BUENOS AIRES – President Cristina Fernandez’s government defended on Wednesday an intelligence overhaul that gives Argentina’s new spy agency authority to investigate attacks on the economy, such as attempts to manipulate exchange rates.
“The business person who has nothing to do with exchange-rate or bank runs, or destabilizing markets, or things of that nature will have nothing to worry about,” Cabinet chief Anibal Fernandez (no relation to the president) said during his daily session with reporters.
The administration rolled out on Tuesday its detailed blueprint for the structure and functions of the new Federal Intelligence Agency, or AFI.
The AFI replaces the Intelligence Secretariat, long criticized for continuing to operate much as it did under the brutal 1976-1983 military regime.
Under the guidelines announced Tuesday, the AFI will be more accountable to the president and is to focus on terrorism, threats to the constitutional order, cyber-crime and racketeering, defined to include economic and financial offenses that undermine the stability of markets.
The expansion of the spies’ remit to the economy is sparking controversy.
Responding to critics, Anibal Fernandez said that destabilizing actions against the Argentine economy “have done a lot of damage” in recent years.
“The AFI will not depart from the Intelligence Law (passed in March) in that when they cannot (legally) carry out intelligence on individuals, they will not do it,” the Cabinet chief said.
“What we are seeking is to end the old concept under which we all assumed at one time or another that we were being monitored on our telephones. Instead, when that happens, it will be because there is a specific judicial order,” he said.
President Fernandez embarked on the intelligence overhaul in January, following the still-unsolved death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was leading an investigation into a 1994 bombing that killed 85 people at a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
Nisman worked closely with Antonio “Jaime” Stiuso, a long-time power within the Intelligence Secretariat.
The prosecutor, apparently encouraged by Stiuso, accused President Fernandez and others of trying to conceal alleged Iranian involvement in the 1994 attack on the AMIA organization.
The courts dismissed Nisman’s charges against the president as baseless.