By Pooya Stone
The Iranian regime’s potent espionage and assassination network around the world have operated largely without interruption since the Islamic revolution of 1979.
In the USA, Iranian spies have worked hard against the opposition. Iran has stationed multiple regime-tied agents in the United States to conduct intelligence operations. And one of its targets is the Iranian opposition well known as the NCRI and the MEK/PMOI.
Iran has been emboldened by the lack of international repercussions in its malevolent behavior and has increased its intelligence operations in America.
US Lawmakers and experts have been warning for some time that Iran has stationed what some described as "sleeper cell" agents across the United States. These agents are believed to operate with impunity and could lay the groundwork for a large-scale terror attack on American soil.
Iran has publicly stated multiple times over the past years that it has a vast espionage network that includes the United States. Many have dismissed these claims as posturing.
On 5 November 2019, the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI made an announcement indicating two men pleading guilty to acting as spies of the Iranian regime on American soil. Their charges including spying on two members of the Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and monitoring a Jewish center in Chicago. Both measures could have led to assassinations, kidnappings and/or a terrorist attack, a hallmark of the Iranian regime’s terrorist plots abroad through the past four decades.
The two Iranian individuals—identified as Ahmadreza Mohammadi-Doostdar, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen, and Majid Ghorbani, an Iranian citizen and resident of California—were formally charged by the Trump administration "with allegedly acting on behalf of the government of the Iranian regime.
On 16 January a U.S. district judge sentenced these two men. Judge Paul L. Friedman on Wednesday sentenced dual U.S.-Iranian citizen Ahmadreza Mohammadi-Doostdar, 39, to 38 months in prison with 36 months of supervised release and fined $14,153 on one count of acting as an Iranian agent and one count of conspiring to work as an Iranian agent, which he pleaded guilty to on 8 October.
Friedman sentenced Majid Ghorbani, 60, an Iranian citizen and Californian resident, to 30 months in prison and 36 months of supervised release after pleading guilty Nov. 4 to one count of sanctions violations.
"The sentences, in this case, illustrate the high cost to those who act as agents of the Iranian government in the United States or provide services that benefit the government of Iran, especially when those activities target the free speech and peaceful assembly rights of people in the United States," U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie K. Liu said in a statement. "We will continue to thwart efforts by foreign governments to endanger our national security and to stifle the freedoms that all Americans cherish."
The sentences come after the men pleaded guilty to conducting surveillance and collecting identifying information for Iran about U.S. citizens and nationals who are members of Iranian dissident group Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK/PMOI) in New York City.
The documents published by the court suggests that Doostdar used Ghorbani to collect information on the individuals, which he would then take back to Iran.
Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said that this case is proof Iran is targeting U.S. citizens to silence those that oppose its regime.
"The defendants, working for Iran, gathered information on Americans that could then be used by the Iranian intelligence services to intimidate or harm them or their families," he said in a statement. "These prosecutions should serve as a reminder to anyone here working covertly for Iran that the American law enforcement will pursue you to protect this country, its citizens and the First Amendment principles upon which it was founded."
According to a court-authorized search, DOOSTDAR began planning operational activity in the United States as early as in or around March 2017.
On or about March 14, 2018, during a court-authorized physical search of GHORBANI's apartment, the FBI found several hand-written notes in Farsi regarding members of the MEK, including names, positions, and relations to other MEK members. Some of the notes referenced MEK/NCRI meetings that GHORBANI appears to have attended at the Persian restaurant, such as one on or about August 1, 2017, during which they discussed several topic areas to include sending three American senators to evaluate the organization's base in Albania, planning a demonstration in New York on September 20th in front of the United Nations at the time of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's arrival, and reviewing Congress's decision regarding designating Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps terrorists.
On or about April 17, 2018, when he entered the United States from Iran, GHORBANI also had a document that appears to contain taskings for the future collection of information about the MEK. The document was titled "About the organization".