Fact Check

Is Peter Strzok a CIA Operative Who Grew Up in Iran and Was 'Placed' in the FBI to Help Hillary Clinton?

A right-wing blog with a history of spreading conspiracy theories claimed the FBI agent is really a CIA operative with foreign ties who was assigned by the 'deep state' to help Hillary Clinton win the 2016 election.

Published July 23, 2018

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FBI agent Peter Strzok II grew up in Iran; had a father who engaged in clandestine activities overseas under the guise of doing charitable work; served as a "Middle East intel operative" in the Obama administration; and was a CIA agent "placed" in the FBI to help Hillary Clinton win the presidency.

Longtime FBI agent Peter Strzok II, who until recently served as deputy assistant director of the agency's Counterintelligence Division, gained public notoriety when he was removed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Trump-Russia investigation for sending private text messages critical of the president.

Formerly the lead FBI investigator into Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state, Strzok has since come under investigation himself by the Justice Department's inspector general, been grilled on his ethical integrity by the House Oversight Committee, and stands accused by conspiracy theorists of being a linchpin in a "deep state" plot to sabotage Trump's presidency.

A July 2018 salvo from the far-right blog Big League Politics attempted to make the case that Strzok, who spent part of his childhood in Iran, is a covert CIA operative who served the Iranian regime's interests while allegedly acting as a "key Middle Eastern Intel operative" for President Obama, then was "placed in the FBI to ensure a win for Hillary Clinton" in the 2016 presidential election.

That salvo was a mishmash of accusations derived in part from the supposed "insider" testimony of an anonymous former co-worker of Strzok's, in part from misreadings of public documents (including decades-old press clippings about Strzok's father), and in part from a labored effort to connect dots that simply aren't there.

The post began as follows:

EXPOSED: Peter Strzok Grew Up In Iran, Worked As Obama and Brennan’s Envoy To Iranian Regime

A former co-worker of Peter Strzok tells Big League Politics about Strzok’s extensive background in the intelligence community, including the fact that he grew up in Iran. Many intelligence officers like Strzok are complete ghosts with questionable history and gaps in their life story. But now we have some insight. (RELATED: Strzok Worked For CIA And FBI At Same Time, According To Document).

Peter Strzok was born in the late 1960’s – he attended the American School in Iran up until 1978 when it closed down and then he attended the American School in Saudi Arabia. He supposedly attended a Catholic School, St. John’s Prep in Minneapolis (the school refused to confirm or deny attendance) and then completed a Bachelors at Georgetown and some form of graduate degree after that.

The truth is that after Peter Strzok III turned 18 his life is arcane, which is the usual story of many like him. Did you know that Peter Strzok II (Strzok’s father) and Hillary Clinton have a lot in common? It turns out after advocating for Khomeni in Iran and then working in Saudi Arabia to calm the waters of an Iranian government (appeasing them with anti-Semitic rhetoric), Strzok’s father Strzok II also dabbled in “charity work.” Strzok’s father was involved in so-called charity work in Haiti but also helped dismantle and reassemble Upper Volta..now known as Burkina Faso.

We interrupt here to point out that the author of the post appears to have misstated several details: Peter Strzok wasn't born in the late 1960s; he was born on 7 March 1970 (according to a birth announcement in the Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan Evening News). His father is Peter Strzok Sr., not Peter Strzok II (Strzok Sr.'s father's name was Michael, not Peter). Peter Strzok II is FBI agent Peter Strzok. Unless the latter fathered a namesake, there is no Peter Strzok III.

The claim that Strzok "grew up" in Iran is an overstatement. The Strzoks moved there while Strzok Sr. was serving in the Army Corps of Engineers, from which he retired in July 1978. While we don't know precisely how long the family resided there, the Eau Claire, Wisconsin Leader-Telegram reported in 1979 that the Strzoks left Iran at the beginning of that year to return to the U.S. because of the political unrest that followed the overthrow of the Shah. Peter was eight years old at the time.

The same article said that Strzok Sr. was then considering taking a job in Saudi Arabia. It's unclear whether he did or not. If the Strzok family did move to Saudi Arabia, it was for a very short period of time, given that Strzok Sr. accepted a job with the international aid organization Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in 1980 and relocated his family to Upper Volta (a country in Africa now known as Burkina Faso). The Strzoks would be there for three years.

As for his schooling, the younger Strzok attended the American School in Tehran (where his mother also taught), as claimed. We've not been able to confirm that he attended school in Saudi Arabia. Once back in the United States, Strzok didn't "supposedly" attend St. John's Preparatory School (as the Big League Politics blogger put it) — he did, in fact, attend that school (which is in St. Cloud, Minnesota, not Minneapolis) from 1983 through 1987, and his graduation notice appeared in the St. Cloud Times on 15 May 1987. He later earned bachelor's and master's degrees at Georgetown University (as noted on an alumni donor list published on the school's web site).

An outsized portion of the Big League Politics post was devoted to Strzok's father's life, as if to posit that father and son have been operating some sort of "deep state" conspiratorial family business for the past 40 years. The author went to great lengths to impute insidious motives to Strzok Sr.'s overseas humanitarian projects, which — far from being something he "dabbled" in (as the post describes it) — to all appearances became his life's work after he retired from military service.

Strzok Sr. served as the director of Catholic Relief Services in Upper Volta for three years. There is no evidence that he "helped dismantle and reassemble" that country, which underwent a military coup while he was there. Strzok ran a food assistance and nutrition education program that served some 150,000 children and mothers. Nor, contrary to another claim in the post, was he still present in Upper Volta when its name was changed to Burkina Faso in 1984 (not 1985, as claimed).

In mid-1983 Strzok accepted the post of CRS director in Haiti. We know he was there for less than two years, because a New York Times report published in August 1985 names "former employee" Peter Strzok as one of three complainants in a dispute over Catholic Relief Services' alleged mishandling of funds. His time in Haiti coincided with the final few years of the rule of Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, who would be overthrown in 1986.

Our blogger took a special interest in the fact that Strzok Sr. lived and worked in a succession of international hot spots, repeatedly insinuating that he must have been engaged in espionage or other clandestine activities. "Looks like whenever there is a regime change in modern history a Strzok is lying in the shadows waiting," the post said. But ironically, far from "lying in the shadows," the only reason we know as much as we do about Peter Strzok Sr.'s whereabouts over the past 40 years is that he spoke so freely and openly about his activities in the press. We can't prove he wasn't a covert operative, of course, but neither has anyone else demonstrated that he was.

One of the oddest claims in the post was that Strzok Sr. was involved in the Iran-Contra affair (involving the illegal sale of arms to Iran to fund the Contras in Nicaragua), which took place during the mid-1980s under President Reagan. We were unable to find evidence that Strzok played any role at all in Iran-Contra, or was mentioned in the news coverage or congressional hearings that followed the scandal. The coverage that does exist about Strzok from that time indicates that he was actively engaged in doing humanitarian aid work in West Africa.

There was also an attempt to link Strzok Sr. up with the Clintons:

The Clinton Foundation and The Catholic Relief Services (CRS) seem to work in tangent [sic]. Coincidence? Peter Strzok Sr. was actually the director of CRS in Haiti. If we look into CRS financials they seem to overlap and feed into Clinton Global initiatives and balance sheets.

Never mind that the Clinton Foundation wasn't launched until 1997, more than a decade after Strzok left CRS and founded his own non-government agency, AFGRO (Agency to Facilitate the Growth of Rural Organizations). Whatever "overlap" there may be, or have been — if any — between the Clinton Foundation and Catholic Relief Services, no such thing could have existed when Strzok was involved with the latter organization.

The purpose of asserting these nonexistent connections was to create the appearance of a continuum of father-son involvement with Iran, Haiti, and the Clintons:

We know Peter Strzok III [sic], the man who sent those vile text messages about our President. The man who was biased and wanted to ensure a Clinton Presidency was raised in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Our source reveals how Strzok and his father both talked about Iran favorably and both accidently reminisced about the rose water smell of the ju-jeh kebab by Shemiran Hill… something that disappeared after 1987 and only those who are old enough to remember can discuss.

Peter Strzok’s Persian is impeccable.

Our insider tells us that Peter Strzok III [sic] is the key Middle Eastern Intel operative for the Iranian airline Mahan Air’s purchase of United States government planes during the Obama administration from 2011 to 2013 (when Iran sanctions were in place). He handled the Iranian relations from start to finish. Just like his father did for Reagan and just like he’s been doing for years under cloak and dagger says the BLP insider.

Once again, we have searched for any scrap of documentation that might prove that Peter Strzok II (the FBI agent) served as "the key Middle Eastern intel operative" in negotiations between the U.S. and Iran during the Obama administration, and we found none. As an FBI counterintelligence officer, there is no reason why the younger Strzok would or could have played such a role anyway.

Big League Politics had a ready explanation for this, though, namely that Strzok was actually working for the CIA:

The BLP insider who’s worked with both [former CIA director John] Breannan [sic] and Strzok tells us that Strzok was never FBI he was part of the highest level of covert operatives, sliding into posts within the CIA or FBI to infiltrate, influence and observe. This is exactly what we saw with the Special Counsel appointment that resulted after a failed operation.

Peter Strzok Jr. was placed in the FBI to ensure a win for Hillary Clinton and buffer negative press (like the Weiner laptop case, which he covered up). That’s the real deal. Revealing Peter Strzok’s identity would have been a problem because it’s called unmasking but since he is in the limelight and out of the shadows it’s time to lay all the cards FACE up on the table for all to see who Peter Strzok really is.

In addition to citing the anonymous informant as the source of this claim, the post linked out to an article referencing an unclassified document that supposedly proved Strzok worked for the CIA and the FBI at the same time:

A [sic] unclassified document printed on FBI letterhead dated January 20, 2016, which contains the subject line “Supplemental Classification Review and Determination” was addressed to the Bureau of National Security’s Assistant Secretary Gregory B. Starr from Peter Strzok who is listed as “Section Chief” of the “Counterespionage Section” in reference to Strzok’s CIA post. Keep in mind, this is not an FBI post as Strzok’s position at the FBI is “Deputy Assistant Director Counterintelligence Division” not “Section Chief” which is a CIA post.

Which is utter nonsense. Although the specified document did list Strzok's title as "section chief" of the Counterespionage Section, it's patently untrue that section chief isn't an FBI post. Both agencies have sections and chiefs (and assistant section chiefs). Not only was section chief precisely the position Strzok held before being promoted to deputy assistant director at the FBI, but others have held that title, too.

The claim that Strzok was "placed in the FBI to ensure a win for Hillary Clinton" is flatly absurd. Strzok joined the agency in 1996. Was the plot to ensure a Hillary Clinton win in 2016 already in motion 20 years beforehand?

The Big League Politics post was a clumsy, error-ridden effort to generate a "deep state" conspiracy theory around FBI agent Peter Strzok, who, up until the text message incident that derailed him in 2017, seems to have trodden a fairly straightforward career path in the agency over a period of more than two decades.

Peter Strzok spent several years of his childhood in Iran, but he did not "grow up" there. There is no evidence nor any good reason to suppose that he acted as an "envoy" or "intel operative" in U.S. dealings with Iran at any time during the Obama administration. And the claim that Strzok is or was a covert CIA operative "placed" in the FBI to help Hillary Clinton win the presidency and subvert the Trump administration is a flight of fancy divorced from all evidence and logic.


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David Emery is a West Coast-based writer and editor with 25 years of experience fact-checking rumors, hoaxes, and contemporary legends.