The Iran Policy Committee, a neoconservative-led group associated with the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), held a press conference today in Washington to reveal what it said was a previously undisclosed Iranian nuclear site near the Iranian city of Qazvin.
The MEK, which, along with its political front group, the National Council for Resistance in Iran (NCRI), had representatives at the presser, claims it discovered the site through an “internal network of sources” in Iran.
But the source of the information — the MEK is listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department — and the group’s affiliation and promotion by U.S. neoconservatives pushing hard-line policies towards Iran are reasons for skepticism. Both the State Department and independent experts have raised several alarms about the reliability of the MEK’s claims.
While in the past, official U.S. sources have been willing to confirm information made public by the MEK, the State Department today told Fox News it would “study” the information, which included satellite images, and noted the MEK’s mixed record. “The MEK has made pronouncements about Iranian facilities in the past — some accurate, some not,” State spokesman P.J. Crowley told Fox. Indeed, the MEK was the first to reveal the existence of an Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz.
Some independent experts are also skeptical. While the MEK claims that the site has been under construction for five years — to the tune of $100 million — with tunnels being built for centrifuges. One expert, speaking to the Washington Post‘s “Checkpoint” national security blog, noted that underground facilities are not synonymous with centrifuge work:
“We saw nothing in the images that suggests a centrifuge plant,” said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security. “There are many underground facilities in Iran.”
At his new blog, former National Iranian American Council assistant policy director Patrick Disney lays out a host of reasons to be skeptical about the new claims about Iran’s nuclear program from the MEK. (Disney’s piece is worth checking out in full.)
Far from being a “leading Iranian opposition” group — as the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, in its article about the new revelations, called the group — Disney casts doubts on the MEK’s ability to cultivate its “network of sources” in the Islamic Republic:
Long recognized as a terrorist entity, the MEK has been responsible for the killing of numerous Iranian and American civilians since the 1970s. Its cult-like membership maintains close to zero support among the Iranian people — a consequence of the group’s siding with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War. Thus, it is unlikely that the MEK’s networks in Iran are extensive enough to obtain credible evidence of any such nuclear facilities.
As for the Iran Policy Committee, the group has long called for U.S.-sponsored regime change in Iran, but with the caveat that such an effort be led by Iranians, specifically the MEK. The plan is something akin to the neoconservative emphasis on using the now-disgraced Ahmad Chalabi (since accused of being an Iranian spy) and his Iraqi National Congress exile opposition group to install a new government in Iraq.
Raymond Tanter, who founded and co-chairs the IPC, is a former fellow of the Hudson Institute and a current adjunct scholar at the AIPAC-formed Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Tanter has, for years, lobbied power-centers in Washington — with some success on Capitol Hill — to remove the MEK from U.S. terror lists and use them to conduct a cross-border insurgency against Iran from Iraq, where the MEK has been based.
Another IPC director is retired Gen. Thomas McInerney, who chairs the group’s advisory committee. An über hawk, McInerney has argued, among other things, that the U.S. ought to invade Syria in order to find the weapons of mass destruction that he alleges Saddam Hussein smuggled there before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. McInerney, a Fox News analyst who also sits on the military committee of Frank Gaffney‘s neocon Center for Security Policy, was recently exposed by Talking Points Memo as a supporter of the “birther” conspiracy that alleges, despite replete evidence to the contrary, that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. and is therefore ineligible to be president.
Is this unlikely marriage of accused terrorists and neoconservatives — both with mixed-if-not-poor records on intelligence in the Mid East — really where the U.S. wants to be getting its information about developments in Iran?