October 12, 2011

Texas Used Car Salesman Brings World to Brink of WW III

For the hell of it, I read the federal complaint against Mansour Arabsiar, the Persian American allegedly behind an Iranian plot to blow up the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. I confess I have a weakness for such reading - it's always interesting to me to see how the other guys try to get mileage out of the very little evidence usually available at the outset of a case. This one did not disappoint in that regard. In essence, the case against Arabsiar and his Iranian confederate (Gholum Shakuri) comes down to this:

1. Mansour was a used car salesman in Corpus Christi, Texas, with a history of financial problems and minor run-ins with the law. Over the last several months, he got involved with a guy called "CS-1," which stands for Confidential Source 1, a paid informant working for the Drug Enforcement Agency in the Texas-Mexico border area. CS-1 worked a deal with the Department of Justice where he got a narcotics rap dismissed in exchange for working undercover for the FBI.

2. The complaint does not tell you how Arabsiar found or encountered CS-1, other than they met in Mexico on one of Mansour's trips down there. By itself, that is a very interesting (and perhaps telling) omission. One way or the other, Arabsiar and CS-1 began discussing a plot to blow up the Saudi Ambassador, in Washington, D.C., with C-4 (no relation) explosives. Both Arabsiar and CS-1 then began blowing voluminous quantities of smoke up the ass of the other (inter sese, as we say in law). Mansour said he had a cousin in Quds, the bad ass corps of Revolutionary Guard paramilitaries in Iran. CS-1 said he was tight with Los Zetas (Drug Cartel #1, in the complaint), a Mexican drug and gun-running gang with a major rep for what you might call excessive, even wholly gratuitous, violence.

3. Mansour (or maybe it was CS-1) then suggested that this group of Mexican bandidos would be the perfect outfit to blow up the Saudi Ambassador in Washington, D.C. Personally, I would think that this hit would be somewhat beyond, and a little too subtle for, their usual skill set, which normally involves blasting away at local police, judges and other Mexican citizens with weapons of awesome firepower, then decapitating the victims and placing their heads in the local zocalo (see, "Murder City," an excellent book about life and death in Laredo).

4. CS-1 told Mansour that killing the Ambassador was no problem, but, lamentably, such things cost a lot of money, and suggested the figure $1.5 million. Of course, there would be the requirement of a down payment, or earnest money, to show that Mansour, the failed used car salesman who was so disorganized that the guy who bought him out of the car lot said Mansour often had trouble finding the titles to cars he had just sold (he sounds a little like the Bill Macy character in "Fargo"), could command this kind of cash from the villains back home in Tehran.

5. There are a bunch of references to "international travel" by Mansour in the complaint, but they aren't really place-specific. Did he go to Iran over the summer? I wasn't able to tell. What you can be certain about is that Mansour arranged for two wire transfers to a bank account set up by CS-1, each in the amount of $49,960 or so (there must be something about keeping it under 50 grand). This made the FBI's job easier, since it provided the "overt acts" in furtherance of the conspiracy necessary to nail Mansour, and, in a twist of luck, the money was routed through New York City, establishing a nice, convenient venue for filing the complaint in Federal Court in Foley Square (who wants to spend next summer in Houston, you know?).

6. The money was wired in from a "foreign country" by a foreigner. Was this Gholum Shakuri, Mansour's co-conspirator? I presume so.

Well, there you have it. Two Persians, money changing hands, plans to blow up the Saudi Ambassador. It seems to me the Feds have their conspiracy case fairly well made. An agreement to commit a felony, a couple of overt acts (wire transfers). That's all the Feds need; no one actually has to get detonated.

As to the reality of the plot, what I notice right away is that you can't find anything in the complaint which describes "planning" of the assassination between any two people other than Mansour Arabsiar, the used car salesman, and CS-1, the guy who beat the drug rap by becoming a snitch.

Also, since the FBI knew that the plan was not in any sense real or even close to fruition (after all, CS-1 was not really a honcho in a Mexican drug cartel so no one had actually been enlisted to carry out the assassination), why did they interrupt the plot when it had been funded only to the $100 K level? See, this is how lawyers think: if the Republic of Iran was actually behind this Robert Ludlumesque plot, then the balance of $1.4 million would surely have been forthcoming, and the actual payment, in such size, would be impressive evidence that it wasn't just Mansour and Gholum playing out a reckless fantasy with a bunch of (nonexistent) Mexican desperados. But maybe a hundred grand could find its way from Iran one way or another, with or without the Iranian government, Quds, or the Ayatollah's petty cash drawer.

I suspect this one will sink beneath the waves pretty soon. It looks suspiciously like a Wag the Dog Op, the way it instantly became front page news with really so little of substance to actually connect it to the Iranian government. It's curious, as to the question of the hurry-up timing, that all this comes to light just as Eric Holder, the Rip Van Winkle of Attorneys General, had his boredom-induced coma interrupted by cries of "perjury!" from Darrell Issa and others in the House concerning the "Fast & Furious" controversy, where Mr. Holder stated (under oath, to a House panel) that he only lately found out about the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms & Tobacco (ATF's) role in allowing the sale of AK-47 weapons to criminals (mainly sales in Arizona gun shops), and then permitting the guns to "walk" across the Mexican border to, uh, drug cartels. Part of a tracing operation, I guess.

Well, you certainly would not want to harass your own Attorney General about some gun-running program, harebrained as it might have been, when he's busy unraveling a plot involving those same drug cartels and the Evil Republic itself, Iran. Would you? So even if an old Iran hand like Robert Baer says unequivocally that it's ludicrous to imagine that Quds and the Iranian government would get involved with a couple of small-time losers and a Mexican gang to carry out an embassy assassination - well, I say, wait till all the facts are in. That's my legal training talking. Although that same training tells me all the facts are probably already in.

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