The Department of Justice charged a political scientist and frequent contributor to left-leaning foreign policy publications and mainstream newspapers with acting as an unregistered agent for Iran, according to an announcement from federal prosecutors.
Using the guise of a free-thinking academic, Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi has since 2007 been pushing regime propaganda in publications including the New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, and the Nation magazine, as well as many academic journals. Afrasiabi was formally charged on Tuesday with "acting and conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran," according to an indictment unsealed in a Brooklyn federal court.
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The charges expose how Iran’s regime peddles influence in Washington, D.C., even without formal diplomatic ties with the United States. Afrasiabi, well known in left-of-center foreign policy circles, is one of the most prominent experts found to be taking money from Tehran for unregistered lobbying activities.
In addition to his writings in mainstream publications, Afrasiabi has appeared as an expert voice on CNN, PBS, and other international television outlets. He also has written for the Middle East Journal, Global Times, Asia Times, and San Francisco Chronicle, among many others.
Several of Afrasiabi's works advocating for the Iranian regime were published on LobeLog, a far-left foreign policy journal that has been among the most vocal champions of the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. LobeLog, which was absorbed by the isolationist Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft early last year, also published other progressive foreign policy voices such as Trita Parsi, Quincy's executive vice president. Parsi himself has faced accusations of acting as an Iranian regime lobbyist during his time as the leader of the National Iranian American Council.
Since 2007, Afrasiabi, an Iranian citizen and U.S. permanent resident, lobbied congressional officials, American lawmakers, and the State Department to take more favorable positions on Iran. Afrasiabi is accused of promoting himself as a political scientist while being "secretly employed by the Iranian government and paid by Iranian diplomats" stationed at the United Nations. He has been paid approximately $265,000 from Iranian officials since 2007 and also receives health insurance through Iran’s U.N. mission.
"For over a decade, Kaveh Afrasiabi pitched himself to Congress, journalists, and the American public as a neutral and objective expert on Iran," John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement. "However, all the while, Afrasiabi was actually a secret employee of the Government of Iran and the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations (IMUN) who was being paid to spread their propaganda."
In January 2020, Afrasiabi emailed Iran's foreign minister and its U.N. representative with "advice for ‘retaliation’ for the U.S. military airstrike that killed" top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. He recommended Iran "end all inspections and end all information on Iran’s nuclear activities," claiming such a move would "strike fear in the heart of [the] enemy," according to information disclosed by the Justice Department.
Afrasiabi's writings often parroted Iranian regime talking points. In the Boston Globe, for instance, he discussed "rebooting U.S.-Iran relations" and celebrated the Iran nuclear deal as a historic milestone.
The deal "would end the Iran nuclear crisis and put Iran on a new path in its relations with the international community," he wrote in 2015, echoing false claims by Iran's leadership that the accord would turn the country into a Western ally.
During a 2009 live Q&A session with the Washington Post, which came after Iran's massively corrupt elections, Afrasiabi said he was "somewhat optimistic that the brewing post-election crisis can be contained and culminate in a new environment where the reformists challenging the result feel somewhat vindicated." The Iranian regime had also dismissed concerns about the election as illegitimate.
On LobeLog, Afrasiabi criticized Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an outspoken critic of the Iranian regime.
"The scene at the Heritage Foundation today could have come from the film The Ugly American," he wrote about a 2018 speech by Pompeo outlining the Trump administration's hardline policy on Iran. He chastised Pompeo for "pouring venom on Iran and, in essence, declaring economic war by promising to ‘crush' Iran’s economy by imposing the ‘strongest sanctions in history'"—a position also shared by Iran's leadership.
Afrasiabi is charged with failing to register as an Iranian regime lobbyist under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which mandates disclosures for those working for foreign governments.
"Mr. Afrasiabi never disclosed to a congressman, journalists or others who hold roles of influence in our country that he was being paid by the Iranian government to paint an untruthfully positive picture of the nation," FBI Assistant Director in Charge William Sweeney said in a statement. "Our laws are designed to create transparency in foreign relations, and they are not arbitrary or malleable."
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