- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 7, 2019

A supposed Iranian religious foundation is in fact secretly funding terrorism and spies, such as the recruitment of former Air Force intelligence specialist Monica Witt, who defected to Iran in 2013 with valuable security secrets, a dissident group is claiming in a new report.

The Astan-e Quds Razavi (AQR) foundation promotes its work as maintaining Shiite Muslim shrines and promoting the spread of Islam. Iranian state media regularly send out stories on AQR’s benign deeds abroad.

But a new report by the National Council of Resistance of Iran contends the foundation actually funds groups such as Lebanese Hezbollah movement, which the U.S. government calls a terrorist organization. The AQR Foundation also sets up international conferences and invites foreign visitors who are targeted for recruitment as possible spies “without attracting any attention or being held accountable,” the 15-page NCRI report states.

This, the report says, is how Iran found Ms. Witt.

Ms. Witt left the Air Force in 2008, according to Justice Department charges brought in February, after gaining access to some of the nation’s top classified programs. She was both an intelligence officer and special investigator who traveled overseas on secret missions.

As a private citizen, she attended two foundation-funded conferences in Iran and then disappeared in August 2013. She defected and immediately began supplying the names of U.S. agents and details on special-access intelligence programs to the Iranian government, U.S. officials said.

She also provided the names of American intelligence colleagues who were then hacked by a group of Iranian cyber criminals. They were charged along with Ms. Witt.

The actual recruitment was done by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Quds Force, an overseas army now active in Iraq and Syria.

The dissident NCRI, based in Albania, provided a chronology of AQR activities to show it is not only a religious foundation but also a front for malign activities.

Ebrahim Raisi, the foundation’s custodian, visited Hezbollah’s military encampments in 2018, according to the report. He was later put on the U.S. Treasury Department’s sanctions list.

The council report said AQR has set up culture centers in Lebanon that serve as spy recruitment offices. In Iraq, an AQR delegation met with what the dissident group called a terrorist unit whose two leaders are on a U.S. sanctions list. AQR also sends delegations into Africa.

AQR also awarded medals to the air force commander and officers who brought down the U.S. drone over the Strait of Hormuz in June, nearly sparking a military confrontation with Washington.

Iran’s ruling mullahs have “used every means to maintain its rule,” the report said. “This includes domestic suppression, export of terrorism, Islamic extremism and warmongering in the region. … Even charity organizations, foundations and institutions, which at first glance have no connection to the regime, are not exempt.”

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