by Jim Lobe and Charles Davis
In the 1976 docudrama about the Watergate affair and the fall of Richard Nixon, All the President’s Men, Bob Woodward’s source at the FBI, Deep Throat, tells him to “follow the money.” To the Post editorial board in 2015, doing just that is problematic—and probably anti-Semitic. Or at least that’s their charge in a piece published last Friday entitled, “Argentina’s President Resorts to Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theories,” the Post opens by asking:
What do lobbyists at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the director of a Washington think tank have to do with hedge-fund manager Paul Singer and the Argentine prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, who died mysteriously in January? Well, according to Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, they are all part of a “global modus operandi” that “generates international political operations of any type, shape and color.”[Links added]
The Post’s problem is that Kirchner posted a “rant” on her website highlighting the fact that Paul Singer—whose hedge fund, Elliott Management, is seeking to force Argentina to repay the full amount of its defaulted debt—has contributed a whole lot of cash to the same neoconservative organizations in Washington that have been tarring the South American nation as a deadbeat ally of Iranian-backed terrorism. These same groups have also uncritically promoted the work of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who in 2006 issued a highly controversial 900-page indictment charging seven senior Iranian officials with ordering the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA), that killed 85 people. Nisman died in his apartment from a bullet to the head January 18, the night before he was set to testify before the Argentine congress in support of new charges that Kirchner and her foreign minister, Hector Timerman, had conspired with Tehran to quash international arrest warrants against those same Iranians, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and then President Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani, in exchange for a favorable trade agreement.
Making the Links
In 2013, Inter Press Service (IPS) ran a two-part feature by Charles (here and here) on the links between Singer and Nisman’s neoconservative fan club in the United States. The Argentine press and the president herself recently cited this work. The Post, however, plays dumb: “How do Singer, AIPAC and Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies [FDD] come into this?” it asks.
Mr. Singer—or “the Vulture Lord,” as Ms. Kirchner called him—won a court battle on behalf of holders of Argentine debt last year; Ms. Kirchner chose to default rather than pay. Mr. Dubowitz’s think tank has published papers on Argentine-Iranian relations, while AIPAC has criticized the Obama administration’s preliminary nuclear deal with Iran. Confused?
Conspicuously and no doubt consciously missing from the Post’s retelling is the fourth sentence of Kirchner’s “rant”: “[Singer] contributed to the NGO Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), $3.6 million from 2008 to 2014.” By leaving this out, the Post is better able to pretend the only link between Singer and Dubowitz and Nisman is their Judaism.
Argentina, whose politics are reputedly as byzantine and Machiavellian as any country’s, does indeed have a history of anti-Semitism. Not only did it offer a refuge to fleeing Nazis after World War II, but the military junta that took power in 1976 included elements that extolled the Third Reich, as eloquently retold by perhaps the most famous survivor of the junta’s torture chambers, Jacobo Timerman (the foreign minister’s late father) in his 1981 book, Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number.
Kirchner may indeed have a political interest in claiming that an international conspiracy is defaming her government, but the evidence for such a conspiracy in this case is much stronger than the Post suggests. As noted above, millions of dollars have flowed from Singer’s pockets to the various neoconservative groups whose advocacy of confrontation with Iran has extended to attacking Argentina, in particular over its ties to the Islamic Republic.
Singer, who sits on the board of the hawkish Republican Jewish Coalition, turns out to be a generous funder of not only FDD, but AIPAC and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), as well as a number of other right-wing groups and politicians that have stoked hostility toward Iran. In 2010, for example, his personal and family foundations contributed a combined $1 million to the American Israel Education Foundation, the fundraising wing of AIPAC and the sponsor of its congressional junkets to Israel. The $3.6 million he gave to FDD between 2008 and 2011, meanwhile, makes him the group’s second largest donor during those three years. So, it’s pretty clear that what ties AIPAC and FDD together is not only their anti-Iran efforts, but also Paul Singer’s largesse. And that’s the link Kirchner highlights but the Post leaves out.
Make no mistake: Singer and Elliott Management stand to make as much as $2 billion if they can collect full value on the debt they bought for pennies on the dollar after the country’s 2001 default. About 93 percent of Argentina’s bondholders agreed to accept a fraction of what they were originally owed (a fact the Post also conveniently omitted). But Singer—who has done this sort of thing before with other nations that have defaulted on their debt—sued in U.S. court to recover the full amount, a move the Kirchner government has fought every step of the way. The Obama administration and the International Monetary Fund, as well as most of Latin America and Washington’s closest European allies, have also sided with Argentina, viewing Singer’s actions as a threat to the international financial system.
The Iranian “Connection”
What has this got to do with Nisman, though? His allegations of Iranian direction in the 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires—and subsequent charges that the Kirchner government was trying to cover up that involvement so as to not undermine its growing economic relations with the Tehran—proved quite useful in another arena: the court of public and congressional opinion. According to IPS’s Gareth Porter, Nisman’s 2006 indictments were based virtually entirely on the testimony of a long-discredited former Iranian intelligence officer and several members of the cult-like Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group that fought alongside Saddam Hussein’s forces in the Iran-Iraq war.
But the claims have undoubtedly been useful to Singer’s cause. “We do whatever we can to get our government and media’s attention focused on what a bad actor Argentina is,” Robert Raben, executive director of the American Task Force Argentina (ATFA) explained to The Huffington Post. ATFA, a group Singer helped create with other hold-out creditors in 2007, spent at least $3.8 million dollars over 5 years doing whatever it could to paint Argentina as a pariah, according to IPS. Connecting the Kirchner government to Iran has clearly furthered that purpose.
“Argentina and Iran: Shameful Allies” was the headline of one ATFA ad that ran in Washington newspapers back in June 2013 as the Obama administration was considering whether to file an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Argentina’s favour. The ad featured adjoining photos of Kirchner and outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad connected by the question, “A Pact With the Devil?”
“What’s the TRUTH About Argentina’s Deal with Iran?” asked another very flashy full-page ad featuring unflattering photos of Kirchner and Hassan Rouhani published in the Post’s front section shortly thereafter. The ad included excerpts of letters denouncing the joint investigation from members of Congress, including Mark Kirk (R-IL) who received more than $95,000 from employees of Singer’s firm, Elliott Management, in the 2010 election. The signer of one letter urging the administration against siding with Argentina, former Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY)—who after his re-election in 2014 pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion and resigned shortly thereafter—received $38,000 in campaign contributions from Elliott in 2012, nearly twice as much as his next largest donor.
Singer’s generosity also appears to have produced results in the think tank world, with Dubowitz’s FDD leading the way. In May 2013, as ATFA was running the Kirchner-Ahmadinejad ad, FDD release an English-language summary of a new “ground-breaking” report by Nisman detailing “Iran’s extensive terrorist network in Latin America.” (In an extended exchange with ProPublica here and here, Jim pointed out the summary’s many serious holes, leaps of logic, and other weaknesses.) The report triggered a flood of op-eds by FDD fellows and fellow-travellers at other neo-conservative organizations, as well as a series of hearings held by the House Homeland Security Subcommittee. According to FDD’s vice president, Toby Dershowitz, the report provided:
a virtual road map for how Iran’s long arm of terrorism can reach unsuspecting communities and that the AMIA attack was merely the canary in the coal mine. …The no-holds-barred, courageous report is a ‘must read’ for policy makers and law enforcement around the world and Nisman himself should be tapped for his guidance and profound understanding of Iran’s terrorism strategy.
Nisman’s death, on the eve of his testimony before the Argentine Congress about his charges against Kirchner and Timerman (since dismissed by two courts), produced another outpouring of articles by FDD fellows recalling the prosecutor’s tireless efforts to document Iran’s alleged involvement in the AMIA bombings and Kirchner’s purported courtship of Iran. Within a month, FDD announced the establishment of an “Alberto Nisman Award for Courage.” “We must pay careful attention to the detailed Iranian playbook he left behind and from it, heed important lessons in counter-terrorism and law enforcement,” Dershowitz said in the announcement. (For an interesting take on Nisman’s work, see “Why Nisman is No Hero in Argentine Bombing Case” by Argentine journalist Graciela Mochkofsky published last month in The Forward.)
Although FDD clearly lent itself with gusto to Singer’s efforts to tar Argentina and Kirchner with the Iranian brush, AIPAC has been more reserved. It has focused on the issue of Iranian terrorism in its own tireless drive to promote sanctions legislation and a policy of confrontation against the Islamic Republic. In 2010, however, the same year in which Singer and his foundation contributed $1 million to the premier pro-Israel lobby, Nisman was featured on a panel entitled, “Dangerous Liaisons: Iran’s Alliances With Rogue Regimes” at the group’s annual policy conference.
AEI Joins In
As for AEI, Singer would find it attractive not only for its pro-Israel hawkishness and long-standing hostility toward Iran and leftist governments everywhere, but also to its domestic agenda: a hands-off policy toward Wall Street. In other words, he may have had several reasons to give the group $1.1 million in 2009—its second-biggest donor that year—and another $1.2 million over the next two. Whatever his reasons, those who received those millions surely (and demonstrably) knew well enough not to upset their benefactor. And AEI fellow Roger Noriega, a former senior Bush administration official, has certainly pushed the Argentina-Iran/Nisman connection.
As Charles reported in 2013, Noriega has himself been paid at least $60,000 by Elliott Management since 2007—the same year AFTA was founded—to lobby on the issue of “Sovereign Debt Owed to a U.S. Company.” In 2011, he published an article on AEI’s website citing Nisman’s AMIA indictment and denouncing Iran’s offer to cooperate with Argentina in investigating the AMIA bombing as “shocking, in light of Tehran’s apparent complicity in that attack.” The article—“Argentina’s Secret Deal With Iran?”—cited secret documents suggesting that Tehran and Buenos Aires had recently renewed their cooperation on nuclear development as part of a deal “brokered and paid for” by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
Two years later, Noriega and Jose Cardenas, a contributor to AEI’s “Venezuela-Iran Project,” co-authored a seven-page policy brief on AEI’s website entitled “Argentina’s Race to the Bottom,” which, among other things, charged that Kirchner’s government was “casting its lot with rogue governments like those in Venezuela and Iran.” Noting that two-way trade with Iran had grown from $339 million in 2002 to $18.1 billion in 2011, the article asserted:
…[T]he Kirchner government has been turning its back on its historical alliances and increasingly tilting its economic relationships toward countries of dubious international standing where rule of law is less of a concern.
And a week after FDD announced its Nisman Award for Courage, Noriega was back at it with an article headlined “Argentina’s Kirchner Reeling from Scandal.” The piece called for a “credible international investigation into Nisman’s case…to ensure that his 10-year search for the truth was not in vain and that justice is attained not only for his family but also for the victims of the 1994 AMIA bombing.” In a veiled reference to Singer’s quest, he wrote:
From ongoing battles with bondholders playing out in a New York courtroom to pressuring critical news outlets through threats and intimidation to failed attempts to jumpstart a flagging economy, the Kirchner administration cannot end soon enough for many Argentines. Candidates lining up to replace Kirchner in the October elections will likely position themselves as far away from the kirchnerista record as possible. A new administration will have ample opportunity – and likely significant public support – to chart a new economic course. That means reconciling with international financial institutions and markets, restoring trust among foreign investors, and rooting out corruption.
Perhaps Noriega is simply interested in tarring Argentina with the Iranian brush in keeping with his long-standing crusade against any Latin American government that defies Washington’s writ. But like others engaged in this campaign, he and his organization have been paid generously by a very wealthy individual with a clear financial stake in seeing that Argentina’s current government is excised from the community of respectable nations, at least until it pays what he thinks he is owed.
If the Post had “followed the money,” it perhaps would not have been so “confused” by the connections Kirchner highlighted between Singer and those who have attacked her government over its allegedly nefarious relations with Iran. Ignoring Deep Throat’s advice and acting as if that trail of money doesn’t exist allowed the paper to better roll out the powerful charge of anti-Semitism. In truth, it’s not the president of Argentina’s supposed bigotry that offends, though, but the powerful enemies she’s made (and how much they’re worth).