The Intelligence Propaganda Complex

Matt Apuzzo has a remarkable story about the efforts DOJ is making to protect the records of United Against Nuclear Iran, a purported NGO that shames entities potentially doing business with Iran.

Greek shipping magnate Victor Restis is suing the group for defamation, claiming they falsely accused him of being an Iranian front.

The group said it had uncovered a letter proving there was a plan to do business in Iran. It also accused Mr. Restis of using his ships in support of Iran’s oil industry.

Mr. Restis said the letter was fraudulent, the illicit Iranian deal never existed, and his ships made only authorized humanitarian shipments. He accused the group of shaking down companies for donations; the group in turn accused him of being a “master criminal.”

The group said it based its accusations on “valid research, credible documents, distinguished relationships, and pre-eminent sourcing.” In court, Mr. Restis demanded that the group disclose those documents and its relationships.

Soon after that demand, Mr. Restis said he was approached by an Israeli businessman, Rami Ungar, with no direct connection to United Against Nuclear Iran.

According to court documents filed by Mr. Restis’s lawyers, Mr. Ungar knew details about the case and said he was “authorized to try to resolve the issues” on behalf of the group’s supporters.

It was not clear who those supporters were. Like many nonprofit groups, its donor list is secret. Mr. Restis’s lawyers said in a letter to the judge in April that they had uncovered information that United Against Nuclear Iran “is being funded by foreign interests.”

DOJ suggested they might claim a law enforcement exception to protect the files, though it has not yet formally claimed such a privilege. That might suggest the files are Treasury files that may soon be used to impose sanctions on Restis. Or perhaps it means they have files that don’t meet Treasury’s standards for imposing sanctions, and UANI exists to shame people where sanctions are unavailable. In any case, Restis wants to know how Ungar got them; I’d like to know precisely what UANI is getting from whom.

Apuzzo lists some of the characters who are behind the group: former Mideast Peace Envoy Dennis Ross, Fran Townsend, and Joe Lieberman. Otto Reich, whose role in Iran-Contra (as opposed to his role in trying to overthrow Hugo Chavez in the 2002 coup) involved illegally funneling taxpayer dollars for the purposes of lobbying, is of particular note. Restis is particularly interested in interviewing UANI advisor Meir Dagan, the long-time head of Mossad; Restis believes Dagan provided the documents to Ungar. In addition, Richard Dearlove, who was in charge of sexing up the British case for war in 2003 when he was MI6, also advises the group.

in other words, it’s a classic case of a quasi-governmental group, one that apparently plays an extra-legal purpose in the campaign to isolate Iran (to be fair, most, though not all, of its advisors have worked hard to stave off war). And Restis’ efforts to get some kind of justice against it may be stymied by US claims they’ve got privileged interests in the case.

The entire episode raises some very good questions about what goes into isolating our adversaries.

7 replies
  1. darms says:

    Did “United Against Nuclear Iran” ever shame Cheney or Halliburton for all the business they have done w/Iran?

    • emptywheel says:

      They started in 2008, too late for that I think.

      Though it would have been fun to watch.

  2. P J Evans says:

    If LIEberman in involved, I would assume it’s funded by both AIPAC ad the US government, is backed by the chickenhawks, and would very much like a military attack on Iran.

  3. ArizonaBumblebeeper says:

    America is an empire. What it does around the world can have life or death consequences for a foreign government. Throughout our history, America has been the focus of various intrigues by foreign governments trying to influence or dictate any policies that would adversely effect their interests. Remember the China Lobby. For over two decades politicians of both parties were terrified of supporting any action that could be deemed supportive of the communist government of mainland China. President Nixon’s trip to Beijing put an end to the lobby’s power.

    Over the past several decades, America has seen the rise of two more powerful lobbies: the Israel Lobby and the lesser-known Saudi Lobby. Operating through think-tanks, front organizations, and wealthy donors, these lobbies provide media support, position papers, and generous funding to a any group or politician supporting its cause. (Aside: this funding does not have to be direct but may simply involve supporting a politician’s business interests. There have been numerous allegations, for example, that the wealthy bin Laden family provided funding to the Bush family’s oil business.) But there is a darker side to this effort, which can include blackmail and character assassination. If America were a fully functioning democracy, it would have adequate laws to label these entities as agents of a foreign power. Unfortunately, the laws governing such shadowy groups and their sponsors have been inadequate.

    Ironically, in 2008 when Barack Obama was running for president, the Republicans attacked him, among other things, for being a closet Muslim and a supporter of the Palestinian cause. What they chose to ignore was the fact that one of his closest advisers was a former member of the IDF, Rahm Emanuel. Unfortunately for the Palestinians, many Arab-Americans also chose to ignore this.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Would a government front by any other name smell as sweet? And I thought domestic propaganda was illegal. I guess not, if enough former executive branch hacks (and now lobbyists and lawyers) can be brought out to front for it.

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