Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
When the New York Times and the Washington Post wanted Iran explained to them, they turned to Kaveh Afrasiabi. So did at least one member of Congress who is only listed as “Congressman-1” in the FBI’s application for Afrasiabi’s arrest as a foreign agent of Iran.
Afrasiabi had started out as Howard Zinn’s teaching assistant. The notorious Communist revisionist historian was the Iranian immigrant’s dissertation adviser. “My first exposure to Zinn was in his graduate class on Marxism and anarchism,” Afrasiabi wrote in a tribute at The Nation.
Zinn had gushed, “I admire Afrasiabi for his courage.”
Afrasiabi, who was on familiar terms with Zinn and Noam Chomsky, was practicing a different kind of revisionist history than Zinn’s affinity for Communist revisionism or Chomsky’s sympathy for Holocaust deniers. For decades, he peppered newspapers and journals with letters and later articles laying out a revisionist history of the brutal theocracy terrorizing Iran and the region.
In a 1990 New York Times letter, Afrasiabi insisted that Iran was a tolerant place, where there is “very little book censorship”, and there’s more freedom than there was before the Islamic takeover. The letters soon turned into op-eds. He wrote articles, studies, reviews, and books that laid out a case for appeasing the Islamic terror state and dismissing its nuclear program.
And the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, the Harvard International Review, and The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, were all happy to run Afrasiabi’s political revisionism.
After Iranians took to the street to protest a rigged election, CNN’s Don Lemon interviewed Afrasiabi who defended Ahmadinejad. CNN also featured a piece by Afrasiabi assuring its readers that there was no evidence of election fraud and suggesting that they would soon see “a more moderate Ahmadinejad gearing up for dialogue with the West”.
Before long, Afrasiabi had become an official expert on Iran.
The Council on Foreign Relations repeatedly quoted Afrasiabi on everything having to do with Iran. When anti-government riots broke out in Iran, the Washington Post turned to Afrasiabi. By 2009, an unknown member of Congress, described only as “Congressman-1”, was regularly turning to Afrasiabi and cited him in a letter to Obama about cutting a deal with Iran.
Kaveh Afrasiabi had his own thoughts on the subject. In an email to Iran’s Foreign Minister and UN ambassador after President Trump took out terror boss Qassam Soleimani, he urged the terror regime to retaliate in order to “strike fear in the heart of enemy” and “weaken Trump and strengthen his opponents”. President Trump’s opponents were the ones listening to Afrasiabi.
And Afrasiabi was getting his talking points directly from Iran which was paying his salary.
Not only has Afrasiabi been charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent of the Islamic terror state, but his role was so blatant that he was actually getting checks directly from and having his health insurance covered through Iran’s diplomatic mission to the United Nations.
Afrasiabi did everything but formally register as a foreign agent, and yet no one cared.
Meanwhile Afrasiabi’s emails showed how he was using his access to the media on behalf of an enemy regime.
“I will continue to fully support our foreign minister as I have in the past,” he wrote during the Iran Deal debate. “For your information, last month I wrote article in Boston Globe, letter in Washington Post.”
Just as the Washington Post had provided space for the Qatari regime by printing Jamal Khashoggi’s columns, and then treating him as a martyr, it offered space to Iran’s regime. And Iran was shaping Afrasiabi’s material similarly to the way Qatar had shaped Khashoggi’s.
When Iran took American sailors hostage, a press secretary from Iran’s UN mission gave him talking points about how well they had been treated. And Afrasiabi pleaded for “a more robust role for me given my credential and name recognition in iran as a stubborn defender of iran who has experienced years of oppression in us.”
His “oppression in us” involved extensive litigation with Harvard when he was accused of extortion, with Zinn, Chomsky, and Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes coming to his defense.
He also claimed to have been the victim of police brutality from “racist, brutal, unprofessional and malicious” Cambridge Police officers. The Iranian immigrant claimed that the cops targeted him because he looked foreign, but news reports mention that he was arrested because he left the Middle East Restaurant and Nightclub in Central Square without paying for his meal.
None of this bizarre history dissuaded academia and the media from taking him seriously.
His latest book, Trump and Iran: Containment to Confrontation, was featured in Columbia University’s Journal of International Affairs. Meanwhile he was serving on the advisory board of the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII).
The New York Times, the Washington Post, Congressman-1, the State Department, the Council on Foreign Relations, the United Nations, and everyone who gave Afrasiabi a forum may try to argue that they had no idea he was working for Iran. No matter how hard he shilled for Iran, its nuclear program, and its domestic brutality, Afrasiabi’s enablers chose not to see.
After the murder of Neda Agha Soltan, who was killed by the Iranian regime while protesting against Ahmadinejad, Afrasiabi claimed that the violence was the fault of “some rogue officials” and suggested that she may have been killed by “dissident groups” or foreign spies.
Afrasiabi may not have registered as a foreign agent, but he made little secret of his sympathies. After Soleimani’s assassination, he ranted during a television interview that President Trump’s “hands are stained with the blood of ten martyrs” and warned that the President “has provoked . . . blowback . . . that will be coming before too long.”
The blowback never came. Instead, Afrasiabi was arrested for acting as an unregistered foreign agent of Iran. The only blowback is to the media’s echo chamber which loses one of its own.
“We created an echo chamber,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s close adviser, had told the New York Times. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”
The Iran Deal became possible because the Obama administration had collaborated with pro-Iran groups to push a false narrative about the deal and its nuclear program.
Among the places that Afrasiabi was published was LobeLog. While LobeLog has since become part of George Soros’ Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, it was formerly partly funded by the Ploughshares Fund. And the Ploughshares Fund was a key part of the echo chamber.
“We had test drives to know who was going to be able to carry our message effectively, and how to use outside groups like Ploughshares, the Iran Project and whomever else,” Rhodes had boasted. The Iran Project, like LobeLog, repeatedly ran material quoting Afrasiabi.
While the Obama administration claimed to be worried about foreign interference, its propaganda campaign for the Iran Deal was utilizing the work of an Iranian foreign agent.
The foreign interference in America’s political system had been aided and abetted by the Obama administration which spied on members of Congress speaking to Prime Minister Netanyahu and relied on an echo chamber that included an alleged agent of Iran.
Afrasiabi once wrote an article titled, “Reading Marx in Cairo.” If a Democrat DOJ doesn’t undermine the investigation, then Afrasiabi may end up reading Marx in prison.