On 22 December 2017, news outlet Politico reported on the existence of a former covert Drug Enforcement Agency operation named Project Cassandra aimed at disrupting a Hezbollah-run cocaine and weapon smuggling operation:
The campaign, dubbed Project Cassandra, was launched in 2008 after the Drug Enforcement Administration amassed evidence that Hezbollah had transformed itself from a Middle East-focused military and political 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.
The more than 14,000-word investigation is based on interviews with dozens of participants, some on-record and some anonymous, as well as “a review of government documents and court records.” It details a complex criminal network run by Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite Muslim political party, which has an armed wing of the same name and receives state-level support from Iran.
According to Politico, the DEA uncovered a massive global criminal enterprise aimed at funding Hezbollah’s operations:
Agents working out of a top-secret DEA facility in Chantilly, Virginia, used wiretaps, undercover operations and informants to map Hezbollah’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 Hezbollah and its state sponsors in Iran.
The story’s most politically charged claim is that President Obama “let Hezbollah off the hook” in an effort to secure a nuclear deal with Iran. It suggests that the Obama Justice Department did not act decisively on the information obtained by the DEA operation, including failing to push for the extradition of Lebanese arms dealer Ali Fayad and the refusing to prosecute the alleged lynchpin of the criminal operation, Abdallah Safieddine:
Former Obama administration officials declined to comment on individual cases, but noted that the State Department condemned the Czech decision not to hand over Fayad. Several of them, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were guided by broader policy objectives, including de-escalating the conflict with Iran, curbing its nuclear weapons program and freeing at least four American prisoners held by Tehran, and that some law enforcement efforts were undoubtedly constrained by those concerns.
Kevin Lewis, an Obama spokesperson and former Department of Justice official, pushed back against that narrative:
There has been a consistent pattern of actions taken against Hezbollah, both through tough sanctions and law enforcement actions before and after the Iran deal.
While there may have been other factors leading to the lack of energetic support for Project Cassandra, Politico concluded by stating that many former Cassandra agents agree that the main factor was related to the Iranian Nuclear deal:
Turf battles, especially the institutional conflict between law enforcement and intelligence agencies, contributed to the demise of Project Cassandra, [former head of DEA Special Operations Derek] Maltz said. But many Project Cassandra agents insist the main reason was a political choice to prioritize the Iranian nuclear agreement over efforts to crack down on Hezbollah.
Meyer, Josh. “The Secret Backstory of How Obama Let Hezbollah Off the Hook.”
Politico. 22 December 2017.
Blanford, Nicolas. “Why Hezbollah Has Openly Joined the Syrian Fight”
The Christian Science Monitor. 23 June 2013.