Iranian Strategic Influence in the Hemisphere: Threats to the Homeland
Joseph M. Humire
March 12, 2013 7:30 – 8:45 p.m.
About the speaker
Joseph M. Humire is the Executive Director of the Center for a Secure Free Society. As a global security expert specializing in asymmetric warfare, Mr. Humire has produced leading research and investigations on Islamic extremism and Iran’s influence in the Western Hemisphere, as well as other topics. His work is frequently sought after by various entities within the U.S. Department of Defense and intelligence community, as well as prominent think tanks and universities throughout the Americas. Moreover, Humire is an eight-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps having served combat tours in Iraq and Liberia, as well as taking part in the multinational training exercise in Latin America and the Caribbean: UNITAS 45-04.
Iran is the most ardent state sponsor of terror in the world. The Western Hemisphere has been victim of Iranian terror in the past, and these attacks paved the way for the growing presence of radical Islamists and Iranian revolutionary guards in Latin America. In the past five years, there have been at least two clear-cut cases in which the Islamic Republic has used Latin America to stage attempted terrorist attacks within the United States. Joseph Humire will look at the presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and Hezbollah in Latin America, including not only military to military cooperation but also their extensive information operations as well as criminal activities and how these might impact U.S. homeland security.
This is pretty much mostly an informational brief. I’m not going to make a lot of positions on whether policy wise here. We had a great policy discussion this morning on Iraq and so my brain is fried as far as the how’s and the why’s and the for’s but this is purely informational because I think the first step to understand the nature of a threat, which this could be identified very much as a threat, is to understand what’s the context and what’s the actual lay of the land.
You know, most people when they think about Iran and Latin America, most regional analysts will tend to look at the precedent being in Argentina. Argentina in 1992 had one of its first major Islamic terrorist attacks on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires.
Two years later, there was another bombing. This is actually a very heated conversation right now in Argentina because they are kind of talking about doing another investigation on something that was investigated many times before, on the bombing of an Israeli cultural center, AMIA, which together killed about 114 people, injured hundreds more.
Argentina is in many ways Latin America’s 9/11 before we had our 9/11. It was the largest Islamic terrorist attack in the Western Hemisphere before 9/11, so when people point to that – these are some pictures of some of the carnage. These are the individuals. There was an investigation that occurred obviously after the attack but was kind of fumbled. There’s really no conclusion after that. There was a lot of corruption. Nobody really understood what happened. Fingers pointed in a lot of directions.
In the mid-2000s, they initiated another investigation to look back and see and this was led by a gentleman named Alberto Nisman. And Alberto Nisman gathered a team and they looked and they kind of reinvestigated all the files and opened the files and all fingers and all roads led to Iran through the proxy of Hezbollah and so those eight individuals are eight Iranians who have been implicated in this attack and have indictments through the Argentinian government and have Red Notices through Interpol, so they’re actually not allowed to be in Argentina or else they’ll be subject to arrest and questioning from the Argentinian government.
Some of these individuals you probably recognize. They’re very high level. This is gentleman on the right is Ahmad Vahidi, the current Minister of Defense of Iran. At the time, he was actually Commander of the Quds Force at the time of the attack.
But one individual that I like to focus on, he’s very key to the current play of Iran’s foray into Latin America, is this gentleman right here, Mohsen Rabbani. Those of you in the law enforcement world or in the intelligence world know this gentleman very well. He’s been kind of one of Iran’s top spies, all around the world really, but in Latin America more than anything, and he was by the investigators in Argentina that did this investigation and concluded he was considered the mastermind of the attack, so he wasn’t just another actor or a sort of a conduit or an interlude. He was the guy who kind of concealed how he could make this happen in establishing the plausible deniability, so that Iran can get away with this attack and have no fingerprints.
And so he came to Argentina in 1983 under the guise of a businessman and then later about I think it less than a year, I think it was a few months before the attack they gave him diplomatic status and he became a cultural attache and then he left immediately after the attack and he’s currently in Iran in Qom, teaching classes, so he would be a focal point of this presentation.
Okay, that’s twenty years ago or more of the attack in Argentina, so there’s some precedent there but there’s some more recent history, especially in the last few years about some of Iran’s activities in Latin America. One of the most recent is October 2011 when you probably read this on the headlines.
There was a plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., Adel al-Jubeir. That was reportedly through an Iranian-American individual, this gentleman, Manssor Arbabsiar, and he was reportedly working with an alleged member of a Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas. The problem was the person he actually was working with was an informant for the DEA. He wasn’t an actual Los Zetas member and that individual then turned him in and then they interrogated him. They actually arrested him in JFK airport and he gave up basically his Iranian handler. His Iranian handler is a gentleman who is still at large, Gholam Shakuri, who is alleged Quds Force.
What this actually did more than anything was kind of open a Pandora’s box. Many analysts, law enforcement, intel, as far as just think tank analysts started to just say ‘what’s going on in Latin America?’ You know, a lot of guys that, you know, I consider myself to be something of a more regional Latin American analyst and I started opening the door to people that are looking at terrorism issues, looking at Iran, and to say what’s going on over there that was haven’t heard about. So this kind of opened the doors of you know Latin America and Iran and kind of merged those two. What’s the connection, why are they there, and what’s actually going on?