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When Project Cassandra 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.
these [Hezbollah-related] investigations were tamped down for fear of rocking the boat with Iran and jeopardizing the nuclear deal.” As a result, some Hezbollah operatives were not pursued via arrests, indictments, or Treasury designations that would have blocked their access to U. financial markets, according to Bauer, a career Treasury official, who served briefly in its Office of Terrorist Financing as a senior policy adviser for Iran before leaving in late 2015. By Josh Meyer Illustrations by Daniel Zender n its determination to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration derailed an ambitious law enforcement campaign targeting drug trafficking by the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, even as it was funneling cocaine into the United States, according to a POLITICO investigation. task force targeting Hezbollah's billion-dollar criminal enterprise ran headlong into the White House's desire for a nuclear deal with Iran.Lebanese arms dealer , a suspected top Hezbollah operative whom agents believed reported to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a key supplier of weapons to Syria and Iraq, was arrested in Prague in the spring of 2014. The administration also rejected repeated efforts by Project Cassandra members to charge Hezbollah’s military wing as an ongoing criminal enterprise under a federal Mafia-style racketeering statute, task force members say.But for the nearly two years Fayad was in custody, top Obama administration officials declined to apply serious pressure on the Czech government to extradite him to the United States, even as Putin was lobbying aggressively against it. And they allege that administration officials declined to designate Hezbollah a “significant transnational criminal organization” and blocked other strategic initiatives that would have given the task force additional legal tools, money and manpower to fight it.And Safieddine, the Ghost and other associates continue to play central roles in the trafficking of drugs and weapons, current and former U. officials believe.“They were a paramilitary organization with strategic importance in the Middle East, and we watched them become an international criminal conglomerate generating billions of dollars for the world’s most dangerous activities, including chemical and nuclear weapons programs and armies that believe America is their sworn enemy,” said Kelly, the supervisory DEA agent and lead coordinator of its Hezbollah cases.“If they are violating U. statutes,” he asked, “why can’t we bring them to justice?
” Kelly and Asher are among the officials involved in Project Cassandra who have been quietly contacted by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans, who said a special POLITICO report April 24 on Barack Obama’s hidden Iran deal concessions raised urgent questions about the need to resurrect key law enforcement programs to counter Iran.
, who helped establish and oversee Project Cassandra as a Defense Department illicit finance analyst.
“They serially ripped apart this entire effort that was very well supported and resourced, and it was done from the top down.” The untold story of Project Cassandra illustrates the immense difficulty in mapping and countering illicit networks in an age where global terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime have merged, but also the extent to which competing agendas among government agencies — and shifting priorities at the highest levels — can set back years of progress.
“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.”With much fanfare, Obama announced the final agreement on implementation of the Iran deal on Jan.
And with the help of some key cooperating witnesses, the agents traced the conspiracy, they believed, to the innermost circle of Hezbollah and its state sponsors in Iran.