FBI Harasses Americans For Attending Iran-Sponsored Event
Multiple Americans who attended an annual Iranian-backed conference critical of U.S.-Isreal policy reported threatening visits from the FBI in recent months.
According to three U.S. former government or military officials, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is threatening them and fellow American experts who have already attended or are planning to attend an Iranian-run annual discussion forum. The forum, known as the New Horizon Conference (NHC), discusses global issues and generally welcomes critics of U.S.-Israeli policy.
Depending on your political leanings the conference is either an “anti-semite fest,” as an opinion piece in Haaretz dubbed the gathering, a “conspiracy conference,” as a BuzzFeed piece called the group, or as an article on Veterans Today called the group, “The one place on earth where honest and informed critics of Zionism can express themselves freely.”
News of the F.B.I.’s apparent harassment came via a Medium article by investigative journalist Sander Hicks and subsequent television interviews given by the American targets of the FBI inquiries to Russia Today (RT) and the Iranian-owned Press TV.
According to Hicks’s article and former Defense Department official Michael Maloof’s interview with RT, Maloof said FBI officials came to his house in the early morning in May, admitting that they wanted to discuss the NHC conference with him. Maloof attended the conference last year and was “keen” to attend this year’s conference as well.
However, “the FBI warned of dire consequences if he followed through on those plans. Maloof asked them to leave his home at once,” as Hicks wrote.
Similar experiences were reported by at least three other American experts who have attended or were planning to attend the NHC conference.
US Criticism of New Horizon Conference
In February of 2019, the U.S. government sanctioned the New Horizon Organization claiming it puts on conferences “to recruit and collect intelligence from foreign attendees, including U.S. persons”, as a U.S. Department of Treasury press release stated.
“Treasury is sanctioning New Horizon Organization for its support to the IRGC-QF (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force’s). New Horizon hosts international conferences that have provided Iranian intelligence officers a platform to recruit and collect intelligence information from attendees, while propagating anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial,” the press release continued.
Maloof told RT that he thought the FBI’s line of questioning when they visited him was evidence of the U.S.’ efforts to establish a link between the NHC and IRGC recruitment.
“I think what they were trying to do was develop a case for a linkage, as you pointed out, between the conference and IRGC recruitment, Revolutionary Guard recruitment – which we, there were about five or six of us who had former U.S. government backgrounds who never really saw that occurring at the conference,” Maloof told RT.The FBI also alleges that the NHC is an anti-Israel conference, a claim Maloof debunked. Maloof described when he attended the NHC in 2018, that there was an orthodox Jewish rabbi there. Other attendees have echoed similar statements.
While the U.S. government attempts to link the conference to IRGC recruitment, others call it a meeting where the U.S.-Israeli “special relationship” can be challenged and questioned without repercussions. The recent backlash over U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s statement that Israeli lobbying has a large influence on U.S. foreign policy is a clear demonstration of how difficult it is to question U.S.-Israel policy inside of the U.S.
As Hicks’ described the conference, “New Horizon is a place where Americans who have already sacrificed for their country are free to question why Israel can slaughter hundreds of protestors in Gaza, bomb Palestinian homes, and be utterly free from censure from the US government and mainstream media.”
FBI NHC Allegations Stem From Air Force Trial
As Maloof told RT, the FBI’s claims of a link between the NHC conference and IRGC recruitment stemmed from indictment charges in February against a former female U.S. Air Force counterintelligence specialist who had defected to Iran and previously attended the NHC conference.
“From that indictment stemmed… there were a plethora of charges and allegations, I should say unfounded, that had linked the New Horizon Conference to the IRGC. That indictment, in turn, was used as a basis then to proceed and go ahead and sanction not only the New Horizon Conference but also people who lead it today. Ironically, at the time that this Air Force officer was indicted, and the claim was she had visited the New Horizon Conference back in 2015 or so, the people who were ultimately sanctioned weren’t even in charge of the conference at that time,” Maloof said to RT.
The Air Force officer Maloof referred to was Sgt. Monica Elfriede Witt, an Air Medal recipient for her activities during the early days of the Iraq War, but who was charged with spying and giving classified information to the Iranian government.
Maloof, who spent 30 years with the U.S. Department of Defense, also elaborated that those attending the forum were threatened with fines.
Who Were the FBI’s Other Targets?
In July, FBI agents also visited the home of Scott Rickard, a former translator with the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) who attended the same NHC conference as Maloof.
Rickard echoed Maloof’s statement that the U.S. government suspected that the conference was against Washington’s pro-Israel policy.
“Interestingly enough, the sanctions are being run by Steve Mnuchin (U.S. Secretary of Treasury), who is absolutely pro-Israel,” Rickard told PressTV.
According to Hicks’ article, the FBI also questioned former American diplomat J. Michael Springman about the NHC via telephone, but he refused to answer simply saying, “No, thank you.”
According to Springmann, he was delighted to attend the event and talk with Iranian experts and journalists. The veteran diplomat believed that Israel’s agents had prevented him from attending NHC-sponsored events.
“My visit was the grandest, most exciting adventure of my life. And Israel’s agents in the United States government have prevented me and others from attending any more conferences sponsored by New Horizon and its management,” Springmann said in the Hicks article.
University of Dayton Professor Varnellia Randall, who attended the NHC in 2015, was also one of the FBI targets and experienced similar raids. The 71-year-old professor and writer discussed the discrimination against the black community in the U.S. during the event four years ago.
In an interview with PressTV, Randall questioned why such a raid was taking place under the Trump administration, disclosing that the FBI interviewed her for two and a half hours.
“A lot of very detailed questions. They want to know how I got contacted, they want to know what did I do while I was over there, whether I was approached by a kind of security person, pretty detailed,” Randall answered when asked about the types of questions the FBI asked her.
She added that she improvised by telling the agents that the conference was about African-American rights.
Randall also emphasized that Iran is a beautiful and modern country, in contrast with what mainstream media outlets have portrayed so far.
“I went to Iran in 2015, beautiful country, wonderful people, modern, safe,” the “Dying While Black” author continued.
US-Iran Tensions Escalate
U.S. and Iran tensions have escalated since the U.S.’ withdrawal from the Iran deal (originally signed in 2015) last year. The Trump administration accused Iran of breaching the agreement, despite multiple assurances from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran had complied with the pact.
Iran then retaliated by enriching uranium above the limit allowed set in the deal. Israel also stated it would join U.S. forces in the Strait of Hormuz, where a series of tanker attacks have occurred.
The next NHC conference is due to be held in Lebanon in September of this year.