Yevgeniy Nikulin, a Russian hacker wanted in the U.S. for hacking private firms, was arrested in Prague last October. The U.S. has requested his extradition, suspecting he has information on Russian government hacking. With Russian hackers so much in the news, there will be close attention to this case, but Prague denied an extradition request last year, causing serious damage to American interests.
In February 2016, the Czech government refused to extradite a Lebanese-born terrorist arrested in a DEA sting in Prague. Ali Fayyad, a former associate of notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, was the connection for illicit arms, drugs, and money laundering between Hezbollah, ISIS, and South American Marxist rebels and drug cartels. He had plotted the assassination of U.S. officials, and his release enraged some U.S. officials and strained U.S.-Czech relations.
Congressman Chris Stewart of the House Intelligence Committee called for targeted sanctions on Czech officials involved in Fayyad’s release. “Mr. Fayyad is likely to continue plotting to harm the U.S., and his release is not a simple oversight that we should ignore.”
Although the Czech government approved extradition, Justice Minister Robert Pelikan rejected the request and released him into Lebanese custody. Defense Minister Martin Stropnicky claimed he was exchanged for five Czech citizens held in Lebanon, after a bizarre kidnapping scheme that looked more like a farce than international terrorism.
As I wrote at the time, “the U.S., Israeli, Czech, Ukrainian and Lebanese media alleged that the kidnapping was staged, pointing out that . . . one of the team was a publicly identified Czech Military Intelligence officer; two of the putative hostages were members of Fayyad’s legal defense team, another was Fayyad’s brother, and the cost of their travel was borne by Mr. Fayyad. A diplomatic source told Lebanese papers that Fayyad’s attorney was well paid for playing his part as a ‘hostage.’”
Every aspect of the case was handled by officials associated with the Czech ANO party: Pelikan, Stropnicky, Military Intelligence Director Jan Beroun, and discredited former police colonel Robert Slachta. It was my opinion then that the top Party leaders orchestrated the scheme, and implemented by the head of military intelligence, all to create a pretext to avoid extraditing Fayyad to America. My opinion is unchanged, but the question remains why? Whom were they protecting in the Czech establishment? Fayyad was an arms dealer; was he working with some arms company with legacy connections to the former Czechoslovak intelligence service StB? Was it the firm that smuggled arms to ISIS in a shipment to Suleimaniya, Iraq marked as cigarettes?
Except for “strongly condemning” Fayyad’s release, the Obama Administration did nothing, in spite of Republican congressional inquiries. The Czechs involved in his release believe they have gotten away with it. In a sign of hubris, one has repeatedly tried to promote the implementing officer to General, but so far has been blocked by the Cabinet.
However, the luck of those officials may soon run out, because Trump is not Obama. He will not ignore such a slight to American law enforcement, and neither will National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, or CIA Director Mike Pompeo. In fact, not only did one of Pompeo’s fellow Republicans on the Intelligence Committee call for an investigation but in an almost comical twist, one of the main actors in the drama, ANO Party Chairman Andrej Babis, has been boasting in Prague of his relationship with the incoming CIA Director. To buttress his claims, he is showing a picture from a courtesy photo-op taken last year when he visited Washington, D.C.
The Fayyad affair remains an open wound among working-level law enforcement and intelligence officers. Fayyad already threatened to kill American officials, and he now knows the faces and identities of people who assisted in the two-year sting operation that led to his arrest.
Conversations with people close to the Trump transition indicate support for an investigation into the Ali Fayyad affair, drawing on American law enforcement and intelligence capabilities. This law and order approach will identify the Czech officials who were complicit in his release, and bring charges against them, pull any NATO security clearances, or otherwise punish each one of them, from the Ministerial level down to the commanding officer. Pro-West Prime Minister Sobotka should not wait for Washington to act but should clean his own house. How will he explain his failure to act, if the terrorist his government released is tied to an attack?
Obama’s failure to act stands in stark contrast to the energy displayed by President-elect Trump. With Intelligence Committee members and staff so heavily involved in the new Administration, Congressman Stewart’s call for sanctions will likely be answered soon.