The Iranian Plot: Bank Transfers of Mass Destruction

I’m sorry, but I’m having a really difficult time taking this latest terrorist plot seriously. Not just because the story is so neat, tying together all the enemies–the drug cartles and Iran–we’re currently supposed to hate, but because it elicited such comical lines from Eric Holder and NY US Attorney Preet Bharara about assassinating other government’s officials (like, say, Qaddafi’s son) and doing battle on other country’s soil (like, say, the entire world) and not taking sufficient precautions to prevent civilian casualties.

But just to unpack what the government claims it found, here’s the amended complaint.

The big action that, the government suggests, proves the case involves two bank transfers:

On or about August 1, 2011, MANSSOR ARBABSIAR, a/k/a “Mansour Arbabsiar,” the defendant, caused an overseas wire transfer of approximately $49,960 to be sent by a foreign entity from a bank located in a foreign country to an FBI undercover bank account (the “UC Bank Account”). Before reaching the UC Bank Account, the funds were transferred through a bank in Manhattan, New York.

On or about August 9, 2011, ARBABSIAR caused an overseas wire transfer of approximately $49,960 to be sent by a foreign entity from a bank located in a foreign country to an FBI undercover bank account (the “UC Bank Account”). Before reaching the UC Bank Account, the funds were transferred through a bank in Manhattan, New York.

And based on those transfers, one unsuccessful attempt to enter Mexico, and a lot of talk between an informant and one of the defendants, we’ve got another terrorist plot.

Admittedly, there’s a backstory to how that $100,000 got transferred.

As the FBI tells it, back in May, Manssor Arbabsiar traveled to Mexico to meet with a guy he thought was a member of Los Zetas but was instead a narcotics convict-turned-informant I’ll call “Narc.” As always with these narratives, the FBI doesn’t explain how Arbabsiar happened to choose Los Zetas for his hit squad, as implausible as that is. It says only that Arbabsiar’s cousin told him that people “in the narcotics business … are willing to undertake criminal activity in exchange for money.” How plausible would a drug hit on the Saudi Ambassador be? Furthermore, don’t Iranians have their own more subtle ways of working?

Nevertheless, we’re led to believe it is plausible and not at all overdetermined that the cousin of an Iranian spook would launder their assassination through a Mexican drug cartel.

In their first meeting, Narc offered up that he was skilled in the use of C4. This is important, because unless you have explosives, you can’t charge that someone wanted to use WMD. Semi-automatics or poison–which might be more apt weapons to assassinate a Saudi Ambassador (particularly since at one point Arbabsiar specified he’d prefer no civilian casualties)–legally don’t offer the same benefits. In fact, in spite of the fact that Arbabsiar is alleged to have originally sought to have the Ambassador kidnapped or killed, and said, “it doesn’t matter” in response to Narc’s offer to shoot or bomb the Ambassador, Arbabsiar still got that magic WMD charge.

Note, that first meeting took place on May 24. There were other meetings in June and July. It’s only a later meeting–a July 14 meeting–that the complaint first describes as being taped. That’s important not just because these earlier conversations always tend to be illuminating (the complaint notes that Arbabsiar “explained how he came to meet” Narc but doesn’t provide that detail), but also because those earlier, possibly untaped conversations describe the other targets.

Prior to the July 14, 2011 meeting, CS-1 had reported that he and ARBABSIAR had discussed the possibility of attacks on a number of other targets. These targets included foreign government facilities associated with Saudi Arabia and with another country, and these targets were located within and outside of the United States.

These include, according to reports, Israel.

The complaint makes a point to repeatedly provide “proof” that Ababsiar’s plot was paid for by the Iranian government.

This is politics, so these people [ARBABSIAR’s co-conspirators in Iran] they pay this government . . . he’s got [ARBABSIAR’s cousin has got] the, got the government behind him . . . he’s not paying from his pocket.

And the complaint describes Narc describing the fictional plot that Arbabsiar was going to pay for. Narc had all the touches: a fictional restaurant, frequented by fictional Senators, and hundreds of other diners. Just so as to provide Arbabsiar with an opportunity to say he was okay with the death of those fictional Senators, if it had to happen that way.

But here’s the thing I really don’t get.

This complaint charges Arbabsiar and Ali Gholam Shakuri, who is apparently a Colonel in the Quds force. But the whole plot was originally conceived of by his cousin (called “Individual 1” or “Iranian Official 1” in the complaint), who is a Quds General “wanted in America.” In addition, Arbabsiar spoke with another high-ranking Quds official. His cousin provided him the money for the plot, and directed him to carry it out.

And the FBI has evidence of the cousin’s involvement; as part of Arbabsiar’s confession (he waived the right to lawyer), he said,

men he understood to be senior Qods Force officials were aware of and approved, among other things, the use of [Narc] in connection with the plot; payments to [Narc]; and the means by which the Ambassador would be killed in the United States and the casualties that would likely result.

So the FBI had a Quds general directly implicated by his own cousin in a terrorist attack in the US, and another senior Quds official at least tangentially involved. But they don’t indict those two, too? (Note, Fran Townsend just tweeted that Treasury imposed sanctions on these guys; will update when I get that information. Update: see below.)

The complaint may suggest they had an entirely different plan. After Arbabsiar was arrested on September 29, the FBI had him call Shakuri on several different occasions–October 4, October 5, and October 7. Claiming to be in Mexico has guarantor for the remaining 1.4 million promised for the hit, Arbabsiar told Shakuri–the complaint describes, “among other things”–that Narc wanted more money. Shakuri refused to give it to him, reminding him that he was himself the guarantee Narc would get paid. Before Abrbabsiar purportedly went to Mexico, Shakuri had warned him not to go.

All this suggests the FBI was after something else–though it’s not clear what. The obvious thing is that they would use Arbabsiar as bait to get first Shakuri and possibly his cousin.

But I also note that the complaint refers to the cousin and the other Quds officer as men Arbabsiar knew to be Quds officers–as if they might be something else.

In any case, this indictment seems like a recruitment gone bad. If so, should we really have told the world we’re using Los Zetas members we flipped to try to recruit Iranian spies?

Update: This Treasury release explains who the other Quds officers are.

Here are the allegations Treasury made as justifications for the new sanctions designations:

Manssor Arbabsiar

Arbabsiar met on a number of occasions with senior IRGC-QF officials regarding this plot and acted on behalf of senior Qods Force officials – including his cousin Abdul Reza Shahlai and Shahlai’s deputy Gholam Shakuri – to execute the plot. During one such meeting, a $100,000 payment for the murder of the Saudi ambassador was approved by the IRGC-QF. After this meeting, Arbabsiar arranged for approximately $100,000 to be sent from a non-Iranian foreign bank to the United States, to the account of the person he recruited to carry out the assassination.

Qasem Soleimani

As IRGC-QF Commander, Qasem Soleimani oversees the IRGC-QF officers who were involved in this plot. Soleimani was previously designated by the Treasury Department under E.O. 13382 based on his relationship to the IRGC. He was also designated in May 2011 pursuant to E.O. 13572, which targets human rights abuses in Syria, for his role as the Commander of the IRGC-QF, the primary conduit for Iran’s support to the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate (GID).

Hamed Abdollahi

Abdollahi is also a senior IRGC-QF officer who coordinated aspects of this operation. Abdollahi oversees other Qods Force officials – including Shahlai – who were responsible for coordinating and planning this operation.

Abdul Reza Shahlai

Shahlai is an IRGC-QF official who coordinated the plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States Adel Al-Jubeir, while he was in the United States and to carry out follow-on attacks against other countries’ interests inside the United States and in another country. Shahlai worked through his cousin, Mansour Arbabsiar, who was named in the criminal complaint for conspiring to bring the IRGC-QF’s plot to fruition. Shahlai approved financial allotments to Arbabsiar to help recruit other individuals for the plot, approving $5 million dollars as payment for all of the operations discussed.

Update: Max Fisher also thinks this stinks.

But, for all the plausibility that Iran might be willing to blow up a Saudi ambassador, it’s not at all apparent what they would gain from it. Iran has never been shy about sponsoring terrorism, but only when it was within their interests, or at least their perceived interests. It’s hard to see how they could have possibly decided on a plot like the one that Holder claimed today.

What would it really mean for Iran if the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. were killed in a terrorist attack in Washington? The U.S.-Saudi relationship has been bad and getting worse since the start of the Arab Spring, with the Saudi monarchy working increasingly against the democratic movements that the U.S. supports. A senior member of the royal family even threatened to cut off the close U.S.-Saudi relationship if Obama opposed the Palestinian statehood bid, which he did. If the U.S. and Saudi Arabia really broke off their seven-decade, oil-soaked romance, it would be terrific news for Iran. Saudi Arabia depends on the U.S. selling it arms, helping it with intelligence, and overlooking its domestic and regional (see: Bahrain) abuses.

If the U.S.-Saudi alliance fell apart, the Shia-majority Islamic Republic of Iran would have an easier time pushing its regional influence against Saudi Arabia, especially in some of the crucial states between the two: Iraq, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. Iran would be able to reverse its increasing regional isolation and perhaps flip some Arab leaders from the U.S.-Saudi sphere toward its own. The best part of this, for Iran, is that it probably wouldn’t even have to do anything: the U.S.-Saudi special relationship, if it collapses, would do so without Iran having to lift a finger. The dumbest thing that Iran could possibly do, then, would be stop the collapse, to find some way to bring the U.S. and Saudi Arabia back together. For example, by attempting to blow up the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. on American soil.


62 replies
  1. Jim White says:

    So the FBI had a Quds general directly implicated by his own cousin in a terrorist attack in the US, and another senior Quds official at least tangentially involved. But they don’t indict those two, too?

    I wonder if they are in the US on diplomatic passports and can claim diplomatic immunity. It’s hard to imagine they got here openly as Quds officers.

  2. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    This whole story just seems weird. It’s plausible, but something’s very strange about it.

    Meanwhile, IIRC the Guardian or FT had an article a few weeks back about the Iranian’s starting up a reactor.

    I just have a creepy sense in my gut there is probably a lot more here than meets the eye. I mean, given the news today by the Tax Justice Network about the extent of tax havens in big UK companies alone, we all know money is floating in unethical ways around the planet. That enables the drug cartels and other criminals.

    Instead of cleaning up tax havens to defund criminals, we get a sensational tale about a sleazy, nutjob dirtbag — and I include those vendors to Iranian petrochemical production, the Koch Brothers as ‘criminals’ who are not yet defunded.

    Given the recent reactor activation, looks like someone(s) want to ante up the pressure on Iran.

  3. Mary says:

    So does the Eisler plot go something like … the Iranian official behind all of this was really the brother (uncle, father, cousin) of one of the Iranian scientists that have been disappearing so much lately, and the Saudi Ambassador was the go-between for the CIA and the hired talent that killed him . . .

    Oh, sorry, I just realized, this is the news, not a new novel.

  4. Mary says:

    Another question is what would it really mean, not just for Iran, but for the US and Saudi Arabia? That’s where it gets interesting.

  5. Mary says:

    ” But they don’t indict those two, too?”

    Oh, they might have thought that kind of thing would drone on and on.

  6. jjerryy says:

    After all of those arms deals and oil deals why would the Iranians diss their Russian pals on such an operation?

  7. William Ockham says:

    Richard Engel asks the relevant question on Twitter:

    Question, if #iran wants to kills saudis, why do it in US, where risks and security are high?

  8. rugger9 says:

    That of course assumes what is being presented is actually real. Look no further than Amerithrax to see reasonable doubt, and some of the so-called information is already being challenged.

    Given the truthiness track record of the last two administrations, and the already declared interest in picking a fight with Iran [which, FWIW, will only be successful if we fight it alone instead of with three other wars in the region] to cover other problems, I’d take the claims with a very large grain of salt. That’s what happens when credibility is wasted.

    Things that are tangible should be prosecuted, like the Koch bros’ transactions or some of the other oil deals with the Iranians made by “subsidiaries” of Big Oil. Those records are there.

    Note also that there is no casus belli in this incident for the USA, just Saudi Arabia at most. These nations are at odds because the Kingdom is a fundamentalist-based Sunni operation, and Iran is the home base for the Shia branch, which have been contending for over 1300 years for Muslim hearts and minds. As a side note, according to Wikipedia there are two countries where the religious councils [ulema] have significant government input by statute: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Iran. That tends to favor intransigence with the digging in that goes with it.

    Do we have a mutual defense treaty with the Kingdom, like we do with NATO? I’m not so sure we still do, since that was one of the demands OBL had: get the infidels out of Saudi Arabia, that Shrub caved in on quietly. So, unless there is a treaty, we have no legal obligation to intervene. The Saudis have their own air force, army, and navy. However, I’m sure the RW Wurlitzer will be prodded by the Koch-porate masters to demand USA involvement.

    One factor that would assist that development is the understanding that we are still in a state of war with Iran, since they occupied (and annexed) our sovereign embassy territory. Even if that was 33 years ago, even though the GOP from Reagan on down negotiated with them when the ends justified the means in their minds, it is still a point that needs to be resolved.

    And the only reason for doing things here rather than there in the ME is to draw the USA into the maelstrom, and I doubt that the Iranians are stupid enough in the Guardian Council to do this UNLESS both China and Russia have told them they will back Iran if the USA goes in. Careful consideration is needed here.

  9. M says:

    Plausible or not, maybe. Happened or not, impossible. As an Iranian, I know things dont happen this way. Iran is lot more chaotic right now and this story is just too good to be true. somebody offered to provide money and he did it exactly when he promised? the guys never bargained over how much money they are willing to offer? they called the guy in Iran, and they didnt get busy tone, network unreachable, phone unreachable or any other kind of funny problems? they were able to transfer money exactly in time? they guy didn’t call back 10 times to ask what is the swift code, what’s the difference between a routing number and a swift code, and if he has to write the address on the form too? Well…

  10. MadDog says:

    “…But, for all the plausibility that Iran might be willing to blow up a Saudi ambassador, it’s not at all apparent what they would gain from it. Iran has never been shy about sponsoring terrorism, but only when it was within their interests, or at least their perceived interests. It’s hard to see how they could have possibly decided on a plot like the one that Holder claimed today…”

    In spite of Max Fisher’s compelling logic as to why the Iranians would be doing something really dumb by assassinating the Saudi Ambassador to the US, I would note one possibility that he didn’t explore.

    What if the Iranians believed that Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi Ambassador to the US was to be the successor to ailing 87 year old Saudi King Abdullah?

    The second point I would like to raise is whether there was a cover story also being planned by the suspects to lay the blame for the assassination of the Saudi Ambassador somewhere other than on Iran.

    It hardly seems likely that the plotters wouldn’t have considered this. Who this would be and why these nameless others would be assassinating the Saudi Ambassador is another mystery.

  11. 1970cs says:

    All this suggests the FBI was after something else–though it’s not clear what. The obvious thing is that they would use Arbabsiar as bait to get first Shakuri and possibly his cousin.

    This might be more about bank and money transfers than Iranians.

    The Occupy Wall Street protesters who have been camping out in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park since September 17 may be rallying against big-bank policies, but they’ve simultaneously needed an efficient method to fund their own efforts. To that end, they’ve turned away from large companies, instead working with start-ups in the online-payment and crowdfunding space.

    Foreign or domestic

  12. MadDog says:

    @William Ockham: Bear with me here, but what if the Iranians believed or actually knew the US security was vastly overblown symbolism rather than reality?

    And irt my comment, what if the Iranian plotters had plans to lay the blame of an assassination of the Saudi Ambassador onto some extremist Jewish organization based in the US (see Kahane, Meir and his JDL)?

    And then a further retaliatory bombing of the Israeli Embassy by some Muslim extremist group?

    In this scenario, Israel gets the blame for the assassination of the Saudi Ambassador, and further isolated in public opinion, as well as perhaps helping Iran in forestalling an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.

  13. bmaz says:

    @MadDog: Naw, I am with Marcy and Max Fisher; this thing pegged my BullShit-O-Meter from the get go. It is like a cross between a DOJ Liberty City Seven op and the Mohamed Mohamud Portland sting, with a couple of international sparklers thrown in for effect.

    That is probably not truly an accurate framing but, seriously, there are just too many convenient things that wrap into one sweet fucking jelly roll for both the US and Holder/DOJ right now. This gig is hinky.

  14. MadDog says:

    @bmaz: I would agree with you (and Marcy and Max) were it not for one simple thing; the money.

    There is a lot that smells here, but the money wire transfer is not small potatoes.

  15. MadDog says:

    @bmaz: And to further buttress my case against Max Fisher’s “logic”, I submit the following:

    Max’s argument about why there’d be no benefit to the Iranian plotters somehow presumes that the Iranians would have stood up and took a public bow acknowledging that they were behind the assassination of the Saudi Ambassador.

    This makes no sense. It isn’t how the real world operates. The more logical conclusion would be that there was no Iranian plotter plan to acknowledge responsibility for an assassination of the Saudi Ambassador, but rather there was to be an effort made to pin the blame on some other party.

    Al-Qaeda might fit that bill for the Iranian plotters (Sunni versus Shia), but it would seem that pinning the blame on Jewish extremists or even Israel would suit the Iranian plotters even better.

    Again, I can’t imagine that the Iranian plotters were planning on pointing the finger at themselves.

  16. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: MD, I think you’re really really far off on this. Jubeir is not going to inherit the throne. The plausible deniability argument makes no sense bc there’s even less reason Los Zetas would take out the Saudi ambassador than the Iranians.

    The Iranians are way smarter than this. So smart they’ve already said Obama did this to distract from Occupy Wall Street.

  17. Jimmy says:

    I like for some of you guys to google Mikonus murders and Israel Embassy bombing in Argentina by the Islamic Republic in order to understand the answer to many of your questions. The Mulla’s and their agents do not do things the way you conspiracy nuts think and theorize.
    They simply do it like they have in the past32 years, and they pay their way out. The US Government has no credibility because they have lied so often, but it does not necessarily mean that they are wrong every single time. I absolutely hate to see another military intervention now or ever, but I do believe that the killers in Tehran should be held accountable for Mikonus, Argentina and …….

  18. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: Bollocks. That’s reason #1 why this stinks.

    Los Zetas don’t deal in money transfers through the US. They deal in cash. And you don’t get the tracking number, you get a SWIFT number.

  19. MadDog says:

    @emptywheel: Really? *g*

    Seriously though, what makes you think that the Iranians don’t shop out for contract killings? They seem to have done that quite frequently in places like Lebanon.

    I can’t believe that you think the Iranians would do the actual deed themselves, so what is a compelling argument as to why they wouldn’t use somebody like the Los Zeta Cartel?

    Why do you find it implausible that a notorious Mexican drug cartel with a reputation as the new embodiment of Murder, Inc. on both sides of the US/Mexican border would not be an obvious place for Iranians to go for contract killings in the US?

    …”The Iranians are way smarter than this…”

    What, the Iranian plotters expected to be found out?

    If the Iranian plotters’ Los Zeta Cartel contact hadn’t been a US government informant, what makes you believe that the US would have discovered the plot? Without the US government’s informant, it may have actually proceeded to completion.

    Secondly, the fact of the large money wire transfer speaks to seriousness of intent. One might argue that it wasn’t washed thoroughly enough to disguise its origin, but that too might merely be perceptual issue, and the funding might have escaped notice in the zillions of dollars of wire transfers had there not been US foreknowledge of the actors.

    And we don’t know where the actual money wire transfer came from. From the criminal complaint, it came from 2 different overseas accounts, but there is no indication in the criminal complaint that the US government considered either origin point as “suspect” prior to this point.

    I would submit the possibility that while this appears to be a less than smart operation, that this appearance may be more mirage than the reality.

  20. MadDog says:

    @emptywheel: We are going to have to agree to disagree on that.

    And not bollocks at all. Far less so than in the past, but the Cocaine Cowboys that infested South Florida in the late 80s and early 90s made much use of “captive” bankers to launder their cash.

    To suggest that the international banking community, which still includes US banks, have not and do not today launder dirty money is not borne out by the facts.

    While I certainly don’t believe that a Los Zeta cartel member walks up to a teller in a US bank to deposit millions in cash, the fact remains that through any number of 3rd party fronts, dirty money gets laundered in US banks every day.

  21. par4 says:

    Max Fisher thinks the U.S. government supports the democracy movement/Arab Spring? That’s fucking hilarious! That begs the question: What kind of idiot reads The Atlantic?

  22. Nox Ninox says:

    So, I take it the FBI has hired Oliver North to consult on manufacturing preposterously convoluted international crime plots?

    All kidding aside though, I hope we’re not looking at a wag-the-dog pretext for some sort of military action against the Iranians.

  23. P J Evans says:

    That program that Wachovia was running, which may or may not have been shut down….

    This whole thing still feels off. I’d expect the Iranians to have contacts of their own, if they felt the need to get a drug cartel involved, and they’d certainly be able to find them closer to home than Mexico.
    I have to admit that my first thought was ‘how much help did the government provide them?’

  24. MadDog says:

    I think I’ll call it an early night tonite, but before I retire, I’d like to summarize my thoughts.

    Do I believe that the Obama Administration has ulterior motives for their trumpeting of this case before the media today? You bet I do!

    I can very easily believe that this case offered the Obama Administration an opportunity to ratchet up an anti-Iran foreign policy line which they zestfully grabbed at.

    Concurrent with that anti-Iran foreign policy line is I believe an Obama Administration attempt to sweet-talk the Saudi regime with a “we’re really looking out for your interests” PR play.

    I can also believe that the purported conspiracy to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador was a clownish effort by the plotters or perhaps not. I’m not invested in either assumption.

    In either case, I do think this incident will take on a far bigger influence role in the near future with respect to the US government’s foreign policy with regard to Iran. Congresscritters from both parties are already slobbering over the red meat this provides for the US to turn up the heat, or worse, on Iran.

    Whether the Iranian government was deeply or marginally involved, I don’t know, and for the ulterior purposes of the anti-Iran cheerleaders that form a significant part of our National Security State, the factual truth is probably not relevant to their purposes.

    Our National Security State can only see the Iranians in the most negative light. There is no room within our National Security State for any other viewpoint.

    And with that, I’m heading off to count some sheep. *g*

  25. emptywheel says:

    One more thing I should have added in the post.

    Soleimani (the head of Quds Force) is referenced in the complaint, but in suspiciously dubious fashion. Arbabsiar was interrogated for the ~12 days after he was arrested–he waived Miranda each day. And part of his confession was that Shakuri told him that Soleimani knew of his plot and Arbabsiar would have a chance to meet with him in the future.

    So, two degrees of hearsay. Not enough for court, but plenty to issue more sanctions, and fearmongering.

  26. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: Reasons why it is too stupid for the Iranians.

    1) They’ve got lots of the most trained terrorists in the world in the US, in the form of Hezbollah. If they were going to outsource, they’d outsource to people good at this.

    2) What moron Iranian thinks he can go hang w/cartel members, passing across the border repeatedly, without being watched?

    3) You’re suggesting the Iranians woudl launder money in ways NEITHER the cartels NOR real terrorists do anymore. These folks read the paper and know what kind of checks are on US banks.

    There are bunch more, but each of those ought to be enough to make anyone laugh at this.

    And your concern about “what if he hadn’t gotten an informant”? Um, for starters, you did see where I said, the informant introduced not just the idea of the C4, btu possibly even embraced the murder rather than hostage taking.

    But YOU really ought to be asking why he got an informant, oughtn’t you? There’s ALWAYS a pre-story to these informants, usually w/surveillance that finds a mark and then sets up the informant operation. So what did they have on these guys before the informant comes into the story? That’s what the real story is, not the bullshit we’ve been peddled.

  27. emptywheel says:

    @Nox Ninox: I’ve been having Michael Ledeen meets Manicher Ghorbanifar tingles all day. And yes, I am now convinced this Admin is stupid enough to fall for a Ledeen-Ghorba special.

  28. emptywheel says:

    @P J Evans: Right. But that’s the point that proves MD wrong.

    What Wachovia was doing–an op now 4 years old–was worlds beyond what is described in this complaint.

    My point is not that drug cartels don’t launder money. It’s that they’re about 2 decades beyond the methods described in this complaint, 1 decade of which featured widely publicized changes in money laundering policing.

  29. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    Qasem Soleimani

    As IRGC-QF Commander, Qasem Soleimani oversees the IRGC-QF officers who were involved in this plot. …He was also designated in May 2011 pursuant to E.O. 13572, which targets human rights abuses in Syria, for his role as the Commander of the IRGC-QF, the primary conduit for Iran’s support to the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate (GID).

    From today’s Guardian:

    In spite of this setback, the collapse of the Syrian regime is now quietly being referred to in terms of when, rather than if, it will happen. Turkey is said to be planning military exercises at its borders with Syria and planning to push ahead with its own sanctions and measures regardless of the security council. Meanwhile, Iran has quietly warned Turkey to stop meddling with Syria and, along with Iraq, reiterated its support for its president, Bashar al-Assad.

    This does not bode well, as a bloc of countries from Lebanon to Iran could do a lot to destabilise Turkey’s border, the Middle East and even the world economy. Assad himself allegedly warned that if any Nato planes flew over Damascus, then Syria would rain fire on Tel Aviv.

    Looks like there are some very deep waters…

  30. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    How much of this is about Iran?
    And how much is about Syria?

    Apologies for forgetting Guardian link above. Here’s more:

    All this means that Assad will see the region burn before he gives up power, and he has allies who are prepared to do the same in order to ensure that he stays. The loss of Syria from Iran’s sphere of influence would severely weaken her, and would be a major blow for Hezbollah, which relies on supplies coming in through Syria, rather than by sea. So Assad must stay at all costs, otherwise the whole necklace will come apart.

    Perhaps this is why the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, recently told Assad’s regime to step aside if it was unable to implement reforms. The Russians may have given the west a slap on the wrist at the UN after what happened in Libya, but that doesn’t mean they will support a faltering regime, especially one that could wreak so much havoc in such a critical part of the world.

    And this is why the gloves are finally off for Syria and her regional allies.

  31. orionATL says:

    i would guess that the answer to the riddle is here:

    “…What would it really mean for Iran if the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. were killed in a terrorist attack in Washington? The U.S.-Saudi relationship has been bad and getting worse since the start of the Arab Spring, with the Saudi monarchy working increasingly against the democratic movements that the U.S. supports. A senior member of the royal family even threatened to cut off the close U.S.-Saudi relationship if Obama opposed the Palestinian statehood bid, which he did. If the U.S. and Saudi Arabia really broke off their seven-decade, oil-soaked romance, it would be terrific news for Iran. Saudi Arabia depends on the U.S. selling it arms, helping it with intelligence, and overlooking its domestic and regional (see: Bahrain) abuses…”

    this is a counter-plot.

    there was no interest in assasinating the saudi ambassador,

    only an interest in generating a to-be-widely-reported-story saying there had been such a plot.


    i would really love to know.

  32. Nox Ninox says:

    @emptywheel: I’ve been having Michael Ledeen meets Manicher Ghorbanifar tingles all day.

    Ooh, you don’t want to mess around with something like that. Take two burn notices and call me in the morning.

  33. orionATL says:

    “.. Arbabsiar was interrogated for the ~12 days after he was arrested–he waived Miranda each day…”


    u.s. spy?

    that’s why.

  34. prostratedragon says:

    @emptywheel: Aren’t the Persians on the short list of peoples who might have invented chess?

    If the modal conjecture around here is roughly correct, this pastiche of things past must seem amusingly puerile to them.

  35. Sparkles the Iguana says:

    Sen. Mark Kirk wants to collapse Iran’s central bank and destroy its currency, because of this.

  36. S says:

    The blogger (David Dayen, FDL, Iran/Mexican Drug Cartel Terror Plot Disrupted) has wisely pinpointed the ESSENCE of this NONSENSE:
    “It all seems very convenient, a kind of Legion of Doom of perceived US enemies rolled into one, attacking perceived US allies on US soil. And they throw in Buenos Aires for good measure…this also appears to be another example of US law enforcement agents sticking themselves into a plot and turning it from something aspirational to something more. We’ve seen this over and over again in the post-9/11 age, and I’m not sure it makes us safer to have DEA or FBI find and pump up low-lifes who had no ability to carry out attacks in the first place.”

    In my opinion this appears to be a BULLSHIT PLOT, most likely orchestrated by Israelis. It seems to have finger prints of Israel all over. They want to destroy the last muslim country capable of some resistance in their goal of stealing Palestine. Israel is getting desperate for diversion because Palestinians, rightfully, want to be recognized and are seeking a vote in the United Nations, Other than the US and a few other countries it managed to coerced, most of the world recognizes that Palestinians are right and Israel is wrong. The best way to prevent Palestinian statehood (and embarrassment to the US for supporting Israel by exercising veto) is to create diversion and disrupt UN vote. Blaming and attaching Iran will be Israel’s ultimate dream come true and, as always, Israel will like to get its dirty work done by puppets in the US Government. Does anyone wonder, how come this same FBI and the justice department could not find a single criminal among American bankers even four years after they destroyed the world economy, made millions of people homeless and brought never ending suffering to hundreds of millions of people?

  37. prostratedragon says:

    @orionATL: Hmmm. So we can call those ragged seams a style mark of the Niger forgery method, just to add another layer of eclecticism to the cake.

    When all you want is grist for a fully-functioning propaganda machine (and let us consider that the yellowcake scam might have been the first great test run of this one), refinement of the matter as by rectifying dates and signatures or smoothing out the cartoonish aspects of one’s narrative from Itchy&Scratchy level to Tom ‘N Jerry, is even worse than unnecessary, like fine inlay on an oven, because using the device itself is that best way to solve the actual problem.

    You have pesky critics magnifying every detail of your shabbiness? Use the same propaganda machine to marginalize them, make their concerns seem small compared to the “global” or national security concerns at hand, smear them out of the picture.

    Since one was going to do these things anyway, as a way of eliminating the same opposition on the point of the issue, why not kill two birds with one stone (a fetish with these guys), and if you have better writers and production people around, save them for deeper operations?

  38. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    Julian Borger at the Guardian has some interesting speculation that may synch with whatever MadDogs is thinking:

    the assassination of the Saudi ambassador in Washington, with mass American casualties and perhaps an attack on the Israeli embassy too, would have ensured that the region went up in flames.

    The US accuses the Quds Force (QF), the external operations wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, of being behind the plot. Given the hierarchy of the Iranian regime, such a huge undertaking would have required a direct order from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who personally controls the QF…

    …There is an argument that it suited the purposes of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who recently lost a bloodless power struggle with Khamenei.

    If the attack succeeded, it would set in train events dramatic enough to turn the rigid, dusty hierarchy of the clerical republic on its head, giving Ahmadinejad the chance to seize the advantage.

    Or the plotters could be fanatics inside the military establishment, bent on bringing the Revolutionary Guard to the top of the regime pyramid, beginning an open race to develop a nuclear weapon and confronting Israel directly.

    But it was only in recent months that the Guardian carried some odd news about the majli’s accusing Ahmadinijad and his allies with ‘sorcery’. So if they can make accusations about ‘sorcery’, then who knows WTF is really happening?

    Robert Baer seems to think the surface story is a load of crap. Nice to know the skeptics at EW’s have some rather distinguished company.

  39. orionATL says:


    your comment struck me off-guard and then sent a chill down my spine.

    i have wondered if the obama regime would dare start yet another war to keep itself in power.

    i don’t know the answer to that question. i do know that obama is an amoral president – not immoral – amoral!

    could this “plot” be made into another causus belli in time for the 2012 elections?

    i don’t know,

  40. prostratedragon says:

    @orionATL: Mind, I’m not saying that this is part of an immediate march to war. (Not saying not, either; I just don’t have an opinion on that yet, though it resembles some dangerous dog-wagging enough that I’m glad the Iranians do seem to see through the possibility.)

    But the manipulation technique seems the same as that earlier incident, where there’s just one loud thing to be slapped up-b’side the public consciousness —then Iraq—nukes, now Iran—terrorism in our streets, so with a little help from the spin manifold, that is all that most people will ever really hear.*

    Providence has even bestowed upon them triggers of the long-term memories of us exhausted boomers, a few of whom can be counted on to ricochet off both the original and the very recent memorialization of the Letelier, perhaps without quite saying so, on the way to the neocon baptistry.

    Now, this could all be infernal coincidence; there have been a few lately that almost have to be nothing more than natural coincidence that are nearly too rich for me. Or not.

    * Or so it is thought. Personally I think that skepticism is coming back in style among the real public. If this really is the game, they’re going to need a lot more plays this time, or maybe a different style.

  41. Jason Leopold says:

    Julian Borger has a good story in the Guardian:

    “…To extend those operations to US territory would represent a significant leap in scope and ambitions. The way the plot was conducted would also suggest that the ruthlessly efficiently QF had lost its touch, being clumsy enough to transfer money from accounts under its control directly to US bank accounts.

    “Robert Baer, a former CIA agent with long experience of observing the QF, said: “This stinks to holy hell. The Quds Force are very good. They don’t sit down with people they don’t know and make a plot. They use proxies and they are professional about it. If Kassim Suleimani was coming after you or me, we would be dead. This is totally uncharacteristic of them.”

  42. the clown says:

    I once called the FBI a punching bag, since it usually ends up taking all the blame and serving as a punching bag for everyone to punch when some (real) terrorist plot passes them by without any notice (which, by the way, happens extremely rarely; actually, I can’t remember a single recent case).

    I would like to use this opportunity to apologize for my misinterpretation of FBI’s ability to defend itself (and, along with itself, the whole of the U.S. of A.) against other (official and unofficial) government agencies. It is, apparently, more of a laughing stock than a punching bag. A laughing punching bag?

    Well, you know what they say?

    “Counterintelligence is like reading fish innards”. You look for minuscule signs in the most unlikely of places.

  43. Kim Hanson says:

    @MadDog: “What, the Iranian plotters expected to be found out?

    If the Iranian plotters’ Los Zeta Cartel contact hadn’t been a US government informant, what makes you believe that the US would have discovered the plot? Without the US government’s informant, it may have actually proceeded to completion.

    I think you are backwards on the above. The US knew of the plot before ARBABSIAR made contact with the informant, the US directed ARBABSIAR to the informant.

    One thing of interest here is the apparent cooperation between DEA and FBI. CS-1 is “a DEA confidential source”.

    Another thing of interest and really unmentioned in the complaint is HOW DID the US become aware of this and who in TX made original contact with ARBABSIAR to send him to CS-1? In the complaint the first actual date mentioned in ARBABSIAR’s travel to Mexico on or about May 24th to meet with CS-1. That means he was set up before the 24th, but by who? One would suspect that he was set up by an FBI agent but its interesting that, if that is the case, the FBI choose to use a DEA informant in a very significant role; that of pretending to be with Los Zetas. Thus its fair to assume that the US already knew that ARBABSIAR had been directed to try to use a Mexican drug cartel for this operation. I would guess the US became aware of this via phone taps so there might be NSI or CIA involvement here as well.

    Now if you want to get really out there….. lets see what actually happens to ARBABSIAR because its plausible that he was and is working for the US as in informant in which case how the US became aware is answered. Also regarding stupidity of wire transfers, it appears that an unnamed Iranian, “Individual 1”, actually did the money transfers and I don’t see any evidence that the named Iranians knew how the money was to be transfered. Why is Individual 1 unnamed, is he also possibly working for the US?

    Another question is why did this get rolled up now? Nobody was ever in danger here. It would appear that they waited until ARBABSIAR could be made to confess and then turned so that they would get continuing information in his recorded calls to his Iranian “leaders”. (This has the advantage of getting evidence from a quite lawful phone tap that might replace evidence from earlier and more questionable methods, methods that don’t need to be revealed in the complaint becuase of these later, lawful recordings.) It also looks like they really wanted to get a million bucks from Iran but couldn’t do it and thus decided there was nothing more to be gained.

    I don’t really agree with Bmaz, I don’t think this stinks that much. But there is no info here on how the plot was discovered and who made contact with ARBABSIAR and was the plot suggested to ARBABSIAR first by Iran or first by the US?

  44. nomolos says:

    The Big Zero is really doing his utter best to outdo Bush at being bush.

    Do these people in government honestly think that the public will believe all this crap? The whole terrororrrist thingy worked so well during the Cheney/Bush era The Big Zero and his cohorts are under the impression that the public will still buy it?

    Bush at least had some plausibility in that he did not lie through his teeth every time he opened his mouth the Big Zero, on the other hand, has no credibility whatsoever and dragging up an Alice in Wonderland terrorist plot to distract from the Wall Street occupation is just making him and the US look like the bloody fools they are to the rest of the world.

  45. stryx says:

    This really is fantastical. I first heard about it on the radio yesterday and when I got home I checked the news.

    The first thing I thought when I saw a picture of Holder at a press conference was, I bet his explanations are coming Fast and Furious.

    I think the OWS angle is too sophisticated, too obtuse. If we’re playing wag the dog then my money is on trying to swamp the Right wing echo chamber and drown the clamor from Congress for Holder’s head.

    I would allow that the theory that the reason this all got wrapped up so tight is that all the players are American assets is a pretty appealing explanation.

  46. The Tim Channel says:

    This sounds like something that the Feds made happen for the sole purpose of political propaganda. The war criminals at the top of the food chain who negotiated for it to occur are too big for prosecution. Was nice to see the Yellowcake analogy…ah the good ole’ days.


  47. nanb says:

    It is widely understood here in Mexico that the Zetas are the Cartel of the U.S. government. The U.S. is known to back one cartel against others, changing sides now and then just to keep things stirred up for the very profitable War on Drugs.

    Why should we accept that the Contact is even Zeta ?

    This has the all too direct ham-fisted tone of a complete fabrication of the U.S.

  48. Clark Hilldale says:

    From the complaint: COUNT FOUR – Conspiracy To Use A Weapon of Mass Destruction.

    For a scheme to use conventional explosives.

    Serious business, that is if the U.S. weren’t using the exact same shit every day in Afghanistan and Iraq. What’d this make U.S. officials if not “conspirators”?

    Almost makes one think there is a double standard or something.

  49. Timbo says:

    What if this was simply a plot to sell drugs and the US decided to “turn” Arbabsiar thus leading to an incredible story in which he helps unravel a terrorist plot? And what if this story is true in all the suppositions made by the FBI? These are things to consider when looking at this story. If everything we’ve been told so far by the AG-DOJ IS true, then what does THAT mean? I think that it is telling that no one has come out and said that high place government officials in Iran were involved…as yet. But, yeah, who exactly is hurt by, and who exactly benefits from, this story?

  50. Timbo says:


    It might also be terrific news for Saudi Arabia and the US, two “allies” that don’t really (or shouldn’t anyways) like each other. Israel and Iran would benefit immensely from this, some would claim. The thing is to look at world realignments if this plot had actually gone down. Would the Chinese and Saudis become closer? Would Israel benefit at all? How about India? Russia?

    Right now though, I’m guessing that the guy arrested and at the center of this “plot” may actually believe what he is saying. Either that or this is just a drug deal that went bad from day two and US and Israeli intelligence took him down a sad, sad path after that? Maybe they would have had help (see comments above)?

  51. Timbo says:

    @Clark Hilldale:

    Yeah, it might be a kind of shell game there, right? Basically, you accuse other nations of doing what you’re doing, except in they want to do it in YOUR country—which is very bad—while it’s okay for you to mess with other nations and peoples all you want.

  52. shekissesfrogs says:

    This wraps up the DOJ’s (Holder’s) reason to use lock up the information and keep it from Darrell Issa’s investigation for Fast and Furious :

    Zambada Niebla, son of one of the leaders of the Sinaloa “Cartel,” [claims] that he and the leadership of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug-trafficking organization, were, in effect, working for the U.S. government for years by providing US agents with intelligence about rival drug organizations.
    In exchange for that cooperation, Zambada Niebla contends, the US government granted the leadership of the Sinaloa “Cartel” immunity from prosecution for their criminal activities — including the narco-trafficking charges he now faces in Chicago.
    The government, in court pleadings filed last month, denies that claim but at the same time has filed a motion in the case seeking to invoke the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA), a measure designed to assure national security information does not become public during court proceedings.

    Could the supposed Quds Colonel Ali Gholam Shakuri that got away really be another agent? How did he get away?

    The MEK would make good stand-ins for Iranians.

    Why would Iranians outsource explosives? Bradley manning said their ability to form shaped charges is unparalleled.

    How many times has the FBI actually uncovered a plot while in process– one in which they didn’t set up, or discover because of a screw up? I remember the shoe bomber, underpants man, times square car bombing, and the christmas tree bombing, and the printer ink cartridge case – and the saudis discovered it.

  53. shekissesfrogs says:

    Jeff Kaye says the government has been propping up the sinaloa cartel as a counter rival to Los Zetas who were going to try to assassinate the President of Mexico.
    Gary Web and the Iran Contra Drugs Scandal is written all over this.

    Shades of the Clintons past:

    MÉRIDA, MEXICO, FEBRUARY 15, 1999: US president William Clinton met today with Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo to negotiate better cooperation between their nations in the fight against drugs. Incredibly, the anti-narcotics summit was hosted by powerful Mexican banker Roberto Hernández Ramírez, a man publicly accused of trafficking cocaine and laundering illicit drug money. . . .
    But that story wasn’t reported in the States, despite a controversy over Hernández’s alleged involvement in the drug trade that’s raged on the Yucatán peninsula for two years.

    At least we know who to talk to.

  54. Hector says:

    Im writing from MEXICO, here we all know this is a lie, the Zetas its not a Cartel, they were formed as an armed group for protecting the Gulf Cartel, when the Zetas initiated, they where a group of “GAFES” desertors (like Navy Seals in Mexico) later they separated from de Gulf Cartel, then the Mexican Army as well de Gulf Cartel went after them some of the original GAFES went down or got in jail. Now a day the Zetas are much known not becasue they work such as a drug cartel, they are little cells of low profile hitman with no militar preparation. Their principal incomes are robbery, kidnaping, extortions to the citizens in some parts of México,of course they have big weapons but.. They doesnt have such power as a Drug Cartel to infiltrate in the USA. So guess the end of the story, its all about politics, economy and control.

  55. shekissesfrogs says:

    Richard Silverstein, a pro peace jewish american blogger keeps up with the stories concerning Iran because of the Israeli and neocons blood lust to end their regime. He’s making a pretty good reputation for himself for original reporting.
    Criminal Mastermind behind Saudi Terror Plot was a failed Texas used car salesman

    No sooner was Eric Holder’s press conference done at which he trumpeted the government’s penetration of a Massive Plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S., than progressive bloggers and journalists like Spencer Ackerman, Glenn Greenwald and Prof. Muhammad Sahimi began to take it apart for its sheer lameness and lack of credibility. Greenwald, for example, notes that the Washington Post itself, a credulous backer of the administration’s claims, conceded that the key conspirator, Manssor Arbabsiar, seemed a hapless fellow who couldn’t even run a business, let alone conduct a sophisticated plot to murder one of the most high profile diplomats in Washington DC.
    This is the “criminal mastermind” behind alleged Saudi assassination plot: he couldn’t even pay his bills or run a business. This is the guy who’s gonna blow up the Saudi ambassador:

    “David Tomscha, 60, met Arbabsiar 15 years ago when he bought an Acura Integra from him in Corpus Christi and later bought a car lot with him. Tomscha described Arbabsiar as a disorganized businessman who often could not locate the titles of cars he was selling. Tomscha eventually bought Arbabsiar’s half of the business after he failed to pay his bills. “I would say he did it for the money,” Tomscha said, referring to the allegations against him. “He’s not a terrorist. He’s more an opportunist than anything else.”

    The article goes on to note that the Iranian-American’s ex-wife made a domestic violence complaint against him and that he was accused of check fraud but never prosecuted.

  56. far says:

    Is this a hole in the story?
    “narcotics convict-turned-informant”
    If the Mexican is a narcotic convict that has been caught in the US, when he is let loose in Mexico, he is not going to stick around even if he is watched by Mexican police (or US agents watching him), he is going to attempt to run away (instead of meeting with the Iranian fellow or after his meeting) and hide from the US authorities by joining his old gang. The “narcotics convict-turned-informant has no business in the US and it is highly unlikely that he would willingly be available for US after his meeting with the Iranian in Mexico, even if he is watched by the Mexican law enforcement or US agents in Mexico. The Mexican would run away if he has not left any collateral in US, like his family or something of value.
    That is the nature of criminals. They want to run away from law enforcement.

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