Suspended as Biden Special Envoy, now teaching at the Ivies

Imagine this headline: Alec Baldwin, on trial for involuntary manslaughter during film shoot, teaching seminar on Hollywood gun safety. 

Ludicrous, right? 

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani (R) meets with former U.S. Special Envoy to Iran Robert Malley (L) in Doha, Qatar on October 19, 2021 — before the latter had his security clearance revoked. Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The real-life story of Rob Malley — Biden’s ex-Special Envoy to Iran and a lead negotiator in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal — is equally perplexing. 

When news spread last weekend of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s death in a helicopter crash, social media exploded with sarcastic sympathy posts to Malley for his long-suspected Tehran ties.

But behind every joke lies a measure of truth. 

Malley was appointed Special Envoy by Biden mere days after the President’s arrival to the White House. REUTERS
Malley-protege Ali Vaez. Crisis Group

Last June, Malley (one of Biden’s first appointees) was suspended from the State Department for allegedly transferring classified material to his personal email, where — according to insiders and Republican lawmakers — it was likely intercepted by a “hostile cyber actor,” possibly the Islamic Republic of Iran given Malley’s history with the regime. 

Since then, details surrounding Malley’s suspension and subsequent FBI investigation have remained murky. 

Answers trickled in from, of all places, Iran’s state-run Tehran Times. Last July, the paper managed to obtain a sensitive government memorandum from April 2023 in which Erin Smart, director of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Office, told Malley that his mishandling of classified information made him a national security risk. Two months later, he was suspended from the State Department. 

Scenes from the crash site where Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s body was recovered last week. AP

So, what do public figures do when embroiled in an ongoing investigation for possible national security violations? In Malley’s case, teach — what else? — national security and Middle Eastern foreign policy at the Ivy Leagues. 

When Yale and Princeton hired Malley last August, Yale vaguely noted that he was “on leave from the US State Department.”

Malley was suspended from the State Department for allegedly transferring classified material to his personal email. Rod Lamkey – CNP / MEGA

True, Malley hasn’t been found guilty of a crime and innocent people are often investigated by the FBI, so why can’t he teach? He certainly has the pedigree having served in the Clinton, Obama and Biden administrations. 

Because despite those hefty bona fides, Malley is a national security risk and a less-than-ideal instructor on the very subjects under which he’s being investigated. At least until his name clears. 

Even then, Malley remains an improbable academic — with more worrisome baggage than just his Washington troubles.

First there’s International Crisis Group (ICG), the conflict-resolution NGO Malley helmed before becoming Biden’s Iran envoy. Based in Brussels — but with deep ties to Washington and other Western capitals — ICG entered into a formal research agreement for “scientific and academic interactions” with Iran’s Foreign Ministry in 2016 during a pause in Malley’s leadership. This connection between the ICG and Iran was not publicly disclosed, according to Semafor, before Malley was appointed special envoy — the question is why? No one’s entirely sure because the exact contours of the ICG-Tehran agreement have yet to be revealed. 

Despite his security clearance suspension, Malley is now teaching a course on Middle Eastern diplomacy at Yale. Shutterstock

Meanwhile, last September, Semafor and leading anti-regime outlet Iran International connected Malley’s aides to the “Iran Experts Initiative (IEI),” an informal information platform launched by Iran’s foreign ministry in 2014 to influence US foreign policy in favor of Tehran. 

(In an email to The Post, an ICG spokesperson described these allegations as “misleading media characterizations;” ICG’s chief of advocacy has also described the IEI’s work as an independent and “informal platform backed by” Western governments).

Among the Western analysts involved in the IEI was Malley protégé Ali Vaez, whom Malley recruited in 2012 as Iran project director at the ICG, where he remains today. Vaez regularly appears on Western news programs opining on Iran’s nuclear future. Yet there is no indication that he’s revealed his involvement in the Tehran-run IEI and their efforts to manipulate US foreign policy. 

Robert Malley’s father, Simon — a noted Yasser Arafat-confidante. Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

In fact, in 2014 — while working under Malley — Vaez emailed then-Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to reaffirm his fealty to the Islamic Republic. “As an Iranian, based on my national and patriotic duty, I have not hesitated to help you in any way,” Vaez wrote. 

Is it any wonder Vaez’s security clearance was later denied when Malley tried to recruit him into the State Department following Biden’s arrival to the Oval Office? Neither Malley nor Vaez responded to multiple requests for comment; it’s unclear whether Vaez’s security clearance was ever approved.

The madness doesn’t end there. 

Following the Oct. 7 massacre and subsequent war in Gaza, Malley has been teaching a Yale course called “Contending with Israel-Palestine.” 

A young Robert Malley participated in peace negotiations with Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat at Camp David in 2000. Getty Images

Yet Malley’s background suggests he’s anything but the impartial academic such coursework demands. While serving as an informal Middle East advisor for then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008, Malley held direct meetings with Hamas — a diplomatic no-no.

Malley says he never hid the Hamas encounters, but according to Politico, he was forced to sever ties with the Obama administration after this news became public. (Curiously, Malley was later brought on by the Obama in 2015 to help with their ISIS strategy.) 

Then there’s his father, Simon Malley — a Syrian-Egyptian journalist with equally concerning connections to Israel-Palestine. The elder Malley was a dear comrade to Yasser Arafat, according to his son. “My father felt close to Arafat,” the younger Malley told a crowd at Oxford University in 2008. 

Some national security insiders even allege that Arafat was the younger Malley’s unofficial godfather.  

Iran’s military might on display in Tehran in April, 2024. AP

Today, Malley is back on campus tasked with delivering a balanced perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while his ties to Tehran, the chief patron of Hamas and Hezbollah, are probed. Huh?

No matter how the federal investigations into Malley ends, the entire process has been woefully opaque. For now, at least, Malley remains suspended from diplomatic duties in Washington. So why then is he teaching diplomacy to America’s future leaders? 

Jonathan Harounoff is the author of the forthcoming book “Unveiled: Inside Iran’s #WomenLifeFreedom Revolt.”