Mr. Robert Baer was a C.I.A. case officer and field agent assigned to the Middle East, Beirut, Damascus, Morocco, Iraq, and France. He served with the CIA for 21 years. The investigative journalist Seymour Hirsch once described Baer as the best case officer in the Middle East. Mr. Baer has lectured at the Justice Department and the FBI about Hezbollah. He has also lectured at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Hezbollah (where Matthew Levitt was and is employed), and he found them to be remarkably uninformed. Mr. Baer serves as a consultant to the U.N.’s commission investigating the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Unlike Mr. Levitt, Mr. Baer speaks Arabic, spent years in Lebanon, and devoted significant portions of his 21 years in the C.I.A. and the years thereafter studying Lebanon and Hezbollah.
Mr. Baer testified at Mohamad’s re-sentencing pursuant to a subpoena and was not paid a witness fee. Conversely, Mr. Levitt was paid $25,000 for his testimony.
Mr. Baer testified that he would be very concerned about anyone offering conclusions about Hezbollah or individuals within Hezbollah who does not speak Arabic, has never been in Lebanon, and had never met with Hezbollah. As Baer said, “It’s like the chance of me being an expert on Chinese and not speaking Mandarin or never having been to China.” Levitt claimed to rely only on “public source” information. Baer testified that during the 30 years he has been following Hezbollah, he had yet to see anything “remotely reliable that appeared in the press or from foreign governments.”
In reference to the government’s trial expert Levitt, Baer testified to the obvious, it is essential when assessing the reliability of an expert to know whether the individual is a supporter of Israel. Asked whether he has faith in intelligence data provided by Israeli intelligence, Baer pointed out that: “they had a dog in a fight…” He concluded:
- [b]ut like any good propaganda, if you need to, you know, influence in other countries’ policy, you skew the intelligence.
- And did you find examples of that with Israel?
- On Iran all the time, yeah.
- How about on Hezbollah?
- On Hezbollah as well. Yes.
Additionally, other evidence proved Levitt has a significant, undisclosed pro-Israel bias that renders him unfit to testify against a defendant accused of supporting Hezbollah.
The Social Services and Military Distinctions within Hezbollah
Mr. Baer testified that to understand Hezbollah, it is necessary to understand that there are two distinct elements—the political/social services wing (including the people who run the hospitals and orphanages), and the military wing. Baer emphasized that the political/social services wing and the military wing are completely separate.
The military wing is the most effective and secretive organization he’s found. He said, “[t]hese people are more secretive than any terrorists organization I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been after al Qaeda, Abu Nidal. Their technical abilities are unequal to any. But mainly it was compartmentalization. They compartmented everything.” Mr. Baer testified that the compartmentalization extended to funding. The source of funding for Hezbollah’s military wing is Iran. He has never known of the military wing to go abroad to the U.S. for funding. In Baer’s experience, Levitt’s testimony that the military wing of Hezbollah was dependent upon money raised in the United States is untrue:
- “They simply cannot run the risk of a chain of collecting money for a particular operation. Remember, they are fighting the best military, and I say this without reservation when it comes to this kind of warfare, the IDF, the Israeli military. They [Hezbollah] know their [the IDF] capabilities of intercepting bank transfers, telephone calls. There’s no phone calling to southern Lebanon or Beirut the Israelis-international call that they don’t intercept. So what Iran has done was carry bags of money to Beirut, hand it over to the military command, and that’s where the accounting ended.”
In contrast, money is frequently contributed to the social services function of Hezbollah from all over the world, including the United States. That obligation pre-dates the existence of Hezbollah and is a tradition of Hezbollah and is a tradition in Islam The Zakah.
Hammoud and Sayyid Fadlallah
At the trial and on appeal, the government made much of the claim based on Levitt’s testimony, that only a senior Hezbollah representative could make direct contact to “Sheikh” Fadlallah and argued that Mohamad had testified at trial that he could get “Sheikh” Fadlallah on the phone, proving he was a senior Hezbollah operative. In fact the government has consistently misstated Mohamad’s testimony. Mohamad testified that he could call Fadlallah’s office, get an assistant, and get information
Expert testimony demonstrates the Government’s argument is monstrously wrong.
Mr. Baer testified that he knew Fadlallah personally, had met with him on multiple occasions, and wrote the obituary of Fadlallah published in Time magazine. He confirmed that Fadlallah was not difficult to reach in person. Mr. Baer testified that he still had Fadlallah’s phone number saved in his cell phone. Any Lebanese Shia could reach out to Fadlallah’s offices for opinions or advice. Fadlallah had a “huge” community organization to field these types of calls.
Additionally Baer confirmed that Fadlallah was not the supreme spiritual leader of Hezbollah; moreover, the Iranians viewed Fadlallah “as an obstacle to Hezbollah’s dominance of Lebanese Shi’as.”
Hammoud and the Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah
At the first sentencing, the government argued that Mohamad knows Mr. Hassan Nasrallah in some way, proving he was a senior member of Hezbollah.
Mr. Levitt testified that in his opinion of a photograph of Mohamad kissing the cheek of a bearded man is a picture of the young Mohamad in a group with Nasrallah. Mr. Baer, having studied Hezbollah and Nasrallah for 30 years, could not identify the individual in the photographs as Nasrallah; he concluded that there are simply not enough visible facial features to make the determination (see picture). The government’s argument based on this picture lacks common sense. Assuming for the sake of argument that Mohamad were a “member” of Hezbollah, it is the equivalent of arguing that a junior Democratic campaign worker must be a senior Democratic operative because he admires Barack Obama and has had the opportunity to shake Obama’s hand from the crowd at a rally.
At the first sentencing, the government relied heavily on Mohamad’s possession of videotapes to argue Mohamad did not just support Hezbollah generally, he supported acts of terrorism. Mr. Baer made clear that the possession of vide tapes produced by Hezbollah, including the speeches of Hassan Nasrallah, tells one nothing about whether the individual possessing those tapes is a member of Hezbollah or supports terrorism. Mr. Baer testified that such videos, tapes, and pictures would be in Shi’a Muslim homes all over the world and would indicate nothing about any terrorism intent.
The Incongruity of the Means and Methods of Hezbollah Operatives Contrasted with Mohamad’s Behavior.
Mr. Baer testified, if Hezbollah sent operatives to the United States, their terrorist wing is largely under a Christian cover. They take easily obtained passports in Lebanon and put them in a Christian name to avoid suspicion. They find the mosques are magnets for attention from the police, so they avoid mosques and other displays of Islamic faith. Also, Hezbollah operatives maintain their cover well. In his newly published book, Mr. Levitt contradicted his trial testimony and agreed with Mr. Baer.
Mr. Baer added that Hezbollah operatives stay away from criminal activities. “I can’t emphasize how good these people are. They are better than the Mosad. They are better than the CIA. They are better than the FBI in terms of keeping secrets.” Criminal activity attracts police and other attention, which these operatives would avoid.
The government had argued at sentencing that Hammoud’s dozens of calls with Harake from the U.S. were evidence Hammoud was affiliated with the military wing of Hezbollah. Asked if he had ever come across evidence that a military commander had spoken to anyone in the United States on the telephone to give instructions, Baer was incredulous:
“In 30 years I’ve never seen anybody that used the phone. I mean, you realize that Hezbollah military has gone to fiber-optic communications to—and they did this in the 90’s, simply to forever stay off phones. They spent a lot of money on it.”Baer testified that in his experience, a member of Hezbollah in the United States would not conduct a prayer meeting in his house and ask for a donation.