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The Post Submits Its 2009 Entry for ‘Worst Investigative Reporting’

The Washington Post concludes Iran isn't tinkering in Nicaragua because ... their embassy in Managua is too small.

by
Todd Bensman

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July 15, 2009 - 12:08 am
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Suddenly, size matters.

That’s the central conclusion of a lengthy Washington Post article Monday that sought to assess the national security implications of Iran’s 2007 move into leftist Sandinista President Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua.

The newspaper’s badly belated first weigh-in on the Islamic Republic’s most northern presence in the Americas wound up fixating on a curious detail: the physical size of the Iranian embassy there.

Was it a huge mega-embassy, as some U.S. officials have said? A smallish embassy? Something mid-range but perhaps aspiring to be architecturally grandiose?

The Post’s writers, offering no basis for such a wacky thesis, seem to have been guided by their own inexpert, uninformed extrapolation: that the bigger the physical facility, the more serious a threat can be posed. Conversely, the smaller the facility, the slighter the threat.

The Post’s conclusion, perhaps unsurprisingly? No “super-embassy.” Therefore, no security threat from the Iranians.

“The mysterious, unseen giant embassy,” the Post report concludes high up in the fifth paragraph after a big windup, “underscores how Iran’s expansion into Latin America may be less substantive than some in Washington fear.”

The story then sought to inject something like an ultimate irony. The only giant mega-embassy around Nicaragua is … the American one.

No national security establishment experts are quoted anywhere in the story setting forth this link between mission size and threat. As a reporter, I’m always open to credible new ideas and information. But in my many years of national security reporting, this is the first I’ve ever heard that building size could be so imperiling.

The first red flag here is that this striking new postulation seems to be coming only from people like me, other reporters. One can only suppose that the Post reporters did not consult academics and counterterrorism experts about this idea because they would have been laughed right out of the room.

As I’ve written here before, I was the first and for too long the only American reporter to have actually gone to Nicaragua to investigate Iran’s move into the country. My main conclusion was that so much stealth and secrecy surrounded the Iranians that outside observers could only resort to speculation about Iranian intentions, good and evil.

I’ve been to the Iranian embassy in Managua, described it in my writings, and published pictures I took of it.

For the record, I assessed the thing from every possible angle not blocked by 12-foot-high walls. I even climbed to the top of a neighboring building, creeping around on a creaky roof high above the street, to get a good look at the new mission’s grounds.

I don’t know the square footage. But the Iranians have set up in a sizeable mansion in the tony Las Colinas neighborhood of Managua. The mansion was bigger and nicer than anything I’ll ever be able to afford, like all the other huge mansions in the neighborhood. The grassy grounds around it are parklike with a lot of tropical trees and foliage. It’s no mega-embassy, like the Post’s big investigation of the Iranians in Nicaragua ultimately concluded.

But when it came time to write my story, I didn’t bother mentioning facility size because, well, to be quite candid, the notion that its size might indicate national security threat levels, or much of anything at all, was just too ludicrous to get onto my radar.

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