its organizations, the State Department, even Congress, as well as the international observers that the residents of Ashraf should be displaced and further that the MEK should remain on the foreign terrorist organization list.
I’ve looked at some of the reporting that what was provided to the Department of State, much of it redacted, some of it previously classified. And in looking through that you have to look towards the almost the fine print.
Now, I was in the intelligence business for almost 30 years and when you get a report the first thing a policymaker should do is to determine the veracity and the accuracy of the source. The veracity of the source and the accuracy of the information.
In looking through these reports every single one that I reviewed said that either the source was unable to be recontacted or the information could not be verified. So basically what you’re getting is rumor, speculation, with obviously a political motive.
For an intelligence organization to be able to effectively promote a disinformation campaign they have to have a couple of things at their disposal. They have to know the environment. Well, that’s easy for the MOIS. It’s their backyard. They have to understand who their adversaries are. In this case it’s the MEK, it’s the United States, it’s international observers.
They have to be able to exploit those vulnerabilities and those vulnerabilities are as we’ve seen in the press, because this is an open society, a debate over America’s continued military presence in the region, specifically as to what’s happened in Iraq, the threat from Iran, a range of issues.
So what the MOIS will do is fabricate information, use sources we call them social and media contacts, and these are either recruited people or people that they’ve just contacted once or twice. They propagate orchestrate the pieces of information that promote their own use.
As an example, you’ve all probably seen the erroneous stories that have circulated in the press that are still circulating, stating the these terrorist groups train woman as suicide bombers responsible for plane hijackings, bomb threats, while the MOIS has considerable skills in these areas of espionage, it I cannot not hide the truth, the truth that the MEK promotes a peaceful, nonviolent, and democratic Iran are committed to the universal declaration of human rights as well as international conventions and covenants and promotes a domestic and foreign policy based basis on peaceful coexistence.
The time is long past for the MEK to be delisted from the foreign terrorist organizations list. It was the MEK that provided incredibly useful information to the intelligence community on the Iranian nuclear threat.
As Ambassador Bolton pointed out, this corroborated a lot of other information that we had and in some instances provided us with information that we have not previously heard.
So, as I said, it’s a long time in coming. There is no — at least in my opinion based on 30 years of service, there is no legitimate reason based on intelligence either assessments or on collected information which would continue the propagation of MEK on the foreign terrorist organizations list.
The time is long past. It needs to be corrected for whatever reason, but it needs to be done now. Thank you for your time.