Two international mysteries we need to solve

Who's behind that Islamophobic film? And when is a terrorist no longer a terrorist?

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I'd like to pose two significant questions for America that remain outstanding in international political affairs. The first is who are all those responsible for the film, "The Innocence of Muslims," that has stimulated so much havoc across the Muslim world, including the deaths of four Americans in Libya. The second is how did the Iranian terrorist group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq come to be no longer considered a terrorist group, having been removed last month from the State Department's list of designated terrorist organizations.

The answer in both cases can no doubt be found by the classic method, identified and enshrined by Washington Post reporters in the Watergate case: "Follow the money." Over a period of years they followed a tortuous cash trail that started with the Watergate break-in at Democratic headquarters in 1972 and ended at the White House with President Richard M. Nixon's resignation in 1974.

Both the genesis of the destructive Islamophobic film and the shameful cleansing of the Iranian terrorist organization need to have their cash trails followed assiduously by investigative reporters or by a congressional committee or special commission whose results would be made public.

The origins of the film, whose impact is still resounding -- including, apparently, in the hacking of six major American banks, one of which was PNC -- remain shrouded. No one would argue that the First Amendment right to free speech should be violated by legal pursuit of the claimed producer, Nakoura Basseley Nakoura, a 55-year-old Egyptian Coptic Christian, for having produced the film, atrocious though the results have been. At the same time, there is a major loose end in the case of Mr. Basseley that leaves a clear means of following up on the affair.

The man served time in federal prison for check-kiting and had to pay restitution of $794,700. Even though the 14-minute trailer for "The Innocence of Muslims" was distinctly amateurish and probably low-budget, it nonetheless had actors and scenery and was dubbed into Arabic, which meant that it had to have cost at least thousands of dollars to make. So the question becomes, where did the money come from, particularly with Mr. Basseley having a fine of $794,700 hanging over his head? Did an ethnic, political or religious group provide it? If so, who?

The blowback on Americans has been severe -- and continues -- and it is fair that we learn how this happened. Who was responsible? Learning how Mr. Basseley was able to rustle up the money to make the film in spite of his disastrous financial circumstances and apparent violation of the conditions of his parole should make it possible to find out how the film came to see the light of day.

The genesis of the whitewashing of the Iranian group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq is clearer, although, again, the origin of the money that made it possible remains murky.

MEK was founded as a Marxist-Leninist movement in 1965 and carried out assassinations, including of six Americans, bombings and other violent acts against the government of Shah Reza Pahlavi until he was overthrown by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979. MEK, allied with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, then used the same tactics in opposing the ayatollahs' government. The United States designated it a terrorist organization in 1997, a status it retained until Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton pardoned it Sept. 28.

She did so at the behest of a long list of American politicians, former officials and journalists. They include two former CIA directors, R. James Woolsey and Porter J. Goss; former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh of Penn State report fame; former Homeland Security Secretary and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge; former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell; former Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey; former National Security Adviser Gen. James L. Jones; former Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley; and journalists Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post and Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune. A number of congressmen, led by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., also intervened with the government to take MEK off the terrorist list.

Mr. Rendell acknowledged that he had been paid $150,000 to $160,000 for his support. What has not yet been made public is where MEK got all the money it employed to buy the expensive high-level lobbying that led to its cleansing. Given the practice of the CIA and Department of Defense to finance and sometimes train exile organizations in the Middle East such as MEK, it is quite possible that the U.S. government ended up providing MEK with the wherewithal to lobby the State Department with its high-priced roster of advocates. Other candidates include Iranian exiles in the United States.

It would, of course, be supremely ironic if one branch of the U.S. government had provided a terrorist organization such as MEK the money to pay prominent Americans to lobby on its behalf with another branch of the U.S. government.

In any case, where the MEK and Nakoura Basseley Nakoura got their money remain unanswered questions to be pondered and pursued until the answers are found.


Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (, 412-263-1976).


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