Why Is Alleged Iranian Operative Ariane Tabatabai Still Working in the Pentagon?

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When Ariane Tabatabai went to work at the U.S. State Department with her friend Rob Malley, who’d been appointed as Joe Biden’s Iran envoy, in early 2021, some Republicans in Congress raised hell because of her connections to a known Iranian intelligence front group, Iran Experts Initiative (IEI), and her family’s close ties to the Iranian government. In numerous mainstream media stories those legitimate concerns were brushed aside as anti-Islamic bigotry, and the administration joined in that chorus.

Before long Tabatabai was moved into a different, and likely more advantageous, role at the Pentagon – as chief of staff for Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, Christopher Maier. Maier’s office oversees activities related to “counterterrorism; unconventional warfare; direct action; special reconnaissance; foreign internal defense; civil affairs, information operations, psychological operations, and counterproliferation of WMD” and his work is supported by three Deputy Assistant Defense Secretaries: DASD, Special Operations and Combating Terrorism; DASD, Partnership Strategy and Stability Operations; and DASD, Counternarcotics and Global Threats.

Given what’s happened in the world recently, having someone who might be more loyal to Tehran than to the United States might be a problem, as both Streiff and I have noted. If you missed those stories, Tabatabai’s colleague Rob Malley has been under investigation by the FBI since approximately April 2023 due to allegations of mishandling classified information. In late September Malley was identified as basically the ringleader of a group of Iranian spies, all of whom are affiliated with the IEI, working in influential policy and government positions in the United States. Tabatabai is the highest-ranking of those alleged to be in the spy network. (The State Department and Department of Defense dispute that characterization, of course.) Intelligence gathered through sources such as the Defense Intelligence Agency would have crossed Tabatabai’s desk before heading further up the chain, to the Secretary of Defense.

After the September story, committees in both the House and Senate demanded more information from the State Department about the investigation into Malley, and from Defense about Tabatabai. Most recently, Rep. James Comer (R-KY) demanded that Secretary of State Antony Blinken (who’s known Malley since high school) provide the House Oversight Committee with all forms related to Tabatabai’s security clearance and her incoming and outgoing communications while at State.

Knowing all of the information above, why is Ariane Tabatabai still on the job? We know that the Pentagon is working to rescue hostages taken by Hamas during their attacks in Israel, and obviously U.S. Special Forces (a group under Tabatabai’s boss’ purview) are involved. If there’s enough suspicion around Rob Malley’s handling of classified documents to place him on leave and suspend his security clearance, and knowing how close the two of them are, why isn’t Tabatabai also at least placed on leave and kept out of the loop while all of this is figured out?

While that seems like a reasonable course of action, on Wednesday we learned that the Department of Defense claims Tabatabai’s good-to-go. In a letter dated October 13 to Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), DOD’s Legislative Affairs people claim:

We have confirmed that Ms. Tabatabai’s employment and clearance processes were carried out in accordance with all appropriate laws and policies. The Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency has enrolled all Defense Department service members, civilians, and contractors with a security clearance in its continuous vetting program, which is a process that involves regularly reviewing a cleared individual’s background to ensure they continue to meet security clearance requirements and may continue to hold positions of trust.

In response to that letter, Ernst told the Washington Free Beacon:

The Biden administration is compromised, but they continue to shamelessly defend allowing an Iranian spy to infiltrate and work at the Pentagon, likely allowing the regime access to highly sensitive information. By continuing to brush this offense under the rug instead of taking this national security threat seriously by suspending Tabatabai’s security clearance, the Biden administration doubles down on its appeasement strategy that has already emboldened Iran and its terrorist proxies.

Even though the Department of Defense claims its review showed that everything in Tabatabai’s clearance process was done according to procedure, Blinken is still required to produce documents related to State’s process by October 25.

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