Argentine former president and spy agency director indicted in wiretapping probe

kirchner fernandezThe former president of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, has been indicted as part of a widening investigation into a domestic spying program, which allegedly targeted opposition politicians, journalists and other public figures. The alleged espionage took place between 2015 and 2019, when Macri occupied the country’s highest office.

In 2015, Macri, a successful businessman and former mayor of Buenos Aires, became the first democratically-elected president of Argentina in 100 years that came from a party other than the populist brand described as ‘Peronist’ in the post-war era. His presidency was marked by a turn to the right, as well as numerous investigations into allegations of corruption against prior heads of state, notably Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, whom Macri succeeded in the presidency.

But Kirchner is now back, serving as vice-president under Argentina’s new president, Alberto Fernández. Fernández, a Peronist, took office in December of 2019, after defeating Macri in a hotly contested race. Among Fernández’s top agenda items is the reform of the country’s Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI). The agency used to be known as the Secretaría de Inteligencia del Estado (SIDE) until 2015, when then-President Kirchner dissolved the organization and replaced it with the AFI, in order to combat alleged human-rights abuses by SIDE agents. But Kirchner has always said that her work in reforming the old SIDE was left incomplete. Her running mate, Fernández, promised to complete her work if elected. In his first post-election speech, President Fernández said that the SIDE/AFI would be reformed. He famously told his jubilant supporters: “Never again, the secret state. Never again, the cellars of democracy”. Soon afterwards, Fernández appointed Cristina Caamaño, an attorney and government administrator with experience in the area of civil liberties, to lead the AFI.

Last week, Caamaño gave a federal court in Buenos Aires a deposition containing list of over 80 names of Argentine citizens, who were allegedly spied on by the AFI without a warrant during Macri’s administration. In her deposition, Caamaño alleges that the individuals had their emails “spied on without any court order”, from as early as June 2016 until the final days of Macri’s presidency. According to local media reports, the list of alleged victims includes political opponents of Macri, as well as investigative journalists, government officials, and notable members of Argentina’s business community. There are also police and military officers on the list as well as artists, intellectuals, and trade unionists. Caamaño asked the court to investigate, aside for Macri, Gustavo Arribas, who served as AFI director under the previous president, as well as his deputy director in the spy agency, Silvia Majdalani, and her brother-in-law, Darío Biorci. The names of other alleged culprits in Caamaño’s deposition remain secret, reportedly because these individuals are still serving as undercover agents in the AFI.

On Wednesday, Caamaño’s deposition was shared with the Argentine Congress, and are now being debated in various committees, including the intelligence committee. Congress members from President Fernández’s Partido Justicialista have expressed strong support for the probe. But the opposition is highly skeptical and has asked for more information from Caamaño’s office.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 June 2020 | Permalink

Argentine ex-spy says government killed prosecutor Alberto Nisman

Alberto NismanAn Argentine former senior intelligence official has claimed in court testimony that the administration of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner murdered a state prosecutor who had accused senior officials of having colluded with Iran to bomb Israeli targets in Buenos Aires. In January 2015, the prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, prompted international headlines by launching a criminal complaint against President Kirchner and several other notable personalities of Argentine political life. Nisman accused them of having colluded with the government of Iran to obstruct an investigation into the bombings of the Israeli embassy and a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in the mid-1990s. A dozen people died in the bombing of the embassy, while another 85 were killed two years later, when the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina community center in the Argentine capital was bombed. Nisman was found dead on January 19, 2015, hours before he was due to give Congressional testimony on the subject. His body was found in the bathroom of his apartment, which had been locked from the inside.

Argentine authorities say they believe Nisman killed himself with a single shot to the head from a .22 caliber handgun. His family, however, as well as many notable personalities in Argentina, believe he was murdered on the orders of government officials who wanted to silence him. Such claims were reinforced this week following a dramatic 17-hour court testimony by Antonio Horacio Stiuso, better known as Jaime Stiuso, who served as chief operating officer for Argentina’s Secretaría de Inteligencia del Estado (SIDE) under President Kirchner. Stiuso was fired after Nisman’s death, when the government suddenly dissolved SIDE and replaced it with a new agency, the Agencia Federal de Inteligencia. In justifying the dramatic move, President Kirchner accused SIDE of feeding Nisman fabricated information implicating her and her government minsters in a fictional collusion with the Islamic Republic, and then killing him in order to destabilize her rule. She then charged SIDE’s leadership, including Stiuso, with involvement in Nisman’s killing. Stiuso promptly fled Buenos Aires for Brazil, from where he flew to Miami, Florida, on February 19, using an Italian passport.

But the former spy recently returned to Argentina and on Monday he testified in a closed-door hearing as part of an official investigation into Nisman’s death. Although Stiuso gave his testimony in secret, Argentine media published several extracts on Tuesday, which appear to have been leaked by witnesses. According to the excerpts, Stiuso accused members of an “inner circle” inside President Kirchner’s government of having killed Nisman and then tampered with incriminating evidence from the scene of the crime. The former spy appears to have told the judge in the case, Fabiana Palmaghina, that the state prosecutor’s death “was intimately linked to the work he was doing”. He is reported to have added that “the author of all this madness was that woman, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Stiuso has refrained from talking to the media, and his comments to the court have not been confirmed. However, the judge in the case, who previously favored the view that Nisman committed suicide, has now referred Nisman’s case to a higher federal court in Argentina with instructions that it be examined as a possible homicide.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 March 2016 | Permalink

Argentina says fugitive ex-spy official hiding in the United States

SIDE ArgentinaAn Argentine former senior intelligence official, who is wanted in connection with the murder of a federal prosecutor in Buenos Aires, is hiding in the United States, according to the President of Argentina, who says Washington should extradite him. Antonio Horacio Stiuso, better known as Jaime Stiuso, rose through the ranks of Argentina’s Secretaría de Inteligencia del Estado (SIDE) to become its director of counterintelligence. In 2012, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner appointed Stiuso to chief operating officer of SIDE, working directly under the agency’s director. However, Stiuso was fired in a massive agency shake-up in February of this year, when the government suddenly dissolved SIDE and replaced it with a new agency, called Agencia Federal de Inteligencia.

The radical reorganization was prompted by the death of federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman, whose body was discovered in his Buenos Aires apartment on January 19. Nisman had caused international headlines in the week before his death, after launching a criminal complaint against President Kirchner and several other notable personalities of Argentine political life. Nisman accused them of having colluded with the government of Iran to obstruct an investigation into the bombings of the Israeli embassy and a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in the mid-1990s. A dozen people died in the bombing of the embassy, while another 85 were killed two years later, when the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina community center in the Argentine capital was bombed.

But President Kirchner accused SIDE of feeding Nisman fabricated information implicating her and her government minsters in a fictional collusion with the Islamic Republic, and then killing him in order to destabilize her rule. She proceeded to dissolve SIDE and charge its leadership with involvement in Nisman’s killing. According to the Argentine government, Stiuso fled Buenos Aires for Brazil, from where he flew to Miami, Florida, on February 19, using an Italian passport. According to Reuters, President Kirchner said Washington had failed to answer “repeated enquiries” about Stiuso’s whereabouts, and suggested that the former spy official may have been working for American intelligence agencies all along.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 October 2015 | News tip: R.W. | Permalink