Two U.S. law enforcement officers, familiar with counterterrorism operations in the U.S. and Latin America, said that “it was no surprise” that Hezbollah members have entered the U.S. border through drug cartel transit routes.
“The Mexican cartels have no loyalty to anyone,” one of the officials told The Washington Times. “They will willingly or unknowingly aid other nefarious groups into the U.S. through the routes they control. It has already happened. That’s why the border is such a serious national security issue.”
One U.S. counterterrorism official said that while “there’s reason to believe that [Hezbollah members] have looked at the southern border to enter the U.S. … to date their success has been extremely limited.”
However, another U.S. counterterrorism official confirmed that the U.S. is watching closely the links between Hezbollah and drug cartels and said it is “not a good picture.”
A senior U.S. defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of ongoing operations in Latin America, warned that al Qaeda also could use trafficking routes to infiltrate operatives into the U.S.
“If I have the money to do it - I want to get somebody across the border - that’s a way to do it,” the defense official said. “Especially foot soldiers. Somebody who’s willing to come and blow themselves up. That’s sort of hard to do that kind of recruiting, training and development in Kansas City.”
Adm. James G. Stavridis, commander of U.S. Southern Command and the nominee to head NATO troops as Supreme Allied Commander-Europe, testified before the House Armed Services Committee last week that the nexus between illicit drug trafficking - “including routes, profits, and corruptive influence” and “Islamic radical terrorism” is a growing threat to the U.S.
He noted that in August, “U.S. Southern Command supported a Drug Enforcement Administration operation, in coordination with host countries, which targeted a Hezbollah-connected drug trafficking organization in the Tri-Border Area.”
In October, another interagency operation led to the arrests of several dozen people in Colombia associated with a Hezbollah-connected drug trafficking and a money-laundering ring. Hezbollah uses these operations to generate millions of dollars to finance Hezbollah operations in Lebanon and other areas of the world, he said.
“Identifying, monitoring and dismantling the financial, logistical, and communication linkages between illicit trafficking groups and terrorist sponsors are critical to not only ensuring early indications and warnings of potential terrorist attacks directed at the United States and our partners, but also in generating a global appreciation and acceptance of this tremendous threat to security,” he said.
Mr. Braun, who spent 33 years with the DEA and still works with the organization as a consultant, said that members of the elite Quds, or Jerusalem, force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards also are showing up in Latin America.
“Quite frankly, I’m not opposed to the belief that they could be commanding and controlling Hezbollah’s criminal enterprises from there,” Mr. Braun said.
The DEA thinks that 60 percent of terrorist organizations have some ties with the illegal narcotics trade, said agency spokesman Garrison Courtney.
South American drug cartels were forced into developing stronger alliances with Mexican syndicates when the U.S. closed off access from the Caribbean 15 years ago, Mr. Braun said.
Mexico’s transit routes now account for more than 90 percent of the cocaine entering the U.S., he said. The emphasis on Mexico intensified after the Sept. 11 attacks, when beefed-up U.S. security measures greatly reduced access to the U.S. by air and water, he said.