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It isn't every day that Iranian spies try to recruit you, so it's a special edition of Rational Security, one in which a front group for the Iranian intelligence services make a play for Shane Harris. If you missed Shane's hilarious story about this episode, check it out now. It opens:
An Iranian activist group, backed by the country’s intelligence service, is trying to enlist American journalists and academics in a propaganda campaign meant to criticize the United States and Israel. I speak from experience, because the group recently tried to recruit me.
On May 23, I was contacted via email by a representative of the “International Congress on 17000 Iranian Terror Victims,” a self-professed nongovernmental organization that is busy planning its second annual conference, to be held in Tehran in August. My interlocutor invited me “to submit your creative and scientific paper and gain opportunity to take part in the conference.”
I’d never heard of this group. But I get a lot of invitations to write papers for organizations and conferences I’ve never heard of. And I was curious what a call for papers from Iran would look like, so I checked out the group’s website, which is slickly produced and almost entirely in English. Among the themes this year’s conference wants to explore are “Zionist State Terrorism against Iran,” “Cyber Terrorism against Iran,” and “Economic Terrorism against Iran in the Light of Sanctions.”
OK, I thought to myself. You must have the wrong Shane Harris. I’m a journalist, not a commentator. The bulk of my writing on Iran has focused on what U.S. intelligence officials say about the the country’s cyber espionage and warfare capabilities. The Iranian government could hardly see my work as flattering. Also, the words “Zionist State” have never appeared under my byline
But then I looked closely at the list of conference sponsors, which includes—among various religious groups, Iran’s only broadcasting company, and a government council run by a senior adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei—Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As in the ministry now negotiating with the U.S. over the future of Iran’s nuclear program. Also, the head of Iran’s intelligence service spoke at last year’s event.
So a state-sponsored propaganda jamboree propped up by Iranian diplomats and spies wanted me to publicly criticize U.S. foreign policy and maybe even come to Tehran for their anti-West hate fest. In my line of work, we call that a story. Of course I wrote back.