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Public Data to Complement Classified Intelligence - Assessing Source Credibility

A new white paper addresses credibility of sources and allegations regarding the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK/PMOI) on the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list of the State Department (See summary below and full white paper under IPC Publications)

The author derives credibility standards from interviews of former intelligence officials, a review of intelligence literature, and his own government experience.  

A goal is to assess the credibility of allegations against the MEK. The paper compares accusations of terrorism against the MEK with media reports and public terrorism databases, finding no evidence to substantiate Iranian regime allegations that the MEK perpetrated terrorist incidents in two cities in Iraq: Karbala and Samarra.

To evaluate credibility of allegations against the MEK, the study uses: Worldwide Incidents Tracking System (WITS); Global Database on Terrorism (GTD); and RAND Database of Worldwide Terrorism Incidents (RDWTI). Neither GTD nor RDWTI lists the MEK as a perpetrator of any terrorist incidents after 2001.

In almost seven years, the WITS lists only four allegations that mention the MEK in 2005; other organizations claimed responsibility for three of the incidents, and in none is the MEK accused directly. The MEK is only “suspected” or “blamed” by unknown sources along with several other groups in the incident description. Also, during this time, MEK members were in Camp Ashraf monitored by U.S. military seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Language used in the descriptions and lack of direct allegations about the MEK raise credibility doubts about these claims.

The study analyzes State Department Administrative Records for its designation of the MEK and the Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism. There are serious questions about source credibility and inconsistency in language in these documents, particularly about MEK capability and intent. When the MEK is alleged to have been involved in terrorism, it had surrendered its weapons to U.S. military forces in Iraq, was under their control, and its members had renounced violence; hence, it is highly unlikely the MEK had capability and intent to commit terrorism.

The study examines Tehran’s allegations against the MEK: These claims lack credibility because the research did not find publicly available evidence to substantiate them. The research uses unauthorized released intelligence from WikiLeaks to complement public databases. The WikiLeaks reports highlight efforts of Tehran to foster violence in Iraq, perpetrate attacks against U.S. and Iraqi troops, and do not mention the MEK in such violence.

The study makes inferences about the credibility of classified intelligence in comparison to open source reporting, focusing specifically on likely presence of bias, deception, and predispositions. The research finds overreliance on classified material is suboptimal, suggesting classified material be reinforced by publicly available information. In cases where unclassified information does not support inferences drawn from classified material, e.g., publicly available information does not support the conclusion that the MEK engages in terrorism or terrorist activities, the credibility of such conjectures diminishes. There are three conclusions about the MEK:

  1. The disappearance of the 2006 accusation of MEK “capacity and will” to commit terrorism or terrorist activities from Country Reports on Terrorism 2007, 2008, and 2009 suggests uncertainty in the State Department about MEK capacity and will to conduct terrorism or terrorist activities.
  2. In three major public databases on terrorism, there are no confirmed and credible reports labeling the MEK as a perpetrator of any terrorist incident after 2001.
  3. Despite Iranian regime allegations that the MEK has committed terrorism in Iran since 2001, these accusations lack credibility because of the biased nature of the source, and the study does not find evidence in public databases or media sources to corroborate them.

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