Former ATF Agent: World Health Organization ‘Political Agenda’ Wastes Millions In Taxpayer Cash Fighting Illicit Tobacco

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JP Carroll National Security & Foreign Affairs Reporter
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Retired Senior Agent Thomas Lesnak for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) believes the World Health Organization (WHO) is wasting millions in taxpayer money meant to fight illicit tobacco.

The WHO spends too much money on its Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI), which sees illicit tobacco solely as a public health problem instead of a global criminal enterprise, Lesnak told The Daily Caller News Foundation. For example, the organization has cut global police force INTERPOL out of its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which decides much of global tobacco policy.

The WHO currently shuns conversations with the private sector — the tobacco industry — in going after the illicit tobacco trade and indirectly enables transnational criminal organizations and terrorists to the tune of billions of dollars a year, Lesnak told TheDCNF. U.S. taxpayers are on the hook for millions with the WHO per year despite the organization’s shoddy track record in going after illicit tobacco. The WHO instead prefers easy wins against major tobacco firms, according to Lesnak.

Lesnak fought against criminals engaged in illegal activities involving alcohol, tobacco, firearms and explosives throughout the world before retiring in 2012 after 20 years of service. The former federal crime-fighter believes the WHO is taking U.S. taxpayers for a ride to the tune of millions by not properly going after the billions that criminals and terrorists make off of tobacco products worldwide.

“What I have been preaching is this is the number one funding mechanism of legitimate commodities for these high-flying criminal groups is tobacco,” Lesnak told TheDCNF. The WHO is “making decisions and unfortunately countries around the world without the resources we have in America, are basing decisions on what they [the WHO] say, and the information just is not right!”

The retired ATF senior agent is referring to the WHO’s sinister penchant for secrecy as was noted by the Reason Foundation’s Vice President of Research Julian Morris in a Sept. 14 report. Morris notes that in a 2012 meeting, the Fifth session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO FCTC, also known as COP5, was extremely hostile to public scrutiny and private sector — tobacco industry — input.

At COP5 which was held in Seoul, South Korea, “the public gallery was cleared and the committee met in secret,” Morris writes, after “concerns expressed by delegations regarding the large presence of the tobacco industry in the public gallery.” It is decisions such as shunning tobacco industry representatives at the COP5 that greatly frustrate Lesnak.

“When the WHO holds these bullshit closed door meetings and tells their partners you can’t talk to private industry you can’t basically share this information then how are you going to get the truth?” Lesnak told TheDCNF.

Lesnak, CEO of TP International Intelligence Group, believes the WHO is far more interested in going for easy wins against the tobacco industry, rather than pursuing transnational criminal organizations that operate with impunity in less economically developed countries. These countries do not have the resources or sufficiently trustworthy public institutions to tackle criminal activity involving tobacco.

U.S. states and localities lose between $3 billion and $7 billion per year — a figure Lesnak told TheDCNF is actually a low-ball estimate due to a lack of funding and resources, according to a 2015 Department of State report written with input from the Department of Justice, Department of the Treasury, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Health and Human Services. “The Global Illicit Trade In Tobacco: A Threat To National Security,” details the many ways the U.S. has dropped the ball on combating tobacco-related criminal activities worldwide.

States such as New York with high taxes on tobacco products, and North Carolina with low taxes on tobacco products, are left to their own devices in tackling tobacco-financed crime due to a lack of federal funding. “We’ve got five full-time [federal] agents working on contraband tobacco and in the U.S. alone we say it’s a $10 billion tax source. [Some] countries have none!” Lesnak told TheDCNF

Terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah use cigarettes to finance terrorist activities, according to Lesnak. Terrorists have been taking advantage of the U.S.’s lack of resources invested in the fight against illicit tobacco for years as detailed in New York Congressman Peter T. King’s 2008 report for the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, “Tobacco and Terror: How Cigarette Smuggling Is Funding Our Enemies Abroad.”

Crimes and acts of terror have been financed worldwide because of the lack of private-public sector cooperation. The former ATF Senior Agent made it crystal clear to TheDCNF that he is, “against smoking, I think it’s stupid, but you have to go after the illegal industry.”

The WHO actively impedes real progress in the fight against the global illicit trade in tobacco because “they’re locked in a room [and] they don’t understand the unintended consequences of their actions but they don’t wanna hear it. This is an intentional act by them not to have the facts, and that’s what drives me crazy,” fumed Lesnak. At the heart of the problem is, “when the WHO, who people think have a lot of credibility, says something, especially the less sophisticated countries, take it as gospel, because there’s nobody there saying ‘this is bullshit,’” Lesnak told TheDCNF.

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