Why the CIA Killed Imad Mughniyeh

It was paying back a generation-old blood debt.

The CIA doesn’t assassinate often anymore, so when it does the agency picks its targets carefully. The story uncovered last weekend by the Washington Post and Newsweek the CIA’s reported role in the February 2008 assassination of Hezbollah master terrorist Imad Mughniyeh is the stuff of a Hollywood spy thriller. A team of CIA spotters in Damascus tracking a Hezbollah terrorist wanted for decades; a custom-made explosive shaped to kill only the target and placed in the spare tire of an SUV parked along the target’s route home; intelligence gathered by Israelis, paired with a bomb built and tested in North Carolina, taking out a man responsible for the deaths of more Americans than anyone else until 9/11.

And yet, while the ‘what,’ ‘where,’ ‘when’ and ‘how’ of the story shock and amaze, the ‘who’ should not. Most people—including Hezbollah—assumed it was the Israelis, acting alone, who killed Mughniyeh. The Israelis certainly had the motive, given Mughniyeh’s role in acts of terrorist targeting Israelis and Jews around the world, from infiltrating operatives into Israel and shooting rockets into Northern Israel, to terror attacks targeting Israeli diplomats and local Jewish communities in places like Buenos Aires. Speaking by video teleconference at Mughniyeh’s funeral in 2008, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah quickly threatened Israel with “open war” for the killing of Hajj Radwan (aka Mughniyeh).

But the CIA had motive too, and for the many within the agency—indeed, as a matter of institutional memory—the hunt for Imad Mughniyeh was personal. Mughniyeh was behind the 1983 bombing of the US embassy in Beirut, which took out the entire CIA station there as well as the visiting head of the agency’s Middle East analysis branch. (In fact, word of the CIA’s role in Mugniyeh’s killing first leaked in a biography of that officer, Robert Ames, by Kai Bird, published last year.) Mughniyeh reportedly planned the 1984 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks and watched the attack unfold through binoculars from the top of a nearby building. His hand touched Hezbollah plots from Germany to Kuwait and from Argentina to Thailand.

This bloody history alone would have placed Mughniyeh in a league of his own, but there was something else that made the hunt for Mughniyeh a deeply personal vendetta. There was a reason more than one CIA operative reportedly refused reassignments and passed up on promotions to remain on the Hezbollah account. His name was Bill Buckley.

Long before ISIL’s current kidnapping and hostage spree has swept up a media frenzy, Hezbollah originated the high-profile Middle East hostage crisis. Hezbollah’s kidnapping spree in Lebanon lasted almost a decade, and it was not always a straightforward business. Some kidnappings were carried out by Hezbollah factions or clans—each with its own alias—in an opportunistic fashion to secure, for example, the release of a jailed relative. Others involved poorly trained muscle to grab people off the streets; several people were kidnapped because they were mistaken for American or French citizens. Captors assigned to guard the Western prisoners were often “unsophisticated but fanatic Muslims,” as one captive put it. In contrast, the March 1984 abduction of CIA station chief William Buckley indicated careful target selection and operational surveillance, likely supported by Iranian intelligence. According to one account, some of the intelligence Hezbollah used to identify Buckley as the local CIA chief was provided by Iran based on materials seized during the US embassy takeover in Iran in 1979.

As for Buckley, he was sent to Beirut in 1983 to set up a new CIA station after the previous one had been decimated in the April US embassy bombing. His kidnapping was a devastating blow to the CIA. “Bill Buckley being taken basically closed down CIA intelligence activities in the country,” commented one senior CIA official. But the CIA had adequate sources to determine within six months that Hezbollah was holding Buckley. For CIA director William Casey, finding Buckley was an absolute priority, the CIA official added. “It drove him almost to the ends of the earth to find ways of getting Buckley back, to deal with anyone in any form, in any shape, in any way, to get Buckley back. He failed at that, but it was a driving motivation in Iran-Contra,” the official said. “We even dealt with the devil . . . the Iranians, who sponsored Hezbollah, who sponsored the kidnapping and eventual murder of Bill Buckley.”

Frustrated with its inability to achieve its goals through hijackings and kidnappings, Hezbollah sent pictures of six hostages to several Beirut newspapers in May 1985. “All of the hostages in the photographs looked fairly healthy,” the CIA noted, “except U.S. embassy political officer Buckley who has been held longer than any of the others.”

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Growing Hezbollah Presence in Southwest U.S.

Hezbollah’s ‘business relationship’ with Mexican drug cartels is a driving force behind this phenomenon.

Hezbollah - LevittBY RYAN MAURO:

Terrorism expert Matthew Levitt writes that an increasing number of U.S. prison inmates have tattoos that are pro-Hezbollah or are in Farsi, the language spoken in Iran. The claim is made in Levitt’s new book, Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God.

“Law enforcement officials across the Southwest are reporting a rise in imprisoned gang members with Farsi tattoos” and some express loyalty to Hezbollah.

His book includes an eye-opening quote from another official: “You could almost pick your city and you would probably have a [Hezbollah] presence.”

Hezbollah’s business relationship with Mexican drug cartels is seen as a driving force behind the phenomenon.

In 2009, Michael Braun, former Chief of Operations for the Drug Enforcement Agency, said that Hezbollah uses “the same criminal weapons smugglers, document traffickers and transportation experts as the drug cartels.”

In April 2010, an individual named Jamal Yousef was apprehended in New York City. During interrogation, he admitted to stealing weapons from Iraq for Hezbollah. Yousef alone knew of a Hezbollah stockpile in Mexico that included 100 M-16 assault rifles, 100 AR-15 rifles, 2500 hand grenades, C4 explosives and anti-tank weapons.

An actual member of Hezbollah was captured in Tijuana in July 2010. His arrest was the smoking gun proof that Hezbollah is investing in building a network in Mexico.

Read more at The Clarion Fund

 

The following clip, “Radical Islamic Recruitment Inside U.S. Prisons” is from The Clarion Project film, The Third Jihad:

 

Book Review: ‘Hezbollah,’ by Matthew Levitt

Law enforcers in the U.S. Southwest report a rise in gang members with Persian tattoos, including some with Hezbollah imagery

OB-ZE805_bkrvhe_DV_20131007163105By Michael J. Totten:

Until 9/11, no terrorist organization had killed more Americans than Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group: From the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, which killed 241 Marines, to the 1996 detonation of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 U.S. airmen, Hezbollah’s anti-American curriculum vitae was long and bloody. Today it remains an efficient global terror operation, having executed bombings on four continents, built a presence on six and even branched out to drug trafficking.

Despite this record, Hezbollah (the “Party of God” in Arabic) is still viewed in some quarters as little more than a parochial Lebanese political party with an armed wing charged solely with resisting an Israeli occupation that ended 13 years ago, on May 25, 2000. It’s this myth that Matthew Levitt explodes in “Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God.” The author, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former FBI counterterrorism analyst, narrates the full history of the organization in absorbing detail with an emphasis on its 30-year history of terrorism. While scholarly in tone and approach, Mr. Levitt’s book delivers suspenseful and even terrifying blow-by-blow accounts of the most infamous of Hezbollah’s attacks. He can’t dramatize all of them, though, because there are too many—far more than most people realize, because until now no one had bothered to document them in one place.

Hezbollah traces its origins to Iran’s 1979 revolution. The mullahs knew that unless they aggressively exported their theocratic ideology after the revolution, Iran risked becoming, in the words of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, just “an ordinary country.” So the regime created Hezbollah as the overseas branch of its own Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—the tip of an Iranian imperial spear.

The group first coalesced in 1982 in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, as a loose confederation of Shia Islamist cells under various names. By the mid-1980s it had become a more formal organization. Lebanon, with its large Shia population, was the perfect place for Tehran to export its revolution, and the early 1980s, in the midst of civil war and Israeli occupation, was the perfect time.

Hezbollah cut its teeth in Beirut, first by destroying the U.S. Embassy in 1983, then by deploying suicide truck bombers simultaneously against American Marines and French soldiers on peacekeeping missions in October of the same year. “The Marine barracks bombing,” Mr. Levitt writes, “was not only the deadliest terrorist attack then to have targeted Americans, it was also the single-largest non-nuclear explosion on earth since World War II.”

Read more at WSJ

Elaborate surveillance operation raises concerns about broader Hezbollah attacks

AFP/AFP/GETTY IMAGES -  A truck carries the bus damaged by the suicide bomb blast which targeted a group of Israeli tourists in Bourgas, Bulgaria, on July 19, 2012.

AFP/AFP/GETTY IMAGES – A truck carries the bus damaged by the suicide bomb blast which targeted a group of Israeli tourists in Bourgas, Bulgaria, on July 19, 2012.

By :

The Israeli tourists on Arkia Airlines Flight 161 from Tel Aviv could not have known it, but their arrival in Cyprus July 6 was watched closely. A pair of trained eyes counted each passenger as the group exited the plane and boarded a shuttle, headed for resorts that had also been carefully studied and mapped.

The bearded foreigner who silently tracked the Israelis had done his work well. He knew where the visitors would sleep, shop and eat. He knew how many security guards patrolled their hotel parking lots and how long it would take police to arrive from the station down the street.

But the watcher was being watched. When Cypriot police picked him up, the Hezbollah operative quickly acknowledged what he was doing, although he claimed not to know why.

“I was just collecting information about the Jews,” he told police, according to a sworn deposition. “This is what my organization is doing, everywhere in the world.”

The arrest of Hossam Yaakoub, a Lebanese-born Swedish citizen, on July 7 was all but forgotten 11 days later when a bus containing another group of vacationing Israelis was blown up in the Bulgarianresort city of Burgas . The attack, which killed five Israelis and a Bulgarian bus driver, was quickly blamed on Hezbollah.

Now, seven months after that attack, new details emerging in Yaakoub’s case are providing chilling insights into what investigators describe as a far broader effort by the Lebanon-based militant group to lay the groundwork for killing Israeli citizens and perhaps others in multiple countries.

Some details have come from Yaakoub himself, who made his first public appearance last week during his trial in Cyprus. But a much fuller account comes from legal documents summarizing the Swedish man’s statements to police during weeks of questioning last summer and obtained by The Washington Post.

The evidence echoes discoveries by investigators in Bulgaria and prosecutors in Thailand, India, Azerbaijan, Kenya and other countries hit by a wave of attempted assassinations and bombings linked to Hezbollah or its chief sponsor, Iran. U.S. officials characterize the plots as part of a shadow war directed by Iran in part to retaliate for Western efforts to derail Iran’s nuclear program. Evidence uncovered by investigators portrays a professional, well-funded effort by Hezbollah to recruit, train and position European-based operatives for what U.S. analysts describe as preparations for future terrorist operations.

‘Calculated tradecraft’

While most of the attacks were thwarted or failed, the accumulated intelligence shows that Hezbollah is learning from its mistakes, employing the tactics of professional intelligence operatives to cover its tracks and expanding its threat, according to current and former U.S. officials, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing nature of the inquiries.

“In the beginning, they clearly emphasized speed over tradecraft,” said Matthew Levitt, a former counterterrorism official with the FBI and Treasury Department and author of the forthcoming book “Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God.” Ananalysis of the more recent plots shows a shift in tactics, said Levitt, who said the Cyprus case in particular “underscores a very patient, careful and calculated tradecraft.”

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Europe’s Hezbollah Dilemma

hezby MARK  SILVERBERG:

The long-awaited results of the Bulgarian investigation into the Burgas  terrorist bombing last July 18th  has placed enormous pressure  on the European  Union to proscribe Hezbollah as a terrorist organization – a classification  repeatedly called for by the US, Canada and Israel, but so far rejected by EU member states except the  Netherlands.

Hezbollah’s involvement in the Burgas tragedy should make European leaders  rethink the standard excuses they have made to rationalize their lack of action  against Hezbollah. One often-quoted EU excuse maintains that since Hezbollah in  Lebanon has both a military aspect and a political/social aspect, clamping down  on the former would cripple the latter and destabilize the Hezbollah-dominated  government of the country.

While this hair splitting gives Hezbollah the wiggle room it needs to carry  on its nefarious activities in Europe, the argument has no validity given that the EU’s terror list already includes Hamas, which won the  Palestinian legislative elections in 2006, as well as the Communist Party of the  Philippines, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and other radical organizations  that are involved in their countries’ political systems. And given that the EU  has already sanctioned individuals and entities “responsible for the violent  repression against the civilian population in Syria”, there is no logical reason  to exclude Hezbollah as it clearly falls into this category given its continuing  support of the Assad regime.

This argument is especially vacuous given that Hezbollah’s second-in-command  Naim Qassem has already rejected the British separation of his organization into  political and military wings. Qassem told the Los Angeles Times in  2009: “The same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work  (in Lebanon) also leads jihad actions in the struggle against  Israel.”

Stripping away all this double-speak, EU member states, most notably France  and Germany, fear that proscribing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization could  potentially lead to the activation of Hezbollah terror cells across the  continent. According to Matthew Levitt, the Director of the Washington Institute  for Near East Policy’s counterterrorism and intelligence program, the Europeans  are afraid to stir up a hornet’s nest. “Hezbollah” he writes, “is not very  active in Europe and the Europeans feel that if you poke Hezbollah or Iran in  the eye, they will do the same to you. If you leave them alone, then maybe they  will leave you alone.”

France is particularly apprehensive given the exposure of its UNIFIL forces  in Lebanon to Hezbollah fire, and it is even more concerned that designating  Hezbollah as a terrorist organization would, once again, bring  Hezbollah/Iranian-directed terrorism back to its streets.

Read more at Family Security Matters

Mark Silverberg is an attorney with a  Masters Degree in Political Science and International Relations from the  University of Manitoba, Canada. A former member of the Canadian Justice  Department and a past Director of the Canadian Jewish Congress (Western Office)  based in Vancouver, he served as a Consultant to the Secretary General of the  Jewish Agency in Jerusalem during the first Palestinian intifada. He is a member  of Hadassah’s National Academic Advisory Board, a foreign policy analyst with  the Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel) and the International Analyst  Network (U.S.), and has been interviewed on Israel National Radio as an  authority on American foreign policy in the Middle East. His editorials and  articles on Middle East affairs have appeared in the NATIV Journal of the Ariel  Center for Policy Research (Israel), Israel Insider, the Conservative Voice,  Family Security Matters, Israel Unity Coalition, The Intelligence Summit,  Midstream and Outpost magazines and Arutz Sheva (Israel National News). He has  lectured extensively on subjects of counterterrorism, jihadism, homeland  security issues and intelligence matters and is a Featured Writer with the New  Media Journal (Chicago). He is the author of “The Quartermasters of Terror:  Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamic Jihad (Wyndham Hall Press, 2005). His  articles and book have been archived under http://www.marksilverberg.com/.