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Did the US Coerce a Miranda Waiver (Again) by Threatening Family Members?

The NYT reveals that the lawyer for Manssor Arbabsiar has suggested she will challenge the voluntary nature of Arbabsiar’s 12 days of waiving his Miranda rights.

Mr. Arbabsiar’s lawyer, Sabrina Shroff, said in a recent interview that she intended to seek a hearing on whether the “consent was freely given, or whether it was unlawfully extracted,” given the gap in time between her client’s arrest and his initial court appearance on Oct. 11.”There has to be a deep concern about the voluntariness of consent to that long a period of detention,” she said.

Her comments provide an early look at the defense’s legal strategy in a case that has gained widespread attention because of questions over Iran’s alleged role, and because of the wealth of information that prosecutors said they obtained from Mr. Arbabsiar after he waived his Miranda rights.

[snip]

The interrogation of Mr. Arbabsiar was cited in a sealed, four-page letter that the office of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, sent to the court on Oct. 6, while questioning was under way. The letter said Mr. Arbabsiar had “without counsel, knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights and his right to a speedy presentment” each day, and had signed waivers to that effect.

The letter, now public, described how agents were “vigorously and expeditiously pursuing leads relating to the defendant’s statements,” and said “regular access” to Mr. Arbabsiar had allowed them “to promptly verify with him the accuracy of information developed in the investigation.”

The story led me to check the docket, only to discover they’ve unsealed Arbabsiar’s first complaint. I’ll have much more to say about the unsealed complaint (including the weaknesses it shows in the US case that this was an attack primarily directed against the US).

But for now, the complaint suggests one means they used to coerce a  man who had insisted on legal representation in at least four prior brushes with the law to waive his Miranda rights in a case that risks putting him away for life: by threatening to take action against his brother.

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The Detainee Debate Heats Up: The Rule of Martial Law Vs. the Unitary Spookery

As I noted yesterday, Obama issued a veto threat for the detainee provisions included in the Defense Authorization. Since then, both Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin have given speeches on the floor, arguing against (DiFi) and for (Levin) the provisions.

And while I’d be happy to see the provisions in question fail (because the provisions represent a further militarization of our country), effectively the argument being made is between those (the Republicans, enabled by Levin) who support further militarization of law and those (DiFi and, especially, the Administration) who want the Executive Branch to continue fighting terrorism (and whatever else) with an intelligence-driven approach bound by few legal checks.

DOJ’s Special Forms of Extended Interrogation and Coercion

In a sense, DiFi’s speech on Thursday looked like an appeal to rule of law. For example, she warns of the danger of “further militariz[ing] our counterterrorism efforts.” But what she really focused on in her speech–implicitly–are the tools the government has wrung out of the civilian legal system to make it easier to get intelligence (whoever picked a Senate Judiciary Committee member to be head of the Senate Intelligence Committee made this blurring of law and intelligence easier).

DiFi alludes to tools DOJ has that DOD does not. She mentions both Najibullah Zazi and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as people whose prosecution within the civilian justice system aided prosecution.

Suppose a terrorist such as Zazi were forced into mandatory military custody. Then the government could also have been forced to split up codefendants, even in cases where they otherwise could be prosecuted as part of the same conspiracy in the same legal system.

[snip]

It was FBI agents who traveled to Abdulmutallab’s home in Nigeria and persuaded family members to come to Detroit to assist them in getting him to talk. The situation would have been very different under Section 1032. Under the pending legislation, it would have been military personnel who were attempting to enlist prominent Nigerians to assist in their interrogation, and Abdulmutallab would have been classified as an enemy combatant and held in a military facility and, therefore, his family would not be inclined to cooperate. This is we have been told on the Intelligence Committee.

She appears to be invoking the way we’re getting people to talk: by threatening and persuading their families. In the case of Zazi, we got him to cooperate by charging his father. In the case of Abdulmutallab, we presumably made some guarantees about treatment if his family would persuade him to cooperate (maybe that’s why he stayed in a minimum security prison through the pre-trial period; I also wonder whether we threatened his prominent banker father).

Most charitably, this is akin to the problem Ali Soufan experienced with Salim Hamdan; Soufan was about to persuade Hamdan to cooperate in exchange for a shorter sentence when DOD dumped Hamdan in Gitmo where there was no option to trade cooperation for better treatment. As the case of Omar Khadr (who was not permitted to spend time with other detainees after he plead guilty) makes clear, in military custody, we lose control of the conditions of someone’s confinement as soon as they plead guilty, and so can’t use that as a tool to get people to cooperate.

But there’s something else DiFi is not saying, though is out there. With our creative interpretation of Miranda of late, we have interrogated Faisal Shahzad for two weeks without a lawyer; Manssor Arbabsiar for 12 days; and Ahmed Warsame for a month. We got Arbabsiar (and, I would bet, Warsame) to cooperate to ensnare others during the period of pre-arraignment arrest. Thus, for better or worse, civilian detention has actually been offering the government more ways to deploy detainees in intelligence operations than military detention.

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Terrorists “Citizens Who Threaten Our Safety and Security”'>The Waffle House Terrorists “Citizens Who Threaten Our Safety and Security”

When the Waffle House Plot broke last week, I joked that maybe the FBI will start profiling Waffle Houses rather than mosques; they’d probably have more luck finding terrorists there.

But I wanted to make a few points about the plot in addition to what Jim already said.

First, there are actually two sub-plots: one attempt to acquire silencers and explosives to attack federal buildings and employees; just Frederick Thomas and Dan Roberts are implicated in that plot. The other was a half-baked discussion to manufacture ricin. Ray Adams and Samuel Crump are primarily implicated in that plot, with Roberts and Thomas goading them on. That’s significant because while the weapons plot advanced steadily over time culminating in a purchase, the ricin “plot” consisted of some bragging in March, and some taped conversations in September and October, showing not only that the alleged attackers were largely ignorant about ricin, but also appearing to show them coaching the confidential informant in the case how to make ricin, not necessarily making it themselves.

If you’re gonna do this (unintelligible), it’s gotta be built, a hood. There can be no air, can’t be no disturbance.

[snip]

I can get ya seed (castor beans). I know where the seeds is at right now.

[snip]

You take a pound of that (unintelligible), get upwind, up around Washington, DC, get about 20,000 feet (in an airplane), and turn that shit loose, it’d cover the whole (unintelligible) of Washington.

That’s particularly significant because the last two conversations laying out the ricin plot–separate conversations October 29 with both Crump and Adams–were not recorded by the informant. And that informant? He’s a liar.

CHS1 is currently on bond for pending felony state charges. The FBI administered a polygraph test to CHS1 during the investigation of a militia group. The FBI polygrapher determined that CHS1 gave less than truthful responses concerning the activities of the militia group.

In short, the whole ricin plot seems like a bad advertisement for Red Devil lye, since Crump appeared to put off making the ricin because he couldn’t find that brand of lye; Adams, for his part, claimed he’d make lye himself by leaching wood ashes.

Given the lack of seriousness of the ricin plot, it appears to have been incited at the end in time for the bust in the other plot, to use guns and explosives to kill federal workers. That plot started back in March, included a surveillance trip in May, and discussions with an undercover FBI employee about buying weapons on June and July. On September 20, Thomas agreed to trade weapons 30 days later and also to pay $1000 for explosives. In late October, Thomas, Roberts, and the informant put together money to make the purchase. On November 1, Thomas and Roberts bought a silencer and what they believed to be explosives from an undercover FBI agent.

There’s just one weird thing about the evidence presented in the Thomas and Roberts affidavits. They describe planning for the final meeting–at which they’d pool their money to buy the silencers and explosives–to be held on October 29. The affidavits were signed on November 1. The indictment describes them buying a silencer and what they believed were explosives on November 1. But there’s no discussion about what happened at the October 29 meeting. Particularly given that the two ricin conversations on October 29 were not taped, I wonder whether the informant in this case got cold feet?

In any case, that’s what passes for a terrorist plot propagated by a bunch of senior citizen wingnuts.

Now, the plot is interesting for the way US Attorney Sally Quillian Yates used this FBI-abetted sting to warn about the risks posed by [senior] “citizens within our own borders who threaten our safety and security.”

While many are focused on the threat posed by international violent extremists, this case demonstrates that we must also remain vigilant in protecting our country from citizens within our own borders who threaten our safety and security.

I’m grateful that the FBI is finally focusing on domestic terrorists, even if they’re fluffing up the risk just as they do with aspirational Muslim terrorists. But note that, in spite of the involvement of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, it seems Yates can’t force herself to call these dudes terrorists.  Perhaps they should rename the JTTF the JCWOOBWTOSASTF?

And of course there’s another difference between this and the crimes those brown people called terrorists commit. As Manssor Arbabsiar was alleged to have done, these militia members allegedly discussed assassinations. As Arbabsiar was alleged to have done, these plotters allegedly discussed explosives. Whereas with Arbabsiar, there is zero public evidence he affirmatively sought to use explosives to commit assassination, there is here. Unlike Arbabsiar, these militia members actually bought what they believed to be explosives.

And yet, unlike Arbabsiar, these alleged terrorists did not get charged with a WMD charge–not even for their alleged attempt to make ricin. Once again, it seems almost impossible for white terrorists to be charged with the FBI’s favorite charge for brown terrorists.

Finally, one more difference between the treatment of these scary white terrorists and scary brown ones. As TP’s Lee Fang notes (piggybacking off this GAPolitico post), Thomas was a commenter at RedState, where Erick Erickson has called for violence in the past.

Thomas blogged on RedState.com, the website edited by CNN’s Erick Erickson. The Thomas blog post highlighted by Baker and AJC revealed that at one point, he did not “advocate a general rebellion against the U.S. Government for cause,” but seemed conflicted about the idea of violent revolution. Something apparently changed between that unpromoted post, published in July of 2008 and this year, when the alleged plot began taking shape.

A ThinkProgress examination of Thomas’s online writing in the following years shows that the alleged terrorist grew more and more upset, and expressed sympathy with the anti-Obama conspiracies posted on RedState. Last year, he posted a comment to a popular RedState post about the evils of health reform. Thomas claimed that the “ObummerCare Bill” not only “won’t be forgiven,” but will lead to “TYRANNY of the worst order” and “civil war.” (view a screenshot of the comment here)

And as the affidavits make clear, the plot was inspired by a Mike Vanderboegh novel; Fang notes that Thomas has also commented on Vanderboegh’s blog. Last year, Vanderboegh claimed credit for coordinated attacks in protest of the health insurance reform–one of them targeted at Gabby Giffords–in three states.

On Friday, former militia leader Mike Vanderboegh called for anti-Democratic vandalism across the country to protest the health care bill.

Vanderboegh posted the call for action Friday on his blog, “Sipsey Street Irregulars.” Referring to the health care reform bill as “Nancy Pelosi’s Intolerable Act,” he told followers to send a message to Democrats.

“We can break their windows,” he said. “Break them NOW. And if we do a proper job, if we break the windows of hundreds, thousands, of Democrat party headquarters across this country, we might just wake up enough of them to make defending ourselves at the muzzle of a rifle unnecessary.”

And, apparently in response, there were attacks in–at least–Wichita, KS, Tucson, AZ,  Rochester, NY, Niagara Falls, NY.  Vanderboegh has proudly claimed credit for the coordinated attacks.

Now maybe Vanderboegh and Erickson are just the FBI’s latest incarnation of Hal Turner, wingnut bloggers they pay to inspire other wingnuts whom they can arrest in Waffle House plots; maybe the FBI hasn’t tracked their calls for violence at all. But if Vanderboegh and Erickson were Muslim propagandists advocating violence–like Anwar al-Awlaki or Samir Khan–they’d probably be worried about a drone raining down from the sky. I’m definitely not advocating that for any propagandists, whether Muslim or wingnut, being killed for their protected, albeit vile, speech.

But maybe now that the government is using stings to warn of the danger of domestic terrorists, those inciting them ought to think more seriously about how our government combats terrorists.

Confirmed: the Government Hid–and Is Still Hiding–Manssor Arbabsiar’s First Docket

I first raised questions of why the government had charged Manssor Arbabsiar–the Scary Iran Plotter–with an amended complaint almost two weeks ago. As I noted then, the obvious existence of an earlier sealed complaint might suggest the possibility that Arbabsiar was charged with something entirely different than the murder-for-hire charges he got charged with on October 11.

First (and this is what got me looking at the docket in the first place), the complaint is an amended complaint. That says there’s a previous complaint. But that complaint is not in the docket. Not only is it not in the docket, but the docket starts with the arrest on September 29 (notice the docket lists his arrest twice, on both September 29 and October 11), but the numbering starts with the amended complaint (normally, even if there were a sealed original complaint, it would be incorporated within the numbering, such that the docket might start with the amended complaint but start with number 8 or something).

Two things might explain this. First, that there was an earlier unrelated complaint–say on drug charges, but the charges are tied closely enough to this op such that this counts as an amended complaint. Alternately, that Arbabsiar was charged with a bunch of things when he was arrested on September 29, but then, after at least 12 days of cooperation (during which he waived Miranda rights each day), he was charged with something else and the new complaint incorporated Ali Gholam Shakuri’s involvement, based entirely on Arbabsiar’s confession and Shakuri’s coded conversations with Arbabsiar while the latter was in US custody. [emphasis original]

If Arbabsiar were originally charged with something different than he was charged with on October 11–for example, if he were charged with drug charges that might put him away for hard time–it might explain why he waived Miranda rights for 12 days in a row, when he had, on 5 different occasions in his past, hired lawyers to represent him when he got in legal trouble.

Well, this filing not only confirms that an earlier complaint exists–the earlier complaint is dated September 28–but it confirms my suspicion the complaint is in an different docket that is entirely sealed.

On September 28, 2011, Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV authorized a complaint bearing docket number 11 Mag. 2534 (“Sealed Complaint”), charging the above-listed defendant. The Sealed Complaint is attached hereto as Exhibit A.

On October 11, 2011, Magistrate Judge Michael H. Dolinger authorized an Amended Complaint (11 Mag. 2617) charging the defendant and Gholam Shakuri (“Amended Complaint”). By order of the Honorable Loretta A. Preska, dated October 11, 2011, the Sealed Complaint was ordered to remain sealed. On October 11, 2011, the defendant was presented on only the Amended Complaint.

The Government respectfully requests that the Court enter a limited unsealing order permitting the Government to produce the Sealed Complaint in redacted form to defense counsel as part of the discovery process. The Sealed Complaint would otherwise remain sealed.

First, compare the docket numbers:

First Complaint: 11-mg-2534

Amended Complaint: 11-mg-2617

Criminal Indictment: 11-cr-897

These are three entirely different dockets.

A search for criminal magistrate docket 11-2534 returns nothing. Which means the docket–the entire docket–is and remains sealed.

This increases the likelihood that the first complaint charges entirely different charges–such as opium charges–than the amended complaint does.

Indeed, the language of this letter appears to suggest that only Arbabsiar was charged in the first complaint. Even if this earlier complaint pertained to murder-for-hire charges, this might make sense–as I have pointed out, most of the current charges are conspiracy charges that would involve at least two defendants. But the letter suggests–by stating only that “the defendant was presented on only the Amended Complaint”–that there may be charges unique to Arbabsiar, completely unrelated charges that hang over him still–that weren’t charged because of his 12-day cooperation to implicate Shakuri.

And here’s the kicker. The government isn’t even telling Arbabsiar’s defense counsel all of what was in that first complaint. They are asking that she receive the complaint in redacted form.

So not only are they hiding the original basis of his arrest from us–US citizens and the world community, to whom the government claimed this is an international incident. But they’re hiding parts of this earlier complaint even from the public defender tasked to actually represent this guy.

The Informant Racket and the Scary Iran Plot

Jeralyn Merritt has been focusing closely on the DEA’s use of informants of late. And as part of a discussion of how much the DEA informant in the Viktor Bout case, Carlos Sagastume, has made off his lucrative informant career ($8 million and counting, with much of that coming in the Monzer al Kassar case), she wondered whether Sagastume might be Narc, the informant in the Scary Iran Plot. [Update: Jeralyn now thinks Narc can’t be Sagastume.]

A prior “catch” of informant Sagastume was Monzer al Kassar, (Indictment here.)who was convicted and sentenced to 30 years following a sting very much like the one used on Bout. Al-Kassar’s conviction was upheld last month, and the Second Circuit ruled lies by the DEA to to those it is trying to trap in order to get jurisdiction in the U.S. are okay. The opinion is here. An interesting sidenote: one of the three judges affirming al-Kassar’s conviction was District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, sitting by designation. She is the trial judge in Viktor Bout’s case.

As for why Sagastume has received $8 plus million for his informant work, I suspect it’s likely that he’s getting a percentage of property ordered forfeited. In cases of criminal forfeiture, like al-Kassar and Viktor Bout, the Government must get a conviction on the criminal charge in order to succeed on the forfeiture. So if Bout were to be acquitted, there would be no forfeiture. That gives the informant a personal stake in seeing Bout convicted.

[snip]

One last note on Sagastume and Al Kassar. Al-Kassar sold weapons in a lot of countries over his 30 year career, including Iran. Was Sagastume involved in the recent sting involving the alleged plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador? While Sagastume is not the only informant the DEA used in al-Kassar, Bout and similar arms cases, he speaks Spanish, is experienced in the world of Mexican drug smuggling and could play the role of a Zeta as easily as a FARC operative, and could probably convincingly claim to have Iranian connections. It seems likely to me there must be a limited number of DEA informants with the savvy to bridge such disparate groups as the Zetas and Iranian secret forces. It’s not like the DEA just calls Central Casting.

Mind you, Jeralyn is just speculating, but I find it interesting speculation for several reasons.

First, because Jeralyn points to the Circuit decision in the al Kasser case. It held that the US government could charge non-Americans in stings conducted entirely outside of the United States so long as the government had demonstrated a clear intent to hurt the US.

In an opinion on Wednesday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York affirmed the increasingly prevalent government tactic of using sting operations to trap arms and drug traffickers worldwide.

[snip]

Kassar’s attorneys argued on appeal that U.S. prosecutors were not allowed to charge non-U.S. citizens caught in a sting operation abroad. The appeals court conceded that Kassar “never came close to harming any U.S. person or property,” but concluded that was “irrelevant for conspiracy offenses, which often result in no palpable harm.” Instead, the court said the government had clearly established Kassar’s intent to harm the U.S.

The circuit also found the government had not “manufactured” jurisdiction by creating the chance for Kassar to break the law.

“While it is true the DEA agents lied to the defendants, this does not make the nexus (to the U.S.) artificial or invalid.”

Now, this decision is unnecessary to ensure the government could convict Manssor Arbabsiar. He’s an American citizen (though the only overt act he committed in the US was a money transfer). But they’re on shakier ground with Gholam Shakuri. At least given what the government has presented in the complaint, there’s zero evidence that the Quds Force set out to assassinate Adel al-Jubeir in the US. I’ve noted that Narc invented all the most spectacular elements of the plot–including the civilian casualties, the dead Senators, and apparently the WMD. And while you might assume soliciting a North American cartel to carry out the kidnapping (or assassination) of a US-based Ambassador would imply an attack in the US, there is no evidence in the complaint that Arbabsiar’s handlers specifically asked for that. None. But by charging this in NY, you can rely on the al Kasser decision, point to the fictional dead Senators, and worry less about including Shakuri in the sting.

None of that has to do with the possibility that Sagastume was the Narc in this case. But Jeralyn’s comments about Sagastume’s effectively working on spec does. As I noted, there was almost nothing new in the indictment presented on Thursday.

Almost.

Except a forfeiture provision, calling for Arbabsiar and Shakuri to forfeit any property tied to a terrorist attack on the US.

That’s still not a tie to Sagastume, necessarily. And given the money already transferred–just $100,000, as far as we know–that’s chump change for someone like Sagastume, who has already made millions for his narc work. But who knows? Maybe there are big proceeds from the opium deal the government doesn’t want to tell us about.

That still doesn’t say anything interesting about Sagastume.

But the timing might.

I’ve been trying to figure out why the government decided to spring this sting on October 11. After all, it has had the most critical pieces of evidence since August 9. Narc first raised the possibility that Arbabsiar would have to fly to Mexico to guarantee payment on August 28. And yet the sting waddled along, as Shakuri’s urgency increased, but with no resolution. And what dictated the timing after Arbabsiar was arrested on September 29? Why wait until October 11, four days after the last (mentioned) unsuccessful attempt to get Shakuri to send more money, before you announce the charges? And given that the government had had all this evidence for months, why had, according to Preet Bharara, “None of the people that have been mentioned by me and others [who investigated the case] [] gotten much sleep lately”?

If Sagastume were Narc, it might explain the government’s (though not Shakuri’s) urgency. The government announced the charges on October 11. On October 12, Viktor Bout’s trial started. I can see how the Bout trial date would serve as an artificial endpoint to the Scary Iran Plot investigation. And if I’m reading the reports from the trial correctly, Sagastume testified on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week. Then the trial broke for the week, as opposed to on Thursday, which might be more normal. On Thursday, the fairly simple Indictment (one that might take just a few hours to present) came out. And yesterday and today, Sagastume’s back on the witness stand in Bout’s case. In other words, the Scary Iran Plot and the Bout trial coincide in ways that would make it very easy to manage the star Narc’s testimony across both cases, in one tidy trip to the US before he goes off to whatever swank retirement the government has arranged for him.

Again, both Jeralyn and I are speculating, nothing more (though her comments about informants are worthwhile reading and applicable more generally). But it all would fit rather nicely. And if Sagastume stands to make millions–as he has from prior stings–it might add another layer of intrigue to the Scary Iran Plot.

MoDo’s Camels and Ponies

Having MoDo vouch for the “sangfroid” of Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir (who, she notes, once saved her from being punished by Saudi religious police for dressing inappropriately) is about as amusing as having David Ignatius announce the Scary Iran Plot must be true because the CIA is involved.

Jubeir stayed cool even when American officials informed him several months ago about the latest stunning chapter in the Saudi Arabia-versus-Iran Great Game for supremacy in the Middle East: an outlandish plot by an Iranian-American used-car dealer in Texas who said his cousin was a senior member of the Iranian Quds Force.

MoDo’s piece seems to do little but foster the illusion that a real plot had developed, as she describes al-Jubeir straining in secret to hide the news that a DEA Narc completely directed by the US government proposed bombing his favorite restaurant.

He had to force himself to live a normal existence for months, not telling family or staff, until a criminal complaint was unveiled and the Texas car dealer was before a judge.

MoDo’s piece also allows al-Jubeir to rebut a detail about him that the US Government’s own plot has emphasized–that he practically lives at Cafe Milano.

Over lunch at the embassy in his first interview since then, he told me in his whispery voice that he was surprised the plotters had assumed he’d be hanging at modish restaurants. These days, the slender, smartly tailored ambassador is more of a nester, spending time with the twins and his 9-month-old son.

“I work so much, I enjoy sitting at home doing nothing,” said the diplomat with the rough commute — 12-hour flights to Riyadh several times a month.

No wonder al-Jubeir chose this–rather than an interview with a real journalist–to be his first interview after the revelation of the plot.

Though there is this close for the piece.

As I left, I asked the ambassador about the painting in his office of Arab tribesmen riding horses and camels.

“It’s artistic license,” he noted with amusement. “Camels don’t ride with horses. They ride separately. Horses go faster and camels go longer.”

It’s as if, in addition to countering the common knowledge he lives at Cafe Milano, al-Jubeir also wants people to know that both Arabian ponies and camels can survive by eating aspen leaves that grow connected at the root.

The OTHER Saudi Assassination Plotter Got a Reduced Sentence in July

This post from Cannonfire reminded me how convenient for our country it is that Moammar Qaddafi was executed rather than captured alive and tried: he will not be able to tell anyone, now that he’s dead, how Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, who under torture provided one of the casus belli for the Iraq war, came to be suicided in a Libyan prison just as Americans started focusing on torture in 2009.

That, plus the death of the Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz al Saud, made me think of another plot Qaddafi brings to his grave: that he had purportedly arranged to assassinate then Crown Prince now King Abdullah. The evidence to support that plot mostly came from Abdulrahman Alamoudi, a prominent American Muslim who was arrested in 2003 on charges he violated trade sanctions against Libya.

Tell me if this sounds familiar. A naturalized American citizen is arrested upon re-entry to the country and charged with a bunch of crimes. After a period of no bail, he confesses to participation in the assassination plot of a top Saudi.

Court documents said the assassination plot arose from a March 2003 conference at which Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi and Prince Abdullah had a heated exchange. Angered at how Gaddafi was treated, Libyan officials recruited Alamoudi.

Even after he learned that the target was Abdullah, Alamoudi shuttled money and messages between Libyan officials and the two Saudi dissidents in London, the documents said. Although Gaddafi is not named as a planner, sources familiar with the case have said he appears in the documents as “Libyan government official #5,” who met personally with Alamoudi.

Mind you, though the judge considered the assassination plot in Alamoudi’s sentence, he plead guilty not to murder-for-hire, but to prohibited financial transactions with Libya (the kind of thing JPMC just got its wrist slapped for), unlawful procurement of naturalization, and tax evasion.

Anyway, thinking about the similarities between that case and the Scary Iran Plot led me to consult Alamoudi’s docket (most of which is not available online). What happens to a guy convicted in connection with plotting with a nasty African dictator as we launch the war to finally kill that dictator?

Well, it turns out that at about the time it was clear we’d stick around to ensure Qaddafi died in this kinetic action, a sealed document got filed in Alamoudi’s case. And, on July 20, 2011, Alamoudi got about 30% knocked off his sentence, from 276 months to 197.

Mind you, no one was hiding the fact that Alamoudi would continue to cooperate with authorities while in prison–so it’s no surprise his sentence got lowered. Nor does Alamoudi’s sentence reduction necessarily have anything to do with Alamoudi’s testimony in the assassination plot.

But I do expect, a decade from now, that’s what’s going to happen to Manssor Arbabsiar’s docket.

DOJ Offers No More Detail on Scary Iran Plot in Indictment

I had this naive hope that DOJ would use the opportunity of an indictment to fill in some of the holes in their case.

Like I said, naive hope.

The indictment appears to be the amended complaint, without the affidavit, with an arrest warrant for Gholam Shakuri.

Scary Iran Plot: FBI Had No Need to Investigate Arbabsiar’s Corpus Christi Past

So imagine this scenario.

A DEA informant calls up his handler out of the blue and says,

Omigod! Some crazy Iranian just approached me to arrange some kind of hit on behalf of this Iranian terror organization. He asked about explosives (I bragged about my C4 expertise.) He found me through my aunt in Corpus Christi. She says she knows him from when he used to be a used car salesman.

The DEA calls the FBI. What’s one of the first things the FBI would do?

Maybe look him up in the FBI’s own files (they find he doesn’t have a federal record). And just after that, you’d think they’d start investigating him in Corpus Christi, where Narc knew him to have connections. Maybe call the cops there and see if they knew this crazy Iranian. Which, since Arbabsiar has a pretty consistent record of petty arrests and lawsuits, they do.

Which is why it’s sort of odd that the FBI never contacted the Corpus Christi cops–they first talked to them the day after Arbabsiar was charged.

Arbabsiar had previous arrests in Nueces County during nearly 20 years living in the area.

That meant arrest records and personal details were on file in the county’s warehouse. But no one from any federal agency ever asked for the folder, Kaelin said.

“From an intelligence-gathering standpoint, even the tiniest bits of information could have a connection to something bigger,” he said. “They never asked to see it.”

In fact, FBI agents never contacted the sheriff’s office or the police department about their investigation into Arbabsiar.

That’s all the more weird given that some of the criminal files on Arbabsiar were on dead tree files in a warehouse from back in the day when the FBI itself didn’t really use computers (you know, like last year).

Now, my scenario sounds weird, almost impossible, particularly in the age of information sharing between local cops and national counterterrorism investigators.  Even if they were worried about keeping Narc’s identity secret–which I’m sure is particularly critical so close to the border in South Texas–you’d think they’d at least go and make discreet investigations about Arbabsiar (particularly given the claims that, by the end of the investigation, FBI officers seemed to be going out of their way to make their presence known.

Neighbors, however, said it had been years since Arbabsiar lived in the stucco house he once shared with his wife on a suburban cul-de-sac. They said it appeared that as many as 10 people were living in the house, and lately there had been some signs of suspicious activity: When residents looked for available Wi-Fi networks, networks with names like “FBI Van 1” would pop up.l

Unless …

Unless they didn’t need to do that background research on Arbabsiar when Narc purportedly came to them out of the blue to tell them about this crazy Iranian seeking an assassin purportedly out of the blue.

The FBI’s seeming disinterest in learning about Arbabsiar from the law enforcement officials who ostensibly knew him best suggests they already knew about him when he approached Narc.

(As a number of media outlets have reported, the Grand Jury has indicted the plotters, a mere nine days after the Administration started making an international incident about this. I’ll update or do a post once the indictment is in the docket.)

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