TV Pundit Charged With Acting as Unregistered Agent for Iran

A political scientist and media pundit specializing in Iran was arrested and charged with conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent of the Iranian government.

Kaveh Afrasiabi, a permanent U.S. resident born in Iran who has taught at Boston University, worked to influence public opinion on Iran’s behalf in news articles and during media appearances as an expert on Iran’s nuclear policy, “disguising propaganda as objective policy analysis and expertise,” U.S. prosecutors allege.

They say he also lobbied a U.S. Congress member and the State Department to adopt policies favorable to Iran, all in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The alleged scheme dates back to 2007, according to a criminal complaint unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, on Tuesday.

“Our arrest of Kaveh Afrasiabi makes it clear that the United States is not going to allow undeclared agents of Iran to operate in our country unchecked,” Joseph Bonavolonta of the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement.

At a court hearing Tuesday in Boston, prosecutor Jonah Dawley said Afrasiabi was “a danger to the community and a national security concern,” based on extensive evidence from an investigation that lasted more than a decade. Dawley asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Jennifer Boal to hold Afrasiabi without bail and transferred to Brooklyn for trial. The judge is expected to make a bail ruling on Friday.

William Keefe, a lawyer for Afrasiabi, didn’t immediately respond to requests seeking comment on the charges.

Tensions With Iran

Afrasiabi’s arrest comes as President-elect Joe Biden, who has pledged to restore U.S. participation in the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, prepares to enter office on Wednesday. President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal, which Barack Obama had touted as a significant step toward curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions when he was president and Biden vice president. The withdrawal triggered a crisis in relations between Washington and Tehran, which went on to ramp up its nuclear program.

Biden’s election also raises the possibility of more prisoner exchanges between the two nations if they can map out a path back to cooperation. At least 12 Iranians are in jail in the U.S., most of them charged with violations of sanctions regulations, and at least six U.S.-Iranian dual nationals are in prison in Iran, all of them accused of espionage or endangering national security.

Afrasiabi, who was arrested Monday at his home in Watertown, Massachusetts, faces as long as 10 years in prison if convicted of both charges, according to the U.S. Boal ordered him to be held without bail until a detention hearing can be held on Jan. 22.

The case is U.S. v. Afrasiabi, 21-mj-00050, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).

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