Former US Iran envoy Robert Malley

US Lawmakers Worry IRGC Accessed Classified Documents Through Malley

Wednesday, 05/08/2024

Former US Iran envoy Robert Malley lost his security clearance, two influential congressmen have suggested, because he had transferred classified documents to his personal email and cell phone, and the documents were then stolen by a hostile cyber actor.

It’s not clear who the “cyber actor” was, but US lawmakers have expressed concern about the possibility that it could have been related to Iran’s intelligence or Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

Malley was placed on leave and had his security clearance suspended in April 2023. Iran International was first to report the incident in June of that year, but then the State Department blocked all attempts to find more information about Malley’s case.

“We remain deeply frustrated by the Department's lack of responsiveness to our requests for information needed to conduct appropriate oversight,” wrote top Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations and the House Foreign Affairs committees. “Due to the Department's evasiveness and lack of transparency, we have worked to glean information from other sources.”
This is in effect the first time in more than a year that a semi-official story has transpired on Malley’s sudden and complete disappearance from public life. Even then, the letter sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken by Senator James Risch (R-ID) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) raises many more questions than it answers.

“Did Mr. Mailey send or attempt to send these documents to anyone who lacked the proper clearance,” the two Congressmen ask. “Were any of these individuals affiliated with the Iranian government or the Iran Experts Initiative?”

Iran Experts Initiative –also made public by Iran International alongside Semafor– was an influence network initiated by Iran’s foreign ministry in 2014, recruiting young researchers and academics to “promote Tehran’s argument in the West.” At least three prominent members of the network were close associates of Malley.

Malley was appointed as Joe Biden’s Iran envoy in 2021 and immediately embarked on back-channel talks with Iran. For many years, he’s been an advocate of engagement –and not isolation– of the regime in Tehran. Two years after his appointment, Malley began to be noted by his disappearance.

It is now known that State Department officials had repeatedly lied to Members of Congress by claiming Rob Malley was on personal leave.

Risch and McCaul have sent Blinken 17 questions, including one to confirm that Malley’s security clearance was suspended because he ‘mishandled’ sensitive (or classified) documents. “What has been the impact on the administration's Iran policy,” Risch and McCaul ask in another question in their letter to Blinken. “Did Mr. Malley's alleged infractions affect the conduct of Iran policy?”

The Biden administration’s Iran policy has attracted a lot of criticism, especially since October 7. Joe Biden’s approach is seen as too soft, ‘appeasing’ even, encouraging the Iranian regime to be more aggressive as it sees no retribution for its gross violations of human rights at home and destabilizing activities outside.

Malley seems to have had a central role in devising and advancing President Biden’s Iran policy. And that –for those who see that policy as wrong or problematic– is more than enough to want to pursue his case to find out how (or if) US national interests or security has been affected.

“The allegations we have been privy to are extremely troubling and demand immediate answers,” the lawmakers’ letter to Blinken concluded. “These allegations have a substantial impact on our national security and people should be held accountable swiftly and strongly.”

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