A former director of the Drug Enforcement Administration warned federal officials shortly after the September 11 attacks that violent drug cartels from Mexico were teaming with Muslim gangs to fund terrorist organizations overseas.
Asa Hutchinson, who also has been a Homeland Security undersecretary, said that in 2001, DEA agents uncovered the link between the drug cartels and terrorist groups but too few government officials listened.
"I think it's important to recognize that the link between terrorism and drug trafficking exists," said Mr. Hutchinson in a phone interview from Arkansas. "While we are fighting terrorists, we should not neglect our fight against drug traffickers. We shouldn't neglect it, because the link is there."
Last week, The Washington Times disclosed a confidential DEA report substantiating the link between Islamist sleeper cells in the U.S. and Mexican drug cartels. The report, which included several documented U.S. investigations into the terrorist/cartel connection, stated that Middle Eastern operatives funded terrorist groups with drug money linked to Mexican cartels.
Furthermore, the 2005 document suggests that some Islamist terrorists are disguising themselves as Hispanics.
In 2001, Mr. Hutchinson said, he told federal officials that terrorists would use any internal weakness if government officials failed to maintain adequate resources, a foolproof immigration system and enhanced border-security measures. He became director of the DEA just one month before al Qaeda operatives hijacked four U.S. jetliners and killed almost 3,000 people.
"After September 11, our agents interviewed some of our sources in Mexico," Mr. Hutchinson said. "During the course of that, they started seeing the connection globally between terrorists and drug trafficking."
During his three years at the DEA, he said, intelligence agents discovered that Middle Eastern gangs were having pseudoephedrine, an over-the-counter drug, shipped from China and smuggled into the U.S. from Canada, to Mexican drug syndicates for manufacturing methamphetamine.
These "large bulks" of pseudoephedrine were then sold to cartels and transported with the aid of the Muslim gangs to "super meth labs" in Mexico. The proceeds from those sales were then transferred to Middle Eastern terrorist organizations.
"We know some of the money wound up back in the hands of terrorist organizations in the Middle East," Mr. Hutchinson said. "It is a partnership of convenience. The drug cartels would probably like to distinguish themselves from terrorists, but their tactics are nearly the same. They just may not ask what they are smuggling. They may not know; they may not care."
Afghanistan, he said, may be one of the most obvious examples of narcotics profits funding terrorist groups, particularly the Taliban militia that harbored Osama bin Laden before the September 11 attacks. According to the U.N. World Drug Report for 2007, which was issued last month, Afghanistan is responsible for 92 percent of the opium produced in the world last year.
"Wherever you look globally, you see extremist groups benefiting from drug trafficking," he said. "You see the Taliban benefiting from opium. We see money coming from drug trafficking in the United States making its way back to terrorist groups overseas."
The 2005 DEA report includes photographs of known Middle Easterners who "appear to be Hispanic; they are in fact all Spanish-speaking Arab drug traffickers supporting Middle East terrorism from their base of operations" in the southwestern United States. These "persons of interest" use fake U.S. documents and their facility with Spanish allows them to blend in.
"I believed that was a possibility from the time I became director of the DEA," Mr. Hutchinson said. "It should be no surprise to anyone that terrorists would exploit our weakness."