Three weeks ago in
New York, journalists were summoned to this hotel for a
press conference. It has been organised by this man -
Alireza Jafarzadeh, an Iranian exile who regularly
reveals what he claims is inside information on Iran's
ALIREZA JAFARZADEH, MUJAHEDIN-E-KHALQ LOBBYIST: I
would like to share with you today the information I've
gotten from the very same sources that have proven
accurate in the past.
Today, Jafarzadeh announces he's discovered an
apparently sinister new development.
ALIREZA JAFARZADEH: A very important aspect of the
Iran regime's nuclear weapons program is actually laser
enrichment, and the information I've gotten from my
sources today suggests that Iran is heavily involved in
laser enrichment program.
As always, the information is incredibly detailed,
with maps, names and addresses. Since 2002, Jafarzadeh
and the Iranian opposition group he's connected to, the
Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or MeK, have made nearly 20
intelligence revelations, in press conferences from
Paris to New York, Washington and London.
ALIREZA JAFARZADEH: And they are scheduled to be
able to get the bomb by 2005.
The MeK revelations have had an extraordinary
impact, sparking inspections in Iran by the nuclear
watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
According to the MeK, Iran is building a nuclear bomb,
and the world should be very afraid.
ALIREZA JAFARZADEH: I think the world has to take
the Iranian regime's threat very, very seriously. These
ayatollahs believe in what they say, believe that they
can eliminate Israel off the map, they can eliminate the
According to this Iranian opposition group, there
is only one solution.
ALIREZA JAFARZADEH: You need to slay the dragon.
This is the solution. You need to slay the dragon, which
means regime change.
The MeK is playing a key role in what's shaping up
as one of the critical contests of our time - the
stand-off between the US and Iran, played out here at
the United Nations General Assembly two weeks ago.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH AT UN: Iran must abandon its
nuclear weapons ambitions.
AHMADINEJAD, IRAN PRESIDENT AT UN, (Translation): All
our nuclear activities are transparent and peaceful and
fully overseen by the IAEA
CROWD: Down with terrorist! Ahmadinejad terrorist!
Down with terrorist!
Outside the United Nations that day Alireza
Jafarzadeh and the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, are again trying
to get their opinion heard.
ALIREZA JAFARZADEH: Obtaining the bomb, the
nuclear bomb would unquestionably give Tehran the upper
hand in the region.
And some powerful forces in the West are
listening. The MeK's main backer in Washington is a
newly formed think tank called the Iran Policy
Committee, headed by a former Reagan White House
official, Professor Raymond Tanter.
PROFESSOR RAYMOND TANTER, IRAN POLICY COMMITTEE:
The regime change clock has to start. Right now, the
regime change clock is not even ticking.
In the Iran Policy Committee, Professor Tanter has
created a powerful grouping of former CIA, Pentagon and
White House officials. At forums like this briefing on
Capitol Hill, the group is trying to convince the
American Government that the MeK can help them achieve
the goal of regime change.
PROFESSOR RAYMOND TANTER: We didn't choose the
Mujahedin-e-Khalq. The data hit us between the eyes. The
analysis passes what I call 'the interocular test' - it
hits you right between the eyes. I invented that phrase.
CROWD (Translation): Ahmadinejad terrorist!
Ahmadinejad terrorist! Down with the terrorist!
But for some, the sight of exile groups bearing
gifts of intelligence for the West just brings back bad
PROFESSOR GARY SICK, COLOMBIA UNIVERSITY: In the
past, on Iraq, we were fed a lot of false information to
try to get our attention and to get us to do what we
did. We bought it, and I have a very hard time
understanding how anybody can maintain a straight face
and say, "Again," we should do the same thing all over
Professor Gary Sick has served on the National
Security Council under three presidents. He was the
principle White House aide for Iran during the Iranian
revolution and hostage crisis, and has followed the
country closely ever since. He's extremely sceptical
about the MeK.
PROFESSOR GARY SICK: When people get enthusiastic
about this, I just have to look at the history of the
organisation, the way it's behaved, the way it's done
all of the things that it's done, and I simply can't see
it, I really can't see it. I find it very difficult to
explain why people would get so enthusiastic about this
The MeK does have an extraordinary history. A
militant left-wing movement, it participated in the 1979
Iranian revolution that overthrew the Shah. But
afterwards, when the ayatollahs took power, the MeK
began fighting the new regime.
It carried out bombings that killed senior Islamic
leaders, and many of its members were executed.
In the 1980s it moved its military base to Saddam
Hussein's Iraq. From here at Camp Ashraf it launched
attacks across the border, and successfully carried out
assassinations and bombings within Iran. The MeK's
military heyday has long since passed. Less than 3,000
fighters remain in a camp now guarded by Americans.
What's more, the group's often violent past has left it
officially listed as a terrorist organisation in the
United States, the European Union and Australia.
The real action for the MeK now is in the West, where a
bevy of lobbyists is operating, including Ali Safavi
here in London. Safavi has devoted most of his adult
life to the MeK struggle. Now he's working to get the
group taken off the terrorist list. His office located
around the corner from parliament.
ALI SAFAVI, NATIONAL COUNCIL OF RESISTANCE OF
IRAN: And obviously the office is very close so that it
would be more convenient, both for us and for them.
Being listed as a terrorist organisation stands
between the MeK and real political credibility. Safavi
claims the group was only put on the list by governments
trying to win favour with Iran.
ALI SAFAVI: It has nothing to do with the nature,
with the conduct, or the activities of the Mujahedin. It
is basically a bargaining chip.
Ali Safavi is trying to convince the West of the
apparently impressive democratic credentials of the MeK
and its political wing, the NCRI.
ALI SAFAVI: The NCRI basically advocates a
secular, democratic form of government, a government
that is based on the separation of church and the state
or mosque and state, if you will.
Leading the concerted charm offensive is the
group's leader, Maryam Rajavi, who's based in Paris.
She's offering up an enticing proposition to the West.
MARYAM RAJAVI, (Translation): Today I've come to
tell you that the international community doesn't have
to choose between mullahs with an atomic bomb and war. A
third way exists. A democratic change by the Iranian
people and organised resistance.
Maryam Rajavi says if the MeK is just taken off
the terrorist list, it will be a sign for the people of
Iran to rise up and overthrow their government. It's
this proposition that's winning support with the Iran
Policy Committee in Washington and in parliaments around
Here at the European Parliament, British Conservative MP
Brian Binley tells a group of MeK supporters that the
majority of the House of Commons and 130 members in the
House of Lords are behind the group.
BRIAN BINLEY, BRITISH CONSERVATIVE MP: Because
they are the antithesis of the dictatorial
fundamentalists that rule in modern-day Iran today, and,
indeed, the very antithesis of a regime that I believe
poses the greatest threat to global security that we
face as a global people.
Binlay was converted to the cause after being
approached by an MeK supporter in the halls of
BRIAN BINLEY: I met with a gentleman called
Nasser, who is a supporter of the National Council, and
we talked. And he works in and around the House, as a
lobbyist, I suppose you would say. And we talked, and I
liked what he had to say, and, more importantly, what he
had to say seemed credible in the way that I've just
PROFESSOR GARY SICK: These are people who really
believe that Iran...the regime should be changed, that
this regime of mullahs should be done away with. And you
look around, and you don't see any other place where you
can put a lever. And I must say for the Mujahedin, to
give them full credit, they are very good at their
According to Gary Sick, the MeK's origins at the
time of the revolution were anything but democratic.
PROFESSOR GARY SICK: There, too, they weren't
talking about democracy, they were talking about power,
and who took over. And there was certainly no sign from
where I sat in the White House that these people were in
any way trying to bring democracy to Iran. They were
trying to get rid of the group that had taken over and
install themselves in power. And I think that pretty
well describes what they've been doing ever since.
Massoud Khodabeanedeh says that the MeK is not
only undemocratic but that internally, it operates like
a cult. Now living in the United Kingdom, Khodabeanedeh
was a high-level member for more than 15 years.
MASSOUD KHODABEANEDEH, FORMER MEK MEMBER: They
have a charismatic leader, they use psychological
methods to convince people and keep people. Their wealth
is always serving the leader, not the people. They try
to get the money out of the people and keep it. They cut
people from their past, their family. They are very
restrictive in that way. There is Maryam and Massoud and
me, as his bodyguard.
Khodabeanedeh worked as security for the MeK's
leadership in Iraq but left after becoming disenchanted.
He is now one of the most outspoken critics of the
MASSOUD KHODABEANEDEH: Later on it came to these
sessions of self-confession, which again, is a cult...
every cult has got it - which you have to come, and
every day come to the meeting, explain what you have
been thinking about, or what even you have been dreaming
about, and even if you don't have, they will hint that
you have to lie, you have to make up something. So the
collective pressure would be on you and they purify you.
REPORTER: So all women wore headscarves?
ANNE: Yeah. It was a part of the uniform. It was
actually the uniform.
Massoud Khodabanedeh's wife, Anne, was also a
member for seven years, inspired to join by an Iranian
boyfriend and an interest in Islam.
ANNE: I became full-time in 1990. After going on
hunger strike for two weeks, I was on a real high and I
devoted myself to them. And that devotion was
encouraged, and I was told at some point fairly early on
that all you have to do is choose your leader and follow
that leader. And you don't have to make any decisions.
And that leader, of course, was Maryam Rajavi.
Both Anne and Massoud say that in order to
encourage devotion to the leadership family
relationships were discouraged.
ANNE: When it actually comes to being a liberating
movement for women, I would say just the opposite
pertains, that they forced women to separate from their
children, forced women to divorce their spouse, they
forced them to give up any thought of having a normal
family life and family relationship. Even relationships
with their siblings in the same organisation are, well,
banned really. You might meet them but you can't be a
sibling, you can't show more closeness to them you would
show to Maryam Rajavi.
The MeK leadership totally rejects these
allegations and accuses Massoud Khodabanedeh of being on
the payroll of Iranian intelligence. A charge he in turn
denies. An even more serious allegation, though,
concerns the group's relationship with Saddam Hussein
during its 15 years in Iraq. This recently revealed
footage shows Massoud Rajavi, the husband of Maryam and
co-leader of the MeK, with the former Iraqi dictator.
ALI SAFAVI: The Mujahedin were forced to relocate
in Iraq, and in the years they were in Iraq, from 1986
onwards, they were completely independent of their host,
both in political terms, in ideological terms, in
organisational terms and in military terms.
REPORTER: So there was no collaboration between
the Mujahedin and Saddam?
ALI SAFAVI: Absolutely not.
However, many sources, including the US State
Department dispute this, saying Iraq supplied the MeK
with weapons and received military assistance from the
Iranian exiles. Former member Massoud Khodabanedeh says
that after the first Gulf War in 1991 Saddam's security
chief, Taha Yassin Ramadan, asked the MeK to help
suppress the Kurds.
MASSOUD KHODABEANEDEH: The way that it was done, I
remember that in the meetings with Taha Yassin Ramadan,
who was in favour of Mujahedin, and who very much
praised the Mujahedin for their loyalty. He divided the
forces because he didn't have much forces after the war
in '91, so he had only enough to suppress the uprising
in the south, so he left the north in hands of Rajavi.
Massoud says he saw first-hand a Kurdish village
that had been destroyed by the Mujahedin.
REPORTER: What happened to the village?
MASSOUD KHODABEANEDEH: It was just flattened down,
the whole village. Villages in Iraq are small villages,
and with say 20 tanks, you can see what damage can be
done. But it was deliberately flattened.
REPORTER: And this was done by the Mujahedin?
MASSOUD KHODABEANEDEH: By the Mujahedin. They were
there when I was passing the tanks and victoriously
Massoud also says that during his time with the
MeK its members were fed a diet of anti-imperialist and
anti-American propaganda. He believes now they're trying
to reinvent themselves for a new, Western benefactor.
MASSOUD KHODABEANEDEH: Especially when they went
to Iraq, they didn't see that one day Saddam would fall
so they have openly been anti-Western all the years that
they were there relying on Saddam. Any democratic face
that they put is a false face.
REPORTER: Why do you think they are putting on
this false face now?
MASSOUD KHODABEANEDEH: There is no other choice.
After Saddam falls, there is no other choice.
The MeK denies this aspect of its past. It says
that anyone making such allegations is being either
directly or indirectly influenced by Iranian
ALI SAFAVI: It is far more than a bit of a
propaganda campaign. In fact the Iranian regime has
spent hundreds of millions of dollars engaging in
In Washington, the MeK's main American backers
also reject any criticism.
PROFESSOR RAYMOND TANTER: We are familiar with all
the allegations and we have looked at all these
allegations and we have found them to be baseless. And
we're smart, we're not idiots. I'm a professor at the
University of Michigan and Georgetown University and I
think I can tell whether a person is saying something to
dupe me. And Human Rights Watch and various others who
say the MeK and NCRI are changing their face in order to
appeal to groups like the Iran Policy Committee haven't
done their research.
While the MeK and their supporters say they've
nothing in its history to be ashamed of, experts say
that's not how it's viewed in its homeland.
PROFESSOR GARY SICK: They are certainly despised,
there's no two ways about that. They are seen as
turncoats, they are seen as traitors, people who joined
Iran's enemies to try to overthrow the government.
For a group claiming it can make the Iranian
population rise up and overthrow the government, this
apparent lack of internal legitimacy is a major problem.
REPORTER: How much support do you have in Iran, in
ALI SAFAVI: Well, you know that our movement from
day one has called for free elections under UN
supervision. I think if such an election were held,
without question... our movement would get most of the
DOHKI FASSIHIAN: The claim that the MeK would
actually win any support or win any elections inside
Iran is really preposterous.
Dokhi Fassihian is the former executive director
of the National Iranian American Council, a non-partisan
group. She spent much of the 1990s in Iran and knows the
political scene well.
DOHKI FASSIHIAN: In fact they are hated and
detested in Iran because of their role in siding with
the Iraqis in the very, very long and bloody Iran-Iraq
war. And so, I would say that even more so than Iranian
Americans, Iranians inside Iran really do hate the MeK
and really don't understand why some governments and
some officials abroad can support such an undemocratic
group and such a violent group.
Political credentials aside, the strongest claim
the MeK has on Western attention is its intelligence on
Iran's nuclear program.
REPORTER: How good are your sources, your
intelligence from Iran?
ALIREZA JAFARZADEH: Well, the intelligence is the
best that exists anywhere. The best track record in
terms of intelligence regarding Iran comes from the
sources of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq and the NCRI. It wasn't
the intelligence community of the US, or Britain, or
other Western countries that discovered Natanz.
The MeK's biggest claim to fame has been its
revelation in 2002 that Iran had a secret nuclear site
at a place called Natanz. After the announcement, the
International Atomic Energy Agency confronted Iran and
Iran opened the site for inspection.
DAVID ALBRIGHT, INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE AND
INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: So I think the Iranian
opposition group, what they did, their real contribution
was to start a chain of events where Iran had to admit
that it had its secret gas centrifuge program and other
secret nuclear programs, and help get the IAEA into Iran
to start uncovering a whole set of misleading statements
or hidden facilities in Iran. This building was sized to
hold 1,000 centrifuges, but could actually hold more.
David Albright is a physicist and president of the
Institute for Science and International Security in
Washington DC. He's an expert on secret nuclear weapons
programs throughout the world. While he credits the MeK
with bringing Natanz to the world's attention, the site
was not in breech of the Non-Proliferation treaty.
Albright also says later revelations have not proven as
DAVID ALBRIGHT: Since then, their record has been
a lot more mixed and a lot of revelations about things
going on, related to making nuclear weapons. IAEA went
to one place and found nothing. There was some equipment
that was imported, they said it was related to nuclear
weapons. It turned out on analysis it wasn't even
suitable for use on a nuclear weapons program. So I
think that you have to read beyond the detail and try to
make sense out of it, and often it doesn't make any, or
it's just speculation.
Dateline also understands that the IAEA has
examined much of the intelligence provided by the MeK
and its political wing, the NCRI, and while it agrees
several early claims were on target, the rest have been
REPORTER: All their revelations paint a picture of
Iran having an incredibly advanced nuclear weapons
program. Would you agree with that assessment?
DAVID ALBRIGHT: It's relative to what? I mean,
compared to Iraq, which had nothing, yeah, it's quite
advanced. Are they close to building a bomb? Most
assessments, including our own, are that no, they are
PROFESSOR RAYMOND TANTER: No-one knows whether the
revelations are true so how can one make a statement
that the NCRI-MeK revelations are off? Intelligence
people say this, but they don't back it up. Because
journalists don't do a good job in querying them. "What
is your evidence?" "Oh, I can't say." Hello, that's not
REPORTER: But by the same token, if the NCRI holds
a press conference saying, "Look we've got these
documents, we know this information," and there's
nothing else to back it up, how can you be sure that's
PROFESSOR RAYMOND TANTER: Look, intelligence is an
art. What you need is to use the NCRI-MeK allegations as
lead information, which you compare with info you
REPORTER: But if revelations are being made, and
they're not proven, and they're put out there in the
media and put out there as a case for regime change, and
they're not actually substantiated, isn't that alarmist?
PROFESSOR RAYMOND TANTER: How do you prove
revelations with a totalitarian Islamist fascist regime?
The MeK knows that hardliners in Washington are
desperate for any information that will confirm their
suspicions of Iran.
PROFESSOR GARY SICK: So if the MeK is trying to
get credibility as a group that the US should cooperate
with in trying to overthrow the regime, focusing on the
nuclear side is an absolutely logical place for them to
focus, so I don't blame them for doing that. I think
that's an area that is going to attract attention, it's
going to get them a following, and it will attract the
attention of people in Washington.
According to former member Massoud Khodabanedeh,
the MeK is just trying to stay alive.
MASSOUD KHODABEANEDEH: They want to survive. They
are saying, "Take us off." The end game is "Take us off
the list of terrorism and use us."
And in a clear convergence of interests, Professor
Tanter from the Iran Policy Committee is happy to help.
PROFESSOR RAYMOND TANTER: I am not a lobbyist for
the MeK and the NCRI, I'm a lobbyist for America, which
is different. You keep asking me questions which imply
that I am trying to push the MeK on to people.
REPORTER: But you are promoting their cause,
you're trying to get them off…
PROFESSOR RAYMOND TANTER: I am not promoting their
cause, I am promoting American interests. There is a
REPORTER: You're not suggesting they are
necessarily a good replacement government, you are
saying rather they are a good tool for Western
PROFESSOR RAYMOND TANTER: That's what you asked
me, they are a tool for Western interests, yes. They are
accused of being a tool of Western interests by the
regime. It's true!
REPORTER: And they are a tool for Western
PROFESSOR RAYMOND TANTER: Yes! They want to be a
part of the West.