Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
December 14, 2011

The Hizbullah Drug Money Plot Makes No Sense

Today's long NYT piece Beirut Bank Seen as a Hub of Hezbollah’s Financing doesn't make sense:

Last February, the Obama administration accused one of Lebanon’s famously secretive banks of laundering money for an international cocaine ring with ties to the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

Now, in the wake of the bank’s exposure and arranged sale, its ledgers have been opened to reveal deeper secrets: a glimpse at the clandestine methods that Hezbollah — a terrorist organization in American eyes that has evolved into Lebanon’s pre-eminent military and political power — uses to finance its operations. The books offer evidence of an intricate global money-laundering apparatus that, with the bank as its hub, appeared to let Hezbollah move huge sums of money into the legitimate financial system, despite sanctions aimed at cutting off its economic lifeblood.

There is nothing in the piece that really relates to Hizbollah but some administration assertions.

In that inquiry, American Treasury officials said senior bank managers had assisted a handful of account holders in running a scheme to wash drug money by mixing it with the proceeds of used cars bought in the United States and sold in Africa. A cut of the profits, officials said, went to Hezbollah, a link the organization disputes.

The officials have refused to disclose their evidence for that allegation.

Why would Hizbollah get "a cut" from some rather random bank business? There is no explanation for that assertion but this:

As the case traveled up the administration’s chain of command beginning in the fall of 2010, some officials proposed leaving the Hezbollah link unsaid. They argued that simply blacklisting the bank would disrupt the network while insulating the United States from suspicions of playing politics, especially amid American alarm about ebbing influence in the Middle East. But the prevailing view was that the case offered what one official called “a great opportunity to dirty up Hezbollah” by pointing out the hypocrisy of the “Party of God” profiting from criminal activity.

So if making anti-Hizbullah propaganda is the stated purposes of the case why should anyone take it for real?

The case involved the typical DEA sting which allows DEA itself to smuggle drugs and to launder money. But when a trail was hot:

The C.I.A., initially skeptical of a Hezbollah link, now wanted in on the case. On the eve of a planned meeting in Jordan, it forced the undercover agent to postpone. His quarry spooked. In the end, Mr. Harb was convicted on federal drug trafficking and money-laundering charges, but the window into the organization’s heart had slammed shut.

It was “like having a girl you love break up with you,” one agent said later, adding, “We lost everything.”

One wonders if the "we lost everything" here has a wider meaning and is describing the reported recent blow up of the CIA's networks in Lebanon and Iran. Just last week Hizbullah named ten CIA agents in Lebanon and explained their methods.

Now we come to used-car-salesman:

Eventually an American team dispatched to look into Mr. Joumaa’s activities uncovered the used-car operation. Cars bought in United States were sold in Africa, with cash proceeds flown into Beirut and deposited into three money-exchange houses, one owned by Mr. Joumaa’s family and another down the street from his hotel. The exchanges then deposited the money, the ostensible proceeds of a booming auto trade, into the Lebanese Canadian Bank, so named because it was once a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Canada Middle East.

But the numbers did not add up. The car lots in the United States, many owned by Lebanese émigrés and one linked to a separate Hezbollah weapons-smuggling scheme, were not moving nearly enough merchandise to account for all that cash, American officials said. What was really going on, they concluded, was that European drug proceeds were being intermingled with the car-sale cash to make it appear legitimate.

Emptywheel suspects a deep relation between this alleged plot and the used-car-salesman "Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador" that no one believes.

The court datelines in both cases point to a relation and both involve DEA stings of some bumpkins. The cases are then used for primitive U.S. propaganda operations against Iran and its friends.

What should be a bit concerning to some is that the recent level of DEA/CIA operations appears to be so unsophisticated that is looks amateurish when compared to the capabilities of other services.

Posted by b on December 14, 2011 at 18:29 UTC | Permalink


*Hezbollah received as much as $200 million annually*

Nobody knows the true extent of the drug trade --
-- The White House office also stressed that the administration’s estimates were “just that -- estimates,” and should not be taken as hard facts. As the ONDCP argues: “our estimate of potential cocaine production of about 700 metric tons (of pure cocaine or about 850 metric tons of export quality cocaine) is actually the midpoint of a range -- there may have been more or less actually produced.”

check my math here --
850 metric tons = 850K kg
U.S. cocaine cost $20k-30k per key
850K X $30K = $25.5 billion - US coke trade
200M / 25.5B = 0.78%
--so Hez is allegedly receiving less than one percent of the US cocaine trade
How about the 99ers?

Posted by: Don Bacon | Dec 14 2011 19:13 utc | 1

I suspect very much that your last paragraph nails is, b.

The Americans are playing a ludicrous kindergarden game of "make-believe", and they expect everyone to take them seriously.

No, everyone can see that they are playing "make-believe", and we've seen this nonsense too many times before.

Posted by: Johnboy | Dec 14 2011 21:30 utc | 2

Oh, someone's noticing the "make believe"? OK, but it still worked for Bush/Cheney to get us into war in Iraq. I bet Obama, et al, figure they can play that game at least one more time.

Posted by: jawbone | Dec 14 2011 22:36 utc | 3

*election time -- election time -- election time -- election time*
It's election time, time to raise money, so gotta stay straight with Israel by more hissing at its enemies.
Iran? check Syria? ditto Hezbollah? got 'em
A country the size of New Jersey with less people gets to lead Uncle by the nose, still.
Go figure.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Dec 14 2011 23:10 utc | 4

"OK, but it still worked for Bush/Cheney to get us into war in Iraq."

Yeah, it did.

But, so sorry, everyone noticed.

"I bet Obama, et al, figure they can play that game at least one more time."

I would suggest that Obama knows that's a losing bet.

Posted by: Johnboy | Dec 15 2011 0:41 utc | 5

Let's pretend to believe them for a moment. Isn't this a great argument for the legalization of drugs? It would take away the main source of financing of all these terrorists.

If you are against drug legalization, then it must mean you are with the terrorists. QED

Posted by: Lysander | Dec 15 2011 2:44 utc | 6

Professor disects the NY Times story, and has considerable fun with it.

My favourite was this -- "the drug-smuggling nations of West Africa, many of them known Hezbollah supporters"

Posted by: Northern Night Owl | Dec 15 2011 3:40 utc | 7

it may be, in fact most likely IS, complete nonsense - but to clueless propagandised sheep in front of the idiot-box, it's plausible - and THAT is all that counts

Posted by: Hu Bris | Dec 15 2011 13:41 utc | 8

John Boy @ #5 -- I hope you're right, that Obama won't try another stupid war.

But...probably depends on what/who's pulling his strings.

Posted by: jawbone | Dec 15 2011 15:50 utc | 9

Who reads these articles?

The NYT has a staggering readership - abroad as well, sister publications like the Herald Tribune, etc. - according to wiki, in the US, more than 30 million unique visitors per month on its website, and third largest in US print circulation (after WSJ and USA today, wiki again, sounds about right.)

NYT is possibly the largest Print Rag Propagandist Ever in terms of numerical readership. (pravda?) It is only published in English, translations are unofficial and on the head of the translating organism. (afaik.)

Out of all those readers, who takes on board, thinks about, is interested in, Hizbollah laundering cocaine money? Basically, very few, whether true or untrue it is a silly factoid. Nobody is going to discuss it seriously.

The NYT is just there to tell staunch hangers on to hate anti-Israel Arabs for any reason, and what the talking points are that they can “share” and vituperate about, though I doubt very much that readers even bother to refer to Hizbollah or articles in the NYT.

The paper of record spits on Arabs, that is all: Muslims are evil, Palestinians are scum, etc. etc. So the NYT just publishes any anti-Arab stuff, it doesn’t matter at all what, anything will do, they just make it up out of whole cloth, and they count on their media brethren to publish the suitable scary pix.

And if there is an about face, all the rubbish they published will be forgotten, while it is goes on to a new meme. Who cares, today, about Iraq, WMD, and Judith Miller?

Posted by: Noirette | Dec 15 2011 17:52 utc | 10

That probably explains why my comment about the NY Times' link to the IDF - Ethan Bronner,etc - has seemed to disappear.

Posted by: stevieb | Dec 16 2011 3:06 utc | 11

emptywheel has another blog post up about this called Our Trade Pact Partners–Colombia and Panama–and Multinational Hezbollah Plots.

talk about all over the map.

Posted by: annie | Dec 17 2011 4:57 utc | 12

Annie's post reminded me , They're trying to link Iran to 9/11 now. Does propaganda get any more blatant than this? ...

Posted by: Uncle | Dec 17 2011 6:24 utc | 13

lol, weird.

Posted by: annie | Dec 18 2011 1:17 utc | 14

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