D.C. Lobbyist Is Key in Stopping Hezbollah Broadcasts

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The New York Sun

When prosecutors last week announced the arrest of a Staten Island man for broadcasting Hezbollah propaganda, court papers gave some of the credit for the investigative work to Mark Dubowitz.

Mr. Dubowitz, 37, is not an agent at the FBI or even an employee of the federal government — he works at a small Washington policy group.

His group, Coalition Against Terrorist Media, for the past two years has lobbied against al-Manar, working to convince broadcasting companies from Hong Kong to Paris to remove the Hezbollah-sponsored station from their satellite programming. Mr. Dubowitz says the group, which has a staff of six, so far has briefed 800 government officials and private sector executives who either worked for satellite broadcasting companies or had advertising accounts with al-Manar.

A former venture capitalist with a law degree, Mr. Dubowitz knew very little about al-Manar until 2004. while working at a policy group, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. When a researcher of al-Manar, Avi Jorisch, informed the foundation about the links between al-Manar and Hezbollah, the Coalition Against Terrorist Media was born.

Al-Manar, which is frequently quoted in American news accounts of the recent war in Lebanon, has between 10 million and 15 million viewers worldwide daily, Mr. Dubowitz said.

Despite al-Manar’s large audience, the Coalition Against Terrorist Media claims several successes against the station in recent years. The group’s goal — to take al-Manar off the air — has found a friendly reception on Capitol Hill, Mr. Dubowitz said in an interview yesterday.

Before the group began making it’s push, al-Manar operated with relative freedom in America, with a Washington, D.C., bureau providing news spots for the network. Viewers across America could purchase access to the network, whose programs often glorified suicide bombing and conducted fundraising on Hezbollah’s behalf, Mr. Dubowitz said.

“They wouldn’t call you up and ask if you were looking for HBO and ESPN and so how about we add al-Manar,” Mr. Dubowitz said.” But if you were looking for what they call an ‘Arab bouquet’ — an Arab package of programs — this would be one of the stations available.”

Then, in 2004, two satellite providers, one in France and one in Barbados, abruptly dropped al-Manar’s service to America, following the State Department’s placement of al-Manar on the Terrorist Exclusion List, Mr. Dubowitz said.

With that, Mr. Dubowitz said he believed al-Manar had been banished from American households via satellite.

In court papers filed last week, prosecutors allege that a Pakistani businessman in New York, Javed Iqbal, was still promising customers access to the programming. Mr. Iqbal allegedly boasted that 80% of his Lebanese clients had subscribed, according to court papers.

The government’s investigation began in February, according to the court papers. In December 2005, Mr. Dubowitz said he heard reports that al-Manar was still accessible to American viewers. From a tip, he said discovered that the satellite provider broadcasting al-Manar locally was a Brazilian company, Hispamar. Mr. Dubowitz called Hispamar’s parent company, located in Spain, and was informed that the al-Manar broadcasts originated from a Brooklyn business called HDTV Corporation that had rented capacity on the company’s satellite, he said.

It was a tangled set of transactions, according to Mr. Dubowitz. He characterizes it as: “A Spanish company that owns a Brazilian company has a business relationship with a company in Brooklyn that has a broadcasting relationship with al-Manar in Lebanon.”

With that, Mr. Dubowitz was on Iqbal’s case, the owner of HDTV Corporation. Prosecutors have corroborated only a part of Mr. Dubowitz’s account. Papers they released last week say Mr. Dubowitz contacted the Department of Treasury, Justice Department investigators, and, through an intermediary, had been in contact with Mr. Iqbal.

Mr. Iqbal’s lawyer, Mustapha Ndanusa, did not return repeated calls for comment. Mr. Iqbal was released Monday on a $250,000 bond after his arrest last week.

Some First Amendment experts responded with skepticism to the charges against Mr. Iqbal, saying that a person should not be prosecuted for importing information.

The satellite Mr. Iqbal allegedly used, called Amazonas, has the capacity to reach across America, although Mr. Dubowitz said.

When contacted yesterday, a salesman at Hispamar in Brazil, Ruben Levcovitz, said that due to the “sensitive issues” of the case, the parent company, Hispasat in Spain, would issue a statement today. Still, the nature of Mr. Iqbal’s relationship with al-Manar executives —if there was one at all — remains unknown.Mr. Iqbal’s lawyers last week denied that Mr. Iqbal had any connection to al-Manar.

The New York Sun

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