Latin America

Argentinean president to dismantle top intelligence agency

Fernández de Kirchner blames service for complaint dead prosecutor filed against her

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner during Monday night's broadcast.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner during Monday night's broadcast.AFP

Argentinean President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on Monday night announced that she was dismantling the country’s top intelligence agency in the wake of the uproar caused by the death of a federal prosecutor who had accused her of trying to derail his inquiry into the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center.

Appearing on national television in a pre-recorded broadcast, Fernández de Kirchner blamed agents from the Secretariat of Intelligence, better known by its old name of SIDE (the Spanish acronym for State Intelligence Secretariat), for the charges prosecutor Alberto Nisman brought against her and other officials. She also said the agency was responsible for other allegations against her government that have surfaced throughout the years.

The Argentinean leader reiterated that she believes that the 300-page writ that Nisman filed with a judge on January 14 outlining his charges was drafted by other parties.

SIDE should have been abolished when democracy was restored in Argentina in 1983,  the president said

“There is not one lawyer, one legal expert, one judge who, after reading this, can believe that it was written by an attorney, much less a prosecutor,” Fernández de Kirchner said as she held the document up before the camera.

The SIDE should have been abolished when democracy was restored in 1983, she said.

This was the first public appearance by Fernández de Kirchner since charges were filed against her, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman and other officials relating to an alleged cover-up scheme to seek impunity for several prominent Iranians charged with the car-bombing of the AMIA center. The terrorist attack, the worst committed in Argentina, left 85 people dead and dozens injured.

Basing his evidence on recorded conversations between Argentinean and Iranian officials made by intelligence agents, Nisman said the president and others had negotiated a grain-for-oil agreement with Iran in exchange for impunity. Government officials called the charges “absurd.”

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Then on January 18, the body of the prosecutor, who died from a close gunshot wound to his head, was found in his apartment. The investigation into his death is still open but the murky details and timing of the incident has sparked outrage across Argentina and raised dozens of conspiracy theories.

Fernández de Kirchner, who wrote on her Facebook page last week that she did not think Nisman committed suicide but failed to give any other theories for his death, said the origin of the prosecutor’s complaint was the 2013 memorandum of understanding she signed with Iran to unlock the stalled investigation by conducting a joint international inquiry into the bombing. The agreement unsettled Argentina’s Jewish community.

Explaining the restructuring of the nation’s intelligence services, the president said she planned on sending a bill to Congress before she travels to China on Saturday. The new service will be called the Federal Intelligence Agency, which will be headed by a director and deputy director both appointed by the executive with Senate confirmation.

Agents will no longer be permitted to tap phone lines without permission from the attorney general. They will also no longer be able to have direct contact with judges or prosecutors without the knowledge of the agency’s director.

Agents will no longer be permitted to tap phone lines without the attorney general’s permission

Government officials have speculated that Nisman reportedly had contact with rogue intelligence agents, who were upset with Fernández de Kirchner for firing the bureau’s directors last month in a shake-up at the agency.

Fernández de Kirchner said she first learned about Nisman’s death at around 2.30am Monday. “I knew that something was happening on Monday at around 12.30am when security minister María Cecilia Rodríguez called to tell me that ‘an incident has occurred at Nisman’s apartment.’ I thought it was a bad joke.”

Following the address, opposition lawmakers criticized the president’s proposed bill because it gives more power to Attorney General Alejandra Gils Carbó, who is very loyal to Fernández de Kirchner.

“The president should not act like a victim because the government is solely responsible for everything that has happened,” said Senator Ernesto Sanz of the Civic Radical Union (UCR) party.