Why Would the US Government Have Deconfliction Issues with Manssor Arbabsiar in 2010?

Before I look at the other ways Gregory Saathoff’s report opining that Manssor Arbabsiar is not manic hurts the government’s case, I want to discuss a rather curious citation Saathoff includes.

Troutman, D. (2010, January 13). Email to Virginia Villareal re: Deconfliction (in reference to a national security concern regarding Manssor Arbabsiar), p. 1.

As you’ll recall, the government claims that Arbabsiar first came on their radar in May 2011 when a DEA Informant claimed that Arbabsiar contacted him to arrange a kidnapping.

And yet, according to this, someone was emailing Virginia Villareal (there’s a Customs and Border Patrol Officer currently in San Antonio by that name) in January 2010 about a national security issue involving Arbabsiar?

Deconfliction is the term used for when agencies with overlapping interests sort out their turf–particularly if the agencies are using weapons or informants. The timing indicates that it came during–and probably was part of–Arbabsiar’s naturalization process in 2009-2010.

DHS: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).(2009, June 24). Memorandum subject:IBIS hit resolution for applicant: Manssor Arbabsiar, p. 1.

DHS: USCIS. (2010, April 23). N 652, naturalization interview results, pp. 1-8.

DHS: USCIS. (2010, August 6). N-400, application for naturalization, pp. 1-10.

DHS: USCIS. (2010, August 30). Form N-445, notice of naturalization oath ceremony, pp. 1-2.

And at one level, it’s not all that surprising that there would be a national security concern as Arbabsiar applied for citizenship: his cousin is a high ranking Quds Force member. Indeed that–plus Arbabsiar’s criminal background–is one of the reasons it’s hard to believe he even got citizenship, given that equivalent issues can get a Green Card holder deported. And he appears to have done that without paying for an immigration attorney (he complained to Saathoff he had to pay for an attorney for his son during this period, but not an immigration attorney, though they can be inexpensive).

So at the very least, this suggests at least one other agency was aware of Arbabsiar as he went through the immigration process.

But I do find the timing rather interesting given the way Saathoff describes Arbabsiar’s actions that year. He was taking many trips to Iran–purportedly to bring cash back from real estate investments there and he was living in Corpus Christi, away from his wife. (Note, IBIS is the database the government uses to check people as they cross borders to make sure they’re not terrorists or drug runners, which is presumably why the entry above and a 2012 one were listed as sources.)

In my interviews with Mr. Arbabsiar and in reviewing documents that were not cited by Dr. First at the time of his declaration, Mr. Arbabsiar acknowledged that this was in fact a period of significant international activity. In addition to attaining his United States citizenship, during early 2010 he spent most of his time apart from his wife living mostly in Corpus Christi or travelling overseas. In 2010, he flew to Iran on four separate occasions in order to secure and bring back rental money from his Iranian property holdings. He estimated that during these trips he brought back up to $8,000-$9,000 on each trip.


In his August 4, 2012 interview, he recalled a 2009 trip to Iran where he obtained hair transplant surgery in Iran because it was less expensive than in the U.S. With decreasing revenues in the U.S., he made four separate trips to Iran in 2010 in order to bring back funds from his Iranian investment properties.


In fact, 2010 was a year of significant international activity for Mr. Arbabsiar with more international air travel for him than was recorded for any other year in the previous decade. He took four separate flights to Iran during 2010 and also attained his U.S. citizenship and passport. In his interviews with me, he reported that he would bring back money from Iranian investments as well as Iranian goods for his wife and son.

Then his business partner died and yet, in spite of the fact he was financially strapped, he dropped (or rather, lost) the car business.

By late 2010, following the death of his business partner in July, he had moved from Corpus Christi to Austin in order to live at home with his wife. In our September 26 interview, he recalled: “After Steve died, my life changed a lot. Up until that point I was spending some time in Austin and some time in Corpus. But after he died, I didn’t want to do the car business [in Corpus Christi] any more.


Living in both Austin and Corpus Christi during that year, it was only late in the year and following his friend’s death in July that he finally moved to Austin to live with his wife where he engaged in activities including landscaping around the home and planting fruit trees.

His wife described him during as depressed, sitting at home, in this later period.

For this example, he relies on Ms. Arbabsiar’s wife’s report that “for roughly one year around approximately 2010, Mr. Arbabsiar was severely depressed, isolating himself in his bedroom and rarely getting out of bed except to pace around his bedroom and chain smoke.”

It was after that depression and a period when he was in medical treatment in late 2010 that Arbabsiar reached out to his cousin to build an “export business.”

My life was going bad – I had lost my friend and my dad – my cousin, he took advantage of me. I hate to say that, and I trusted him – my whole family, they should help me. I wanted to do a good business, an export business.

Remember, in addition to talking to Narc about killing the Saudi Ambassador, Arbabsiar was also talking about dealing drugs.

Again, all of this might suggest nothing more than an appropriate awareness of Arbabsiar’s cousin’s identity (but even so, that suggests the myth that Arbabsiar approached Narc out of the blue is just that–a myth).

But Arbabsiar was a very unlikely person to have gotten his citizenship when and how he did, particularly without the apparent assistance of an immigration lawyer. And between the time the government presumably identified Arbabsiar as an Iranian with ties to Quds Force and the time he ultimately got his citizenship, he made a lot of trips to Iran to get cash. Then, once he got citizenship, he lost his business and went into a funk and then–went to, or went back to, his cousin to launch “a good business, an export business,” and once again he returned to the States with thousands of dollars in cash, just like in 2010. During the entire time the FBI was purportedly watching him set up an assassination attempt, according to the Corpus Christi cops, they never once contacted those cops, not even to check the criminal record that their dead tree files showed.

It sure sounds like the government was following Arbabsiar a lot longer than the 18 months they claim.

But then the report also reveals how Arbabsiar first found Narc.

Mr. Arbabsiar stated that the Mexican woman that he contacted to help identify someone to carry out the assassination attempt on the Saudi Ambassador had a younger sister with whom he had a sexual relationship in 1992, while he was married to his third wife.

So maybe his relationship with the DEA goes back to 1992, when he fucked his way into the family?

How to Indefinitely Detain Jamie Dimon

Kagro X and I were engaging in a little thought experiment on Twitter to show how easy it would be to solve our dangerous bankster problem by indefinitely detaining them.

It turned out to be pretty easy to do. Here’s how.

First, before you indefinitely detain a bankster, you need to show either that he is,

A person who was part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or who has supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.

Or, you need to show he has supported (using the Iraq AUMF that we’re keeping around to make sure the President’s authority isn’t limited to just al Qaeda),

another international terrorist group that the President has determined both (a) is in armed conflict with the United States and (b) poses a threat of hostile actions within the United States;

Now, making that case with Jamie Dimon is very easy to do, because his company, JP Morgan Chase, has materially helped Iran. We have several pieces of proof it has done so. First, there’s the Treasury Report showing that JPMC:

  • Gave a $2.9 million loan on December 22, 2009 to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, which the Office of Foreign Assets Control has found to be involved in WMD proliferation
  • Advised and confirmed a $2,707,432 letter of credit on April 24, 2009, in which the underlying transaction involved a vessel identified by OFAC as blocked due to its affiliation with the same Iranian shipping line
  • Processed nine wire transfers between April 27, 2006 and November 28, 2008, which totaled $609,308, some of which involved sanctioned Iranian and terrorist entities
  • Transferred 32,000 ounces of gold bullion valued at approximately $20,560,000 to benefit a sanctioned Iranian bank on May 24, 2006

We need no further proof that JPMC has done these things. Not only has JPMC admitted to them, but as Janice Rogers Brown has made clear, we cannot question the Executive Branch’s intelligence reports, so all of OFAC’s claims must be accepted as true for the purposes of indefinite detention. And all of that illegal support for Iran happened while Jamie Dimon was President of JPMC.

But there may even be proof–enough, anyway, to satisfy Rogers Brown–that JPMC materially supported an attempt to deploy a WMD in a terrorist attack on American soil. As I have shown, the bank account to which Manssor Arbabsiar transferred almost $100,000 as downpayment for the alleged Quds Force plot to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir was probably a Chase account. And that affidavit should be enough. The FBI, after all, is an intelligence agency. And Janice Rogers Brown does not find redactions–even much more extensive ones–to in any way impair the reliability of Administration claims to justify indefinite detention.

In other words, the Administration has provided sufficient proof that JPMC materially supported Iran to the tune of at least $23 million in illegal financial transactions.

Now, if Chase is indeed the bank that accepted the downpayment for the Scary Iran Plot, we need no further basis to indefinitely detain Jamie Dimon. After all, the government’s Amended Complaint (from the FBI, an intelligence agency whose reports we cannot question) asserts that Abdul Reza Shahlai was the mastermind behind the Scary Iran Plot, and at the time of the plot, he had already been sanctioned as a supporter of the insurgency in Iraq. That was based on a questionable intelligence report, admittedly, but Janice Rogers Brown says we cannot consider such problems. So if Chase did, indeed, play a role in the Scary Iran Plot, then that’s all we need to indefinitely detain Jamie Dimon as head of the entity that materially supported that terrorist attack.

But even if Chase wasn’t involved in the Scary Iran Plot, the Executive Branch can still indefinitely detain Jamie Dimon. After all, the Executive Branch has been claiming that Iran was harboring al Qaeda since 2003. In addition, an official Executive Branch report–a September 12, 2009 diplomatic cable–includes the following hearsay claim, made by Saudi Arabia’s then Minister of the Interior, now the Crown Prince, Nayif bin Abdulaziz:

Iran has hosted Saudis (all Sunnis) — including Osama bin Laden’s son Ibrahim — who had contacts with terrorists and worked against [Saudi Arabia]

And Janice Rogers Brown has said that so long as it appears in an official government document, any hearsay problem is overcome. And as recent reporting makes clear, there’s even some evidence that Iran was at least aware of, and in some ways facilitated, the 9/11 plot itself. That assertion is based on NSA reports which, as official government documents, would meet Rogers Brown’s standard for claims supporting indefinite detention.

All of which would seem to reach the bar of making Iran a force associated with al Qaeda. I don’t necessarily buy these reports, mind you, but again, it’s not for me to question these official government records. And helping such an associated force access $23 million of funding sure seems to qualify as “substantial support.”

Now let me be clear. I don’t advocate indefinitely detaining Jamie Dimon–or anyone else either, particularly not American citizens, no matter how loathsome or dangerous to the United States. But given that our country maintains it is more important to “incapacitate” terrorists and those who support them than to punish those who did trillions of dollars of damage to our economy, we may well have to treat Jamie Dimon as a material supporter of terrorism to get some justice.

And Jamie? If I were you I would report to an Embassy or some other official government office right away, as the government claims Anwar al-Awlaki should have. Because while Obama seems uninterested in indefinitely detaining American citizens, he has been known to kill those he claimed were particularly dangerous.

The Two Scary Iran Plot Complaints: A Comparison

As I wrote on Wednesday, earlier this month, the government released Manssor Arbabsiar’s original complaint in the Scary Iran Plot. As I showed, comparing the original with the amended complaint reveals that the government tried to hide the roles of Arbabsiar’s brother and several western banks (possibly including Chase) in transferring the money for the plot.

A comparison of the two complaint shows a number of interesting things, which I’ll detail below. But the two most striking details are the complete absence of any mention of Gholam Shakuri in the original complaint and the complaint’s silence on the opium deal that formed part of Arbabsiar and Narc’s discussions.

Remember what I’ve observed before: four of the five charges against Arbabsiar are conspiracy charges which couldn’t be charged without evidence of another conspirator. Now, I expected to see a lot more implicating Shakuri in the second complaint. After all, along with getting a confession during the period when Arbabsiar purportedly waived his Miranda rights, they also got him to make 3 calls to Shakuri that, while they were are inconclusive about whether Shakuri knew of an assassination, make it clear he did know about the transfer of $100,000. But the original complaint doesn’t even include the information at ¶33(d) in the amended complaint showing Shakuri delivering more funds to Arbabsiar (and therefore, not surprisingly, the earlier complaint does not include ¶3(c) claiming the earlier funding was one of the overt acts in this conspiracy). In fact, the only co-conspirator alleged in the first complaint is Arbabsiar’s cousin, Abdul Reza Shahlai, described as CC-1. Now, I assume the government has a ton of intelligence-derived evidence in this case they don’t want to show us. But in their original complaint, they show very little real evidence of a conspiracy. Which makes Arbabsiar’s “cooperation” all the more striking, given that that cooperation forms the key evidence (at least that we’ve seen) for most of the charges against him.

The complaint’s silence on the drug deal is just as interesting. I had speculated that they might have charged Arbabsiar on trafficking charges and used the threat of hard time to convince him to waive Miranda and flesh out the assassination plot. But obviously that’s wrong; they didn’t include the drug charges in the earlier complaint. So why would the government not charge the Quds Force on efforts to set up drug deals with Los Zetas? Two possibilities are, first, that longer term drug deals are the basis for Arbabsiar’s relationship with Narc; revealing that would damage the story line that Arbabsiar just found Narc by accident. A closely related possibility is that the FBI and DEA had recruited Arbabsiar to set up these deals as a way to infiltrate Quds Force, in which case Arbabsiar would be granted immunity for such things. Or maybe they just wanted to keep the focus tightly on the flashy part of the plot?

In any case, here are the other differences, laid out by paragraph (unless specified, the numbering comes from the amended complaint, which has more paragraphs).

Intro and ¶14. Two different agents wrote these complaints. James F. Walsh Jr, who has been a Special Agent since just September 2004, wrote the original complaint (this article refers to an FBI Special Agent who was probably Houston-based in 2005). O. Robert Woloszyn, who has been a Special Agent since March 1999, wrote the second complaint. In spite of having two different ostensible authors, though, the language is almost exactly the same; for the most part Woloszyn just copied oevr Walsh’s language. That’s one thing that makes amendments so interesting.

¶1, •. The amended complaint describes the start date of the conspiracy “spring 2011,” as compared to the “May 2011” date in the original complaint. That may reflect earlier conversations Arbabsiar had with Quds Force figures revealed in his confession.

¶3(a-c). As noted, the amended complaint replaces the origin of the money–probably a European bank–with “a foreign entity.” And the amended complaint adds language about Arbabsiar’s spending money being part of the over conspiracy.

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Why Did the Scary Iran Plotter Speak Directly from a Contested Treasury Department Script?

As I noted on Friday, Manssor Arbabsiar’s cousin, Abdul Reza Shahlai, who purportedly directed him to arrange a plot with Los Zetas, was sanctioned by the Treasury Department in 2008, in part for involvement in an attack in Karbala.

Iran-based Abdul Reza Shahlai–a deputy commander in the IRGC–Qods Force–threatens the peace and stability of Iraq by planning Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) Special Groups attacks against Coalition Forces in Iraq.  Shahlai has also provided material and logistical support to Shia extremist groups–to include JAM Special Groups–that conduct attacks against U.S. and Coalition Forces.  In one instance, Shahlai planned the January 20, 2007 attack by JAM Special Groups against U.S. soldiers stationed at the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala, Iraq.  Five U.S. soldiers were killed and three were wounded during the attack.

But as Gareth Porter pointed out yesterday, there are reasons to doubt the US has proof of Shahlai’s role in that attack. Porter’s original report on this from 2007 describes Michael Gordon trying, unsuccessfully, to get Brigidier General Kevin Bergner to provide real evidence of Iranian involvement in the plot. And he describes David Petraeus specifically denying the claim.

Another indication that the command had no evidence of Iranian involvement in the attack was the statements of the top commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, on the issue in an April 26 press briefing. Petraeus had referred to a 22-page memorandum captured with the Shiite prisoners that he said “detailed the planning, preparation, approval process and conduct of the operation that resulted in five of our soldiers being killed in Karbala.” But he did not claim that either the document or the interrogation of Khazali had suggested any Iranian or Hezbollah participation in, much less direction of the planning of the Karbala assault.

Later in that briefing, a reporter asked whether Petraeus was “saying that there was evidence of Iranian involvement in that [Karbala] operation?” Petraeus responded, “No. No. No. That—first of all, that was the operation that you mentioned, and we do not have a direct link to Iranian involvement in that particular case.”

At the time Petraeus made this statement, Khazali, the chief of the militia group that had carried out the attack, had been in U.S. custody for more than a month. Despite nearly five weeks of intensive interrogation of Khazali, Petraeus’s comments would indicate that U.S. officials had not learned anything that implicated Iran or Hezbollah in the planning or execution of the Karbala attack

Porter’s post yesterday describes officers subsequently reiterating that the Iraqis, not the Iranians, launched this plot.

In a news briefing in Baghdad Jul. 2, 2007, Gen. Kevin Bergner confirmed that the attack in Karbala had been authorised by the Iraqi chief of the militia in question, Kais Khazali, not by any Iranian official.

Col. Michael X. Garrett, who had been commander of the U.S. Fourth Brigade combat team in Karbala, confirmed to this writer in December 2008 that the Karbala attack “was definitely an inside job”.

Now, perhaps Treasury had additional evidence by the time it sanctioned Shahlai, perhaps not. But suffice it to say the claim that Shahlai had a role in that plot is at least contested, and there is reason to believe it is outright false.

Which is why I find it so interesting that, among the other things Manssor Arbabsiar repeats to Narc about Shahlai, is that he had ties to a bombing in Iraq.

ARBABSIAR further explained that his cousin was “wanted in America,” had been “on the CNN,” and was a “big general in [the] army.” ARBABSIAR further explained that there were a number of parts to the army of Iran and that his cousin “work[s] in outside, in other countries for the Iranian government[.]” ARBABSIAR further explained that his cousin did not wear a uniform or carry a gun, and had taken certain unspecified actions related to a bombing in Iraq. Compare supra ¶ 17. [my emphasis]

That reference back to paragraph 17? It’s a reference to the complaint’s background on the Quds Force. Note the content carefully:

[T]he IGRC is composed of a number of branches, one of which is the Qods Force. The Qods Force conducts sensitive covert operations abroad, including terrorist attacks, assassinations, and kidnappings, and provides weapons and training to Iran’s terrorist and militant allies. Among many other things, the Qods Force is believed to sponsor attacks against Coalition Forces in Iraq, and in October 2007, the United States Treasury Department designated the Qods Force, pursuant to Executive Order 13224, for providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.

Note, the Treasury designation the FBI Agent refers to is not the 2008 designation naming Shahlai directly in connection to the Karbala plot, but instead an earlier one first designating Quds Force for material support to the Taliban. Read more

How a Used Car Salesman’s Alleged Kidnapping Plot Turned into an International Incident

Let me correct something the press has almost universally gotten wrong about the Manssor Arbabsiar plot. He was not originally sent to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the US in a spectacular bombing plot. According to the complaint, after Arbabsiar offered up his service to his cousin, Abdul Reza Shahlai, sometime in early spring, Shahlai asked him to find a drug cartel that would kidnap the Saudi Ambassador. Sometime between that point and July 17, the plot evolved into a kill or kidnap operation, and then a kill operation. But key details of how and when this happened rather curiously were not taped by the informant (whom I refer to as Narc). This raises the possibility that Narc suggested the most spectacular aspects of this plot, both the bombing attempt and the assassination, after he got approached to kidnap Saudi Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir. In other words, it is possible that Narc and his government handlers turned this from a kidnapping attempt into a terrorist plot complete with C4, which makes it a WMD plot.

I’ve got a timeline below, but first, a few points. There’s one section of the complaint that obscures the chronology of how the kidnapping plot turned into the assassination plot. Paragraphs 39 a-e describe what Arbabsiar said in his confession, but the events are dated only with the description, “upon his return to Iran.” There’s one period of time that, the complaint makes clear, Arbabsiar was in Iran, from July 20 through September 28; given the complaint’s clear signal he was in Iran in this period and the wiring of the payment, I’ve put the events described in his confession in that period. However, Arbabsiar was “traveling internationally” during another period, from May 30 to June 23, when Arbabsiar likely was also in Iran, so the events (and therefore the decision to assassinate the Ambassador) may have come earlier. I actually think the most likely scenario is that the first part of paragraph 39a–describing him reporting he had “located a drug dealer”–happened in that earlier window, but the other events happened in the later window.

There’s one other very critical issue about whether the assassination plot came from Narc or the Qods plotters. The complaint says clearly that the code name for the Ambassador assassination was “Chevrolet.” But a number of the other conversations with Shakuri (and, indeed, the September 2 call between Arbabsiar and Narc) talk about a building. And the complaint (and some of the quoted comments below) make it clear they were also talking about other operations with Narc. And when Shakuri first talks to Arbabsiar after he’s in FBI custody (remember, he believes Arbabsiar is with Los Zetas), he raises the building, not the Chevrolet, first. I actually suspect–given the discussion of “buying all of it”–that Chevrolet may actually refer to another plot, perhaps a drug deal (see Juan Cole’s speculation this might be about drugs), whereas the building refers to the assassination attempt. But in any case, at the very least it says that if Chevrolet was, indeed, the code, then Shakuri was most interested in the building plot, not the Chevrolet plot when he first talked to Arbabsiar.

Early Spring 2011: According to Arbabsiar’s confession, Shahlai approaches Arbabsiar and asked him to work with him. Arbabsiar offers up “that as a result of his business in both Mexico and the United States, he knew a number of people who traveled between the two countries, and some of those people, he believed, were narcotics traffickers. Shahlai responds, “that he wanted Arbabsiar to hire someone who could kidnap the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States and that Arbabsiar should find someone in the narcotics business, because people in that business are willing to undertake criminal activity in exchange for money.”

After that meeting: According to Arbabsiar’s confession, Shahlai provided thousands of dollars for expenses. This is, at least from the detail given in the plot, the last that Shahlai is involved personally in the plot.

May 24, 2011: In one-day trip to Mexico from Texas, Arbabsiar meets with DEA informant posing as a Los Zetas member (Narc). The meeting is allegedly not recorded. After the meeting, Narc told his handlers that Arbabsiar was interested in, “among other things, attacking an embassy of Saudi Arabia.” According to Narc, Arbabsiar asked about his expertise, including on explosives. In response, Narc offered up that he was knowledgeable in C4.

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