A frequent contributor to The New York Times confessed to being paid by Iranian entities in the United Nations after he was accused earlier this month for acting as a secret foreign agent of the Iranian government, the Algemeiner reported, according to the US Department of Justice and court documents.
Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, 63, reportedly published dozens of opinion pieces and letters to the editor in the Times for years before the charges against him were made.
According to two different articles published under his name over the years, Afrasiabi, a citizen of the Islamic Republic of Iran and a lawful permanent resident of the US since 1973, is “a former political science professor at Tehran University" and “a former adviser to Iran’s nuclear negotiation team.”
According to the charges that Afrasiabi currently faces, he used his position in order to promote messages and propaganda which he received directly from the Iranian government without ever registering as a foreign agent.
In a press release made by the US Department of Justice following Afrasiabi's arrest last week at his home in Watertown, Massachusetts, Acting US Attorney Seth DuCharme said that “Afrasiabi allegedly sought to influence the American public and American policymakers for the benefit of his employer, the Iranian government, by disguising propaganda as objective policy analysis and expertise.”
This is the last thing he wrote for them. NYT describes him as a "political scientist and expert on Iran's foreign affairs." No other disclosures besides his U.S.-based academic associations. pic.twitter.com/fTNlImCg8h— Jordan Schachtel (@JordanSchachtel) January 19, 2021
Assistant director-in-charge of the FBI William F. Sweeney added in the same press release that anyone seeking to advance the agenda of a foreign government in the US must register as an agent of that country, noting that “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."
This, Sweeney emphasized, goes against the principle of transparency which the US legal system tries so hard to preserve.
Since 2007, Afrasiabi has been paid around $265,000 by the Iranian government and has lobbied a US Congressman and the US Department of State to allegedly advocate for policies favorable to Iran, including on sensitive security issues, according to the Department of Justice.
In January 2020, for example, Afrasiabi emailed Iran’s foreign minister and permanent representative to the UN, "with advice for “retaliation” for the US military airstrike that killed Maj.-Gen. Qasem Soleimani."
Another example taken from the indictment that Afrasiabi now faces relates to an email that he sent in 2012 to the counselor of Iran's Mission to the UN, in which he wrote that the "US government is in the palms of Zionists," before mentioning that he is focusing "on how we can best fight back."
And while admitting that he was indeed paid by the Iranian government over the years, Afrasiabi has denied all other charges, claiming that the payments did not affect his professional writing or "moral responsibility as an intellectual." In a statement given to the Algemeiner, he said that calling him a secret Iranian agent is "absurd" and "wild."
“My conscience is clear. And if the US government had an iota of sense of appreciation, they would thank me for all my tireless activities for the cause of détente, non-proliferation, human rights, inter-religious dialogue and understanding,” Afrasiabi told the Algemeiner.
He added that UN missions routinely engage outside consultants who do not register as foreign agents, and questioned why US authorities had allowed him to operate for so long if what he did was illegal, "unless they knew that it was not illegal or ‘secret,’” suggesting that the charges are of political nature.
“Was this the outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s last gasp two days before the inauguration? Who knows,” Afrasiabi wondered.
Afrasiabi is expected to be released on Friday, according to the Algemeiner, on the condition that he posts a $250,000 unsecured bond and that he does not contact any current or former known member of the Iranian government without the presence of his lawyer.