Matthew Levitt is the Fromer-Wexler Fellow and director of the Reinhard Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at The Washington Institute.
Articles & Testimony
Listen to the new season of a podcast series shining a bright light on the global terrorist and criminal activities that Lebanese Hezbollah would rather keep hidden from view.
Lebanese Hezbollah goes to great lengths to publicize its overt, social, and political activities and to conceal its covert terrorist, militant, and criminal pursuits. In the words of one operative, Hezbollah's "Golden Rule" is this: The Less You Know, the Better.
In this podcast, terrorism scholar Matthew Levitt sets out to break this rule by shining a bright spotlight on Hezbollah's global terrorist and criminal activities. Levitt has been following Lebanese Hezbollah for almost three decades in and out of government. He's written books, given expert testimony, and literally mapped Hezbollah's worldwide illicit activities in an online interactive map and timeline.
Listen as Levitt tracks Hezbollah's evolution over the years and its operations across the globe from Thailand to Azerbaijan, West Africa to the Gulf, then on to the U.S. and back to Lebanon. This season will explore new locations, dive deeper into the group’s modus operandi, examine Hezbollah’s digital footprint, and expose the group’s assassination unit – responsible for the murder of Lebanese, politicians, security officials, and intellectuals. Along the way, Levitt will speak with law enforcement officers, intelligence agents, government officials, and world-class experts from around the globe, each of whom has first-person experience confronting Hezbollah and uncovering things the group would much prefer nobody ever heard about.
Preview Season 2 of Breaking Hezbollah's Golden Rule, a podcast series devoted to shining a bright light on the global terrorist and criminal activities that Lebanese Hezbollah would much prefer to keep quiet. Coming soon to your favorite podcatcher.
Episode 1: Risky Business in South America
Earlier this month, the U.S. Treasury Department designated Hezbollah operative Amer Mohamed Akil Rada for coordinating the activities of various commercial enterprises for Hezbollah, including charcoal exports from Colombia to Lebanon. Rada previously helped case targets for Hezbollah around South America and was a member of the Hezbollah operational squad that carried out the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Here’s the backstory on Rada, recorded prior to the Treasury designation, and more on Hezbollah’s use of front companies to hide its criminal and terrorist activities in the Western Hemisphere.
An innocent looking hit-and-run accident in downtown Bangkok in 1994 uncovered a sophisticated Hezbollah network in Thailand, an attempt to target the Israeli embassy there, and a decomposing body hidden in a vat full of chemical explosives. Two decades later, a new string of Hezbollah and Iranian-directed plots in Thailand cropped up, this time involving operatives hiding explosives in bags marked as “cat litter,” signing up for flower arrangement classes as cover for travel to Bangkok, and bulk buying bottles of nail polish remover for reasons having nothing to do with makeup.
Featuring guests Col. Sakdawut ”Josh” Smanbut, superintendent, Special Branch, Royal Thai Police, and Oded Ailam, former deputy head of global operations, Mossad.
Episode 3: "A Jumble of Overlapping Plots" in Baku
Episode releasing October 11.
In 2008, Azerbaijani authorities thwarted a Hezbollah plot to target an Israeli Independence Day celebration and kidnap the Israeli ambassador in Baku. Two Hezbollah operatives were arrested, tried, and convicted, but the group was not deterred by this setback. By 2011, Hezbollah and Iran had formulated “a jumble of overlapping plots” that officials discovered to be part of a coordinated campaign to assassinate foreign diplomats in at least seven countries, including in Azerbaijan.
Featuring guests Zohar Palti, former counterterrorism chief, Mossad; Mahammad Mammadov, research fellow, Topchubashov Center; Amb. Arthur Lenk, former Israeli envoy to Azerbaijan; and Joby Warrick, investigative journalist, The Washington Post.
Episode 4: Blood Diamonds, Picassos, and Illicit Financing in Africa
Episode releasing October 18.
Diamonds are an excellent way to smuggle and launder money - they’re very liquid, can’t be sniffed out by dogs, don’t set off metal detectors, and are easy to conceal. Similarly, illicit funds can be laundered and stored by investing in artwork. These luxury items link Hezbollah headquarters in Beirut to the blood diamond trade in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, art galleries in Côte d’Ivoire, and illicit business activities in South Africa.
Featuring guests Joseph Palazzo, federal prosecutor, U.S. Justice Department, and Nathan Sales, former counterterrorism coordinator, U.S. State Department.
Episode 5: Hezbollah's Digital Footprint
Episode releasing October 25.
40 years ago this week, Hezbollah blew up the barracks of U.S. Marine and French military peacekeepers in Beirut, killing about 300 people. The group continues to carry out attacks, but has developed the means to complement and support these real-life operations through online activities. Hezbollah was one of the first non-state actors to build up a digital presence to conduct cyber operations against its enemies. The group also uses some unconventional means to recruit and radicalize followers and engages in cyber attacks and sleuthing targeting its enemies. Today, Hezbollah even produces its own first-person shooter video games in which gamers kill Israeli soldiers to promote its vision of the world to impressionable youth. This week, we shine our spotlight on Hezbollah’s digital footprint.
Featuring guests Galen Lamphere-Englund, co-founder, Extremism and Gaming Research Network; Alma Keshavarz, official, U.S. Cyber Command; and Douglas London, former official, Clandestine Service, CIA.
Episode 6: Sleeper Cells and Surveillance in the U.S.
Episode releasing November 1.
In 2017, two Hezbollah operatives were arrested on the same day for conducting independent surveillance operations on U.S. targets across the country. A third was arrested in July 2019 for taking pictures of a number of high-profile U.S. landmarks and communicating this information back to Beirut through his Hezbollah handlers. These three cases received a lot of media attention. A fourth didn’t, despite one operative’s efforts to stockpile bomb-making materials…in Houston, Texas.
Featuring guests Russell “Rusty” Rosenthal, former special agent, FBI, and Seamus Hughes, senior research faculty member, National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology, and Education Center (NCITE) at the University of Nebraska.
Episode 7: Operations and Illicit Finance in the Gulf
Episode releasing November 8.
Two Hezbollah financiers based in Qatar secretly raised tens of millions of dollars for Hezbollah through banks and cash couriers. The operatives leveraged family connections and utilized a complex web of bank accounts and real estate projects across several Gulf countries to funnel large sums of money back to Lebanon. Hezbollah has a long history of carrying out attacks in the Gulf, but it also sees the region as a lucrative place for raising illicit funds to finance the group. Gulf states have taken notice, and more recently taken action targeting Hezbollah financing in the region.
Featuring guests Nathan Sales, former counterterrorism coordinator, U.S. State Department, and Marshall Billingslea, former assistant secretary for terrorist financing, U.S. Treasury Department.
Episode 8: Hezbollah Assassinations Unit 121
Episode releasing November 15.
Hezbollah buys grassroots support in Lebanon where and when it can, but the group turns to intimidation and even murder when a vocal opponent can’t be bought. Hezbollah’s elite, highly-secretive Unit 121 is the group’s death squad, which carries out assassinations of Lebanese politicians, military and law enforcement officers, and intellectuals who oppose the group’s illicit activities. This is no rogue unit–officials say Unit 121 operates under the direct orders of senior Hezbollah leadership.
Featuring guests Monika Borgmann, German-Lebanese journalist and documentarian; David Schenker, former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, U.S. State Department; and Joby Warrick, investigative journalist, The Washington Post.