Breaching the Border? Southern Border Remains an Avenue for ISIS

In his report, Jihadists at the Door, in the December/January 2016 issue of Homeland Security Today Magazine, Todd Bensman reports America’s counterterrorism efforts to prevent terrorist infiltration of America’s land borders has fallen short of legislative expectations, and its effectiveness is only rarely audited or assessed.

The unsettling truth is the southern border – in particular — is, and remains, an avenue for ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other radical Islamist jihadi groups to enter the country. In the August 2009 cover report, Unholy Trinity, we reported that a Defense Department commissioned report found an alliance between Latin American narco-cartels, street gangs and jihadists.

Despite reporting there is no evidence to support the claim jihadists have not crossed the Southwest border into the United States, there is, in fact, evidence to the contrary.

For example, between 1999 and 2013, untold numbers of Special Interest Aliens – a term Customs and Border Protection (CBP) uses to classify people from Muslim countries that support or from which there is a significant jihadi presence — had crossed the border. Seven-thousand were apprehended during that period of time.

Counterterrorism officials have also stated that an unknown number of terrorists “undoubtedly” have been successfully smuggled into the country. They know this, they’ve said, because, for example, since late 2002, there have been six unpublicized instances in which at least a dozen identified or suspected terrorists who arrived in Panama bound for the United States managed to get into the US. In early March 2003, four more Palestinians identified as “Hamas members” arrived at the port of Cristobal, Panama from Cartagena, Colombia onboard a commercial cargo ship. After several days of meetings with two suspected Al Qaeda representatives at a mosque in Colon, Panama known for its radical teachings, the four Hamas members were stowed on board another commercial container ship bound for a south Florida seaport. Intelligence officials have declined to comment on what happened after that.

In February 2005, then Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Deputy Secretary James Loy told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that “recent information from ongoing investigations, detentions and emerging threat streams strongly suggests Al Qaeda leaders believe operatives can pay their way into Mexico, and also believe illegal entry is more advantageous than legal entry for operational security reasons.”

In March, 2005, then FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate Committee on the Judiciary “terrorists can take advantage of [Latin American] smuggling routes and smuggling enterprises to enter the US,” and they are quite “willing to pay top dollar to smugglers” to do so. And, he added: “Current intelligence, based on information sharing between criminal, counterterrorism and counterintelligence efforts, has identified smugglers who provide false travel documents to Special Interest Aliens.”

During an early 2007 visit to San Antonio, Texas, Mueller expanded on his earlier testimony before Congress to say, “we have had indications that leaders of … terrorist groups may be contemplating … having persons come across assuming identities of others, and trying to get across the border. It is intelligence that indicates there have been discussions on that.”

Mueller previously told a House Committee on Appropriations subcommittee that a Hezbollah-organized smuggling ring had been busted that infiltrated an unspecified number of Hezbollah members into the United States from Mexico. “This was an occasion in which Hezbollah operatives were assisting others with some association with Hezbollah in coming to the United States,” he said.

That summer, then Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, a former director of the National Security Agency, surprisingly admitted during a border security meeting in south Texas that an unspecified number of people with known links to terrorist groups had been caught crossing the Southwest border. Noting “the Mexican border is a path,” McConnell stated, “there are numerous situations where people are alive today because we caught them.”

McConnell declined to elaborate on any of the captured terrorists to which he referred, saying only that “the vast majority you don’t hear about.”

After grilling by Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs member Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) during a February 2010 hearing, then Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano admitted terrorists could “potentially” enter the United States from Mexico. “The ability of people from countries of special interest to immigrate into Central America, and [then] be ferried up to the border and over into the United States … is … a concern,” Napolitano testified. When pressed by McCain whether she meant people from “countries of special interest … could come up through our southern border,” Napolitano admitted, “potentially, yes.”

Napolitano’s predecessor, Michael Chertoff, two years earlier stated in an interview “dozens” of potential terrorists had “quietly” been prevented from entering the country on the US/Mexico border. At about the same time, Congress’ investigative branch, the Government Accountability Office, revealed in a little noticed audit of border security in 2008 that Customs and Border Protection encountered three persons “at southwest border checkpoints who were identified as persons linked to terrorism.”

In 2010, indictments were publicly handed down against numerous individuals who operated Al Qaeda-linked smuggling enterprises that involved various covert modes of entry into the US. Counterterrorism officials familiar with the smuggling operations that involved primarily moving members of Al Qaeda affiliates in North Africa, said it’s inconceivable all terrorists are being prevented from entering the country given the magnitude of persons from Muslim countries who have been apprehended trying to physically get into the United States during the last 12 years.

Michael Braun, a retired Drug Enforcement Administration assistant administrator and chief of DEA’s operations and intelligence, said Hezbollah relies on “the same criminal weapons smugglers, document traffickers and transportation experts as the drug cartels. They work together. They rely on the same shadow facilitators. One way or another, they are all connected.” And, he stressed, “They’ll leverage those relationships to their benefit to smuggle contraband and humans into the US; in fact, they already are.”

 

 

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