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U.S.

INVOLVEMENT IN THE AMIA BOMBING INVESTIGATION: KEEPING IRAN


IN THE DOCK

by

MIKE LASUSA

Dr. Philip Brenner, Advisor

A substantial research paper submitted in partial fulfillment


of the requirements for the
Degree of Master of Arts in International Affairs:
United States Foreign Policy and National Security

AMERICAN UNIVERSITY
Washington, D.C.

APRIL 2016

1
Introduction
On the morning of July 18, 1994, a bomb exploded in Buenos Aires, destroying the
headquarters of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association, better known by its Spanish acronym,
AMIA. The blast killed 85 people and injured more than 200 others in an incident that would
become known as the deadliest anti-Semitic terrorist attack in Latin American history.1
Over the past two decades, a labyrinthine body of evidence has accumulated about the
AMIA bombing. Yet, despite the emergence of several plausible theories of culpability, no one
has ever conclusively proven the identity, much less the guilt, of any of the perpetrators.
Nevertheless, from the day of the attack day until the present, various elements of the
United States government have advanced the idea -- now widely accepted in foreign policy
circles -- that high-level Iranian officials orchestrated the attack through their contacts with the
Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah. In fact, as of this writing, a timeline on the website of
the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center definitively attributes responsibility for the AMIA
bombing to Hezbollah.2
At the same time, some experts and observers over the years have questioned the Iran
Theory. For example, in 2014, the Argentine judge handling the AMIA case, Rodolfo Canicoba
Corral, said the Iran Theory is still a hypothesis.3 Both Iran and Hezbollah have repeatedly
denied that they had any role in the bombing. And the American ambassador in Argentina at the

Casualty figures sourced from: National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism
(START) Global Terrorism Database, accessed January 27, 2016, http://www.start.umd.edu/gtd;
A list of the victims names can be found on AMIAs website: Nomina de Fallecidos, Asociacin Mutual Israelita
Argentina (AMIA), accessed January 29, 2016, http://www.amia.org.ar/index.php/content/default/show/content/50.
2
National Counterterrorism Center, Historic Timeline, National Counterterrorism Center, accessed January 27,
2016, http://www.nctc.gov/site/timeline.html#1994.
3
Infobae, El Juez Del Caso AMIA Duda Sobre La Responsabilidad de Irn En El Atentado: Es Todava Una
Hiptesis, Infobae, June 15, 2014, http://www.infobae.com/2014/06/15/1573052-el-juez-del-caso-amia-duda-laresponsabilidad-iran-el-atentado-es-todavia-una-hipotesis.

2
time of the attack, James Cheek, has stated that there was never any real evidence supporting
assertions of Iranian involvement.4
This begs the question: why did so many U.S. foreign policy decision-makers accept and
promote a theory implicating Iran in the AMIA attack despite the weakness of the evidence and
plausible alternative explanations? And what effects did this have on official investigations of
the incident?
This essay will argue that U.S. antagonism toward Iran played a major role in the
propagation of the Iran Theory. Linking top Iranian government officials to the AMIA attack
served to reinforce a broader U.S. government portrayal of Iran as a hostile nation capable of
using terrorism against Western countries in pursuit of its political goals. The U.S. government
relied heavily on the perpetuation of this narrative in attempts to achieve its major foreign policy
objectives with regard to Iran; namely, constraining the countrys geopolitical influence and
denying its attempts to attain nuclear enrichment capabilities.
Additionally, many decision-makers involved in various aspects of the AMIA case
adhered to the widespread -- and perhaps well-deserved -- perception that the Argentine justice
system was so dysfunctional as to be incapable of identifying and prosecuting the perpetrators of
the bombing.5 This made it relatively easy for U.S. officials to discount lines of investigation
pursued by their Argentine counterparts that did not implicate Iran. Moreover, a majority of
Argentines themselves also believed their government could not properly handle the case, which

Gareth Porter, Bushs Iran/Argentina Terror Frame-Up, The Nation, January 18, 2008,
http://www.thenation.com/article/bushs-iranargentina-terror-frame/.
5
For example, Claudio Grossman, a professor at American Universitys Washington College of Law who served the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) as an observer of the AMIA case from 2001 to 2005,
recently told a reporter, Every aspect of the [AMIA] case was a disaster, beginning with the initial
investigationArgentina is a modern country, but there is no trust in the legal system, no faith that the system can
solve problems. Dexter Filkins, Death of a Prosecutor, The New Yorker, July 20, 2015,
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/death-of-a-prosecutor.

3
put pressure on Argentine officials to follow the lead of foreign investigators. Combined with
U.S. predisposition toward the Iran Theory, this dynamic helped shift the focus of the
investigation away from determining who carried out the plot and toward establishing that it had
been ordered by the Iranian government.
This essay does not seek to definitively disprove the Iran Theory. Rather, it aims to
explore some of the major shortcomings in the evidence cited by its proponents in order to
consider whether U.S. antagonism toward Iran and distrust of Argentinas investigative abilities
contributed to the persistence of this line of investigation. It will also briefly outline an
alternative theory of culpability (the so-called Syria Connection) and compare the U.S.
treatment of that hypothesis to its treatment of the Iran Theory.
During the research for this essay, the author did not find any academic literature on how
geopolitical concerns may have affected the course of the AMIA inquiry. Nor did the author
encounter scholarship regarding the possible effects of geopolitical concerns on other
investigations of suspected incidents of international terrorism in which the United States
became involved. Therefore, this essay is intended to serve as a starting point for other scholars
who become interested in these little-studied aspects of foreign relations.

Methodology
The evidence and conclusions presented here derive from an extensive examination of
many hundreds of pages of primary source documents related to the investigation of the AMIA
attack and the circumstances surrounding it, including diplomatic cables, judicial filings,
intelligence reports and internal government correspondence. Some of these documents entered
the public domain in response to Freedom of Information Act requests performed by this author

4
and other researchers, as well as through authorized and unauthorized releases made public by
various individuals and organizations. Some of these documents have not yet been made
available to the public, because researchers at the National Security Archive are still cataloging
them, but these researchers generously shared documents with the author. This essay also relies
on works by journalists and scholars who have done prior research on the AMIA bombing and
related topics. Interviews with several sources knowledgeable about the issues discussed below
provided useful background information. However, this essay would have been strengthened by
on the record conversations with officials involved in the AMIA investigation, which for various
reasons proved difficult to obtain.

Setting the Stage for the Iran Theory: The 1992 Israeli Embassy Bombing
Roughly two years before the AMIA attack, a similar bombing had struck Buenos Aires.
On March 17, 1992, an explosion destroyed the building housing Israels embassy in Argentina,
killing 29 people and wounding more than 250 others.6 Several competing claims of
responsibility surfaced shortly thereafter. A Buenos Aires radio station reported a phone call the
day of the bombing from a group called For a Free Palestine asserting that organizations
authorship of the attack.7 The Argentine embassy in Lebanon reported that a local Lebanese
newspaper had published a communiqu from a suspected Hezbollah front group called Islamic
Jihad claiming responsibility for the bombing.8 An Argentine television station reported

Israeli Security Agency (Shabak), Terrorist Attack against the Embassy of Israel in Buenos Aires, Argentina
(1992), Israeli Security Agency (Shabak), 2013,
http://www.shabak.gov.il/English/History/Affairs/Pages/TerroristEmbassyes1992.aspx.
7
Terence Todman, 92BUENOSAIRES2692 Update on Israeli Embassy Bombing, March 18, 1992,
https://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/189957.pdf.
8
Ibid.; Alberto Nisman and Marcelo Martinez Burgos, Report; Request for Arrests (Argentine Attorney Generals
Office, October 25, 2006), http://albertonisman.org/nisman-indictment-in-english-full/.

5
receiving a message warning, Today it was an embassy, tomorrow it will be a ministry. Beware
of Argentinas Nazis.9
At the time of these claims, no hard evidence pointing to a credible suspect had emerged,
a fact that was publicly acknowledged by senior U.S. and Israeli officials even as they made
general references to alleged Iranian and Syrian support for international terrorism.10 During the
daily press briefing at the U.S. State Department the day after the attack, spokesperson Margaret
Tutwiler said the United States was investigating Islamic Jihads claim of responsibility, but
had no information to confirm this reported claim.11 Syrian President Hafez Assad publicly
denied any connection to the bombing,12 and Iran denied involvement in private diplomatic
messages.13
Still, most public discussion in the days and weeks after the bombing focused on the
possibility of Iranian or Syrian involvement in the attack. And behind closed doors, much more
focus was placed on Iran. Argentine President Carlos Menem had asked for assistance
investigating the embassy attack from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Israeli
intelligence service known as Mossad. According to Israeli author Ronen Bergman, Israeli
intelligence had no doubt the operation was revenge for the assassination of Abbas Musawi,
Hezbollahs secretary general, by Mossad agents on February 16, 1992.14 Bergman writes that
Mossad worked closely with the CIAs Counter Terrorist Center (CTC), which produced a
9

Todman, 92BUENOSAIRES2692 Update on Israeli Embassy Bombing.


Clyde Haberman, Israel Vows Painful Punishment for Bombing in Argentina, New York Times, March 19,
1992.
11
Margaret Tutwiler, US Department of State Daily Briefing #40 (Washington, D.C., March 18, 1992),
http://dosfan.lib.uic.edu/ERC/briefing/daily_briefings/1992/9203/040.html.
12
Knight Ridder/Tribune, Group: Israeli Embassy Bombed For Revenge, Chicago Tribune, March 19, 1992,
http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1992-03-19/news/9201250668_1_islamic-jihad-israeli-embassy-foreign-ministerdavid-levy.
13
Terence Todman, 92BUENOSAIRES2799 More on Israeli Embassy Bombing, March 20, 1992,
http://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/189903.pdf.
14
Ronen Bergman, The Secret War with Iran: The 30-Year Clandestine Struggle against the Worlds Most
Dangerous Terrorist Power (New York: Free Press, 2008), pp. 169-170.
10

6
report that presented the bombing as the model of an Iranian-led operation, with Iran working
through [Hezbollah] to avoid direct evidence of its involvement.15 The proof, a Mossad source
told Bergman, was not a smoking gun, but a blazing cannon.16
The blazing cannon appears to have been a telephone conversation between two senior
Hezbollah operatives, recorded by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), in which the men
were heard rejoicing over our project in Argentina and mocking the Shin Bet, which is
responsible for protecting Israeli legations abroad, for not preventing it, Bergman writes.17 The
Argentine intelligence service, known as SIDE, also concluded that Iran was involved, in large
part due to an intercepted argument between an Iranian diplomat and his wife, the latter of whom
threatened she would tell everything she knew about his part in what happened to the offices of
the Zionists.
Whatever the actual merits of the evidence implicating Iran and Hezbollah in the
embassy bombing, the allegation of Iranian involvement clearly served a political purpose for the
Israeli government, arguably the United States closest international ally.18 As American author
Gareth Porter points out, invoking an extraordinary new threat from Iran had an immediate
domestic political objective from the point of view of Yitzhak Rabin, who became prime
minister of Israel in the summer of 1992, namely deflecting Israeli animosity away from the
Palestinians and providing political cover for Rabins moves for peace with the Palestine
Liberation Organization, which was the central thrust of Rabins national security policy.
Additionally, Porter writes, Rabins new political line on Iran also served two strategic
objectives in relation to U.S. policy: to induce the United States to use its power to eliminate the
15

Ibid.
Ibid, pg. 171.
17
Ibid.
18
John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, Middle East Policy 13,
no. 3 (September 1, 2006): 2987, doi:10.1111/j.1475-4967.2006.00260.x.
16

7
Iranian nuclear program through force or the threat of force and to enhance the value of Israel as
a strategic ally of the United States in the region.19
On the U.S. side, the allegations of Iranian participation in the embassy attack also served
political interests, albeit of a different kind. In the context of its adjustment to the end of the
Cold War and the threat from the Soviet Union, Porter writes, the CIA had a very large
institutional interest at stake in treating Iran as a new, high-priority threat.20 Porter argues that
by emphasizing the threat posed by Iran, particularly its supposed attempts to acquire nuclear
weapons and allegations of its support for international terrorism, the CIA was trying to
position itself to convince Congress that new threats required shifting vastly increased
commitments of intelligence collection and analytical assets to other targets that had replaced the
Soviet threat.21
For a number of reasons, Argentine authorities were also inclined to blame Iran and
Hezbollah for the bombing. A Mossad agent who spoke with Bergman said American and Israeli
investigators deduced early on that the attack had seriously embarrassed the local authorities,
who were in a hurry to wrap it all up quickly and quietly.22 On top of this, President Menem had
made what the historian David M.K. Sheinin called a shocking about faceto discard decades
of Peronist anti-American rhetoric and to align his nations economic, financial, and strategic
policies with the United States.23 Given the Menem administrations desire to resolve the issue
of culpability for the bombing as quickly as possible while also remaining on friendly terms with

19

Gareth Porter, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare (Charlottesville, Virginia: Just
World Books, 2014), pg. 118.
20
Ibid, pg. 94.
21
Ibid.
22
Bergman, The Secret War with Iran, pg. 171.
23
David Sheinin, Argentina and the United States: An Alliance Contained, The United States and the Americas
(Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006), pp. 195-196.

8
the United States, it is rather unsurprising that the Argentine government adopted the shared
U.S.-Israeli assumption of Iranian responsibility.
Obviously, the existence of these political incentives does not necessarily negate the
possibility that the conclusions reached by the CIA, Mossad and SIDE were accurate. However,
it does raise the question of whether these incentives, combined with the sharing of information
among these investigating agencies, might have contributed to confirmation bias on the part of
officials in all three countries. A full exploration of that question as it relates to the 1992
embassy bombing lies outside the scope of this essay, but it is worth keeping this backdrop in
mind when discussing the similar events that began to unfold two years later.

The AMIA Bombing and the Early Development of the Iran Theory
The 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires never became a major political
issue in the United States. The 1994 AMIA attack, on the other hand, generated much more
interest. And U.S. efforts to tie the latter bombing to Iran and Hezbollah were more immediate,
more public and more sustained.
After the 1992 embassy bombing, top U.S. national security officials declined to publicly
link Iran to the attack in any definitive way.24 But, as Porter wrote in a 2008 article, on the day of
the AMIA attack, before anything could have been known about who was responsible,
Secretary of State Warren Christopher blamed those who want to stop the peace process in the
Middle East -- an obvious reference to Iran. In that article, Porter reported that William
Brencick, then chief of the political section at the US Embassy in Buenos Aires and the primary
Embassy contact for the investigation, recalledthat a wall of assumptions guided the US
approach to the case. The primary assumptions, Brencick said, were that the explosion was a
24

Porter, Manufactured Crisis, pp. 90-91.

9
suicide bombing and that use of a suicide bomb was prima facie evidence of involvement by
Hezbollah -- and therefore Iran.25
The assumption of Iranian and Hezbollah involvement likely seemed reasonable at that
time, given the conclusions of the Israeli, American and Argentine intelligence services
regarding the 1992 embassy bombing. This assumption was also bolstered by threats made by
Hezbollah to carry out attacks in response to the May 1994 abduction by Israeli security forces of
a Lebanese militia leader named Mustafa Dirani, whom Israeli military intelligence personnel
reportedly tortured in order to obtain information that facilitated airstrikes on a Hezbollah
training camp in Lebanons Bekka Valley a month before the AMIA attack.26 Although
Hezbollah immediately denied any connection to the bombing, the group had previously cited
both Diranis kidnapping and the strike against the training camp as potential motives for
retaliation against Israeli interests.27
Other circumstances immediately surrounding the AMIA bombing contributed to the
sense that the attack constituted the culmination of an Iranian plot involving Hezbollah. On July
19, 1994, the day after the AMIA attack, Alas Chiricanas Flight 901 exploded en route from
Coln, Panama to Panama City, killing all 21 people on board, including 12 Panamanian Jews.
Shortly thereafter, a group calling itself Ansar Allah (Followers of God) claimed
responsibility. Investigators quickly fingered an Arab suspect, suggesting anti-Semitic and/or
anti-Israel motives, but as of this writing the case remains unsolved.28

25

Porter, Bushs Iran/Argentina Terror Frame-Up.


Bergman, The Secret War with Iran, pp. 150-168; See also: Fred Burton and Scott Stewart, Hezbollah
Retribution: Beware the Ides of March, Stratfor, February 19, 2008,
https://www.stratfor.com/weekly/hezbollah_retribution_beware_ides_march
27
Mark Gregory Hambley, 94BEIRUT3909 - Hizballah Denies Involvement in Bombing, July 21, 1994,
https://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190135.pdf.
28
Brian Harris, Few Clues in Panama 10 Years after Bombing, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, July 12, 2004,
http://www.jta.org/2004/07/12/life-religion/features/few-clues-in-panama-10-years-after-bombing.
26

10
Similarly, exactly one week later, on July 26, 1994, the Israeli embassy in London was
hit by a car bomb, injuring 20. Thirteen hours after that, another car bomb exploded outside
Balfour House, then the headquarters of several London-based Jewish and Israeli organizations.
Two Palestinian men were later convicted in British court of conspiring to cause explosions,
supposedly as a strike against Israel in retaliation for its policies toward Palestine, though many
observers questioned the strength of the evidence that led to those convictions.29
Furthermore, the United States had experienced its own traumatic car bombing just over a
year before the AMIA attack, when an explosion killed six people and injured more than a
thousand others at the World Trade Center in New York City. As the Federal Bureau of
Investigation (FBI) later put it, It was Friday, February 26, 1993, and Middle Eastern terrorism
had arrived on American soil -- with a bang.30 At least one newspaper headline named
Americans illusion of invincibility with regard to terrorism as one of the casualties of the
attack -- a feeling that was no doubt reinforced by the series of events in the summer of 1994.31
The accused mastermind of the World Trade Center attack, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, later stated
that the goal of the bombing was to assassinate a Zionist official.32 Early suspicions fell upon
Iran and Hezbollah, though no solid evidence linked either to the plot.33
At a congressional hearing on August 1, 1994, California congressman Tom Lantos,
chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the House of Representatives, cited all of these
29

Andy Beckett, Caught in the Blast, The Guardian, October 20, 2000, sec. Global,
http://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2000/oct/21/weekend7.weekend1.
30
Federal Bureau of Investigation, First Strike: Global Terror in America, Federal Bureau of Investigation,
February 26, 2008, https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2008/february/tradebom_022608.
31
Scott Shane, Among the Casualties: The Illusion of Invincibility Americans May Face an Erosion of Immunity
from Terrorist Acts, Baltimore Sun, February 28, 1993, http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1993-0228/news/1993059006_1_terrorism-american-soil-american-lives.
32
James C. Mckinley Jr, Trade Center Bombing Suspect Says Aim Was Killing of Zionist, The New York Times,
April 12, 1995, sec. N.Y. / Region, http://www.nytimes.com/1995/04/12/nyregion/trade-center-bombing-suspectsays-aim-was-killing-of-zionist.html.
33
Neil Barsky and William M. Carley, Prime Target: Bombing in New York Abruptly Brings U.S. Into the
Terrorist Age, Wall Street Journal, March 1, 1993.

11
above-mentioned attacks as evidence that we are facing a new and violent upsurge in a much
broader, more insidious and dangerous war against civilized societies, against democracy and
pluralism, against the West.34 Lantos then read from a New York Times article reporting that the
Iranian government had been cracking down on that countrys Christian minority. After he
finished reading the excerpt, Lantos declared, It would be naive indeed not to make a
connection of all these events.
Clearly the kind of people who bombed Pan Am 103,35 who bombed the World Trade
Center, and who carried out the series of bombings of the last few weeks are capable of seeking
and using nuclear weapons, as well as weapons of a chemical and biological nature, Lantos
continued. These latest bombings have the clear imprint of Iran and its ally, Hizballah, the
radical Muslim organization in LebanonIt is essential that we give the greatest attention to this
issue so that Tehran, the leaders of Hizballah in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, and the leaders of
other rogue regimes which sponsor or shelter terrorism will know that the West is prepared to
defend itself against terrorism, no less than it was ready and prepared to defend itself against the
Soviet Union.36
An article from the New York Times news service, which appeared two days before the
hearing, read, American and Israeli diplomats and intelligence officials strongly
suggestedIran and Hezbollahwere responsible for recent terrorist bombings of Jewish
targets in Buenos Aires and London. The article quoted Secretary of State Christopher saying,
The killers involved in those terrible incidents must not -- we will not -- let them
34

International Terrorism: Buenos Aires, Panama and London (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing
Office, 1994), https://ia802702.us.archive.org/2/items/internationalter00unit/internationalter00unit.pdf, pp.1-2.
35
According to an off-the-record discussion this author had with a former high-ranking American diplomat, U.S.
authorities strongly suspected Iran was behind the 1988 bombing of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland in
the immediate aftermath of the attack. However, it was later determined that the Libyan government was a much
more likely culprit; See also: Patrick Radden Keefe, The Avenger: Solving the Mystery of the Lockerbie
Bombing, The New Yorker, September 27, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/09/28/the-avenger.
36
International Terrorism: Buenos Aires, Panama and London.

12
succeed...Groups like Hezbollah that wreak havoc and bloodshed must be defeated. And
Hezbollahs patron, Iran, must be contained.37
Taken together, these statements provide compelling evidence for the central thesis of
this essay. Just days after these bombings occurred, virtually nothing could be known for certain
about the actual perpetrators or their motives. Yet top U.S. officials appear to have already
decided to blame Iran and Hezbollah, not based on convincing evidence, but rather because, in
Lantos words, the kind of peoplewho carried out the series of bombings of the last few
weeks are capable of seeking and using nuclear weapons, and, in Christophers words, because
Groups like Hezbollah that wreak havoc and bloodshed must be defeated. And Hezbollahs
patron, Iran, must be contained.
The same dynamic was simultaneously playing out away from public view. A memo
from the CIAs counterterrorism center classified as secret and dated July 18, 1994 -- the day
of the AMIA attack -- asserts that the bombing was probably staged by Hezbollah. The agency
supported this conclusion with the somewhat circular argument that Hezbollah had facilitated
the destruction of Israels Embassy in Buenos Aires in March 1992, and that the group had
made recent threats against Israeli interests in the wake of Diranis kidnapping and the attack on
the training camp in Lebanon.38
Another secret CIA memo dated July 21, 1994 states that circumstantial evidence of
[Hezbollahs] culpability for the bombingis surfacing, despite public denials by the group.
The author of the document speculates that Hezbollahs denials appear to be politically

37

New York Times News Service, U.S., Israel Rail At Iran Over Bombings, Chicago Tribune, July 29, 1994,
http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1994-07-29/news/9407290192_1_attack-in-southern-lebanon-israeli-embassyisrael-and-hezbollah.
38
DCI Counterterrorist Center, Counterterrorist Center Commentary: Hizballah Attacks Israel in Buenos Aires?
(Central Intelligence Agency, July 18, 1994).; This document is not yet available to the public.

13
motivated attempts to distance [its] political organizationfrom its terrorist elements.39 Yet
another secret CIA memo dated July 27 -- the day of the second bombing in London -- warned
that the series of seemingly-connected attacks may be part of a coordinated terrorist campaign
by Hezbollah, backed by Iran.40
A State Department cable also marked secret and also dated July 27 repeated the CIAs
conclusions in a missive to all the major U.S. diplomatic posts in South Americas Southern
Cone sub-region. With the airplane bombing in Panama and the bombing of the Israeli Embassy
in London, there is increasing speculation that the AMIA bombing is part of a wave of Iranianinspired terrorism targeted at the Mideast peace process, it read.41 That same day, at a briefing
in Florida organized by the State Department, U.S. officials spent two hours informing Argentine
Interior Minister Carlos Ruckauf about U.S. intelligence related to the AMIA bombing, the
1992 Israeli embassy bombing, [Hezbollah] activities in Latin America, [and Hezbollahs] ties to
Iran.42 Although the U.S. officials mentioned that there was no definitive evidence linking
[Hezbollah] to the recent terrorist bombings,43 the briefing was nevertheless intended to prove
helpful to [Ruckauf] as he oversees the investigation of the AMIA bombing.44
It is important to reiterate that all of these statements were made within days of the
bombing, before any credible forensic evidence had accumulated implicating Iran or Hezbollah
in the attacks. This documentary record suggests that U.S. officials were heavily predisposed
39

DCI Counterterrorist Center, Counterterrorist Center Commentary: Update on the Buenos Aires Bombing
(Central Intelligence Agency, July 21, 1994).; This document is not yet available to the public.
40
DCI Counterterrorist Center, Counterterrorist Center Commentary: Possible Hizballah Bombing Campaign
(Central Intelligence Agency, July 27, 1994).; This document is not yet available to the public.
41
Multiple authors, 94STATE200603 - Official-Informal (U.S. Department of State, July 21, 1994).; This
document is not yet available to the public.
42
Strobe Talbott, 94STATE203682 - Terrorism Briefing for Argentine Interior Minister (U.S. Department of
State, July 29, 1994); Strobe Talbott, 94STATE203689 - Terrorism Briefing for Argentine Interior Minister (U.S.
Department of State, July 29, 1994).
43
Talbott, 94STATE203689 - Terrorism Briefing for Argentine Interior Minister.
44
Peter Tarnoff, 94STATE196757 Minister of Interior Requests Counterterrorism Briefing (U.S. Department of
State, July 22, 1994), https://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190126.pdf.

14
toward blaming Iran and Hezbollah for the AMIA bombing due to pre-existing hostility toward
Iran. And while the assumption of Iranian and Hezbollah involvement may appear
understandable given the contemporary context, some in the U.S. government were clearly aware
of some major flaws in the Iran Theory quite early on.
For example, Ronald Godard, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. embassy in
Argentina at the time of the AMIA bombing, sent a cable the day after the incident that pointed
out a fundamental difference between the 1992 Israeli embassy attack and the more recent
bombing. Whereas the embassy bombing was seen as an attack on a foreign entity, some of
whose victims happened to be Argentine, AMIA and DAIA, the Delegation of Argentine
Jewish Associations, which was housed in the same building as AMIA, are seen clearly as
Argentine organizations, Godard wrote. All of the victims of the AMIA attack appear to have
been Argentines, regardless of their religion. Some are not Jews. Moreover, the historic origins
of AMIA and DAIA in Argentina long predate the creation of Israel.45 (Years later, Godard
would state that the whole Iran thing seemed kind of flimsy.)46
Nevertheless, another cable sent on August 29, 1994 makes clear that the United States
planned to continue to promote the Iran Theory despite weeks of investigation that had turned up
no substantial evidence of that countrys involvement in the AMIA attack. The document, titled
The Iran Connection: Iran Stays in the Dock for the AMIA Bombing, was somewhat ironically
written by James Cheek, the same man who would later declare that there was never any real
evidence backing the Iran Theory. It reads, in part:

45

Ronald Godard, 94BUENOSAIRES4726 Further Developments in the AMIA Bombing in Buenos Aires (U.S.
Department of State, July 19, 1994), https://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190141.pdf.
46
Porter, Bushs Iran/Argentina Terror Frame-Up.

15
The battle for public opinion has been, at its heart, an effort to demonstrate that
Iran deserves condemnation for its state-supported terrorism even without hard,
physical evidence of its involvement in this specific attack. Effective public
counterpunching has offset Iranian protestations of innocence, weak evidence in
the AMIA case, and accusations about plots against Iran by U.S. and Israeli
intelligence services. Iran has thus been prevented from adopting an appearance
of aggrieved innocence even in the absence of direct links between [Iranian
government] officials and the terrorist attackDespite the relatively weak
Argentine case against Iran in the AMIA attack and vociferous Iranian denials, a
steady campaign to keep Iranian complicity in global terrorism in the public eye
has kept the Iranians in the dock where they belong. While they may escape
conviction in the AMIA bombing on a technicality, there will remain strong
public belief in Irans complicity in the barbarous attacks here and elsewhere.47

A few days after Cheek sent this cable, then-U.S. Ambassador at Large for
Counterterrorism Philip Wilcox traveled to Argentina, where he voiced similar sentiments both
publicly and privately. In public remarks in Buenos Aires, Wilcox said, We do indeed see a
bond among the attacks in Buenos Aires in Panama and in London. We believe there is a
growing body of evidence that these criminal acts were carried out by [Hezbollah] terrorists. The
[Hezbollah] have organized themselves around the world and these three crimes bear the marks
of the [Hezbollah]. With respect to Iran, Iran has been responsible for supporting and sponsoring

47

James Cheek, 94BUENOSAIRES5695 - The Iran Connection: Iran Stays in the Dock for the AMIA Bombing
(U.S. Department of State, August 29, 1994), https://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190108.pdf.

16
many terrorist acts around the world.48 According to another cable from Cheek, Wilcox told
Argentine Vice Foreign Minister Fernando Petrella that he was in Argentina to reinforce [U.S.
government] interest in close cooperation in the hemisphere on combating terrorismWilcox
said the best approach toward Iran is a policy of isolation and pressure and urged the [Argentine
government] to adopt a similar stance.49
It is, of course, possible -- and even likely -- that Wilcox genuinely believed what he told
Petrella about Iran. But at the same time, his statements plainly reflected U.S. foreign policy
interests. At that time, U.S. policy toward Iran consisted of dual containment, described by its
architect, national security adviser Martin Indyk, as a strategy that would allow the United States
to counter both the Iraqi and Iranian regimes, eliminating the need to depend on one to
counter the other.50 With respect to Iran, this included energetically persuading U.S. partners
not to cooperate with Iran on military matters, nor to maintain normal commercial relations
with the Middle Eastern nation.51 Argentina had built extensive ties with Iran in the nuclear
technology realm stretching back to the 1970s, but this relationship abruptly ended following
U.S. pressure in the early 1990s.52 Encouraging further distancing of Argentina from Iran would
help accomplish the second major goal of U.S. foreign policy toward Iran; containing its
geopolitical influence. The AMIA attack provided a perfect opportunity to further that end.
However, as noted earlier in this essay, keeping Iran in the dock for that countrys
alleged sponsorship of international terrorist attacks did not serve as the sole motivation for U.S.
48

Warren Christopher, 94STATE259853 Text of S/CT Coordinators Comments in Buenos Aires on Hizballah
(U.S. Department of State, September 24, 1994),
https://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190100.pdf.
49
James Cheek, 94BUENOSAIRES6058 Interagency Counter-Terrorist Team Consultations in Buenos Aires
Foreign Minister (U.S. Department of State, September 13, 1994),
http://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190101.pdf.
50
Indyk, as quoted in F. Gregory Gause III, The Illogic of Dual Containment, Foreign Affairs, April 1994,
https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/iran/1994-03-01/illogic-dual-containment.
51
Ibid.
52
Sheinin, Argentina and the United States, pp. 198-199.

17
promotion of the Iran Theory. State Department correspondence in the weeks and months after
the AMIA attack makes it clear that both everyday Argentine citizens, as well as many U.S.
officials, did not feel confident that Argentine institutions were capable of solving the case. This
contributed to the sense that the Iran Theory was the only plausible line of investigation, since it
was the one favored by U.S. and Israeli intelligence and law enforcement agencies. A cable
authored by Cheek on the occasion of the three-month anniversary of the AMIA attack
underscores this notion:

Argentines have reverted to their customary pessimism about their justice system
and have virtually written off its ability to resolve the AMIA case Juan Jose
Galeano, the federal investigating judge responsible for the case...has held firmly
to his original hypothesis that Iranian diplomats helped Hezbollah orchestrate the
attack, and he has left the impression that other possible leads are being
ignoredWhile we have privately underlined our belief in the good faith of
Galeano and the Argentine government as a whole, there are many outside the
country who share the publics skepticism here either from -- apparently
unfounded -- suspicions of some alleged neo-Nazi connection to the attacks or the
lingering bad reputation of Argentinas security forcesGaleano and the police
have handled this investigation better than their colleagues dealt with the bombing
of Israels Buenos Aires embassy in March 1992, but there is a wide margin for
improvement. The failures are at root institutional. The resources at Galeanos
disposal are poor. His investigation is understaffed, underfunded and

18
undertrained. He cannot rely on the consistent cooperation of the Argentine
federal police or the State Intelligence Secretariat.53

This lack of faith in the capacity of Argentine institutions to handle the case contributed
to the belief that the attack could only be solved with extensive help from the United States. In
an earlier cable, Cheek had spelled out in greater detail the systemic problems facing Argentinas
law enforcement and judicial institutions. Noting that the Argentine government was internally
at odds over what measures it should take in response to the probable Iranian complicity in the
bombings, Cheek recommended that the United States identify areas where the [U.S.
government] could provide further assistance, especially in the AMIA case, and express
willingness to respond favorably to [Argentine government] requests for help.54 Given the
apparent U.S. predisposition toward the Iran Theory, any help the United States provided was
sure to prioritize that line of investigation.

The Iran Theory Takes Root


No new evidence implicating Iran or Hezbollah in the AMIA bombing emerged over the
year following the attack, and Americans attention began to shift from international to domestic
terrorism following the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma
City. (Interestingly, most mainstream U.S. media coverage immediately after the attack
incorrectly implied that Middle Eastern terrorists were behind the Oklahoma City bombing when

53

James Cheek, 94BUENOSAIRES6980 Three-Month Anniversary of AMIA Bombing: Cynicism and an


Unsolved Case (U.S. Department of State, October 21, 1994),
https://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190094.pdf.
54
James Cheek, 94BUENOSAIRES5821 - Scenesetter for Counter-Terrorism Team Visit to Buenos Aires,
September 5-6 (U.S. Department of State, September 1, 1994),
https://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190107.pdf.

19
it was in fact an American right-wing extremist.55) Nevertheless, in a September 28, 1995
congressional hearing on terrorism in Latin America, U.S. counterterrorism ambassador Wilcox
reiterated his previous claims that Hezbollah was behind both the 1992 and 1994 attacks in
Buenos Aires.56
The hearing ignited some controversy in Argentina, especially due to the allegations
leveled by Argentine Jewish community leader Ruben Beraja that his government was dragging
its feet on investigating Irans potential connection to the attack for fear of inciting further
terrorism.57 The international pressure prompted the Argentine government to make several
arrests in connection with the AMIA case,58 but as Cheek put it in a later cable, these led almost
nowhere.59 Subsequently, the judge in charge of the AMIA investigation, Juan Jos Galeano,
began looking more deeply into the possible involvement of current and former members of the
Argentine security forces,60 going so far as to indict several Buenos Aires provincial police
officers in July 1996 as necessary participants in the attack.61 By that time, however, yet
another major terrorist event had captured U.S. attention.

55

Jonathan Freedland, Tiny Agency Beat Goliaths with Oklahoma Blasts Davidian Link, The Guardian, May 1,
1995.
56
Terrorism in Latin America/AMIA Bombing in Argentina (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office,
1995), http://archive.org/details/terrorisminlatin00unit.
57
James Cheek, 95BUENOSAIRES6166 AMIA Hearing Generates Political Controversy; Prosecutors Make
New Arrests (U.S. Department of State, October 3, 1995),
http://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190819.pdf.
58
Ronald Godard, 95BUENOSAIRES6235 More Arrests in AMIA Case (U.S. Department of State, October 5,
1995), https://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190818.pdf.
59
James Cheek, 95BUENOSAIRES6954 New AMIA Arrests Lead (almost) Nowhere (U.S. Department of
State, November 3, 1995), https://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190816.pdf.
60
Omar Lavieri, Sospechan de Los Contactos Del MODIN, Clarn, April 28, 1996,
http://edant.clarin.com/diario/96/04/28/amia.html; Adrin Ventura, Once Policas Detenidos Por La Causa de La
AMIA, La Nacin, July 14, 1996, http://www.lanacion.com.ar/175741-once-policias-detenidos-por-la-causa-de-laamia.
61
Ronald Godard, 96BUENOSAIRES4712 AMIA Case: Provincial Police Officers Indicted as necessary
Participants in the Bombing (U.S. Department of State, August 2, 1996),
http://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190804.pdf; La Nacin, Los Fiscales Acusan a Tres
Policas, La Nacin, July 30, 1996, http://www.lanacion.com.ar/171109-los-fiscales-acusan-a-tres-policias.

20
On June 25, 1996, terrorists killed 19 members of the U.S. military and injured hundreds
of other people when they exploded a bomb outside a U.S. Air Force housing complex known as
Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. As in the case of the AMIA bombing, U.S. officials
publicly and privately linked Iran to the attack.62 Notably, however, an investigation carried out
by Gareth Porter in 2009 found that the FBI inquiry ignored compelling evidence that Osama
bin Ladens al Qaeda -- not Iran-supported Saudi Hezbollah -- planned and executed the
bombing, and that the investigation was precooked to arrive at the outcome that had been
politically determined by the White House.63 The Saudi government has accused a Hezbollah
suspect as the ringleader of the Khobar Towers bombing, and a U.S. court found Iran responsible
for the attack due to the Iranian governments support for Hezbollah.64 However, Iran has
consistently denied involvement in the Khobar Towers attack, whereas bin Laden claimed his
organization actually carried out the operation.65
At the time of the Khobar Towers bombing, Argentina remained a key U.S. partner on
counterterrorism issues. According an annual report on terrorism sent by Ambassador Cheek to
State Department headquarters in November 1996, Argentina had become one of the biggest
recipients of [U.S. government] training in anti-terrorism techniques.66 Certain members of the
U.S. congress also remained interested in the AMIA case,67 including the developments

62

David Pearce, 97ABUDHABI3777 - Thoughts on Iran - the Lion and the Cage (U.S. Department of State, May
21, 1997), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/97ABUDHABI3777_a.html.
63
Gareth Porter, Who Bombed Khobar Towers? Anatomy of a Crooked Terrorism Investigation, Truthout,
September 1, 2015, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32589-who-bombed-khobar-towers-anatomy-of-a-crookedterrorism-investigation.
64
David D. Kirkpatrick, Saudi Arabia Said to Arrest Suspect in 1996 Khobar Towers Bombing, The New York
Times, August 26, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/27/world/middleeast/saudia-arabia-arrests-suspectkhobar-towers-bombing.html.
65
Ibid.; Porter, Who Bombed Khobar Towers?
66
James Cheek, 96BUENOSAIRES7029 Argentina: 1996 Annual Terrorism Report (U.S. Department of State,
November 25, 1996), https://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190801.pdf.
67
Ronald Godard, 97BUENOSAIRES524 STAFFDEL Mackey Fact-Finding on AMIA and Counterterrorism
Issues in Latin America (U.S. Department of State, January 30, 1997),
http://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190799.pdf.

21
regarding the potential participation of members of the Buenos Aires police.68 Additionally, the
Argentine government was under increasing pressure, in particular from the countrys Jewish
community, to show progress in the case.69 As ever, the United States was eager to supply
information that furthered the Iran Theory. When Argentine authorities requested that the United
States provide them with unclassified information on Islamic Jihad for use in their investigation
in October 1997, the new U.S. ambassador in Argentina, Manuel Rocha, asked Washington
agencies to respond to this request in a timely fashion, and provide us with as much
unclassified information as possible along the lines requested by the Argentine government.70
In addition to continuing U.S. antagonism toward Iran, this willingness to assist
Argentina in pursuing the Iran theory likely stemmed from the generally warm U.S.-Argentine
relationship as well as the fear that Argentina could not handle the AMIA investigation on its
own. Despite the slow progress of the AMIA inquiry, Argentinas ties with the United States
during this time were as close as they had ever been. President Bill Clinton visited Argentina in
October 199771 and in January 1998, he declared the country a major non-NATO ally.72
Counterterrorism was a key pillar of this tight relationship, as evidenced by the fact that a
delegation of U.S. congressional representatives traveled to Argentina in April 1998 to discuss
primarily counterterrorism issues, according to Rocha.73

68

Ronald Godard, 97BUENOSAIRES783 STAFFDEL Mackey Calls on Province of Buenos Aires Security
Officials (U.S. Department of State, February 13, 1997),
http://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190798.pdf.
69
Ronald Godard, 97BUENOSAIRES4895 GOA Slammed on Bombing Investigations (U.S. Department of
State, September 25, 1997), http://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190796.pdf.
70
Manuel Rocha, 97BUENOSAIRES5547 GOA Request for Information on Islamic Jihad (U.S. Department of
State, October 13, 1997), http://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190794.pdf.
71
Associated Press, Clinton Ends Latin American Trip at Argentine Resort, Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1997,
http://articles.latimes.com/1997/oct/18/news/mn-44050.
72
William Clinton, Memorandum on Designation of Argentina as a Major Non-NATO Ally (The American
Presidency Project, January 6, 1998), http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=107625.
73
Manuel Rocha, 98BUENOSAIRES1858 Visit of CODEL Gilman to Argentina April 5-7 (U.S. Department of
State, April 14, 1998), http://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190789.pdf.

22
Another top concern for the U.S. government was Argentinas membership in the
Mercosur trading bloc, which opposed the Clinton administrations efforts to create a Free
Trade Area of the Americas.74 Some analysts believed that the United States was offering
gifts (such as major non-NATO ally status) to Mercosur countries in order to induce them to
support the U.S. free trade agenda.75 It is possible that U.S. offers of further cooperation on the
AMIA investigation were among these gifts.
At the same time as the visit of the congressional delegation to Argentina in April 1998,
an FBI team was in Argentina working on the AMIA bombing case.76 Then-director of the FBI
Louis Freeh even made a public visit to Buenos Aires the following month, where he gave what
Rocha called a major speech on international terrorism.77 Days after Freehs visit, the
Argentine government appeared to make a major advancement in the AMIA case. On May 16,
1998, the New York Times reported that Argentina had arrested eight Iranian residents and
ordered the expulsion of seven of Irans eight embassy employees.78 Citing a press conference
given by Argentine foreign minister Guido Di Tella, the newspaper wrote that Argentina is
close to breaking relations with Iran, acknowledging that American and Israeli intelligence
officials have been correct for years in asserting that Teheran played a direct role in the 1992
bombing of the Israeli Embassy here and the 1994 bombing of the AMIA building.79

74

Marcela Valente, ARGENTINA-US: Clinton Reaffirms Alliance with Argentina, Inter Press Service, October
16, 1997, http://www.ipsnews.net/1997/10/argentina-us-clinton-reaffirms-alliance-with-argentina/.
75
Marcela Valente, TRADE-MERCOSUR: Bloc Resists Dissolving into FTAA, Inter Press Service, October
13, 1997, http://www.ipsnews.net/1997/10/trade-mercosur-bloc-resists-dissolving-into-ftaa/.
76
Hernn Cappiello, El FBI Ya Trabaja En La Investigacin de La Causa AMIA, La Nacin, May 13, 2001,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/304818-el-fbi-ya-trabaja-en-la-investigacion-de-la-causa-amia.
77
Manuel Rocha, 98BUENOSAIRES2710 - FBI Director Freehs Visit to Buenos Aires (U.S. Department of
State, May 28, 1998), https://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190788.pdf.
78
Clifford Krauss, Argentina Arrests 8 Iranians and Ousts 7 in Anti-Jewish Bombings, The New York Times, May
16, 1998, http://www.nytimes.com/1998/05/17/world/argentina-arrests-8-iranians-and-ousts-7-in-anti-jewishbombings.html.
79
Ibid.

23
This apparent breakthrough resulted from the testimony of a former Iranian intelligence
operative named Abdolghassem Mesbahi. According to Ronen Bergman, Mesbahi was recruited
by German intelligence as a double agent in the late 1980s, and came in from the cold in 1993
to provide evidence in trials of alleged Iranian operatives accused of engaging in assassinations
of dissidents in Europe.80 Several press reports in May 1998 indicated that Judge Galeano had
traveled to Germany to interview Mesbahi shortly before the announcement of the arrests and the
diplomatic expulsions.81 Mesbahi reportedly told Galeano that the AMIA bombing had been
organized by a longtime leader in the Argentine Muslim community, Mohsen Rabbani, who was
serving as a cultural attach in the Iranian embassy at the time of the attack.82 Mesbahi also
claimed that the Iranian government had ordered the attack as retaliation for Argentina cutting
off nuclear cooperation with Iran under pressure from the United States.83
But, in the words of an FBI agent who attended the 1998 trip to Argentina, Mesbahi was
full of shit.84 For one, it is not clear how Mesbahi would have known much, if anything, about
the supposed Iranian AMIA plot, given that he had come in from the cold before the attack
was carried out. Secondly, Mesbahis explanation of motive ran counter to previous assessments
that the bombing had been a response to the kidnapping of Dirani and the destruction of a
Hezbollah training camp. Further undermining Mesbahis credibility, his understanding of the
situation regarding Argentine-Iranian nuclear cooperation was not even complete. As Gareth

80

Bergman, The Secret War with Iran, pp. 133-148.


Sebastian Rotella, Argentine Probe Frays Iran Ties, Los Angeles Times, May 30, 1998,
http://articles.latimes.com/1998/may/30/news/mn-54851.
82
Knight Ridder/Tribune, Iran, Argentina Clash over Jewish Center Bombing: Iranian Cleric Is Linked to Buenos
Aires Bombing That Killed 87 People in 94, Baltimore Sun, May 21, 1998, http://articles.baltimoresun.com/199805-21/news/1998141013_1_rabbani-iran-bombing.
83
Rotella, Argentine Probe Frays Iran Ties.
84
Dexter Filkins, Death of a Prosecutor, The New Yorker, July 20, 2015,
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/death-of-a-prosecutor.
81

24
Porter has pointed out, Argentine and Iranian officials continued negotiations on canceled
nuclear agreements up to and even after the AMIA attack.85
Galeano had previously accused a number of Iranian diplomatic officials in Argentina of
involvement in the bombing based on the testimony of a different Iranian defector. In August
1994, the judge had issued arrest warrants for several Iranian embassy officials after interviewing
an ex-Iranian government employee named Monoucher Moatamer, who also implicated Mohsen
Rabbani in the attack.86 At the time, Cheek wrote in a cable that Moatamers knowledge and
reliability regarding the events in [the AMIA] case are questionable,87 and he later stated that
the U.S. embassy finally decided that [Moatamer] wasnt credible.88 Galeanos 1994
accusations also came under criticism from Jewish organizations in Argentina and Iranian and
Western diplomats, who characterized the report as flimsy and lacking substance, according to
the New York Times.89
Following the breakthrough brought about by Mesbahis testimony, Argentine
investigators continued to pursue evidence to back up the Iran Theory. In November 1998, a
Brazilian citizen named Wilson dos Santos was detained in So Paulo.90 Dos Santos had
reportedly warned Argentine and Israeli diplomats in Milan about the plan to bomb the AMIA
building just over a week before the attack took place, claiming that his girlfriend, an Iranian

85

Gareth Porter, Argentine Report Casts Doubt on Iran Role in 94 Bomb, Antiwar.com, November 14, 2006,
http://www.antiwar.com/orig/porter.php?articleid=10014.
86
Carlos Ares, Argentina ordena detener a seis diplomticos iranes por el atentado de Buenos Aires, El Pas,
August 11, 1994, http://elpais.com/diario/1994/08/11/internacional/776556017_850215.html.
87
James Cheek, 94BUENOSAIRES5279 AMIA Bombing: Judge Identifies Iranian Suspects, Diplomats All
(U.S. Department of State, August 10, 1994), https://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190113.pdf.
88
Gareth Porter, US Officials Rejected Key Source on 94 Argentina Bombing, Antiwar.com, January 24, 2008,
http://www.antiwar.com/porter/?articleid=12254.
89
Calvin Sims, Argentine Chief, Noting Bombing Report, May Expel Iran Envoy, The New York Times, August
11, 1994, sec. World, http://www.nytimes.com/1994/08/11/world/argentine-chief-noting-bombing-report-mayexpel-iran-envoy.html.
90
Augusto Gazir, Atentado: Juiz Brasileiro Conduz Depoimento de Testemunha Do Ataque Amia, Folha de So
Paulo, November 11, 1998,
https://web.archive.org/web/20150707002630/http://www1.folha.uol.com.br/fsp/mundo/ft21119803.htm.

25
citizen named Nasrim Mokhtari, told him about the plot.91 But Dos Santos later recanted this
testimony and said he had invented the story.92 When Mokhtari was arrested and questioned by
Argentine authorities in December 1998, she denied any involvement in the bombing.93
Somewhat unsurprisingly, Mokhtari was acquitted in February 1999 for lack of evidence linking
her to the AMIA attack. Yet Galeano issued an accompanying report that nevertheless strongly
implied that Iran and Hezbollah bore responsibility for the bombing.94 Despite this flurry of
activity, on the occasion of Mokhtaris release Ambassador Rocha assessed that the AMIA and
Israeli embassy bombing investigations appear to be headed toward closure, with little chance of
identifying the responsible parties.95 In a partially redacted section of the same cable, Rocha
wrote that some close to the case are resigned to never being able to find the people responsible
for these bombings.96
Nevertheless, the Argentine government was under pressure to show progress in the
investigation, seeing as 1999 was not only a general election year in Argentina, but also the year
that would mark the fifth anniversary of the AMIA attack. Shortly before the five-year
anniversary, Galeano moved to bring to trial several Argentineans suspected of involvement in
the bombing.97 In September, just over a month before the elections, the Argentine Supreme
Court issued an arrest warrant for Imad Mugniyah, a Hezbollah leader who had been linked to
91

Jack Epstein, Argentine Bombing - a Cold Trail, Christian Science Monitor, December 6, 1994,
http://www.csmonitor.com/1994/1206/06071.html.
92
Sebastian Rotella, Deadly Blasts and an Itinerants Tale, Los Angeles Times, April 17, 1999,
http://articles.latimes.com/1999/apr/17/news/mn-28241.
93
La Nacin, Indagan a La Iran Por La Causa AMIA, La Nacin, December 24, 1998,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/122521-indagan-a-la-irani-por-la-causa-amia; Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Iranian
Arrested on Suspicion of Helping 2 Argentina Bombings, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 6, 1998,
http://www.jta.org/1998/12/06/news-opinion/iranian-arrested-on-suspicion-of-helping-2-argentina-bombings.
94
Manuel Rocha, 99BUENOSAIRES920 Terrorist Bombings Update: AMIA Judge Points Finger at Hizballah
and Acquits Mokhtari (U.S. Department of State, February 26, 1999),
https://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190785.pdf.
95
Ibid.
96
Ibid.
97
Hernn Cappiello, Los Fiscales Piden Prisin Perpetua, La Nacin, July 14, 1998,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/145731-los-fiscales-piden-prision-perpetua.

26
virtually every major attack attributed to the group since the 1980s. According to a report in the
leading Argentine newspaper La Nacin, officials from the U.S. State Department had provided
Argentina with a report on Mugniyah shortly before the arrest order was issued.98 Oddly,
however, the warrant for Mugniyah did not mention the Iranian government, and linked him only
with the 1992 embassy bombing rather than the 1994 AMIA attack. In another strange twist, the
day after the announcement of the issuance of the arrest order for Mugniyah, various Argentine
news outlets received and reported on a notice -- later determined to be fake -- purporting to have
originated with the Argentine Supreme Court, which stated that the embassy bombing case had
been resolved and clarified.99 The timing of these events strongly suggests their impetus was
political, rather than evidence-based.
While U.S. officials like Rocha privately admitted that there was little hope of ever
finding, much less successfully prosecuting, the actual perpetrators of the 1992 and 1994
bombings, they took a much different tack when speaking publicly. In December 1999, Rocha
cabled Washington with suggested language for a speech to be given by the acting Assistant
Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Peter Romero. Rather than calling attention
to the weakness of the evidence in both cases, Rocha suggested Romero mention the recent legal
decisions implicating Hezbollah and Mugniyah in the 1992 embassy bombing, and he
recommended that Romero characterize the state of the AMIA inquiry in generous terms. While
the investigations into both bombings began slowly, they have now reached the point where
certain facts are known, reads the suggested language.100

98

Mara ODonnell, El Terrorista Ms Buscado Del Mundo, La Nacin, September 6, 1999,


http://www.lanacion.com.ar/152389-el-terrorista-mas-buscado-del-mundo.
99
La Nacin, Falso Comunicado de La Corte, La Nacin, September 8, 1999,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/152632-falso-comunicado-de-la-corte.
100
Manuel Rocha, 99BUENOSAIRES6035 Speech Input for A/S Romero (U.S. Department of State, December
30, 1999), https://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190783.pdf.

27
Certain facts were indeed known about the AMIA bombing, but the essential theory of
Iranian and Hezbollah responsibility for the attack still rested on extremely shaky ground. Aside
from a contested claim of responsibility by a suspected Hezbollah front group, the testimony of
two Iranian defectors determined not to be credible and circumstantial evidence related to the
timing of other terrorist acts alleged sponsored by Iran, few of the known facts lent much
credence to the Iran Theory. By this time, however, another possible theory of culpability was
garnering increased attention in Argentina. The media dubbed it the pista siria, or the Syria
Connection.

The Syria Connection: An Alternative to the Iran Theory?


In February 2000, just two months after Carlos Menem stepped down as president of
Argentina, Argentine authorities detained Alberto Jacinto Kanoore Edul, a businessman of
Syrian heritage residing in Argentina. Telephone intercepts reportedly showed that, days before
the bombing that destroyed the AMIA building, Edul had contacted Carlos Alberto Telleldin, an
Argentine of Lebanese descent who owned the chop shop101 that allegedly supplied the vehicle
used in the attack.102 Suspicion fell on Edul because he was close with then-president Menem,
whose family hailed from the same region of Syria as Eduls, and because Edul had ties to
Mohsen Rabbani (the cultural attach in the Iranian embassy who allegedly helped orchestrate
the attack), as well as to the notorious Syrian arms trafficker Monzer al-Kassar, who was also
linked to Menem.103
101

The online encyclopedia Wikipedia defines chop shop as a location or business which disassembles stolen
automobiles for the purpose of selling them as parts,
https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Chop_shop&oldid=685268619.
102
Gustavo Carabajal, Sospechosa Vuelta de La Pista Siria, La Nacin, February 20, 2000,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/6031-sospechosa-vuelta-de-la-pista-siria.
103
Jorge Urien Berri, Irn, Siria Y La AMIA: Dos Pistas Que Convergen, La Nacin, August 31, 2003,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/523210-iran-siria-y-la-amia-dos-pistas-que-convergen.

28
Like the Iran Theory, much of the evidence for the Syria Connection is speculative and
circumstantial. However, the contrast between the U.S. treatment of this theory of culpability and
its treatment of the Iran Theory illustrates how political factors unrelated to the strength of the
evidence may have influenced U.S. cooperation in the AMIA investigation. Essentially,
proponents of the Syria Connection argue that elements of the Syrian government ordered the
AMIA attack as retaliation for Menems failure to follow through on supposed promises to
cooperate with Syria on ballistic missile and nuclear reactor technologies in exchange for
contributions to his presidential campaign.104 In 1988, as a presidential candidate, Menem
reportedly traveled to Syria and met with Syrian officials to make that deal.105 After his election,
however, Menem came under heavy pressure from the United States to cancel nuclear
cooperation with Syria and to shut down entirely a missile development program known as
Condor II.106 After years of internal wrangling within the Argentine government, the Condor
program finally ended in late 1993.107 This, advocates of the Syria Connection contend, provided
the impetus for the AMIA attack several months later.
It should be noted that the Syria Connection and the Iran Theory are not mutually
exclusive. Hezbollah received support not only from Iran but also from Syria, both of which
appeared to have motive to sponsor an attack against Argentina.108 However, the Syria
Connection shares some of the same logical problems as the Iran Theory.

104

Nathaniel Greenberg, War in Pieces: AMIA and The Triple Frontier in Argentine and American Discourse on
Terrorism, A Contracorriente 8, no. 1 (Fall 2010): 6193.
105
Nuclear Threat Initiative, Argentina Missile Chronology (Nuclear Threat Initiative, May 2010),
http://www.nti.org/media/pdfs/argentina_missile.pdf.
106
Sheinin, Argentina and the United States,pp. 199-202; Peter Whitney, 93BUENOSAIRES6264 Condor as a
Model for Non-Proliferation a Synopsis of the Project and Lessons Learned (U.S. Department of State, June 30,
1993), http://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/1-FY2013/F-2011-05524/DOC_0C17660488/C17660488.pdf.
107
Sheinin, Argentina and the United States; Nuclear Threat Initiative, Argentina Missile Chronology.
108
Urien Berri, Irn, Siria Y La AMIA.

29
For one, both hypotheses rest largely on the testimony of Iranian defectors of
questionable credibility. Shortly following Eduls arrest in February 2000, evidence for Syria
Connection was provided by a supposed defector who claimed to be a former high-ranking
Iranian intelligence officer named Ahmad Behbahani. In an interview with 60 Minutes, the man
purporting to be Behbahani claimed to have documents proving that Iranian officials planned the
AMIA attack, and that Syrian agents in Argentina carried it out.109 However, shortly after that
interview, the Washington Post revealed that the CIA and FBI had determined the man to be an
imposter. Quoting an unnamed U.S. intelligence official, the newspaper reported that the man
lacks basic knowledge of Irans intelligence apparatus and has been lying about lots of
stuff.110
Also, like the Iran Theory, the Syria Connection relies heavily on weak circumstantial
evidence regarding the supposed motive for the AMIA attack. For example, it is not clear why
the mere cancelation of nuclear or military technology cooperation would provide sufficient
motivation for a government to take such a risky and extreme action as sponsoring a major
terrorist attack against Argentina, especially since neither Iran nor Syria were affected in any
extraordinary way by those decisions. In fact, as in the Iranian case, negotiations about the
canceled Argentine nuclear technology agreements with Syria continued even after the attack.111
Moreover, Syria had other means by which it could obtain the desired technology, as the country

109

La Nacin, AMIA: Quieren Interrogar Al Desertor Iran, La Nacin, June 7, 2000,


http://www.lanacion.com.ar/19839-amia-quieren-interrogar-al-desertor-irani; Hernn Cappiello, Un Arrepentido
Iran Involucr a Menem, La Nacin, June 11, 2000, http://www.lanacion.com.ar/20367-un-arrepentido-iraniinvolucro-a-menem.
110
CBS News, Is Lockerbie Iran Defector A Fake?, CBS News, June 3, 2000, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/islockerbie-iran-defector-a-fake/.
111
Nuclear Threat Initiative, Syria, Nuclear Threat Initiative, March 2016,
http://www.nti.org/learn/countries/syria/nuclear/.

30
had been pursuing extensive nuclear and military cooperation with China for at least three years
prior to the AMIA bombing.112
Aside from the weakness of the evidence, there are several political reasons why U.S.
officials were disinclined to push for an investigation of the Syria Connection. For one, despite
significant domestic opposition, Carlos Menem had aligned Argentinas foreign policy with that
of the United States to such a degree that in November 1993 the New York Times described the
country as the United States closest ally in South America.113 The United States had little
interest in supporting an investigation with the potential to mar the reputation of such a friendly
government. Additionally, the U.S. government under President Clinton expended significant
energy on supporting peace negotiations between Syria and Israel.114 Around the time of the
AMIA attack, the talks had stalled, but Israel and the United States were attempting to draw
Syria back to the table.115 It therefore made little sense to encourage investigations that would
implicate Syria in the AMIA bombing, since this could complicate efforts to rekindle the peace
talks.
Indeed, when U.S. counterterrorism ambassador Philip Wilcox traveled to Argentina in
September of 1994, he commented to Argentine Vice Minister of Foreign Relations Fernando
Petrella that the Syrian government had not sponsored acts of international terrorism since the
1980s, and according to Ambassador Cheeks account, Wilcox made reference to the U.S.

112

Ibid.; David Volodzko, Chinas Role in the Syria Crisis, Revisited, The Diplomat, September 28, 2015,
http://thediplomat.com/2015/09/chinas-role-in-the-syria-crisis-revisited/.
113
Nathaniel C. Nash, Argentine President Clears Hurdle to Second Term, The New York Times, November 16,
1993, sec. World, http://www.nytimes.com/1993/11/16/world/argentine-president-clears-hurdle-to-secondterm.html; Sheinin, Argentina and the United States, 195-208.
114
Office of the Historian, The Oslo Accords and the Arab-Israeli Peace Process - 19932000, U.S. Department of
State, accessed March 25, 2016, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1993-2000/oslo.
115
Steven Greenhouse, U.S. and Israel Hope to Persuade Syria to Return to the Peace Talks, The New York Times,
March 17, 1994, sec. World, http://www.nytimes.com/1994/03/17/world/us-and-israel-hope-to-persuade-syria-toreturn-to-the-peace-talks.html.

31
interest in the Syrian-Israeli peace talks to Petrella.116 A State Department cable from 2007,
authored by then-U.S. ambassador in Argentina Anthony Wayne, demonstrates how little
attention the United States paid to the Syria Connection in the intervening years. In response to a
statement concerning possible Syrian involvement in the AMIA attack from a relative of one of
the victims, an FBI representative discounted a possible Syrian connection to the AMIA
bombing, noting that Hezbollah agents who carried out the attack, are financed by Iran, not
Syria. The Ambassador acknowledged that individual Syrians may have facilitated the
operations, but that it was less likely that Syria or the Syrian-Argentine community was involved
in the attack.117
To be clear, this author does not argue that the Syria Connection merits more or less
acceptance than the Iran Theory. The evidence for both is similarly unconvincing. However, the
seemingly out-of-hand dismissal of the Syria Connection by U.S. authorities further suggests that
geopolitical considerations influenced which investigative avenues the United States was willing
to support when it came to the AMIA case.

The Iran Theory After September 11


In January 2001, George W. Bush took office as president of the United States at a time
of worsening political and economic turmoil in Argentina.118 Nevertheless, relations between the
two governments remained generally strong, especially with regard to counterterrorism
cooperation.119 In fact, the day before the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the
116

Cheek, 94BUENOSAIRES6058 Interagency Counter-Terrorist Team Consultations in Buenos Aires Foreign


Minister.
117
Anthony Wayne, 07BUENOSAIRES1327 - Ambassador Meeting with AMIA Friends and Family Group (U.S.
Department of State, July 11, 2007), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07BUENOSAIRES1327_a.html.
118
Sheinin, Argentina and the United States, pp. 209-218.
119
Mara ODonnell, Fuerte Apoyo Poltico de Bush a De La Ra, La Nacin, April 20, 2001,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/60707-fuerte-apoyo-politico-de-bush-a-de-la-rua.

32
leading Argentine newspaper La Nacin published a report of an interview in which FBI officials
named counterterrorism as the agencys top priority in Argentina.120
Less than a month after the shocking events of September 11, the U.S. House of
Representatives held a hearing on the Western Hemispheres response to the attacks. In prepared
remarks, U.S. counterterrorism ambassador Francis X. Taylor stated that the 1992 and 1994
bombings in Argentina were characterized by the same faceless cowardice that we saw on
September 11, pointing to Hezbollah as the prime suspect in the Argentine attacks.121 Days
after the hearing, the Argentine press reported that authorities were looking into possible links
between the AMIA attack and the Al Qaeda organization accused of carrying out the September
11 plot.122 It is unclear whether this line of investigation was pursued at the urging of U.S.
officials, some of whom reportedly believed that Iran provided vital support to Al Qaeda.123
But in any case, nothing ever came of those inquiries.124
A more significant development came several weeks later, however, when the Argentine
press reported that judge Galeano was preparing to issue arrest warrants for Mohsen Rabbani and
two other Iranian officials in connection with the AMIA case.125 In the months that followed,
Galeano struggled to shore up his allegations, as he faced accusations that he had mishandled

120

Gabriel Pasquini, El Contraterrorismo Es La Prioridad Del FBI En El Pas, La Nacin, September 10, 2001,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/334040-el-contraterrorismo-es-la-prioridad-del-fbi-en-el-pais.
121
The Western Hemispheres Response to the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack on the United States (U.S.
Government Printing Office, 2001), http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=pst.000045958434.
122
La Nacin, Al-Qaeda Se Atribuy El Ataque a La AMIA Y Anticip El Atentado En EE.UU., La Nacin,
October 19, 2001, http://www.lanacion.com.ar/344385-al-qaeda-se-atribuyo-el-ataque-a-la-amia-y-anticipo-elatentado-en-eeuu; Hernn Cappiello, Investigan Los Mensajes de Al-Qaeda, La Nacin, October 20, 2001,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/344680-investigan-los-mensajes-de-al-qaeda.
123
Bergman, The Secret War with Iran, pg. 231.
124
Argentine President Eduardo Duhalde testified several months later that reports from Argentinas intelligence
service cited a connection between the AMIA bombing and the September 11 attacks, but the link consisted solely
of a supposed alliance between Hezbollah and Al Qaeda. Hernn Cappiello, Duhalde Vincul Los Atentados
Ocurridos Aqu Y En EE.UU., La Nacin, May 7, 2002, http://www.lanacion.com.ar/394601-duhalde-vinculo-losatentados-ocurridos-aqui-y-en-eeuu.
125
Hernn Cappiello, Galeano Pedir La Captura de Tres Ex Funcionarios Iranes, La Nacin, December 1, 2001,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/355677-galeano-pedira-la-captura-de-tres-ex-funcionarios-iranies.

33
evidence and helped to facilitate a $400,000 bribe to the chop shop owner Telleldin, a key
witness in the case. In July of 2002, the New York Times reported on a copy of a deposition of
Mesbahi that was provided to the newspaper by unnamed Argentine officials who were
frustrated that the case remains unsolved. The Times wrote that the document supports longheld suspicions of Iranian involvement in the AMIA bombing, adding that Mesbahi had accused
former president Menem of accepting a $10 million bribe from the Iranian government in
exchange for covering up the involvement of Iranian officials.126 (This bribe was supposedly
deposited in a Swiss bank account, but Swiss authorities were not able to uncover any evidence
supporting that claim.)127
In late October 2002, Galeano approached the U.S. embassy in Argentina to seek the
assistance of the U.S. government in moving forward with his allegations against the Iranian
officials. U.S. ambassador James Walsh wrote in a cable a few weeks later that Galeano had
requested close collaboration between the judge and [U.S.] officials knowledgeable about the
1994 case in order to ensure that the resolution and arrest warrants presented are as strong as
possible. Walsh endorsed a positive and quick response, recommending that the U.S.
government cooperate further with Judge Galeano along the lines of what the [U.S.
government] has now done on two separate occasions in recent years.128
By this time, U.S. policy with regard to Iran had shifted from the Clinton-era strategy of
dual containment to a more aggressive posture. In his first state of the union address, President
Bush had accused Iran of pursuing weapons of mass destruction and export[ing] terror, and
126

Larry Rohter, Iran Blew Up Jewish Center in Argentina, Defector Says, The New York Times, July 22, 2002,
sec. International Style / Americas, http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/22/international/americas/22ARGE.html.
127
La Nacin, Suiza No Hall Dinero de Menem Por La AMIA, La Nacin, July 14, 2004,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/618347-suiza-no-hallo-dinero-de-menem-por-la-amia.
128
James Walsh, 02BUENOSAIRES3904 Progress in AMIA Bombing Investigation: Judge Requests Further
USG Cooperation While MFA Advises Caution (U.S. Department of State, November 14, 2002),
https://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190777.pdf.

34
he claimed the country belonged to an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the
world.129 High-level civilian and military officials in the Bush administration had even begun to
advocate for facilitating a regime change in Iran.130 Allegations of Iranian government
involvement in the AMIA attack, however weakly supported, served to provide a justification for
this belligerent stance.
Roughly three months after Galeanos request for assistance from the U.S. embassy,
Argentine journalist Ral Kollman reported on the contents of a report on the AMIA attack that
had recently been prepared for Galeano and Argentine President Eduardo Duhalde by the
Argentine intelligence service, SIDE, with help from the CIA and Mossad.131 Unsurprisingly, its
basic conclusion, according to Kollman, was that Iranian government officials had ordered the
attack, which had been carried out by members of Hezbollah cells that had infiltrated Argentina.
The report apparently did not mention the group of local policemen then on trial for their alleged
involvement in obtaining the vehicle used in the attack, nor did it mention the possibility that
extremist right-wing elements of the Argentine security forces had provided the explosives used
in the bombing.132
Less than a month after the publication of Kollmans article, Jos Barbaccia and Alberto
Nisman, the prosecutors working the AMIA case, requested arrest warrants for nearly two-dozen
international suspects based on the report compiled by SIDE, the CIA and Mossad.133 Shortly

129

George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, January 29, 2002, http://georgewbushwhitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2002/01/20020129-11.html.
130
Porter, Manufactured Crisis, pp. 135-137.
131
Ral Kollman, Galeano Ya Tiene En Su Poder El Informe de La SIDE Sobre La AMIA, Pgina/12, January
23, 2003, http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/elpais/1-15771-2003-01-23.html.
132
Fernando Rodrguez, Comienza Hoy El Juicio Por El Caso AMIA, La Nacin, September 24, 2001,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/337676-comienza-hoy-el-juicio-por-el-caso-amia; Hernn Cappiello, Liberaron a
Todos Los Carapintadas, La Nacin, October 4, 2001, http://www.lanacion.com.ar/340237-liberaron-a-todos-loscarapintadas; Kollman, Galeano Ya Tiene En Su Poder El Informe de La SIDE Sobre La AMIA.
133
La Nacin, Solicitan La Captura de 22 Iranes Por La AMIA, La Nacin, February 22, 2003,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/475728-solicitan-la-captura-de-22-iranies-por-la-amia.

35
after this request, Galeano approved arrest warrants for the former cultural attach Mohsen
Rabbani, former Iranian security and intelligence minister Ali Fallahijan, and Iranian foreign
ministry officials Barat Ali Balesh Abadi and Ali Akbar Parvaresh.134 The day after this decision,
U.S. ambassador Walsh appeared to celebrate the developments. In a classified cable, Walsh
wrote that Iranian officials have long been suspected of masterminding the attack on the AMIA
community center and the 1992 bombing of the embassy of Israel in Buenos Aires. However,
until these latest development, there had been little public evidence of progress in the
investigation.135
Predictably, these events elicited a sharp rebuke from the Iranian government, which
threatened to reduce trade and even break diplomatic ties with Argentina, despite Argentine
assurances that the judicial actions were not politically motivated.136 Nevertheless, Galeano
pushed ahead. In early April 2003, the judge assented to the request for arrest warrants for
Iranian suspects Hamil Nagashan and Halil Pashi as well as brothers Vahid, Hahssan and Nasser
Alahban, all of whom, according to the SIDE report, had been involved in trafficking explosives
from Colombia to Venezuela and Brazil and finally into Argentina to be used in the AMIA
attack.137
In August 2003, Galeano issued several more arrest warrants for Iranian suspects in the
AMIA bombing, including Iranian foreign ministry officials Hossein Ali Tabrizi and Mahmoud

134

La Nacin, La Justicia Federal Orden La Captura de 4 Diplomticos Iranes, La Nacin, March 7, 2003,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/479267-la-justicia-federal-ordeno-la-captura-de-4-diplomaticos-iranies.
135
James Walsh, 03BUENOSAIRES775 Progress in AMIA Investigation Developments Lead to Stiff Iranian
Protest (U.S. Department of State, March 6, 2003),
https://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190775.pdf.
136
Marc Perelman, Indictments in Argentina Bombing Draw Denials, Threats From Iran, The Forward, March 14,
2003, http://forward.com/news/9446/indictments-in-argentina-bombing-draw-denials-thr/; Radio Free Europe /
Radio Liberty, Iran Report: March 17, 2003, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, March 17, 2003, sec. Reports
Archive, http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1342724.html.
137
Daniel Santoro, AMIA: Ordenan Capturar a Ms Iranes, Clarn, April 12, 2003,
http://edant.clarin.com/diario/2003/04/12/p-03001.htm.

36
Monzavizadeh; Masoud Amiri, an attach at the Iranian embassy in Brazil from 1993 to 1997;
Seyed Yousef Arabi, who allegedly served as Irans top spy in Chile during the early 1990s;
Ahmad Alamolhoda, the director of cultural affairs at the Iranian foreign ministry in June 1994;
an Iranian diplomat named Saied Baghban; and Ahmad Reza Asghari, a secretary at the Iranian
embassy in Buenos Aires at the time of the AMIA attack.138 The most controversial warrant,
however, was for Hadi Soleimanpour, who was serving as Irans ambassador to Argentina at the
time of the AMIA bombing. On August 21, 2003, Soleimanpour was arrested by police in Great
Britain, where he was working as a research assistant at the University of Durham.139
Soleimanpours detention provoked an outcry from the Iranian government, which backed
Soleimanpours claims that he had nothing to do with the bombing. Soleimanpour was later
released, and Galeanos request for his extradition was denied after a British court found there
was insufficient evidence to link him to the AMIA attack.140
After the episode with Soleimanpour, the Argentine government appeared to change
course with regard to its pursuit of international suspects. This change of course perhaps
reflected a realization that the case for the Iran Theory was significantly weaker than it
previously seemed, though it is equally plausible that the Argentine government did not want to
disrupt a robust trade relationship with Iran.141 In November 2003 -- the day after Great Britain
declined the request to extradite Soleimanpour -- Argentine foreign minister Rafael Bielsa
138

La Nacin, AMIA: Ordenan La Captura de Ocho Iranes, La Nacin, August 14, 2003,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/519174-amia-ordenan-la-captura-de-ocho-iranies; Nisman and Martinez Burgos,
Report; Request for Arrests.
139
BBC News, Iran Ex-Diplomat Faces Terror Hearing, BBC News, August 22, 2003, sec. Americas,
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3174625.stm; BBC News, Iran Envoy Arrest Row Escalates, BBC News,
August 24, 2003, sec. Middle East, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3177355.stm.
140
MercoPress, UK Denies Extradition of Iranian Diplomat, MercoPress, November 13, 2003,
http://en.mercopress.com/2003/11/13/uk-denies-extradition-of-iranian-diplomat.
141
According to Argentine foreign relations scholar Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, the more than $400 million worth of
products Argentina exported to Iran in 2001 represented 2% of Argentinas global trade. In 2003, possibly as a result
of diplomatic frictions caused by the AMIA case, the value of Argentine exports to Iran fell dramatically to $47
million; See: Tokatlian, Kirchner, Irn Y La AMIA, La Nacin, December 3, 2006,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/864107-kirchner-iran-y-la-amia.

37
announced that he would travel to Iran to discuss the AMIA case with officials there, and he
denied that Argentina blamed Iran for the attack.142 (Curiously, around this time, the
international law enforcement organization INTERPOL issued wanted advisories known as
red notices for 12 Iranian suspects in the AMIA bombing at Argentinas request.143) A month
later, Galeano was removed from the AMIA case for allegedly facilitating the $400,000 bribe to
Telleldin, the chop shop owner.144 Galeano was replaced by Rodolfo Canicoba Corral.145
In May 2004, Argentine President Nestor Kirchner visited Washington, D.C., and in a
speech before an audience of 1,600 representatives of Jewish organizations from 45 countries
around the world, he vowed to find the truth about the AMIA bombing.146 But as the New York
Times wrote later that month, the investigation of the Iran Theory appeared to have fizzled out
and the trial of those charged with providing the car used in the bombing [was] in danger of
collapsing.147 Yet still, on occasion of the tenth anniversary of the AMIA attack that July,
despite all the indications that the AMIA case would remain unsolved, the U.S. House of
Representatives passed a resolution that urged Argentine authorities to continue their
investigations and stresse[d] the need for international pressure on Iran and Syria to extradite

142

La Nacin, El Canciller Bielsa Dijo Que Viajar a Irn, La Nacin, November 13, 2003,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/544883-el-canciller-bielsa-dijo-que-viajara-a-iran; La Nacin, Bielsa Dijo Que No
Culpa a Irn Por El Ataque a La AMIA, La Nacin, November 14, 2003, http://www.lanacion.com.ar/545188bielsa-dijo-que-no-culpa-a-iran-por-el-ataque-a-la-amia.
143
INTERPOL, Argentinean Red Notices for Iranian Officials Cancelled, INTERPOL, September 27, 2005,
http://www.interpol.int/News-and-media/News/2005/PR041.
144
La Nacin, Apartaron a Galeano de La Causa AMIA, La Nacin, December 4, 2003,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/551470-apartaron-a-galeano-de-la-causa-amia.
145
La Nacin, El Sucesor Simpatiza Con El PJ, La Nacin, December 4, 2003,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/551473-el-sucesor-simpatiza-con-el-pj.
146
La Nacin, Kirchner Comienza Hoy Su Tercer Viaje a Los Estados Unidos, La Nacin, May 3, 2004,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/597744-kirchner-comienza-hoy-su-tercer-viaje-a-los-estados-unidos.
147
Larry Rohter, Justice Elusive in 1994 Attack on Argentine Jews, The New York Times, May 30, 2004,
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/30/world/justice-elusive-in-1994-attack-on-argentine-jews.html.

38
for trial individuals and government officials accused of planning or perpetrating the AMIA
attack.148
Hopes for a resolution to the AMIA case took another blow in September 2004, when a
panel of judges acquitted Telleldin and the local police officers accused of providing the car used
in the attack.149 U.S. ambassador to Argentina Lino Gutierrez wrote in a cable that the decision
insures that the AMIA saga becomes even more twisted and difficult -- if not impossible -- to
resolve.150 In a separate cable a few weeks after the decision, Gutierrez assessed that the
Kirchner administration would use the discrediting of the Galeano-led investigation as a way to
score political points against the Menem government. However, Gutierrez wrote, What will be
more important for [Kirchners] administration in the long run is how the government now
facilitates and promotes the efforts to identify and prosecute the still-at-large authors and agents
of the terrorist attack, presumably referring to the Iranian and Hezbollah suspects. The
ambassador pointed out that victims family members and Jewish groups were likely to keep
pressure on Kirchner to pursue the Iran and Hezbollah angles, but he also noted that the
investigation was based mostly on circumstantial evidence that required further extensive
corroboration. In conclusion, Gutierrez wrote, We believe it is very unlikely that, 10 years
later, whatever leads remain will yield useful evidence.151
The acknowledgement that the evidence in the AMIA case was largely circumstantial and
unlikely to be bolstered by future investigations did not prevent the U.S. government from
148

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Condemning the Attack on the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina,
in July 1994 and Expressing the Concern of the United States Regarding the Continuing, Decade-Long Delay in the
Resolution of This Case, 2004, https://www.congress.gov/bill/108th-congress/house-concurrent-resolution/469/text.
149
Larry Rohter, 5 Acquitted in 94 Bombing of a Jewish Center in Argentina, The New York Times, September 3,
2004, http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/03/world/americas/5-acquitted-in-94-bombing-of-a-jewish-center-inargentina.html.
150
Lino Gutierrez, 04BUENOSAIRES2540 - AMIA Bombing Defendants Acquitted (U.S. Department of State,
September 3, 2004), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/04BUENOSAIRES2540_a.html.
151
Lino Gutierrez, 04BUENOSAIRES2712 - AMIA Trial Update (U.S. Department of State, September 23,
2004), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/04BUENOSAIRES2712_a.html.

39
continuing to support the Iran Theory. In January 2004, the Iranian government had petitioned
INTERPOL to rescind the red notices issued against Iranian officials in November 2003,
basing their request on the apparent mishandling of the investigation by Galeano.152 In October
2004, after the ignominious end of the AMIA trial in Argentina, INTERPOLs Executive
Committee voted unanimously to suspend the notices.153 Then, in February 2005, Argentine
Interior Minister Anbal Fernndez approached the U.S. embassy seeking assistance in getting
the red notices reinstated. In a March 1, 2005 cable, Ambassador Gutierrez called the notices
substantively and symbolically important, and strongly recommend[ed] that [the State]
Department coordinate with the [U.S. National Central Bureau of INTERPOL] to engage the
Interpol Secretary Generals office at the earliest opportunity to express the [U.S. governments]
strong support for Argentinas request that the Red Notices be reinstated.154
The INTERPOL general assembly upheld the decision to cancel the red notices in
September 2005.155 But this seems to have only redoubled the commitment to keeping Iran in
the dock among proponents of the Iran Theory within the U.S. government. In January 2006, a
delegation of staffers from the international affairs committee of the U.S. House of
Representatives visited Argentina to express support for the Argentines continued focus on the
Iran Theory. According to Ambassador Gutierrezs summary, the staffers emphasized the
importance of close coordination between the Special Investigative Unit handling the AMIA
probe and the U.S. government, which would allow for timely diplomatic intervention to
counter a certain Iranian campaign against reinstatement of the notices. Gutierrez also opined
152

INTERPOL, Argentinean Red Notices for Iranian Officials Cancelled.


Ibid.
154
Lino Gutierrez, 05BUENOSAIRES461 - GOA Requests USG Assistance Reinstating Interpol Red Notices for
Capture of Suspects in 1994 AMIA Terrorist Attack (U.S. Department of State, March 1, 2005),
https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/05BUENOSAIRES461_a.html; U.S. Department of Justice, About INTERPOL
Washington, U.S. Department of Justice, accessed March 30, 2016, https://www.justice.gov/interpolwashington/about-interpol-washington.
155
INTERPOL, Argentinean Red Notices for Iranian Officials Cancelled.
153

40
that It was important for the relevant Argentine officials and organizations to see that the U.S.
Congress and Executive continue to speak with one voice on this issue, that both branches are
still watching developments closely, and that the U.S. remains fully involved and willing to
assist in any way possible.156
On October 25, 2006, the prosecutors handling the AMIA case, Marcelo Martinez Burgos
and Alberto Nisman, released a rambling 800-page document petitioning judge Rodolfo
Canicoba Corral to issue arrest warrants for former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani,
former Iranian intelligence chief Ali Fallahijan, former Iranian foreign affairs minister Ali Akbar
Velayeti, Iranian military officials Mohsen Rezai and Ahmad Vahidi, former Iranian embassy
officials Mohsen Rabbani and Ahmad Reza Asghari, and Hezbollah leader Imad Mugniyeh.157
Despite its extensive length and extraordinary complexity, the report offered little new evidence
and differed only slightly from the conclusions about the Iran Theory reached during the
investigation led by Galeano. In fact, months earlier, U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission in Argentina
Hugo Llorens had commented that the nearly-finalized report will cover familiar groundi.e.
that the attack was planned and financed by the Government of Iran and carried out with the
operational assistance of Hezbollah and local Iranian diplomats.158
The report received brief, but widespread attention in Argentina and around the world,
especially given the recent ramping up of the long-time U.S. campaign to prevent Iran from
pursuing nuclear technologies.159 The charge daffaires at the U.S. embassy in Argentina,

156

Lino Gutierrez, 06BUENOSAIRES146 - STAFFDEL Mackey Pushes AMIA Bombing Case (U.S. Department
of State, January 19, 2006), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06BUENOSAIRES146_a.html.
157
Nisman and Martinez Burgos, Report; Request for Arrests; BBC News, Iran Charged over Argentina Bomb,
BBC News, October 25, 2006, sec. Americas, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6085768.stm.
158
Hugo Llorens, 06BUENOSAIRES1612 AMIA Investigation Update: Prosecutors Report close to Final
(U.S. Department of State, July 20, 2006), https://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/Waterfall/190767.pdf.
159
Michael Matera, 06BUENOSAIRES2423 - AMIA Bombing - Request for an International Arrest Order Against
Rafsanjani; Us Expert Mark Jones Statements on Argentina 10/26/06; Buenos Aires (U.S. Department of State,

41
Michael Matera, wrote that the Argentine government remained largely silent on the issuance
and content of the report, likely in order to mitigate any damage to that countrys relationship
with Iran, which had devolved from a strong trading partnership in the early 2000s into what
Matera described as low level diplomatic relations.160 Perhaps equally importantly, the reports
numerous flaws in both style and substance were glaringly apparent, and were reported
contemporaneously in Argentina and even in some international media outlets.161 Despite this,
however, the U.S. government clearly planned to use the burst of publicity for the allegations
against Iran to support its geopolitical goals.
In another cable, Matera noted that Canicoba Corral was expected to move ahead with
issuing the requested warrants sooner than previously thought. With events moving quicker
than anticipated, Embassy can now more logically approach the [Argentine government] about
the governments anticipated next steps and ways we might be able to coordinate outreach to
other governments, and efforts in regional and international fora to bring attention to the
warrants and pressure to bear on Iran and Hezbollah, Matera wrote.162 Journalist Marc
Perelman, writing in the Jewish newspaper The Forward, reported that the administration of U.S.
president George W. Bush was planning to ratchet up pressure on Tehran at the United Nations
by invoking the recent Argentine indictment. The plan, according to Perelman, was to
highlight Irans sponsorship of terrorism to convince reluctant U.N. Security Council members -first and foremost Russia and China -- that Irans nuclear ambitions should be neutralized.
October 27, 2006), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06BUENOSAIRES2423_a.html; Porter, Manufactured Crisis,
pp. 162-190.
160
Michael Matera, 06BUENOSAIRES2437 - Update on AMIA Indictments (U.S. Department of State, October
27, 2006), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06BUENOSAIRES2437_a.html; Tokatlian, Kirchner, Irn Y La
AMIA.
161
Jorge Urien Berri, Una Cuestin de Fe, No de Pruebas, La Nacin, November 10, 2006,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/857371-una-cuestion-de-fe-no-de-pruebas; Porter, Argentine Report Casts Doubt on
Iran Role in 94 Bomb.
162
Michael Matera, 06BUENOSAIRES2455 - AMIA Arrest Warrants Could Come Earlier Than Anticipated
(U.S. Department of State, November 1, 2006), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06BUENOSAIRES2455_a.html.

42
Perelman also noted that the charges against Iran could provide a reason for Argentina, which at
the time held a rotating seat on the Security Council, to vote for anti-Iran measures supported by
the United States.163
Over the coming days, U.S. officials showered praise on their Argentine counterparts for
the seeming progress in the case against Iran, and they repeatedly brought up the U.S.
governments willingness to provide further assistance as the process moved forward.164 U.S.
diplomatic officials also worked quietly to gain support from international partners with regard
to the planned request to have INTERPOL issue red notices for the suspects named in Nisman
and Burgos report.165 Apparently unsure of the level of support for the movement on the red
notices within the Kirchner administration, U.S. Ambassador to Argentina Anthony Wayne
chose not to outline these measures in a meeting with the Argentine foreign ministry official in
charge of coordinating diplomacy regarding the AMIA case.166 When Ambassador Wayne met
with families of the victims of the AMIA attack in December 2006, he noted the great interest
he and the [U.S. government] attached to this case, but said that the United States had to be
careful to allow Argentina to lead efforts with the case so as to avoid feeding the perception that

163

Marc Perelman, U.S. Set To Raise 94 Attack, The Forward, November 3, 2006,
http://forward.com/news/7417/us-set-to-raise-94-attack/.
164
Anthony Wayne, 06BUENOSAIRES2597 - Ambassador Waynes November 20 Meeting with Vice President
Daniel Scioli (U.S. Department of State, November 20, 2006),
https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06BUENOSAIRES2597_a.html; Anthony Wayne, 06BUENOSAIRES2597 Ambassadors November 20 Meeting with Argentine Justice Minister Iribarne (U.S. Department of State,
November 22, 2006), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06BUENOSAIRES2612_a.html; Anthony Wayne,
06BUENOSAIRES2613 - Ambassadors November 16 Meeting with Minister of Interior (U.S. Department of
State, November 22, 2006), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06BUENOSAIRES2613_a.html; Anthony Wayne,
06BUENOSAIRES2614 - Ambassadors Meeting with FM Taiana (U.S. Department of State, November 22,
2006), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06BUENOSAIRES2614_a.html; Anthony Wayne,
06BUENOSAIRES2630 - Ambassadors November 27 Meeting with Argentine Supreme Court (U.S. Department
of State, November 28, 2006), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06BUENOSAIRES2630_a.html.
165
Anthony Wayne, 06BUENOSAIRES2637 - AMIA Special Prosecutors Call on Ambassador (U.S. Department
of State, November 28, 2006), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06BUENOSAIRES2637_a.html.
166
Anthony Wayne, 06BUENOSAIRES2665 - AMIA Update: Ambassadors Conversation with MFAs AMIA
Coordinator (U.S. Department of State, November 30, 2006),
https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06BUENOSAIRES2665_a.html.

43
his government sought to politicize the case as being the United States against Iran.167 That
meeting took place at the same time as another visit to Argentina by a staff delegation from the
U.S. House of Representatives, which, in Waynes words, expressed strong U.S. support and
interest in the case to prosecutors Nisman and Burgos, and urged the prosecutors and the
[Argentine government] to be proactive in their dealings with INTERPOL.168
The extent of U.S. assistance to Argentina in the process of seeking the issuance of red
notices from INTERPOL over the next several months was remarkable. The U.S. embassy in
Argentina and the Office of International Affairs at the U.S. Department of Justice helped
Nisman craft his request for the red notices before it was presented to INTERPOL in January
2007.169 Both the U.S. Congress and the Executive branch made their support for the issuance of
the red notices known to INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald Noble, a former high-ranking
U.S. law enforcement official who seemed disinclined to support the Argentine petition.170 And
these efforts paid off. Ahead of an INTERPOL Executive Committee meeting in March 2007,
the INTERPOL General Counsel made a recommendation in favor of issuing several of the
requested red notices, though it recommended against issuing notices for former Iranian
president Rafsanjani and former foreign minister Velayeti due to issues of diplomatic immunity,

167

Anthony Wayne, 06BUENOSAIRES2790 - Ambassador Wayne Meets with AMIA Family Representatives
(U.S. Department of State, December 20, 2006), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06BUENOSAIRES2790_a.html.
168
Anthony Wayne, 06BUENOSAIRES2805 - Argentina: STAFFDEL Meeting with MFA on AMIA, Tri-Border;
Latest AMIA Developments (Argentina Buenos Aires, December 21, 2006),
https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06BUENOSAIRES2805_a.html.
169
Anthony Wayne, 07BUENOSAIRES93 - AMIA Update: Nisman Travels to Lyon with Much-Improved
Application for Red Notices (U.S. Department of State, January 19, 2007),
https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07BUENOSAIRES93_a.html.
170
Anthony Wayne, 07BUENOSAIRES182 - Clash at Interpol Leads to Heightened Tensions Between Argentina
and Iran (U.S. Department of State, January 31, 2007),
https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07BUENOSAIRES182_a.html.

44
and determined that there was not enough evidence to support a recommendation in favor of
reinstating the red notice for Soleimanpour, the former Iranian ambassador to Argentina.171
A week after the INTERPOL General Counsel decision, U.S. Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice signed off on a widely-distributed missive that instructed various U.S.
diplomatic posts to approach host governments at the highest level to convey U.S. strong
support in this matter, clearly demonstrating that the U.S. interest in the issuance of the red
notices was rooted in geopolitical motives. An Argentine trial and conviction of the individuals
sought would establish the Iranian regimes and Hizballahs role in this attack and underscore
Tehrans flagrant violation of international law and callous disregard for the lives of innocent
civilians, the cable reads. The issuance of Interpol Red Notices, it continues, would advance
U.S. counter terrorism policy objectives by supporting Argentina in its effort to prosecute those
who it believes were responsible for this act of terror; spotlighting Irans role as the leading state
sponsor of international terrorism; increasing the costs to Tehran for its continued support of
terrorism; and further exposing Hizballahs illegitimate, extremist agenda and role in carrying
out terrorist attacks around the world.172
On March 15, 2007, after significant behind-the-scenes lobbying by U.S. diplomats, the
INTERPOL Executive Committee announced its endorsement of the proposal to issue red
notices for former Iranian intelligence minister Ali Fallahijan, military officials Mohsen Rezai
and Ahmad Vahidi, former Iranian embassy cultural attach Mohsen Rabbani, former secretary
of the Iranian embassy in Argentina Ahmed Reza Asghari, and suspected Hezbollah leader Imad
171

Hernn Cappiello, Interpol Recomend Capturar a Seis Ex Funcionarios de Irn, La Nacin, March 1, 2007,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/887642-interpol-recomendo-capturar-a-seis-ex-funcionarios-de-iran; Anthony Wayne,
07BUENOSAIRES422 - Supporting the AMIA Terror Investigation at INTERPOL (U.S. Department of State,
March 5, 2007), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07BUENOSAIRES422_a.html.
172
Condoleezza Rice, 07STATE29082 - Demarche Request - Argentinas Request for USG Assistance in
Connection with March 13-15 Interpol Executive Committee Meeting in Lyon, France (U.S. Department of State,
March 8, 2007), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07STATE29082_a.html.

45
Mugniyeh.173 However, as expected, Iran appealed the decision, which, as U.S. Ambassador
Wayne wrote, would ironically, keep the issue alive in the Argentine press in the run-up to a
November INTERPOL General Assembly vote that would serve as the organizations final
decision on the matter.174
As the General Assembly meeting approached, the United States continued to offer
considerable support for Argentinas efforts to get the red notices approved. In a highly
classified cable sent in early October, Ambassador Wayne even requested the assistance of the
State Department and the intelligence community to track down any evidence of Iran lobbying
other countries in the run-up to Marrakech.175At the November 2007 meeting in Morocco, the
INTERPOL General Assembly did, in fact, vote to issue the red notices for the six suspects
named in March.176 But both the Argentine foreign ministry and the U.S. government agreed, in
Waynes words, that additional evidence being developed by AMIA prosecutor Nisman -- and
possible additional indictments -- could provide another excellent opportunity to more
aggressively push this issue.177 And the issue was indeed pursued aggressively. In January
2008, Belgian authorities mistakenly arrested an Iranian diplomat thought to be Mohsen Rezai,

173

INTERPOL, INTERPOL Executive Committee Takes Decision on AMIA Red Notice Dispute, INTERPOL,
March 15, 2007, http://www.interpol.int/News-and-media/News/2007/PR005.
174
Anthony Wayne, 07BUENOSAIRES520 - Argentine Government Welcomes AMIA Decision Privately, but
Quiet Publicly (U.S. Department of State, March 19, 2007),
https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07BUENOSAIRES520_a.html.
175
Anthony Wayne, 07BUENOSAIRES1971 - Embassy Requests Information on Iranian Lobbying Efforts for
Nov. 5-8 Interpol Vote on AMIA Capture Notices (U.S. Department of State, October 3, 2007),
https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07BUENOSAIRES1971_a.html.
176
INTERPOL, INTERPOL General Assembly Upholds Executive Committee Decision on AMIA Red Notice
Dispute, INTERPOL, November 7, 2007, http://www.interpol.int/News-and-media/News/2007/PR054.
177
Anthony Wayne, 07BUENOSAIRES2222 - AMIA: MFA Readout from Marrakech and Next Steps (U.S.
Department of State, November 15, 2007), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07BUENOSAIRES2222_a.html.

46
only to release him once the error was discovered.178 The next month, the CIA and Mossad
assassinated Imad Mugniyeh in Damascus, Syria with a car bomb.179
A month after Mugniyehs killing, in March 2008, FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes
traveled to Argentina. According to Ambassador Waynes summary of the trip, Much of
Fuentes discussions with [Argentine government] officials centered on the November 2007
Interpol General Assemblys overwhelming support of Argentinas case against Iranian officials
charged in the 1994 AMIA bombing.180 The visit was part of a strategy of getting past square
one with the newly installed government of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, the wife of
former president Nestor Kirchner, who had taken over the office from her husband the previous
December. A secret cable sent in February 2008 by the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S.
embassy in Argentina, Tom Kelly, recommended senior-level visitsto advance U.S. interests
in intensified counter-terrorism work, and to resume our valuable partnership with the [Argentine
government] to bring the Iranian-sponsored perpetrators of the 1994 AMIA bombing to
justice.181
In late May 2008, FBI Deputy Director John Pistole arrived in Argentina for another such
visit. His trip, however, was complicated by the fact that Nisman chose the occasion to publicly
announce a request for arrest warrants against former Argentine President Menem, former AMIA
judge Galeano and others for their alleged roles in covering up the local connection to the

178

La Nacin, AMIA: Confusin Con Un Sospechoso, La Nacin, January 16, 2008,


http://www.lanacion.com.ar/979260-amia-confusion-con-un-sospechoso.
179
Adam Goldman and Ellen Nakashima, CIA and Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Figure in Car Bombing, The
Washington Post, January 30, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/cia-and-mossadkilled-senior-hezbollah-figure-in-car-bombing/2015/01/30/ebb88682-968a-11e4-8005-1924ede3e54a_story.html.
180
Anthony Wayne, 08BUENOSAIRES367 - Argentina: FBIs AD Fuentes Discusses Cooperation with Senior
Officials (U.S. Department of State, March 20, 2008),
https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08BUENOSAIRES367_a.html.
181
Tom Kelly, 08BUENOSAIRES235 - Argentina: Getting Past Square One with the Fernandez De Kirchner
Government (U.S. Department of State, February 26, 2008),
https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08BUENOSAIRES235_a.html.

47
attack.182 The prosecutor had given no hint of his plans to the U.S. embassy, and officials
suspected his choice of timing was driven more by domestic politics than by significant new
developments in the case.183 This caused consternation at the embassy. Ambassador Wayne
noted that officers have for the past two years recommended to Nisman that he focus on the
perpetrators of the terrorist attack and not on the possible mishandling of the first
investigation.184 Nisman apologized, but in a separate cable, Wayne wrote that Nismans
vigorous defense of his actions rings hollow given that there was no overriding urgency to go
public with his findings.185 In discussions with President Kirchner and other high-level
Argentine officials, Pistole stressed the threat posed by Islamist terrorism and focused on the
Argentines pursuit of the Iran angle of the investigation, but he did not mention the local
connection.186
Given the amount of effort the United States had put into securing the issuance of red
notices against the Iranian officials and Mugniyeh, the concern about Nismans apparent
politicization of the AMIA case is understandable. The previous investigation, headed by
Galeano, had fallen apart after the failure to successfully prosecute suspects linked to the local
connection. However, the episode with Nismans suspiciously-timed announcement of arrest
warrants for local suspects suggests that the United States had relatively little interest in helping

182

Anthony Wayne, 08BUENOSAIRES702 - Argentina: AMIA Prosecutor Requests Arrest of Menem and Others
for Local Connection Cover-Up (U.S. Department of State, May 22, 2008),
https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08BUENOSAIRES702_a.html.
183
Anthony Wayne, 08BUENOSAIRES717 - Argentina: AMIA Prosecutor Explains His Request for Arrest of
Menem and Others in AMIA Case (U.S. Department of State, May 27, 2008),
https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08BUENOSAIRES717_a.html.
184
Wayne, Argentina, May 27, 2008.
185
Anthony Wayne, 08BUENOSAIRES739 - Argentinas Special AMIA Prosecutor Defends His Actions (U.S.
Department of State, May 29, 2008), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08BUENOSAIRES739_a.html.
186
Anthony Wayne, 08BUENOSAIRES746 - Presidents Meeting with FBI Deputy Director (U.S. Department of
State, May 30, 2008), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08BUENOSAIRES746_a.html; Anthony Wayne,
08BUENOSAIRES759 - Argentina: FBIs Deputy Director Pistole Discusses Cooperation with Senior Officials
(U.S. Department of State, June 3, 2008), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08BUENOSAIRES759_a.html.

48
Argentina carry out a thorough investigation of every possible angle. Rather, U.S. interest in the
AMIA case appears to have been limited to keeping Iran in the dock for the bombing.

The Iran Theory in the Obama Era


During the U.S. presidential campaign of 2007 and 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama
made clear that he intended to adhere to the long-time pillars of U.S. policy toward Iran, namely,
preventing the country from obtaining nuclear technologies and containing the threat it posed
to stability in the Middle East.187 He did, however, indicate a willingness to break from the
Bush administrations policy of refusing to negotiate with Iranian government officials.188 When
Obama won the 2008 election and assumed the presidency in 2009, he seemed intent on
following through on those promises, and the importance of the AMIA issue -- at least in the
executive branch -- appeared to wane. In fact, a cable sent by the new Secretary of State, Hillary
Clinton, three days after she took office asked extensive questions about Iranian activities in
Latin America, including whether Iran supported terrorism in the region, but it did not mention
the AMIA bombing.189
Early in the Obama administration, the AMIA attack did come up periodically, but in
most cases, the U.S. response to opportunities to link Iran to the bombing was much less
aggressive than it had been during the Bush years. For example, Nisman traveled to the
Washington in June 2009, where he attended a seminar on terrorism and declared that its up to
the international community to demand Iran to hand over the terrorists responsible for the
187

Jeffrey Goldberg, Obamas Crystal-Clear Promise to Stop Iran From Getting a Nuclear Weapon, The Atlantic,
October 2, 2012, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/10/obamas-crystal-clear-promise-to-stopiran-from-getting-a-nuclear-weapon/262951/.
188
Michael R. Gordon and Jeff Zeleny, Obama Envisions New Iran Approach, The New York Times, November 2,
2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/02/us/politics/02obama.html.
189
Hillary Clinton, 09STATE6423 - Iranian Outreach to Latin America (U.S. Department of State, January 23,
2009), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09STATE6423_a.html.

49
bombing.190 The administration made little effort to publicize Nismans trip, and seems to have
paid relatively little attention to a new accusation made by Nisman that a Colombian national
known as Samuel El Reda, suspected of being one of the top Hezbollah operatives in Latin
America, had participated in the AMIA attack.191
In August 2009, the Argentine government denounced Irans decision to name one of the
AMIA suspects, Ahmad Vahidi, as Defense Minister, just a month after the fifteenth anniversary
of the attack. The U.S. embassy noted the condemnation deserves recognition, but did not
recommend further action by the U.S. government.192 When U.S. Treasury Department official
David Cohen traveled to Argentina in October, he met with Nisman and promised to follow up
with German and French counterparts on Nismans earlier requests for those countries to freeze
several bank accounts that he claimed held $48 million associated with the AMIA attack.193
Notably, in March 2010, INTERPOL hosted a meeting between Argentine and Iranian officials
to try to resolve lingering disagreements over the AMIA case.194 The United States did not
publicly oppose the meeting, and the White House even hosted a visit by Nisman later that
month as a show of support for his governments ongoing efforts in the case.195

190

Buenos Aires Herald, Nisman: People Know What Happened with the AMIA Attack, Buenos Aires Herald,
June 20, 2009, http://www.buenosairesherald.com/article/4366/.
191
Anthony Wayne, 09BUENOSAIRES592 - Argentina: AMIA Special Prosecutor Ready to Announce Indictment
of AMIA Bombing Suspect (U.S. Department of State, May 19, 2009),
https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09BUENOSAIRES592_a.html.
192
Tom Kelly, 09BUENOSAIRES966 - Argentina: Government Joins Jewish Community in Condemning Irans
Nomination of Ahmad Vahidi as Minister of Defense (U.S. Department of State, August 25, 2009),
https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09BUENOSAIRES966_a.html.
193
Tom Kelly, 09BUENOSAIRES1168 - Argentina Trip Report of A/S Treasury David Cohen (U.S. Department
of State, October 28, 2009), https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09BUENOSAIRES1168_a.html.
194
INTERPOL, INTERPOL Hosts Argentina-Iran Meeting for Continued Dialogue over 15-Year-Old AMIA
Terrorist Incident, INTERPOL, March 12, 2010, http://www.interpol.int/News-and-media/News/2010/PR018.
195
La Nacin, AMIA: Apoyo de EE.UU. a La Investigacin, La Nacin, March 27, 2010,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1247950-amia-apoyo-de-eeuu-a-la-investigacion.

50
Things began to change, however, in 2011, after the opposition Republican Party took
control of the U.S. House of Representatives.196 In March of that year, Argentine journalist Pepe
Eliaschev wrote an article for Clarn accusing the Cristina Kirchner government of trying to help
Iran cover up its role in the AMIA attack in exchange for closer economic relations between the
two countries.197 Then, in June, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on
Counterterrorism and Intelligence held a hearing entitled Hezbollah in Latin America
Implications for U.S. Homeland Security. Participants in the hearing repeatedly raised the issue
of the AMIA attack, which they accused Iran of orchestrating, and speculated that leftist
governments in Latin America were cooperating with Iran in order to allow terrorist activity
within their borders.198 Republican representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Connie Mack and David
Rivera went so far as to send a letter to Secretary of State Clinton expressing their concern over
questionable reports that Argentina was helping Iran with nuclear technology. The letter forced
the State Department statement to issue a response informing that the United States had no
evidence to support the claim that Venezuela serves as an interlocutor between Iran and
Argentina on nuclear issues, nor that Argentina is granting Iran access to its nuclear
technology.199
Feeding such conspiracy theories, Argentine Foreign Minister Timerman made an
announcement in July 2011 around the anniversary of the AMIA attack that Iran had agreed to

196

Carl Hulse, Republicans Take Control of House, The New York Times, January 5, 2011,
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/06/us/politics/06cong.html.
197
Pepe Eliaschev, Argentina Negocia Con Irn Dejar de Lado La Investigacin de Los Atentados, Clarn, March
26, 2011,
http://web.archive.org/web/20110329044020if_/http://www.diarioperfil.com.ar/edimp/paginasamarillas/index.html.
198
Hezbollah in Latin America - Implications for U.S Homeland Security (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government
Printing Office, 2011), https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-112hhrg72255/pdf/CHRG-112hhrg72255.pdf.
199
Bureau of Public Affairs, Argentina/Iran/Venezuela: Nuclear Technology, Press Release|Taken Question, U.S.
Department of State, (July 13, 2011), http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2011/07/168491.htm.

51
cooperate with Argentina in the investigation.200 Immediately, a number of prominent
commentators who opposed a U.S.-Iran rapprochement denounced the agreement, including
Roger Noriega, the former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs under
President George W. Bush.201 In the voluminous editorializing in opposition to the ArgentinaIran agreement, no doubts were raised about the strength of the evidence pointing to Iranian
involvement in the AMIA bombing. Instead, Noriega -- who had also served as a witness at the
June congressional hearing -- wrote that Argentine and U.S. authorities have concluded that
the AMIA attack was the work of a Hezbollah cell coordinated and supported by the Iranian
embassy, citing the red notices against Rabbani and Vahidi as proof. He also implied that
Argentina might have been secretly helping Iran with its nuclear program.202
All this fueled further speculation about Iranian activities in Latin America in the coming
months. In September 2011, the hawkish U.S. congresswoman and Republican presidential
candidate Michele Bachmann claimed Cuba was hosting Hezbollah training camps and weapons
storage sites.203 (This information appears to have originated with the Israeli intelligence
services.)204 The following month, the conservative American Enterprise Institute released a
report titled The mounting Hezbollah Threat in Latin America, co-authored by Noriega and
another former senior official in the Bush administration, Jos R. Crdenas. It describes Rabbani
200

La Nacin, Timerman Confirm Que Irn Quiere Ayudar a La Justicia, La Nacin, July 19, 2011,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1390718-timerman-confirmo-que-iran-quiere-ayudar-a-la-justicia.
201
Roger Noriega, Argentinas Secret Deal With Iran?, AEI, July 20, 2011,
https://www.aei.org/publication/argentinas-secret-deal-with-iran/; Matthew Levitt, Iranian Doublespeak on the
Anniversary of the AMIA Bombing, The Jerusalem Post, July 20, 2011, http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-EdContributors/Iranian-doublespeak-on-the-anniversary-of-the-AMIA-bombing; Eamonn Mcdonagh, Why Is
Argentina Appeasing Iran?, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, July 29, 2011, sec. Commentary,
http://www.rferl.org/content/argentina_appeasing_iran/24281329.html.
202
Noriega, Argentinas Secret Deal With Iran?
203
Neil King Jr., Bachmann Warns of Hezbollah Training Camps, Weapons in Cuba, Wall Street Journal,
September 26, 2011, http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2011/09/26/bachmann-warns-of-hezbollah-training-campsweapons-in-cuba/.
204
Hillary Clinton, Fwd: H: Intel: Hezbollah & Cuba. Sid, September 18, 2011,
https://foia.state.gov/searchapp/DOCUMENTS/HRCEmail_Jan7thWeb/O-2015-08635-JAN72/DOC_0C05788779/C05788779.pdf.

52
as the mastermind behind the two notorious terrorist attacks against Jewish targets in Buenos
Aires, and alleges that he oversees aHezbollah recruitment network operating in South
America.205 In December, unnamed U.S. and European diplomatic sources told the Reuters
news agency about their growing concerns over the relationship between Argentina and Iran. As
the rest of us work to pressure Iran to end its nuclear weapons program and stop supporting
terrorism, Argentinas government has been considering moving in the opposite direction, said
one anonymous official.206
Such accusations were not only based on extremely thin evidence and heavy doses of
speculation, but they also had the potential to damage U.S. efforts to engage in negotiations with
Iran about its nuclear program. Indeed, it is likely that this was, at least in part, the intention of
the aforementioned congressional hearings and think tank reports. For those who opposed the
Obama administrations goal of negotiating with Iran on nuclear issues, linking Iran to the
AMIA attack provided part of the justification for opposing such negotiations -- just as it had
helped justify the policies of dual containment and regime change espoused during the two
previous presidential administrations. (It also bolstered the accusations by Obamas political
opponents that he was open to negotiating with terrorists.)207
In March 2012, Vice President Joe Biden pushed back against recent claims by opponents
of rapprochement with Iran when he publicly denied that Iran posed a threat to the U.S. due to its
outreach to leftist governments in Latin America.208 And in late July, the State Department
issued its annual Country Reports on Terrorism, which found no known operational cells of
205

Jos R. Crdenas and Roger Noriega, The Mounting Hezbollah Threat in Latin America (American Enterprise
Institute, October 6, 2011), https://www.aei.org/publication/the-mounting-hezbollah-threat-in-latin-america/.
206
Louis Charbonneau, Exclusive: Argentina Flirts with Iran as West Watches Nervously, Reuters, December 5,
2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-argentina-idUSTRE7B408T20111205.
207
WND, Obama Negotiating with Terrorists inevitable?, WND, May 6, 2012,
http://www.wnd.com/2012/05/obama-negotiating-with-terrorists-inevitable/.
208
Edward Fox, Iran Not a Threat in Latin America: Biden, InSight Crime, March 9, 2012,
http://www.insightcrime.org/news-briefs/iran-not-a-threat-in-latin-america-biden.

53
either al-Qaida or Hizballah in the hemisphere, although ideological sympathizers in South
America and the Caribbean continued to provide financial and ideological support to those and
other terrorist groups in the Middle East and South Asia.209 Notably, however, no high-level
Obama administration officials ever questioned the validity of the Iran Theory.
By late 2012, the AMIA case had become heavily politicized in both Argentina and the
United States. In September, the Kirchner government reiterated its intention to open a dialogue
with Iran aimed at clearing up unresolved issues related to the AMIA attack.210 The
announcement raised the ire of the Israeli government and Jewish groups.211 (On the other hand,
some of Kirchners staunchest supporters were accusing Nisman of taking orders from the U.S.
embassy in Buenos Aires not to investigate any other hypothesis than the Iran Theory.)212 In
January 2013, Argentina and Iran jointly announced that the two countries had agreed work
together to solve the AMIA case.213 Critics of this deal would go on to claim that the agreement
was the result of a secret promise by the Kirchner administration to cover up Irans responsibility
for the AMIA bombing in exchange for closer economic ties. An analysis of trade data, however,
suggests that no such pact was ever realized.214

209

U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2011 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of State,
July 31, 2012), http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/195768.pdf.
210
Mariano Obarrio, Fuerte Giro de La Presidenta: Negociar Con Irn Por La AMIA, La Nacin, September 26,
2012, http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1511717-fuerte-giro-de-la-presidenta-negociara-con-iran-por-la-amia; Mariano
Obarrio, Se Abri El Dilogo Con Irn Por El Caso AMIA, La Nacin, September 28, 2012,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1512448-se-abrio-el-dialogo-con-iran-por-el-caso-amia.
211
Hernn Cappiello, Queja de Israel Por El Dilogo Con Irn, La Nacin, September 29, 2012,
http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1512818-queja-de-israel-por-el-dialogo-con-iran.
212
Ibid.; La Nacin, DEla, Satisfecho Tras El Giro de Cristina Con Irn, Insiste Con Defender a Los Acusados
Por AMIA, La Nacin, September 26, 2012, http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1511753-delia-satisfecho-tras-el-giro-decristina-con-iran-insiste-con-defender-a-los-acusados-por-a.
213
Emily Schmall, Why Argentina Is Reaching out to Iran, Christian Science Monitor, January 21, 2013,
http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2013/0131/Why-Argentina-is-reaching-out-to-Iran.
214
Bianca Fernet, Argentina Iran Relations: Is It Worth Murder?, The Bubble, January 26, 2015,
http://www.bubblear.com/argentina-iran-relations-worth-murder/.

54
Also in late 2012, Nisman began to receive large, unexplained deposits in a New York
bank account that he had secretly maintained for several years.215 Financial investigators would
later speculate that the suspicious deposits may have originated from a group of politically-active
U.S.-based investors who were in the process of waging a multi-million dollar campaign to paint
Argentina in a negative light as part of their effort to win a legal case involving a dispute over
Argentinas sovereign debt.216 One element of this lobbying operation was an ad campaign
portraying Argentinas negotiations with Iran over the AMIA case as a pact with the devil.217
The same investors backing those efforts also made substantial campaign donations to members
of the U.S. congress who were most vocal in their support for the Iran Theory.218 It is highly
likely that the millions of dollars spent on this lobbying operation contributed substantially to the
resurgence of the Iran Theory.
In May 2013, after receiving more than $300,000 in questionable deposits to his bank
account,219 Nisman made a filing with the Argentine attorney generals office reiterating the
charges made in his 2006 request for the arrest warrants for Mugniyeh and the Iranian officials,
and accusing Iran of having set up a network of spies and terrorist operators across Latin
America.220 Shortly thereafter, members of the U.S House of Representatives Committee on
Homeland Security invited Nisman to testify at a hearing in Washington titled Threat to the
Homeland: Irans Extending Influence in the Western Hemisphere, but the Argentine
215

Mike LaSusa, Exclusive: Documents Confirm Leak of Unexplained Deposits to Nismans US Bank Account,
LobeLog, February 1, 2016, http://lobelog.com/argentine-leaks-of-nisman-info-violated-agreement-with-us/.
216
Ibid.
217
American Task Force Argentina, Argentinas Strengthening Ties with Iran, accessed April 1, 2016,
http://www.atfa.org/argentina-and-iran-shameful-allies/.
218
Jake Johnston, Vulture Turns to Pirate: Blocks Argentine Ship from Leaving Ghana, The Americas Blog,
October 11, 2012, http://cepr.net/blogs/the-americas-blog/vulture-turns-to-pirate-blocks-argentine-ship-fromleaving-ghana.
219
LaSusa, Exclusive; Emilia Delfino, Nisman Recibi En EE.UU. Casi US$ 600 Mil de Nueve Depositantes
Sospechosos, Perfl, August 23, 2015, http://www.perfil.com/politica/Nisman-recibio-en-EE.UU.-casi-US-600-milde-nueve-depositantes-sospechosos-20150822-0098.html.
220
Alberto Nisman, Opinion (Argentine Attorney Generals Office, May 29, 2013), http://albertonisman.org/wpcontent/uploads/2015/03/Dictamina-Full-English_.pdf.

55
government prevented Nisman from attending.221 The hearing was an attempt by anti-Iran
members of congress to push back against the State Departments consistent finding that Irans
activities in Latin America did not involve support for terrorist operations.222 Representatives on
the House Foreign Affairs Committee held another hearing a few weeks later entitled
Examining the State Departments Report on Iranian Presence in the Western Hemisphere 19
Years after the AMIA Attack, which was explicitly intended to counter the State Departments
messaging by bringing up Irans supposed involvement in the AMIA attack.223
Just days after the latter hearing, Hassan Rouhani took office as Irans new president.224
By this time, the Obama administrations negotiations with the Iranian government over its
nuclear program had been underway for months, and they would accelerate over the next two
years, despite significant opposition from pro-Israel lobby groups and many hawkish members of
congress.225 As the negotiators neared a final agreement, the issue of Irans alleged involvement
in the AMIA bombing receded into the background of much more prominent debates about the
221

Silvia Pisani, El Congreso de EE.UU. Invit Al Fiscal Nisman Por Su Informe de Irn, La Nacin, June 14,
2013, http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1591794-el-congreso-de-eeuu-invito-al-fiscal-nisman-por-su-informe-de-iran;
Natasha Niebieskikwiat, AMIA: Gils Carb No Quiere Que Nisman Hable En Los EE.UU., Clarn, July 1, 2013,
http://www.clarin.com/politica/AMIA-Gils-Carbo-Nisman-EEUU_0_948505152.html; Silvia Pisani, Malestar En
EE.UU. Por El Veto Oficial a Nisman, La Nacin, July 3, 2013, http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1597696-malestar-eneeuu-por-el-veto-oficial-a-nisman; Threat to the Homeland: Irans Extending Influence in the Western Hemisphere
(Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2013), https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG113hhrg85689/html/CHRG-113hhrg85689.htm.
222
U.S. Department of State, Background Briefing By Senior Administration Officials On Iran, the IRGC, and
Hezbollahs Increased Terrorist Activity Worldwide, U.S. Department of State, May 31, 2013,
http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2013/05/210145.htm; Josh Rogin, State Department Ordered Review of Iranian
Terror Activity in Latin America - The Daily Beast, The Daily Beast, August 5, 2013,
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/08/05/state-department-ordered-review-of-iranian-terror-activity-inlatin-america.html.
223
Examining the State Departments Report on Iranian Presence in the Western Hemisphere 19 Years after the
AMIA Attack (Washington, D.C.: House Committee on Foreign Affairs, 2013),
http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/hearing/joint-subcommittee-hearing-examining-state-departments-report-iranianpresence-western.
224
BBC News, Hassan Rouhani Takes over as Iran President, BBC News, August 3, 2013,
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-23557673.
225
Indira A. R. Lakshmanan, If You Cant Do This Deal...Go Back to Tehran., Politico, September 25, 2015,
http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/09/iran-deal-inside-story-213187; Catherine Ho, Anti-Iran Deal
Groups Firing on All Cylinders in Massive Lobbying Push, The Washington Post, July 21, 2015,
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2015/07/21/anti-iran-deal-groups-firing-on-all-cylinders-inmassive-lobbying-push/.

56
details of the final accord, which was announced on July 14, 2015 -- days before the 21st
anniversary of the AMIA attack.226
By the time the Iran deal was reached, the long-running AMIA saga had experienced a
new twist. On January 18, 2015, Nisman was found dead in the bathroom of his apartment,
apparently killed by a single gunshot wound to his right temple.227 Days earlier, he had
announced plans to file criminal charges against President Kirchner and members of her
administration in connection with the 2013 agreement with Iran regarding the AMIA case,
claiming that the deal was an illegal pact to whitewash the involvement of Iranian officials in the
attack in exchange for closer economic ties.228 (Argentine courts have since struck down both the
2013 agreement and Nismans charges.)229 The timing of Nismans death predictably set of a
firestorm of theorizing about who might have wanted him dead, or why he might have
committed suicide. As of this writing, however, the official investigation is still ongoing.

Conclusion
Nismans death, combined with the conclusion of the nuclear negotiations with Iran,
appears to signal the decline of the use of the Iran Theory as a political tool in the United States,
though it will undoubtedly remain the most widely accepted theory of culpability for the AMIA
attack. However, aside from the Iran Theory and the Syria Connection, there exists a third -- and
226

Michael R. Gordon and David E. Sanger, Deal Reached on Iran Nuclear Program; Limits on Fuel Would Lessen
With Time, The New York Times, July 14, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/15/world/middleeast/irannuclear-deal-is-reached-after-long-negotiations.html.
227
Alona Ferber, 9 Things We Know for Sure About Argentine Prosecutor Nismans Death, Haaretz, January 26,
2015, http://www.haaretz.com/world-news/.premium-1.638989.
228
Alberto Nisman, Complaint (Argentine Attorney Generals Office, January 14, 2015),
http://albertonisman.org/nisman-complaint-denuncia/.
229
Perfl, Rafecas Y La Denuncia de Nisman Contra CFK: Eso Ya Est Cerrado, Perfl, October 5, 2015,
http://www.perfil.com/politica/Rafecas-y-la-denuncia-de-Nisman-contra-CFK-Eso-ya-esta-cerrado-201510050046.html; Jonathan Gilbert, Argentina Abandons Pact With Iran to Investigate 94 Attack at Jewish Center, The
New York Times, December 11, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/12/world/americas/argentina-abandonspact-with-iran-to-investigate-94-attack-at-jewish-center.html.

57
in this authors opinion, more believable -- line of conjecture regarding the perpetrators and
motive behind the AMIA attack. During the course of the extensive research carried out for this
paper, the author was told in numerous off-the-record conversations by various well-informed
sources that the most likely culprits were anti-Semitic elements of the Argentine security and
intelligence services, who had demonstrated their capacity for committing violence on numerous
recent occasions in what were known as the carapintada uprisings. Journalists Roberto
Caballero and Gustavo Cirelli lay out much of the most convincing evidence for this theory in
the book AMIA: La Verdad Imposible.230 But ultimately, like the Iran Theory and the Syria
Connection, the forensic substantiation of this hypothesis remains unsatisfactory.
Still, even if the Iran Theory happens to be accurate, the central point of this essay
remains valid. U.S. officials consistently used the limited evidence of Iranian involvement in the
AMIA attack to keep that country in the dock because they believed that linking the Iranian
government to terrorist acts would make it easier to achieve political goals with regard to U.S.
foreign policy toward Iran. Legitimate questions about the strength of the evidence supporting
the Iran Theory were set aside due to the political expediency of the accusations, and avenues of
investigation that deserved serious attention were left largely unexamined. Perhaps the most
disturbing implication of the argument presented here is that this phenomenon has been echoed
in other cases, such as the bombing of Khobar Towers.
In addition to demonstrating how easily terrorism investigations can become politicized
in both the domestic and international arena, the AMIA saga also highlights the necessity of
closely and critically examining such cases. If scholars and policy makers want to accurately
understand history, engaging in rigorous analysis of primary source documents like the ones

230

Roberto Caballero and Gustavo Cirelli, AMIA: La Verdad Imposible: Por Qu El Atentado Ms Grande de La
Historia Argentina Qued Impune, 1. ed, Investigacin Periodstica (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 2005).

58
cited here should be the first step. Current public discourse and scholarship treats Iranian
responsibility for the AMIA attack as virtually an unquestioned fact.231 But as this essay has
demonstrated, a thorough consideration of the available evidence shows that the Iran Theory is
substantially less robust than it has been made to seem.
Given the increasing frequency and deadliness of terrorist incidents around the world in
recent years,232 the subjects discussed here unfortunately appear likely to assume greater
relevance in the near future. Rather than proposing generalized theories, this essay aimed to
present a useful analysis of a single example that can perhaps provide a model for studying other
cases in which the United States has provided support to foreign investigators working on
terrorism cases. The author hopes that a larger body of such case studies will eventually
contribute to the development of broader theories about these little-studied themes of
international relations. Considering the central role the United States plays in global
counterterrorism operations and investigations of suspected incidents of terrorism, the lessons of
the AMIA case should be kept in mind going forward.

231

Toby Dershowitz and Joseph Humire, US should help Argentina solve terrorism case, The Hill, January 18,
2016, http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/266101-us-should-help-argentina-solve-terrorism-case.
232
Institute for Economics and Peace, Global Terrorism Index 2015 (Institute for Economics and Peace,
November 2015), http://economicsandpeace.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/2015-Global-Terrorism-IndexReport.pdf.

59
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