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Introduction: MEK Overview
The Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK) is also known as the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI). MEK has been sporadically active in attempting to overthrow the Iranian government since the early 1960s, and its members have used a variety of tactics to achieve their political ends including political campaigning, subversion, and violent attacks targeting civilians. Due in part to their targeting of American civilians living in Iran during the 1970s and their support of Saddam Hussein, the United States State Department has listed MEK as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. In October 2012, the U.S. State Department will decide whether to remove MEK from the FTO list based on MEK’s denouncing terrorist tactics and devotion to diplomatic means to gain power versus violent attacks (Masters 2012). Origins, Ideology and Goals
MEK was born out of a student-group resistance to Shah Pahlavi in 1965. The founding members of MEK in Tehran regarded the Shah as a U.S. puppet, and they felt that his westernization of Iran went against Iran’s traditional Islamic values. They believed in a violent overthrow of the Shah to return Iran to Islamic rule. In 1979, the group aligned itself with Ayatollah Khomeini in hopes that it could run for office after Shah Pahlavi’s exile, but Ayatollah Khomeini succeeded in overthrowing the Shah and he crushed any opposition to his new government. Since 1979, MEK has been trying to gain the opportunity to run for office in Iran’s government by shifting alliances and violently attacking the forces, which have prevented its political ambitions (Goulka 2009). In 2003, the group publically denounced violence in an attempt to foster global political support, but its place on the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list is blocking it from achieving its desired global support.
According to MEK, it has “strived for freedom and human rights, first against the despotic reign of Shah, and now the theocratic tyranny of the ayatollahs” (MEK n.d.). It is “an anti-fundamentalist Muslim organization which believes in a democratic, progressive, and tolerant interpretation of Islam, according to which elections and public suffrage are the sole indicators of political legitimacy. The PMOI endeavors for a secular, democratic, and non-nuclear republic, and is committed to free elections, gender equality, and abolition of all discrimination against national and religious minorities” (MEK n.d.) “Non-nuclear” is a key consideration for the United States and other western powers. Iran has increasingly taunted the world with its nuclear program and refuses to deescalate military tensions. In bold statements of aggression, in 2012 alone, Iran has announced two new missiles, an air defense site, and a fleet of ultra-fast gun boats designed to zip into battle against larger western fleets.
In a twist of fate, MEK’s future may lie in the hands of the United States. The United States has until October 1, 2012 to decide if it will delist MEK from the FTO. If MEK is delisted it will enjoy much more freedom of movement around the world and it will be able to legally receive funds from U.S. based sympathizers. It is not unreasonable to think that the U.S. will delist MEK in an effort to undermine the Iranian Government, much like Saddam Hussein offered MEK a home in 1986 to undermine Iran during the Iran Iraq war. Leadership, Funding and Capabilities
Most of MEK’s original leadership was arrested and executed in 1971, but Massoud Rajavi escaped death and remains a leader of MEK. Though he has not been seen publicly since 2003, his wife, Maryam Rajavi, “is the public face of the MEK in her role as president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran” (Jones 2012).
In the past four decades the group has used several methods to raise funds for its campaign. Some methods have made the group infamous and add to the list of reasons that the U.S. and several other nations have classified it as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. MEK has long been skilled in deception and has used that skill to affect its fund raising efforts. For example, its solicitation of funds for Iranian refugees, child welfare, and children’s medical services proven to be fraudulent (FBI n.d.).
Until 2003, MEK had a substantial armory due to its previous relationship with Saddam Hussein. Its inventory often included artillery, tanks, aircraft, rocket launchers, rifles, mortars, shells, rockets, land mines, and bullets (FBI n.d.). In 2003, the United States bombed MEK camps and bunkers based on their relationship to Saddam Hussein and the idea that they posed a significant threat with their armaments. MEK members no longer have easy access to such large stockpiles of arms. MEK is now facing deportation from its Iraqi camp Ashraf and remains disarmed. Operating Bases, Support Bases, Strengths
MEK has moved its headquarters over the years as a necessary part of survival. Originally founded in Tehran, it moved to Paris after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The group had allied with the Ayatollah Khomeini, but Khomeini forced the group out in fear of opposition. In 1986 Saddam Hussein invited the group to relocate to camp Ashraf. Iraq was at war with Iran, and relocating the group from Paris to Iraq was Hussein’s method of undermining Iran. At the start of the U.S. led war in Iraq under Operation Iraqi Freedom, the group was classified as enemy combatants and subsequently confined to Camp Ashraf, where approximately 3,000 MEK now live (Carter 2011). The new government of Iraq has declared that all members of MEK must leave the country, and the U.N. is currently working to resettle the group elsewhere. For the moment MEK enjoys limited support from sympathizers around the world, but it is stateless which is both a strength and a weakness.
The U.N., citing international law, will not allow the Iraqi government to force members to leave Iraq or force repatriation until members have a suitable place to live. This predicament brings MEK some publicity and sympathy for their cause, but Iraq’s determination to expel MEK could not have occurred at a worse time. With June 2013 elections nearing, increasing tension with western military powers, and an imminent Israeli preemptive strike against Iranian nuclear targets, MEK leadership must act swiftly to ensure its place in the 2013 elections. PART II – RED TEAM ANALYSIS
Why Use Red Team Analysis?
Given the complex dynamics of the Iranian situation, analysts should use the Red Team Analysis technique in order to best predict what course(s) of action MEK leadership will take to assume control of the government. By empathizing with the MEK leadership analysts can gain better insight to most likely courses of action. The end state of this analytic technique is to provide Congress and the President with an accurate forecast of MEK’s courses of action so that the United States may apply the appropriate short and long term foreign policy in the Middle East.
Since MEK desires a peaceful, tolerant Iran that can only be legitimized via free elections and public suffrage, it cannot take control of the nation by force. Therefore, MEK’s options are limited and it must patiently await the 2013 elections regardless of the growing concern of military action and economic sanctions. As President Ahmadinejad continues to escalate military tension with western nations and Israel, through missile, nuclear, and naval programs (Torbati 2012). MEK leadership must carefully calculate how to win popular Iranian support, world support, and financial backing – all without ever appearing to be influenced by western powers as previous Iranian leaders had.
Restate Current MEK Goals
Red Team Analysis must begin with placing oneself in the shoes of MEK leadership. The key to determining any viable course of action is to outline clear goals or milestones. With clear goals, analysts can categorize what actions and strategies are available and likely. According to MEK’s official website, its current goals, rather, solution to the western-Iranian strife is to “rid the region and the world of the nightmare of the Islamic fundamentalists armed with nuclear weapons [by] democratic change in Iran by the people and the Resistance” (Rajavi 2010). This stated goal remains largely unchanged from its 1970s goal. The main difference now is that MEK is more tolerant of western aid, albeit, so long as they do not become overly influenced by it. Key Assumptions Check
Paramount to the analytic process is a key assumptions check. This step allows analysts to clearly document the start point of their cognitive map as well as allowing time to consider information that challenges cognitive biases. The key assumptions must be listed in such a way that analysts feel like MEK leaders would if trying to decide how to realize their stated goal of taking control of the Iranian government. Below is a list of key assumptions in this Red Team Analysis. Previous Failures. All previous attempts to control government have failed beginning with the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. This assumption is critical because the MEK believed the Ayatollah Khomeini was their ally. They were betrayed. They banded together only to be exiled within two years and many members were arrested and executed while Khomeini consolidated power.
The experience likely taught MEK to distrust any potential allies within the current regime. History of Violence. During the 1960s the Shah used force and violence against government opposition. Uprisings in the 1970s culminated in the exile of the Shah, but into the 1980s MEK fought the new Iranian government. During the Iraq-Iran war that began in the early 1980s, MEK settled just north of Baghdad and fought a cross border war with the clerical regime for twenty more years. Only at the turn of the century did MEK publicly denounce violence and terrorist tactics. The significance is that, while MEK members are accepting of risk and violence, they have matured and realize that they do not operate in a vacuum. MEK understands the need for global acceptance. HUMINT Value. MEK can offer HUMINT to the U.S. No other organization with detailed knowledge of Iran and its military and political system is willing to provide such information to western powers.
The U.S. has had extremely limited success installing or recruiting agents in Iran because of extreme scrutiny that outsiders face, and CIA informants are usually discovered due to poor tradecraft (Hosenball 2011). MEK however, has family, friends, sympathizers and safe houses inside Iran. As well, since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 MEK has received training, equipment and funds to carry out attacks inside Iran and to collaborate with U.S. and Israeli intelligence services (Joshi 2012). MEK’s HUMINT value is possibly the most important aspect for western powers. MEK leadership understands the power they hold and must leverage it wisely. Knowledge of U.S. Tactics Techniques and Procedures. MEK leaders are aware of U.S. TTPs at the small unit tactics level up through executive branch policymaking. They will play on the American and Israeli fears of a nuclear armed Iran while leveraging their HUMINT and political value to affect their delisting from the FTO. Once delisted they will be able to receive more funding from international sources, thus requiring less U.S. support and will become less responsive to U.S. demands. Western Support: Critical For Financing, Opposite of Ideology
Being listed on the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list impedes MEK’s financing efforts. In order to gain power they must be delisted – decade long endeavor thus far. Its members have cooperated with Israeli and U.S. intelligence services since 2003 in an effort to gain support and take over the political regime in Iran, but its original ideology was very much opposed to any western influence. MEK must exercise extreme caution to ensure that the group does not appear to be another puppet regime of the U.S and especially not in collaboration with Israel. If threatened with defeat, the current regime will likely try to depict MEK as a puppet regime, and if the U.S. loses influence it may also try to publicize MEK’s cooperation in an effort to decrease its credibility among Iranians. Enormity of the Situation. MEK is currently stateless. Though the U.N. has petitioned several governments to accept MEK members, most have declined to accept them. With nowhere to go MEK is desperate to gain power in Iran because it belongs to no other state. If they fail the Iranian regime will likely execute them, despite President Ahmadinejad’s amnesty offer. Data Collection Options
Of the many collection options the United States has at its disposal, a handful stand out as being the most practical. HUMINT may be the best collection option because it offers an inside look at MEK and the status of the Iranian nuclear and defense programs as well as the mentality and plans of regime leaders. For example, an undercover agent, code named Wally, joined the Revolutionary Guard in the 1980s and gave the CIA plans, ideology, weaponry etc, and he was able to recruit several more members of the Revolutionary Guard to turn informer for the CIA (Zucchino 2012).
OSINT is another extremely useful collection option, which can provide detailed atmospherics and help depict the support, or lack thereof, of the general public to the current and possible successor regimes. OSINT can also offer information on Iran’s defensive and offensive capabilities as depicted in the recent revelation that Iran has cloned a fleet of ultra-fast gun boats. Originally produced in England, the Bradstone Challenger (Bladerunner) is a speedboat with a revolutionary hull design that affords it great stability at high speeds. Iran illicitly purchased a Bladerunner in 2009, reverse engineered the design, and manufactured its own fleet which the Navy modified to launch torpedoes and missiles at full speed. The Bladerunner fleet, combined with “an array of heavily armed small craft, including unmanned high-speed Ya Mahdi vessels, Bavar 2 flying boats, Seraj-1 high-speed patrol boats and Zolfaghar fast attack craft” (Stock 2012) poses a significant threat to the Strait of Hormuz and western naval forces with much larger and slower vessels.
SIGINT and MASINT will likely have to wait until military confrontation begins in order to be relevant. MEK’s equipment inventory is very limited, so SIGINT and MASINT should not be a top priority. GEOINT is relevant in that it depicts the correlation of key terrain to strategic targets and political issues. For example, GEOINT can depict which routes MEK would likely take in order to transit to Tehran or flee Iraq in other ways. It also helps answer contingency operation questions such as, “what if MEK takes control of the military and attempts to hold the Strait of Hormuz ransom?” In a more tactical situation GEOINT can provide detailed dimensions of hideouts and buildings for the U.S. to plan an attack should the need arise. Use of the Intelligence Community
The CIA is the best is the best agency to use to handle collection on MEK. The agency has more than half a century of experience in working with sources and is best trained in managing counterintelligence and misinformation techniques. Already, the CIA has worked with MEK members since 2002 when MEK publicized Iran’s underground Uranium enrichment program. Training MEK members in tradecraft techniques and supporting their cross-border subversion tactics allows the CIA to wage a proxy war with Iran while strengthening its relationship and gaining more human intelligence on both MEK and Iran. No other agency within the United States has the resources to foster this type of relationship with MEK. Most Effective Intelligence Analysis Strategies
The effective intelligence strategy to use for evaluating MEK and forecasting its actions is to begin with Analysis of Competing Hypotheses and follow those results with the Devil’s Advocacy method. Analysis of Competing Hypotheses. ACH is ideal for evaluating MEK because there are diverse dynamics involved in forecasting MEK actions. Considering that the U.S. must decide to keep or delist MEK from the FTO on October 1, 2012, ACH would provide decision makers with a documented line of reasoning to support an Intelligence Forecast. Devil’s Advocacy. The prevailing consensus in Washington is that MEK has morphed from a militant group to a political group in the past decade and will be a more western friendly regime if it comes to power. But what if MEK is playing the west to gain power now, while secretly planning to spread its 1979 revolutionary ideology across the Middle East and North Africa in an attempt to reestablish Persian dominance? It seems that the west is focused first on countering a nuclear threat and second on countering any blocking of the Hormuz Strait. No additional talking points regarding Iran or MEK have received much publicity since 1979. Conclusion
MEK is a wild card in the Iran standoff. The United States and other western powers, as well as Israel, must carefully consider how to proceed with MEK relationships. The organization has shown a history of changing allies in order to advance its goals, making it predictable in the sense that they can be counted on to do whatever it takes to survive and take control of the Iranian government. To brush MEK aside may mean dealing with a nuclear armed Iran later, and to support MEK may mean dealing with a provoked Iran now. No matter the decision, each carries its own implications for U.S. foreign policy. Washington must ultimately decide between the lesser of two evils.
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