Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, 63, an Iranian citizen and legal permanent resident of the United States, was arrested by the FBI at his home in Watertown, Massachusetts, on Monday, Jan. 18. A federal court in New York City is charging him with acting and conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
According to federal authorities, Afrasiabi is on the payroll of Iranian diplomats who are assigned to the Iranian permanent mission to the United Nations in New York City since at least 2007. Investigations revealed that he may have been paid as much as $265,000 in checks drawn from the permanent mission. Iran is also covering his health insurance through the permanent mission's employee health benefit plans since at least 2011.
At the same time that he was being paid by the Iranian government, he was lobbying U.S. officials to advocate for policies favorable to the agenda of Iran, he has made TV appearances, written articles and published books, all for the purpose of advancing viewpoints sympathetic to Iran.
Federal investigators are also alleging that Afrasiabi acted as a counsel for Iranian diplomats, who would regularly seek his advice regarding U.S. foreign policy.
At one point, in 2009, Afrasiabi helped an unnamed congressman draft a letter to then-President Barack Obama regarding the ongoing nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and Iran. He never disclosed to the congressman that he was working for the Iranian government.
After the January 2020 airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the elite Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Afrasiabi advised the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding its actions moving forward.
According to the investigation, Afrasiabi informed the permanent mission in New York that Iran should end all inspections of Iran's nuclear power plants and nuclear research facilities and end the release of information regarding the country's nuclear activities pending a statement condemning America's supposed crime coming from the United Nations Security Council. The regular inspections and releases of information are all mandated by the country's nuclear deal
If Iran did this, Afrasiabi said that it will "strike fear in the heart of the enemy," and "weaken Trump and strengthen his opponents." (Related: BACK TO THE TABLE: Iran expects US return to Obama nuclear deal under Biden.)
"Afrasiabi has long known that Foreign Agents Registration Act [FARA] requires agents of foreign principals to register with the U.S. Department of Justice and has discussed information obtained from FARA disclosures with others," read the Justice Department's press release regarding his arrest. "Nevertheless, Afrasiabi did not register as an agent of the Government of Iran."
The arrest was announced by a multitude of federal officials, including William F. Sweeney, the FBI's Assistant Director in Charge, who released this statement: "Anyone working to advance the agenda of a foreign government within the United States is required by law to register as an agent of that country. Mr Afrasiabi never disclosed to a congressman, journalists or others who hold roles of influence in our country that he was being paid by the Iranian government to paint an untruthfully positive picture of the nation. Our laws are designed to create transparency in foreign relations, and they are not arbitrary or malleable. As today's action demonstrates, we will fully enforce them to protect our national security."
On Wednesday, Jan. 20, the government of Iran responded to the arrest of Afrasiabi by accusing the U.S. of "taking hostages." This is according to a report released by the state-owned ISNA news agency.
"America's action is a clear hostage-taking of Iranian nationals," said Saeed Khatibzadeh, a spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry. "Americans have sadly become addicted to such actions and take hostages for any excuse.
Khatibzadeh called Afrasiabi a "well-known university lecturer" and called the federal government's charges against him "baseless."
In his statement, Khatibzadeh appealed directly to President Joe Biden. The spokesman believes that this new Democrat-led administration would want to "distance itself" from the "hostage-taking approach" to foreign policy supposedly employed by former President Donald Trump's Republican White House.
If convicted, Afrasiabi faces up to 10 years in prison. His arrest comes just days after Iranian authorities convicted Iranian-American businessman Emad Sharqi on espionage charges, which the U.S. has dismissed as baseless. Khatibzadeh's "hostage-taking" comments are implying that the U.S. is retaliating against Iran.
The U.S. has not had formal diplomatic relations with Iran since 1980. However, the two governments have been able to engage in several prisoner exchanges.
There are many spies in the United States working for belligerent nations such as Iran. Learn more about them, and other threats to the country's national security by reading the latest articles at NationalSecurity.news.