August 29, 2023 | Flash Brief

White House Mum on Hostages-for-Criminals Swap 

August 29, 2023 | Flash Brief

White House Mum on Hostages-for-Criminals Swap 

Latest Developments 

The Biden administration remains silent regarding Tehran’s claims that the United States plans to release five Iranian criminals held in U.S. prisons as part of a recent hostage deal with Iran. An August 24 Voice of America (VOA) report, however, identifies 11 Iranians who are facing, or have been convicted of, U.S. charges and may be considered for release. Their crimes include, among others, plotting assassinations, violating U.S. sanctions, working as an unregistered agent of Iran, and conspiring to sell weapons to Tehran. In addition to releasing Iranians in the United States, the deal would also provide Iran with at least $6 billion in sanctions relief. 

Expert Analysis 

“The Biden administration may release Iranian illicit procurement agents as part of a prisoner swap with Tehran. This would be a mistake and send a devastating message to U.S. law enforcement, particularly after the Obama administration released prisoners responsible for similar crimes. Washington should instead attempt to use coercive means to free prisoners held by Iran, refuse to pay a ransom, and demand a cessation of further hostage-taking.” Andrea Stricker, FDD Research Fellow and Deputy Director of FDD’s Nonproliferation and Biodefense Program 

“The regime in Tehran is already getting a financial bailout for the five American hostages. Now, we wait to see how many of the regime’s illicit procurement agents get bailed out too.” Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor 

Held in American Prison 

The VOA report identified the following Iranians who may be candidates for release or clemency by the United States.  

Dual U.S.-Iranian dual nationals Kambiz Attar Kashani and Behrouz Mokhtari, U.S. permanent resident Amin Hasanzadeh, and non-residents Mehrdad Ansari and Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani were convicted or are awaiting trial for violating U.S. or international sanctions.  

Manssor Arbabsiar, a U.S.-Iranian dual national, was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison in 2013 for conspiring to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States.  

Niloufar “Nellie” Bahadorifar, a U.S.-Iranian dual national, is on supervised post-sentence release for planned medical treatment after receiving a four-year sentence in April 2023 for providing funds to Iranian intelligence assets plotting to assassinate Iranian dissident journalist Masih Alinejad. 

Reza Olangian, a U.S.-Iranian dual national, received a 25-year sentence and five years of supervised release in 2018 for conspiring to sell surface-to-air missiles and military aircraft parts to the Iranian government. 

Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, a U.S. permanent resident, is on pre-trial release after being charged with working as an unregistered agent of Iran. He had previously pitched himself to policymakers and media as a neutral Iran expert while secretly being on the Iranian government’s payroll.  

Malek Mohammad Balouchzehi, who has no legal status in the United States, is currently in federal detention awaiting sentencing in October. He had been convicted on international drug trafficking charges for conspiring to sell hundreds of kilograms of heroin in the United States. 

Erfan Salmanzadeh, a U.S.-Iranian dual national, is currently in post-sentencing detention awaiting transfer to a federal prison. The Department of Justice convicted Salmanzadeh for setting off a bomb in his backyard, stashing a suicide vest, and plotting to blow up a local high school. On July 18, he was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison. 

Two of the prisoners are nearing the conclusion of their prison terms: Ansari, whose sentence ends in December 2023, and Kashani, whose sentence ends in February 2024. 

U.S. to Release $6 Billion to Iran in Exchange for Hostages,” FDD Flash Brief 

Iran’s Illicit Oil Exports Surge in August Amid U.S. Failure to Enforce Sanctions,” FDD Flash Brief 

How Congress Should Respond to an Interim Iran Deal,” by Richard Goldberg and Behnam Ben Taleblu 


Iran Iran Politics and Economy Iran Sanctions