Have you heard that Iran built a mega-embassy in Nicaragua? Word of this development has passed the lips of many a conservative anxious about Tehran’s intentions. As the Washington Post reports:
It is not clear where the report of the embassy in Managua began. But in the past two years, it has made its way into congressional testimony, think tank reports, press accounts, and diplomatic events in the United States and elsewhere.
“Iran recently established a huge embassy in Managua,” Nancy Menges of the Center for Security Policy told a House committee last year. “Iran’s embassy in Managua is now the largest diplomatic mission in the city,” wrote Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute.
The terrifying news even made it into a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in May. Is Iran’s new Managuan fortress merely a step in broadening Iranian appeal and swaying Central America away from American influence? Or could it be a secret forward-operating base for terrorist deployments? Perhaps part of a plot to destroy Israel?
There’s just one problem with such speculations: THE MEGA-EMBASSY DOESN’T EXIST.
But Bayardo Arce, a senior economic adviser to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, likened the elusive “mega-embassy” to the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. “It doesn’t exist. They deceived the secretary of state,” Arce said. “We don’t have an Iranian mega-embassy. We have an ambassador in a rented house with his wife.” . . .
“Who told Hillary that? Someone misinformed her,” said Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, a leader of the opposition Constitutionalist Liberal Party and head of a legislative foreign affairs committee. “I never cease to be astonished that a country with such intelligence-gathering capacities could fall for such a canard. What now? Is Obama going to start talking about the Axis of Evil?”
Here’s a question worth pursuing for an intrepid political or foreign-policy reporter: How did this embarrassingly wrong rumor make it into a speech by the Secretary of State? The article says that Clinton heard about the embassy during a meeting in the region, according to a State Department spokesman (who when informed of the mega-embassy’s non-existence, replied: “If it turns out this is not happening, that’s good news.”) Is that really true? If so, who said it? And does that person have any connection to right-wing think tanks, intelligence agencies, or propagandistic organizations in the United States?
Whatever the answer, the story serves as a welcome warning that the peddling of false propaganda does not depend on who sits in the Oval Office or which party occupies the White House. There are structures and institutions in place who spend a lot of time and money spreading false information, and they didn’t disappear after last year’s election.
POSTSCRIPT: In no way do I mean to suggest that Iranian activity in Central and South America isn’t worth close, careful monitoring. On this score, see Todd Bensman‘s provocative 2007 article on Iran’s outreach in the region.