The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Triple Frontier terror: figment of neocon hack's imagination?

Ploughing through the material, I find that the idea that the region [1] is a haven for terrorists is not universally accepted.

In particular, by the people at Counterpunch. There, Kenneth Rapoza [2] takes the line (piece of May 14 2003) that a region built on the activities of ordinary, decent criminals - it's certainly a Mecca for counterfeit goods - was travestied into a place where
Hizballah and Osama's mafia are drinking mate (sic) and caipirinhas somewhere outside Foz do Iguacu, Parana, a large, red-earthed state south of Sao Paulo
by the writings of one Jeffrey Goldberg.

As, it seems, a sort of one-man journalistic Foreign Legion for neoconnery, it's scarcely likely that Goldberg would be on the Counterpunch Christmas party list. But the vituperation in Alexander Cockburn's earlier piece on the man (February 28 2003) could strip paint.

It seems, indeed, that Goldberg's anxiety for colour led him into error on the question of Iraq-Al Qaida link. In Goldberg's New Yorker piece of March 25 2002, he has an interview with Mohammed Mansour Shahab, a captive of the Kurds in Sulaimaniya, who spins a tale about his role as a link-man between the Saddam regime and AQ.

Later, it turned out that Shahab was a fabulist of the Jayson Blair/Stephen Glass stripe - a little actual journalism from a guy at the Observer (February 9 2003) picked holes in his story one might drive a truck through.

Goldberg is bang to rights and one can't blame Cockburn for crowing at the discomfiture of his enemy.

But, all it really does is to establish a concrete example, in Goldberg's case, of something that should be an assumption of every reader about every piece he reads: that journalists have agendas, get led up the garden path by wishful thinking, make stuff up. We're back to Square One when it comes to the res here: whether or not the 3F is a haven for terrorists or not.

Goldberg's piece on Hezbollah (on which Rapoza was commenting) was in two parts: the first (October 7 2002) on its Middle East activities, the second (October 21 2002) on those in the Western Hemisphere.

The style is colourful as ever, starting with a trip up the river to Foz do IguaƧu in a Brazilian police patrol boat, and other travelogue stuff; there's mention of weekend Hezbollah training-camps, extortion of contributions from local businessmen:
according to one Paraguayan official, two years ago Hezbollah raised twelve million dollars [3] in the Triple Frontier,
money-laundering, Brazilian and Paraguayan officials denying the problem was in their territory, a fair amount about Hezbollah's main terror organiser, Imad Mugniyah, supposedly involved in the AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires, on which
one Paraguayan official said, he believes that the bomb was almost certainly built in the area of Ciudad del Este
across the river from Foz do Iguacu.

He also mentions that AQ and Hamas are in the area, but says that
the dominant terror group in the region is Hezbollah...

Shorn of the purple prose and ego-massage, what he says about the 3F and terrorism doesn't seem out of line with most of what I've read so far on the subject (which is, naturally, far from comprehensive, but...).

Rapoza begs to differ. He says that
In March, Reed Lindsay, an American reporter in Buenos Aires, spoke with a Security Secretary at the Justice Ministry in Argentina [4]. The Argentinian official wished to be kept anonymous. He told Lindsay that Argentina had no knowledge of terrorist groups operating in the Triborder area or that money from illegal activities such as CD piracy and drug trafficking was going directly to fund terrorist activities.

"Terrorist cells do not exist in the Triple Frontier," the Security Secretary said. "When people start talking about terrorist hot spots that don't exist, it does tremendous damage to our countries. There might have been activities of financing terrorist organizations, just like any other community. Just as Argentines in North America send money to Argentina, I imagine that the Muslim community must help people in places like Lebanon, and part of that money might be sent to terrorists."

Now, if the guy had poured cold water on their being AQ in the area, I might have believed him: Goldberg seems to see AQ everywhere. And the State Department report that Rapoza refers to does says, as he quotes, that
numerous media reports in 2002 of an al-Qaida presence in the TBA...remained uncorroborated by intelligence and law-enforcement officials.

But Rapoza seems to be endorsing the anonymous Argentinian's view that there is no terrorist presence in the Tres Fronteras - not even contributions to terror groups from illegal activities in the area. Which is flatly contradicted by the same State Department report that he relies on to discredit Goldberg on AQ.

Sounds to me like Rapoza has, in the Argentinian guy, his very own Mohammed Mansour Shahab! Except that, since Shahab was named by Goldberg, at least his story could be checked.

The moral cuts both ways, of course: just because a journo (or pol or anyone else) is proved to have produced a dud story doesn't ipso facto mean that everything else he produces is also dud. (Or, indeed, vice versa.)

Hopefully, further research on 3F in prose less purple will provide enlightenment. Stay tuned.

  1. Research is not helped by their being no settled name: in Spanish, Tres Fronteras and Triple Frontera, in English, Triple Frontier, Tri-Border Area or TBA or triborder region. (Not to mention that there are umpteen other regions in the world of similar configuration.) Heigh ho...

  2. Late of the Boston Globe and their correspondent in Brazil (a piece in Portuguese on foreign correspondents from November 2002 namechecks him, and mentions his reporting from Parana - the river that runs through the 3F region).

  3. Out of a total Hezbollah budget of $100m, he says.

  4. What, I wonder is a Security Secretary, how many of them are there, etc, etc.

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