On Wednesday, the Department of Justice unsealed a criminal complaint charging a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in an extraordinary murder-for-hire plot that targeted John Bolton. It has long been known that Tehran is plotting the assassination of current and former U.S. officials in retaliation for the U.S. killing of General Qasem Soleimani, and it was previously public knowledge that Bolton was one of the Iranian regime’s top targets. And yet, the details unveiled in the U.S. indictment are incredibly worrying. The news ought to be cause for the Biden administration to respond appropriately — by terminating its talks with the Iranians and cracking down on Iran’s terrorist activities.
From October 2021 through this spring, per Justice Department documents, a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps worked with agents in the U.S. — one of whom was actually a federal informant — to surveil Bolton’s home and workplace. Throughout this monthslong saga, federal investigators learned that the IRGC member, who seemed to be working with the elite Quds Force, had access to nonpublic information about Bolton’s schedule. He knew that Bolton spent Christmas 2021 at his home, and he had nonpublic details about the former U.S. official’s travel schedule. Apparently, this man, Shahram Poursafi, coordinated this effort from Tehran.
He also hinted heavily about a second hit job that he intended to orchestrate. Subsequent reports say that former secretary of state Mike Pompeo is that second intended target. Of course, U.S. officials have long known about these plots, and thus, Pompeo and Bolton both had been assigned security details, which is unusual for former officials. Nevertheless, they, many of their Trump administration colleagues, and currently serving officials around the world are at risk.
National-Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, after the indictment went public, slammed the Iranian assassination campaign. “Should Iran attack any of our citizens, to include those who continue to serve the United States or those who formerly served, Iran will face severe consequences,” he intoned, in a statement Wednesday. What sort of consequences? The administration has not said. In fact, the only certainty as new details about Iranian terrorism plots on U.S. soil have emerged over the past year and a half has been that Washington would continue to engage the regime in Tehran and offer it concessions.
The reason that this indictment did not fall as a surprise to close observers of the administration’s efforts to coddle the mullahs is simple. News that the Justice Department possessed such indictable information had broken months ago. The Washington Examiner’s Tom Rogan revealed this on March 7 and explained: “Biden administration officials are resisting publicly indicting the men for fear that it could derail their drive for a nuclear deal with Iran.” At the time, it appeared that the negotiators were on the cusp of reaching an agreement at the talks in Vienna, but they have since stalled, largely because Iran is demanding that the Biden administration remove the Guards from its foreign-terrorist-organization list. The White House, apparently, has stood firm and declined to make that concession, which would permit IRGC members to enter the U.S. and make it more difficult for the families of its American victims (the IRGC killed Americans in Iraq) to sue the group.
Biden has, however, conceded just about everything else. The day before the indictment was unsealed, Gabriel Noronha, another former Trump administration official, wrote a piece for the Examiner revealing that Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on August 3, issued sanctions waivers permitting certain companies to engage with Iran’s civilian nuclear industry. In practice, that move is a giveaway to Russia’s Rosatom group — and a lifeline to Vladimir Putin’s war machine as well. The subtext is straightforward. The nuclear talks may have stalled, but Washington remains open to striking a deal.
And Bolton, Pompeo, and other U.S. officials are not the only Americans in Tehran’s crosshairs. Earlier this month, a man was arrested outside the Brooklyn home of Masih Alinejad — an Iranian émigré journalist and vocal regime critic. A loaded AK-47-style rifle was found in his car, and video footage showed that he had been surveilling Alinejad’s house. Last summer, in fact, the Justice Department had indicted a group of Iranian agents who plotted to kidnap Alinejad, presumably to repatriate her to Iran for execution. After discovery of the second plot, Sullivan told Alinejad, during a conversation earlier this month, that the U.S. will “use all tools at its disposal to disrupt and deter threats from Iran,” according to a White House statement about their call.
But will it use all of those tools? Blinken, in February 2021, rescinded Trump-era restrictions on Iranian diplomats’ movements in New York City. Previously, under Trump, they had been barred from leaving a small area directly around Tehran’s U.N. mission. And Tehran still has a diplomatic footprint in Washington, via the embassy of Pakistan. Given the fact that these assassination plots are sponsored, directed, and overseen by Iranian government agents, the “diplomats” simply cannot be considered as distinct from their colleagues’ murderous activities.
Speaking to Rogan on Wednesday, Bolton said, “If anyone draws any lessons from what was unsealed today, it’s that the regime is the problem—they’re completely unreliable.” But it seems unlikely that the administration will act accordingly, by ending the negotiations, kicking the Iranians out, and restoring deterrence against such plots. While the feds caught this scheme, they might not catch the next one.
Originally published in National Review.