New York Times Writer Arrested as Secret Iran Agent Acknowledges He Was Paid by Iranian Government
The frequent New York Times opinion contributor who was arrested earlier this month and charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent of the Iranian government acknowledges that he was paid by the Iranian mission at the United Nations.
“I received checks from the Mission’s UN account and it never occurred to me that I was doing anything illegal,” the New York Times opinion writer, Kaveh Afrasiabi, wrote in a statement to the Algemeiner.
“My conscience is clear, and if the US government had an iota of sense of appreciation, they would thank me for all my tireless activities for the cause of detente, non-proliferation, human rights, inter-religious dialogue and understanding,” Afrasiabi said.
He called the government’s claim that he was a secret Iranian agent “absurd” and “wild.”
“Whatever I did was perfectly legal and fully transparent,” Afrasiabi said, saying that he had believed the Foreign Agents Registration Act “only applied to those engaging in lobbying efforts on behalf of a foreign government, which I never did.”
A New York Times spokesperson did not respond to a query about whether the newspaper, which according to a search on its website Monday morning had not yet covered the federal criminal complaint against Afrasiabi, plans to tell its readers about the situation. The spokesperson also did not respond to a question about whether the newspaper plans to publish an editor’s note indicating that the opinion pieces came from someone who was getting paid by the Iranian government.
Afrasiabi said the payments from the Iranian government — about $265,000 since 2007, plus health insurance coverage, federal prosecutors alleged — had not swayed his writing. “At no point in my professional career, I have been moved by anything other than my rather puritanical moral responsibility as an intellectual,” he said.
The statement Afrasiabi provided the Algemeiner, along with follow-up emails, offered a preview of what will likely be his legal defense against the federal criminal charges. He said that foreign United Nations missions routinely engage outside consultants who do not register as foreign agents.
He also questioned why, if his activity was illegal, the US government allowed it to go on for so long: “Ironically, the government complaint against me admits that they were aware of my relations since 2007, which raises the question of why allow an illegal activity to go on for 13 years, unless they knew that it was not illegal or ‘secret.’” Afrasiabi suggested that the charges were politically motivated and timed, asking, “Was this the outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s last gasp two days before the inauguration? Who knows.”
Afrasiabi also said that he was not lobbying America on behalf of Iran, but rather lobbying Iran on behalf of America. “The only lobbying I am guilty of pertains not to US but rather to the Iranian government, case in point I assisted as much as I could the family of FBI agent missing in Iran, Levinson … Another example is my efforts on behalf of the Washington Post reporter, Jason Rezaian and, before that, Wilson Center scholar Haleh Esfandiari, who suffered in Iran’s jails, just as I have in US jails,” he wrote. “Yet, another example of my lobbying the Iranian government pertains to author Salman Rushdie, …Although never a fan of Rushdie’s writings, I found it my moral duty to do whatever I could to get the fatwa, death sentence, lifted.”
He recounted last week’s events by saying that at 6 a.m. on January 18, “two dozen FBI agents stormed my home in Watertown, Massachusetts … arrested me at gunpoint and then hurled me in solitary confinement 23 hours a day for a whole week.”
Afrasiabi was ordered released Friday, on the condition that he have no contact with any known, current, or former members of the Iranian government unless in the presence of his lawyer. He was also required to post a $250,000 unsecured bond, and family members posted an additional $325,000 in unsecured bonds.
Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.