The Democracy Council's plans for Iran and the "Taash Network"

by Cyrus Safdari (source: Iran Affairs)
Saturday, March 12, 2011

UPDATE: The full text of the Democracy Council document is here

I just stumbled into my personal Wikileaks moment by inadvertently finding a document that apparently links "Green Movement" operatives to a US government propaganda operation. This is the second time such links have been exposed by me inadvertently. (They're not good at keeping secrets!)

So something funny happened today. Someone posted this document onto Reddit - but don't bother clicking on it because the document is now gone. It was an "internal" document by something called the Democracy Council (apparently a 501c3 nonprofit) - entitled a "TCN Concept Paper INTERNAL DRAFT 3-5-11" which proposed conducting a pro-Green information campaign directed towards Iran which combined a variety of media outlets, collectively called the "Taash Network," which would be created by a foundation in Europe as a cover. The document said, among other things, that it was meant to appeal to the youth in Iran because the existing LA-based outlets were basically too incompetent and not taken seriously, and furthermore the project had the backing of "leaders of the Green Movement" (mentioning Mohsen Sazegara and someone who runs a pro-Mousavi/Karroubi facebook page, amongst other B-list types.) They estimated that the network would become financially self-sufficient in three years. They also planned on creating a foundation in an unspecified country in Europe to essentially act as the front for this network, and there were some statistics about how the "secondary" marketing by email distributions in iran would be, how to press the human rights angle for maximum advantage, and how they planned to get around government internet censors in Iran,  Etc. etc.

Anyway, I was curious about this "Democracy Council" since I had never heard of them, except I noticed that the document identified one Owen Kirby as the "Project Director " -- who turns out to be Owen H Kirby, as I am now told, a Program Officer For The Middle East and North Africa in the International Republican Institute (IRI) and author of an article about why repressive hereditary monarchies in the Mideast are actually good for democracy, an argument that Daniel Pipes apparently found particular convincing (I can't help but notice that the same Monarchies are US-backed puppet regimes who make nice with Israel. Coincidence? LOL.) 

So anway I sent an email containing the link to Scribd and my query about the Democracy Council's funding to Gary Sick of the Gulf2000 Project at Columbia, who posted it to the listserve, as is our long-time practice. I didn't expect much of a response, because after all the fact that outfits like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) would be backing the so-called "Green Movement" and proposing ways to conduct information operations on behalf of the movement would hardly come as a surprise - that's what they do, after all: they're basically fronts, semi-privatized versions of the CIA created by Reagan to evade restrictions placed by Congress on US interference in Latin America, who perform the old fashioned "regime toppling" propaganda function of the CIA, except under the guise of "promoting democracy" with funding that comes only indirectly from the coffers of the US government, filtered through tax-deductible donations by major foundation etc. Normal, usual stuff, known to anyone who follows world news. Read up on the NED's role in Venezuela, for example.

But the surprise was an email I just received from Dr. Sick saying that he had received a phone call from "Jim Prince, in Cairo, and head of the Democracy Council" who had complained about the posting of the document:

He said: (1) that the document in question was marked as internal distribution only and was intended exclusively for internal review, not publication; (2) it was on personal letterhead, with full name & address, certainly not intended to conceal anything; (3) though not classified, it was sensitive and its release had caused a lot of trouble for his organization; and (4) it was you who had posted the original item on the scribd website, and he wondered how you had come into possession.

This was my response, in case anyone's curious:

I don't really owe Jim Prince any explanations and the "internal" nature of his document has no effect or relevance to me whatsoever. And if he finds it embarrassing, then he should take better care of his documents. As for the accusation that I posted it on Scribd, I'd like to see him prove it. I have no other information about that document than what you saw yourself before you posted it to G2K. I wish I could say that I got the document through some sophisticated means, but actually I was browsing, and found a link posted there by the person who posted it to Scribd...

I find it quite funny that Prince has pulled the document from Scribd because now it DOES look like he's trying to conceal something. HEY JIM: make the document public. After all, democracy is about transparency, right? Right?

I should mention that Gary Sick said in his email to me that he posted my message to the listserve without reading it himself because of the volume of messages that day. The interesting thing is that the posting as it appeared on the G2K listserve (which is a WordPress hack) showed the document as an inline frame from Scribd, rather than merely a link to the Scribd site which I had sent in my email. So somehow that link got converted to an inline frame. Maybe Wordpress does that automatically? Anyway, according to Scribd the document was removed at the request of a J Prince, so I hope most of you bothered to download and save it.

All this goes to show two things, frankly: Iran affairs is in the hand of amateurs, and the Green Movement apparently DOES have foreign backing. In my humble opinion, these sorts of information warfare campaigns directed against Iran are silly and mostly just self-serving. If they have any persuasive effect, it is in the US rather than in Iran, and even there it is largely negative because it creates a sort of dogma about the Green Movement that may be favored by certain exiles and their wishful thinking, but has no real relationship to Iranians inside Iran. See, the people of Iran don't lack for information. They have had years of this sort of media campaigns directed towards them. They're not fooled. But the "blowback" (deliberate?) of these sorts of campaigns creates a certain narrative and conventional wisdom that (is meant to) box policymakers in the US when dealing with Iran. Afterall, that's why you see so many articles which doth protest too much that the Green Movement is alive and the "Jasmin Revolutions"  sweeping across Arab countries not only do not work in Iran's favor but will ultimately topple the Islamic Republic etc. Rubbish.

Addendum: I just ran a Google search and found that Google too had indexed the document which appeared on Scribd.

Second Addendum: someone suggested I post this blog entry itself onto Reddit. LOL. I'll let my readers do that.

IRI-NED-Green-MovementThird Addendum: Someone asks if I am not afraid of "them" coming "after me." Frankly, I have no secrets so they're free to come after me all they want. But if "they" want to come after me for something that can be found on Google or sites like Reddit while you're looking at funny videos of cats, then "they" are morons.

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