How the Obama Administration Shielded Hizballah from Criminal Investigation to Protect the Iran Deal

In a detailed report, Josh Meyer explains how the Obama White House, for the sake of securing a nuclear deal with Tehran, stymied a major federal investigation that came close to dismantling the financing network of the Islamic Republic’s Lebanon-based proxy Hizballah.

The campaign, dubbed Project Cassandra, was launched in 2008 after the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) amassed evidence that Hizballah had transformed itself from a Middle East-focused military, political, [and terrorist] 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 . . . used wiretaps, undercover operations, and informants to map Hizballah’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 Hizballah and its state sponsor, 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’s 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.

Among those active in protecting Hizballah was John Brennan, Barack Obama’s senior counterterrorism adviser and later CIA director, who argued that there were “moderate elements” within the terrorist group that the U.S. should strengthen.

In the course of the investigation, agents working with Cassandra uncovered Hizballah’s role in providing Iraqi insurgents with the sophisticated explosives that they used to kill hundreds of American soldiers. The same arms-trafficking network also supplied Iran with parts for its illegal nuclear and ballistic-missile programs. At its head was one Ali Fayad, who worked for the Russian-backed Yanukovych regime in Ukraine and was Vladimir Putin’s chief arms dealer, responsible for getting weapons to Syria to aid Bashar al-Assad. When DEA officials had Fayad in their sights, and pressured the State Department to arrange for his extradition, Foggy Bottom demurred.

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Read more at Politico

More about: Barack Obama, Drugs, Hizballah, Iran, Russia, U.S. Foreign policy

 

The New Iran Deal Will Reward Terrorism, Help Russia, and Get Nothing in Return

After many months of negotiations, Washington and Tehran—thanks to Russian mediation—appear close to renewing the 2015 agreement concerning the Iranian nuclear program. Richard Goldberg comments:

Under a new deal, Iran would receive $275 billion of sanctions relief in the first year and $1 trillion by 2030. [Moreover], Tehran would face no changes in the old deal’s sunset clauses—that is, expiration dates on key restrictions—and would be allowed to keep its newly deployed arsenal of advanced uranium centrifuges in storage, guaranteeing the regime the ability to cross the nuclear threshold at any time of its choosing. . . . And worst of all, Iran would win all these concessions while actively plotting to assassinate former U.S. officials like John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and [his] adviser Brian Hook, and trying to kidnap and kill the Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad on U.S. soil.

Moscow, meanwhile, would receive billions of dollars to construct additional nuclear power plants in Iran, and potentially more for storage of nuclear material. . . . Following a visit by the Russian president Vladimir Putin to Tehran last month, Iran reportedly started transferring armed drones for Russian use against Ukraine. On Tuesday, Putin launched an Iranian satellite into orbit reportedly on the condition that Moscow can task it to support Russian operations in Ukraine.

With American and European sanctions on Russia escalating, particularly with respect to Russian energy sales, Putin may finally see net value in the U.S. lifting of sanctions on Iran’s financial and commercial sectors. While the return of Iranian crude to the global market could lead to a modest reduction in oil prices, thereby reducing Putin’s revenue, Russia may be able to head off U.S. secondary sanctions by routing key transactions through Tehran. After all, what would the Biden administration do if Iran allowed Russia to use its major banks and companies to bypass Western sanctions?

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Russia, U.S. Foreign policy