Gareth Porter, The Grayzone, August 02 2020:… Nisman’s 2006 indictment of seven Iranian officials for the terror plot relied completely on the claims of senior members of the Mujahedin-E-Khalq (MEK), the Israeli and Saudi-backed Iranian exile cult. Not only were none of the MEK members in any position to provide reliable information about a supposedly high-level Iranian plot because they had been actively engaged in a terrorist campaign of their own against the Islamic government by helping Iraq’s then-President Saddam Hussein select targets in Iran. Mossad info, MEK sources – Resorting to bribery, to blame Iran for AMIA
Mossad info, MEK sources – Resorting to bribery, to blame Iran for AMIA
How a police spy’s stunning testimony threatens the official US-Israeli AMIA bombing narrative
Revelations by a former police spy upend the official story blaming Iran for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, and suggest a cover-up by dirty war elements may have let the real culprits off the hook.
The July 18, 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina was one of the worst pre-9/11 terrorist attacks in the Western hemisphere, killing 85 and injuring 300.
For over a quarter century, the US and Israeli governments have blamed Iran for the bloodshed, citing it as primary evidence of Tehran’s role as the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism.
This narrative remains part of the propaganda offensive against Iran, and has been exploited by the Donald Trump administration to justify a campaign of economic strangulation aimed at either destabilizing the Islamic Republic or achieving regime change.
Soon after the bombing, the United States and Israel placed heavy pressure on the Argentine government to implicate Iran. At the time, however, officials in the embassy in Buenos Aires were well aware there was no hard evidence to support such a conclusion.
In an August 1994 cable to the State Department, US Ambassador James Cheek boasted of the “steady campaign” the embassy had waged that “kept the Iranians in the dock where they belong.” In a striking comment to this writer in 2007, Cheek conceded, “To my knowledge, there was never any real evidence” of Iranian responsibility.
Bill Brencick, the chief of the political section in the US embassy from 1994 to 1997, also acknowledged in a 2007 interview that US insinuations of Iranian responsibility were based solely on a “wall of assumptions” that had “no hard evidence to connect those assumptions to the case.”
Brencick recalled that he and other US officials recognized “enough of a Jewish community [in Buenos Aires] and a history of anti-Semitism that local anti-Semites had to be considered as suspects.” But this line of investigation was never pursued in any official capacity, likely because it contradicted the interests of a US national security state that was dead-set on indicting Iran for the bombing.
However, a dramatic development has threatened to upend the official US-Israeli narrative on the AMIA attack. In 2014, the public learned that a former spy who had infiltrated the Jewish community in Buenos Aires on behalf of Argentina’s Federal Police had revealed to two investigative journalists that he had been ordered to turn over blueprints to the AMIA building to his Federal Police case officer.
The spy was convinced the building plans were used by the real culprits behind the bombing. His stunning revelation prompted a series of articles in the Argentine press.
The former infiltrator’s account provided the first clear indication that anti-Semitic veterans of Argentina’s “Dirty War” and their allies in the Argentine police and intelligence service orchestrated the explosion.
But Argentina’s legal system — still heavily influenced by the intelligence agency that influenced the official investigation to blame Iran and a prosecutor whose career had been based on that premise — stubbornly refused to investigate the former police spy’s account.
Jose Alberto Perez infiltrated Argentina’s Jewish community on behalf of the Federal Police. He went by the name “Iosi.”
Infiltration, torture, anti-Semitic conspiracies
The former police infiltrator, Jose Alberto Perez, believed the AMIA building blueprints he had provided to the Federal Police were used by those who planned the bombing. He had learned from his police counter-terrorism training course that such building plans could be valuable tools for planning such an operation.
Perez was also convinced that the bomb had detonated inside the building, rather than in front, and had been placed in the interior of the AMIA building through a gap between it and a neighboring building. Experts of Argentina’s Gendarmerie had come to the same conclusion, and leaked it to Clarin, Argentina’s largest tabloid, just two days after the bombing.
Perez also provided crucial evidence that those who had used him to spy on Jewish community leaders were motivated by the same anti-Semitic beliefs that had led the Argentine military dictatorship to single out Jews for especially cruel treatment during the “dirty war” in the 1970s: his case officer, whom he knew only as “Laura”, had ordered him to find out as much he could from the Jewish community about the so-called “Andinia Plan.”
The Andinia Plan conspiracy theory drove the junta’s hostility toward local Jews
According to that alleged plan, Jewish immigrants and foreign Zionists had been secretly plotting to take control of the vast Patagonia region of southern Argentina and create a Jewish state to be called “Andinia.”
The myth of the “Andinia Plan” followed the rise of anti-Semitism as a major social force in Argentina during the 1930s and became a staple of the anti-Semitic right’s narrative during the heyday of military domination of the Argentine society and politics from the 1960s through the “dirty war” against leftists in the 1970s.
At least 12 percent of those subjected to interrogation, torture, and murder during the dirty war were Jews, according to an investigation by the Barcelona-based Commission of Solidarity with Relatives of the Disappeared, although they represented only 1 percent of the population. Nearly all were interrogated about the “Andinia Plan.”
The crusading Argentine journalist Jacobo Timerman, who was born to Jewish parents and whose newspaper provided critical coverage of the military regime’s “dirty war,” was among those detained in the junta’s secret prisons.
Timerman recalled in his memoir how he was asked repeatedly to reveal what he knew about the “Andinia Plan” during extended interrogation and torture sessions. His interrogator refused to accept his answer that it was merely a fiction.
Meanwhile Israel, which maintained strong military and political ties to the Argentine Junta throughout the dirty war, remained silent about the Jewish journalist’s detention throughout the war.
“Iosi” goes to the press
Jose Alberto Perez, for his part, was wracked with guilt about having enabled the AMIA terror bombing. He had become an integral part of the Jewish community, studying Hebrew for three years, marrying a Jewish woman who was the secretary of an Israeli Embassy official and even taking the Jewish version of his Spanish surname, Jose. Within the Jewish community, he was known as “Iosi” Perez.
As he fell into despair, Iosi contacted investigative journalists Miriam Lewin and Horacio Lutzky to ask their help. The two journalists had tried for years to find a foreign sponsor to grant the former spy asylum abroad but to no avail.
Meanwhile, Iosi had secretly taped a video with the prominent Argentine journalist Gabriel Levinas in which he narrated his work penetrating the Jewish community and the unusual request for the blueprints. Levinas posted the video online in early July 2014, just prior to the publication of the second edition of his own book on the AMIA bombing, which included Iosi’s story.
The release of that video prompted Lewin and Lutzky to arrange for Iosi to join Argentina’s Witness Protection Program. The two journalists also urged Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who had spent a decade accusing Iran of the bombing, to meet Iosi in person.
But according to Lewin, Nisman would only agree to speak with Iosi on the phone. The prosecutor insisted on having three of his employees interview Iosi in person, she recalled in an interview with The Grayzone, then signed a declaration about that July 2014 meeting as though he had been present, and “did not show interest in interrogating him any further.” Iosi entered the Witness Protection Program the same day as the interview, according to Lewin.
Iosi’s Federal Police case officer “Laura,” who was retired by then, was released by the minister of security from the normal secrecy requirement about Iosi’s work. But she rejected Iosi’s testimony, according to Lewin, claiming his reports had been judged “poor.” Her claims stood in stark contrast to the actual reports obtained by prosecutors which clearly showed his findings had been evaluated as “excellent” year after year.
Lewin told The Grayzone she was confident that Iosi would have been able to provide “solid information about the local connection of the bombing,” but none of the four prosecutors who inherited the unsolved AMIA case after Nisman’s death were willing to follow up on the leads he provided.
Lewin noted that several of the senior Federal Police officials who would have been involved in the decisions to infiltrate the Jewish Community and request the AMIA blueprints were still active in 2015. That fact helps to explain why the case was left to die despite Iosi’s explosive revelations.
SIDE covers the junta’s back
Another key factor in the corruption of the AMIA investigation was the role of the state intelligence agency, known as SIDE, in influencing the lead prosecutor, Judge Juan Jose Galeano. Not only was a special unit within SIDE tasked with overseeing the Galeano’s investigation, another SIDE unit operated directly inside Galeano’s office, as journalist Sergio Kiernan reported.
SIDE proceeded to exploit its power to divert attention away from the logical suspects within the junta, circling the wagons to protect its own.
As Sergio Moreno and Laura Termine reported in the daily La Prensa, November 28, 1994, the SIDE unit handling the AMIA investigation was notorious for its hatred of Jews. The group consisted of veterans of the dirty war known as the “Cabildo” group, their name inspired by a right wing anti-Semitic magazine published in the early 1980s that had republished an infamous tract detailing the “Andinia Plan” conspiracy.
The chief of the Cabildo group unsuccessfully sued Moreno and Termine for labeling his unit anti-Semitic. Following complaints by Jewish community leaders about the Cabildo group’s role in the AMIA investigation, it was removed from the case – but not before it deflected public attention away from leaders of the dirty war and onto an alleged Iranian conspiracy.
SIDE’s PR strategy depended on the theory that the AMIA explosion emanated from a vehicle-born suicide bomb, thereby casting suspicion on Iran and its ally, Hezbollah.
The intelligence services claimed a white light commercial van had been used in the bombing. Its engine was supposedly found in the rubble on July 25, a week after the explosion.
The identification number on the engine was traced to Carlos Alberto Telleldin, the Shia owner of a shady “chop shop” operation that rebuilt damaged cars for sale. Telleldin was accused of being an accessory to the terror plot and jailed on other charges.
But the official AMIA case files revealed that Telleldin had been targeted before the AMIA bombing. This stunning fact was noticed by a “private prosecutor” hired by the organization of AMIA victims Memoria Activa.
According to a close analysis of the official evidence by Alberto L. Zuppi, a request by Federal Police to wiretap Telleldin’s phone was issued on July 20 — at least five days before the alleged discovery of the engine that led investigators to blame Telleldin.
In the weeks that followed the AMIA explosion, more evidence surfaced that pointed to Telledin’s role as a patsy.
In September 1994, five Lebanese nationals were detained as they tried to leave Argentina for Paraguay. Through a series of leaks, SIDE planted stories in the media suggesting the suspects were linked to a terrorist network.
The following month, a part-time agent for SIDE and former chief of a notorious prison camp where suspects were tortured during the “dirty war,” Captain Hector Pedro Vergez, began visiting Telleldin in prison.
In four meetings between September 1994 and January 1995, Vergez offered the jailed suspect $1 million and his freedom if he would identify two of the Lebanese nationals who were then detained in Paraguay as having purchased the van from him — thus making it possible to accuse them of the bombing. But Telleldin refused to lie, and the SIDE plan was derailed.
It was not long, however, before SIDE and Galeano initiated a new plan to implicate two Buenos Aires provincial policemen as Iranian-sponsored culprits.
Resorting to bribery, Mossad info, and MEK sources to blame Iran
In July 1996, Juan Jose Galeano personally visited Carlos Telleldin in prison and offered him $400,000 to blame the two police officers. The scandalous scene was captured in a video shown on Argentine television in 1997.
SIDE was actively involved in the cover-up operation, with agency director Hugo Anzorreguy approving a direct payment to Telleldin’s wife.
The case against the two policemen was thrown out in court in 2004, but Galeano and Anzorreguy went unpunished for another 15 years. It was not until 2019 that they were sentenced to prison terms for their role in the affair, highlighting the culture of impunity that surrounded SIDE.
Once the Galeano case imploded, Alberto Nisman attempted to craft yet another narrative blaming Iran for the bombing. For this, he depended on information provided by Israel’s Mossad to Jaime Stiuso, the SIDE official in charge of counterintelligence.
Nisman’s 2006 indictment of seven Iranian officials for the terror plot relied completely on the claims of senior members of the Mujahedin-E-Khalq (MEK), the Israeli and Saudi-backed Iranian exile cult.
Not only were none of the MEK members in any position to provide reliable information about a supposedly high-level Iranian plot because they had been actively engaged in a terrorist campaign of their own against the Islamic government by helping Iraq’s then-President Saddam Hussein select targets in Iran.
Nisman’s reliance on such unscrupulous sources demonstrated his own apparent determination to reach preordained conclusions about Iran’s guilt. It was hardly a surprise, then, that Nisman ignored Iosi’s revelatory testimony.
Nisman’s other major source, Jaime Stiuso of SIDE, was a notorious manipulator who had spent years collecting wiretaps on Argentine politicians. In 2014, the intelligence chief was working to build a case against President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner for supposedly conspiring with Iran to eliminate the official Argentine accusation of Iranian guilt. Few observers believed the case would hold up under close scrutiny.
In January 2015, Nisman was found dead in his apartment of a gunshot wound to the head. Though political opponents of Kirchner were convinced the prosecutor’s death was the result of a government-sponsored murder, a recent documentary detailing the various investigations of his death, “Nisman: el fiscal, la presidenta y el espía,” concluded that he had committed suicide.
By the time of his death, Nisman was helping direct a disinformation campaign that allowed SIDE to cover for shadowy figures from Argentina’s violently anti-Semitic past, and to bury their likely role in the AMIA bombing.
Iosi’s testimony should have ended that cover-up, but Nisman, SIDE, and the Federal Police colluded to quash a serious investigation.
A quarter-century after the bombing, impunity for the real AMIA terrorists continues.
By Gareth Porter, thegrayzone
Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist who has covered national security policy since 2005 and was the recipient of Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in 2012. His most recent book is The CIA Insider’s Guide to the Iran Crisis co-authored with John Kiriakou, just published in February.
Mossad info, MEK sources – Resorting to bribery, to blame Iran for AMIA
The Nisman Murder and the AMIA Terror Bombing: A Tangled Thread
Gareth Porter, Anti War, February 07 2015:… Nisman asserted that the highest Iranian officials had decided to carry out the bombing at a meeting on 12 or 14 August, 1993, primarily on the testimony of four officials of the Mujahedeen E-Khalq (MEK), the Iranian exile terrorist group that was openly dedicated to the overthrow of the Iranian regime. The four …
The Nisman Murder and the AMIA Terror Bombing: A Tangled Thread
The evidence already available about Argentine Prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s death from a gunshot to the head creates a strong presumption that he was murdered. He was about to present publicly his accusation that President Christina Fernández de Kirchner and her foreign minister, Héctor Timerman conspired to absolve Iran of the 1994 AMIA bombing and lift the Interpol red notices on the accused Iranians.
And it was Nisman’s 2006 request for the arrest of six former senior Iranian officials for the bombing that prompted his push for those red notices. In the context of Argentine political culture, with its long experience of impunity for crimes committed by the powerful, the circumstances of his death have led to a general conviction that the government must have been behind his murder.
But there is good reason to be cautious about that assumption. Nisman’s case against Kirchner was problematic. The central accusation in his affidavit, made 96 times, according to press accounts, was that Kirchner and Timerman had sought to revoke the Interpol arrest warrants against the former Iranian officials. But Ronald K. Noble, the secretary general of Interpol for fifteen years until last November, denied Nisman’s accusation. Noble declared, “I can say with 100 percent certainty, not a scintilla of doubt, that Foreign Minister Timerman and the Argentine government have been steadfast, persistent and unwavering that the Interpol’s red notices be issued, remain in effect and not be suspend or removed.”
Noble’s denial raises an obvious question: Why would the Kirchner government, knowing that Nisman’s main claim could be easily refuted, have any reason to kill him on the eve of the presentation of his case? Why give those seeking to discredit the government’s policy on the AMIA bombing the opportunity to shift the issue from the facts of the case to the presumption of officially sponsored assassination?
The Kirchner-Timerman negotiation of an agreement with Iran in January 2013 for an “international truth commission” on the AMIA bombing that would have sent five respected international judicial figures to Iran to question the accused Iranians. That was a way of getting around the Iranian refusal to subject former high-ranking officials to Argentine justice. But Nisman was trying to prove that was an illicit cover-up for a cynical deal with Iran. He considered it “a betrayal of the country and his work”, according to his friend, Gustavo Perednik.
Nisman’s “criminal complaint” against Kirchner and Timerman claimed the government’s negotiations with Iran involved a “sophisticated criminal plan” to make a deal with one of the Iranians the prosecutor accused of the AMIA bombing, former cultural attaché Mohsen Rabbani. It asserted that Argentina promised Iran that it would lift the Interpol notices on the six Iranian in exchange for an “oil for grains” deal.
Nisman’s accusation was based on snippets of transcripts from 5,000 hours of wiretaps of conversations of allies of Kirchner government that have now been made public by a judge. One of the excerpts quotes Rabbani himself, in a conversation with an ally of Fernandez, as saying:
Iran was Argentina’s main buyer and now it’s buying almost nothing. That could change. Here [in Iran] there are some sectors of the government who’ve told me they are willing to sell oil to Argentina … and also to buy weapons.
The statement proves nothing, however, except that that Rabbani knew some Iranian officials who were interested in oil sales to Argentina. No evidence of Rabbani being involved in negotiating on behalf of Iran is suggested in the Nisman document, and the person at the other end of the line was not an Argentine official. So the conversation did not involve anyone who even had direct knowledge of the actual negotiations between the governments of Iran and Argentina.
The same thing applies to the other individuals who have been identified as speaking on the wiretaps in favour of such a deal. Those individuals are friendly with officials of the Kirchner government and friendly with Iran, but the actual negotiations were carried out by senior officials of the foreign ministries of Iran and Argentina, not by private individuals. The distinction between knowledge and hearsay is a fundamental principle in judicial processes for a very good reason.
The presentation of facts or allegations as proof of guilt, even though they proved nothing of the sort, was also a pattern that permeated Nisman’s 2006 “Request for Arrests” in the 1994 AMIA bombing. Contrary to the general reverence in the news media for his indictment of senior Iranian officials for their alleged responsibility for the bombing, his case was built on a massive accumulation of highly dubious and misleading claims, from the “irrefutable evidence” of Rabbani’s participation in planning to the identification of the alleged suicide car bomber. This writer’s investigation of the case over several months, which included interviews with US diplomats who had served in the Embassy in Buenos Aires in the years following the AMIA bombing as well as with the FBI official detailed to work on the case in 1996-97, concluded that the Argentine investigators never found any evidence of Iranian involvement.
Nisman asserted that the highest Iranian officials had decided to carry out the bombing at a meeting on 12 or 14 August, 1993, primarily on the testimony of four officials of the Mujahedeen E-Khalq (MEK), the Iranian exile terrorist group that was openly dedicated to the overthrow of the Iranian regime. The four MEK officials claimed to know the precise place, date and time and the three-point agenda of the meeting.
When US Ambassador, Anthony Wayne, meeting with Nisman in November 2006, asked him about Argentine press reports that had criticised the document for using the testimony of “unreliable witnesses,” Nisman responded, according to the Embassy reporting cable, that “several of the witnesses were “former senior Iraqi [sic] officials, e.g. Bani Sadr, with direct knowledge of events surrounding the conception of the attacks.”
Nisman’s suggestion that former Iranian president Abolhassen Banisadr had “direct knowledge” related to the AMIA bombings was a stunningly brazen falsehood. Banisadr had been impeached by the Iranian legislature in June 1981 and had fled to Paris the following month – thirteen years before the bombing.
Nisman also cited the testimony of Abolghassem Mesbahi, who called himself a “defector” from the Iranian intelligence service, that Iranian officials had made such a decision sometime in August 1993. But Mesbahi was known by US intelligence analysts as a “serial fabricator”, who had also told an obviously false story about Iranian involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Nisman failed to mention, moreover, that Mesbahi had given a secret 100-page deposition to Argentine investigators in 2000 in Mexico in which he had claimed the planning for the attack had begun in 1992.
Nisman’s was so convinced of Iran’s guilt that he was ready to see almost any fact as supporting evidence, even when there was an obvious reason for doubting its relevance. For example, he cited Rabbani’s shopping for a van “similar to the one that exploded in front of the AMIA building a few months later.” In fact, however, as I reported in 2008, the Argentine investigation files include the original intelligence report on the surveillance of Rabbani showing that Rabbani’s visit to the car dealer was not “a few months” before the bombing, but a full fifteen months earlier.
Despite the Argentine intelligence following Rabbani’s every move and tapping his telephones for all those months, Nisman cites nothing indicating that Rabbani did anything indicating his involvement in preparations for a terror bombing. The FBI official who assisted the investigation told me in a November 2007 interview that the use of phone metadata to suggest that Rabbani was in touch with an “operational group” nothing but “speculation”, and said that neither he nor officials in Washington had taken it seriously as evidence or Rabbani’s involvement.
The fact that Nisman’s two indictments related to Iran and AMIA were extremely tendentious obviously does not dispose of the question of who killed him. But whatever the reason for his being killed, it wasn’t because he had revealed irrefutable truths about AMIA and Argentine government policy.
Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specializing in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book is Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. He can be contacted at [email protected].
Reprinted from the Middle East Eye with the author’s permission.