Saturday, October 15, 2011

Drugs, politics and the "Iranian" Mr. Magoo plot (or is it the Mr. Bean plot?)

This is a report from The Real News interviewing historian/journalist Gareth Porter, Alleged Iranian Assassination Plot Appears an FBI Sting 10/14/2011:

In the interview and in FBI Account of "Terror Plot" Suggests Sting Operation Inter Press Service 10/13/2011, Gareth suggests another theory of the case in which the defendants were originally working on a drug deal. Reuters also reports on the drugs and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) aspects of the case in Iran case a sign of drugs agency's new roleby Basil Katz 10/14/2011:

The case is as notable for the increasing involvement of America's anti-drug agency in national security investigations, including a number of such stings in recent years, as a sign of any new threat from Mexico, security experts and U.S. officials say.

"If you are a member of organized crime ... you are there for a business, your business is not killing people, your business is to transport humans, to sell illegal goods, that's your line of business. Assassination attempts are not what they do for a living," said Alberto Islas, from security consultancy Risk Evaluation.
Jasmin Ramsey in Alleged Iran Terror Plot tied to Mr. Bean, Saudia Arabia, Iraq and Bahrain LobeLog Foreign Policy 10/15/2011 uses "Mr. Bean" instead of "Mr. Magoo" to describe the apparently hapless Mansour Arbabsiar, the Iranian-American indicted in the case and who has provided much of the testimony on which the government's case relies. She also points out that even if the argument for Iranian government involvement in the Arbabsiar case can still serve as longer-term propaganda for war:

Again, the question is not whether Iran is capable of terrorism (because it is) or about Arbabsiar's guilt, but whether the Iranian government was behind an act of international terrorism on U.S. soil. When the media headlines pieces on this case using phrases like "Iran plot" it is going to be remembered by readers as such regardless of the facts presented. The long-term effects of this on the U.S. psyche remain to be seen, but is there enough evidence to even make that claim at this point? This question is particularly important when prominent pundits such as those that pushed for the invasion of Iraq are pushing for a military response to Iran.
She has a point. In the current spate of articles about Iran's acts of international terrorism, the case of the 1994 attack on the AMEA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires is routinely cited as a clear instance of it. Even though that was a far more professional and successful act of terror and mass murder than the one Mansour Magoo-Bean is alleged to have cooked up, the evidence linking in to Iran via Lebanese Hizbullah was actually pretty thin. But it has become an accepted fact in American press reporting.

Ramsey also points out the following:

Just consider the elaborateness of these allegations: not only did the conspiracy allegedly involve an Iranian assassination plot against a diplomat from Saudi Arabia on U.S. soil, it’s also being tied to the unrest in Bahrain and U.S. losses in Iraq. Thus, the unnamed “cousin,” who Arbabsiar described as a “big general in [the] army,” according to the complaint, is identified in a press release about new OFAC sanctions as Abdul Reza Shahlai — the same man who, as reported by Laura Rozen, was previously designated as the Qods Force deputy commander behind the 2007 raid in southern Iraq by a Shiite militant group that killed five U.S. soldiers. Robert Mackey of the New York Time’s blog The Lede also informs us that Saudi scholar and former royal family adviser Nawaf Obeid told McClatchy that Gholam Shakuri, the other Qods officer behind the alleged plot, was suspected by Saudi intelligence of “fomenting unrest in Bahrain on behalf of Iran’s government.”

So the first conspirator named by Arbabsiar is said to have harmed the U.S. in Iraq, and the second is allegedly behind the protest movement in Bahrain which is ongoing despite the crackdown by Bahrain's ruling family with the help of some 1,500 Saudi and Emirati troops. Could this really be possible? Always. Is it likely or even plausible? Not really.
And though she doesn't single it out, if these stories of their previous exploits are true, do they seem like the sorts who try to carry out such as clumsy scheme as the Arbabsiar plot is described in the government's complaint as being.

It's worth noting that at this point, Arbabsiar is not under indictment in the case. Marcy Wheeler does some informed speculation in Government Remains Mum about When It First Charged Arbabsiar and For What Emptywheel 10/14/2011 based on what she's been able to research on the case. The complaint the Administration publicly announced this past week is an amended complaint. Bmaz is working with her on researching this and found (who says bloggers don't do original reporting?) that there was a previous complaint filed again Arbabsiar "which Chief Judge Loretta Preska had approved having sealed".

I should point out here that speculation is part of any serious analysis of a case like this. The prosecution comes up with a "theory of the case" and defense attorneys try to find any problems in the prosecution's theory and, if feasible, offer an alternative theory of the case in hopes of establishing reasonable doubt about their client's guilt. Outside reporters and researchers don't have the responsibility of prosecutors or defense attorneys to provide zealous advocacy for guilt or innocence. It doesn't mean that someone is pushing a "conspiracy theory" if they are offering plausible alternative theories of the case. There's a point in the video above at about 10.20 where the interviewer Paul Jay asks Gareth Porter about another possible theory of the case, which Gareth explains is not likely in the current case.

In a case like this one where the public story is "so difficult to believe" as Gareth says in that interview, it's especially necessary to test alternative theories as a framework for what we know in the public record. It seems to me that the best alternative version of Arababsiar's case is something like the one that Gareth suggests: Arbabsiar had a contact in Iran with whom he thought he could do a drug deal of some kind. When he wound up contacting a DEA informant who posed as part of Los Zetas drug cartel, the DEA worked with the FBI and the CIA to draw him into this unlikely plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the US in Washington in a terrorist attack that would have involved multiple deaths.

The largest context is that the Obama Administration has continued the US policy of hostility toward Iran, in part over legitimate concern about Iran's nuclear program. And both Israel and Saudi Arabia are interested in polarizing American and world opinion against Iran. So the uses people make of the charges in this case also have to be understood in that larger foreign policy context.

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