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Is Iran Right about Washington Post Reporter Jason Rezaian?

Jason Rezaian

Not surprisingly, the Washington Post is outraged over Iran’s prosecution of Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who is charged with espionage and “aiding a hostile government.”

A Post editorial called the charges “patently absurd” and also condemned the manner in which the trial has been held — in secret and with no live witnesses or “substantial evidence” having been presented. The editorial also quotes a high UN official who stated that the arrest and prosecution of Rezaian “violate his rights and intimidate all those working in the media in Iran.”

The points were reinforced in a Post op-ed by Christopher Deloire:

His arrest by Revolutionary Guards was arbitrary and illegal, taking place in the middle of the night with no indication of the charges brought against him until months later…. Rezaian has been subjected to longer periods of solitary confinement, a tactic that was designed to extract a forced confession….

The charges against him have no factual basis. Nothing in his journalistic activities could ever be interpreted as spying, collaborating with hostile governments, or gathering confidential information or propaganda against the Islamic republic….

First, the complaints about Iran’s legal procedures serve to highlight the tyrannical nature of the U.S. government’s legal system at Guantanamo Bay, which pretty much mirrors the legal system in Iran, which most everyone acknowledges is governed by a tyrannical regime. At Guantanamo Bay, people are held without criminal charges for years. They are not only placed in solitary confinement but also tortured, with the aim of securing confessions from them. When trials are held, which is rare, much of the procedure is done in secret. Hearsay evidence is permitted, thereby obviating the need for live witnesses. Let’s face it: the Iranian officials would feel very much at home running the Pentagon’s legal system at Gitmo and vice versa.

Second, given the continued existence of the CIA, there is no way for the Post or anyone else to be able to know with any reasonable degree of certainty whether or not Rezaian is a CIA asset. That’s because the CIA has long had the unrestricted authority to make anyone it wants, including members of the press, an asset of the Agency.

Moreover, if Rezaian or any other journalist really is a CIA asset, there is no way that the CIA would ever admit it. Therefore, its denials that a particular person is a CIA operative or asset are worthless.

If the CIA wanted to spy on Iran, what better person to employ as asset than a journalist, especially one working for a prominent mainstream newspaper like the Washington Post? In that way, the CIA would know that if its asset got busted, the mainstream press and all sorts of First Amendment/free press organizations would immediately come to his defense, arguing what the Post is arguing today — that there is no way that its employees would ever be CIA assets and decrying infringements on freedom of the press.

Before someone cries, “Conspiracy theory!” let’s not forget Operation Mockingbird, the top-secret CIA campaign during the 1950s to enlist the media to serve as CIA assets. According to Wikipedia, “The organization recruited leading American journalists into a network to help present the CIA’s views…. It also worked to influence foreign media and political campaigns….”

According to a report issued by the Church Committee in 1976,

The CIA currently maintains a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and at times attempt to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda. These individuals provide the CIA with direct access to a large number of newspapers and periodicals, scores of press services and news agencies, radio and television stations, commercial book publishers, and other foreign media outlets.

Wikipedia states that in February 1976, newly appointed CIA Director George H.W. Bush announced a new policy:

Effective immediately, the CIA will not enter into any paid or contract relationship with any full-time or part-time news correspondent accredited by any U.S. news service, newspaper, periodical, radio or television network or station.” He added that the CIA would continue to “welcome” the voluntary, unpaid cooperation of journalists. (Emphasis added.)

Notwithstanding Bush’s new policy, however, what would prevent the CIA from simply doing what it was doing during Operation Mockingbird? Certainly no one got prosecuted or even fired for engaging in a policy that smacks of those carried out by totalitarian regimes. What difference does the announcement of a new policy make? Would that really stop the CIA from employing journalists, especially if “national security” is at stake? And don’t forget: Even under the new policy, the CIA would still welcome the “voluntary, unpaid cooperation of journalists.”

Iranian officials hasn’t forgotten the top-secret CIA operation that ousted the democratically appointed prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh, from office in 1953 and the CIA’s installation of the brutal, unelected dictator the Shah of Iran in his stead. They also haven’t forgotten how the CIA trained the Shah’s secret internal military-intelligence-police force, the Savak, to be one of the most oppressive organizations in history.

Who doubts that the CIA would love to effect a similar-type regime change in Iran today? Who doubts that the CIA would stop at nothing to achieve that, including, if necessary, converting journalists into assets?

As long as the American people choose to keep the CIA in existence, notwithstanding the end of the Cold War, which was the original justification for bringing this totalitarian-like organization into existence, there is no way to ever know who it has employed as its assets, whether in the press or, for that matter, any other occupation, including people employed in political and bureaucratic positions in both the federal and state governments.

Jason Rezaian’s ordeal at the hands of Iranian officials serves as a valuable reminder that there are prices to be paid for living in a country that has made a national-security state the foundation of its governmental structure.

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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