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The Case of the 1992 and 1994 Attacks in Buenos Aires

CARLOS ESCUDÉ Universidad Nacional del CEMA, Buenos Aires
BEATRIZ GUREVICH Universidad Nacional del CEMA, Buenos Aires

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The obliteration of the Embassy of Israel and the Jewish community center known as AMIA (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina), two of the worst terrorist attacks worldwide during the 1990s, and the complex web of complicities, corruption and limits to governability that hindered the investigation of these acts are an interesting case for a broader study of the relationship between state disintegration, corruption and terrorism.

After 11 September 2001, it is increasingly clear that in many Third World scenarios the struggle against transnational terrorism will face major obstacles derived from state disintegration and corruption, which contribute to set the scene for terrorist complicities. The study of the Argentine case (in which the limits to governability were barely visible in 1992 and 1994, but have since grown) can help to demonstrate in a compelling manner the nature of these challenges. [1]

This study will document the nature of the terrorist attacks in Buenos Aires, the role of the limits to governability in the generation of complicities that conspired against the investigation's success during five administrations, [2] and the role of corruption in the obstruction of justice. Its relevance lies not only in the fact that these unsolved cases underscore the interplay between corruption, limits to governability and a terrorist menace that struck twice in Argentina and can strike again, but also in the even more ominous consideration that transnational terrorism can potentially make use of the laissez faire, laissez passer made possible by corruption and the erosion of state authority to provide the logistics for staging attacks elsewhere. Indeed, this appears to be a sphere of global politics in which the center-periphery dichotomy loses relevance.

Argentina as a target of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism


Islamic fundamentalist terrorism ceased to be a foreign phenomenon for Argentina long before 11 September 11 2001. Indeed, when Hezbollah (Party of God), an armed branch of Islamic Jihad, claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, on 17 March 1992, that killed twenty-two people, it became clear that Islamic terrorism had gone global and that its targets were not limited to Israeli and American interests. [3] Prior to its 1992 attack in Buenos Aires, neither Iran nor Hezbollah had attacked Israeli or Jewish targets abroad. Rather, Iran preferred to encourage Hezbollah to strike Israeli military objectives in Lebanon. But after the Madrid Peace Conference in October 1991, a spate of deadly attacks was launched against Israel and other Jewish targets throughout the world. [4] Interestingly, Argentina preceded U.S. territory as a target of Islamic fundamentalism.

But the scourge did not stop with the bombing of the Embassy. The second Islamic terrorist attack in Buenos Aires was perpetrated on 18 July 1994, demolishing the building of the AMIA. There were eighty-five dead and approximately 300 wounded. In this case also, all roads led to Hezbollah as well as Iran and Syria. Ten days before the bombing, the Argentine government had been warned of the impending attack by a strange tipster who walked into the Argentine Consulate in Milan. [5] This individual, a frightened Brazilian who introduced himself as Wilson Dos Santos, explained that his former girlfriend, an Iranian prostitute whom he had met in Buenos Aires with strong connections to her country's Embassy, belonged to a terrorist cell that had bombed the Israeli Embassy in Argentina. He said the terrorists were preparing to bomb another Jewish target in Buenos Aires, a building that was being renovated (which was, in fact, the case of the AMIA building). Dos Santos also approached the Brazilian and Israeli consulates and provided more information in frantic phone calls to the police in Buenos Aires and in meetings with Argentine agents in Rome just after the bombing. [6]

The warning went unheeded and Dos Santos' tip was forwarded to higher authorities only after the attack. Dos Santos reiterated his story on the day of the bombing, but then went on to deny it in subsequent interrogations. [7] Nevertheless, investigations have shown that Dos Santos was heavily involved with Middle Easterners in the so-called Triple Border between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, [8] and that the persons he mentioned in his first declarations existed and had a profile consistent with that of potential accessories to the bombing.

More direct confirmation of Hezbollah and Iranian involvement in the AMIA bombing was provided by a witness codenamed "C", a repentant high-level Iranian intelligence official who used the alias of Abolghasem Mesbahi, son of one of the leaders of the Islamic Revolution and protected by Germany since 1996. He testified repeatedly from 1998 onwards that planning for the attack in Buenos Aires began in 1992. He said the operation was led by Mohsen Rabbani (the cultural attaché of the Iranian Embassy at the time, whose name also came up in the Dos Santos investigation) and supervised by Hamid Naghashan, a senior official in the Iranian intelligence agency. According to the New York Times' account, he said that "one cell focused on cooperating with members of the Argentine police, corrupting them or threatening them to collaborate with the attack" while "another devoted itself to obtaining the explosives" in Brazil. According to the Times version, the witness also accused then President Carlos Menem of accepting a US$ 10 million bribe to obstruct the investigation (an accusation from which "C" later retracted in a letter to the SIDE, [9] made public in January 2003). [10] An earlier version in Clarín also implicated Menem in an Iranian bribe, but predates it to 1990 and attributes the hush-up not to the bribe but to increased Iranian meat and cereal imports after the blast. [11]

These versions place the responsibility for masterminding the operation on Iran. [12] Yet the operational involvement of Hezbollah in the actual execution of the attack, and the important logistical role played by local mercenaries, including rogue elements from both the federal and provincial security forces, are also mentioned and have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Indeed, in late September 2002 the suicide bomber who carried out the terrorist attack was identified. He was a young Lebanese from Baalbeck and a Hezbollah militant who went by the name of Ibrahim Hussein Berro. [13] Soon after the attack, he received the homage of his relatives, and today a square in his native town bears his name. The terrorist entered Argentina illegally through the Triple Border. This information was corroborated by the CIA and the Mossad. [14] The Iranian connection was also confirmed inasmuch as the CIA and the Mossad made it known to Argentine intelligence that at least seventeen couriers had arrived at the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires several days before the blast and all had left by July 17, twenty-four hours before the attack. Moreover, one of the prime suspects of masterminding the Argentine attacks, also accused by Witness "C", is Imad Fayez Mugniyah, one of the twenty-two most wanted terrorists on the list released by President George W. Bush on 10 October 2001. [15]

The Condor II and the Syrian connection
But Iran and Hezbollah were not the only transnational actors sponsoring the attacks. Another actor, which is insinuated in the Times article but was well known to officials in the Argentine Foreign Ministry during Guido Di Tella's tenure (1991-1999), was Syria. Both Syria and Libya [16] had provided financial sources for Menem's 1989 presidential campaign. [17] When Menem became president, he developed a good relationship with the Syrian government and when Iraq invaded Kuwait, he promised Hafez al-Assad that Syria would inherit the Iraqi partnership in Argentina's Condor II ballistic missile project, and would also become a privileged recipient of Argentine nuclear technology.

The Condor II requires explanation. In January 1984, former president Raúl Alfonsín, chief of state of the then recently re-democratized Argentina, signed a secret agreement with Egypt and Iraq for the development and production of an intermediate range ballistic missile, the Condor II, that theoretically was to be slightly superior to the U.S. Pershing II, capable of carrying a payload of over 1000 pounds across a distance of more than 1000 kilometers, with a state-of-the-art guidance system. [18] In other words, it would have been capable of carrying an average nuclear warhead from Patagonia to Falklands/Malvinas or from Baghdad to Tel Aviv. Libya would also contribute to financing the missile's development. [19] However, the project ran into trouble because, not long after Menem became president, the world's geopolitical configuration changed after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Iraq was a certain loser and a partnership with it was no longer feasible, so Menem (who is of Syrian descent) negotiated with Assad, who had helped him fund his electoral campaign.

But the promises made to Syria were to remain unfulfilled. After the Gulf War, U.S. diplomatic pressure (plus a certain inclination in that direction on the part of Guido Di Tella and his team) caused Argentina to shelf the Condor missile project and join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Assad felt betrayed and simply eliminated Argentina from the targets forbidden to Hezbollah, the pro-Iranian Lebanese terrorist organization under Syrian military protection.

This green light to Hezbollah was reinforced soon afterwards by the added motivation provided by the killing in Lebanon, on 16 February 1992, of Abbas El Mousawi, secretary general of the organization, along with his wife and daughter. At Mousawi's funeral, Sheik Fadlallah, Hezbollah's spiritual leader, vowed to seek revenge. [20] The scene was thus set for an attack against the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, co-sponsored by Iran and Syria and executed by Hezbollah, with the logistical support of local right-wing, anti-Jewish mercenaries with links to the state security forces.

At first, the CIA office in Buenos Aires asserted that Syrian authorities might also have been behind the terrorist act, together with Iran and Hezbollah. This could have been embarrassing to the Menem administration, since revealing the details of Menem's previous dealings with Assad and his regime would not have been flattering and might even have been incriminating. But soon enough U.S. agencies began to divert attention from Syria, focusing exclusively on Iran and Hezbollah. According to some analysts, this was due to the American and Israeli perception that Syria could be co-opted for the Middle East peace process. From this point of view, it was not worthwhile to sacrifice such an opportunity for the sake of solving the case of the terrorist attacks in Buenos Aires. Thus, concealing the Syrian involvement, or at least not following the Syrian lead all the way, was congenial to all parties concerned with the investigation. The generalized perception of senior Argentine Foreign Ministry sources was that Syria had been an important co-sponsor of both the 1992 and 1994 bombings, but that it was in no one's interest to bring this out, excepting the victims' families organized in the non-governmental institution Memoria Activa. [21]

The need for a cover-up
But there were other incriminating elements connected to the terrorist attacks that were largely overlooked in the investigations. In the context of a 1995 Hearing before the Committee on International Relations of the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. State Department's Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Philip C. Wilcox, attributed the lack of substantive investigation results to poor coordination among Argentine security and intelligence networks, and to the ill will of the Buenos Aires provincial police. [22] At the same Hearing, Avi Weiss, Senior Rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and National President of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns, went much further, accusing the Argentine National Bureau of Migrations (DNM) of complicity with the terrorists. He denounced that in January 1990, "the Syrian terrorist Monzer al Kassar, linked to the Achille Lauro hijacking, had been permitted to enter Argentina by (Navy Captain Aurelio Carlos) Martínez," suspected of human rights violations during the military dictatorship of 1976-83 and National Director of Migrations during the Menem administration. [23]

Indeed, Al Kassar was even granted Argentine citizenship during Menem's tenure, allegedly upon the initiative of the President himself. [24] In Buenos Aires, he was connected to the local branch of the infamous transnational money-laundering bank BCCI (Banco de Crédito Comercial Internacional), and is himself suspected of money laundering and financing terrorism. [25] He was officially appointed arms dealer for the Menem government and commissioned, among other things, the sale of several submarines. [26] Even more important, he was involved in dealings with Arab countries concerning the Condor II missile, as established by several intelligence documents from the Argentine Ministry of Defense. Moreover, Al Kassar had connections in the Argentine Air Force, especially through Brigadier General Ernesto Horacio Crespo and Brigadier General José Antonio Juliá. [27]

Thus, Monzer al Kassar is possibly a crucial yet never fully investigated link between Syria, Menem's broken promises to Hafez al-Assad, the terrorist attacks, money laundering, and perhaps other arms-trafficking scandals during the Menem administration. Although the official AMIA/DAIA report of 1997 recommended investigating him, it diplomatically shied away from suggesting a Syrian connection. This was in keeping with the attitude of some Argentine Jewish leaders who preferred to let the investigation lapse, since they believed that an indictment of Syria would help neither Israel nor the Middle East peace process. [28]

By contrast, a 1999 report prepared by the legislators of Acción por la República (a political party headed by former Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo) contended that the absence of a real investigation of a Syrian connection was but an attempt "to divert public attention away from any suspicion that [the Menem administration] was involved in the attacks." [29] The report also suggests a cover-up to conceal Menem's illegal campaign funding by Syria and Libya, and Menem's unfulfilled promises to Arab countries as a key trigger for the bombings. The same is true of the report of the Special Bicameral Commission for the Follow-up of the Investigation of the Terrorist Acts Against the Israeli Embassy and the AMIA building, which delved both into Al Kassar's presumed participation in the bombing and that of Ibrahim al Ibrahim, also suspected of being connected to the attack. The latter was a former colonel in Syrian intelligence, closely linked to Menem, who was graciously granted Argentine citizenship. Even though he barely spoke Spanish, he was appointed special advisor to the Argentine Customs, and thus placed in a position from which he could facilitate all sorts of illicit trafficking. [30]

Autonomy of security services and erosion of state authority
Another issue denounced by Weiss to the House Committee was that the Federal Police guard was off duty and that the neighborhood police patrol was mysteriously unaccounted for at the time of both bombings. [31] He complained that there had been no meaningful investigation of who had ordered the police guards to abandon their posts at the Israeli Embassy and the AMIA just before each attack. [32] Weiss accused the Argentine state of "stonewalling the investigation," adding that "A cover-up operation is taking place… It was clear from the very beginning of the AMIA investigation that the police had one preferred lead, Iran, and that they were not going to give serious consideration to other leads that would embarrass the Menem government." Weiss also collected evidence that "Menem employed many with extreme right-wing or neo-Nazi views or criminals with murderous pasts in the state intelligence service, people with notorious backgrounds like Pascual Oscar Guerrieri, a repressor during the last military dictatorship, appointed by Menem as a SIDE advisor… One cannot expect individuals with this kind of view to carry out a serious investigation into either bombing…". [33]

The involvement of police and military elements in both terrorist attacks probably points more in the direction of security service autonomy and serious limits to governability than to direct state complicity in the attacks themselves. Although there were many reasons for Menem to seek a cover-up that would conceal incriminating links, he had everything to lose and nothing to gain from the bombings. But rogue elements in the two police forces (federal and provincial), as well as among the military (the so-called carapintadas, who had previously rebelled against Alfonsín and Menem), were in a position to act autonomously. Once they had done so, the administration probably felt that to expose them would be more destabilizing than to protect them. In addition, as we shall see below, the local intelligence services (themselves an important part of the investigating team) probably had malfeasances of their own to hide.

The improvised cover-up was apparent soon after the 1994 attack. In his first press conference after the AMIA bombing, Menem intimated that the carapintadas were responsible for the act. Hours later, however, Minister of Defense Erman González rejected this possibility. In August, after denying what he had stated in the original press conference, the President denounced Iran and tried to distract attention from the purported local connection. [34]

Nevertheless, the Special Bicameral Commission provided important information on the local connection for both attacks. Judge Juan José Galeano and prosecutor Eamon Mullen went further, making it known that some local collaborators were police officers and carapintadas. At the Campo de Mayo military base outside Buenos Aires, Galeano found evidence that army personnel had helped prepare the attack, providing explosives and intelligence, but for some reason this lead did not prosper.

Despite these accusations, and even though evidence surfaced showing that members of the Buenos Aires provincial police had also participated in the logistics of the attack, Galeano did not seem really interested in carrying out a thorough investigation of the organization that had provided the car bomb and other such support for the terrorists. [35] Moreover, the Judge himself acknowledged responsibility for the destruction of numerous videotapes officially labeled as evidence, with the excuse that he was blackmailed. In September 2001, after Galeano admitted his responsibility, the attorneys of Memoria Activa pressed charges against him and the Federal Chamber decided to investigate the Judge, who --this notwithstanding-- is still in charge of the case. [36]

Memoria Activa was not alone in denouncing Galeano. On 6 April 2003, Congresswoman Nilda Garré, who under the De la Rúa administration had been chief of the Ministry of Justice's Special Unit of Investigation of the Attacks, filed for a political trial against Judge Galeano on fifteen counts of negligence or misconduct, among them failing to prosecute irregularities attributed to agencies of the state. [37] Furthermore, on 19 March 2003, Judge Galeano's former secretary, Javier de Gamas, after giving testimony to the Federal Oral Court, was himself indicted and arrested on false testimony charges related to police participation in the logistics of the attack. [38]

Galeano was also accused by Claudio Lifschitz, who during the first two years of the investigation was his adjunct secretary and eventually became a witness himself. Lifschitz claims in his book that three months before the bombing, the SIDE had infiltrated an Iranian sleeper cell suspected of links to Hezbollah, provided logistical support and prompted it to act, in what was supposed to be a sting operation. In his words, it was a "controlled operation" that went out of control. When the investigators discovered these embarrassing and incriminating facts, the cover-up became official policy. [39]

In 2000, after Lifschitz publicly denounced Galeano and the SIDE, he was accused by the DAIA, AMIA and SIDE of violating a "political secret" (article 222 of the Penal Code). [40] Lifschitz is currently being prosecuted by Federal Judge Jorge Urso, although no one has accused him of falsifying information. On the other hand, the attorneys of Memoria Activa, Alberto Zuppi and Pablo Jacoby, have pointed out that although at first Lifschitz´s declarations were hard to believe, all the new evidence tends to confirm what he wrote in his book. [41]

Thus, it is not surprising that Argentine intelligence services continuously jeopardized the investigations. They were plagued by internal conflicts. Many of the measures suggested by a task force organized with the help of the CIA, FBI, Mossad, and the French, German and Spanish security services were announced but never implemented. Yet the worst came when the SIDE boycotted the CIA, leaking the photograph of Ross Newland (then CIA delegate in Buenos Aires) to the newspaper Página 12, which published his face under different guises in January 2001. Newland had to flee the country and the CIA broke relations with the SIDE. [42] The incident occurred during the government of Fernando de la Rúa, illustrating that the obstruction of the investigation by state security agencies was not merely a phenomenon associated to the Menem administrations, but rather it reflected some level of deterioration of the state apparatus and/or its chains of command. The incident shows that both corruption and the autonomy of certain segments of the state security apparatus were close to being unmanageable.

Furthermore, in the investigation of the terrorist attacks, the deterioration of state authority is a variable that fed back into another, already documented factor of equal importance: government reluctance to advance in any direction that might prove incriminating (to the Menem administrations) or destabilizing (to either the Menem or the De la Rúa administrations). Raul Kollmann, perhaps the journalist most familiar with the AMIA case, stated that: "The real problem is that the Argentine government was never interested in solving the case. At times, only fifteen to twenty people were assigned to it, while after the Oklahoma City bombing 5,000 law enforcement officials were deployed immediately. The United States sent over 1,500 agents to Africa after the bombing of the embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. These agents interrogated 10,000 witnesses in four days. In Argentina, witnesses are still waiting to be called. And it took over three years to put together a 100-person team of investigators that never functioned properly." [43]

When he was sworn in as President in December 1999, Fernando de la Rúa promised a swift resolution to the AMIA affair, but the policy of concealment continued. The chief of the Ministry of Justice's Special Unit of Investigation of the Attacks, Nilda Garré, who since her appointment in 2000 had fostered the investigation as never before, was forced to present her resignation in 2001. She was accused of hurting the investigation by revealing that Witness "C" had admitted that Menem´s team had received money to protect Iran from being investigated, even though it was no news and had been published in 2000. [44] At the bottom of the squabble was the annoyance of Jorge De la Rúa, Minister of Justice and the President's brother, who objected to Garré's zeal. [45] She had proved that as part of an official cover-up, police logbooks had been altered and the electronic address books and planners of various suspects had been erased. In an interview with New York Times correspondent Larry Rother, Garré said that "not only has there been no support for getting to the bottom of this case; you can also say that some government organs have actively sabotaged the investigation," adding that "state intelligence and the federal police are clearly involved… but there is also evidence pointing to the involvement of agencies ranging from Immigration to the Foreign Ministry." [46]

Consistent with these charges is the fact that several of the twenty suspects brought to trial accused of participating in the AMIA bombing are former officers of the Police of the Province of Buenos Aires. The most conspicuous is Juan José Ribelli, a high-ranking officer accused of nothing less than supplying the terrorists with the vehicle used as a car bomb. [47] The latest revelations concerning police involvement were made in late 2002. A year after the trial began, the wife of a man specializing in selling stolen cars, who was charged with supplying the vehicle used as a car bomb in the AMIA attack, broke down and confessed that her husband had given the vehicle to agents of the Buenos Aires police as a result of the latter's extortion. Although her husband had previously denounced the provincial police, she contradicted herself, first acknowledging and then denying the link between her husband and the police. Finally, she panicked, burst into tears and confessed in court that she had recanted from her original acknowledgement of the link with the police because she had been threatened by members of the force. [48] Indeed, the collapse of chains of command in the security agencies of the state has been proven to be an important element both in the cover-up and in the mercenary complicities that facilitated the attack. [49]

It is important to remember here that the autonomy of state security agencies is to some extent a legacy of the 1976-83 military dictatorship, which encouraged the repression of leftist guerillas by autonomous groups of officers of the armed forces on active duty, in order to free itself from the constraints of lawful criminal prosecution. Nevertheless, during the dictatorship the autonomy of paramilitary groups and the state intelligence agency converged with the perceived self-interests of the regime, and the central state was an accomplice to the perpetration of their crimes. By contrast, the 1992 and 1994 bombings were in no way perceived as desirable by the government, while the central state as such was an accomplice only to the cover-ups of the crimes, not their perpetration. The cover-ups were perceived as damage control.

Corruption as an independent variable
The destruction of the AMIA building also obliterated the offices of the DAIA (Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas), the Jewish umbrella organization housed together with the AMIA. Unlike the latter, which is a mutual aid association, the DAIA is the organization that has traditionally handled the relations between the Jewish Community and the Argentine State. During a meeting on 21 July 1994, the President of the DAIA, Rubén E. Beraja, also President of Banco Mayo, stated that the Argentine government was responsible for investigating the terrorist acts and demanded a thorough investigation.

However, two years after the bombing, it became clear that the DAIA and the AMIA´s leadership had softened their initial demands. At the same time, Memoria Activa, an organization composed of relatives of the victims, was created. [50] While the Jewish leadership avoided confrontations with the government, Memoria Activa radicalized its position, systematically denouncing successive findings that showed increasing irregularities in the investigation coordinated by Judge Juan José Galeano.

Until 1996 Beraja´s proximity to the government was accepted by the great majority of the Jewish community. But towards 1997, a generalized perception of Beraja's special relation with Menem and Minister of the Interior Carlos Corach led to increasing public expressions of repulse, on the grounds of a serious conflict of interests and apparent complicity with the government´s stonewalling of the investigation. [51] After the collapse of his bank, documents have shed light on the special aid given by the Central Bank to Banco Mayo when the sequence of bank failures began. At present, Beraja is being prosecuted by Argentina's federal justice. [52]

Two reports published in 2001 by the Special Investigative Committee on Illicit Deeds and Money Laundering of the Chamber of Deputies of the Argentine Congress (CEIHIVLD) [53] detailed the illegal practices that characterized the financial operations coordinated by Beraja. Banco Mayo was shown to have received some US$ 350 million in soft credits from the Central Bank, more than any other bank of its size. The President of the Central Bank, Pedro Pou, was indicted by CEIHIVLD, accused of tolerating dubious operations of money laundering and fiscal evasion on the part of some banks, including Banco Mayo. Consequently, Pou was forced to resign his position by a decree signed by President De la Rúa. [54]

As early as September 1995, Rabbi Avi Weiss had expressed his disagreement with Beraja's support of the government's investigation in statements made to the Committee on International Relations of the U.S. House of Representatives. [55] By the third anniversary of the AMIA bombing, in July 1997, crowds heckled and turned their backs on Beraja, while Laura Ginsberg, a Memoria Activa militant, spoke scathingly against the Argentine government. When Beraja and AMIA's President, Oscar Hansman, apologized to the government for Ginsberg's speech, the Argentine Jewish community suffered a severe split that was only overcome in 1999, with the fall of Banco Mayo and Beraja's indictment and disgrace. Such a denouement generated community consensus over the government's stonewalling and Beraja's complicity with the latter. [56]

In July 1999, Memoria Activa denounced the Argentine government before the Inter-American Committee on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS) for its non-investigation of the attacks. When in September 2001 (thirteen days after the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon) the trial of some twenty individuals accused of providing logistical support for the terrorists finally began, the OAS Committee validated Memoria Activa´s charges by appointing Claudio Grossman, president of the former, as observer to the trial. [57]

Thus, the President of the DAIA, who was civil society's chief representative in the AMIA case and the foremost Argentine civil leader responsible for pressuring a reluctant administration to pursue justice, was at the same time president of a bank that, at best, was badly in need of government favors and, at worst, profited from undue privileges. Many knew what was going on and kept quiet as long as Beraja's power lasted. In other words, strong pressures on the government were unlikely because of corruption and/or conflicts of interest within the more powerful segments of Argentine civil society (including prominent members of the Jewish community), whereas pressure stemming from less powerful segments, such as Memoria Activa, were unlikely to cause more than some embarrassment to the national administration.

Some conclusions
Neither the Menem nor the De la Rúa administrations were interested in suffering the destabilizing effects of an effective investigation that fully uncovered and exposed the involvement of security forces, rogue military officers and intelligence agencies in the attacks. Although Menem may have had more to hide than De la Rúa (especially in relation to his promises to Syria, prior to the pro-Western shift in his foreign policy), the negative attitude of the De la Rúa administration towards Nilda Garré's investigative zeal clearly demonstrates that it also obstructed justice. The Duhalde Administration, in turn, insisted on maintaining the secrecy of the SIDE's internal investigation. And although some positive developments have sprung from the executive branch in the early stages of Néstor Kirchner's administration, [58] the persecution of Claudio Lifschitz by the SIDE and the judiciary does not bode well.

Although the 1992 and 1994 bombings remain unsolved, in the sense that no material perpretator of the attacks has been brought to justice, it is known:

  1. That they were an offshoot of the global phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism and its suicidal instrument for mass murder, and directly linked to Hezbollah and Iran;
  2. That they were partly motivated by Menem's broken pre-election promises to Arab countries, and by the geopolitical gambits of the early months of his administration, especially vis-à-vis Hafez al-Assad, who also wielded direct influence on Hezbollah;
  3. That local elements were involved in the logistics of the attacks;
  4. That an important segment of these local elements was officially linked to a state apparatus that does not fully respond to legitimate chains of command, as proven not only by the involvement of rogue police and military elements, but also by the SIDE boycott of CIA activities when it leaked to the press the photograph of the latter's chief operative in Argentina during the De la Rúa administration;
  5. That although the autonomy of state security and intelligence agencies is a legacy of the 1976-83 dictatorship, it became qualitatively different in the case of the 1992 and 1994 bombings, inasmuch as the military regime gave carte blanche to paramilitary groups that conducted crimes it perceived functional to its interests, while the complicity of rogue security agents with the terrorist attacks of the 1990s was not desirable for the Menem government. The 1976-1983 dictatorship was behind the perpetration of state terrorism, whilst with regard to the bombings of the 1990s, the successive administrations were accomplices to the cover-up of the crimes, but not to the acts of terrorism themselves;
  6. That notwithstanding, corrupt practices such as placing the Syrian national Ibrahim al Ibrahim as special advisor to Argentine Customs, or granting an Argentine passport to the Syrian arms merchant and terrorist-suspect Monzer al-Kassar, facilitated all sorts of illegal wheeling and dealing, some of which was necessary to carry out the attacks;
  7. That neither the Menem nor the De la Rúa administrations were willing to investigate fully and risk some measure of destabilization of their governments for the sake of solving the cases, and that they both incurred in obstruction of justice. This verdict can be extended to the Duhalde Administration, if we remember the most incriminating fact against the Argentine state as a whole: that the judge who to this day (September 2003, three months into the Kirchner Administration) continues to be in charge of the AMIA investigation confessed long ago to having personally destroyed evidence relative to the case. This is also the most compelling indication of the systemic nature of the phenomena we have analyzed.

Thus, we can see the interplay between corruption, serious limits to governability and a terrorist menace that has struck twice in Argentina and can not only strike again, but could also make use of the laissez faire, laissez passer made possible by corruption and the erosion of state authority to provide the logistics for staging attacks elsewhere.

This is especially evident when we consider that nothing has changed at the infamous Triple Border, where sleeper cells linked to Islamic terrorism have been identified by Western intelligence agencies. [59] As early as March 1994, Robert Gelbard, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics Matters, declared his concern over the fact that the permeability of the Argentine borders could facilitate possible attacks by fundamentalist groups. [60] Yet the Argentine government paid little attention to such warnings until it was too late, and afterwards was unwilling or unable to significantly alter the situation. The fact that someone like Ibrahim al Ibrahim was appointed special advisor to the Argentine Customs makes it necessary to consider the hypothesis that we are confronting not only impotence arising from an inefficient state apparatus, but also a complicity with illicit trafficking that knows no bounds.

This is compounded by the fact that Argentina's Documento Nacional de Identidad, the key to obtaining a passport, is one of the easiest to forge in the world. Neither the Menem, the De la Rúa or the Duhalde governments were inclined to solve this problem. [61] Likewise, they suspended a project to connect Argentina's 121 border points via an intranet. [62] Once again, corruption of such magnitude that it leads to an increasing erosion of governability has shown itself to cut across administrations. It is systemic.

Borders in Argentina seem to be intentionally porous. This is indicated by the successive cases of Ibrahim al Ibrahim and the frustrations linked to the identity document, but most dramatically highlighted by the so called case of the "parallel customs house", whose investigation was launched in 1996 by Judge Guillermo Tiscornia. It was established that between 1990 and 1996, 22,000 containers entered the country with false documentation and forged seals through the harbor and airport of Buenos Aires. Nevertheless, the case remains unsolved, while several key witnesses have been murdered over the years, the last in February 2003. [63]

Limits to governability are such that a government determined to put an end to this situation is likely to encounter insurmountable difficulties, whereas one willing to become the accomplice of the murderous forces that profit from porous borders will find life much easier in the short and middle terms. Corruption and the erosion of state authority feed each other, facilitating the activities of terrorists and traffickers, and jeopardizing the security and well-being not only of Argentines, but also of people in many other countries. The perverse dynamics between these variables would appear to be well illustrated by the case of the 1992 and 1994 terrorist attacks and their aborted investigations.

 

NOTES