by Eli Clifton
On Friday, the State Department suspended its funding for a mysterious website and Twitter account, IranDisInfo.org and @IranDisInfo, after the project attacked human rights workers, journalists and academics, many of whom are based inside the U.S. But the role of the U.S. government in financing IranDisInfo’s criticisms of Human Rights Watch and the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group that has been outspoken in warning about the Trump administration’s increasingly aggressive military posture towards Iran, appears to have been in collaboration with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).
FDD pushes for military confrontation with Iran and has received funding from some of Trump and the GOP’s biggest campaign megadonors. While simultaneously denying their support for a war with Iran, FDD’s scholars have repeatedly urged U.S. military action against the Islamic Republic.
In 2011, FDD CEO Mark Dubowitz revealed that regime change in Tehran was his organization’s real mission. “The best way [to end Iran’s nuclear program] is to work toward changing the regime,” he said. Dubowitz’s FDD colleague Reuel Marc Gerecht quipped, “I’ve written about 25,000 words about bombing Iran. Even my mom thinks I’ve gone too far.” Unsurprisingly, Dubowitz and his FDD colleagues have been advising the Trump White House on their regime change strategy in Iran.
FDD’s involvement with IranDisInfo was thinly concealed. The website and Twitter account heavily promoted Mark Dubowitz and FDD advisor Saeed Ghasseminejad. Buried on FDD’s website is an “Iran Disinformation Project” that publishes the identical content from Ghasseminejad that was cross-posted on IranDisInfo’s website. And on at least five occasions FDD’s Twitter account promoted articles by Ghasseminejad “in @IranDisInfo.” Except the links didn’t send users to IranDisInfo’s website. Instead, the links were to FDD’s own “Iran Disinformation Project,” hosted on FDD’s website.
On Saturday, Dubowitz addressed the growing controversy over IranDisInfo, tweeting that “conspiracists” see “FDD’s hand in everything.” Ghasseminejad tweeted, “FDD is not involved in any way with the [Iran Disinformation Project].”
Dubowitz did not respond to a question about whether Ghasseminejad was involved in operating IranDisInfo.
FDD would be a natural choice of partners for the Trump State Department. In 2017, FDD received $3.63 million from billionaire Bernard Marcus, which constituted over a quarter of FDD’s contributions that year. Marcus, the co-founder of Home Depot, is outspoken about his hatred of Iran, which he characterized as “the devil” in a 2015 Fox Business interview. Marcus is Trump’s second biggest campaign supporter, contributing $7 million to pro-Trump super PACs before the 2016 election.
And by the end of the 2011 tax year, Sheldon Adelson, who went on to become Trump’s single biggest campaign funder, the GOP’s biggest funder in the 2018 midterms, and personal advocate for Trump to take Bolton as his national security adviser, was FDD’s third biggest donor, contributing at least $1.5 million. (Dubowitz says Adelson no longer contributes to FDD.) In 2013, Adelson publicly proposed the U.S. launch a preventive nuclear attack on Iran, targeting the desert, and threaten to launch a second nuclear weapon at Tehran if Iran didn’t abandon its nuclear program.
The IranDisInfo project fits solidly within FDD’s modus-operandi of pushing for increasingly hawkish measures against Iran and working to undermine efforts, such as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), to constrain Iran’s nuclear program through diplomatic measures. But the Trump administration’s decision to seemingly enter into a collaborative arrangement with FDD or Ghasseminejad, an FDD “adviser,” points to the State Department, under Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s leadership, moving to increasingly align itself with organizations and individuals pushing the U.S. towards another war in the Middle East.
Trump and FDD’s overlapping billionaire donor base is a strong indication that the White House and FDD and are working towards a shared goal. Marcus and Adelson publicly endorse a militarist posture towards Iran and aren’t shy about writing big checks to politicians and organizations that share that mission. With Adelson and Marcus’s preferred national security adviser, John Bolton, evidently pushing the U.S. towards a military confrontation with Iran, it’s no wonder that FDD, possibly (until Friday) with the support of U.S.-taxpayer funding, is engaged in a public-diplomacy campaign against critics of Trump and Bolton’s Iran policy.