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Congress Investigates the Iran Hawks’ Creepy Smear Campaign

Negar Mortazavi and Borzou Daragahi report [1] on the response in Congress to the scandal [2] over State Department funding for the so-called Iran Disinformation Project:

United States officials say they are outraged by a government-funded troll campaign that has targeted American citizens critical of the administration’s hardline Iran policy and accused critics of being loyal to the Tehran regime.

State Department officials admitted to Congressional staff in a closed-door meeting on Monday that a project they had funded to counter Iranian propaganda had gone off the rails. Critics in Washington have gone further, saying that the programme resembled the type of troll farms used by autocratic regimes abroad.

“It’s completely unacceptable that American taxpayer dollars supported a project that attacked Americans and others who are critical of the Trump administration’s policy of escalation and conflict with Iran,” a senior Congressional aide told The Independent, on condition of anonymity.

The State Department’s Global Engagement Center [3] erred from the beginning by entrusting the effort to counter Iranian regime propaganda to an outside contractor with such hard-line views. There was clearly a failure to supervise what the contractor was doing with the funding provided by the department, and the result was outsourcing the department’s work to self-serving ideologues. Had it not been for the public outcry and investigations by several of the people being targeted by this department-funded operation, the department might not have realized what was being done with its own resources until much later and it might not have acknowledged the error at all.

The department should also review its relationship with the contractor responsible for the smear campaign, because paying someone to do little more than harass political opponents because they are insufficiently hard-line is a waste of the public’s money and serves no legitimate public interest:

E-Collaborative for Civic Education, co-founded by Iranian American activist Mariam Memarsadeghi, is a long-time State Department contractor.

It purports to promote democratic political life and empower civil society inside Iran, but it appears to have no presence inside the country and instead confines itself to engaging with Iranians in the Diaspora.

In this case, the engagement with Iranians in the diaspora amounted to shouting abuse at many of them and harassing those that didn’t toe a certain ideological line. As the scandal proves, hard-line regime changers have a very warped idea of what qualifies as pro-regime rhetoric and who can be considered a regime supporter, and so it should come as no surprise that this operation turned its ire on the many Iranian-American professionals that didn’t get with the hawkish program. This calls into question whether the department is capable of countering disinformation from foreign governments without indulging the worst and most hawkish people that want to use such efforts to settle scores against their fellow Americans. It is good that Congress is looking into how this particular scandal happened, but there have to be changes made to how the department runs the Global Engagement Center so that something like this can’t happen again.

One of the absurdities of this smear campaign is that it has targeted the very journalists and analysts that have been far more effective in countering the Iranian government’s false claims through their reporting and analysis. The Iran Disinformation Project went after these journalists and analysts because they refused to recite arguments in favor of regime change and war. They were targeted because they were independent and credible observers and critics of Iran and U.S. Iran policy, and that meant that they used their expertise and understanding of the country to question the wisdom and efficacy of sanctions and spoke out against the folly of military intervention. Iran hawks desperately need to discredit and smear people like this because they pose a major threat to the promotion of the hawks’ agenda. Fortunately, their smear tactics aren’t working very well these days.

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10 Comments To "Congress Investigates the Iran Hawks’ Creepy Smear Campaign"

#1 Comment By Christian J Chuba On June 11, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

How long before these Congressman are denounced as traitors by the likes of Tom Cotton. ‘No one can challenge me, I was in Iraq, how dare they shoot at me, it’s my country not theirs.’

#2 Comment By Oleg Gark On June 11, 2019 @ 6:22 pm

I think American citizens should engage their own State Department with lawsuits and criminal indictments. The legal discovery process should air the place out quite nicely.

#3 Comment By Tourmaloony On June 11, 2019 @ 7:20 pm

It’s kind of odd that this is something that’s being highlighted and looked into, considering the total lack of interest in charging Bolton, Dean, Giuliani, Ridge, and others for their material support to terrorists when they were promoting MEK when it was still on the FTO list.

Sorry, that was a long sentence.

Thanks for your efforts, Larison.

#4 Comment By WorkingClass On June 11, 2019 @ 9:08 pm

“….the department might not have realized what was being done with its own resources until much later and it might not have acknowledged the error at all.”

Oh well. We all make mistakes. Or could it be the smear campaign is a feature and not a bug? And if so could it be a reflection of Pompeo’s character and disposition.

#5 Comment By Fayez Abedaziz On June 12, 2019 @ 2:06 am

Take a look at previous secretaries of state-
leading American foreign policy-
Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton where the U.S. was lead into awful, nation destroying policies and mass deaths.
The only recent person at that post that sincerely tried to actually do something for the sake of peace and the actual use of diplomacy was John Kerry, with the deal among the European nations and America and Iran.
The above three were truly terrible people to have representing the U.S. They bullied and gloated about the deaths in other nations:
see Albright defending the deaths of children in Iraq due to sanctions and Hillary laughing at the deaths and mayhem in Libya.
Terrible human beings they are and foe them it was all fun and games.
Obama was too much of a weakling to take firm stands, except of course with the work of Kerry on the Iran deal.
Ask yourself: do any of the three, Rice, Hillary or Albright give a damn about human life, including American troops dying?

#6 Comment By rayray On June 12, 2019 @ 2:19 pm

To your point, what I enjoyed about John Kerry was his full throated effort to bring back the ideal of what the State Department is supposed to be doing…that is, using the mechanisms of diplomacy to make peace and increase communication.

All the other Sec States felt like they wished they were part of the military.

#7 Comment By Burn Bag On June 12, 2019 @ 4:47 pm

Don’t give me this “Global Engagement Center” crap. Pompeo? “Global Engagement”?

It’s simple. Pompeo’s State Department used government money, taxpayer money, to disinform the American public and smear American citizens. The next step is obvious. Find who did it and throw them in prison.

#8 Comment By Loadbearing On June 12, 2019 @ 8:52 pm

@Burn Bag says “Pompeo’s State Department used government money, taxpayer money, to disinform the American public and smear American citizens. ”

It’s worse than that. Our “America First” president’s State Department hired foreigners to do this, foreigners who belong to a “former” terror gang that used to kill Americans.

Hiring foreigners to lie to and smear Americans? There must be laws against it. Laws with serious consequences.

#9 Comment By Sydney On June 14, 2019 @ 12:49 pm

Global Enragement Center is a more apt name

#10 Comment By venze On June 14, 2019 @ 9:46 pm

“It’s unacceptable that taxpayer dollars supported a project that attacked Americans & others critical of the admin’s policy of escalation & conflict with Iran”. Well said, a sensible, correct remark. But does White House bother? The autocratic C-in-C is in full control, he can veto any objection anytime.