Stakeholders in the US continued to express dismay Wednesday, after Iran International and Semafor exposed an Iranian-backed influence operation in Washington.
The report, published Tuesday, cites dozens of emails to show how (at least) three associates of former Iran envoy Robert Malley endeavored to promote the Islamic Republic’s line on its nuclear program, publishing op-eds, appearing on news channels, even seeking approval for their public engagements.
“These are troubling allegations about Iran’s attempts to influence US Iran policy,” wrote Sen. Jim Risch, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on X. “Potential involvement of Biden Admin officials with the Iran Experts Initiative must be taken seriously & warrants further review.”
Iran Experts Initiative (IEI) is the name of a scheme devised by Iran’s foreign ministry in 2014 to bring together a network of scholars outside Iran to advocate the regime’s foreign policy and nuclear strategy.
A few have been named in the reports, including Dina Esfandiary and Ali Vaez, both working at Crisis Group, and Ariane Tabatabai, who entered the State Department after Biden was elected, and is now the chief of staff for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, a position that requires a high-level US government security clearance.
In light of the revelations by Iran International and Semafor, Sen. Ted Cruz has called on the Biden administration to suspend the clearances of those linked to IEI “until these allegations are fully resolved and accountability is imposed.”
On Wednesday, Sen. Hagerty called the story “a complete scandal and outrage”.
In a thread on his X account, the Senator posted a few questions for the Biden administration, including one on Ariane Tabatabai: “Does Ariane Tabatabai, as current COS to Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict, have access to Special Access Programs? If so, did Department of Defense subject her to further vetting or was that somehow waived by a DoD senior official?”
Also concerned with the story and with the Biden administration’s lack of transparency were Senators Lankford and Scott, who told Iran International: “They don't put information out. It's like a black hole over there. You ask for information (on Rob Malley) they never give you information.”
Robert Malley was the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran until late April 2023, when his security clearance was suspended and was then placed on unpaid leave in June 2023 without any explanation from the State Department. It’s not clear if the Iranian influence operation had anything to do with his suspension.
Malley is currently under FBI investigation for mishandling of classified material. Republicans in both the House and the Senate have been trying in vain to obtain information from the State Department.
Wednesday afternoon, Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee issued a statement in response to the scandal, in which he addressed the uncertainty surrounding Robert Malley directly.
“Every day, the Rob Malley saga gets more alarming,” Sen, McCaul noted, “reports allege an official responsible for supporting his Iran negotiating team was a core member of an Iranian-run influence campaign. Somehow this official was able to get a security clearance in spite of that, and now works in a senior position at the Defense Department. Between these egregious violations of trust by Biden officials, their mind-boggling $6 billion hostage deal that enriched the largest state-sponsor of terror, and their refusal to enforce sanctions, the Biden administration’s weak Iran policy is emboldening a dangerous adversary. The American people deserve transparency on the Malley saga immediately.”