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.