Update: Drug Cartel and Iranian Spies in Terrorist Plot. Really?

By Jed Bickman 10/17/11

Experts and the media aren't buying last week's big story that Iranian spies and Zeta thugs plotted to plant bombs in Washington. Is Obama trying to pull George W. Bush wool over our eyes?

Qud spies and Zeta bombers: In cahoots? photo via

The announcement last week from Attorney General Eric Holder that US law enforcement had foiled a bizarre plot in which Iranian agents would use the Zeta drug cartel to blow up the Saudi Arabia ambassador in downtown Washington, DC, has been met, by analysts and the media, with widespread skepticism almost to the point of calling it hokum. But wIth a spooky echo of the Bush administration's report about a secret meeting between an Iraqi agent and a Niger operative with yellowcake uranium—a meeting that never occurred—the Obama administration insists that it has “solid evidence” that an Iranian agent working in Texas—described by the New York Times as a “stumbling opportunist”—had made contact with undercover FBI agents posing as members of the Zetas. The Iranian allegedly offered to pay the Zetas $1.5 million to kill the Saudi ambassador. Analysts were baffled, saying that such behavior would be highly unusual for the Quds, the elite military arm of the Revolutionary Guards mandated to export the Islamist revolution. Equally dubious is whether the scheme could have been approved by high-level Iranian authorities, as Holder claims. “It was very extreme and very odd, but it was also very sloppy. If you look at what the Quds have done historically, they can put operatives on their targets and execute," said Juan Zarate, a national security advisor and Quds expert. "They usually don’t outsource, but keep things inside a trusted network.” Iran, for its part, has accused the US of concocting the charges as a diversion from the Wall Street protests

Another of the many funky details is the extent of the actual cartel’s involvement. It has been reported that Islamic militant groups have expanded their operations in Mexico; in July, the hacking group LulzSec released a memo it had uncovered that reported Hezbollah had established a base and an arms stockpile south of the border with the protection of the cartels. On NPR, Washington Post foreign policy correspondent David Ignatius said that the whole thing reads like an Elmore Leonard “caper novel." Other skeptics have suggested that this plot is the beginning of a fresh neoconservative push for war with Iran. Reuel Marc Grant, one of the leading neocon cheerleaders for the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "The White House needs to respond militarily to this outrage. If we don't, we are asking for it.” The media, which had been blasted for showing such credulity about the Bush administration's lies serving as a pretext for that war, is showing a distinct distaste for being twice burned. 

If this is hokum, who's behind it? Who stands to benefit from an actual conflation of the War on Drugs with the War on Terrorism? Since this sounds like a distinctly discouraging development for addicts, The Fix will investigate and run an in-depth report soon.

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Jed Bickman is a journalist and copywriter living in the greater New York City area. He is the associate editor at The New Press. You can find him on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.