GOP Senators Call on Pentagon To Revoke Security Clearance of Official Linked to Iranian Government Group

Ariane Tabatabai (YouTube screenshot)
September 29, 2023

The Pentagon must immediately revoke the security clearance of a senior official alleged this week to be part of a secret Iranian government-run propaganda network, a coalition of Republican senators said in a Friday letter to the Department of Defense as they launched an investigation into the matter.

Republican lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee have initiated an official probe into the Biden administration's hiring of Ariane Tabatabai, a senior Pentagon official with top-secret security clearance. Tabatabai was outed in a Semafor report as an alleged member of an Iranian-run influence network that reported back to Tehran's foreign ministry and helped push its policies among Washington policymakers.

The letter was exclusively obtained by the Washington Free Beacon on Friday afternoon and is endorsed by 30 Republican senators, including Roger Wicker (Miss.), the Senate Armed Services Committee's ranking member. It is the most high-profile investigation into the security matter to date and follows on the heels of a similar probe launched earlier in the week by the House Armed Services Committee.

The senators demand the Pentagon "suspend Ms. Tabatabai's security clearance immediately pending further review, as the State Department did with her former supervisor, Robert Malley." Malley is the administration's Iran envoy who was removed from his post earlier this year for allegedly mishandling classified information.

"We find it simply unconscionable that a senior Department official would continue to hold a sensitive position despite her alleged participation in an Iranian government information operation," the senators wrote.

The Semafor report alleged Tabatabai and "influential overseas academics" to be members of a secret propaganda network that reported to Iran's foreign ministry and helped push Tehran's talking points with American policymakers. The existence of this network was outlined in a cache of Iranian government documents reviewed by the news outlet. Several of the analysts included in the report, including Tabatabai, worked closely with Malley both in and out of government.

The Pentagon in a Tuesday comment to the Free Beacon defended Tabatabai and claimed she was "properly vetted as a condition of her employment with the Department of Defense."

On Thursday, however, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations Chris Maier during testimony before Congress appeared to contradict this statement, revealing that the Pentagon is "actively looking into whether all law and policy was properly followed" when Tabatabai was granted a top-secret security clearance.

The senators say that the Pentagon's rush to defend Tabatabai indicates that it may be trying to cover up a significant security lapse.

"The fact that the Department initially responded to these latest allegations by rushing a full-throated defense of Ms. Tabatabai, rather than taking the time to ensure that our national security has not been compromised, suggests that you are protecting hiring missteps rather than prioritizing national security," they wrote.

The senators also make clear that "concerns about Ms. Tabatabai are not new."

When Tabatabai was hired as a State Department official in 2021, lawmakers requested a review into her ability to obtain a security clearance, citing her history of promoting Iranian government talking points. At the time, the State Department in comments to the Free Beacon described the allegations as racist "smears and slander."

But the latest revelations about Tabatabai's close relations with the hardline government in Tehran—which allegedly includes direct communications with senior Iranian officials—indicate she "may have been engaged in a relationship with the Iranian regime well beyond what even her strongest critics alleged," according to the senators.

The lawmakers instruct the Pentagon to provide them with detailed information about how the review into Tabatabai's background was conducted, and whether officials knew before this week's Semafor report that she had been in close contact with Iranian regime officials.

"Was Ms. Tabatabai subjected to any additional counterintelligence screening, to include a polygraph investigation, as part of her security clearance investigation or any subsequent review of her eligibility to hold a security clearance or access restricted or special access information?" the senators ask.

They also request information that could show whether Tabatabai omitted information about her contacts with the Iranian government when filling out security forms prior to assuming her job at the Pentagon.