Last month news broke that several Iranian operatives, reportedly members of that nation’s Iranian Expert’s Initiative (IEI), were working in high-level positions across the Biden administration.
These individuals communicated directly with Iranian Foreign Ministry officials asking for advice and direction, pledged their allegiance to the Iranian regime and on several occasions agreed to advocate for Iran, Semafor reported.
The official responsible for many of these placements, President Joe Biden’s Special Envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, was suspended along with most of the operatives. Yet, one individual implicated in the leaked emails, Ariane Tabatabai, remains at the Department of Defense, potentially jeopardizing the safety of our special operations forces and success of their missions.
Tabatabai is currently serving as the chief of staff to the assistant secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (ASD SOLIC). In that role she helps to oversee the authorities, direction and employment of all U.S. special operations forces.
It is entirely unacceptable that she can serve in this capacity when, as has been reported, she was previously taking direction and advice from an adversary nation. Congress must act immediately to hold a hearing on each of these operatives and demand Ms. Tabatabai is removed until a full investigation is complete.
The office of ASD SOLIC manages some of our nation’s most secretive programs. It regularly briefs congress and the White House on the locations and missions of our elite units deployed around the globe.
Many of these forces are operating in close proximity to Iranian funded proxies and terrorist organizations. I know this because during my military career I spent three years in that office as a special operations policy adviser.
Having an Iranian operative running every aspect of that office would put our special operations forces in extreme danger.
As the nation is now engaged in supporting our partners and allies in two full scale conflicts that involve Iran, it is paramount that we do not divulge sensitive information to the Iranians. The implications are not limited to the Middle East, as Iran is currently supporting Russia in Ukraine with advisers and material.
Yet, it is most critical in Gaza, where dozens of Americans are held hostage by an Iranian backed terrorist organization, Hamas. If there was any attempt to rescue the hostages, the SOLIC office would have a hand in coordinating and authorizing the details.
As long as Ms. Tabatabai remains in her current position, DoD planners would have to assume any rescue operations could be compromised. In fact, her deference to the Iranians regarding Israel resulted in her reportedly refusing to travel to a conference there at the direction of her Iranian handlers, The Atlantic reported.
So far only a handful of elected officials have called on DoD to remove Ms. Tabatabai. Last week, Sens. Roger Wicker, Ted Cruz, Jim Risch, and Rick Scott questioned whether she went through a proper screening and called on DoD to explain how it was possible for Ms. Tabatabai to obtain a clearance.
Similarly, Reps. Mike Rogers and Jack Bergman sent a letter demanding the details of Ms. Tabatabai’s appointment and her responsibilities in the office. As of Oct. 16, DoD has only responded by agreeing to review the matter and sending a disrespectfully brief response to the Senators, stating that Ms. Tabatabai underwent some formal screening.
DoD has failed to state whether it knew of her communications with the Iranian Foreign Ministry nor has it said anything to contradict the contents of the emails. No hearing is currently scheduled.
One could easily expect that if a Trump administration official placed a Russian operative or loyalist at DoD all sensitive intelligence work on capitol hill would have ceased until this individual was removed. Unfortunately, the Biden administration is being held to a different, more lenient standard.
Congress seems willing to accept the risk to our men and women in uniform by allowing an alleged Iranian loyalist see where and when some of our most valuable assets are deployed. This security risk must end, and Congress must hold DoD accountable.
A public hearing is required to go through Ms. Tabatabai’s emails and have her explain — in person — all her effusive praise and deference to the Iranian regime. Ms. Tabatabai must also be placed on leave as all the other members of IEI who were working in the government have been.
The U.S. would not accept members of the CCP’s Thousand Talents program to obtain a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmentalized Information (TS/SCI) clearance, nor should we allow a similar operative from Iran.
Right now, the entire Middle East is in a state of chaos and war due solely to the actions of a savage terrorist organization directed and funded by Iran. At the same time, Iran may hold a key position of influence in our own government helping to temper U.S. support for Israel.
The Americans held captive in Gaza are relying on U.S. and Israeli forces. The risk of compromising their rescue is far too much. Congress owes it to them to ensure foreign operatives are not overseeing the rescue plan.
Garrett Exner is an adjunct fellow at Hudson Institute, where he writes and comments on US national defense with a specific focus on the use of special operations forces and gray zone competition.
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