Government Remains Mum about When It First Charged Arbabsiar and For What

Yesterday, I pointed out some oddities of the docket for Manssor Arbabsiar, the accused plotter in the Iran assassination plot. Most notably, the docket for this crime starts with the amended complaint. That indicated there was an original complaint. But the numbering on the docket–which starts with the amendment complaint–suggested the original complaint might relate to an entirely different crime.

bmaz called the court house to try to figure out the oddity. And court personnel did some checking–and consulted directly with the AUSA trying this case–they explained only that there had been a prior complaint in SDNY which Chief Judge Loretta Preska had approved having sealed. The court house offered no insight on when all this happened.

The government’s unwillingness to unseal that original complaint is just another weird aspect of this case, as it suggests Arbabsiar might have been arrested for totally different charges. Or he might have been charged months ago.

To add the curiosity, consider this quote from Arbabsiar’s public defender, Sabrina Shroff.

Mr. Arbabsiar, who has lived in Texas for many years, made a brief appearance in federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon, dressed in a blue checked shirt and with a pronounced scar on his left cheek. He did not enter a plea, but his lawyer, Sabrina Shroff, said after the hearing that “if he is indicted, he will plead not guilty.” [my emphasis]

Arbabsiar’s lawyer isn’t sure he’ll be indicted? She’s not sure this will ever be presented to a grand jury?

That may indicate the government is already talking plea deal with Arbabsiar (and why not, since he’s been chatting freely about this for two weeks and apparently would prefer to stay in jail than go free).

Which, if that were to happen, would mean–barring the unlikely extradition of Shakuri–none of this questionable evidence would ever be challenged by an antagonistic lawyer a nor evaluated by a jury.

And if that were to happen, then the whole wacky plot, with all its dubious aspects, would serve nothing more than to cause an international incident and keep Arbabsiar in US government custody, potentially on easier terms than the prison term he might have expected for whatever he was charged with in his first complaint.

29 replies
  1. rugger9 says:

    Very odd indeed, especially given the trumpeting done when the so-called plot was broken up. Delay only makes the optics worse, as in, why is the government hiding this?

    It’s similar in that way to Manning’s case, as well as Padilla’s in that there was great fanfare in hauling the suspect du jour in, delays in charges [whatSixth Amendment] that seem to have been made a free-for-all-interrogation zone [no 8th Amendment protection here according to Antonin]. What could possibly go wrong on a case like that? The confidence of the defense attorney regarding the lack of indictment is interesting as well, but maybe I’m reading too much into it.

  2. emptywheel says:

    @rugger9: Oh, I expect there won’t be much of a delay. There’ll be a plea, much of it sealed, setting Arbabsiar up in a safe second life for the rest of his life.

    He has played his part admirably. They don’t need him anymore! And they certainly don’t want to put this crap before a jury.

  3. bourbaki says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong but doesn’t Arbabsiar have access to significant funds in Iran (I recall reading it was on the order of 1 million dollars).

    Why does he have a public defender? Is this usual?

  4. Story of O says:

    The mobile version text that displays on iPhone is way way way too small for me, and apparently the style sheet overrides the ability of the reader to zoom in at all. I think a mobile style sheet should allow the user to zoom in.

  5. Jeff Kaye says:

    Plea deal… international incident (propaganda)… Arbabsiar perhaps gets easier jail time than he could have expected for whatever that first complaint (or even sting) was about…

    Nice analysis. Win-win. Those in the know can barely hold their nose on this one. Btw, you’ve done great work on this story.

  6. emptywheel says:

    @orionATL: If (as one of my two guesses holds) ARbabsiar was actually cooperating all along, then I suspect they got evidence of some crime, possibly drug related, and through that got him to cooperate.

    Remember, he’s basically a legitimate FISA target, particularly if he had any contacts with his cousin or anyone close to him. And if they can collect your phone calls and financial records with impunity, it’s pretty easy to find a crime, particularly if you’re in as much financial trouble as this guy was. m

  7. emptywheel says:

    @orionATL: Just as a general rule, you should be cautious abotu documents that say Shakuri was his cousin. Shahlai–a more senior Quds guy–is the cousin.

    That’s important bc Shahlai is a very legitimate intelligence target and it is not inconceivable they recruited Arbabsiar to work his cousin.

  8. Mary says:

    I think we are not going to see anything happening on the trial front for a long time – even a plea. If Obama gives him a plea of any kind, no matter what it is, it’s all you’ll hear about in the GOP campaigning.

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Your concerns are consistent with Arbabsiar having chosen “voluntarily” to remain in US custody and his not having challenged, at least insistently, his initial detention for 12 days and later arrest and continued detention. Clearly, he accepts that the US has more on him than what has appeared in the complaint, whether or not such information is factual, and presumably does not know how, legally or otherwise, the US came to know such information.

    The funniest part about all this is that the US has allowed any of it to come to court or to enter the public domain. It sounds like a discarded Cheney-era plot that some Obamabot resurrected in order to hang around for a probably non-existent second term.

  10. orionATL says:

    @emptywheel: @emptywheel:

    but i meant:

    what was in it for him from iran?

    re why would he agree, in iran in early 2011, to subsequently undertake a kidnap or bomb project in the u.s. and then head back to iran ( from mexico after a final meeting with mack the narc)?

    recall, he was seized at jfk in nyc after being deported from
    mexico back to nyc.

    he had on him in mexico a ticket to fly from mexico to iran.

    doesn’t sound to me like he was ever expecting to return to the u.s.

    put differently, if i had spent previous time in iran working as a u. s. agent, iran is the last place i would have bought a ticket to from mexico.

    and by the by-

    did arbabsiar ever actually deliver the $100k to mack the narc?

  11. orionATL says:

    put another way, no matter who arbabsiar was working for in sprung of 2011 in iran,

    would the iranians have expected him to undertake this mission for nothing but glory?

    so what did they offer/pay him?

  12. MadDog says:

    OT – How’s that new CIA drone base working out? Via the AP, more Yemen drone strikes:

    Yemen: US strike kills local al-Qaida media chief

    An American drone strike in southern Yemen has killed seven al-Qaida-linked militants, including the media chief for the group’s Yemeni branch and the son of a prominent U.S.-born cleric slain in a similar attack last month, government officials and tribal elders said Saturday…

    …The airstrike late Friday in the southeastern province of Shabwa points to Washington’s growing use of drones to target al-Qaida militants in Yemen. The missile attacks appear to be part of a determined effort to stamp out the threat from the group, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which U.S. officials have said is the terror network’s most active and most dangerous branch…


    …Security officials said the strike that killed them was one of five carried out over night by an American drones on suspected al-Qaida positions in Shabwa and the neighboring province of Abyan in Yemen’s largely lawless south…

  13. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: More OT – And of course, we can’t let Pakistan fall too far behind. Via the AP again:

    US missiles kill 6 in northwestern Pakistan

    U.S. missiles killed six suspected militants in northwestern Pakistan near the Afghan border Saturday, Pakistani intelligence officials said. The strikes were part of a flurry of such attacks which could indicate a more aggressive American strategy against insurgents finding sanctuary there…


    …Saturday’s strike was the latest in a string of missile attacks targeting the militant-infested border region.

    On Friday, U.S. missiles killed four unidentified people in a part of the North Waziristan tribal region where the Haqqani network holds sway. A day earlier, a strike in North Waziristan killed Janbaz Zadran, who U.S. officials say was a top commander in the Haqqani network and had helped orchestrate attacks in Kabul and southeastern Afghanistan…

  14. klynn says:

    Your coverage on this story is amazing. Had you not covered it…I do not know where this could be going.

    You give the supposed gov facts a great “snuff” test in broad daylight.

    Thank you.

  15. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: I understand a new motto is gaining popularity within the halls of the CIA in Langley and in the compounds of JSOC at Fort Brag:

    “A drone a day keeps the doctor away.”

  16. rosalind says:

    ot: for bmaz – “Judges’ deaths add to 9th Circuit backlog”

    Five judges from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals have died this year, worsening an already critical case backlog and spotlighting President Obama’s inability to put his judicial choices and stamp on the powerful court.


    Fifteen of the court’s judges are over 80, including two of the 25 active judges and 13 of its 18 seniors. Last year, a third of the court’s caseload was carried by senior judges.


    A call to the White House press office asking why Obama has not nominated more judges wasn’t answered Thursday.

  17. emptywheel says:


    Let me answer that in two parts.

    First, if this plot is just meant to be exposed as a crazy plot, then the itinerary back to Iran is another prop to build their story.

    If it is “real” in that Arbabsiar thought he was going to achieve terrorist glory, then he’d buy a return ticket in any case because it attracts less attention than a one-way ticket (though just to drive Mary nuts, here’s a question. Unless he flew through the US, why did he “get sent back to” the US instead of Iran?)

    As to what he had waiting for him in Iran. If he was a US op, it doesn’t matter, he was fulfilling his part of the bargain, paying off whatever they had hanging over him.

    If it was doing it for Iran, then he was doing it for $$. There’s that interesting, weird line, where SHakuri tells him that “of course if we give it, we’ll give it to you.” Which seems to suggest he was getting a commission whatever he was doing (which is another reason I think a substantial part of this “assassination plot” might actually be a drug deal.

  18. MadDog says:

    @orionATL: Apparently, it depends. See this Wiki entry.

    From what I’ve read about Anwar al-Awlaki’s US history, it would appear that his son would also be a US citizen falling into the 3rd category in that Wiki piece.

  19. bmaz says:

    @rosalind: Heh, I have made several such “calls”, to both WH contacts and SJC. They never get meaningfully returned as to WTF is the WH deal on making nominations. And SJC cannot answer either; the committee actually moves nominees pretty well under Leahy when the WH actually sees fit to make them and the home state senators return the blue slips. The real problem is getting the WH to nominate, and then to actually support them once they are out of committee. The WH literally puts NO effort in it on anything but the two SCOTUS nominees. It is scandalous how pathetic they have been.

  20. Arbusto says:

    Why does Arbabsiar need a public defender when, according to our always honest DoJ, the operation was well funded and Juan Cole stated Arbabsiar had $2,000,000 in Iran. Our tax dollars at work.

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