Fear Mongerer in Chief: Rep. Peter King Hypes Alleged Hezbollah Presence in US
Representative Peter King (R-NY) knows of a new threat to US homeland security: the presence of “hundreds” of Iranian-backed Hezbollah operatives inside the US who could be used to commit terrorism.
King held a House Committee on Homeland Security hearing yesterday on “Iran, Hezbollah, and the Threat to the Homeland.”
“As Iran moves closer to nuclear weapons, and there is increasing concern over war between Iran and Israel, we must also focus on Iran’s secret operatives, and their number one terrorist proxy force, Hezbollah, which we know is in America,” said King.
It sounds alarming, but King’s hearing was more about stoking fear than about an actual threat. King has become the nation’s leading fear mongerer, holding hearings that solely focus on the threat of Islamist terrorism while ignoring the threat from, say, right-wing extremists.
King’s star witness was Mitchell Sibler, the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) intelligence analysis director. Sibler made headlines when he disclosed that “authorities have interviewed at least 13 people since 2005 with ties to Iran's government who were seen taking pictures of New York City landmarks,” as an Associated Press report noted.
It should be remembered that Sibler has an interest in inflating the threat of terror to New York, as his police department has been harshly criticized for a massive spy operation targeting the Muslim community. In 2006, an internal police memo directed the NYPD to ramp up its surveillance of Shi’a mosques in the Northeast to collect intelligence on potential Iranian threats. The memo, according to an Associated Press investigation, shows that the NYPD spied on people “based solely on their religion.”
The AP report on yesterday’s King hearing closes with this important fact: “Government officials have said there are no known or specific threats indicating Iranian plans to attack inside the U.S.”
Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson (MS) voiced concerns over the hearing, as the Huffington Post reported:
Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said he was concerned that the testimony he was about to hear was based on outdated information and not current intelligence. He noted that "no current federal officials" were asked to testify on Wednesday.
"A word of caution is in order," Thompson said. "When we examine our relationship with another country, we cannot look at any particular moment in time and pretend that it tells the whole story. We cannot view the politics, history and culture of any other country clearly by seeing a snapshot version."
Referencing Clapper's earlier testimony, Thompson said the director of national intelligence should be called in for a classified hearing, but added, "We should not engage in a public discussion that creates fear and delivers misinformation."
What’s more, the evidence that King presented to show the Hezbollah presence in the US is anything but rock solid. Award-winning blogger Marcy Wheeler casts doubt on aspects of a report that King submitted as part of the hearing:
More interesting still is the list of “US cases involving Hezbollah,” a list of 19 federal cases. One of the cases is the Scary Car Broker plot, in which the US-based business owners are not alleged to have known of any tie to Hezbollah (if, in fact, one exists).
Even worse, it includes US v. Chahine, the case against Nada Prouty’s brother-in-law Talal Chahine.
The government never accused Chahine of any ties to Hezbollah–not in any legal forum where they’d have to prove their case. Rather, they accused him (and got a guilty plea from Prouty’s sister) of tax evasion. While the tax evasion case was valid, the entire case derived from Prouty’s brother Fadi’s efforts to dig up a crime that would justify his service as an informant, which he was doing to beat his own weapons charges. That is, as so often happens, this was an instance of FBI trading one criminal charge for the hope of netting a terrorist. Along the way, Fadi convinced Chahine not to go clean on his tax evasion, presumably at the direction of the FBI. Ultimately, the only tie between Chahine and Hezbollah consisted of a radical cleric’s presence at a charity event benefiting orphans to which Chahine had donated And, as Prouty lays out, a 4-year investigation into Chahine never showed any ties to terrorism.
The claims of Hezbollah infiltration in the US sound similar to the overhyped claims that Hezbollah has a presence in Latin America. As PolitiFact stated after a GOP presidential debate that featured talk of Hezbollah in Latin America, support for that claim is “pretty flimsy.” King’s hearings don’t appear to rest on any more support.