The Obama administration secretly derailed Drug Enforcement Administration efforts targeting the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah as it worked to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, according to a new report.
In 2008, the DEA launched “Project Cassandra” to track Hezbollah’s trafficking of drug and weapons, money laundering and other criminal activities, some of which were happening in the U.S.
As Project Cassandra carried on, the Obama administration threw a series of roadblocks in its way, Politico reported Sunday.
When investigators sought approval for prosecutions, arrests, and financial sanctions, the Justice Department and Treasury Department officials delayed, hindered, or denied their requests, the report said.
“This was a policy decision, it was a systematic decision,” Defense Department illicit finance analyst David Asher said. “They serially ripped apart this entire effort that was very well supported and resourced, and it was done from the top down.”
Project Cassandra members said Obama officials blocked or undermined their efforts to chase down top Hezbollah operatives, including one of the world’s biggest cocaine traffickers who was also a top supplier of conventional and chemical weapons used by Syrian President Bashar Assad against his own citizens.
Former Obama administration officials told Politico their decisions were guided by improving relations with Iran, stalling its nuclear weapons program and freeing four Americans prisoners held by the country. The officials denied any Project Cassandra efforts were derailed for political reasons.
“The world is a lot more complicated than viewed through the narrow lens of drug trafficking,” a former national security official in the Obama administration said. “So, you’re not going to let CIA rule the roost, but you’re also certainly not going to let DEA do it either. Your approach to anything as complicated as Hezbollah is going to have to involve the interagency [process], because the State Department has a piece of the pie, the intelligence community does, Treasury does, DOD does.”
But Asher said the closer the U.S. got to making a deal with Iran involving its nuclear weapons program, the more the investigations into Hezbollah “went away.”
“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,” he said.
After President Obama announced the deal in January 2016, Project Cassandra officials said they were transferred to other assignments.