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The story of Project Cassandra has been around for several years now, but there are still many people who don’t know about it or, failing that, decide to ignore it or justify it. To make things simple, Cassandra was an operation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that was intended to deal a heavy blow to Hezbollah —the narco-terrorist group allied with the Iranian theocracy that today is a global criminal organization— but there was a completely unthinkable obstacle in the way of the investigation: the administration of Barack Obama.
It took eight long years of work and contacts, with some 30 U.S. and foreign agencies by the DEA, a mission that in the end bore several fruits, as the counter-narcotics agency managed to identify a complete network of money laundering and drug trafficking, in the process building an operation to capture and prosecute a couple of dozen Hezbollah agents.
This story was born, and is supported by, three direct testimonies of three protagonists of Project Cassandra: Jack Kelly, a veteran DEA supervisor considered the creator of the team; Derek Maltz, head of the DEA’s Special Operations Division; and David Asher, a DOD analyst specializing in illicit finance who was transferred to the unit during the investigation.
The story revealed by these three agents was published in an extensive report by Josh Meyer for POLITICO Magazine entitled: “The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook”.
Project Cassandra investigations uncovered several high-ranking figures in the global criminal network woven by Hezbollah. But that great effort would have been reduced to a bureaucratic web set up by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the establishment in Washington, and the White House itself -in keeping with its geopolitical and foreign policy efforts.
The Iran nuclear deal, Obama’s promise that the Project Cassandra could do no harm
One of the first parts of POLITICO’s extensive investigation reveals that: “In its determination to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration derailed an ambitious enforcement campaign aimed at drug trafficking by the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, even as it was channeling cocaine into the United States”.
Thereafter, this important website began to explain, based on the testimony of several interviewees, how Obama administration officials began to put obstacles in the way of the Cassandra Project.
The DEA’s Project Cassandra began in 2008, when the agency gathered evidence that Hezbollah had moved from being a “Middle Eastern-centric military and political organization” to “an international crime syndicate,” bringing to light the first links between drug trafficking and terrorism globally.
According to the investigation, this criminal network “was collecting $1 billion annually from drug and arms trafficking, money laundering and other criminal activities”.
Cocaine was the trafficked drug, according to the report. It went from Latin America to West Africa, Europe and the Middle East. It was also trafficked to the United States from Mexico and Venezuela.
As you might expect, the amount of drugs trafficked produced a lot of money, which is described as a “dirty money wave” that was laundered, among many other tactics, by buying used cars in the Americas to take them to Africa.
The investigation into Project Cassandra was a success, since it revealed the main links between Teheran and Lebanon, the links between Venezuela, the FARC and Hezbollah, and the relationship, as was mentioned, between drug trafficking and terrorism together in a criminal network.
But, according to statements gathered during the investigation, there were obstacles, hindrances and many efforts on the part of the Obama administration to stop the Cassandra Project so that it would not hinder the negotiations of the nuclear agreement with Iran.
POLITICO states that “When Project Cassandra leaders requested approval for some major investigations, prosecutions, arrests and financial penalties, Justice and Treasury officials delayed, obstructed or denied their requests”.
One of the specific cases mentioned by the investigation is that of Abdallah Safieddine, a former Hezbollah envoy to Iran, who was considered a vital piece in the Lebanese organization’s criminal network and was called the main link between Iran and Hezbollah by agent Jack Kelly.
Safieddine was wanted by Project Cassandra agents and other investigators, with sufficient evidence against him, but the Justice Department refused to go along, according to four officials with direct knowledge of the case.
Another case mentioned in the investigation was that of Lebanese arms dealer Ali Fayad, an alleged high-ranking Hezbollah official. Fayad was arrested in 2014 in Prague. He was held in custody for nearly two years and, despite the efforts of Project Cassandra agents, the Obama administration did not press for extradition.
But there are more cases. The report indicates that “Project members say Obama administration officials also undermined efforts to pursue other Hezbollah operatives, «Ghost,» allegedly one of the world’s largest cocaine traffickers and a major trafficker of conventional and chemical weapons for use by Syrian President Bashar Assad against his people”.
Other allegations by the agents of the compromised project were that the request to accuse the military wing of Hezbollah of being an organized crime enterprise was denied. In addition, they mentioned that various administration officials refused to designate it as a “significant transnational criminal organization”. The latter deprived the team of many initiatives, strategies and legal tools to prosecute and investigate the network.
POLITICO was also contacted the other side, that is, former officials of the Obama Administration, who pointed out, in defending the government that the State Department condemned the Czech Republic’s decision not to extradite Fayad. But among the officials interviewed by the website there were several contradictions, as others said that the government allowed itself to be guided “by broader political objectives”.
What were those objectives? Decreasing the conflict with Iran, halting the nuclear weapons program, and efforts to release U.S. prisoners languishing in Tehran.
Despite these claims, former officials claimed that none of the Obama Administration’s actions regarding the Cassandra Project were related to the nuclear deal. But what else would they say?
“There were actions taken against Hezbollah, both through severe sanctions and through police actions before and after the agreement with Iran,” said Kevin Lewis, an Obama spokesman who worked in both the White House and the Obama Justice Department. The former spokesman presented eight arrests and prosecutions as evidence. In addition, he spoke of a 2016 operation in which European authorities arrested an “undisclosed number” of alleged members of a special Hezbollah business unit.
However, this did not convince Cassandra Project agents, who dismissed the explanations by mentioning that these European arrests occurred after the conclusion of negotiations with Iran, and that the efforts to achieve multinational partnerships went on, on their own after their cases were shot down by the Justice and State Departments, and other U.S. agencies.
Venezuela, also involved
When it comes to terrorism, organized crime and drug trafficking, Venezuela cannot fail to be named. Hand in hand with the late Hugo Chávez, the Chavista regime worked directly with former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah terrorists in drug trafficking and other activities aimed at undermining U.S. influence in the region.
As available in Infobae, the DEA operation pictured the route opened between Teheran and Caracas, which trafficked drugs and carried dollars to the Middle East and returned to South America with money, weapons and Hezbollah agents that were distributed throughout the continent with the help of Tareck El Aissami, a current Chavista minister.
It is important to remember a not insignificant fact; during the rise of 21st Century Socialism in Latin America, several countries —such as Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela— opted for the strategy of evicting the DEA by closing strategic bases that were of great value in the U.S. anti-narcotics campaign. This has also allowed the Hezbollah criminal network to operate in many places in South America.
The report also mentions the famous cases of Syrian Walid Makled and Pollo Carvajal. About them, Agent Kelly mentioned that “If we had had either of these two men, we could have eliminated the entire network. Makled, it is worth remembering, was extradited to Venezuela and Carvajal, at present, is accused of drug trafficking by the United States and is a fugitive.
A notable case —and one that shows the direction in which the main officials of the Obama administration were headed— was that of John Brennan, former director of the CIA and main anti-terrorist advisor to the former Democratic president.
Brennan was publicly enthusiastic that the U.S. was seeking not only improved relations with Iran, but also with Hezbollah. In fact, he went so far as to say in 2010 that “Hezbollah is an interesting organization,” since, according to the CIA agent, it had gone from being a “purely terrorist organization” to a militia and, later, to a political party with representatives in the Lebanese Parliament and Cabinet.
At the beginning of the Obama administration, Brennan recommended that the U.S. government should and could look for an opportunity to establish a new direction for relations between the two countries (the U.S. and Iran) and that this should not only be through dialogue, but also through better cooperation with Iran’s allies through “further assimilation of Hezbollah into Lebanon’s political system”.
Brennan was one of the great sponsors of the nuclear agreement with Iran, a strategy that, far from minimizing Iranian influence and action in the Middle East, gave it a free hand to continue financing terrorism and drug trafficking without major costs.
In fact, according to the BBC, “the agreement was not perfect. It did not cover a range of worrying activities by the Iranians: from their missile program to their regional behavior”.
What the agreement did cover, or tried to cover, was Iran’s nuclear ambition, but the cost, in addition to being high, was ineffective. Iran got rid of economic sanctions and gained political and financial gain during the long negotiations, almost two-years long.
The nuclear deal was one of Obama’s campaign promises and was described as his greatest foreign policy success, but the reality is that the deal had almost no benefits for the U.S., and many for the Iranian theocracy. In fact, the Obama administration’s efforts to undermine the Cassandra Project to “not disturb Iran” demonstrate how much the Iranians have gained.
In that sense, David Asher, one of the main agents of the Cassandra Project, has no doubt about what happened: “This was a political decision, it was a systematic decision by the powers-that-be [to boycott Cassandra]. The agent pointed especially to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, whom he called the “architect of the boycott.
The Obama Administration, an opportunity for international criminals
If anything happened during the Obama era it was the growth of the main enemies of freedom. Almost every criminal regime in the world grew.
In Venezuela, for example, Chavismo became incredibly strong in the face of Washington’s weakness. The U.S., in fact, was one of its main buyers of oil and that, indirectly, served as financing for the Chavista project to consolidate.
Castro’s tyranny was another great beneficiary. The Obama Administration led open-minded diplomatic efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban regime. A very high and immoral political cost that only served to consolidate the story of Castroism before the world, and to intensify the subjugation of Cubans.
In Colombia there was another case. The “peace agreements” with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). A Marxist guerrilla group that did not disband, nor has it stopped operating. Today, they are allies of the Maduro regime operating freely in Venezuela. They also have seats in the Venezuelan Congress, as a result of negotiations with the government.
These peace agreements, promoted by former President Juan Manuel Santos, were approved by the Obama Administration, and one of their main sponsors was Joe Biden. In fact, Biden’s relationship with the former Colombian president was promoted by Hunter Biden to attract Chinese investment to Latin America.
Of those three examples, all reprehensible and profoundly counterproductive for U.S. interests and the prosperity of its allies in the region, none comes close to the drama of the growth of Hezbollah and Iran globally, all under the complacent gaze of the Obama Administration.
The case of the Cassandra Project leaves no doubt that the Obama Administration was catastrophic for US interests, since its foreign policy, instead of looking after national interests, benefited the country’s enemies. Hezbollah grew and expanded its operations throughout Latin America, but it also trafficked drugs within the United States, so it was a growing internal and external problem.
It is significant that after Obama left the White House, both Hezbollah and the Iranian theocracy are going through their worst times in a long time. Today they have economic problems, they have less and less influence in the Middle East, and their operations were fought much more effectively by the U.S. All this under the administration of Donald Trump, who took a diametrically opposed approach from that of the Obama administration.
In fact, the historic peace agreements reached in the Middle East are resounding successes of the Trump Administration. They empowered U.S. direct allies, and are also counteracting the influence of Tehran, which is in the midst of an economic crisis.
It is difficult to say what would have happened to Hezbollah if the Cassandra Project had been successful. The truth is that, as the facts clearly show, it was a great opportunity to dismantle the whole fabric of money laundering and drug trafficking that served to finance terrorism and other criminal activities globally. A huge lost opportunity, a legacy, no doubt, of Barack Obama.
Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón is a journalist at El American specializing in the areas of American politics and media analysis // Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón es periodista de El American especializado en las áreas de política americana y análisis de medios de comunicación.