- - Thursday, December 26, 2019

In an interview with Bill O’Reilly, President Trump stated that he planned to designate the Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations.

His comment was in response to the brutal murder of nine American citizens in Mexico last month. The murder victims included women and children. 

“A wonderful family and friends from Utah got caught between two vicious drug cartels, who were shooting at each other, with the result being many great American people killed, including young children, and some missing,” Mr. Trump tweeted following the murders. 

“If Mexico needs or requests help in cleaning out these monsters, the United States stands ready, willing & able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively. The great new President of Mexico has made this a big issue, but the cartels have become so large and powerful that you sometimes need an army to defeat an army!”

Retired Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) official Jack Riley, the author of “Drug Warrior: Inside the Hunt for El Chapo and the Rise of the Opioid Crisis,” approved of Mr. Trump’s idea of designating the cartels as terrorists.     

“This is something that myself and others have been advocating for a number of years. I think I even discussed this during my congressional testimony in 2016,” Mr. Riley said in an interview on NPR.

“I think it’s a game changer. Clearly, the cartels, with their financial backing and the death and misery that they’ve caused both in Mexico and United States, at least in my opinion, meet the threshold as a terrorist organization. And I think this shows real leadership on the part of the president. I commend him. And I hope we can get it done because it’s a game changer.”

Last week I spoke to Javier Pena and Steve Murphy, the two retired DEA special agents who took down Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, and they too supported the idea of designing the cartels as terrorists.

“They are terrorist organizations to me. They’re killing, they’re corrupting, and they’re intimidating.” Mr. Pena said. “We see the violence, such as the recent massacres in Mexico. If we name them terrorist organizations, maybe we’ll get a lot more support from a lot of other people.”

Mr. Murphy agreed “My personal opinion is they should have designated terrorist organizations long before now,” he said.

As I wrote in my review here of Steve Murphy and Javier Pena’s book, “Manhunters: How We Took Down Pablo Escobar,” back in the 1980s and early 1990s, Escobar was the world’s most wealthy and powerful criminal. He was a brutal mass murderer, and as the authors note, he was the world’s first narco-terrorist.

Escobar was the leader of the Medellin Cartel, the leading drug cartel in Colombia, which produced and sold 80 percent of the cocaine that flooded America. If the Medellin Cartel had been designated a terrorist organization by the United States back then, perhaps Escobar’s bloody and horrific reign of terror would have ended sooner. Think of the lives that could have been saved.

According to the State Department, foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) are foreign organizations that are designated by the secretary of State in accordance with section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended. FTO designations play a critical role in the fight against terrorism and are an effective means of curtailing support for terrorist activities and pressuring groups to get out of the terrorism business.

“The Bureau of Counterterrorism (CT) in the State Department continually monitors the activities of terrorist groups active around the world to identify potential targets for designation. When reviewing potential targets, CT looks not only at the actual terrorist attacks that a group has carried out, but also at whether the group has engaged in planning and preparations for possible future acts of terrorism or retains the capability and intent to carry out such acts,” the State Department explained. 

“Once a target is identified, the CT Bureau prepares a detailed ‘administrative record,’ which is a compilation of information, typically including both classified and open sources information, demonstrating that the statutory criteria for designation have been satisfied.”  

The State Department states that to qualify as a designated a terrorist organization, the group must be a foreign organization and engage in terrorist activity or retain the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity or terrorism. The organization’s terrorist activity or terrorism must threaten the security of United States.

The designation supports U.S. efforts to curb terrorism financing and to encourage other nations to do likewise, and stigmatizes and isolates designated terrorist organizations internationally. Additionally, the designation also deters donations or contributions and economic transactions, and the designation also heightens public awareness and knowledge of terrorist organizations, and signals to other governments American concerns about the organizations.       

Although President Trump has tweeted that he suspended the designation due to the request of the Mexican president, many in law enforcement still believe he should carry through on his original intention to designate drug cartels as terrorist organizations.

• Paul Davis covers crime, espionage and terrorism. 

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