National security journalist Shane Harris was just going about his normal day when he got the email. He assumed it was spam.
“Honestly,” he told me Monday, “I did think it was spam. It was addressed to me as ‘Sir Shane Harris.'”
When he looked closely, he realized he was being asked to submit a paper for an actual event in Iran. In fact, he was being recruited to assist Iranian government spies at a conference targeting “Zionist State Terrorism Against Iran.”
“I was shocked.”
Harris is a crack writer for The Daily Beast and a fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington. There’s no way his work could be seen as somehow shilling for the Iranians.
“So a state-sponsored propaganda jamboree propped up by Iranian diplomats and spies wanted me to publicly criticize U.S. foreign policy and maybe even come to Tehran for their anti-West hate fest,” he writes.
Initially he concluded that the conference was an elaborate ruse to ultimately recruit him as a spy.
Then, he changed course, albeit slightly.
The conference’s strategy “seemed more of a piece with a propaganda campaign that has already managed to enlist some very outspoken Americans willing to criticize their own government — however bizarre I may think those criticisms are,” he writes.
According to his due diligence, the ties to the government and Iran’s intelligence services are clear. Further, past speakers at similar gatherings there have included a Florida Atlantic University professor “who questions whether the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School ever happened.”
There is also “the editor of a blog called Truth Jihad who argues that the 9/11 attack was an ‘inside job’ that has been covered up by the media.”
When he responded and asked for more details as to what they wanted him to discuss, the response included this possible topic: “Examine the U.S and Israel campaign to undermine the Iranian nuclear program, including state sponsored assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists and sabotage of Iranian nuclear centrifuges.”
Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution, told Harris, “The [Iranian] system has an affinity for pageantry in the form of conferences and congresses. It’s possible that this is just a reflection of an overdeveloped conference-organizing function within the government bureaucracy, but it’s also a testament to the fact many Iranians believe that the world has consistently disregarded their suffering, as during the war with Iraq.”
Perhaps. But Harris was still close to incredulous after I contacted him Monday.
All in all, he said, “The whole thing is so bonkers, I can hardly believe they actually wrote to me.”