The ‘Terrorist’ Who Couldn’t Think Straight

Iranian 'terrorist' plot unravels 

by , October 14, 2011

Would Iran recruit a used car salesman with a memory problem to conduct assassinations in the US? 

This is a question you have to ask yourself when evaluating the alleged Iranian "terrorist" plot supposedly uncovered by Attorney General Eric Holder the other day. The arrest of Mansour Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old Iranian immigrant who came to this country as a college student, was the occasion for a trumpet blast of anti-Iranian propaganda and belligerent declarations by US officials, who vowed to "hold Iran accountable" for purportedly mounting a plot [.pdf] to kill the Saudi ambassador, bomb the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington, and strike at the Jewish community in Argentina. 

The alleged plot was supposed to have been carried out by a member of the Zetas drug cartel, who was to be paid up to $1.5 million to implement the plan. US officials, even while acknowledging the "B-movie" aspect of the story, reportedly "fanned out" to convince our allies the plot was real and – with Congress already demanding new sanctions on Iran – that the economic vise be tightened. Not only are the more hysterical neocons calling for military action against Iran – no surprise there — but the headlines had the normally staid and relatively reserved Steve Clemons, a prominent Obama shill, babbling that "this is a serious situation" and "the U.S. has reached a point where it must take action," and  Sen. Carl Levin calling the plot "an act of war."

Less than 24 hours after Holder’s press conference, the whole fantasy began to unravel under closer scrutiny. Gary Sick, of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University, averred that the alleged plot "departs from all known Iranian policies and procedures," and went on to write: 

"It is difficult to believe that they would rely on a non-Islamic criminal gang to carry out this most sensitive of all possible missions. In this instance, they allegedly relied on at least one amateur and a Mexican criminal drug gang that is known to be riddled with both Mexican and U.S. intelligence agents. 

"Whatever else may be Iran’s failings, they are not noted for utter disregard of the most basic intelligence tradecraft, e.g. discussing an ultra-covert operation on an open international line between Iran and the U.S. Yet that is what happened here." 

Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East analyst with the Congressional Research Office, concurs:

"There is simply no precedent — or even reasonable rationale — for Iran working any plot, no matter where located, through a non-Muslim proxy such as Mexican drug gangs. No one high up in the Quds, the I.R.G.C. command, the Supreme National Security Committee, or anywhere else in the Iranian chain of command would possibly trust that such a plot could be kept secret or carried out properly by the Mexican drug people. They absolutely would not trust such a thing to them, given Iran’s undoubted assumption that the Mexicans are penetrated by the D.E.A. and F.B.I. and A.T.F., etc — and indeed this plot was revealed by just such a U.S. informant….

"Are we to believe that this Texas car seller was a Quds sleeper agent for many years resident in the U.S.? Ridiculous. They (the Iranian command system) never ever use such has-beens or loosely connected people for sensitive plots such as this."

Ridiculous – that just about says it all.  

But as Ayn Rand once said: "Don’t bother to question a fallacy, ask yourself only what it accomplishes." The idea is to target Iran as the next al-Qaeda: with the late unlamented Osama bin Laden out of the picture, the US has to find a replacement – and quick! – in order to justify its decade-long post-9/11 rampage across the Middle East and much of the rest of the world. What’s a war without an enemy? Iran has always been the War Party’s ultimate Middle Eastern target, and now they are making their move. 

As an opening shot in a propaganda war, Holder’s startling announcement had high impact – but low credibility, as the excitement died down and the details came into focus. The problem with the narrative woven by the Justice Department is that the supposed fulcrum of this heinous plot, Senor Arbabsiar, is hardly the sort of character who makes a convincing terrorist/foreign agent. Longtime associate Tom Hosseini, a fellow Iranian-American who has known Arbabsiar for over 30 years, wondered aloud to a Washington Post reporter "how anyone – but most especially an elite military organization such as Iran’s Quds force — would get involved with Arbabsiar in the first place." 

"Maybe," says Hosseini, "somebody offered him some money. He doesn’t have the brain to say no." 

Arbabsiar certainly had a lot of money on him when he and Hosseini met in Iranian Kurdistan last August: the Post reports he was "waving around crisp $100 bills" and declaring that there was a lot more where that came from. Yet Arbabsiar’s many businesses – "from used cars to kebabs" – had all failed. Perhaps this lack of business acumen was tied to his general inability to think straight, or, as the Post puts it:  

"Within the small Iranian American community in this Gulf Coast city, Arbabsiar, 56, was well known and well liked. But he was also renowned for being almost comically absent-minded, perpetually losing keys, cellphones, briefcases, anything that wasn’t tied down."

The Post profile is headlined "Mansour Arbabsiar recalled as upbeat about finances during summer encounter," but the actual story deserves a title more along the lines of "The ‘terrorist’ who couldn’t think straight":

"’He was just not organized,’ said David Tomscha, who once owned a car lot with Arbabsiar. ‘He would lose the titles to cars. Or he’d say it was a 1989 Grand Marquis when it was an ’82. And when you’d call him on it, he’d say, ‘What’s the difference?’ Eventually, I bought him out.’" 

"There is a certain bewilderment in Corpus Christi that anyone as apparently hapless as Arbabsiar could get involved in an international conspiracy. ‘A goofy guy who always had a smile on his face,’ said Mitchel Hamauei, also a store owner. ‘Let me put it this way: He’s no mastermind.’" 

Either the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have lowered their standards considerably, or Arbabsiar wasn’t working for them, but for someone else. The question is: who are the real masterminds?  Whoever they are, their intent was clear: this was a plot designed to be discovered.

The sheer implausibility of the position taken by both the US Justice Department and the State Department – that the Iranian government was behind the plot – necessitates a more subtle spin, such as the view taken by Meir Javadenfar, of the Israel-based Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Company. Javadenfar speculates that the whole thing was a "set up" of the Supreme Ayatollah Khamenei by a dissident faction within the Iranian national security apparatus. This assumes, of course, that the patently ridiculous Official Story is true, and even heightens its impact: for if there is a "rogue" element at work within Iranian ruling circles, then the danger is even more extreme. After all, here are presumed radicals who wouldn’t hesitate to bring destruction – in the form of US bombs falling on Tehran – on their own country, and certainly wouldn’t hesitate to inflict the same and worse on American soil.  

This view, however, is fatally flawed, in that it assumes the veracity of the Justice Department’s narrative, which, as we have seen, is a fiction that fails – and fails badly – in the realm of character development. It is just not credible that the goofy Arbabsiar, who may have sustained brain damage as the result of a brutal beating he received in his student years, was the mastermind behind a plot that might have proved to be a twenty-first century Sarajevo. 

More interesting, and much more credible, is the view of Hamid Serri, an Iran expert at Florida International University, who is cited in the New York Times as suggesting "another alternate explanation for the plot": 

"That it could have been the work of a non-Iranian intelligence agency or even a terrorist organization with an interest in creating ‘a confrontation that involves the U.S., Iran and Saudi Arabia.’ Referring to the fact that the only money that apparently changed hands before the alleged plot was exposed was $100,000 wired from what was said to be an Iranian-controlled bank account to a man posing as a member of the Mexican cartel Los Zetas (who turned out to be an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency), Mr. Serri observed that this would be a ‘cheap price’ for an enemy of Iran to pay for the damning headlines that have appeared since the alleged plot was exposed." 

Which non-Iranian intelligence agencies and/or terrorist organizations would stand to gain from such a confrontation? I can think of two: the Israelis and al-Qaeda. The former, after all, have been agitating for war quite openly; and as for al-Qaeda, those vultures are likely to be found circling over any Middle Eastern battlefield.  

In choosing between these two as the likely culprit, I’ll await fresh evidence before making a final judgment. I would note, however, that al-Qaeda isn’t in very good shape these days, with their top leadership mostly dead, and their ranks scattered and demoralized.  

The Israelis, on the other hand, have both the means and the motivation: they are desperate to provoke a war between the US and Iran, and have been for years. Moreover, there are elements of Netanyahu’s government who would stop at nothing to achieve this end. Remember that Avigdor Lieberman is the Foreign Minister, and controls a good chunk of the Israeli national security bureaucracy: his extremist party, the successor to the infamous Kach movement, which wants to deport all Arabs and create a "Greater Israel," is the electoral expression of the radical "settler" movement, which is now defying the Israeli army and carrying out terrorist attacks within Israel. In Weimar Israel, the extremists are on the rise – and they have their supporters within the establishment and the government itself, including the intelligence services.  

Analysts often point, almost by default, to the option of attributing the alleged plot to a "rogue faction" of the Iranian government, but it’s just as likely – if not more likely – that this "rogue faction" is Israeli. It wouldn’t be the first time the Israelis have been strongly suspected of carrying out extensive covert activities in the US.  

If, indeed, this is the case, then the question arises: has Holder’s Justice Department been duped, or are they complicit in the deception? In this scenario, no doubt evidence of both will rise to the surface, but I’m betting on the former. These are the same people who were duped by the cartels into replenishing their arsenals, and it looks to me like that same undercover operation has been duped — by an unknown third party — into provoking an incident that could lead to World War III.  

Another possibility is that the Justice Department thought this up all by themselves, as a way to curry favor within an administration where they’re no doubt on the outs, and also to justify their Mexican operation, of which "Fast and Furious" is but a small part. The Law of Bureaucratic Self-Justification applies here, and that could well be the full explanation – although it may have played a complementary role to Serri’s thesis.  

In any case, what you need to know about this case is that it’s one-hundred percent baloney, from start to finish. It’s the crudest sort of war propaganda, the kind that insults the intelligence of the audience it is supposed to convince – and that, too, is a clue to its provenance.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN 

Julian Borger makes an important point in the Guardian

“The key evidence that the alleged plot was serious was the $100,000 wire transfer. It came from a foreign bank account, but that cannot be an Iranian account because such transfers are impossible under US law. The money must have come from a third country, but which? And how can the US authorities be so sure the foreign accounts were under the control of the Quds force?” 

I have a feeling this case will never come to an open and extended trial, at which the details of this absurdly fishy case would spill out and stink up the courtroom.

Read more by Justin Raimondo