Then things got interesting. In April, Malley’s security clearance was suspended by the State Department on suspicion of mishandling information. In June, he was put on leave. In July, Semafor reported that he is under F.B.I. investigation. (Maier told a House committee last week that Tabatabai’s security clearance was being investigated.)

Around the same time, Iran International, a London-based, Persian-language opposition news channel, obtained a trove of Iranian government emails. Many center on Mostafa Zahrani, a top Iranian diplomat.

The messages are not the smoking-gun evidence of some sort of treasonous Iranian spy ring, as they have been described in some quarters. But they do paint a picture of the subtle ways the Iranian regime was able to use a group of influential intellectuals, hungry to maintain access to high-level Iranian officials, that quickly turned into opportunities for Iranian manipulation.

“As an Iranian, based on my national and patriotic duty, I have not hesitated to help you in any way,” Vaez unctuously wrote Javad Zarif, who was then the foreign minister, “from proposing to your excellency a public campaign against the notion of breakout” — a fast transition from nuclear energy to nuclear weapons — “to assisting your team in preparing reports on practical needs of Iran.”

Tabatabai also checked with Zahrani about attending a conference in Israel.

“I am not interested in going, but then I thought maybe it would be better that I go and talk, rather than an Israeli like Emily Landau who goes and disseminates disinformation,” she wrote, referring to an Israeli nuclear policy analyst who died in 2020. “I would like to ask your opinion too and see if you think I should accept the invitation and go.” Tabatabai may have worried how a visit to Israel might affect her extended family in Iran, but that only underscores Zahrani’s implicit power over her.

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