Former Gov’t Officials Warned About Hezbollah Story Months Ago
WASHINGTON — Former U.S. government officials gave details to the House Foreign Affairs Committee in June about how the previous White House derailed American efforts to counter Hezbollah, which supports recent revelations from a report by Politico.
Dr. David Asher, a veteran U.S. illicit finance expert sent by the Pentagon to help establish a team to go after Hezbollah’s alleged criminal activities, testified before Congress in June.
Asher told committee members about the collaborative effort was known as “Project Cassandra.”
It was composed of individuals from various U.S. agencies who used law enforcement, civil, and financial tools to “deter, disrupt, [and] publicly illuminate the global illicit Hezbollah network.” Asher called it “the most successful operational effort taken against Hezbollah to date by the U.S. government, after many years of inaction.”
However, he went on to say the Obama administration interrupted the successful operation against Hezbollah in its final years.
“In the last years of the previous administration, for reasons that most definitely had to do with the Iran deal and concerns of interfering with it – which I thought were totally unfounded, as a former nuclear negotiator with Iran and North Korea – we lost much of the altitude that we had gained in our global effort,” Asher said.
He continued, “And many aspects – including key personnel who were reassigned, budgets that were slashed – many key elements of the investigations that were underway were undermined and it was a bit of a tragedy and a travesty.”
Politico’s Josh Meyer explored the accusations that the previous administration intervened into Asher’s task force to battle Hezbollah head on. According to Meyer, Project Cassandra launched in 2008 when it became apparent that Hezbollah went from political/ military organization to international organized crime cartel.
According to Meyer, 30 U.S. and foreign security agencies investigated cocaine shipments from Latin America to West Africa to Europe, the Middle East, Venezuela, and the United States. Money laundering fronts were used to hide the cash flow which included car dealerships.
When Asher and his team needed approval for investigations prosecutions, arrests, financial sanctions, authorities at the Department of Justice and Treasury postponed, meddled or outright denied those requests.
Dr. Matthew Levitt, a former top treasury financial intelligence official and FBI analyst, wrote a book that described Hezbollah and its worldwide activities — in particular drug trafficking. Levitt backed up this claim in his testimony to the Committee.
“I think there are so many tools here, and we were using some of them as you heard, and then we all but stopped,” Levitt said. “And in order to have a real effect you have to have some continuity. There were prosecutions that were put on ice. There were designations that didn’t happen.”
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy & Force Development Mara Karlin described to members of the committee how Hezbollah’s influence and power grew following the nuclear agreement with the United States.
“Now to be sure, Hezbollah has benefited from its involvement in the Syrian conflict. Ten years ago I was most worried about Hezbollah’s weapons. Now I’m more worried about the experience Hezbollah has gained. Before it was a capable military force, good at a limited number of missions. Its portfolio has expanded dramatically. It has become a hardened force, adept at facilitating Iranian power projection around the Middle East,” Karlin said.
According to Karlin, the terrorist organization learned to “command and control a complicated conflict in collaboration with numerous actors.”
“It has acquired substantial experience in diverse environments using increasingly sophisticated weapons. And as the operating space in Syria becomes crowded, and the U.S. military deepens its direct involvement there, we could see inadvertent or deliberate interactions with Hezbollah,” she said.
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