A Tragic Story: Iran’s Criminal Presence in the Western Hemisphere with U.S. Complicity

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Last month an Argentine Judge ordered the indictment of former President Cristina Kirchner, her foreign minister Hector Timmerman and others on grounds of treason. The allegation is that these leaders made an agreement with Iran where the Islamic Republic would eventually be exonerated from responsibility for the crime of bombing the Argentinean Jewish community headquarters in July 1994, which claimed the lives of 85 people and led to several Iranian figures being placed on Interpol’s Wanted Persons list. The Argentine-Iranian agreement would have eventually had the Argentine government remove these Iranian individuals from the Interpol list. The late Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman was the first to uncover the conspiracy, but died under highly suspicious circumstances just hours before he was due to testify before the Argentinean Congress.

While Argentina is delving into this problem, Politico uncovered another serious story this time, involving not a corrupt foreign country, but rather the Obama Administration.

According to Politico, the Obama Administration, in its eagerness to secure a nuclear deal with Iran and fearful of Hezbollah’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East, undermined and blocked an entire Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) operation, aimed at targeting a one billion dollar annual Hezbollah cocaine trafficking operation in Latin America and the United States.  Such Hezbollah operation also involved traffic of weapons and money laundering. According to the report, the trafficking of cocaine took place from Latin America through Venezuela and Mexico, with profits in the U.S. The money was laundered through the purchase of American used cars. According to American agents involved in the investigation, the criminal operation was directed and planned by Hezbollah’s innermost circle and “its State sponsors in Iran.”

The DEA investigation, dubbed “Project Cassandra”, sought approval to continue investigations, order the arrests, extraditions and prosecutions of suspects, and impose financial sanctions. However, the Departments of Justice and Treasury rejected, delayed, or blocked these requests. Likewise, the State Department rejected requests to pursue cooperation with countries that could have helped target key suspects involved in those criminal activities.

The money collected by Hezbollah, according to Politico, went directly to fund the group’s military activities in the Middle East, particularly in Syria where it continues to aid and abet the murderous regime of Bashar Al Assad. In Syria alone, more than half a million people have been killed and millions more displaced. Furthermore, this dirty money was made at our own expense, as tons of cocaine were sold on the American market at a time where drug addiction constitutes one of the main social problems in American society, already claiming close to 50,000 American lives this year.

Why would the Obama Administration make such a costly sacrifice to avoid undermining its deal with Iran?

For some it may not make sense. However, based on my own observations throughout the years, it does. The Obama Administration tried to avoid confrontations with anyone it wanted to make a “historic deal” with. Most of these “historic deals” were intended to be made with enemies, as Obama desperately sought an agreement not only with Iran, but also with Cuba and reconciliation with Venezuela.

Thus, Obama failed to insist on the extradition of Venezuelan military and drug trafficker Hugo Carvajal from Aruba and the Syrian-born Venezuelan drug lord Walid Makled from Colombia. Carvajal was the chief of Venezuelan military intelligence and Makled is one of the most notorious drug traffickers in the Western Hemisphere. Makled himself disclosed his own cooperation with scores of the highest officials within Chavez’s government — including Carvajal himself, with the chiefs of the Venezuelan army and navy, as well as with dozens of Venezuelan generals.

Makled also provided information about Hezbollah’s criminal activities and its relations with the Venezuelan political and military elite. Already in 2011, he claimed that Hezbollah was making considerable profits in the Western Hemisphere which was funneled to the Middle East. Makled also said that he was willing to tell this to American prosecutors and asked to be extradited to the United States. Still, Obama failed to apply pressure or make an effective request. Both Carvajal and Makled were returned to Venezuela by the Dutch and Colombian authorities respectively.

In addition, at the end of 2012 Congress approved the “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act” that provided for “a comprehensive strategy to counter Iran’s growing hostile presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere.”

The bill was signed by President Obama; however, a few months later, the State Department reported that after investigating the matter, it concluded that no threatening Iranian activities exist in the Western Hemisphere. Such report raised suspicions that the Administration was not interested in exploring the matter. According to Congressman Jeff Duncan, then chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the report did not consider evidence presented in other countries, particularly the report issued by prosecutor Alberto Nisman that concluded that Iran and Hezbollah had a strong presence in 12 countries.

Nisman died under mysterious circumstances in January 2015; the cause was likely murder. However, the Obama Administration did not pressure the government of Argentina or make any statement of concern about Nisman’s death or his findings.  Considering the context provided by Politico, it now makes more sense; Nisman could have opened the debate on Iran in the Western hemisphere once again and perhaps undermined the deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

It turns out that the JCPOA has enabled and encouraged Hezbollah’s criminal activities in the Western Hemisphere, which are connected to Iran’s increasing subversive and military activities in the Middle East.

For all the reasons cited above, I believe that the Politico report deserves a Congressional investigation. But most importantly it is crucial that the activities of Iran and Hezbollah in the Western Hemisphere be fully investigated and dismantled. Project Cassandra needs to be restored and carried out to its very end.

Luis Fleischman

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