President Obama’s controversial release last year of seven prisoners with ties to Iran was presented as a good will gesture linked to the larger nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic, but a new report claims some of those released were deemed threats to national security.
The agreement which freed the U.S. prisoners was part of a flurry of related deals that unfroze more than $100 billion in Iranian assets and brought home five Americans held by Tehran. But Politico, in an exhaustive report, claims there was more to what President Obama presented as a “one-time gesture” of releasing prisoners described as businessmen convicted of or awaiting trial for mere “sanctions-related offenses, violations of the trade embargo.”
“In reality, some of them were accused by Obama’s own Justice Department of posing threats to national security,” Politico reported.
Three of those released by the U.S. allegedly helped supply Iran with U.S.-made technology used in surface-to-air and cruise missiles, Politico reported. Another freed by the Obama administration was an aerospace engineer serving an eight-year term for conspiring to supply Iran with satellite technology. As part of the deal, U.S. prosecutors dropped their demand for $10 million he received from Tehran, the publication reported.
The Obama Justice Department also quietly dropped charges against 14 other Iranian fugitives, saying it had determined extradition would be unlikely, Politico reported. Some were linked to Hezbollah, another was charged with trying to buy thousands of assault rifles to illegally import to Iran and still others were suspected of providing Iran with high-tech components for IEDs used to kill Americans in Iraq and equipment used to enrich uranium.
“They didn’t just dismiss a bunch of innocent business guys,” one former federal law enforcement supervisor told Politco. “And then they didn’t give a full story of it.
“Of course it pissed people off, but it’s more significant that these guys were freed, and that people were killed because of the actions of one of them,” the supervisor added.
The solicitous attitude toward Iran is not likely to continue under the Trump administration. Last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said “alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence, destabilizing more than one country at a time” have prompted a government-wide review of policy regarding Iran. Trump himself said of Iran and the deal Obama made with it, “they are not living up to the spirit of it, I can tell you that. And we’re analyzing it very, very carefully, and we’ll have something to say about that in the not-too-distant future.”
The report also charged that federal prosecutors and investigators who had worked for years on the sensitive national security cases were not told the subjects of the investigations were being used as bargaining chips.
“This has erased literally years — many years — of hard work, and important cases that can be used to build toward other cases and even bigger players in Iran’s nuclear and conventional weapons programs,” said former Justice Department counterproliferation prosecutor David Locke Hall. “Even though these men’s crimes posed a direct threat to U.S. national security, the [Obama] administration has essentially told them their efforts have produced nothing more than political capital that can be traded away when politically expedient.”