Journalist Who Broke Story of Nisman's Death: I Did the Right Thing

Media laws and surveillance won’t stop determined journalists, and I’m one of them, writes reporter Damian Pachter, who fled Argentina to Israel after breaking the story.

Reuters

I broke the story of the death of a key Argentine prosecutor. And I was forced to run for my life. But my story is just one of many.

Journalists are being pursued by governments all around the world, from South America to the East, through Europe and Africa, too.

They are risking their lives on a daily basis just because of their love and passion for the profession, not from a hero complex.

I always had a deep interest in politics and in how the political apparatus works. Who and what make it function and how? That`s what made me become a journalist.

I got my first professional job during my second year of BA studies in international relations. I was accepted as an intern at the BBC office in Buenos Aires, responsible for all the Spanish content.

Correspondents Vladimir Hernandez and Veronica Smink and producer Macarena Gagliardi were the ones who encouraged me and taught the most important thing in this business: check your sources.

Those were the days of the so-called Media Law, an official initiative that supposedly aimed to increase TV and radio content, making it more pluralistic.

But in fact it became known as the cuchillo bajo el poncho, the knife hidden in the poncho.

The result of the bill was more state control of Argentine newsrooms, through money. (Another rule journalists remember: Always follow the money.)

A week before Prosecutor Alberto Nisman died in a tragic and mysterious way, I was working on an investigative piece that I intended to offer to the Israeli newspapers, including Haaretz.

Nisman was looking into a coverup in the investigation of Iran over the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center.

Several journalists received a copy of Nisman’s accusations against the Argentine head of state, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner; Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, a national lawmaker and two pro-government social activists.

From a professional point of view, the material was amazing. It included material taken from the wiretaps against the suspects and conversations among supposed intelligence officers, Iranian officials and a person who acted as a middleman.

Nisman believed that the memorandum of understanding Argentina signed with Iran in February 2013 included a hidden objective: to reset trade relations between the two countries by exchanging grain for oil.

When I published Nisman`s transcripts, I did not expect the government to retaliate. At the time I had just 460 followers on Twitter. I did that because a public debate regarding that evidence had begun.

It was clear at that point that almost nobody had read the documents, but if someone had wanted to, they had the right to do so. That`s why I tweeted them. You can check this; they are still there.

But a few days later, Nisman was dead, just when he was supposed to appear at a congressional hearing, and I was the first to report it.

That’s when the craziness began. I expected a reaction and I took preventive steps. I am a very careful person, so these efforts were more like “just in case” protocol.

For example, I began traveling in the city by cab; I used my own car only when I needed it, generally leaving it in my newsroom parking spot. It`s still there.

Was I under surveillance at that point? I’ll never know for sure. But one of my sources suggested that I had to leave the city as fast as I could.

My source and I spotted an Argentine intelligence officer and after a few more consults with other sources, I decided that my life was in danger. I took no further risk and I left.

That was a good call, judging by the government’s efforts. When I was escaping, it published my flight itinerary through the Casa Rosada (Government House) official Twitter account. For comparison, try to imagine the White House tweeting the flight details of a U.S. citizen.

When I was still with my "corazon en la mano" — my heart in my hand, the Argentine expression for fear — the top government figures argued there was nothing illegal about that.

I don’t have a doubt in my mind that my actions in recent weeks were the correct ones.

Right now, all I want is to do keep on working, so I’ll be able to help my relatives, including my mother and my 100-year-old aunt.