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Examining The Sinister Background Of Argentina's Spy Agency

A woman holds up a portrait of late prosecutor Alberto Nisman near the funeral home where a private wake was held for him Wednesday in Buenos Aires.

The mysterious death of an Argentine prosecutor has brought attention to the dark history of the country's intelligence agency. The Intelligence Secretariat began in the aftermath of World War II, when its first mission was to help Nazis fleeing Germany find shelter in Argentina. This strange and troubling start foreshadowed the murky dealings to come.

Alberto Nisman is the prosecutor who was found dead last week, after accusing Argentine President Cristina Fernandez of taking part in a cover-up of the deadly bombing of a Jewish center in 1994.

Fernandez blames the Intelligence Secretariat — which she now wants to disband. But as Argentine journalist Uki Goñi tells Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep, the truth is more complicated still.

Interview Highlights

On the evolution of the Intelligence Secretariat

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.

On the agency as part of a "deep state" in Argentina

I think the man who epitomizes this idea of a deep state is Antonio Stiuso, who was known by his alias, Jamie 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.

On Stiuso's alleged involvement in the investigation of the 1994 bombing

Stiuso worked very closely together with [Alberto] Nisman. He came to the conclusion that it was Iran 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 [Argentine President] Fernandez. So Stiuso particularly, it is alleged, started feeding Nisman with the wiretaps that allowed him to present this allegation against President Fernandez, that the motive behind this memorandum was not seeking the truth about the blast, but actually shielding five Iranians from prosecution in Argentina. ...

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.

On what the future holds for Argentina

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 has ever had. She's a well-loved president. But I think she might go down in history as rather a darker figure than she had hoped.

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