Romney advisor advocating for terrorist group

Mitchell Reiss has helped lead a campaign to rehabilitate the reputation of anti-Iranian militants

Topics: 2012 Elections, War Room, Terrorism,

Romney advisor advocating for terrorist group

A foreign policy advisor to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been active in recent months in an advocacy campaign to rehabilitate the reputation of an underground organization in Iran known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq. The MEK has been designated by the U.S. State Department as a “terrorist” organization.

Mitchell Reiss, former director of policy planning at the State Department during the Bush administration, is now advising the former Massachusetts governor on foreign policy, the New Republic recently reported. Reiss also advised Romney’s 2008 campaign.

Currently president of Washington College in Maryland, Reiss has played a leading role in an ongoing campaign to get the MEK removed from the U.S. government’s official list of foreign organizations said to be involved in terrorism. Inclusion on the State Department list has far-reaching legal consequences — including making it illegal for U.S. citizens to support or even join the group.

“[T]he U.S. State Department needs to delist the MEK immediately,” Reiss said at a pro-MEK conference in Washington in April, where he was joined by a group of other luminaries, some of whom have acknowledged being paid to appear.

“Time is running out, lives are at stake,” he declared. “For the United States this is a case where American interests of opposing the regime in Tehran are entirely consistent with American values of freedom and democracy.”

In January he spoke at a conference organized by ExecutiveAction, a D.C.-based ”problem solving company” that has spearheaded the campaign to delist the MEK. He also moderated a second, similar MEK event in April at the Capital Hilton in Washington and moderated yet another in July at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel.

The MEK qualified for the State Department list because of its attacks on Iranian civilian targets beginning in the 1970s.



The Obama administration, which has engaged in complex negotiations with the Iranians over their nuclear aspirations, is being pressured to “delist” the MEK by those who say this would help undermine the Iranian regime, which is seen as a threat to Israel, a U.S. ally.

“With one simple signature, the Obama administration can help empower Iranians to seize control over their destiny — and perhaps end the mullahs’ mad nuclear dash,” wrote Daniel Pipes in National Review last month.

Romney has not taken a public position on the MEK, but he has previously spoken about Iran in aggressive terms.

“The Iranian regime is unalloyed evil, run by people who are at once ruthless and fanatical,” he told an American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) summit in San Diego in 2009. “Stop thinking that a charm offensive will talk the Iranians out of their pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

The MEK follows a philosophy that mixes Marxism and Islam, according to the State Department. The group, led by a husband-and-wife duo, Maryam and Massoud Rajavi, has been criticized for its “cult-like” qualities. It killed several Americans in Iran in the 1970s, including the deputy chief of the U.S. Military Mission in Tehran and two civilian employees of Rockwell International, a manufacturing conglomerate.

As recently as 2000, according to the State Department, the MEK launched attacks on Iranian government and civilian targets. The MEK says it renounced terrorism in 2001. (More on its tangled history here.)

In the past year or so, MEK supporters have mounted an intense public relations campaign fueled by millions of dollars of money, the sources of which are difficult to identify. A decision from the administration in an ongoing review of MEK’s terrorist designation is expected soon, according to State Department watchers.

The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has not been moved by the MEK’s public relations efforts so far.

But Washington’s most agile gladhanders have noticed that the MEK is nothing if not generous. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat with little foreign policy experience outside the state of Pennsylvania, was paid $20,000 for a 10-minute speech in which he said, “This has been a terrific learning experience for me, someone who knew practically nothing about the issues.”

Gen. Anthony Zinni, retired, a liberal-minded general and an early Iraq war critic, was paid his “standard speaking fee” — $20,000 to $30,000 — for an eight-minute speech at an MEK-linked conference. “I am shocked and surprised that we still chase this illusion that there can be a meaningful dialogue with the regime,” Zinni said at the January event.

Other politicos advocating for the MEK include liberal Democrats Howard Dean and Bill Bradley.  

All of this raises the question of what, if anything, Reiss — an advisor to a major presidential candidate — has been paid for his MEK advocacy, and where that money is coming from. Funds for the pro-MEK campaign have come from “a fluid and enigmatic network of support groups based in the United States,” says the Huffington Post, citing an unnamed MEK leader. Reiss and the Romney campaign did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Reiss is a veteran policymaker. The author of “Negotiating With Evil: When to Talk to Terrorists” and two books about nuclear nonproliferation, he also served as George W. Bush’s special envoy for the Northern Ireland peace process.

Here is a video of Reiss at one of the pro-MEK conferences in April:

And here are his opening remarks at the July event:

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>