Early this month, the ex-Director of Operations of Argentina’s Intelligence Service (SI, formerly SIDE), Antonio “Jamie” Stiuso, failed to appear in front of his successor, Oscar Parrilli, to explain his involvement in the investigations into the 1994 attack on the AMIA Jewish community center. The news came amid growing speculation about the involvement of Stiuso and Alberto Nisman in allegedly diverting a probe into the inquest concerning those responsible for what is generally regarded as the worst terrorist attack to have occurred within Argentina.
What’s worse, his lawyer said Stiuso was “not in the country” and that “he had no way of getting in touch with him,” making him officially the most sought after man in Argentina.
Keen-eyed readers might have experienced a sense of déjà vu.
On February 5th, Viviana Fein, the prosecutor of the investigation into the death of Alberto Nisman, had summoned the former spy to testify. Stiuso’s lawyer, Santiago Blanco Bermúdez, wearing his second finest suit, arrived in court only to pronounce that his client was unfortunately not coming. He stressed that although Stiuso was only too happy to testify, the subpoena requesting his appearance was “wrongly addressed”, instead written to Antonio Stiusso. He made the promise that should the inquiry provide a correctly addressed subpoena (and hopefully fire their dyslexic secretary), then Sr. Stiuso would be happy to make the journey in, and having exhausted his legal nous, exited the building.
Although justifiably ridiculed, it must be pointed out here that although one of the more high profile examples, Stiuso is hardly the first person on the planet to avoid court summons on the basis of a technicality, although the action hardly quells the various allegations and suspicions that form the ever-expanding albatross hung around Stiuso’s neck.
Fast forward to April 7th. Stiuso was again scheduled in to stand in front of a committee. That morning Bermúdez this time chose to wear his very finest suit before heading to the inquiry. At eleven o’clock he arrived, in front of a thicket of politicians, officials and global and national journalists to announce that, unfortunately, Sr. Stiuso was missing and that if anyone has any information regarding his whereabouts could they get in touch immediately.
“He’s out of the country,” proclaimed the lawyer, who is also Stiuso’s former colleague at the SI; “I haven’t been able to reach him. I have no way of contacting him”. Bermúdez promptly left the scene, presumably to re-read the small print of his contract of employment.
Whether it was nerves, an act of defiance or perhaps an attempt to lighten the mood, Bermúdez’s delivery of the news failed to impress. Parrilli made his opinion known, saying that the lawyer’s approach didn’t fully grasp the seriousness of the inquest. He referred to Bermúdez as “almost mocking and childish”, an endorsement the lawyer has since removed from an otherwise glowing LinkedIn profile. Parrilli has also filed a complaint against Stiuso for dereliction of duty.
It’s hardly a surprise that Stiuso hasn’t offered to lend a helping hand to Parrilli, Fein and co.
Alongside the controversy his name has garnered in the aftermath of Nisman’s death, he is a distinguished member of a glittering catalogue of ex-SI employees that have been recently indicted for illicit enrichment by federal prosecutor Ramiro González. Amongst those accused of money laundering and illicit enrichment include Alejandro Patrizio, Horacio García, Ricardo Saller and Silvia Dicianni, all former spies.
Despite his exact location being unknown, Stiuso has long been assumed to be in a form of self-imposed exile from Argentina. As early as January 27TH, British based newspaper The Guardian quoted an unknown source that claimed they had been contacted by Stiuso, who at that point was in the United States, whilst many news companies have pointed to Uruguay as the potential new base for Argentina’s former spy-in-chief.
However, a sympathetic ear might argue that although Stiuso is hardly an upstanding figure within Argentina’s chequered political past, there are a number of reasons that go towards justifying his absence. After Nisman’s death, Cristina famously announced on Cadena Nacional that she was planning to dissolve the SI. She also, possibly by way of quietening the mass of voices proclaiming her guilty of murder, personally ordered that Stiuso’s vow of secrecy regarding the events during his career at the SI be removed. Therefore the ex-spy could to talk openly about anything and everything that has happened from his employment as an eighteen year-old electronic engineer in 1972 until he was surprisingly forced out of his post as Director of Operations by Cristina in December of 2014.
Argentine intelligence under Stiuso has allegedly been incredibly intrusive. Stiuso’s rise to the top of this body has come during a period of rapid technological advancement and a world-wide trend of unwanted and often illegal gathering of information. Beyond this, Stiuso’s rise to prominence coincided with the Kirchner presidencies. But most importantly, Stiuso operated under a cloak of anonymity. This anonymity only begun to be dispelled in 2004, when former Justice Minister Gustavo Béliz waved a picture of the spy at the camera live on national television – in order to process the Gestapo-like operations of the Kirchner government.
However now not only do we know his face, but we might soon know exactly what he has done. Intentionally or unintentionally, it seems that Stiuso has been made the poster boy for what by all accounts was an incredibly powerful arm of government control. In a recent interview, author of a recent history of the SIDE Gerado Young argued that “Stiuso was in charge of monitoring politicians, orchestrating smear campaigns and infiltrating social movements. The loyalty with which he always handed himself allowed him to survive through all the governments”. A cynic might suggest that a monkey has been pushed into the spotlight, while the organ grinder stands and points. In laymen’s terms it’s the equivalent of assuming patient confidentiality at the doctors, only to wake up the next morning and find the whole city knows you’ve got crabs.
There is one underlying truth that Stiuso’s continued absence has made abundantly clear. Until he appears before the prosecutor, there is little chance of success with regards to both the investigation into the death of Alberto Nisman, and more broadly the investigation into the 1994 AMIA attack.
As Cristina informed her audience in a press release the following morning “he will have to show up eventually to give explanations over this mess”.
Only problem is we have no idea where he is.