US charges 2 alleged Iran agents with spying

The federal E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse in Washington. (AP)
Updated 23 August 2018
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US charges 2 alleged Iran agents with spying

  • The US has charged two alleged agents of Iran, accusing them of conducting covert surveillance of Israeli and Jewish facilities
  • The two are alleged to have been collecting intelligence on Americans connected to an organization that wants to see the current Iranian government overthrown

WASHINGTON: The US has charged two alleged agents of Iran, accusing them of conducting covert surveillance of Israeli and Jewish facilities in the United States and collecting intelligence on Americans linked to a political organization that wants to see the current Iranian government overthrown.
Earlier this week, Ahmadreza Doostdar, 38, a dual US-Iranian citizen born in Long Beach, California, and Majid Ghorbani, 59, who has lived and worked in Costa Mesa, California, since he arrived in the United States in the mid-1990s, were charged with acting as illegal agents for Tehran. Ghorbani, who denies the charges, became a legal permanent resident of the United States in 2015.
Their arrests come as the Trump administration ratchets up pressure on Iran. The administration recently re-imposed sanctions on Iran to deny Tehran the funds it needs to finance terrorism, its missile program and forces in conflicts in Yemen and Syria.
According to a criminal complaint filed in US District Court in Washington, Doostdar allegedly conducted surveillance in July 2017 on Rohr Chabad House, a Jewish student center at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park. The surveillance included security features around the center.
Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, applauded the arrests and thanked the FBI for “disrupting the alleged intelligence gathering efforts of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a nation with a long record of involvement in, and support for, terror attacks against Jewish and Israeli institutions.”
Most of the spying detailed in the court documents, however, focused on the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, a group that is outlawed in Iran and was listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department until 2012.
Despite deep ideological differences, the MEK were partners with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the 1979 revolution that toppled the US-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Following the revolution, the MEK quickly fell out with Khomeini and launched an armed revolt against Khomeini’s new theocracy. The group advocates for the overthrow of the current Iranian government.
In September 2017, Ghorbani allegedly attended a MEK rally in New York City where he photographed people protesting against the current Iranian government.
In late 2017, Doostdar returned to the United States from Iran and made contact with Ghorbani in the Los Angeles area. Doostdar allegedly paid Ghorbani about $2,000 in cash for 28 photographs taken at the September 2017 rally.
The photographs had hand-written annotations identifying the individuals in them. These photographs, along with a receipt for $2,000, were found concealed in Doostdar’s luggage as he transited a US airport on his return to Iran in December 2017.
Court documents indicate that one of the people targeted was Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of National Council of Resistance of Iran-US in Washington. His revelations about Iran’s nuclear sites in August 2002 triggered the first inspections in Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Federal agents conducting court-authorized electronic surveillance heard Ghorbani tell Doostdar in December 2017 that he had seen Jafarzadeh at the New York rally. He said he saw the man who “leaked the nuclear program” and went on to say that one of the other attendees deserves “one shot,” an apparent reference to a bullet.
Jafarzadeh said that when he learned about the arrests of the two men, he was pleased, but not surprised.
“The Iranian regime has been operating here under different covers, under different ways for the past years — for decades honestly speaking,” Jafarzadeh told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday. “They got away with pretty much everything.”
He said that “emboldened the regime to the point that they felt they can actually do things here on American soil. That’s a very bold move on the part of the Iranian regime.”
In May, Ghorbani attended the MEK-affiliated 2018 Iran Freedom Convention for Human Rights in Washington. During the conference, Ghorbani appeared to photograph certain speakers and attendees, which included delegations from across the United States. On May 14, Doostdar called Ghorbani to discuss the clandestine ways Ghorbani could use to get the information to Iran.
The indictment charged Doostdar and Ghorbani with knowingly acting as agents of the government of Iran without notifying the US attorney general, providing services to Iran in violation of US sanctions and conspiracy. Both defendants were arrested on Aug. 9, pursuant to criminal complaints issued by the US District Court for the District of Columbia.
The FBI’s field offices in Washington and Los Angeles investigated the case, which is being prosecuted by the national security section of the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section of the National Security Division of the Justice Department.
A court hearing in the case is set for Sept. 6.


“No-deal” Brexit would hit trucks, airlines and pet owners — govt papers

Updated 24 September 2018
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“No-deal” Brexit would hit trucks, airlines and pet owners — govt papers

LONDON: Leaving the European Union without a proper divorce deal could ground airlines, stop hauliers from lugging goods to the world’s biggest trading bloc and even make headaches for pet owners who want to take their dogs on holiday, according to government documents.
With just six months to go until the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU on March 29, Prime Minister Theresa May has warned that negotiations are at an impasse and that the EU must come up with new proposals on how to craft a divorce settlement.
Many business chiefs and investors fear politics could scupper an agreement, thrusting the world’s fifth largest economy into a “no-deal” Brexit that they say would spook financial markets and silt up the arteries of trade.
Britain, which has warned it could leave without a deal, published 25 technical notices on Monday covering everything from commercial road haulage and buying timber to airline regulations and taking pets abroad.
“If the UK leaves the EU in March 2019 with no agreement in place, UK and EU licensed airlines would lose the automatic right to operate air services between the UK and the EU without seeking advance permission,” the government said.
Overall, the government has published more than 65 such notices giving a glimpse of what a no-deal Brexit — the nightmare scenario for chief executives of most multinationals operating in Britain — would look like.
Amid warnings that trucks could stack up on both sides of the English Channel in the confusion of a no deal, Britain said it would seek to strike bilateral agreements with European countries to ensure hauliers would retain access.
The notices covered a vast swathe of the British economy, warning, for example, that labels on packaged food would have to be changed.
“Use of the term ‘EU’ in origin labelling would no longer be correct for food or ingredients from the UK,” the government said.
Honey producers would have to change their labels while EU countries might not accept British mineral water, the government said.
In the worse case scenario for pet owners, dogs, cats and even ferrets might need health certificates and rabies jabs. Travel plans would have to be discussed with a vet at least four months in advance before traveling to the EU.
That would mean someone wanting to take their pet to the EU on March 30, 2019, the day after Britain leaves the bloc, would have to discuss the trip with a vet before the end of November.
Without a deal, the UK would move from seamless trade with the rest of the EU to customs arrangements set by the World Trade Organization for external states with no preferential deals.
Brexiteers accept there is likely to be some short-term economic pain but say the government is trying to scare voters about the impact of a no-deal Brexit.
Britain, many Brexiteers say, will thrive in the longer term if cut loose from what they see as a doomed experiment in German-dominated unity and excessive debt-funded welfare spending.