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Telling Stories about What Iran Is Capable Of

As I’ve mused on twitter and in comment threads, I’ve started wondering who paid more for Scary Iran Plot, the US Government or (allegedly) Quds Force?

After all, it’s clear that Narc offered up the idea to attack Adel al-Jubeir at a restaurant with explosives rather than, say, shooting him or poisoning him. Narc invented the fictional 150 civilians who would be at the restaurant. Narc invented the fictional Senators who might be killed in the blast. Narc said he could, “blow him up or shoot him,” and Arbabsiar said, “how is possible for you.” When Narc warned about those fictional casualties, Arbabsiar said, “if you can do it outside, do it” (though he clearly okayed collateral damage if necessary). Thus, even assuming there is nothing else funny about the plot, it’s clear that Narc authored the most spectacular details of it, the ones that resulted in a terrorism and WMD charges rather than just murder-for-hire, and quite possibly the ones that made this an alleged act of war against the US, rather than just an attack on Saudi Arabia.

Even assuming the Iranians dreamt up this plot, the US wrote the screenplay for it.

So how much did each side pay to create this plot?

I’d put the Quds force tab at $175,000. They allegedly advanced $100,000 for some kind of plot–but refused to send any more money. And on July 17, Arbabsiar describes asking Shahlai for “another $15.” Given that that happened in month 6 of a 9 month plot, I think it fair to estimate he was paid three installments of $15,000, or $45,000. Add in $30,000 for Shukari’s time, and you’ve got $175,000. (It’s not clear whether Arbabsiar paid for his international flights out of his advance, but I’ll also leave out the much greater travel costs on the American side. Further, all this assumes we haven’t paid in the past or agreed to pay Arbabsiar in the future for his part in the plot.)

The government, for its part, paid Narc to work Arbabsiar for at least four months. They paid Craig Monteilh $11,800 a month to run around safe mosques to try to entrap aspirational terrorists in LA; I presume they’d pay more for an actual cartel member to risk his life as an informant in Mexico. But let’s assume they paid the same rate they paid Monteilh, which would work out to $47,200, remarkably, about what Quds Force allegedly seems to have paid Arbabsiar. In addition, we’ve got at least the time of Robert Woloszyn, the FBI Agent who wrote the complaint. He doesn’t seem to have been Narc’s handler, so you’ve got Narc’s handler working long hours. In the press conference rolling out this case, Preet Bharara said two prosecutors, their two supervisors, the Deputy US Attorney, and the Acting Criminal head in NY “have [not] gotten much sleep lately.” In addition to SDNY, there was involvement from the Houston US Attorney and FBI offices, Houston DEA (which may be where Narc’s handler worked), NY’s JTTF. And all those intelligence personnel who played a critical role that we can’t discuss (except in anonymous leaks to journalists). Now clearly, many of these people were probably not personally involved in the crafting of a story that took alleged Quds Force intent to attack Saudi Arabia and turned it into the spectacular attack on a fictional restaurant in DC. But it’s probably safe to say that the US Government paid as much to craft this plot as the Quds Force allegedly did, even before you account for the money spent surveilling Arbabsiar, Shahlai, and Shakuri before the plot as well as the money spent stopping it.

With that in mind, check out the language State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland uses to describe how other countries are receiving the State Department’s efforts to persuade them to treat this plot as real.

Other countries are buying the basic idea of the plot, Nuland said, despite fairly widespread skepticism among Iran watchers about the likelihood the Quds Force would put such a clumsy plan into place.

“Countries may find it quite a story, but they’re not surprised that Iran would be capable of something like this,” she said.

It seems that our allies may be just as skeptical as many American observers that the Quds Force planned the precise plot that–it is clear–Narc’s handlers wrote the screenplay for. But, Nuland says, they buy the basic idea of it–“they’re not surprised that Iran would be capable of something like this.”

We had to invent this entire screenplay–perhaps investing as much money or more as Quds Force allegedly did–to get our allies to agree that the Quds Force might engage in terrorism? Didn’t they already know that?

(I sort of wonder whether our representatives are also asking our allies whether they think we’re capable of assassinating nuclear scientists?)

Therein lies the problem with the American practice of using stings to craft the scariest terror story possible. If the sheer improbability of it makes the story less credible, if all it does is reinforce a widely held belief, then doesn’t the theatricality of it work against the government?

Scary Iran Plot: Follow the Money

A number of people–from MadDog to the Administration–have claimed that the money trail in the Scary Iran Plot is what makes it credible.

I’d like to lay out what the Administration showed in the complaint–as opposed to in its predictable trail of anonymous leaks that the Administration apparently believes can replace actual evidence–regarding the money trail. I actually find their anonymous claims that the money trail shows more damning details to be more believable than some of the other things they’ve said about this. But the most solid evidence described in the complaint–as I described here–shows money being delivered with no explanation into the hands of a person, Individual #1, and from there being sent to the US. Yet Individual #1 doesn’t even appear to be Quds Force and was neither charged in the complaint nor sanctioned by Treasury.

Money was exchanged, but for what?

Before I lay out what the money details show, though, let’s lay out the many possible operations the money paid for. According to Manssor Arbabsiar’s confession, his cousin Abdul Reza Shahlai told him to go get drug traffickers to kidnap the Saudi Ambassador. Arbabsiar’s confession says it evolved into a capture or kill deal (though says it did so in conversations with Gholam Shakuri and Hamed Abdollahi, not Shahlai). The complaint also mentions plans of “attacking an embassy of Saudi Arabia” (Narc’s account of the May 24 meeting with Arbabsiar), for “a number of violent missions” (Narc’s account of purportedly unrecorded June-July meetings), “the murder of the Ambassador” (Narc’s account of purportedly unrecorded June-July meetings), and targeting foreign government facilities located outside of the United States, associated with Saudi Arabia and with another country [reported to be Israel]” (footnote 6 describing what Narc reported from these earlier meetings). The quotes from July 14 are ambiguous whether they refer to kidnapping or assassination of al-Jubeir. The quotes from July 17 include clear reference to killing what is presumably (thought not specified as) al-Jubeir. And note what the complaint rather damningly doesn’t mention, though Administration leakers admit?

The plotters also discussed a side deal between the Quds Force, part of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and Los Zetas to funnel tons of opium from the Middle East to Mexico, the official said.

In other words, several things were being negotiated: the kidnapping and/or assassination of al-Jubeir, hits on embassies in Argentina, possibly some other horrible things, and drug deals. So we need to be careful to tie any payments to specific ops.

The use of two different codes in the taped conversations doesn’t make tying payments to specific ops any easier–the complaint mentions “painting,” or “doing” a building (September 2, 20, and October 4), which the FBI Agent interprets without stated confirmation in Arbabsiar’s confession as the murder, as well as the “Chevrolet” (October 5 and 7), which Arbabsiar’s confession says also referred to the murder (syntactically, though, the Chevrolet sounds like a drug deal, while the building seems more closely connected to the murder).

Finally, a conversation on September 12 seems to suggest (though the FBI Agent doesn’t interpret it this way) that Arbabsiar had presented Narc several choices of operations, and the plotters just wanted them to pick one to carry out. After insisting the price would be “one point five,” Arbabsiar told Narc, for example, that he could “prepare for those too [two] … but we need at least one of them” [ellipsis original]. He went on to say that if Narc did “at least one … I’ll send the balance for you” [ellipsis original]. Particularly given the two different codes–building and Chevrolet–it seems possible there were still at least two different operations (both Arbabsiar and Shakuri offer up the building, not the Chevrolet, when they are not being coached as the operation they’re most anxious about). At the very least, this means that two months after the two meetings supposedly finalizing the plan for the assassination, both the price and the objective remained unclear.

No quoted passage ties the $100,000, the $1.5 million, and the assassination

Those two meetings–which do tie money to an attack on the Saudis–took place on July 14 and July 17. Before those meetings even started, however, the $100,000 that was purportedly the down-payment for the al-Jubeir assassination had already been transferred to a middleman; Arbabsiar tells Narc that Individual #1 (who is not described in the same way the Quds officers are, and appears not to have been sanctioned with everyone else) got the “money at nine in the morning.” The quoted passages definitely tie what appears to be the $1.5 million to doing something with Saudi Arabia. “Take the one point five for the Saudi Arabia.” That might be doing something with the Saudi embassy, though later in the same conversation Arbabsiar does confirm Narc’s question that “you just want the main guy.” Given the number of plots they were discussing, that’s not definitive that the $100,000 was tied to the al-Jubeir plot at all, nor is it definitive that the “one point five” was the agreed upon payment for assassinating–as opposed to kidnapping–al-Jubeir. There is no quote that ties all these things together; but assuming the FBI Agent’s interpretation is not really wacko, it does seem this conversation ties the money to some kind of attack on al-Jubeir.

The July 17 conversation–which with the July 14 conversation, includes one of two discussions of bank account numbers for the transfer–makes the focus on assassination much more clear. Narc pretends his guys are in Washington (meaning there’s no doubt the attack in discussion was al-Jubeir rather than the Saudi Embasy in Argentina). And–in the sole quotations in the entire complaint that make it clear Arbabsiar was talking about assassination–in response to Narc’s cue, “I don’t know what exactly your cousin wants me to do,” Arbabsiar says his cousin “wants you to kill this guy” and goes on to say that if necessary, collateral damage of citizens is acceptable.

Consider how laughable this deal-making is. On July 14, Narc gives his price for the job. Then on July 17, he’s still looking for clarification about what the task really is! Read more

Scary Iran Plot: Making an International Case before Passing the Ham Sandwich Test

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger;

I want to return to something Manssor Arbabsiar’s attorney, Sabrina Shroff, said the other day. “If he is indicted, he will plead not guilty.”

I’ve suggested Shroff may have reason to believe Arbabsiar will get a plea deal before this ever goes to the grand jury. Which would mean no one would ever challenge the government on the many holes in this case [oh hey! that’s me at Atlantic.com]: the claimed lack of taped conversations, the explanation why Arbabsiar cooperated, some holes in the government’s money trail (at least as it appears in the complaint), the remarkable coinkydink Arbabsiar just happened to ask a DEA informant to help him kidnap the Saudi Ambassador, and some perhaps incorrect interpretations of existing tape transcripts.

It would be very convenient for the government if this never went to trial.

But think, for a moment, about the government’s actions in this affair. It rolled out a splashy press conference. Joe Biden has declared no options off the table; Susan Rice is “unit[ing] world opinion” against Iran. And if that doesn’t work, Hillary Clinton will make personal calls followed by onsite teams to persuade allies that this whole plot isn’t a bunch of bupkis.

We have rolled out a giant campaign to use this plot to do … something … with Iran.

But it has yet to pass the ham sandwich test.

Our government has had eleven business days now to subject its amended case to the scrutiny of a grand jury, it had two and a half months to subject its original case to the scrutiny of a grand jury, and it hasn’t yet bothered to do so. We’re sharing our case with the rest of the world before we’re subjecting it to the most basic level of oversight enshrined in our Constitution. Instead of using the legal process laid out in our founding document, we’ve gotten the signature of a Magistrate Judge and run off with it to the rest of the world. And while I have no doubt of the competence of Magistrate Judge Michael Dolinger, the judge who signed the complaint in this case, that’s simply not the way our judicial system is supposed to work. Average citizens are supposed to review the work of the government when it makes legal cases, not just Magistrates.

All of which ought to raise real questions why our government has decided to share these details with the rest of the world, but bypassed the step where they’re supposed to share them with its own citizens.

What Is the Source of Gholam Shakuri’s Urgency?

I’m working on a big post that raises more questions about the government’s interpretation of the Scary Iran Plot.

But for the moment I want to raise an issue that might provide a nugget of plausibility for the larger story. And that’s Gholam Shakuri’s urgency.

According to the complaint, Arbabsiar confessed that when he traveled back to Iran (I’ve taken this to be sometime after July 20, but as I explained here, it may have happened earlier) Shakuri told him the kidnap or kill operation had to happen quickly.

ARBABSIAR was asked to have [Narc] kidnap or kill the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States, and told that it would need to be done fast.

Because the government has sealed evidence explaining on what terms Arbabsiar is cooperating, I find his confession to be suspect. But Shakuri does repeat that urgency in the recorded call on October 5 (though note I also find the government’s interpretation of the “code” here suspect, both because it derives from Arbabsiar’s confession and the syntax suggests the FBI Agent is reading a multiplicity of codes to all refer to the assassination).

[After discussing “the Chevrolet”] SHAKURI urged ARBABSIAR “[j]ust do it quickly, it’s late, just buy it for me and bring it already.”

I find the urgency interesting because of several events that would implicate Quds Force power, like the push to sell Bahrain weapons, the negotiations on leaving troops in Iraq and–most notably–the negotiation of a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel on the very day the plot was announced. And remember, the US managed the timing of this, drawing out its denouement over two months after money got transferred and 12 days after Arbabsiar was arrested. I don’t know what role Adel al-Jubeir had in this prisoner swap (Egypt is a key player), but the exchange certainly seems like it would serve Saudi goals of giving Palestine some relief while serving Israeli-dictated US goals of thwarting the PLO UN statehood bid, all while lessening Iranian influence with Hamas.

Frankly, that’s all just based on the coincidence between the announcement of the plot and the prisoner swap.

But it seems that one key to understanding who really sponsored this plot–if there really was one–is understanding Shakuri’s urgency.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

[snip]

“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.

[snip]

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.

Ignatius: CIA Is Involved with the Iran Plot, So It Must Be True!

In the face of near universal ridicule over the Iran plot, the Administration is now trying to shore up the case that this plot is “real.” Many many media outlets are repeating one US official promising multiple sources corroborated the plot (forgetting, apparently, that one source reading a talking point saying he’s got multiple sources is not the same as multiple sources describing credible evidence).

“Multiple” sources have corroborated the report about an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, a scheme the administration is alleging is tied to Iran’s military, a U.S. official told CNN Thursday.

More interesting, the CIA’s mouthpiece, David Ignatius, has been trotted out to reassure us that this is true because the CIA says it is.

But over months, officials at the White House and the Justice Department became convinced the plan was real. One big reason is that the CIA and other intelligence agencies gathered information corraborating the informant’s juicy allegations — and showing that the plot had support from the top leadership of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the covert-action arm of the Iranian government.

It was this intelligence collected in Iran — not tips from someone inside the Mexican drug mafia — that led the Treasury Department to impose sanctions Tuesday on four senior members of the Quds Force who allegedly were “connected” to a plot to murder the Saudi ambassador.

So after going to great lengths to scrub the complaint of any hint that the CIA or NSC was involved in this plot, pretending, for example, that we weren’t tracking where Manssor Arbabsiar was when he traveled abroad, that we weren’t wiretapping his conversations, and that we hadn’t kept a close eye on a car salesman with serial legal troubles and ties to the Quds Force even before this plot, the government has now decided to admit that the CIA was instead central to the plot.

The same CIA that used the equally dubious laptop of death for years to claim Iran had a nukes program. The CIA that dealt Iranians doctored blueprints for nukes. And hell, while we’re at it, the same CIA that overthrew the elected government of Iran to protect BP.

In short, David Ignatius wants to convince us we should believe this plot because the CIA, which has a long history of fabricating or using fabricated evidence to implicate Iran, says the plot is true.

They were better off when they were scrupulously hiding the CIA’s centrality to this plot!

Read more

Gaps in the Iran Plot Docket to Go Along with the Gaps in the Story

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer has some questions about the Iran plot, based partly on what his friend at DOJ said about the lack of record on the purported asassination plot at DOJ.

I did talk to one of my inside guys today and he’s saying that he thinks the same thing–you know why? Because he can’t find any real information and he’s got a clearance. So that tells him that there’s something going on that’s extraordinary by the fact that he’s an inside investigator, knows what’s going on, and yet–I’m gonna quote here, “There’s nothing on this within the DOJ beyond what they’ve talked about publicly,” which means to him there’s something very wrong with it.

The docket in Manssor Arbabsiar’s case at least partly confirms what Shaffer’s buddy said, because there are things that would normally be there but aren’t.

There are a couple of weird aspects to the docket (click to enlarge).

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.

Both of those scenarios suggest that what we see–the WMD and terror charges–might be totally different charges than what the original complaint included (or just focused less closely on Arbabsiar). In any case, the presence of an original complaint, even putting the docket weirdness aside, makes it pretty likely that Arbabsiar decided to cooperate because of what was in that complaint.

Now look at his status. “Detention on consent without prejudice.” Arbabsiar wants to be in jail. Given that his cooperation and implication of the Qods Force has turned into an international incident, I don’t blame the guy.

All of which does sort of make you wonder what medical attention the court ordered for Arbabsiar.

Now we may find there are perfectly reasonable explanations for why an already funky complaint that goes to great lengths to pretend the spooks weren’t involved in the case when they played an explicitly critical role has some oddities in its docket. But I would suggest–and I hope to at more length tomorrow–that DOJ’s records system might be the wrong place to look for background information on Manssor Arbabsiar.

And at the very least, the gaps in the docket mean that DOJ is currently unwilling to tell us when and on what charges Arbabsiar was first charged, and on what basis he cooperated with the authorities.

Update: This post was tweaked for clarity.

Update: As I was responding to EH, I realized something. As I said to him, the least damning explanation for the two complaints is that the original complaint had the same charges–WMD, terrorism, etc.–but charging just Arbabsiar.

But that’s not right! Three of the four charges are conspiracy charges (the exception was Foreign Travel and Use of Interstate and Foreign Commerce Facilities in the Commission of Murder-for-Hire). Unless the government were preparing a really crazy prosecution theory, you don’t charge just one person with conspiracy. Which raises real questions about what the charges in the original complaint were, particularly given the only evidence they had were money transfers not tied directly to Qods Force. And some tapes (as well as some key conversations that were not taped). The missing tapes would be particularly problematic given that Arbabsiar claims he was not sent to do murder for hire, he was sent to do kidnapping, and those missing tapes might explain how the plot evolved).

Update: I think I finally got the August/September fix right. Thanks, MD.

The Iran “Plot”: Hillary Tries to Involve the UN

Hillary Clinton has invoked a UN treaty protecting diplomats and country leaders in her effort to turn the absurd Iranian plot into an international incident.

If they were involved in a plot to kill Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir, that would likely violate the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons.

[snip]

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a point on Wednesday of noting that Iran had agreed to the U.N. treaty.

“This kind of reckless act undermines international norms and the international system. Iran must be held accountable for its actions,” she said.

The United States has two options if Iran officially rejects the case, including pursuing action at the U.N. Security Council. That was done when Libya refused to hand over two men accused of the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The United States or Saudi Arabia could bring it to the United Nations and argue that “these are very obvious violations and for the Security Council to do nothing in light of this major attempted violation cheapens the words” of the treaty, Kaye said.

Another option, if there is a dispute under the U.N. treaty for protected persons, is that one side can seek an arbitration and ultimately a ruling from the Court of International Justice, located in the Netherlands.

How convenient that this plot would so neatly provide the US and Saudi Arabia opportunity to start demanding the extradition of Qods Force leaders.

But given the Intelligence Community’s acknowledged, though still unexplained role in this plot, and given that the development of a kidnapping plot into an assassination plot (both are covered by the UN treaty) may have happened during conversations where our experienced DEA informant somehow forgot to press the button on his tape recorder, and given that the FBI coached the DEA agent to invent all the details of this plot (including, potentially, its location in DC), shouldn’t Hillary be a little more cautious before she calls for the extradition of those who dreamt up this plot?

It would be terrible if our own people were held accountable for one of the many acts of attempted terrorism they’ve either incited or encouraged, after all.

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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