In late-April, the Obama administration blacklisted two Lebanese money exchanges for allegedly facilitating Hezbollah’s use of narcotics trafficking profits to fund terrorist activities. In an email interview, Matthew Levitt, director of the Stein program on counterterrorism and intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of the forthcoming “Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon's Party of God,” explained the broad range of Hezbollah’s illicit activities and the growing savvy of its criminal network.
WPR: What are Hezbollah's main illicit business activities, and where is it most active?
Matthew Levitt: Hezbollah is engaged in an amazingly broad array of illicit activities, from counterfeiting currencies, documents and goods to credit card fraud, money laundering, arms smuggling and narcotics trafficking. Hezbollah, one investigator quipped, is like the “Gambinos on steroids.” In 2002, Hezbollah operatives in North Carolina were convicted for smuggling cigarettes across state lines and sending some of their profits back to their commanders in Lebanon. In 2009, 10 individuals in Philadelphia were charged with conspiring to provide material support for Hezbollah through trafficking stolen laptop computers, passports, Sony PlayStation 2 systems and automobiles. In October 2011, a group of businessmen pled guilty to attempting to ship electronics to a shopping center in South America that the U.S. Treasury Department had designated as a Hezbollah front.