The alleged Iranian plot to pay the Zetas drug gang to murder a Washington ambassador sounds like the idea of someone who has little knowledge and even less contact with criminal groups in Mexico.

The story would be almost comical, if it did not threaten to destabilize the Middle East. It is filled with holes, beginning with the Iranian spies who, if the U.S. is to be believed, did not do their homework about undercover operations or the Zetas or Mexico or drug trafficking or criminal groups, or indeed much of anything.

The indictment (available for download here) says that an Iranian-American car dealer, Manssor Arbabsiar, based in Corpus Christi, Texas, was moonlighting as a spy for the Qods Force, a special operations unit of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Specifically, it says, he was working with someone described as his "cousin," Gholam Shakuri, who is presumably a member of the Qods with access to a lot of money to pay assassins via wire transfers.

At some point (the indictment does not say), Arbabsiar met a man he took for a member of the Zetas cartel, who turned out to be a Drug Enforcement Administration informant. The two then met numerous times in Reynosa, according to an ABC news account, where they hatched a plan to kill the Saudi Ambassador to Washington DC for a fee of $1.5 million.

Reynosa, as a quick Google search will tell you, is not Zetas but Gulf Cartel territory. But neither Arbabsiar or the Qods appear to be avid readers of InSight Crime, Southern Pulse, Borderland Beat, Molly's Frontera List or any other of the sites that cover this type of criminal organization.

If they were, they would have also known that neither the Zetas, nor any other Mexian criminal group for that matter, are really interested in committing acts of political violence on U.S. soil, much less ones involving foreign governments. They are interested in committing criminal acts, mostly in Mexico.

"I find it hard to belive that Los Zetas would entertain the thought of bombing a target on U.S. soil," Southern Pulse's Director Samuel Logan told InSight Crime in an online chat. "They and other Mexican organized criminal groups use street gangs for their U.S. operations precisely because they respect the FBI and the U.S. justice system. If it's true that Los Zetas agreed to target a foreign national on U.S. soil, with a bomb no less, this group is either more stupid or more desperate than we thought - or both."

To be fair, no one is saying that the Zetas were involved in the plot; the core issue is whether the Iranian government thought the Zetas would be involved, which speaks to the lack of understanding or contact they have with the Mexican underworld.

"The clearly amateurish nature of Iran's involvement here shows that we have less to fear," writes James Bosworth in his blog, referring to the often-invoked specter of Islamic militants seeking Mexican drug cartel assistance to get at the United States. "The fact that an Iranian Qods-linked official is poking around the border looking for Zetas sicarios and ends up with the DEA informant suggests that Iran and Hezbollah have far less ties to the Mexican organized crime scene than some analysts would want you to believe. If they were as linked and conspiring as some analysts claim, they would have just picked up the phone and called their friends to either set up the operation or at least verify that the guy they are paying $1.5 million to is legit. Instead, they screwed up and got caught relatively easily."

The indictment says that the informant strung Arbabsiar along, even pushing him to transfer payment into a bank account secretly controlled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), also a no-no in the world of hiring assassins (hint: use cash). On September 29, the Mexicans denied Arbabsiar entry and he was rerouted to New York, where the U.S. captured him.

After a few hours, he confessed. After a few days, he was making calls to his Qod "cousin." Using the code name "Chevrolet" to refer to the plot (why would a car dealer use a carmaker as the code name?), they had this interesting conversation:

Arbasiar: "I wanted to tell you, Chevrolet is ready, it's ready, to be done. I should continue, right?"

Shakuri: "Yes. Yes, yes."

[...]

"You mean you are buying all of it? ... I don't know for now, it's ready, okay?"

"So buy it, buy it."

"Buy it? Okay."

"Buy it, yes, buy all of it."

The U.S. Department of Justice's announcement of the "foiled plot" was met with healthy skepticism in the media. "If Iranian government operatives really did try to contract a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., as the Obama Administration alleges today, then they weren't just being diabolical. They were being fairly stupid," wrote Time's Tim Padgett.

The New York Times quoted Hillary Clinton, asking the very pertinent question: "The idea that they would attempt to go to a Mexican drug cartel to solicit murder-for-hire to kill the Saudi ambassador, nobody could make that up, right?"

But while some news outlets are skeptical, other are keeping the theory alive and seem to almost be promoting a rift between the U.S. and Iran over this plot. ABC's Good Morning America let Vice President Joe Biden say, without questioning him, that the "Iranians are going to have to be held accountable." (See video below.)

"We're in the process of uniting public opinion toward continuing to isolate and condemn their behavior," Biden added.

He probably did not need to tell ABC that, as it was doing his job for him. ABC's host, Robin Roberts, followed up his statements with the question, "Are sanctions enough?"

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

MS-13's 'El Barney': A Trend or an Isolated Case?

MS-13's 'El Barney': A Trend or an Isolated Case?

In October 2012, the US Treasury Department designated the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) as a transnational criminal organization (TCO). While this assertion seems unfounded, there is one case that illustrates just why the US government is worried about the future.

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC have always had a love-hate relationship with drugs. They love the money it brings, funds which have allowed them to survive and even threaten to topple the state at the end of the 1990s. They hate the corruption and stigma narcotics have also brought to...

The Reality of the FARC Peace Talks in Havana

The Reality of the FARC Peace Talks in Havana

If we are to believe the Colombian government, the question is not if, but rather when, an end to 50 years of civil conflict will be reached. Yet the promise of President Juan Manuel Santos that peace can be achieved before the end of 2014 is simply...

Ivan Rios Bloc: the FARC's Most Vulnerable Fighting Division

Ivan Rios Bloc: the FARC's Most Vulnerable Fighting Division

When considering the possibilities that the FARC may break apart, the Ivan Rios Bloc is a helpful case study because it is perhaps the weakest of the FARC's divisions in terms of command and control, and therefore runs the highest risk of fragmentation and criminalization.

A Look Inside El Salvador's Prison Nightmare (Video)

A Look Inside El Salvador's Prison Nightmare (Video)

El Salvador's Cojutepeque jail is a perfect illustration of how prisons in this country have become the main breeding and training grounds for street gangs.

Barrio 18 Leader 'Viejo Lin' on El Salvador Gang Truce

Barrio 18 Leader 'Viejo Lin' on El Salvador Gang Truce

Barrio 18 leader Carlos Lechuga Mojica, alias "El Viejo Lin," is one of the most prominent spokesmen for El Salvador's gang truce. InSight Crime co-director Steven Dudley spoke with Mojica in Cojutepeque prison in October 2012 about how the maras view the controversial peace process, which has...

Criminalization of FARC Elements Inevitable

Criminalization of FARC Elements Inevitable

While there is no doubt that the FARC have only a tenuous control over some of their more remote fronts, there is no evidence of any overt dissident faction within the movement at the moment.

The FARC 1964-2002: From Ragged Rebellion to Military Machine

The FARC 1964-2002: From Ragged Rebellion to Military Machine

On May 27, 1964 up to one thousand Colombian soldiers, backed by fighter planes and helicopters, launched an assault against less than fifty guerrillas in the tiny community of Marquetalia. The aim of the operation was to stamp out once and for all the communist threat in...

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives and Negatives

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives and Negatives

The truce between El Salvador's two largest gangs -- the MS-13 and Barrio 18 -- opens up new possibilities in how to deal with the seemingly intractable issue of street gangs. But it also creates new dangers.

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

In August 2002, the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) greeted Colombia's new president with a mortar attack that killed 14 people during his inauguration. The attack was intended as a warning to the fiercely anti-FARC newcomer. But it became the opening salvo of...