The Obama administration obstructed a campaign by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to monitor and prosecute Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, in order to solidify the 2015 nuclear accord with the Islamic Republic, Politico reported on Sunday.
The campaign, called Project Cassandra, launched in 2008, was aimed at disrupting Hezbollah’s weapons and drug trafficking practices, which included smuggling cocaine into the U.S. Over the years, the Lebanese-based terror organization had morphed from a Middle East-focused military and political group into an international crime syndicate.
But the DEA’s efforts to undermine the group’s illicit activities and to file criminal charges against high-profile Hezbollah operatives failed, after the U.S. Department of State, Department of Justice and Department of Treasury refused to cooperate.
“This was a policy decision, it was a systematic decision,” said David Asher, an analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense specializing in illicit finance, who helped set up and run Project Cassandra. “They serially ripped apart this entire effort that was very well supported and resourced, and it was done from the top down.”
He continued: “The closer we got to the [Iran deal], the more these activities went away,” Asher said. “So much of the capability, whether it was special operations, whether it was law enforcement, whether it was [Treasury] designations — even the capacity, the personnel assigned to this mission — it was assiduously drained, almost to the last drop, by the end of the Obama administration.”
His agents had discovered “an entire Quds force network” in the U.S., laundering money, moving drugs and illegally smuggling Bell helicopters, night-vision goggles and other items for the regime in Tehran. Despite the task force having amassed “excellent evidence and testifying witnesses,” their attempt to disrupt the elite Iranian unit were severely obstructed.
Asher added that Obama officials also undermined DEA’s efforts to apprehend top Hezbollah operatives, including those tasked with murdering American soldiers and government employees. One of them was Ali Fayad, a senior weapons supplier to Syrian regime President Bashar Assad who reports directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A U.S. court had indicted Fayad “on charges of planning the murders of U.S. government employees, provide material support to a terrorist organization and attempting to acquire, transfer and use anti-aircraft missiles,” according to Josh Meyer’s investigative report. Fayad was ultimately sent to Beirut and is now believed to be back in business, supplying arms to militant groups in Syria and elsewhere with the support of Russia.
Project Cassandra members claim that the Obama administration further obstructed efforts to detain “The Ghost”, another senior Hezbollah operative, named as “one of the world’s biggest cocaine traffickers, including to the U.S., as well as a major supplier of conventional and chemical weapons for use by Syrian President Bashar Assad against his people.”
Politico said in its report that sources independent of Project Cassandra confirmed many of the allegations made by members of the task force.
A former CIA officer confirmed how intelligence operations were also impacted by the nuclear negotiations with Iran. The Obama team “really, really, really wanted the deal,” he said, with the result that “We were making concessions that had never been made before, which is outrageous to anyone in the agency.”
One Obama-era Treasury official, Katherine Bauer, who submitted written testimony presented last February to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, acknowledging 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.”
On January 17, 2016, the Obama administration announced the final agreement on implementation of the Iran accord and, within months, Project Cassandra was all but dead. “As a result, the U.S. government lost insight into not only drug trafficking and other criminal activity worldwide, but also into Hezbollah’s illicit conspiracies with top officials in the Iranian, Syrian, Venezuelan and Russian governments — all the way up to presidents Nicolas Maduro, Assad and Putin,” Meyers concluded in his report.
Derek Maltz, a senior DEA official who as head of Special Operations Division lobbied for support for Project Cassandra, confirmed this assessment. “They will believe until death that we were shut down because of the Iran deal,” Maltz said. “My gut feeling? My instinct as a guy doing this for 28 years is that it certainly contributed to why we got pushed aside and picked apart. There is no doubt in my mind.”
According to a previous report by Meyer in April the Obama administration released or refused to pursue a number individuals involved in arms trafficking and nuclear smuggling in order to secure the nuclear deal. The failure to bring these people to justice meant lost opportunities to “gain insight into the workings of Tehran’s nuclear, missile and military programs,” Meyer wrote at the time.
Matt Levitt reported last month that, in an apparent turnaround from the previous administration, the Trump administration “is clearly eager to counter Iran and sees Hezbollah as a key proxy for Tehran involved in many of what officials have called the Iranian regime’s ‘malign activities,” by seeking to disrupt Hezbollah’s activities in the Western Hemisphere.
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