Sunday, July 16, 2006

How ironic that during a week in which members of Congress argued over the merits and wisdom of conducting subcommittee hearings on “border vulnerability and terrorism,” al Qaeda was releasing its anniversary video marking the death and destruction of the London bombings, and law-enforcement officials in both the U.S. and Lebanon announced that they had thwarted a plot to destroy and flood train tunnels underneath New York City.

These hearings represent a timely opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to finally develop a coherent border-security policy that protects our citizens against terror and destruction of all types — be they drug-, Islamic- or Mexican-gang-related. Sadly, though, the hearings have been rife with partisan bickering and finger-pointing.

“The hearing was a ‘charade’ and a ‘cover-up’ for the Republican Congress’ failure to pass meaningful immigration legislation,” California Democratic Rep. Bob Filner said.

Republicans, for their part, have fared little better, as they peppered Democrats with partisan remarks and often seemed more interested in getting quality television “face time” than accomplishing anything of real substance. One high-ranking congressional staff member even remarked to me that, “these hearings are a complete waste of our time.”

Refreshingly, however, Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona broke ranks with his subcommittee peers and warned: “This not a Republican problem, it is not an a Democratic problem … it is an American problem … and we had better find an American solution to America’s border-security problems.” Mr. Hayworth gets it exactly right.

Consider this: Sheriff Rick Flores of Laredo, Texas, testified that 37 members of the Mexican military — after having been trained in narcotics warfare by the U.S. military at Fort Benning, Ga. — have defected to the side of drug cartels in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, after being offered four to five times more in pay. Also, it is believed by some members of the law-enforcement community that al Qaeda loyalists have been offering Mexican gang members large sums of money for the smuggling of radical Islamist operatives into the United States. And, even more frightening, is the fact that Muslim prayer rugs have been discovered by U.S. Border Patrol agents along immigration paths on the U.S. side of the border.

“Since al Qaeda has expressed a very keen interest in a repeat attack on U.S. soil, it is incredibly naive to think that they are not interested in crossing our borders… particularly since they are not sophisticated enough to have a delivery system for a long-range attack,” T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, recently told me. Mr. Bonner also said: “The northern border is as vulnerable as the southern border. If another successful attack occurs, I really don’t think people are going to feel any better because it occurred on one border as opposed to the other.” This discovered prayer rug may explain the newest terrorism techniques being administered in Mexico: beheadings.

Still the signature calling card of al Qaeda — this new, imported savagery — surfaced when three Mexican police officers were killed recently at Rosarita Beach. Their heads were found 12 miles north in Tijuana, just across the bridge from San Diego.

It doesn’t take a congressional hearing to figure that al Qaeda or associates are about 70 feet of the Rio Grande away from entering the United States and potentially turning Sea World or Disneyland into downtown Nasarif if they get clever with nerve agent or biofavorites like ricin, anthrax or serin.

If the Republicans or Democrats do not come up with a plan to secure the border, they will suffer the same fate as the three police officers in Mexico. But this time, it will be their heads that roll at the ballot box in November.

Rick Amato is a radio talk-show host, political commentator and frequent guest on CNN.

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