Examining The Sinister Background Of Argentina's Spy Agency : Parallels The mysterious death of an Argentine prosecutor has renewed scrutiny of the country's Intelligence Secretariat, which conducts domestic surveillance on a scale reminiscent of the former Soviet Union.
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Examining The Sinister Background Of Argentina's Spy Agency

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Examining The Sinister Background Of Argentina's Spy Agency

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Speaking to the nation this week, Argentina's president blamed a spy agency. It's called the Intelligence Secretariat. And the agency is involved in this case, though there is much debate about how.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

What is known is that the agency eavesdrops on people, and it's believed to have provided Nisman with evidence in the Jewish center bombing. In particular, Nisman said Argentine officials participated in covering up the bombing, offering to shield five Iranians from prosecution in exchange for Iranian oil.

INSKEEP: President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner now wants to disband that agency, and a top official there has already been fired. The roots of the agency go back to the aftermath of World War II. Argentine journalist Uki Goni says its first mission was rescuing Nazis fleeing Germany and seeking shelter in Argentina. In later years, the agency kept evolving.

UKI GONI: The thing is that as the decades went by, and especially during so many years of military dictatorship that we had here, it actually became a tool to spy on its own citizens. And with the return of democracy, it's been often used by the presidency to spy on journalists, to spy on judges and to spy on opposition politicians, so it has a very sinister background.

INSKEEP: You know, people who study governments around the world will often use the phrase the deep state, meaning that presidents may come and go, legislators may come and go, but there's a permanent apparatus of intelligence agencies, military that are there and immensely powerful beneath the surface. Is this part of the deep state of Argentina?

GONI: It's definitely so. And I think the man who epitomizes this idea of a deep state is Antonio Stiuso, who was known by his alias Jaime Stiuso.

Now, Stiuso had very close links with the CIA and with the Mossad in Israel and actually was very well respected and held in high regard by Western intelligence services. And he was the most feared man in Argentina. I mean, his face is really not known because there's only one very blurry picture of him. He is reputed to have held files on all of the most important politicians, journalists and judges and prosecutors in Argentina. He is alleged to have used these files to get important political figures and judges and journalists to toe the political line of whoever the president was in power.

INSKEEP: And what was his alleged involvement in this investigation and reported cover-up involving this bombing in 1994?

GONI: Stiuso worked very closely together with Nisman. He came to the conclusion that it was Iran who was behind the bombing. Stiuso would provide Nisman with the wiretapping of Argentines who were in contact with Iran. And Nisman was able to turn this into international arrest warrants for five Iranians that Nisman and Stiuso believed were responsible for this attack. Now, what happened is that two years ago, when Argentina and Iran signed a memorandum by which Iran would participate in investigating the blast, Stiuso and Nisman became disenchanted with Fernandez. So Stiuso particularly, it is alleged, started feeding Nisman with the wiretaps that allowed him to present this allegation against President Fernandez. The motive behind this memorandum was not seeking the truth about the blast, but actually shielding five Iranians from prosecution in Argentina.

INSKEEP: In exchange for oil, is that right? It was essentially a bribery scheme.

GONI: You know, Argentina has a chronic energy deficit. So what Nisman alleges is that the president ordered some of her closest allies to participate in secret negotiations to offer this deal - oil in exchange for us dropping these charges against you.

INSKEEP: Is there any chance this scandal could cause change in Argentina? For example, changing presidents or disbanding this intelligence agency for real.

GONI: I think the death of Nisman will be a turning point in Argentina. Of course, what's happening now is the president has ordered to dissolve this Intelligence Secretariat. They're going to replace it with something else, which sounds like a lot, but it actually might be the same beast with another name. You know, President Fernandez has been about the most powerful president Argentina's ever had. She's a well-loved president, but I think she might go down in history as rather a darker figure, I think, than she had hoped.

INSKEEP: Uki Goni is an author in Argentina. Thanks very much.

GONI: Thank you.

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