Security experts fume over report linking Pentagon official to covert Iranian influence unit

Ariane Tabatabai currently serves as the chief of staff to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict. Critics say that Iran's insertion of influencers into the State Department undercut American interests by, in effect, negotiating with itself by influencing key decision makers.

Published: October 1, 2023 5:48am

Former national security officials and Iranian policy experts are raising alarm about a report linking a Pentagon official to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Ariane Tabatabai currently serves as the chief of staff to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict. She was previously a senior policy advisor to the Department of Defense and a senior advisor to the Department of State, according to her LindkedIn.

She has also written for Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD), an independent private foundation specializing in foreign affairs and security issues. ASD is funded by billionaire Pierre Omidyar's "Democracy Fund" and the Sandler Foundation, among others.

An article published in Semafor this week linked Tabatabai to the Iranian Experts Initiative (IEI), a Tehran-backed project to advance its positions and improve its public image across the world. The outlet obtained a litany of communications between IEI participants and the Iranian government. Among those communications was an email from March 2014 in which Iranian diplomat Saeed Khatibzadeh confirmed meetings with Tabatabai and another academic, saying that "]w]e three agreed to be the core group of the IEI."

Critics of the IEI describe it as "a covert operation initiated by Iran’s foreign ministry in 2014", and that the IEI was "meticulously planned to strategically position Iranian analysts within Western think tanks, subtly advancing Iran's diplomatic objectives."

In 2021, Tabatabai served on Special Envoy to Iran Robert Malley's team for Iranian nuclear negotiations. Malley is himself currently under investigation for mishandling classified information and is on leave from the State Department, the House Foreign Affairs Committee noted this week.

Tabatabai has not responded to requests for comment from Just the News.

In the wake of the revelations, foreign policy experts say the reported ties to Iran represent the latest example of the Biden administration permitting Tehran to act with impunity.

"This has been the case since the minute the Biden administration came into office," Heritage Foundation Vice President of Foreign Policy Victoria Coates said Thursday on the "Just the News, No Noise" television show. "They immediately did things like take the Houthi terrorists in Yemen, the Iranian proxies off the terrorism list." Coates is former national security advisor to the White House and Congress.

"And what did they do?" asked Coates. "They went on a big spree of terrorism most recently, just this Monday, killing a number and wounding others of Bahrainis, who were helping the Saudis secure their border with Yemen, in a horrible terrorist attack.  And rather than expressing our condolences to our Bahraini allies, and condemning the Houthi terrorists, our embassy in Bahrain just said we were sorry about it, but nothing about the terrorism."

"And so Iran is just acting with impunity now sending killer drones to Russia in mass quantities to be used to blow up the equipment Biden's demanding that the American taxpayer send to Ukraine," she continued. "And then most egregiously this week... we have the revelation that the Iranians have for 10 years created this sort of program for dual citizens, Iranian-American and American Iranian-European, citizens to with the help of the government of Iran" she added.

"This came through their foreign ministry through the former Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and his president, Hassan Rouhani, that these people would receive official instructions from the Iranian government to influence the decisions that are being made in Washington, particularly around a new nuclear deal," she continued. "And one of these people who is a documented member of this is still employed by the Department of Defense and sensitive role. This is just insane. We've literally allowed the Islamic Republic of Iran to negotiate their own deal with the United States."

Kash Patel, a former advisor to former President Donald Trump, excoriated the Biden administration for a recent prisoner swap with Iran that also saw the U.S. help unfreeze more than $6 billion in funds for the regime. Patel expressed concerns about the deal in light of the revelations of Iranian connections to the Pentagon.

"They gave $6 billion to the terrorists in Iran who are now using it to fund operations against American servicemembers and American interest overseas," he said on the "John Solomon Reports" podcast Thursday. "They have literally revved up their nuclear program and taken out the last bit of oversight we have with UN operators after Joe Biden gave them $6 billion. And then the Biden ministration has the audacity to say we're gonna police where these funds go."

"But the most concerning part is... a high level Defense Department official or nominee has has been caught in cable traffic, as we call it in the intelligence community about communications, with the Ayatollah in Iran, the individuals that killed more Americans service members in modern history than anyone else. And everyone thinks that's okay," he went on. "Don't you think the $6 billion is going to do further damage than that?"

It remains unclear if Tabatabai played any role whatsoever in negotiating the hostage exchange.

"It's always good that Americans are home. But the question is, what does that cost to American national security, and how many other enemies of ours are going to start taking Americans now knowing that they can get the payday of their lifetime?" Patel asked.

Foreign policy expert and former Trump advisor Dr. Walid Phares on the Thursday edition of "Just the News, No Noise" opined that the Iranian government's insertion of pro-Iranian influencers into the State Department had undercut American interests.

"This has become a one-way matter. … This is the Iran regime somehow with its influence over here in Washington, and in Brussels as well, forcing almost or dragging the decision makers to release that money, which is the Iranian people's money,” Phares said.

"And once that is successful, here's the deal: the Iran regime believe and think that they have the control over the process," he insisted. "Anytime they want to get release of money... they will just collect your hostages. So they are on steroids at this point in time, because there is no opposition, no checking on behalf of the US and the European Union."

Ben Whedon is an editor and reporter for Just the News. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter.

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