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Treasury official who cranks up the heat on Iran can’t take the heat in New York

on 28 Comments

Last night David Cohen, Under Secretary of Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, spoke for an hour at NYU Law School about everything he is doing to crank up international pressure on Iran. But when three reporters tried to ask questions after the speech, Cohen couldn’t take the heat. He refused to answer questions, and gave the reporters the number of the Treasury Department press office.

This guy obviously feels no public accountability for his actions. For 45 minutes Cohen read a speech that had been simultaneously published on the Treasury website. Could have saved me a trip to the city! Then he answered a few questions, including from a woman who said that Ahmadinejad is Hitler, but Cohen was careful not to call on anyone in the back two rows, reserved for the press. At this time he made his only spontaneous remark, that sanctions are harsh measures, and hurt innocent people, but they are designed to forestall violence. (My argument about boycott and sanctions for Israel, by the way). 

Then– well ahead of the advertised 8 o’clock ending for the event– Cohen announced that he had to run. At least three reporters accompanied him up the stairs from the hall and out on to W. 3rd Street. Ali Gharib of Daily Beast asked Cohen about the human cost of the sanctions. I asked Cohen, Does Israel have nukes – and is our double standard here an issue when he seeks international partners to turn up the heat on Iran? Chase Madar, author of the recent book on Bradley Manning and a frequent contributor to this site and the American Conservative, pulled up the rear. He wanted to ask Cohen how the sanctions compare to what we did to Iraq, where the punitive measures were said to have killed hundreds of thousands.

Cohen ignored the questions, but he obviously felt queasy about doing so, or maybe he felt rude. When we got out to the sidewalk, he turned to us and told us to call his spokesman, and gave Gharib the telephone number for the Treasury Department press department.

I did not have the presence of mind to say to him what I am saying now: You don’t seem to feel any sense of public accountability for your actions.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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28 Responses

  1. Les on September 13, 2012, 11:09 am

    Since Zionists proudly proclaim themselves to be only part-time Americans, we have a right to ask what are they doing holding policy positions in the US government, let alone holding elected office here?

    • philweiss on September 13, 2012, 11:37 am

      i dont know that he’s a zionist. maybe you can ask him though?

      • Les on September 13, 2012, 1:49 pm

        Good point, though in this case his answer might just be a referral to the Treasury Department press office.

  2. seanmcbride on September 13, 2012, 11:15 am

    Many pro-Israel activists in the American government — especially neoconservatives — seem to have the authoritarian mentality of Stalinists. They think they are above all accountability.

    They don’t get what Americanism and modern Western democratic values are all about. They apologize for nothing and accept no responsibility for the disastrous consequences of their bad policies (like the Iraq War). They refuse to test their views in fair and open debate. They would prefer to conduct their political machinations in total secrecy, free from the scrutiny of the American people.

    From where do these attitudes of royal privilege and entitlement arise? And when will Americans muster the will to enforce accountability on them?

    • munro on September 13, 2012, 12:45 pm

      “From where do these attitudes of royal privilege and entitlement arise? ”
      And they exile people more throughly than Roman emperors.
      E.g.: Helen Thomas, “First Lady of the Press”, erased as if she never existed. Awards in her name terminated, name scrubbed from journalism courses.

      • lysias on September 13, 2012, 3:46 pm

        The Roman emperors did it too. People who had become unpersons were subject to damnatio memoriae. Their names were erased from inscriptions.

      • iamuglow on September 13, 2012, 4:25 pm

        Helen Thomas. Yeah, I think some will look back on that character assasination with shame. Did we defend her enough? Vocally? Publically? And if no, why not?

    • LanceThruster on September 13, 2012, 5:43 pm

      have the authoritarian mentality of Stalinists.

      I’m surprised there wasn’t a light at the DNC to signal that it was OK to stop clapping for the reinsertion of God and Israel in the platform.

      [see: ]

      • Citizen on September 14, 2012, 9:39 am

        @ LanceThruster

        The Emergency Committee For Israel has shown a klieg light video on the DNC actual NO vote triple signal, urging all good Jews to leave the Democratic Party for Mitt’s (to a Wagner tune for dramatic effect):

        This video was just shown on Fox Business News moments ago and will be discussed next up–as soon as John Bolton finishes his war-mongering analysis of the protests going around the ME against the US. Fox News says the video is geared to sway the Jews in Florida. It’s on now.

      • Citizen on September 14, 2012, 9:54 am

        Summary of short interview on Fox Bus News apropos the new tv campaign ad directed at Florida Jews today:

        Jewish voters for Obama in 2008: 78%
        Rabbi Brad Hirschfield: “I predict Jews could shift to as low as 60% for Obama, but
        it’s not likely as Israel is not a high priority for Jews.”

        Interviewer replies, “I though it was, is, the Jewish community is always saying so!” looking amazed.

        Rabbi: “But Israel should be a high priority for all Americans.
        We share the same values as Israel.
        It’s a security of US thing, not a Jewish thing
        Israel is our long time ally for 60 yrs in ME
        I’m willing to eat plenty of crow on that [If shift to GOP by 40%), ha, ha.” (Big shit-eating grin surrounded by beard)

      • LanceThruster on September 17, 2012, 1:33 pm

        They’ve certainly come out of the shadows, nu?

  3. Kathleen on September 13, 2012, 11:15 am

    Thank you Gharib, Madar and Weiss for politely asking these important questions. The silence tells the story. Call me was his response.

  4. atime forpeace on September 13, 2012, 11:32 am

    But Phil, Mr Cohen is only doing what policy dictates he should do, isn’t that excuse enough.

  5. Kathleen on September 13, 2012, 11:53 am

    Front page huffpo. US embassy stormed in Yemen

  6. irmep on September 13, 2012, 12:12 pm

    Kudos to Phil for trying to get answers. Operatives from the unit Cohen leads at Treasury have briefed AIPAC’s think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Poilcy, on TFI activities. Apparently they felt more free to take questions from that crowd. The question of how many Israel partisans staff TFI is relevant since it is a relatively new unit that appears to have been set up to enforce AIPAC-drafted legislation passed by Congress. Economic warfare bills have been AIPAC’s key lobbying initiative over the past few years.

    IRmep filed a FOIA to obtain the names and positions of all TFI unit employees in April. Hugh Gilmore, the FOIA liaison, was initially very cooperative stating that of course such directory information should be public, “since there’s no such thing as secret government.” In June Brian Sonfield, also of Treasury, suggested that the FOIA could be fulfilled simply by looking at the OPM employee records.

    But searching there doesn’t allow a focus in on TFI (or any particular unit). So, for now, we do have a secret government. And whatever the views of Cohen, his predecessor clearly seemed to be primarily motivated by concerns about Israel, as those who have been privileged enough read his thesis overseen by Martin Peretz can attest.

  7. pabelmont on September 13, 2012, 12:24 pm

    QUOTE: At this time he made his only spontaneous remark, that sanctions are harsh measures, and hurt innocent people, but they are designed to forestall violence. (My argument about boycott and sanctions for Israel, by the way).

    Well, yes. But the sanctions on Iran are happening and the BDS attack on Israel is minuscule (more threatened and discussed than happening in any significant way). Where are the (newly re-created) non-aligned nations on Palestine?

    What if the so-called non-aligned nations (120 nations says wiki at
    ) were to demand that Israel comply with international law to the extent of removing and not re-allowing settlers from OPTs, dismantling or demolishing all settlements in OPTs; and state that they will each sanction Israel (until their demand is met) in a steadily growing manner beginning with removal of ambassadors and cessation of commercial air-traffic with Israel and leading to trade sanctions; and that they would invite all OTHER nations either to join them or else to explain their failure to enforce international law including the Fourth Geneva Convention “under all circumstances” as most have agreed to do.

  8. DICKERSON3870 on September 13, 2012, 12:33 pm

    RE: “Last night David Cohen, Under Secretary of Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, spoke for an hour at NYU Law School about everything he is doing to crank up international pressure on Iran. But when three reporters tried to ask questions after the speech, Cohen couldn’t take the heat. He refused to answer questions. This guy obviously feels no public accountability for his actions . . .” ~ Weiss

    MY COMMENT: He answers only to AIPAC and the rest of the pro-Israel lobby!

    SEE: “From Irgun to AIPAC: Israel Lobby’s US Treasury Follies Hurt”, by Grant F. Smith, Dissident Voice, 12/16/08

    [EXCERPT]. . . AIPAC and its associated think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), were instrumental in lobbying the president for the creation of the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence unit early in 2004. The Israel lobby also vetted Stuart Levey [David Cohen’s predecessor] who President Bush approved to lead the new unit. TFI claims to be “safeguarding the financial system against illicit use and combating rogue nations, terrorist facilitators, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferators, money launderers, drug kingpins, and other national security threats.” However its actions—and more important, inactions—reveal it to be a sharp-edged tool forged principally to serve the Israel lobby. . .


    • Shingo on September 13, 2012, 7:13 pm


      Grant F Smith is the guy posting here as IRMEP.

      What and amazing contribution he has made to the Israel lobby debate!

      • Kathleen on September 14, 2012, 9:11 am

        yes indeed

  9. seanmcbride on September 13, 2012, 12:37 pm

    TITLE Obama’s ‘Sanctions Czar’ in Israel, Says More Needs to be Done
    AUTHOR Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
    PUBLICATION Israel National News
    DATE June 4, 2012

    David Cohen, President Barack Obama’s point man on sanctions, told [Israel’s] Army Radio Monday sanctions against Iran are “biting” but not enough.

    Cohen, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, stated on radio, “The sanctions are having an impact on Iran, but I also recognize that more needs to be done. And we are intent on doing more.”

    His appearance on Army Radio may have been intended to show that Israel and the United States are cooperating concerning sanctions as part of American pressure on Israel not to consider a military attack on Iran.


    Does David Cohen have any ties to the Israel lobby or neoconservatives? I don’t know.

  10. American on September 13, 2012, 3:34 pm

    I don’t know how zionist Cohen may or may not be but Stuart Levy was at least the go to man for both the zionist and the cuban exiles in the US congress when they wanted someone or some group punished. Remember the Mexico hotel deal where some businessmen delegation from Cuba was visiting Mexico ? Levy created an international incident by having the hotel throw it’s Cuban guest out cause Ros-L and Wexler and some others in congress wanted to kick them around.

    That kind of petty, idiotic, US reputation damaging shit is what you get when you have politicians and agency officials with personal foreign agendas and loyalties.
    Clean them out. Put in Americans.

  11. Rusty Pipes on September 13, 2012, 3:59 pm

    When Cohen talked about all the economic pressures he was putting on Iran, did he mention other members of the “Axis of Resistance” as well? This morning Cohen issued new sanctions on Hezbollah, specifically because of its non-cooperation with the neocon agenda on Syria:

    The United States on Thursday imposed new sanctions on Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and two other figures in the Lebanese Shiite militia over their support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    The US Treasury move adds to measures already levied on Hezbollah, which was first designated by Washington as a terrorist group in 2001.

    Hezbollah has provided training, advice and logistical support to Assad’s forces, and has facilitated training for them by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, it said.

    The group has denied those allegations, saying it is a proponent of dialogue between rebels and the Syrian regime.

    Hezbollah has also “played a substantial role” in efforts to push rebel forces from areas inside Syria, the Treasury added.

    “By aiding Assad’s violent campaign against the Syrian people and working to support a regime that will eventually fall, Hezbollah’s ongoing activity undermines regional stability and poses a direct threat to Lebanon’s security,” said David Cohen, Treasury under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

    “Hezbollah’s actions, overseen by Hassan Nasrallah and executed by Mustafa Badr al-Din and Talal Hamayah, clearly reveal its true nature as a terrorist and criminal organization.”

    There are many reasons being floated for why the Obama administration has claimed that “Assad must go,” but no one with any knowledge of the history and dynamics of the Middle East has claimed that it is in the interests of regional stability: “by … working to support a regime that will eventually fall, Hezbollah’s ongoing activity undermines regional stability.” Cohen is a neocon mouthpiece.

  12. MRW on September 13, 2012, 4:07 pm

    And he gets to do this politicking for Israel on the wings of the big US government . . . where he’s employed.

    When I worked as a consultant for a multi-national, I did a nine-month stint in DC. Flew down from NYC nearly every morning. The project was multi-billion, so the cost of car service, flights, and whatever, were considered de minimus.

    I represented the multi-national’s interest in its contract with the govt. What shocked me was the power of the unelected underlings to carve out and create what they wanted to have happen, how they could effect it (and how easy it would be for sinister agendas to gain traction). Their bosses, house and senate members, relied upon these underlings to do the drudge work of creating the details. The bosses got summaries or talking points as project updates so they wouldn’t sound ignorant at cocktail time.

    The worst of the bunch were the career worker bees who worked from one administration into the next. They knew and understood how to work one small change under their control, send to another who could turn it a mere degree under his or her control, and on and on through a seemingly innocent chain in the five weeks until a new president was inaugurated. And voila, it appeared to be the ‘position’ or ‘business’ of the new administration. Ground set.

    David Cohen wasn’t elected. He was appointed. His bio says, “Cohen was involved in crafting legislation that formed the basis of Title III of the USA PATRIOT Act, the 2001 update to the Bank Secrecy Act.” (who knew?) Starting in 1999, when he was as Senior Counsel to then General Counsel at Treasury, Neal S. Wolin. The USA PATRIOT Act, if you remember, was ready in draft form for Ashcroft on September 19, 2001, eight days after 9/11.

    Cohen was preceded in his current job by Stuart Levey, the man Obama then chose as Acting Treasury Secretary until Geithner was confirmed six days after Obama was inaugurated. You can do a lot of damage, as they say, under the radar in that timeframe as the first Patriot Act showed.

    Cohen is married to Suzy Friedman Cohen, and her mother is Barbara Benioff Friedman, elected Chair of the Board of Governors of Hebrew United College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2006, among a lot of other boards she’s on.

  13. radii on September 13, 2012, 5:27 pm

    yeah, why does Treasury seem to reserve places for israel’s operatives to exercise direct power over U.S. policy and actions? ?

  14. Shingo on September 13, 2012, 7:16 pm

    As soon as the non aligned movement comes up with al alternative to SWIFT, America is screwed and nut jobs like Cohen will have non one but themselves to blame.

  15. Kathleen on September 13, 2012, 10:11 pm

    “The worst of the bunch were the career worker bees who worked from one administration to the next” That would be quite the list..Wolfowitz, Feith, Bolton, Wurmser, Kagans, Hadley etc etc. Where did Stephen Hadley go?

  16. Kathleen on September 14, 2012, 9:12 am

    MRW always appreciate your insightful comments

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