The MEK was added to the terror list in 1997, a move that has been described as a nod to Iran's then-new reformist president, Mohammad Khatami. The MEK, which originally blended elements of Islam with Marxism, killed a number of prominent Iranian officials after a falling out with Ayatollah Khomeini in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But the MEK's history also includes the assassination of U.S. military personnel and civilians in the 1970s, and the patronage of Saddam Hussein from the late 1980s until the U.S. invasion in 2003. According to the State Department, Hussein armed the MEK and used the group to crack down on Iraqi Shia and Kurds.
Livingstone, who said he's had periodic contact with the MEK over the last 30 years, said there is no evidence it had engaged in violence "for years," but acknowledged the relationship with Hussein was "a big mistake, in my judgment, on their part." None of the speakers at the Jan. 20 event -- which included former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former National Security Adviser James Jones -- mentioned the MEK's past with Hussein. But they did paint the MEK as a critical counter to the regime in Tehran.
Livingstone, however, downplayed the group's role in the opposition movement.
"If you ask me today, do I think they are going to be the successors to the regime if something happens? No I don't think so," Livingstone said. But, he added, "they have every right, and so do Iranian Americans in this country, to make their voices heard."
The MEK's inclusion on the terror list, according to Livingstone, shows how it can be politicized.
"We shouldn't use the terrorism list for political purposes," Livingstone said. "And it becomes a slippery slope the moment you do that."
Livingstone said Executive Action does not disclose its clients, but he did say that the event's organizers included Iranian American groups. Executive Action was not involved in contacting and scheduling the speakers for the event.
"We don't do anything directly with the PMOI," Livingstone added.
Executive Action bills itself a "McKinsey & Company with muscle," and Livingstone is the author of nine books on terrorism, security, and foreign policy. He's the founder and former CEO of GlobalOptions Inc., and has "advised top government officials and testified before Congress," according to his biography on the Executive Action website.