The Four Month Warning of a Not-Yet Ripe Plot

I suspect Ha’aretz and Reuters think they’re helping build credibility for the Scary Iran Plot by reporting that the Saudis warned the Argentines of the plot four months ago.

Saudi officials advised Argentina four months ago of an alleged Iran-backed plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington and possibly attack the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Buenos Aires, an Argentine diplomatic source said on Thursday.


“The Saudis advised us four months ago, at the request of the United States,” the Argentine source told Reuters on condition of anonymity, without providing further details.


President Barack Obama was briefed in June about the alleged plot, soon after U.S. law enforcement agents were tipped off by a paid informant, according to court documents.

But it seems to introduce more questions than credibility.

Four months ago–assuming the anonymous Argentine diplomat is correct–would mean they were tipped off in mid-June. As Reuters points out, that may be around the time Obama first got briefed on the purported plot.

According to the complaint, the only piece of evidence the US had at that time was one unrecorded meeting between Manssor Arbabsiar and Narc. The complaint only supports that Narc learned Arbabsiar wanted to attack an embassy–consistent with the possibility of attacking the Saudi Embassy in Argentina–or maybe wanted to kidnap Adel Al-Jubeir, not kill him.

Perhaps the anonymous diplomat is off by a few weeks, and she was tipped by the Saudis in late June, after Arbabsiar had returned to Mexico on June 23, and after Arbabsiar had had another unrecorded meeting or more with Narc.

Even if that were the case, the Argentines (and Saudis) were purportedly warned before any recordings of Arbabsiar’s statements were made and before any money got transferred–in spite of the fact that sources say the Administration didn’t really believe in this plot until that transfer.

Law enforcement and intelligence officials penetrated the alleged plot from the start. But American officials said Wednesday that what persuaded them they were tracking something much more than just idle talk between an Iranian American used-car salesman and a Drug Enforcement Administration informant was the transfer of $100,000 from Iran in July and August as a down payment to set the assassination in motion.

Note, the reference to a July transfer must refer to the receipt of the money by “Individual 1” before Narc had even provided bank data to Arbabsiar, as the actual transfers through NYC happened in August, which also supports the completely unsurprising conclusion that we didn’t need to hear about the transfer from Arbabsiar because we were tracking it electronically.

Nevertheless, do we customarily tell other countries of seemingly improbable plots before we start collecting any hard evidence on those plots?

There are some explanations for this, even setting aside more tinfoil possibilities (like the Saudis dreamt up the plot and then got Arbabsiar to perform it). The government might, for example, have tape from that May 24 meeting between Narc and Arbabsiar, either taken by Narc or by surveillance in Mexico, that they haven’t revealed in the complaint. The government may have a lot more Sigint from Arbabsiar’s conversations with Quds Forces figures in Iran, though if that’s the case, it means our role performing this plot is even more overdetermined than it already seems. Or it may be we knew directly from Arbabsiar what he was purportedly planning on doing without him having explained it to Narc.

There’s one more interesting aspect of this revelation, if true. Why did we outsource informing Argentina to the Saudis rather than telling them ourselves? Meanwhile, the Argentines remain officially mum about the plot.

10 replies
  1. William Ockham says:

    From a logical point of view (and I know the seamy side of things are not always logical), the Saudis as the mastermind behind these shenanigans makes even more sense than the U.S. IC as mastermind. Maybe they were paying attention as the Iranians played the “Why don’t you and him fight” game with us and Iraq.

  2. rg says:

    Your list of possibilities touches on a matter puzzling to me, and that is how this international entrepreneur came to meet up with Narc. I saw something recently (cant find it) that described how a female friend in Texas has a relative (brother?) in the drug trade and suggested a meet. This is too implausible for me, but so is the idea that Arbab just wandered around Mexico looking for a drug trafficker to hire for a kidnapping, and happend onto a DEA informant. There has to be a great deal of hidden information. This even strikes me as too implausible to be the basis for a an anti-Iran 2 minute hate.

  3. rugger9 says:

    Too many conveniently arranged issues here. If the warning wasn’t part of the complaint in some way, how is Argentina even involved?

    It looks more and more like a poo-flinging exercise against some Iranian Islamofascist wall to see what might stick. The USG might want to think how much sticks if that kind of thing is done to us now, we have no moral credibility left.

  4. Mary says:

    Just because I do have to play devil’s advocate some, now and then, I will say that during June the Saudis and Argentines were closing up some pretty advanced level negotiations on a nuclear deal.

    6-29 “Saudi Arabia has sealed a nuclear-energy deal with Argentina in an effort to meet urgent needs of the oil-rich kingdom, the Saudi government said.”

    So they might have been in a sharey-carey mode. In any event, it would make a nice time to plant a marker for the future payoff. Argentine has a good economic reason for wanting to nod on cue.

  5. emptywheel says:

    @rg: Right. That’s one of the reasons to doubt the whole thing. I think there are two possibilities: they charged Arbabsier on unrelated crimes (my guess is drugs), and the flipped him and had him suggest the whole plot to his cousin (which is consistent with the detail that he offered up the idea of working with the DEA-I-mean-Zetas to the cousin). In that case they would have used this Narc because he performs well and, particularly if Arbabsiar already had drug ties, it would be a plausible way to wrap up Fast and Furious, and all the boogey man currently out there.

    Alternately and less plausibly, Narc is just the guy they had already been using to surveill Arbabsiar (surely they were, given that he had a record and ties to a top Al Quds member) in hopes of setting something up.

  6. emptywheel says:

    @Mary: Right, and you include Argentina bc you need to continue to break up the populist block in LA, and particularly you need to pull Argentina away from Brazil.

    So the plot was very well designed. As I said, down to the detail of making Senators fictional targets, such that you can scare they if they try to block whereever this is going.

  7. Mary says:

    And EW – equally intersting on your question is how no one is getting Israeli diplomats interviewed on all this – if we let Saudi Arabia tell Argentina, did they do that on behalf of Israel too (warn of both embassies as possibilities) and if not, has anyone been asking Israel what kind of information they were getting about all this, or is everyone just afraid to mention Israel in these stories?

    Still waiting for the questions to the WH and Holder as to whether an incident like this makes them re-think their decision to not extradite the indicted CIA operatives involved in crimes in Italy to that country to show how these things should be handled.

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The Saudis are legitimately concerned that Iranian personnel, rogue or state-sponsored, might try to kidnap or kill its top ambassador through the use of Mexican intermediaries. And they have a chat about it with the Argentinians? If the plot were deemed credible, one would expect there to be extensive conversations with the US and Mexico, even Israel. Do these not exist or are they un- or under-reported?

    This is beginning to look like a nightmare Dick Cheney might have had after watching a remastered version of Topkapi. Alternately, it’s a product of beta testing s/w that should go back to the design stage.

  9. orionATL says:

    assume arbabsiar was broke (bad economy, bad judgement, u.s. immigration intimidation of his main customers, mexicans)

    what would have been his source of income?

    where did he get the money to make the trips to iran in 2011?

    orionATL on October 14, 2011 at 5:50 pm said:

    “.,.fwiw, here is a timeline i ran across on the travels of jack:

    orionATL on October 14, 2011 at 5:56 pm said:
    arbabsiar’s house, which he had owned since 1994, was foreclosed on in mid-2010:


Comments are closed.