Tom Diaz and Barbara Newman
Edited transcript of remarks, 3/15/05 Carnegie Council Authors in the Afternoon (Merrill House, New York City).
JOANNE MYERS: Good afternoon. I’m Joanne Myers, Director of Merrill House Programs. On behalf of the Carnegie Council, I would like to welcome our members, guests, and C-SPAN Book TV to our Author in the Afternoon series.
Today we are very pleased to have with us authors Tom Diaz and Barbara Newman. They will be discussing their book, Lightning out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil.
Since September 11, speculating about where the next big terrorist attack may occur has become a global guessing game. Yet the likelihood that terrorists may once again strike on American soil is a very real possibility. The challenge for the FBI and other law enforcement agencies is in identifying the terrorists living among us and those who operate under the radar of law enforcement while relentlessly finding the crevices in America’s defenses.
We have been led to believe that Al-Qaeda is the terrorist group we most need to fear. Yet, according to our speakers this afternoon, this is a misconception. They identify other terrorist networks working in the United States and write about the one that top American counterintelligence officials and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee have labeled “the A-team of terrorism,” Hezbollah.
When the members of the first known Hezbollah cell in America went on trial in May 2002, it soon became apparent that, in addition to cells in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Dearborn, Michigan, this Lebanese-based, but Iranian and Syrian-backed terrorist network had a substantial number of sleeper cells working within our borders that were actively involved in criminal conspiracies.
Drawing on those investigations, our speakers profiled the Hezbollah cell in Charlotte, recounting the activities of Hezbollah’s inner workings and its past successes. They describe a gamut of activities, ranging from cigarette and drug smuggling to operating charitable organizations aimed at financing the purchase of weapons, high-tech equipment, and fraudulent passports.
Lightning Out of Lebanon is a frightening look at the need to recognize the potential for further terrorist danger on American soil and what will be required to prevent it. It is a wakeup call for all America.
Barbara Newman is the author of The Covenant: Love and Death in Beirut and is a Senior Fellow with The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. She was a senior producer and creator of the “Now It Can Be Told” series, a nationally syndicated news magazine, and before that, an investigative producer for ABC News’ “20/20.” She was also a correspondent and host for National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”
Tom Diaz is the author of Making a Killing: The Business of Guns in America. From 1993 to 1997, he was the lead Democratic counsel on counterterrorism issues, helping to write key antiterrorism legislation. He has recently served as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Justice on the use of high technology by terrorists and its use as law enforcement investigative tools. As a reporter, he has covered conflicts and tensions in Central America, India, Pakistan, the former Soviet Union, and the closing days of the first Gulf War.
In the struggle against terrorism, it is not only good intelligence, but also an awareness of what we may be up against that is key to protecting our nation and ourselves. Today we are fortunate to have with us two seasoned journalists who have important information that could help to defend us and keep us safe from the unknown.
Please join me in welcoming our guests, Tom Diaz and Barbara Newman. Thank you for joining us.
BARBARA NEWMAN: We wanted to start by defining Hezbollah, a Beirut-based Shi’ite organization with worldwide groups. It is highly disciplined, with the best counterintelligence, and the most effective terrorist organization in the world in the eyes of the national security apparatus in Washington.
Hezbollah was formed at the time of the Khomeini Revolution in Iran, in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, the mountainous area bordering Syria. Its members were tutored by the Iranian revolutionary guards. They wanted to institute in Lebanon the kind of Islamic regime that started in 1979 under Khomeini. There was tension with an existing Shi’ite group called Amal, still in Lebanon, which would like to be a secular organization. The more extreme elements who wanted this kind of theocracy joined Hezbollah, and the ranks became swollen with the Israeli invasion in 1982.
The Shi’ites traditionally have been the poorest of the poor in Lebanon. They were farmers who lived in refugee camps under appalling conditions.
I would also like to discuss the Cedar Revolution that is occurring in Lebanon. Bashir Gemayel was the president-elect, assassinated in 1982 by Syria, probably because he was going to create a Lebanon that was free of Syrian influence. He was a very strong and charismatic person.
I don’t believe that Syria will ever totally withdraw from Lebanon, because the Allawite regime of Bashir Assad will fall. He is not a strong person the way his father was. The Allawites, the minority sect he belongs to, control the military and intelligence sectors, and they make a fortune in Lebanon through drug traffic and their control of other industries and commerce.
The New York Times recently ran an editorial saying, “It’s so great that the Bush Administration is going along with our allies to treat Hezbollah as a political entity. Maybe they can demilitarize them or make them less extreme.”
That will never happen. It’s like Chamberlain going to Munich and never reading Mein Kampf. These people are not political dealers. They are very smart politically, but they are not bargainers. They believe that the Jewish entity should not exist, and that the U.S. influence in the Middle East must be eradicated. That is not negotiable.
We started this project because the number three person at the FBI said, “Hezbollah makes Al-Qaeda look like Sunday-schoolers, children, kindergartners.” The FBI helped us enough to proceed, although they didn’t give us a list and say, “Terrorist organizations are here.” We had to get that from many sources, local police, FBI, from all around the country.
TOM DIAZ: I would like to talk about the global reach of Hezbollah and something about what we found of its structure in the United States.
First, there is an extraordinary amount of public-record information about the relationship among Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran. I recently read a “he said/she said” story. The United States says Hezbollah blew up the marine barracks in 1983 and killed 241 American servicemen, most of them U.S. Marines. Hezbollah denies it.
Many of the experts, both journalistically and think-tank-wise, on Al-Qaeda gained their expertise by reading the transcript of the trials of the 1998 embassy bombings. There is equivalent material regarding Hezbollah, which we dug out in U.S. District Court, where former U.S. government officials come to court, swear under oath, and talk about the most closely guarded intelligence material â€” communications intercepts, what is called an “all-source analysis.” They declared, “This is the best analysis that we have ever seen.”
It is very clear that Iran communicated with what was then nascent-Hezbollah, and directed the bombings of the U.S. embassies, the marine barracks, and the French quarters at that time. From there, we can go to indictments in more recent times of the role of Lebanese Hezbollah in the bombing of Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, where nineteen U.S. Air Force airmen were killed and scores of others wounded.
There is good public-record information on Hezbollah’s attacks on the United States in the 1980s and 1990s. Some of the other global reach and some of the reasons that American counterterrorism officials are so concerned include the 1992 Hezbollah bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the 1994 Hezbollah bombing of a national Jewish community center â€” the national repository of culture, records of retirement, a Yiddish library of world class.
The intelligence services of the United States and Israel make it clear that the same modus operandi was used there as previously. The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, working through one Imad Mughniyah, directed and coordinated those bombings.
What concerns U.S. officials is that many of the same kinds of loose support cells existed and exist all over Latin America, but specifically in Argentina. When the button was pushed in Tehran and in Lebanon those cells provided the infrastructure, the vehicles, the identification, and the kind of material that would be needed.
We have the same kinds of organizations in the United States. We write particularly about one in Charlotte, North Carolina, which was the first successful trial and prosecution under the Material Support Act, which forbids providing funding or any other material support to terrorist organizations.
BARBARA NEWMAN: The leader of the cell was Mohammed Hammoud. He was born in the Burj el-Barajneh refugee camp, one of the most devastatingly poor camps in Lebanon. From an early age, he was very impressed with Hezbollah, because a lot of his family and friends had been victims of fighting. He believed in the martyr’s code of killing people and going to heaven â€” a true believer, quiet, fastidious, and determined.
There was no embassy in Beirut, because they blew it up. The operative embassy was in Damascus. He went there a few times, but he was denied entry to the United States. Not giving up, he went to Margarita Island off the coast of Venezuela, and for $300 got phony papers to enter the United States. They were so bad that the passport people stopped him. Then he asked for political asylum, saying he was a victim of Hezbollah. If you think God is with you, you have a lot of strength, no matter what religion you believe in.
He had cousins and brothers enrolled in various schools of the University of North Carolina near Charlotte, the second-largest banking center in the United States.
TOM DIAZ: When Mohammed Hammoud and his cousins and others came to Charlotte, they immediately involved themselves in a cornucopia of criminal activity. We know from conversations with intelligence operatives that there was a discreet decision made “to flood the zone” in the United States, to send people like Mohammed Hammoud to do three things:
1) To raise funds, even though that is against federal law since 1996, and the designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in 1997.
2) To recruit sympathizers. There is a tremendous Lebanese diaspora, many of whom are Shi’a Muslims. Most of them are not interested in carrying that war beyond the shores, but those who are are the people that Mohammed Hammoud and others seek out to help support their operations.
3) To become operational.
They saw that there was a tremendous profit to be gained in smuggling cigarettes. People think of cigarette smuggling as a victimless, almost meritorious crime. With a five-cent-a-pack cigarette tax in North Carolina and something like $4.50 in Detroit, they were making millions of dollars smuggling cigarettes in vans.
Another member of the cell was a genius at credit card and bank fraud. He even got into some Internet pornography.
The common denominator of all of these criminal enterprises was the following: They don’t do violent crime, because that will attract the attention of the local police. They don’t do muggings, bank robberies. They don’t do high-profile kinds of fraud that would attract the attention of the federal officials. They try instead to do mid-level crime â€” very lucrative, often thought to be victimless.
They were getting away with it until Bob Clifford showed up in their lives.
BARBARA NEWMAN: At the headquarters of the FBI, he was the head of the terrorism branch. He said that nothing was happening; the FBI was just reactive, because it was the intelligence side; they were just watching what these guys did and making logs of it.
But at that time the Chinese wall existed, before the passage of the Patriot Act. The intelligence people couldn’t tell the criminal side if people they thought were terrorists were committing criminal acts. It was against Justice Department rules and regulations.
Clifford thought of ways to get around that. He himself busted about a hundred Hezbollah terrorists during the time he was at headquarters. He looked at who they were, and then decided to see if their visas were expired, what they were doing, and make life hell for them. He had the assent of John O’Neill, who was head of the terrorism branch at the time at headquarters. He later became the national security assistant director in New York, where he was killed at the World Trade Center.
Clifford then went down to Charlotte to look around. He had an informant, a member of the Lebanese community who came in and said, “I came to this country to benefit from America’s freedoms and liberties, and there are these other Lebanese who are using your system and making money out of it. Moreover, they are sending money to Hezbollah for its military operations. They have meetings every Thursday. They play al-Manar tapes” â€” al-Manar is the television station run by Hezbollah â€” “in which they extol the virtues of suicide bombers, and they fund-raise.”
Bob Clifford held a meeting of all of the federal agents in the Charlotte area. He told them, “Boys, you have a Hezbollah terrorist cell here.” He was laughed out of the room. He didn’t let that stop him.
TOM DIAZ: Bob Clifford was head of the Hezbollah-Iran unit in Headquarters FBI. He is an FBI agent who spent his entire career successfully chasing terrorists, after having been an intelligence officer with the Navy SEALs.
Clifford saw some very interesting things right here in New York City. There was a guy named Mohammed Gharib Makki who was engaged in insurance and wire fraud, but who also happened to be the leader of the Hezbollah cell.
They knew that there was a Hezbollah operative working in the airport in Boston. Because of the history of Hezbollah in aircraft hijackings in the early 1980s, the FBI was concerned when they learned that this guy was working at and had access to all of Logan Airport. They thought, at the very minimum, that they should talk to the airport security people. The agent dropped in and said, “We want you to know, because you are responsible for security, that you have a guy associated with this group which is well-known for aircraft hijackings and terrible hostage treatment.”
As it happened, the guy lost his job. The young agent who went to do the interview got an official FBI memorandum some months later, saying, “Dear Agent: This is to inform you that you have been cleared of any wrongdoing.” The guy was flabbergasted. He had no idea that he was under investigation. That little story illuminates the sort of atttitude that Bob Clifford ran into.
So when Clifford went to Charlotte, he had a problem. If Barbara was the criminal investigator and I was the intelligence investigator, because of the standing rules, I couldn’t say, “Hey, Barbara, here’s everything I know about these guys.” He had to tip her off. It would be as if one of you knew one of your colleagues was cheating on his taxes. You could call up the IRS and say, “Joe Smith is cheating on his taxes.” You could give that kind of tip. He tried it a few times. He knew they were dealing in stolen computers. The criminal investigators weren’t interested. He couldn’t give them enough detail.
Then he met another young agent, Rick Schwein, who had just come off of a huge motorcycle-gang trial and learned some very good things about the application of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations [RICO] Act in organizations. It was a marriage made in heaven. One night they were both working very late, in December, and they clicked.
BARBARA NEWMAN: You really have to understand their personalities. They had both gone through the most rigorous type of military training, where the dropout rate is about 80 percent. They are determined; they are tough and no-nonsense. Clifford is a “Sir, yes sir” type, and so is Rick Schwein. But I wouldn’t want to get on their bad side.
Facing them were the Lebanese groups. Where did they all meet and together? They all had jobs at Dominoes Pizza. They started nosing around. What is better? Cigarette smuggling; you make more money. So they recruited a lot of the Dominoes Pizza drivers to drive their illicit drugs. Then SaÃ¯d Harb, who Tom mentioned earlier, got involved. There wasn’t a crime around that he didn’t try to attach himself to.
Rick Schwein got into the case. He knew that they played soccer. One day he played soccer with them, and he noticed that Mohammed Hammoud and his buddies went off together, but SaÃ¯d Harb went off alone to a drinking place. Rick figured Harb was vulnerable and decided to key in on him. That turned out to be a very good choice, because Canadian intelligence caught him on their wires.
TOM DIAZ: One of the characteristics of Hezbollah is that it is clan, family, neighborhood. All these guys knew each other. SaÃ¯d Harb knew a guy named Mohammed Dbouk, who had been in and out of North America a couple of times and ended up in Canada.
The way SaÃ¯d Harb tells the story, he was dragged into this enterprise, although there are people who doubt that. He ended up sending money to Hezbollah people in Canada and going up there with world-class-quality false credit cards and identification documents.
What were they doing in Canada? They were going after what is called dual-use technology. Through SaÃ¯d Harb, and the Canadians they were getting advanced cell phones with sophisticated GPS capability that, according to weapons experts, could be used to set off bombs remotely.
As in some earlier cases in Detroit, in Dearborn, they were also going after technology that could be used for drones. Within the last couple of months, we have read about Hezbollah drones flying over Israel.
The CSIS [Canadian Security Intelligence Service] in Canada is more like an MI5 than an FBI or CIA. They were monitoring these people. But they were not breaking Canadian law, except for the criminal aspects which some of them were into. SaÃ¯d Harb lights up like a rocket. Here is a guy in the United States that is sending them money. So they inform the FBI through diplomatic channels.
They know SaÃ¯d Harb’s vulnerability. Now the FBI has the leverage, with the passage of the Material Support Act in the intervening period, to put the screws to him. Once they did their raids, they needed somebody to sing, because it would be a very hard case to prove.
There was a series of long negotiations back and forth between Washington and Charlotte and Canada. Imagine going to an intelligence service and saying, “Give us your transcripts and let us put them in the trial record.” They got the Canadians to agree to have a guy come down and read them. SaÃ¯d Harb’s lawyer realized the game was up and his guy could go to jail for a very long time.
BARBARA NEWMAN: CSIS does not keep the wires itself. It makes summaries. The assistant U.S. attorney, Ken Bell, heard about this case. Clifford came to him, with Rick Schwein, and said, “We want to talk to you about something involving national security,” and made him sign a nondisclosure form. They had the cigarette case all wrapped up, and were on the verge of transmitting it to Michigan, which had lost millions of dollars.
Then Bell heard about the intelligence aspect of it. He wanted to get the summaries in the record, get it admitted in the American court, and then have a Canadian intelligence person sit behind a screen and describe them.
It took a lot of negotiating with the Canadian intelligence. They wanted to know whether he thought he could get it admitted in the trial. He said, “Yes, we think we can.” Then he added: “If at any point you’re not comfortable with the way this is going, we’ll close it down.” That is what allowed them to work with us and to come to Washington.
They were afraid. That is why they were “behind the screen.” They weren’t undercover people. These were people who did the translations and the summaries of the wires. But they knew about Hezbollah. Mohammed Dbouk was the head of procurement in North America for Hezbollah. He was tasked by Beirut to procure specific equipment in Canada. At the time, Hezbollah was not listed as a terrorist organization in Canada.
TOM DIAZ: So the question is, was it only the Charlotte cell? The Charlotte cell has led to some other unravelings. In fact, even in New York, Hezbollah got involved with some Indian reservations in more cigarette smuggling.
Nobody gave us a list and said, “Here are the cities where Hezbollah is under investigation.” But by cross-checking with a number of sources, we found fourteen cities where we knew there were active investigations â€” although we had been told that there were at one time as many as a hundred investigations.
So this is not an exclusive list, but it’s what we have: Boston; New York; Newark; Atlanta; Miami-Fort Lauderdale; Tampa-St. Petersburg; Charlotte; Louisville; Detroit-Dearborn; Chicago; Houston; Los Angeles; San Francisco; and Portland.
People ask us, “What about my town?” They could be anywhere. There is a tremendous diaspora. I am very careful to say that most Lebanese in the United States are Lebanese Christians. They are not interested at all in Hezbollah, nor are most of the Lebanese Muslims. But there is no question that Hezbollah is sowing its seeds here and trying to fertilize, water, and create its noxious growth in the United States.
BARBARA NEWMAN: SaÃ¯d Harb made a deal with the U.S. attorney and the Bureau, and he turned state’s evidence. The price was that the government agreed to get his entire family out of Beirut and into Syria.
JOANNE MYERS: Thank you very much. We’ll open the floor to questions now.
Questions and Answers
QUESTION: Hezbollah has been able to bring over a half-a-million people to the streets recently. Will they enter the mainstream political movement in Lebanon? If so, will that lessen their interest in terrorism?
BARBARA NEWMAN: I don’t believe it will lessen their interest in terrorism, because these are dedicated, true believers. The opposition, the Cedar Revolution, which just had the million in the streets, is headed by politicians â€” Walid Jumblatt of the Druze, Amine Gemayel of the Maronites. These are people who have dealt with Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia. They are dealers; they are players.
Hezbollah is not a dealer. It won’t give up what it truly believes in. It is a significant power in Lebanon. It has between twelve and thirteen seats in the parliament now and a bloc that votes in the elections. It will not give up its ideology at all.
TOM DIAZ: Hezbollah has two patrons: Syria, which is problematic right now, and Iran. We try to think of a scenario where Hezbollah agrees to give up its pipeline â€“ we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars â€“ agrees to give up sponsoring terrorist cells in and around Israel, and agrees to be disarmed. It is very difficult to think of a scenario that has that actual result.
It is not hard to think of scenarios where the secretary-general of Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who is thought to be one of the cleverest and most capable leaders in the Middle East, plays the political chess game in a competent way. But it is hard to imagine Hezbollah giving up the eradication of the state of Israel, or the expulsion of the United States from any position of influence.
QUESTION: You mentioned the fundraising activities of Hezbollah in this country. The Holy Land Foundation and others have been somewhat closed down by the federal government. To what extent do you expect Hezbollah terrorists on American soil would turn active here in terms of violence?
What do you see as the role of the mosques in both supporting terrorist activities through Hezbollah in this country and fundraising?
BARBARA NEWMAN: The FBI has told us that the mosques play a very important role in fundraising for Hezbollah. They think that, if pushed to the wall, Hezbollah would become violent in the United States, and “pushed to the wall” means cutting out fundraising or a political move with Iran. They would not go to war over Syria, but Iran is a different story.
The president was apprised by national security people recently that Hezbollah was more dangerous than Al Qaeda. The problem is that we are stuck in Iraq. We are dealing with Hezbollah the way we dealt with the Taliban, trying to take the sting and bite out of them, because we don’t have too many options in terms of military availability, and Hezbollah knows that.
TOM DIAZ: Hezbollah knows that we know their address. What happened to the Taliban in Afghanistan was an object example to them.
But that is only a deterrent so long as they believe that the United States has both the will and the capability to engage them. The question is, given what is going on now in Iraq, do we still have that?
The direct answer to the question about who would push the button is that it would have to be a collegial decision or a condominium decision. It would certainly have to involve the government of Iran, unless they chose to do a “false flag” operation.
In the book we quote a few sentences from The 9/11 Commission Report, one of the most interesting of which is that we should review the possibility of Hezbollah’s having acted in the United States previously. When people ask, “Did they act?” I say that I don’t know of any specific act, other than the well-publicized threat of possibly a hit team going after President Clinton’s former national security adviser, Anthony Lake. They moved him into the Blair House across from the White House, because there was at least some credible evidence that there was a Hezbollah hit team after him.
If the decision were made, it would come from the very highest levels of Iran, possibly involving Syria and they would know that there would be consequences.
QUESTION: How do you feel about CIA and FBI employees writing books about their experiences?
TOM DIAZ: One of my good friends is a former senior official at the CIA, and has written a very highly classified personal memoir, which will never see the light of day. He is of the old school.
QUESTION: Could you comment on your impressions of the FBI’s ability to manage the situation in the United States? I don’t know how many Bob Cliffords there are, but let’s hope there are lots of them. We have heard so much criticism of the Bureau not being able to connect the dots before 9/11, people walking into their field offices telling them about flight schools training Arabs, et cetera. What is your confidence in the FBI? Are there enough people around who know now of Clifford’s success and drive so that others will be inspired to clamp down on this problem?
TOM DIAZ: It would be false for me to say the FBI has not had problems. But some of the biggest of the FBI’s problems were not of their making. Even before the political debate about the Chinese wall in the federal court of appeals that first threw it out, we had palpable evidence of how that hindered the FBI.
One of the problems that we need to be sensitive to for the FBI is that lots of institutional knowledge and ability is walking out the door, because these men and women who have devoted their lives to protecting their country are tired of being kicked around. Why wouldn’t they leave if they can get a job in the private sector that is more lucrative or remunerative, and doesn’t involve being criticized every day?
The people that we met in the FBI were very inspiring. The FBI understands what it has to do, but it will not happen overnight. Clifford is a unique person.
Institutions are composed of individuals. This is not a time in our history when people will put their jobs on the line for individual initiative in any intelligence outfit. But since 9/11 they have turned around. Now they are preemptive of terrorism activities â€” not just putting people under surveillance, but stopping them. It is a different ballgame.
There is a civil liberties debate that has to happen in America, because we don’t want to change our society in such a manner that the terrorists win no matter what. We interviewed Jim Kallstron, the assistant director of the New York office, who said, “I spent my entire career defending the U.S. Constitution, defending Americans’ civil liberties, and defending Americans from harm. I would be the last person to want to use the law to infringe Americans’ civil liberties.
“But if we have people poisoning our food supply, if we have a dirty bomb, if we have ten bombs going off between Washington and New York, then you will have such a popular demand for restrictions that it will make the Patriot Act look like a walk through a summer meadow.”
This is from a former senior official of the FBI, not grabbing for infringements of our rights, but sensitive to our need to protect ourselves, because if we don’t, people will want draconian measures.
QUESTION: It is my understanding that Hezbollah also has hospitals and hospices. Isn’t that one of the reasons that they are so popular? Maybe that is one of the places to start working on the solution.
BARBARA NEWMAN: They have hospitals, schools, charities. They are popular, and sometimes beyond the Shi’ite population. But Hamas has that, too. They have a political side, they have a charitable side, and they have a terrorist side. Nobody wants to close down hospitals and schools, and hurt people who are benefiting from them. Yet at the same time that they are helping people, they are also inculcating their ideology.
TOM DIAZ: Certainly on the question of fundraising â€” because Hezbollah’s leaders themselves have said this publicly â€” there is a concept of fungibility. If you give $5.00 to a terrorist organization that also happens to have a hospital or a fund for widows and orphans, it is entirely up to them how they spend that money.
Whether Hezbollah is a political organization with a terrorist wing or a terrorist organization with a political wing, the bottom line is that it is a terrorist organization with a proven global reach. It has very close ties with Iran. Many people describe it as Iran’s surrogate or contract terrorists.
QUESTION: First, with regard to whether they are a terrorist organization or a communal, social organization. There are hospitals, schools, many organizations in southern Lebanon. I have been there many times and I think if you were to talk to most of the people in the south, they very much look at it as a social organization. It is important to see where its base is, what it is providing in services. It definitely has a political arm. But to categorize it as a terrorist organization is not how the Middle East would see many of their services.
Secondly, you listed fourteen cities where you think there is activity and where there have been investigations. What are you defining as an investigation? What is anecdotal and what has been proven?
BARBARA NEWMAN: We did say that Hezbollah has a charitable side. It has schools, hospitals, and helps people, gives money â€” almost like former political organizations in the early days in the United States.
TOM DIAZ: We haven’t said that Hezbollah doesn’t do good works as a political organization. The question is, then, what do you say to the people that are blown up because of Hezbollah’s financing operations in the West Bank and in Gaza today, because Hezbollah has taken over many of the cells?
They are very popular in south Lebanon and in the Islamic world generally. Part of their popularity is because they are perceived â€” and in this case correctly â€” as having chased the United States out of Lebanon in 1983 and having forced Israel out. So their cachet is not just that of Little Sisters of the Flower or Mother Theresa. If Hezbollah tomorrow broke all of its ties with terrorism financing, turned over Imad Mughniyah and other fugitives from justice in Lebanon today who are wanted for horrific crimes against Americans, then I might say, okay, fine, it is not a terrorist organization.
As to the specifics, these are ongoing investigations and so nobody was willing to go into a lot of detail with us. But, for example, we learned about the Enfamil baby food scam in several cities. They are taking either expired baby food or real baby food and adulterating it to increase the volume, or just plain making up phony baby food and selling it through retailers. Law-enforcement people told us that this is being investigated around the United States.
Mid-level crime like cigarette smuggling, various forms of insurance fraud, counterfeiting of designer clothing and food stamp crimes are on-going.
What constitutes an investigation of an operative? It is not like the old days of the Red Squad, when you kicked in a door and there were a dozen people sitting around, reading Karl Marx. That is not how Hezbollah or any other modern Islamist terrorist organization works. It is much more fluid.
They are investigating people known to have links to Hezbollah, who are in the United States, and believed to be engaged in criminal activity.
Most Lebanese in the United States have no interest in being involved in any sort of terrorist activity. It is only a small group of people who are known to have come in through organized channels, who are of interest and concern to the FBI. Based on a substantial amount of documentation about the nature of the investigations, we were well-persuaded that the FBI has known about these people for some time.
The next logical question is why aren’t they prosecuting people? Partly because of Bob Clifford, they adopted a three-pronged strategy, which now is used in most terrorism-related activity in the United States. The first objective is to disrupt any possibility of activity. The second is deportation, because many of these people are in the United States illegally. The third possibility is prosecution. Not every case of successful disruption will see the light of day in a court, and some of the ones that make it into court just fly beneath the radar of the media.
JOANNE MYERS: Thank you both for a very engrossing discussion.