The Obama administration “systematically disbanded” law enforcement investigative units across the federal government focused on disrupting Iranian, Syrian, and Venezuelan terrorism financing networks out of concern the work could cause friction with Iranian officials and scuttle the nuclear deal with Iran, according to a former U.S. official who spent decades dismantling terrorist financial networks.
David Asher, who previously served as an adviser to Gen. John Allen at the Defense and State Departments, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee Thursday that top officials across several key law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the Obama administration “systematically disbanded” law enforcement activities targeting the terrorism financing operations of Iran, Hezbollah, and Venezuela in the lead-up to and during the nuclear negotiations with Tehran.
“Senior leadership, presiding, directing, and overseeing various sections [of these agencies] and portions of the U.S. intelligence community systematically disbanded any internal or external stakeholder action that threatened to derail the administration’s policy agenda focused on Iran,” he testified.
Asher now serves on the board of directors of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Illicit Finance and is an adjunct fellow at the Center for New American Security, two national security think tanks.
He attributed the motivation for decisions to dismantle the investigative units to “concerns about interfering with the Iran deal,” a reference to the nuclear deal forged between the U.S., five other world powers, and Iran during the final years of the Obama administration.
As a result, “several top cops” retired and the U.S. government lost their years of expertise.
The United States squandered the chance “at a very low financial cost” to take apart Hezbollah’s finances, its global organization, and the Iran proxy’s ability to “readily terrorize us, victimize us, and run a criminal network through our shores, inside our banking systems—and in partnership with the world’s foremost drug cartels—target our state and society,” he said.
“We lost much of the altitude we had gained in our global effort, and many aspects including key personnel, who were reassigned, budgets that were slashed—many key elements of the investigations that were underway were undermined,” he said.
“Today we have to deal with the legacy of that and how we rebuild this capability—knowing that you can have a nuclear deal with Iran and you can contain and disrupt their illicit activities,” he continued.
The decision was a “mix of tragedy and travesty combined with a seriously misguided turn of policy that resulted in no strategic gain and a serious miscarriage of justice,” he said.
“Instead, in narrow pursuit of the [nuclear agreement], the administration failed to realize the lasting effect on U.S. law enforcement collaborative efforts and actively mitigated investigations and prosecutions needed to effectively dismantle Hezbollah and the Iran ‘Action Network,'” he said.
Asher defined the Iran “Action Network” to include groups and governments involved in crafting covert elements of Iran’s foreign policy, including terrorism, illicit finance, weapons and narcotics trafficking, and nuclear procurement and proliferation.
“The level of cooperation between the government of Venezuela, the government of Syria, and Lebanese Hezbollah that we observed in our operations—that we personally were involved with—including people in this room—was actually astonishing,” he said. “The evidentiary base to take down this entire global network exists. The facts are clear.”