Iranian Spies Have Infiltrated the American Government, Lawmakers Warn

Leaks constitute 'a significant security breach of U.S. government property by a foreign adversary'

Biden, Iran's Ali Khamenei (Win McNamee and Majid/Getty Images)
September 27, 2023

The Iranian government has infiltrated the Biden administration and obtained access to sensitive U.S. government information, according to a coalition of Republican lawmakers who are investigating the matter.

Iran has repeatedly demonstrated in the past several months that it has access "to restricted U.S. State Department emails or government servers," according to a letter sent Wednesday to the White House by congressional Republicans and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The series of leaks, which have appeared in Iranian state-controlled propaganda outlets, "constitute a significant security breach of U.S. government property by a foreign adversary" and could indicate there is a mole inside the Biden administration, according to Reps. Kevin Hern (R., Okla.) and Joe Wilson (R., S.C.) and Sen. Bill Hagerty (R., Tenn.). The probe is being handled by the Republican Study Committee, Congress's largest Republican caucus, and could force the Biden administration into admitting Iran has breached sensitive U.S. networks.

The investigation comes on the heels of a bombshell report Tuesday by Semafor detailing a vast propaganda network linked to the hardline regime in Tehran. That network, known as the Iran Experts Initiative, allegedly includes senior Pentagon official Ariane Tabatabai, as well as other "influential overseas academics" who reported to Iran's foreign ministry and helped push Tehran's talking points with American policymakers. Several of those identified as members of the Iranian government-run network include former aides to U.S. Iran envoy Robert Malley, who was suspended from his post earlier this year for allegedly mishandling classified information.

In August, when news of Malley's suspension was just becoming public, the Tehran Times, a regime-controlled outlet, published reports containing what appeared to be sensitive U.S. government documents, including a "sensitive but unclassified" internal State Department letter that purportedly outlines why Malley's security clearance was revoked. Just a month later, the publication published audio of National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk discussing in a private meeting what the lawmakers' letter described as "national security options towards Iran."

Both leaks, the lawmakers write, have the hallmarks of an Iranian intelligence operation and "may indicate that [the] Islamic Republic's intelligence apparatus has been able somehow to obtain access to restricted U.S. State Department emails." Access to these networks is closely controlled, meaning that Iran either hacked the system or was passed the information by a human source.

"This could mean that U.S. government employees leaked restricted and sensitive government documents," according to the lawmakers. "Either possibility is gravely concerning."

The lawmakers also express anger at the Biden administration for ignoring "repeated congressional inquiries into the circumstances that led to the suspension of Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley's security clearance." Members of Congress, they say, "have obtained more information from the pages of the Tehran Times than from U.S. government briefings."

"It is shocking that the Tehran Times, a propaganda arm of Iran's terror-sponsoring regime, somehow obtained sensitive internal State Department documents about the suspension of Special Envoy Rob Malley's security clearance," Hagerty told the Free Beacon. "The Biden administration must explain how this happened, especially after recent news reports about how current administration officials and those close to them were directly involved in the so-called Iran Experts Initiative, an Iranian regime-run foreign influence network that operated in the United States and around the world."

Hagerty and his RSC colleagues are asking the White House to verify if the repeated leaks are authentic and "describe the steps your administration is taking to prevent further leaks of information to the Iranian regime."

The administration must also explain if Malley had access to any of the sensitive documents and information that made their way into the Tehran Times, a revelation that could provide some clarity about why the diplomat was suspended from his job.

The lawmakers also want to know if a cadre of non-governmental Iran analysts associated with Malley were "involved in chain of custody of the U.S. documents that were ultimately published" by the Iranian outlet.

"It’s deeply concerning that the terrorist regime in Iran may know more about Rob Malley’s clearance issues than Congress," said Rep. Joe Wilson (R., S.C.). "It is imperative that the administration explain to Congress what’s going on especially in light of the reports yesterday regarding Iran’s cozy relationship with a number of Biden administration officials."

Those analysts include Trita Parsi, a Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft official who has been accused of lobbying for Iran's regime; Ali Vaez, whom Semafor named as a member of the secret pro-Iran network; and Vali Nasr, an Iranian-American academic who has pushed for increased diplomacy with Tehran.

"We expect the administration to come clean and explain to Congress the extent of Iran's espionage efforts," Hern, the chairman of the RSC, told the Free Beacon. "The American people deserve answers."

In addition to RSC's latest probe into the leaks, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee are asking for a security review of Pentagon official Tabatabai, with several calling for her top-secret clearance to be revoked. Tabatabai "on at least two occasions checked in with Iran's Foreign Ministry before attending policy events," according to the Semafor report.

Update 4:28 p.m.: This post has been updated with comment from Rep. Wilson.