Politico recently published a report detailing how the Obama administration scuttled a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) operation targeting the trafficking operations of the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah. According to Politico’s investigation, President Obama interfered with the DEA’s investigation despite the fact that the terrorist organization was actively smuggling cocaine into the United States.
The officials interviewed indicated that the then-president wanted to derail the investigation to pursue his flawed nuclear deal with Iran, which allowed Hezbollah to grow in influence and strength over the past decade. Could the group now pose a threat to Israel and other U.S. interests abroad?
The Drug Enforcement Administration’s Project Cassandra
In 2008, the DEA launched Project Cassandra, an investigation designed to gather evidence showing that Hezbollah had grown from a military and political force in the Middle East into an international crime organization. According to Politico, Hezbollah has engaged in illicit activities such as “drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering, and other criminal activities.”
Officials working with the investigation believe the organization was collecting $1 billion per year. The team monitored shipments of cocaine from Latin America, West Africa, and Europe as Hezbollah transported narcotics into the United States.
Obama Administration’s Interference in the Operation
As Project Cassandra gained momentum, officials working in the Obama administration began efforts to stop the investigation. Politico reports that they “threw an increasingly insurmountable series of roadblocks in its way.”
When the leaders of the investigation sought approval for prosecutions, arrests, and financial sanctions, Obama administration officials “delayed, hindered, or rejected their requests.” To make matters worse, the Obama Justice Department did not allow members of the team to file criminal charges against high-profile players in Hezbollah’s drug trafficking cabal. David Asher, a key member of the investigation, told Politico that “this was a policy decision, it was a systematic decision.”
How Obama Sacrificed Project Cassandra For the Flawed Iran Deal
When former President Obama took office, he claimed that improving relations with Iran was one of his top priorities. His desire to strike a nuclear deal with Tehran motivated him to put an end to Project Cassandra for fear of jeopardizing the negotiations.
“The closer we got to the [Iran deal], the more these activities went away,” Asher told Politico. “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.”
Eventually, the Obama Administration killed Project Cassandra and any chance that the United States could prevent Hezbollah from amassing more power and resources.
Project Cassandra Lost an Opportunity to Capture Hezbollah Operatives
Obama’s refusal to let the DEA investigate Hezbollah allowed individuals working with the terrorist group to ply their illegal trade freely. A Ukraine-based arms merchant, Ali Fayad, was a suspected Hezbollah operative who allegedly smuggled weapons to Syria.
The DEA believes the arms dealer reported to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “key supplier of weapons to Syria and Iraq.” Fayad was arrested in Prague in 2014. He was in custody for two years, but the Obama administration refused to push for his extradition to the U.S.
Fayad had previously been indicted in the U.S. on charges of planning the assassinations of government employees, providing support to terrorist organizations, and other illegal acts. He was later sent to Lebanon but has since returned to conducting his illicit business.
Another key Hezbollah operative, known as “The Ghost,” was also in the DEA’s sights. Unfortunately, administration officials also prevented Project Cassandra from targeting this individual, who is believed to be one of the premier cocaine traffickers in the world. According to Politico, the Ghost also provided conventional and chemical weapons to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Along with preventing the DEA from targeting other operatives, Obama also rejected efforts to charge Hezbollah’s military arm as a criminal enterprise under a federal racketeering statute. The administration would not even allow the team to designate Hezbollah as a “significant transnational criminal organization.”
The Impact on Our Operations Against Hezbollah
Not only did the DEA lose an opportunity to arrest key Hezbollah operatives, but they also missed out on the chance to gather more intelligence regarding the group’s criminal activities and their collaboration with top officials in Venezuela, Iran, and Syria. The investigation could have provided the authorities with information on the inner workings of one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world, but the Barack Obama decided that pursuing a one-sided nuclear agreement with Iran was more important.
Even worse, ending Project Cassandra prevented us from learning how much cocaine was coming into the country from Hezbollah’s networks. The lack of this intelligence makes it harder for our law enforcement agencies to curtail the flow of drugs into the United States.
Representative Robert Pittenger (R-NC), Chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, released a statement excoriating the Obama administration’s actions. “The nexus between terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah, and Latin American drug cartels is a subversive alliance which provides hundreds of millions of dollars to global jihad,” he wrote in a statement. “The witnesses providing account of the Obama administration derailing and stonewalling the prosecution of this illicit funding investigation has resulted in the most serious consequences of the misguided and injudicious actions of President Obama and his team.”
It appears that killing Osama bin Laden was truly Obama’s only significant foreign policy win. The ill-fated invasion of Libya, capitulation to Putin’s objectives, and the rise of ISIS can all be attributed to the missteps made by his administration. We can now add a more powerful Hezbollah to the list.
Obama’s naivete and hubris in approaching the Middle East have allowed our enemies to grow stronger, and it will take a concerted effort from the Trump administration to fix his mistakes without adopting the equally flawed policies of President George W. Bush. If Trump learns from the errors of previous administrations, we can diminish the influence of entities hostile to the U.S. while ensuring that we are safe from outside threats.