Islamic extremists embedded in the United States — posing as Hispanic nationals — are partnering with violent Mexican drug gangs to finance terror networks in the Middle East, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration report.
"Since drug traffickers and terrorists operate in a clandestine environment, both groups utilize similar methodologies to function ... all lend themselves to facilitation and are among the essential elements that may contribute to the successful conclusion of a catastrophic event by terrorists," said the confidential report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.
The 2005 report outlines an ongoing scheme in which multiple Middle Eastern drug-trafficking and terrorist cells operating in the U.S. fund terror networks overseas, aided by established Mexican cartels with highly sophisticated trafficking routes.
These terrorist groups, or sleeper cells, include people who speak Arabic, Spanish and Hebrew and, for the most part, arouse no suspicion in their communities.
"It is very likely that any future 'September 11th' type of terrorist event in the United States may be facilitated, wittingly or unwittingly, by drug traffickers operating on both sides of the United States-Mexico border," the DEA report says.
Rep. Ed Royce of California, ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs terrorism and nonproliferation subcommittee, said the DEA document substantiates information that his committee has been given in the past year.
"Hearings I held in Laredo [Texas] last year and this DEA report show that our southern border is a terrorist risk," Mr. Royce said. "Law enforcement has warned that people from Arab countries have crossed the border and adopted Hispanic surnames. The drug cartels have highly sophisticated smuggling and money-laundering networks, which terrorists could access."
Garrison K. Courtney, spokes- man for the DEA, would not comment on the document. However, he said that the DEA, which has only 5,000 active agents worldwide, is sharing information with other U.S. intelligence agencies and working closely with local law enforcement.
"We focus on drugs, but we keep our eyes open for any connection that can aid our other partners in law enforcement," Mr. Courtney said. "Everything we do relies on our ability to gather intelligence. We have said for years that there are shades of gray in the organizations we're dealing with. Intelligence requires us to look at the whole picture. Realistically to leave out a certain set of dots could be a huge mistake."
In the two years since the report was written, other DEA intelligence officials have said they are still struggling to cooperate with and share and gather information from other lead U.S. agencies charged with fighting the war on terrorism.
Lack of information sharing between U.S. intelligence agencies is creating a blind spot in the war on terror and has left the U.S. vulnerable to another attack, the report states.
"We are the eyes and ears when it comes to gathering intelligence on the cartels and smugglers," said the DEA official. "What we know for sure is that persons associated with terrorist groups have discovered what cartels have known all along — the border is the backdoor into the U.S."
According to a Department of Homeland Security intelligence report obtained by The Times, nearly every part of the Border Patrol's national strategy is failing.
"Al Qaeda has been trying to smuggle terrorists and terrorist weapons illegally into the United States," the 2006 document states. "This organization has also tried to enter the U.S. by taking advantage of its most vulnerable border areas. The seek to smuggle OTMs [other than Mexicans] from Middle Eastern countries into the U.S."
Peter Brown, terrorism and security consultant, stated that the "biggest element" to the DEA report is the ease with which terrorist cells have taken on new identities.
"The ability for people to completely transform their nationalities absent of their own identities is a dangerous step in the evolution of this cross-border operation," he said. "This is a true threat."
Lending credence to Mr. Brown's concern, an El Paso, Texas, law-enforcement report documents the influx of "approximately 20 Arab persons a week utilizing the Travis County Court in Austin to change their names and driver's licenses from Arabic to Hispanic surnames."
Under the current drug-intelligence collection, analysis and reporting posture, the DEA runs the risk of failing to detect or report the entry of terrorists, weapons of mass destruction or portable conventional weapons into the United States, according to the DEA document.
Many times, smugglers don't know what they are transporting.
"Despite all the pronouncements of the administration that these networks and their funding is being traced," Mr. Brown warned, "progress has been limited, and in certain circles of intelligence, they are nonexistent."