January 15, 2018

USA: Islamist Militant Group Hezbollah Funded By Iranian Mullahs Exploded Into A Major Cocaine Trafficker For The U.S. Under Former President Obama's Watch To Help Score A Nuclear Deal With Iran.

Newsweek
written by Robert Valencia
December 18, 2017

The Islamist militant group Hezbollah exploded into a major cocaine trafficker for the United States over the past decade—and it happened under former President Barack Obama's watch to help score a nuclear deal with Iran, a report revealed Monday.

Project Cassandra, a campaign launched by the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2008, found that the Iran-backed military and political organization collected $1 billion a year from money laundering, criminal activities, and drug and weapons trade, according to Politico. Over the following eight years, the agency found that Hezbollah was involved in cocaine shipments from Latin America to West Africa, as well as through Venezuela and Mexico to the United States.

The Obama administration halted Project Cassandra as it was approaching the upper echelons of Hezbollah’s conspiracy in order to seal a nuclear deal with Iran, even though Hezbollah was still funneling cocaine into America. Officials at the U.S. Justice and Treasury departments delayed the project’s requests to conduct relevant investigations, prosecutions and arrests. Obama eventually helped strike the Iran deal with several other nations in 2015.

Because of the project's sudden end, it is hard to determine how much cocaine has come into the U.S. from Hezbollah-affiliated networks. But through Venezuela alone, Hezbollah sent thousands of tons to the United States in a matter of years.

The Obama administration also did not move forward to extradite two Venezuelan citizens who were deeply involved between the South American country, Hezbollah, Iran and drug trafficking: businessman Walid Makled and former chief of intelligence Hugo Carvajal.

In the years after the 9/11 attacks, Iran and Hezbollah’s influence in Latin America thrived with the help of populist leaders. Venezuela's then-President Hugo Chávez worked alongside Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah on drug trade and other activities to weaken the U.S. clout in the region. Within a few years, cocaine trafficking from Venezuela to the U.S. soared from 50 tons a year to 250 tons, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Statistics.

The findings corroborate that the rise of populism in Latin America was fertile ground for Iran and Hezbollah’s intentions. Earlier this year, the U.S. State Department found that Hezbollah strengthened its relationship with Mexican and Colombian cartels and established operations in Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil and Venezuela’s island of Margarita.

In February, the Trump administration sanctioned Venezuelan officials, including acting Vice President Tareck El Aissami, due to his alleged role in Hezbollah’s money laundering. El Aissami "facilitated shipments of narcotics from Venezuela … He oversaw or partially owned narcotic shipments of over 1,000 kilograms from Venezuela on multiple occasions, including those with final destinations of Mexico and the United States,” the Treasury Department said.

Hezbollah’s activities in Latin America potentially pose a threat to U.S. national security. “Though U.S. authorities know that Hezbollah’s terror finance operations in Latin America are a growing threat, to date they have not been able to estimate its value accurately,” Emanuele Ottolenghi, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Hill.
Politico
written by Josh Meyer
December 18, 2017

PART I
A GLOBAL THREAT EMERGES
How Hezbollah turned to trafficking cocaine and laundering money through used cars to finance its expansion.

n its determination to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration derailed an ambitious law enforcement campaign targeting drug trafficking by the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, even as it was funneling cocaine into the United States, according to a POLITICO investigation.

The campaign, dubbed Project Cassandra, was launched in 2008 after the Drug Enforcement Administration amassed evidence that Hezbollah had transformed itself from a Middle East-focused military and political organization into an international crime syndicate that some investigators believed was collecting $1 billion a year from drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering and other criminal activities.

Over the next eight years, agents working out of a top-secret DEA facility in Chantilly, Virginia, used wiretaps, undercover operations and informants to map Hezbollah’s illicit networks, with the help of 30 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.

They followed cocaine shipments, tracked a river of dirty cash, and traced what they believed to be the innermost circle of Hezbollah and its state sponsors in Iran.

But as Project Cassandra reached higher into the hierarchy of the conspiracy, Obama administration officials threw an increasingly insurmountable series of roadblocks in its way, according to interviews with dozens of participants who in many cases spoke for the first time about events shrouded in secrecy, and 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 Justice Department declined requests by Project Cassandra and other authorities to file criminal charges against major players such as Hezbollah’s high-profile envoy to Iran, a Lebanese bank that allegedly laundered billions in alleged drug profits, and a central player in a U.S.-based cell of the Iranian paramilitary Quds force. And the State Department rejected requests to lure high-value targets to countries where they could be arrested.

December 15, 2011
The money, allegedly laundered through the Lebanese Canadian Bank and two exchange houses, involved approximately 30 U.S. car buyers.
“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.”

The untold story of Project Cassandra illustrates the immense difficulty in mapping and countering illicit networks in an age where global terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime have merged, but also the extent to which competing agendas among government agencies — and shifting priorities at the highest levels — can set back years of progress.

And while the pursuit may be shadowed in secrecy, from Latin American luxury hotels to car parks in Africa to the banks and battlefields of the Middle East, the impact is not: In this case, multi-ton loads of cocaine entering the United States, and hundreds of millions of dollars going to a U.S.-designated terrorist organization with vast reach.

Obama had entered office in 2009 promising to improve relations with Iran as part of a broader rapprochement with the Muslim world. On the campaign trail, he had asserted repeatedly that the Bush administration’s policy of pressuring Iran to stop its illicit nuclear program wasn’t working, and that he would reach out to Tehran to reduce tensions.

The man who would become Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser and then CIA director, John Brennan, went further. He recommended 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.”

By May 2010, Brennan, then assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, confirmed in a speech that the administration was looking for ways to build up “moderate elements” within Hezbollah.

“Hezbollah is a very interesting organization,” Brennan told a Washington conference, saying it had evolved from “purely a terrorist organization” to a militia and, ultimately, a political party with representatives in the Lebanese Parliament and Cabinet, according to a Reuters report.

“There is certainly the elements of Hezbollah that are truly a concern to us what they’re doing,” Brennan said. “And what we need to do is to find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements.”

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.


Lebanese arms dealer Ali Fayad , a suspected top Hezbollah operative whom agents believed reported to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a key supplier of weapons to Syria and Iraq, was arrested in Prague in the spring of 2014. But for the nearly two years Fayad was in custody, top Obama administration officials declined to apply serious pressure on the Czech government to extradite him to the United States, even as Putin was lobbying aggressively against it.

Fayad, who had been indicted in U.S. courts on charges of planning the murders of U.S. government employees, attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization and attempting to acquire, transfer and use anti-aircraft missiles, was ultimately sent to Beirut. He is now believed by U.S. officials to be back in business, and helping to arm militants in Syria and elsewhere with Russian heavy weapons.

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