The MEK is one of the Iranian communist organizations which opposed the Shah and helped bring about the revolution in Iran. Khomeini turned on them and they've been in opposition to the mullahs ever since. Where they're getting the money to throw at these big time speakers is a mystery. What is not a mystery is that these former government officials are happy to pocket it. Christina Wilkie writes for the Huffington Post:
WASHINGTON -- The ornate ballroom of the Willard Hotel buzzed with activity on a Saturday morning in July. Crowded together on the stage sat a cadre of the nation's most influential former government officials, the kind whose names often appear in boldface, who've risen above daily politics to the realm of elder statesmen. They were perched, as they so often are, below a banner with a benign conference title on it, about to offer words of pricey wisdom to an audience with an agenda.
That agenda: to secure the removal of the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK) from the U.S. government's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. A Marxian Iranian exile group with cult-like qualities, Mujahideen-e Khalq was responsible for the killing of six Americans in Iran in the 1970s, along with staging a handful of bombings. But for a terrorist organization with deep pockets, it appears there's always hope.
Onstage next to former FBI director Louis Freeh sat Ed Rendell, the former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania and current MSNBC talking head; former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean; former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Hugh Shelton; former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Togo West; former State Department Director of Policy Planning Mitchell Reiss; former Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James T. Conway; Anita McBride, the former chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush; and Sarah Sewall, a Harvard professor who sits on a corporate board with Reiss.
All told, at least 33 high-ranking former U.S. officials have given speeches to MEK-friendly audiences since December of last year as part of more than 22 events in Washington, Brussels, London, Paris and Berlin. While not every speaker accepted payment, MEK-affiliated groups have spent millions of dollars on speaking fees, according to interviews with the former officials, organizers and attendees.
Rendell freely admits he knew little about the group, also known as People's Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI), before he was invited to speak just days earlier. But he told the audience that the elite status of his fellow panelists and the arguments they made for delisting the group were enough to convince him that it was a good idea.
The event where Rendell spoke was just part of a surge in pro-MEK lobbying efforts in Washington during the past year, spurred by an ongoing State Department review of the group's status, which is expected to be completed this month. In addition to funding conferences with influential speakers, supporters have taken out issue ads in newspapers, placed op-eds in major publications, commissioned academic papers, hired new lobbying firms and made scores of visits to lawmakers.
At first glance, these methods seem like standard Washington lobbying practices. But the MEK is a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, and providing direct assistance or services to them is against the law, as is taking payment from them. So why isn't Howard Dean under arrest? The operative word is "direct".
The MEK's delisting campaign is funded by a fluid and enigmatic network of support groups based in the United States. According to an MEK leader, these groups are funded by money from around the world, which they deliberately shield from U.S. authorities. These domestic groups book and pay for their VIP speakers through speaker agencies, which in turn pay the speakers directly and take a fee for arranging appearances. That way, the speakers themselves don't technically accept money from the community groups. If they did, they might discover what their speaker agents surely know: That most of the groups are run by ordinary, middle-class Iranian Americans working out of their homes -- people who seem unlikely to have an extra few hundred thousand dollars laying around to pay speaker fees and book five-star hotels to bolster the MEK's cause.
The speakers are just the type of national-security heavyweights a plaintiff terrorist organization needs. In addition to those named above, the commissioned figureheads include Obama's recently-departed National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones; former Bush Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge; onetime State Department Counselor Philip Zelikow and former CIA directors Porter Goss and James R. Woolsey.
Retired military officers are popular -- former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Wesley K. Clark and former Commander in Chief of United States Central Command Gen. Anthony Zinni have both addressed MEK groups. Yet more speakers appear to have been chosen for their deep political ties, such as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former New Mexico Gov. and U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson, former Bush White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, former Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh and former 9/11 Commission Chairman Lee Hamilton.
Hamilton acknowledged to IPS News that he was paid for his appearances, describing his fee at the time as "significant." Dean also acknowledged that he was paid for at least a portion of the speeches he gave to MEK groups in London, Paris and Washington, as did Gen. Clark. Gen. Jones told The Wall Street Journal that he received a "standard speaking fee." Gen. Zinni's speaker agent confirmed that Zinni was also paid his "standard speaking fee" for an eight-minute address at an MEK-related conference in January -- between $20,000 and $30,000, according to his speaker profile. The same firm arranged for Zelikow to speak at two MEK-affiliated events this spring, and it recruited John Sano, the former deputy director of the National Clandestine Service, for his first MEK-related appearance on July 26.
Goss's first speech to an MEK support group was in April. He told The Huffington Post that it had been handled entirely by his speaker agent and that his payment came from his agent. According to his profile, Goss commands a minimum of $20,000 to $30,000 per engagement.
"I never discuss my speaking fees," Card told HuffPost when asked how much he was paid for seven minutes’ worth of remarks in late July on Capitol Hill. His standard fee, however, is between $25,000 and $40,000 per speech. Gov. Richardson's office referred questions to his speaker agent, who did not return a call for comment, but Richardson's standard speaker fees are the same as Card's.
Woolsey was the only one of the speakers who reported that he waived his standard fees for MEK-supporting events, citing his belief in the cause as his motivation for appearing.
Sewall, on the other hand, carefully distanced herself from the MEK’s objectives. “I was invited to speak at a conference on the Arab Spring and I received a speaker fee,” she said of her July 16 speech. “My remarks were aimed at an Iranian American audience that was concerned about Camp Ashraf. I, too, am concerned about the ongoing humanitarian situation there. But I would not want my presence at the conference to be equated with a position on the delisting of the MEK."
Founded on Marxist principles in 1963, the Mujahideen-e Khalq carried out a number of bombings and assassinations in Iran during the 1970s, including one that killed six Americans. It was initially aligned with the 1979 Islamic revolution, but Ayatollah Khomeini quickly deemed the MEK a threat to his newly-installed government. Forced out of Iran, they eventually settled near Khalis, Iraq, at Camp Ashraf, a desert compound about 75 miles from the Iranian border where the majority of MEK loyalists reside today.
From 1980-'88, a militant wing of the MEK supported Saddam Hussein in his war against their former countrymen, a conflict which resulted in massive casualties on both sides -- further fueled by U.S. financial support for Iraq. As a result of their actions in the war, the group is reviled today within Iran by major segments of the pro-democracy Green Movement and by those loyal to the ayatollahs. In post-Saddam Iraq, the MEK is best known for having allegedly carried out attacks on Kurds and Shiite Iraqis during the early 1990s, under orders from Hussein. MEK supporters deny that the group participated in either of the conflicts. If the alliance with Saddam in the 1980s helped to keep them on the U.S.'s good side throughout the decade, that changed in the 1990s. In 1996, Congress created the Foreign Terrorist Organization List as part of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, and when it went into effect in 1997, the MEK was one of the first groups placed on the list.
Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the MEK agreed to give up its weapons arsenal in exchange for protection from the U.S. military. But following a review in 2007, the U.S. State Department maintained the organization’s classification as a Foreign Terrorist Organization when it ruled the group still possessed the "capacity and will" to commit terrorist acts.
Throughout all this, the MEK has been led by the same two charismatic figures: Maryam Rajavi and her husband, Massoud Rajavi. Mrs. Rajavi is based in Paris, where she leads an Iranian shadow-government known as the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI). Massoud Rajavi's whereabouts are unknown. Members have long argued that the NCRI is a separate organization from the MEK, but an extensive FBI investigation concluded in 2004 that the NCRI is "not a separate organization, but is instead, and has been, an integral part of the MEK."
Visitors to the White House surely recognize the name Camp Ashraf. For months, MEK supporters have stationed themselves in a tent on Pennsylvania Avenue, pleading for U.S. troops to protect the encampment from retaliation by Iraqi forces aligned with Iran, and providing passersby with evidence of massacred supporters.
Following a particularly brutal assault on the camp by Iraqi soldiers in April of this year, Howard Dean defended the Mujahideen-e Khalq on MSNBC.