Journalism in the Public Interest

Widely Cited Government Study on Iranian Spies ‘Pulled for Revisions’

The study on Iran’s intelligence ministry has been taken down.


Iranian Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi briefs journalists after a meeting in Tehran on May 21, 2011. A widely cited government study on Iran's intelligence ministry has been taken down. (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

An official with the Library of Congress says a widely cited but poorly sourced report his office did on Iran's intelligence ministry has been pulled from circulation.

As we detailed last week, the study's ill-supported claim that the Iranian intelligence ministry has 30,000 employees was picked up by CNN and others. News outlets have also seized on other assertions in the report.

The report, which was produced on behalf of a Pentagon office, had been posted on a non-public government-only website. It was leaked earlier this month.

"The report was pulled for revisions after the Division staff identified a passage that should have been caveated but was missed in the initial reviews," said Federal Research Division chief David Osborne in an email. "The report will be re-posted when revised."

Osborne declined to specify the passage in question. It might have had nothing to do with the 30,000 figure.

Another section of the report prompted a married couple branded as spies for Iran to consider legal action.

The report flatly claims that a British woman and her Iranian-born husband are operatives for Iran's intelligence ministry. The husband, Massoud Khodabandeh, is a former-member-turned-fierce-critic of the Mujahadin-e Khalq (MEK), a small exile group that has long fought the government of Iran and was recently removed from the U.S. government's list of terrorist organizations.

The report even includes their pictures:

The report's source for the spy claim is a 2007 essay published on a now-defunct website by Rabbi Daniel Zucker, who is chair of a group called Americans for Democracy in the Middle East and has frequently written in support of the MEK.

The Zucker piece in turn cites a 2005 post on another now-defunct pro-MEK website called That site also states Khodabandeh and his wife are operatives for Iranian intelligence, but does not offer any sources or evidence.

Even though it relied on questionable sourcing, the report effectively extended the imprimatur of the U.S. government to the claim that the couple are spies.

Asked about the various criticisms of the report, Pentagon spokeswoman Anne Edgecomb told ProPublica: "We believe its findings will enrich the discussions and concepts of policy makers."

She declined to comment further.

The MEK's official website seized on the government report this month, publishing an item claiming that "a recent investigative report by [the] Pentagon ... revealed that Anne and Massoud Khodabandeh are agents of the mullahs' Ministry of Intelligence and Security."

Khodabandeh and his wife, Anne, who also worked with the MEK in the 1980s and 90s, were incensed by the government report.

"Everything they've said is just made up," Anne Khodabandeh told ProPublica.

Massoud Khodabandeh wrote a response column on Huffington Post blasting the report for its reliance on pro-MEK sources. The couple, who are based in the United Kingdom, run an anti-MEK website and consider the group a dangerous cult. (That charge that has been echoed by some outside observers but rejected by the MEK.)

The study claims that after Khodabandeh left the MEK in 1996, he and Anne "agreed to work for [Iran's intelligence ministry] and spy on MEK." It claims that the intelligence ministry used threats against Khodabandeh's family in Tehran to compel the couple to cooperate.

Earlier this month, Anne Khodabandeh emailed Osborne, the Federal Research Division chief, saying that "my solicitor would like to know the actual provenance of the report for further action." Osborne responded that the report had been pulled down for (again unspecified) revisions.

"The fact that the document was leaked to [Washington Free Beacon reporter] Mr. Bill Gertz or otherwise publicized is not the fault of the Library of Congress," Osborne wrote Jan. 9. "It is not and will not be posted to any Library of Congress site."

Anne Khodabandeh told ProPublica she and her husband are holding off on legal action at this point because of the potential expense involved, and the fact that the report does not name its author.

Thanks again for trying to keep ‘em honest! I love the meaningless content-free response you got from Anne Edgecomb:  “We believe its findings will enrich the discussions and concepts of policy makers.”

I can’t say about the couple supposedly slandered one way or the other.

However, the number of 30K spies and I suppose their associated support would not be far from the truth.  All you have to look at a potential Org chart and allocate headcount…  it’s not hard to get to 30K.

Nothing to do w/“reasonable” after looking at an “Org chart”, if conclusions are reached there should be hard data to support it.  Especially when making allegations such as are made against the couple in the UK. 

Particularly when the US has legitimized illegal rendition, indefinite detention of anyone, including US citizens, w/out access to legal representation, statement of charges that are allegedly the basis for detention, i.e., due process.  Or the basis for choosing that person as a legitimate target for an armed drone (regardless of the potential for killing innocent people and/or innocent people who happen to be in the area—instead it’s guilt by proximity).

Or, when the US has clearly relied upon lousy, practically imaginary data as good cause for launching an extremely destructive and devastating invasion of another nation.  That would be Iraq.  Remember the alleged yellow cake from Niger?  The WMDs?  Cheney’s continued belief that S. Hussein worked w/the 09/11 hijackers?  That great “intelligence” and remember the guy, also a refugee (who’d also headed some refugee group)  who the US was trying to force into power until even the neocons had to admit the guy either didn’t know what he was talking about and/or was corrupt.  That would be Ahmed Chalabi 

You’d think that a few people in the US gov would learn from their past mistakes, but either those people are gone, or aren’t being listened to or the politicals ignore what they say in favor of hearing what they want. 

But even if those in and Congress choose lies, others in the US don’t have to.  thanks in part to ProPublica.

No Iranians who knows Khdabandeh and his wife and has a bit knowledge about Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC), has any doubt about the accuracy of the report.

I believe this reports will help the authorities to open their eyes to the Iranian regime’s activities, not just in our backyard, but also to the ones inside.

They are top Iranian spies, everyone in London knows this. Even the green movement recognise them for their betrayal of the Iranian people. It’s odd that they have been slandering MEK with lies which are blatenly illogical. Especially now that the UN is in charge, they cannot say that the MEK in Camp Liberty are held captive or their without their own free will. Also all their other lies about torture etc have all been proven to be false and illogical since America has been active in the camp monitoring everything since 2003 and the Iraqi’s since 2009. It’s a shame what they’re doing, but brave of America for finally exposing how ruthless and deceitful the Iranian regime are.

Please believe it:
Global public will soon be able soon to disperse religious and / or hereditary thugs from their political safe-havens.

Please believe it:
Global public will soon be able soon to disperse religious and / or hereditary thugs from their political safe-havens.

Only 2000 super-wealthy guys in the soft grip of Obama-Biden can make the difference.

*Powerful is current US Administration over Gun Lovers and makers thereof *.
Wish those priviledged lucky guys in administrative top posts have selfless genuine talents with ‘not too much greed’ for personal fortune in order to positively expidite the changing process of the present digitally rapid-evolving world.
Human greed is the root cause of all those kinds of senseless bloodshed by guns that we see in North-America to Asia.
Super-wealthy thugs in oil businesses are to be held responsible for; where there will never ever be any real shortage of natural gas, oil or other sources of energies for fuel etc. on this Solar system planet: the Earth for infinite times ahead.

Additional note: Even Obama-Biden-s are not safe until end of 2013 while roaming in most un-educated local gun-cultured societies.

We still have a decadeof time but have to start now supporting the humanitarian cause and make the necessary positive changes starting with our outdated territorial Judicial and Law-making systems to make the world safer than ever was possible.

Of course, it may have been “pulled,” but the statistics are so widely repeated with and without citation that the damage—like the best propaganda—has been done.

Remember, cigarettes were widely called “coffin nails” in the ‘20s.  Then, when sales started dropping, Ed Bernays launched his “Freedom Sticks” campaign that encouraged women to show how liberated they were by smoking.

And here we are today, when it’s just dawning on people, for the first time in eighty years, that maybe smoking is bad.  This is all it took for the country to forget that smoking killed people:

So sure, that one bogus report is gone, just like only a handful of people remember Bernays (whose book is terrifying, by the way, as befits and ad man connected with both Freud and Pavlov), but we still need to stomp out all the repetition and all the analysis that relies on that report.

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