REVEALED: New York Times contributor busted as Iranian spy

A frequent contributor for The New York Times was revealed to be an Iranian spy and was charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent.


A frequent contributor for The New York Times was revealed to be an Iranian spy and was charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent. Federal prosecutors reported that this Iranian-born political science author arrested Monday was paid in secret to write columns favorable to Tehran and lobby at least one American lawmaker on the global power's behalf.

A criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday in federal court in Brooklyn charged 63-year-old Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi with acting and conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). If convicted of both offenses, Afrasiabi faces the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Afrasiabi is accused of espousing propaganda to advance Iranian viewpoints while employed by the Iranian mission to the United Nations. His writings appeared in prominent publications such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and HuffPost, aligning with Tehran's position on world affairs.

According to the indictment, Afrasiabi's work was often written in consultation with Iranian diplomatic staff. The prosecution asserted that Afrasiabi also helped craft an April 2015 column in The New York Times written by Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif.

Afrasiabi authored about half a dozen op-eds for The New York Times, investigative journalist Jordan Schachtel reported. His latest piece, published September 2018, argued for an Iran-US summit.

No other disclosures were mentioned in the piece besides his America-based academic associations. Other columns of his pushed for Iran to be nuclear-armed.

"No one is surprised — the NYT is a cesspool of propaganda for the terrorist regime in Iran," remarked political commentator Arthur Schwartz.

Afrasiabi also appeared on English-language television programs to discuss foreign affairs and promote the Iranian government's views on world events, particularly Iran's relations with the United States. His on-screen personality portrayed him as an independent scholar and expert on Iranian affairs.

He earned significant income from services performed "at the direction and under the control" of Iran's government. Afrasiabi drew regular payments from the Iranian government and communicated often with the country's diplomatic staff. The professional or financial conflicts were not disclosed, Axios reported.

According to the criminal complaint released by the Justice Department, Afrasiabi is a citizen of the Islamic Republic of Iran and a lawful permanent resident of the United States. Since at least 2007 to the present, Afrasiabi was hired by the Iranian government and paid by Iranian diplomats assigned to the permanent mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations (IMUN) in New York City.

He admitted in his own communications that his extensive body of published works and televised hits were attributable to the funding he received from the Iranian government. For instance, an email to Iran's foreign minister, dated July 28, 2020, included "links for many of [his] works, including books, hundreds of articles in international newspapers and academic journals," proclaiming: "Without support none of this would have been possible! This has been a very productive relationship spanning decades that ought not to be interrupted."

Afrasiabi earned approximately $265,000 in checks drawn on the IMUN's official bank accounts since the start date. He also received health insurance through the IMUN's employee health benefit plans since at least 2011. Many of the checks described such payments to Afrasiabi as his "salary."

The Justice Department claims Afrasiabi has lobbied the Department of State and an unidentified member of Congress to advocate for pro-Iran policies. He also counseled Iranian diplomats concerning American foreign relations. The indictment stated that Afrasiabi helped write one December 2009 letter from the unnamed congressman to then-President Barack Obama regarding Iranian nuclear negotiations.

Afrasiabi has reportedly long known that FARA requires agents of foreign principals to register with the Department of Justice and has discussed information obtained from FARA disclosures with others.

For example, Afrasiabi emailed Iran's foreign minister and permanent representative to the United Nations in January 2020 with advice for "retaliation" against the US military airstrike that killed Major General Qasem Soleimani—the head of the Quds Force, the external operations arm of the Iranian government's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and elite unit that handles Iran's overseas operations.

Afrasiabi proposed that the Iranian government "end all inspections and end all information on Iran's nuclear activities pending a [United Nations Security Council] condemnation of [the United States'] illegal crime." Afrasiabi alleged that such a move would "strike fear in the heart of [the] enemy."

Afrasiabi was arrested Monday at his home in Watertown, Massachusetts. He made his initial appearance Tuesday morning in federal court in Boston before US magistrate judge Jennifer Boal.

"Afrasiabi allegedly sought to influence the American public and American policymakers for the benefit of his employer, the Iranian government, by disguising propaganda as objective policy analysis and expertise," stated acting US attorney Seth DuCharme for the Eastern District of New York. "Those, like the defendant, who conceal the full extent of their work for a foreign government when the law requires disclosure will face consequences for their actions."

Assistant attorney general for national security John Demers wrote that for more than one decade, Afrasiabi "pitched himself to Congress, journalists, and the American public as a neutral and objective expert on Iran."

However, Afrasiabi likewise "evaded his obligation to disclose who was sponsoring his views," Demers continued, promising that federal authorities will "hold him responsible for those deeds."

"Our laws are designed to create transparency in foreign relations, and they are not arbitrary or malleable," wrote FBI assistant director-in-charge William Sweeney, pointing at Afrasiabi for painting "an untruthfully positive picture of the nation" without pushback until now. "As today's action demonstrates, we will fully enforce them to protect our national security."


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