Member of Iranian Influence Network To Keep Security Clearance After Pentagon Review

Ariane Tabatabai reportedly a member of the Iran Experts Initiative

Ariane Tabatabai (YouTube screenshot)
October 18, 2023

A senior Pentagon official who was recently outed as an alleged member of an Iranian government-run influence operation will keep her top secret security access following an internal review, the Washington Free Beacon has learned.

Ariane Tabatabai, a senior official in the Defense Department’s special operations office, was identified last month by Semafor as a member of the Iran Experts Initiative, an Iranian government propaganda network run by Tehran’s foreign ministry and tasked with advancing the Islamic Republic’s interests among policymakers in Washington, D.C.

Tabatabai’s alleged membership in the organization drew concerns among Republican lawmakers, who demanded her security clearance be pulled pending a review into her possible ties to the Iranian government, which helped orchestrate the Hamas terror group’s most recent strike on Israel. The Pentagon now says that after an internal review, Tabatabai is cleared to keep her top secret access.

"We have confirmed that Ms. Tabatabai’s employment and clearance processes were carried out in accordance with all appropriate laws and policies," Rheanne E. Wirkkala, an assistant secretary of defense, wrote in an Oct. 13 letter to Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa), according to a copy obtained by the Free Beacon.

The Pentagon did not disclose how the investigation into Tabatabai was carried out or provide evidence to show why the senior official remains eligible for a security clearance.

"The Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency has enrolled all Defense Department service members, civilians, and contractors with a security clearance in its continuous vetting program, which is a process that involves regularly reviewing a cleared individual’s background to ensure they continue to meet security clearance requirements and may continue to hold positions of trust," the letter states.

Ernst, who is one of several Republican lawmakers demanding answers about Tabatabai’s alleged role in the Iran-based operation, said the Pentagon is likely helping the hardline regime in Tehran obtain "access to highly sensitive information."

"The Biden administration is compromised, but they continue to shamelessly defend allowing an Iranian spy to infiltrate and work at the Pentagon, likely allowing the regime access to highly sensitive information," Ernst told the Free Beacon. "By continuing to brush this offense under the rug instead of taking this national security threat seriously by suspending Tabatabai’s security clearance, the Biden administration doubles down on its appeasement strategy that has already emboldened Iran and its terrorist proxies."

Tabatabai, as part of her participation in the Iran Experts Initiative, reportedly communicated directly with senior Iranian officials, even asking them to approve her travels to various policy conferences.

Tabatabai "on at least two occasions checked in with Iran's Foreign Ministry before attending policy events," according to the emails cited by Semafor.

Ernst's office additionally discovered more than 80 instances where Tabatabai cited conversations she had with top Iranian officials—including former foreign minister Javad Zarif and others affiliated with the country's intelligence services.

Tabatabai previously worked with suspended Iran envoy Robert Malley at the State Department, where she also held a security clearance. Malley remains on leave from his post amid an FBI investigation into his alleged mishandling of classified information, a situation that Republicans suspect may be tied back to his possible relationship with members of the Iranian influence operation.

In comments to the Free Beacon following the Semafor report that identified Tabatabai’s membership in the Iranian group, the Pentagon defended her hiring.

"Dr. Tabatabai was thoroughly and properly vetted as a condition of her employment with the Department of Defense," a spokesman said at the time. "We are honored to have her serve."