Newly released reports suggest that Iran has built a network of influential allies in the US and Europe, employing current and former administration officials.
This Sunday, the US Department of Defense announced in a statement that it has begun investigating the security clearance process for Ariane Tabatabai, a former State Department and current Pentagon official who, according to the new reports, is accused of helping the Iranian government build a network of influential allies in the US and Europe, using current and former administration officials.
The story of the revelation of Iran’s influence operation at the heart of the US political establishment was revealed during a congressional hearing this past Thursday, where high-level administration officials from US Congress testified on the alleged Iranian operation.
During the hearing, US Congressmen spoke of the necessity to counter Iran and rebuked the Biden administration once again for the recent prisoner swap deal between Tehran and Washington.
First, it was Christopher Maier, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, for whom Tabatabai serves as chief of staff, testified to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and noted that while Tabatabai is still serving in her role, he could not speak about the accuracy of the reports before Tabatabai herself is heard out.
Questioning Maier on the subject, Republican congressman from Florida Brian Mast said during the hearing that Tabatabai’s alleged contacts with Iran are so urgent in terms of threatening US national security that she is required to disclose them in her vetting process as soon as possible. In response, Maier asserted that the investigation has “discretion” to look into Tabatabai’s foreign contacts further back, beyond what was required on her security clearance operation to assure the matter is dealt with in the most proper way.
Likewise, Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee said in a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin this Thursday that she has grave concerns about Tabatabai and demanded answers on the situation by mid-October.
“Ms. Tabatabai’s relationship with Iranian government representatives, along with her malicious comments regarding our ally, Israel, as a representative of the U.S. Department of Defense is undeniably unacceptable,” Blackburn wrote in the letter.
The new Iran report has created chaos in Congress
In a separate hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee the same day, Derek Chollet, an official in the State Department who is also the nominee for the position of the undersecretary of defense for policy, also addressed the issue but with a different perspective. He noted that the US deterrence toward Iran is good enough and it is actually working and such reports are not going to affect the approach.
“One of the foremost responsibilities I would have for this position is ensuring that we do whatever we can to deter Iran and push back from its malign behavior,” Chollet said, adding also that “I think we have restored some degree of deterrence over the last several months… Every day we need to wake up and make sure that we’re doing what we can to deter Iran. and the prisoner swap deal was just in line with this approach towards Iran.”
Republican Senator Mike Lawler, however, rebuked the deal and argued that it only showed that US sanctions against Iran “mean absolutely nothing”. Lawler also called it “idiotic” to think that the funds released to be handed to Iran would go only for the Iranian people and not allow the Iranian government to spend more elsewhere in its budget on malign and terrorist activities.