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If US removes Iran's MEK from list of terrorist organizations, will it matter?

The MEK, whose terrorist listing is up for review by the State Department, is not apt to directly threaten the US. But delisting the group could hurt Iran's Green movement.

By Staff writer / August 11, 2011

Scott Peterson has a lengthy investigation for the Monitor this week on the cavalcade of American political stars who've been raking in big bucks in return for speaking on behalf of the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK). The Iranian exile organization is currently on the US list of terrorist groups – but many in Washington would like to see it rehabilitated into an ally to go after the Iranian regime.

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The list of former and current officials being paid to speak on behalf of the MEK – whose doctrine is an odd mélange of Marxism and Islamist ideologies requiring cult-like loyalty to its principal leader Maryam Rajavi – reads like a who's who of the Washington establishment. Former "mayor of America" Rudy Giuliani called the the terrorist designation a "disgrace." Former Homeland Security boss Tom Ridge was effusive about Mrs. Rajavi, calling it an "honor... to work with an individual that we believe clearly is one of the most inspirational, great leaders of the 21st century: Viva Maryam!"

Former Governor Howard Dean (D) of Vermont, former NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark, and no fewer than three former CIA heads (James Woolsey, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden) have also spoken out on their behalf in paid engagements at pro-MEK conferences. And lots more Democrats, Republicans, generals, and bureaucrats appear to be getting paid.

All of this comes as part of a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort to get the MEK removed from the State Department's list of "terrorist designated organizations," where it's been included since the list's creation in 1997. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to make a decision on maintaining the designation in the coming weeks. While the MEK has lobbied for delisting before, the pressure this time is particularly intense – and bolstered by an unprecedented array of top former officials. It's hard to imagine Hezbollah, for instance, finding a paid army of former US officials for that purpose.

But will we be less safe if the group's handsomely paid advocates win the day? Almost certainly not. The terrorist designation makes it illegal for US citizens to do business with the group, and also makes it easier to go after their finances. The State Department says that "FTO designations play a critical role in our fight against terrorism and are an effective means of curtailing support for terrorist activities and pressuring groups to get out of the terrorism business." But in practice, most groups that want to do us harm (like Al Qaeda, for instance) have not been deterred.


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