The International Crisis Group Responds to Letter from Congress to DOJ
The International Crisis Group Responds to Letter from Congress to DOJ
Statement / United States 3 minutes

The International Crisis Group Responds to Letter from Congress to DOJ

Crisis Group responds to the latest mischaracterisations of its work.

On 5 February, three Members of Congress requested the U.S. Department of Justice open an investigation to assess whether the International Crisis Group acted as an agent for the Iranian government. Crisis Group rejects any allegation that we have ever worked on behalf of the Iranian or any other government. 

Crisis Group is an independent conflict prevention organisation. We speak to all sides in the 70-odd conflicts and crises we cover, including those with whom we disagree. We value good governance and compliance, and are confident that our activities fully comply with U.S. law. 

In September 2023 and again in February, two media outlets – Semafor and Iran International – published articles about our work and staff, based solely on the accounts of a few Iranian officials who have an interest in spinning events for their own political benefit. The reporting appears to have motivated the request from Members of Congress to the Department of Justice. 

The Semafor and Iran International articles are full of inaccuracy and mischaracterisation. The day after the congressional letter, Semafor published a column by its co-founder, which disputed Semafor’s own reporting. The column also revealed that the British government was one of the European donors that funded the “Iran Experts Initiative” that Semafor and Iran International had previously alleged was Iran-backed. We urge the Members to fully consider this subsequent reporting. A senior European nuclear negotiator has similarly corrected the Semafor and Iran International allegations. 

Crisis Group has responded in full to the prior reporting. In addition, we would note:

  • For two decades, Crisis Group has worked to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons program. Our work during the 2014-2015 JCPOA negotiations was transparent and aligned with the goals of world powers, including the United States, who at the time were pursuing diplomacy to curb Iran’s nuclear program. Several top U.S. and European diplomats involved in the negotiations later joined our Board of Trustees.

  • Crisis Group’s involvement with the IEI was minimal but sufficient to know that it was not, as Semafor and Iran International claimed, an “influence operation” set up by the Iranian government. The allegation that the IEI was doing Iran’s bidding rests solely on claims made by Iranian officials themselves who had good reason to misrepresent its purpose. 

  • The letter from Members of Congress to the DOJ concerning Crisis Group claims that Arianne Tabatabai, an employee of the U.S. Department of Defense, works for Crisis Group. She does not and has never done so. 

  • Ali Vaez, Crisis Group’s Iran director who is also mentioned in the letter, is a U.S. citizen who has been unable to travel to Iran since 2015, due to security threats, precisely because the regime attacks his work. 

  • Dina Esfandiary, another Crisis Group employee mentioned in the letter, has similarly displayed independence in her work and regularly engages U.S., European and other officials.

  • Crisis Group is a U.S.-registered organisation, not a Belgian one (though our headquarters are in Brussels). We have received funding over the years from sources including the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Institute of Peace and the U.S. Agency for International Development. We have never received funds from the Iranian government nor any entity affiliated with it. 

  • Among other things, Iranian media has accused Dr. Vaez and Crisis Group of working for the CIA – and on behalf of Israel – to overthrow the regime in Tehran. We mention these allegations here to underscore that, though we engage Iranian officials as we do U.S., European and other officials, we are not aligned with the Iranian or any other government. 

  • All of our funding is disclosed on our website. Many U.S. and Western think-tanks and research organisations have MOUs with foreign governments or government-affiliated entities that do not involve funding. Such MOUs can help safeguard staff in conflict zones or in countries that engage in arbitrary arrests and detentions, or facilitate work in certain places. Where we have them, such MOUs can, for example, provide Crisis Group staff an official reason to enter a given country. Any potentially sensitive MOU is reviewed by counsel for compliance with U.S. law. 

  • As with funding agreements with governments, referenced above, we always retain our independence, and no entity or person outside Crisis Group directs or controls our work due to an MOU or otherwise. 

People can reasonably disagree about how to manage the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. But Crisis Group urges all involved to avoid basing serious allegations about our work on the claims of Iranian officials or individual media reports and engage all facts, including our own responses to the allegations and the points made by Semafor’s own co-founder and diplomats involved in the nuclear talks.

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