It’s not often that you see a piece of paperwork released by the Federal government that makes you say, “That was tax money well spent!” But Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Investigations, has managed it with his recent report, (in PDF format) “A Line in the Sand: Confronting the Threat at the Southwest Border” (for video interviews of Rep. McCall, go here and here).
Congressman McCaul represents Texas, so he has some up-close experience with the problems on our southern border. His report draws on the work of the border patrol, law enforcement, and domestic intelligence to paint a grim picture of the border crisis. You knew it was bad, but it’s worse than you think.
The situation on both sides of the border is reminiscent of Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson’s dystopian novel of the not-so-distant future: an ineffective central government that is ignored or treated as a joke, rival warring cartels and criminal gangs armed to the teeth with the latest computerized high-tech weaponry, and citizens who either live in fear or rely on private security, if they can afford it.
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According to the introduction to Rep. McCaul’s report,
While the Southwest border hosts robust legal commercial activity, the border also is the site of violent criminal enterprises. These enterprises are carried out by organized criminal syndicates and include the smuggling of drugs, humans, weapons, and cash across the U.S.-Mexico border.
During 2005, Border Patrol apprehended approximately 1.2 million illegal aliens; of those 165,000 were from countries other than Mexico. Of the non-Mexican aliens, approximately 650 were from special interest countries. Special interest countries are those “designated by the intelligence community as countries that could export individuals that could bring harm to our country in the way of terrorism.”
A significant portion of illegal activity at the border relates to illegal drug smuggling. Below is a summary of FY 2005 Federal drug seizures, which shows a total of 1,129, 275 pounds of cocaine and 6,866,465 million pounds of marijuana. Federal law enforcement estimates that 10 percent to 30 percent of illegal aliens are actually apprehended and 10 percent to 20 percent of drugs are seized. Therefore, in 2005, as many as 4 to 10 million illegal aliens crossed into the United States; and as much as 5.6 to 11.2 million pounds of cocaine and 34.3 to 68.6 million pounds of marijuana entered the United States.
These are chilling figures, even if you believe the government’s own estimate of the percentage of illegals apprehended. It’s quite possible that the authorities are overestimating their interdiction abilities, in which case things are even worse.
The drug cartels manage well-established trafficking routes from South America through Central America and Mexico to the border. Packed onto trains and in trucks on the highway, the would-be immigrants are conveyed to locations near the border. Special staging areas in towns on the Mexican side, known as “plazas”, serve to marshal goods and people through the easiest access points into the southwestern United States. Additional smuggling routes are used to pass merchandise and illegal immigrants to their eventual internal destinations.
The most chilling part of this whole ugly scenario is the knowledge that not all of these “immigrants” are illiterate Mexican peasants looking for a better life north of the Rio Grande. It’s not even the fact that a large proportion of the illegals are violent and hardened criminals. It’s this:
In addition to the criminal activities and violence of the cartels on our Southwest border, there is an ever-present threat of terrorist infiltration over the Southwest border. Data indicates that there are hundreds of illegal aliens apprehended entering the United States each year who are from countries known to support and sponsor terrorism.
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigations have revealed that aliens were smuggled from the Middle East to staging areas in Central and South America, before being smuggled illegally into the United States.
- Members of Hezbollah have already entered the United States across the Southwest border.
- U.S. military and intelligence officials believe that Venezuela is emerging as a potential hub of terrorism in the Western Hemisphere. The Venezuelan government is issuing identity documents that could subsequently be used to obtain a U.S. visa and enter the country.
The necessary condition for all these illegal cross-border activities is that the border itself be easy to cross. Border security is a joke, especially to the gang members who take advantage of it:
The foreign nationals who belong to these gangs often ignore Federal immigration laws, regularly entering the United States illegally. They then travel to the nation’s interior cities to join with other gang members and participate in criminal activity. A Federal investigator told Committee staff of a recent interview he conducted with an MS-13 member who described the ease with which he had routinely traversed the Southwest border. The gang member decided to return to his native country of Guatemala to spend Christmas with his mother. To save his own money, he voluntarily turned himself into authorities and was flown home at U.S. Government expense under the expedited removal program, spent the holidays with his family, and returned by illegally crossing the Southwest border. The gang member boasted this process is so easy he has repeated it several times. [emphasis added]
The drug cartels, in violent competition with one another, have established virtual private armies. Flush with cash, the rival groups have equipped their soldiers with an armory that would be the envy of a third-world dictator.
According to El Paso County Sheriff Leo Samaniego, drug cartels operating along the southwestern U.S. border are a “country unto themselves” with intelligence capabilities, weaponry and communications equipment that challenges the Border Patrol and local law enforcement. Sheriff Samaniego advises his deputies to “back off’ when they see well armed individuals from cartels and other criminal organizations.
Zapata County, Texas Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez reports having been told by a number of informants familiar with drug cartel operations that local law enforcement is armed with woefully inadequate weaponry when compared with the automatic assault weapons used by the drug cartels. And in Hidalgo County, Sheriff Luca Trevino reports that in the summer of 2006, two of his deputy sheriffs came under attack as 300 to 400 rounds were fired from automatic weapons originating on the Mexican side of the river.
This new breed of cartel is not only more violent, powerful and well financed, it is also deeply engaged in intelligence collection on both sides of the border. The tactics used by these sophisticated networks include placing spotters with high-powered binoculars and encrypted radios in the mountains to guide smugglers past Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies operating along the border. A Library of Congress report on Criminal and Terrorist Activity in Mexico describes how smugglers carry on a “technological arms race” with CBP and ICE.
Webb County, Texas Sheriff Rick Flores indicated that he is disturbed by the level of resources the cartels and criminal organizations possess and utilize against local law enforcement noting that the cartels utilize rocket propelled grenades … automatic assault weapons, and “level four” body armor and Kevlar helmets similar to what the U.S. military uses. Some local officials are taking steps to protect their officers from these weapons. The Sheriff for Hidalgo County, Texas Sheriff has prohibited the deputies in his department from patrolling along the banks of the Rio Grande River because of the threat of violence from the cartels.
It’s only natural that a criminal enterprise as large, as sophisticated, and as well-armed as this one would want to enter the lucrative trafficking of Islamist terrorists. In fact, when looked at from an operational standpoint, there is very little difference between the Al Qaeda terrorist network and the Latin American criminal cartels. They exhibit the same utter brutality and the same tactics of ruthless revenge. They behead and incinerate those who stand in their way.
Al Qaeda differs from the Latino gangsters in that it has an all-encompassing ideology, but this makes little difference to the petty sadists on the ground who carry out the directives of the leadership — or to their victims.
And now, in our suicidal indifference to the condition of our border with Mexico, Al Qaeda has found the soft underbelly of America’s domestic defenses.
Recognizing that most Americans cannot visually distinguish Pakistanis and Arabs from Mexicans, and finding a useful ally in the Preening Peacock of Caracas, the terrorists have used the facilities of the Venezuelan secret services to transform their mujahideen into paisanos:
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) pays particular attention to OTMs [“Other Than Mexicans”] apprehended by the Border Patrol who originate from thirty-five nations designated as “special interest” countries. According to Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar, special interest countries have been “designated by our intelligence community as countries that could export individuals that could bring harm to our country in the way of terrorism.”
From FY2001 to March 2005, 88 percent of Special Interest Alien apprehensions for both the Southwest and Northern borders occurred in Texas. During that same period, 75 percent of Special Interest Alien apprehensions on the Southwest border occurred in the Laredo, McAllen, and Del Rio Sectors. Since September 11, 2001 to the present hundreds of illegal aliens from special interest countries (such as Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, Cuba, Brazil, Ecuador, China, Russia, Yemen, Albania, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan) were apprehended within the South Texas region alone.
The data indicates that each year hundreds of illegal aliens from countries known to harbor terrorists or promote terrorism are routinely encountered and apprehended attempting to enter the U.S. illegally between Ports of Entry. Just recently, U.S. intelligence officials report that seven Iraqis were found in Brownsville, Texas in June 2006. In August 2006, an Afghani man was found swimming across the Rio Grande River in Hidalgo, Texas; as recently as October 2006, seven Chinese were apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley area of Texas.
Items have been found by law enforcement officials along the banks of the Rio Grande River and inland that indicate possible ties to a terrorist organization or member of military units of Mexico. A jacket with patches from countries where al Qa’ida is known to operate was found in Jim Hogg County, Texas by the Border Patrol. The patches on the jacket show an Arabic military badge with one depicting an airplane flying over a building and heading towards a tower, and another showing an image of a lion’s head with wings and a parachute emanating from the animal. The bottom of one patch read “martyr,” “way to eternal life” or “way to immortality.”
According to ICE testimony, on September 8, 2004, ICE agents arrested Neeran Zaia and Basima Sesi. The human smuggling organization headed by Zaia specialized in smuggling Iraqi, Jordanian, and Syrian Nationals and was responsible for the movement of more than 200 aliens throughout the investigation. 109 The investigation was initiated when a confidential informant familiar with the organization reported ongoing smuggling activities by Zaia, who had been previously convicted of alien smuggling. Investigative efforts revealed that the aliens were smuggled from the Middle East to staging areas in Central and South America. Once in these staging areas, the conspirators would arrange to smuggle the aliens from these sites into the U.S. or its territories.
Members of Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based terrorist organization, have already entered to the United States across our Southwest border. On March 1, 2005, Mahmoud Youssef Kourani pleaded guilty to providing material support to Hezbollah.”‘ Kourani is an illegal alien who had been smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border after bribing a Mexican consular official in Beirut for a visa to travel to Mexico. Kourani and a Middle Eastern traveling partner then paid coyotes in Mexico to guide them into the United States. Kourani established residence among the Lebanese expatriate community in Dearborn, Michigan and began soliciting funds for Hezbollah terrorists back home in Lebanon. He is the brother of the Hezbollah chief of military operations in southern Lebanon.
In December 2002, Salim Boughader Mucharrafille, a café owner in Tijuana, Mexico, was arrested for illegally smuggling more than two hundred Lebanese illegally into the United States, including several believed to have terrorist ties to Hezbollah. Just last month Robert L. Boatwright, Assistant Chief Patrol Agent of the El Paso Texas Sector, reported, “We have apprehended people from countries that support terrorism … they were thoroughly debriefed and there was a tremendous amount of information collected from them.”
Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller has confirmed in testimony “that there are individuals from countries with known al-Qa’ida connections who are changing their Islamic surnames to Hispanic-sounding names and obtaining false Hispanic identities, learning to speak Spanish and pretending to be Hispanic immigrants…
Furthermore, according to senior U.S. military and intelligence officials, Venezuela is emerging as a potential hub of terrorism in the Western Hemisphere, providing assistance to Islamic radicals from the Middle East and other terrorists…
Venezuela is providing support-including identity documents-that could prove useful to radical Islamic groups, say some U.S. officials. The Venezuelan government has issued thousands of cedulas, the equivalent of Social Security cards, to people from places such as Cuba, Columbia, and Middle Eastern nations that host foreign terrorist organizations. The U.S. officials believe that the Venezuelan government is issuing the documents to people who should not be getting them and that some of these cedulas could be subsequently used to obtain Venezuelan passports and even American visas, which could allow the holder to elude immigration checks and enter the United States. Recently, several Pakistanis were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexican border with fraudulent Venezuelan documents.
“Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, has been clearly talking to Iran about uranium,” said a senior administration official quoted by the Washington Times. Chavez has made several trips to Iran and voiced solidarity with the country’s hard-line mullahs. He has hosted Iranian officials in Caracas, endorsed Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and expressed support for the insurgency in Iraq. The Times reports Venezuela is also talking with Hamas about sending representatives to Venezuela to raise money for the militant group’s newly elected Palestinian government as Chavez seeks to build an anti-U.S. axis that also includes Fidel Castro’s Cuba. “I am on the offensive,” Chavez said on the al Jazeera television network, “because attack is the best form of defense. We are waging an offensive battle…”
Given all that is happening in Chavez’s Venezuela, some American officials regret that terrorism is seen chiefly as a Middle East problem and that the United States needs to look looking to protect its southern flank. A U.S. intelligence official expressed concern that “Counterterrorism issues are not being aggressively pursued in this hemisphere.” Another intelligence official stated terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay are not being interrogated about connections to Latin America. The bottom line, when it comes to terrorism so close to U.S. shores, says the official, “We don’t even know what we don’t know.” [emphasis added]
And it seems that the radical Islamists are not only taking advantage of the logistical opportunities offered by Latin American crime, they are even getting a cut of the business:
Islamic radical groups that support Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamiya Al Gamat are all active in Latin America. These groups generate funds through money laundering, drug trafficking, and arms deals, making millions of dollars every year via their multiple illicit activities. These cells reach back to the Middle East and extend to this hemisphere the sophisticated global support structure of international terrorism. While threats to our nation from international terrorism are well known, lesser known threats spawned by narcoterrorism reach deeply into this country.
With Saudi and Iranian oil money thrown into the mix, these folks have the wherewithal to hire the best available professional assistance in their endeavor to enter the United States:
Federal law enforcement entities estimate they apprehend approximately 10 to 30 percent of illegal aliens crossing the border. U.S. intelligence officials along the southwest border, on the other hand, are less optimistic. To be sure, it is unclear how many illegal aliens of any nationality evade capture by law enforcement each year and succeed in entering the United States illegally. It is especially difficult to provide the total number of Special Interest Aliens entering the U.S. illegally because they pay larger amounts of money ($15,000 to $60,000 per alien) to employ the more effective Mexican alien smuggling organizations and are less likely to be apprehended.
It seems likely that quite a few of these “Special Interest Aliens” are already in the country. And, given the ease with which a ton of marijuana can cross the southern border undetected, one can only speculate with trepidation what’s in the luggage that these “special” fellows have brought with them.
One thing, however, is known for certain — hundreds of people from countries known to harbor terrorists or promote terrorism are caught trying to enter the United States illegally along the land border, and the massive flow of immigrants and our porous border create various and abundant opportunities for concealment. Given the ever-present threat posed by al-Qa’ida and other terrorist organizations — a threat that has been underscored by the recent events in London and the vulnerability of our borders — the need for immediate action to enforce our borders could not be more apparent.
So now we know how the system works. Mohammed al-Masri takes a little holiday in Venezuela, has a casual chat with some of Hugo Chavez’ assistants, takes some Spanish lessons, and then starts a new life as Pedro Morales. The Pan-American Highway awaits! A brief sight-seeing tour through the Central American heartland — since he paid for a first-class ticket, Señor Morales gets to ride in air-conditioned comfort — and then he’s knocking at the golden door, lugging a couple of mysteriously heavy trunks behind him.
An “undocumented alien”. A “guest worker”.
Do you think he needs amnesty?
Hat tip: Jonathan Shidler and Rescue Task Force.