Commentary Magazine


Hersh: U.S. Trained M.E.K. in Nevada

No, not at Area 51, but speaking of conspiracy theories, here’s Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker:

Despite the growing ties, and a much-intensified lobbying effort organized by its advocates, M.E.K. [Mujahideen-e-Khalq] has remained on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations—which meant that secrecy was essential in the Nevada training. “We did train them here, and washed them through the Energy Department because the D.O.E. owns all this land in southern Nevada,” a former senior American intelligence official told me. “We were deploying them over long distances in the desert and mountains, and building their capacity in communications—coördinating commo is a big deal.” (A spokesman for J.S.O.C. said that “U.S. Special Operations Forces were neither aware of nor involved in the training of M.E.K. members.”) …

It was the ad-hoc training that provoked the worried telephone calls to him, the former general said. “I told one of the guys who called me that they were all in over their heads, and all of them could end up trouble unless they got something in writing. The Iranians are very, very good at counterintelligence, and stuff like this is just too hard to contain.” The site in Nevada was being utilized at the same time, he said, for advanced training of élite Iraqi combat units. (The retired general said he only knew of the one M.E.K.-affiliated group that went though the training course; the former senior intelligence official said that he was aware of training that went on through 2007.)

It’s even more difficult to take Hersh seriously after reading Jamie Kirchick’s persuasive takedown of his work in last month’s COMMENTARY, and this Nevada training scenario seems particularly unrealistic. If true, it would be an enormous scandal. But why would Joint Special Operations Command go through the trouble and risk of bringing members of a terrorist group back to the U.S. for training, when the U.S. controlled an entire military base full of M.E.K. members, Camp Ashraf, in Iraq? And there has been no indication that any training was going on there, so why would it take place at a Department of Energy facility in Nevada?

There’s reason to believe that Israel may have provided the M.E.K. with training and worked with the group on assassinations in Iran. Which seems to make it even less likely that the U.S. would do the same thing, particularly inside the country, with all the security and legal hazards that would carry.

Unfortunately, Hersh provides the sort of storyline that benefits both the M.E.K. and its enemies. A Washington attorney for the M.E.K., and a British defector who now works against the group, were two of the only people quoted who didn’t remain anonymous in Hersh’s story (though neither actually confirmed that the Nevada training took place). Why is that? Because it helps the M.E.K.’s lobbying efforts to get removed from the U.S. list of designated terrorist groups if it gives the impression that members went through training on U.S. soil. And proponents of the Iranian regimes love to find ways to try to tie the U.S. to the M.E.K., a theory that fits flawlessly into their anti-American worldview.