Feds are now threatening to arrest Americans who plan to travel and meet with Iranians, this September, at a peaceful conference in Beirut.
Back in May, the FBI knocked on the front door of Michael Maloof, at 6:30 AM. Maloof, a former Defense Department official living in Virginia, had been in Mashhad, Iran, last year for the New Horizon conference. He was keen to attend this year’s gathering in Beirut. The FBI warned of dire consequences if he followed through on those plans. Maloof asked them to leave his home at once.
This July, FBI agents appeared at the Florida home of US Air Force/NSA translator Scott Rickard, who had once attended the same conference in Iran. FBI threatened him that if he attended this year, he would be arrested.
Earlier, the FBI called up former State Department diplomat J. Michael Springmann, to discuss New Horizon, but Springmann promptly declined to speak to agents about his experiences there. “No Thank You,” he said and hung up on them.
All three of these American citizens have been outspoken critics of Israeli policy, and the “special relationship” that the US has with that country. This level of FBI intimidation is a new low in that “special relationship.”
New Horizon Conference is run by an articulate Iranian intellectual, the TV journalist Nader Talebzadeh, a devout Muslim and one of the original revolutionaries from 1979. New Horizon hosts international dissidents, and critics of US/Israeli policy. Recent guests include New York’s Rabbi Dovid Weiss, and Lauren Booth, Tony Blair‘s sister-in-law, who converted to Islam nine years ago. Last year in the “holy shrine city” of Mashhad, Iran, the conference was a lively mix of international intellectuals, including new Russian philosopher Alexander Dugin, and the witty international journalist Pepe Escobar, of Asia Times. We were given a chance to see a warm, loving side of Islam, with free time to explore Masshad’s Shrine of Imam Reza, one of the holiest pilgrimage sites in Shia Islam.
In Mashhad, this reporter met the Israeli Miko Peled, who became a leading dissident author in spite being born the son of a leading Israeli general. Also in attendance was former CIA official Phil Giraldi, an outspoken critic of the US/Israel “special relationship.” Last May and in a previous conference in Tehran, I saw that travelling internationally is a way for people overseas to see who Americans actually are, and who we could be for each other.
US State Department however has made the claim that the New Horizon conference is nothing but “Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories” and levied a harsh set of US sanctions against it, this Spring. Perhaps there were a few fringe thinkers in the Conference’s past years, but all the New Horizon Conferences this reporter has been at have excluded any mention of the Holocaust. The 9/11 Official Story however, as exploited by US, Israeli and Saudi interests, has been the subject of critical scrutiny. Perhaps this is what the State Department most fears, since wonks at US State have been nervously denouncing the US 9/11 Truth movement since 2006. In its attack on New Horizon, the State Department asserts a conspiracy theory of its own when they claim the Conference “provided Iranian intelligence officers a platform to recruit and collect intelligence information from attendees.”
New Horizon is a place where Americans who have already sacrficed for their country are free to question why Israel can slaughter hundres of protestors in Gaza, bomb Palestinian homes, and be utterly free from censure from the US government and mainstream media.
THE RUN-UP TO WAR
When the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was abruptly designated a “terrorist organization” by the USA, earlier this Spring, I turned to Reese Erlich’s recent paperback, The Iran Agenda Today (Routledge, 2018). There, I learned that the IRGC is a massive part of the Iranian economy, controlling 9% of production and trade. So calling the IRGC a “terrorist group” is about as plausible as calling every individual in the US Central Command a “terrorist.” Ironically enough, that’s exactly how the Iranians responded.
This Spring, we have seen several skirmishes in the Persian Gulf, and various accusations between Iran and the USA. The US claimed Iran torpedoed Japanese freighters, but Japan said the attacks were by missile. The Iranians shot down a $1.3 million US drone. Trump almost killed 100 Iranians in response. YouTube recently banned the Iranian TV channel Press TV from publishing new videos, because the truth is the casualty that dies first.
Before all this, in January 2019, US/Iranian journalist Marzieh Hashemi was detained without charges, for 10 days. One of my sources in Tehran, Nader Talebzadeh, tells me Hashemi was questioned by the FBI almost exclusively regarding the New Horizon Conference. The New York Times reported at the time that the DOJ was pursuing a Grand Jury investigation and that Hashemi was a material witness.
My own conversation with Treasury representatives informed me that US Treasury believes they have now legally barred Americans from attending New Horizon. The Office of Foreign Asset Control threatens a maximum fine of one million dollars, and up to 20 years in prison for the violation of a US Sanction.
Author Mike Springmann, formerly a US Diplomat in Saudi Arabia, has decided to not attend the New Horizon conference this year. Mr. Springmann, author of Visas for Al Qaeda about his experiences working in Jedda as a diplomat and consular official, on July 22 filed a complaint with the US Treasury Inspector General, regarding Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Sigal Mandelker. Mandelker was born and educated in Israel and there is no public record of her formally renouncing her Israeli citizenship. Mr. Springmann, an attorney, believes she has a conflict of interest. He has stated in multiple interviews that she is putting her own political agenda ahead of the Constitutional rights of US citizens.
In a conference call last week, Springmann said, “Trump appointed Mandelker as the UnderSecretary in 2017. She is someone who has been carefully groomed by the Zionists in the American government. She worked in the Justice Department National Security Division. She has been a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas ….The woman is basically carrying out Israeli Foreign Policy, and is doing her best to attack Iran, and attack Russia. She is doing her best to cripple the countries and make everyone short of food, very short of medicine. Trump hand-picked Mandelker, he hand-picked Bolton, and he hand-picked Pompeo.”
According to New Horizon administrator Zeina Mehana, in Tehran, the New Horizon conference gets its funding from three Islamic Shrines in the Middle East. Mehana hopes that getting funding from non-sanctioned entities will prevent Americans from being threatened or arrested.
However, in a highly volatile time for US/Iranian relations, the US Congress just acted in line with the far-right Likkud Party of Israel. On July 23, Congress passed new legislation censuring the Pro-Palestine BDS Movement, HR 246. Even key “progressive” voices voted yes.
The USA today has no diplomatic relations with Iran. New Horizon is an opportunity for US Citizens to engage in peace-making and international understanding. The US Treasury however, intends to imprison Americans for free speech, travelling, and engaging in international dialogue. New Horizon could lead to a deeper spiritual and political breakthroughs, it could help Americans to learn about the riches of Islam, it could help the world begin to build a foundation for justice for Palestine. If allowed to attend, Americans could contribute to a new understanding and peace between all peoples of the Middle East. But that’s not on the agenda today, either in the US Deep State, or in the shallow state of affairs at FBI and US Treasury.
About the author
My name is Sander Hicks. I am a writer and peace activist based in New York City. I have travelled to Iran twice to attend conferences, and have hosted three Zoom video calls this year to promote international dialogue between Americans and Iranians. I have written for Huffington Post and Alternet. My latest book is titled “Slingshot to the Juggernaut.” I welcome your comments to this story. Stay in touch with me by contacting me through my newspaper and website, www.NewYorkMegaphone.com