(National Sentinel) Dupe: President Barack Obama sidelined a top-level, aggressive American law enforcement campaign against Iran proxy Hezbollah targeting the militant group’s drug trafficking in order to secure his nuclear deal with Tehran, Politico reported Monday.
The effort was code-named Project Cassandra and was launched in 2008 after the Drug Enforcement Administration collected evidence that Hezbollah had grown from a regional Middle Eastern terrorist and political organization into a global crime syndicate that some U.S. investigators say led to $1 billion annually in drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering and other criminal activities.
The following eight years saw U.S. agents working from a top-secret DEA operations center in Chantilly, Va., where they used wiretaps, undercover ops and informants in order to map out Hezbollah’s global crime networks, with the assistance of 30 additional U.S. and foreign security agencies.
They followed cocaine shipments, some from Latin America to West Africa and on to Europe and the Middle East, and others through Venezuela and Mexico to the United States. They tracked the river of dirty cash as it was laundered by, among other tactics, buying American used cars and shipping them to Africa. And with the help of some key cooperating witnesses, the agents traced the conspiracy, they believed, to the innermost circle of Hezbollah and its state sponsors in Iran.
Nevertheless, as Project Cassandra uncovered more of the conspiracy, officials with the Obama administration threw up a growing number of roadblocks that became increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to clear, according to scores of interviews with participants who, in many instances, spoke about the operations for the first time, Politico reported.
The news site also quoted from a review of government documents and court records.
“When Project Cassandra leaders sought approval for some significant investigations, prosecutions, arrests and financial sanctions, officials at the Justice and Treasury departments delayed, hindered or rejected their requests,” the site noted.
For example, the Obama Justice Department refused requests by Project Casandra officials and other authorities to file criminal charges against high-ranking Hezbollah players, including an envoy to Iran.
Others included a Lebanese bank the group used to launder billions in alleged drug profits and a key figure in a U.S.-based cell of the Iranian paramilitary Quds force.
“This was a policy decision, it was a systematic decision,” said David Asher, who helped establish and oversee Project Cassandra as a Defense Department illicit finance analyst. “They serially ripped apart this entire effort that was very well supported and resourced, and it was done from the top down.”
In all, Project Cassandra officials tracked tons of cocaine that entered the U.S. as hundreds of millions of dollars went to a group on the U.S. terrorist watch list that had increasingly wide global reach.
Obama had come into office promising better relations with Iran, having declared on the campaign trail that the Bush administration’s record of animosity and sanctions toward Iran was not successful.
Shortly after he entered office, then-CIA Director John Brennan noted in a policy paper that “the next president has the opportunity to set a new course for relations between the two countries” through not only a direct dialogue, but “greater assimilation of Hezbollah into Lebanon’s political system.”
In practice, the administration’s willingness to envision a new role for Hezbollah in the Middle East, combined with its desire for a negotiated settlement to Iran’s nuclear program, translated into a reluctance to move aggressively against the top Hezbollah operatives, according to Project Cassandra members and others.
In the end, the report notes, the administration was more interested in getting its nuclear deal with Iran than it was prosecuting a top military organization that was dumping cocaine into the country, while using the money to strengthen itself in Lebanon and as an Iranian proxy, with Israel the most obvious loser, at least in the short term.
One former senior Obama administration official who was involved in the nuclear deal denied that Project Cassandra operatives were being thwarted purposely by the White House.
The official also suggested to Politico that intelligence operations may have overlapped.
“What if the CIA or the Mossad had an intelligence operation ongoing inside Hezbollah and they were trying to pursue someone . . . against whom we had impeccable [intelligence] collection and the DEA is not going to know that?” the official said. “I get the feeling people who don’t know what’s going on in the broader universe are grasping at straws.”
The official noted further: “The world is a lot more complicated than viewed through the narrow lens of drug trafficking. So you’re not going to let CIA rule the roost, but you’re also certainly not going to let DEA do it either. Your approach to anything as complicated as Hezbollah is going to have to involve the interagency [process], because the State Department has a piece of the pie, the intelligence community does, Treasury does, DoD does.”
Other former Obama officials who were not part of Cassandra, however, say there was indeed a concerted effort to tamp down efforts to go after key Hezbollah figures.
Katherine Bauer, in little-noticed written testimony presented last February to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said that “under the Obama administration … these [Hezbollah-related] investigations were tamped down for fear of rocking the boat with Iran and jeopardizing the nuclear deal.”
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