- - Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The knock-offs had names calculated to delight unwary consumers: Apple, Nike, Coach, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. But their real country of origin was China, the real importers were Mexican drug cartels and those alert federal agents worked for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE.

Which explains a great deal, including why you may have missed that news. ICE is routinely dissed by both the mainstream media and their Democratic fellow travelers. In their minds, the only good federal agents are humble servants like Peter Strzok — certainly not those racist oppressors over at ICE. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Kamala Harris have all called for the agency’s abolition. Ms. Gillibrand gushed to CNN that “we should get rid of it, start over, reimagine it and build something that actually works.”

Three House Democrats even drafted legislation calling for the agency’s dissolution — before belatedly announcing they would oppose their own bill. If cooler heads were starting to prevail, it may have been because Politico indicated that ICE is supported by 74 percent of Republicans as well as 54 percent of independents.

But it is highly doubtful if those changing minds reflect the barest understanding that the war at home actually began at least a decade ago, when criminal gangs and terrorist networks found reasons to cooperate. In Afghanistan, what the Taliban and drug syndicates had in common was poppy, the raw stuff of opium, by far Afghanistan’s leading cash crop.

While the Taliban were Islamic extremists with strong religious reasons to oppose either drugs or alcohol, they needed money and popular support in their ongoing war against American forces. Because poppy farmers needed protection to grow, process and distribute their product, a marriage of convenience was born — unlikely allies finding a common profit motive for their own purposes. Call it a limited liability partnership.

Today, a rich network of de facto alliances connects a wide variety of transnational criminal organizations, or TCO’s. Those same TCO’s may operate drug outlets in downtown D.C,. Baltimore or Richmond, just as they do in at least 200 American towns and cities. Their products can include everything from heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine to the pot your kids smoke as harmless “recreational” drugs at parties in Montgomery or Fairfax Counties.

But those same TCO’s may also move counterfeit goods like those seized in Laredo — or the illegal human traffic simply trying to feed their Mexican families by covertly moving north anywhere along the I-95 corridor.

The coin of the realm is control over those well-camouflaged transit corridors, each route a tribute to globalization and human ingenuity. As Vice News reported recently, it is an adaptive, constantly shifting infrastructure of “airplanes, submarines, speedboats, trucks, tunnels — the systems used to move illegal drugs around the world comprise a logistics network likely bigger than Amazon, FedEx, and UPS combined.”

But since that network efficiently transports drugs but also any other commodity generating a profit, could it also be used by terrorists? Might they even duplicate the feat of al Qaeda on 9/11, when American commercial airliners were horridly transformed into terrorist suicide machines?

To answer that question almost 17 years later means beginning with fiction, specifically “Sicario: Day of the Soldado.” That movie recently opened to packed cinemas across South Texas. It begins (spoiler alert!) with a sophisticated premise that links drug cartels to Islamic terrorists who direct a bombing campaign deep in the American heartland. Reluctantly, the American government finds itself forced to conduct reprisals against cartels; in reality, of course, they were merely the Avis or Hertz outlets which rented those transportation networks to the terrorists. Nothing personal, you understand, this was just business.

Whether intentional or not, the fast-developing plot provides a stunning prequel to a 21st-century Mexican War; high-flying drones, low-flying attack helicopters and gut-wrenching, in-your-face bloodshed. As is usually the case with guerrilla conflicts from Mexico to Afghanistan, it is never obvious who is friend or foe, whose loyalty can be trusted. Most of all, is violence a means to an end — or an end to itself?

Those questions are far deeper than the superficial political dialogue now snoozing its way toward mid-July. But just as in every conflict, our war at home will surely have its own day of reckoning.

• Ken Allard, a retired U.S. Army colonel, is a military analyst and author on national security issues.

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