The FBI arrested author and political scientist Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi at his home in Watertown, Massachusetts, on Monday on charges of acting as an unregistered agent for the government of Iran.
Afrasiabi, 63, is an Iranian citizen who has lawful permanent residence in the United States. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said he has been leading a double life as a secret operative of the Iranian regime while working as a scholar and commentator in the United States:
Afrasiabi holds a PhD, and frequently publishes books and articles, and appears on English-language television programs discussing foreign relations matters, particularly Iran’s relations with the United States. Afrasiabi has identified or portrayed himself as a political scientist, a former political science professor or as an expert on foreign affairs.
Since at least 2007 to the present, Afrasiabi has also been secretly employed by the Iranian government and paid by Iranian diplomats assigned to the Permanent Mission of the IMUN [Iran’s mission to the United Nations]. Afrasiabi has been paid approximately $265,000 in checks drawn on the IMUN’s official bank accounts since 2007, and has received health insurance through the IMUN’s employee health benefit plans since at least 2011.
In the course of his employment by the Iranian government, Afrasiabi has lobbied a U.S. congressman and the U.S. Department of State to advocate for policies favorable to Iran, counseled Iranian diplomats concerning U.S. foreign policy, made television appearances to advocate for the Iranian government’s views on world events, and authored articles and opinion pieces espousing the Iranian government’s position on various matters of foreign policy.
DOJ charged that Afrasiabi was well aware he should have registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), citing admissions in his own emails that Iranian government funding made his “books, hundreds of articles in newspapers and academic journals,” and media presence possible.
“Without support none of this would have been possible! This has been a very productive relationship spanning decades that ought not to be interrupted,” he gushed to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a July 2020 email.
Afrasiabi’s services to the Iranian regime allegedly went far beyond writing some articles for American media from Tehran’s point of view:
For example, in January 2020, Afrasiabi emailed Iran’s Foreign Minister and Permanent Representative to the United Nations with advice for “retaliation” for the U.S. military airstrike that killed Major General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force, the external operations arm of the Iranian government’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, proposing that the Iranian government “end all inspections and end all information on Iran’s nuclear activities pending a [United Nations Security Council] condemnation of [the United States’] illegal crime.” Afrasiabi claimed that such a move would, among other things, “strike fear in the heart of [the] enemy.”
“In 2009, Afrasiabi helped an unidentified congressman draft a letter to President Barack Obama about U.S. and Iranian nuclear negotiations, according to court documents. He never disclosed that he was working for Iran,” the Associated Press reported, citing officials familiar with the case.
“For over a decade, Kaveh Afrasiabi pitched himself to Congress, journalists, and the American public as a neutral and objective expert on Iran. 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,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.
“Anyone working to advance the agenda of a foreign government within the United States is required by law to register as an agent of that country. 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,” said William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director in Charge for the FBI field office in New York.
“Our laws are designed to create transparency in foreign relations, and they are not arbitrary or malleable. As today’s action demonstrates, we will fully enforce them to protect our national security,” Sweeney noted.
Afrasiabi appeared before a federal court in Boston by videoconference on Tuesday and a detention hearing is scheduled for Friday. He faces a maximum sentence of ten years in prison if convicted on all charges.
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