Hezbollah Is Strengthening It's Long Standing Influence Over Central and South American Drug Cartels.
Documents obtained exclusively by Human Events reveal a well-established smuggling route into the U.S. Over 180,000 illegal aliens from countries Other than Mexico (OTM) were apprehended from 2007 through mid-March 2010.
Nearly 150,000 of those apprehended were from South and Central American countries that the State Department says are being used as corridors for smuggling people from the Middle East, Southwest Asia and East Africa.
State Department documents examined by Human Events raise concerns that Hezbollah has already used these long-established narco-terror relationships to establish terror cells in the United States.
From the State Department Country Reports on Terrorism 2008:
“Over the past five years, however, smuggling rings have been detected moving people from East Africa, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia to Honduras or through its territory. In 2008, there was an increase in the number of boats arriving on the North coast, ferrying people from all over the world seeking to enter the United States illegally via Guatemala and Mexico. Nationals of countries without Honduran visa requirements, especially Ecuador and Colombia, were involved in schemes to transit Honduras, often with the United States and Europe as their final destination. Foreign nationals have successfully obtained valid Honduran identity cards and passports under their own or false identities.”
Over the past three years, nearly 57,000 people have been apprehended in this country illegally with Honduran identification. Over 49,000 were from Guatemala and over 38,000 from El Salvador, home of the MS-13 narco-terror gangs.
Myrick has requested that a task force study new indications that Hezbollah has expanded their presence into Mexico. In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Myrick gives several examples of Hezbollah’s influence on the drug cartels.
“We have seen their cooperation in countries across South America, particularly the tri-border area of South America (bounded by Puerto Iguazu, Argentina; Ciudad del Este, Paraguay; and Foz do Iguanzo, Brazil). Hezbollah operates almost like a Mafia family in this region, often demanding protection money and ‘taxes’ from local inhabitants,” Myrick states in the letter.
Of particular concern was evidence of Hezbollah influence in Mexico, which is the gateway into the United States for drug cartels.
Myrick’s letter warns that tattoos have been found on drug gangs in U.S. prisons showing the influence of Iranian-directed Hezbollah terrorists.
“If you go down to the San Diego area in the prisons that’s where you’ll see prison inmates with Farsi tattoos,” Myrick told Human Events in a recent interview. “It’s not a secret, it just something that people have chosen to ignore.”
Myrick also raised concerns over Hezbollah training Mexican cartels in bomb making and sophisticated tunneling techniques that they’ve used for terrorist attacks against Israel.
“I think that there is a bigger picture here that everyone is ignoring,” Myrick said. “I’ve asked Homeland Security for a task force. They said they would give me an intelligence briefing, which would be to shut me up so I can’t say anything. I’m not going to do that. I want some answers to my questions on the task force first.”
T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, recently told Human Events the Mexican cartels are building sophisticated tunnels into the United States.
“When you look at some of the pretty sophisticated tunnels that they’ve dug under the border where two adult males can walk side-by-side without bending over you know that they’ve built them not just for moving drugs through there but [to move] anything through there,” Bonner said.
When asked if the Mexican cartels would work with terrorist groups, Bonner said it’s all about the money.
“They don’t have a conscience. They really don’t care what they’re smuggling across the border—it could be a weapon of mass destruction—as long as the price is right they’ll move it,” Bonner said. “They don’t care whether the person is from a terrorist sponsoring country or whether that person is from Mexico, if the person pays the fee they’re getting across. The higher the fee you pay, the more likely it is that you’re going to get across.”
Bonner said that this year there is a higher percentage of border apprehensions for drug arrests and OTMs.
“It’s not that the OTMs and the drugs coming across have necessarily increased but we have seen our effectiveness increase because we have fewer people coming across,” Bonner said.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R.-Mich.), member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, served for 12 years as an FBI Special Agent. He spoke recently with HUMAN EVENTS about the smuggling routes into this country from these South American countries.
“Remember there’s a difference in a criminal enterprise that seeks to come here that wants to be surreptitious,” Rogers warned. “They’re not showing up to get a job at a construction site. They’re showing up here to do a whole other set of activities that they also don’t want law enforcement to know about, so that makes that group of individuals more difficult to catch and they are much more dangerous.”
Rogers says the lines are being blurred between the terrorist groups and the drug cartels.
“What we see that happening in Pakistan, and we see it happening in Northern Africa and we see it happening in the Arabian Peninsula that these groups will work together,” Rogers said. “I think the five crime families in New York are a great example. If they can find a way to work together to benefit both of them between two families or three families or four families or five families they will do it. It doesn’t mean they like each other, it doesn’t mean they won’t shoot each other, but if they can find something that benefits them they’ll do it. These groups are no different.”
According to an April 30 report compiled by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, “International terrorist groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah, have also reportedly raised funding for their terrorist activities through linkages formed with [drug trafficking organizations] in South America, particularly those operating in the tri-border area (TBA) of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.”
“We have clearly seen that the line between the narco-terrorist and funding for terrorist operations is getting awful blurred,” Rogers said. “I think that the sooner we come to the realization that all of these groups will use each other to further their aims the better off we are.”
Connie Hair writes daily as HUMAN EVENTS’ Congressional correspondent. She is a former speechwriter for Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and a former media and coalitions advisor to the Senate Republican Conference. You can follow Connie on Twitter @ConnieHair.
GOP Rep: Hezbollah Partners With Drug Cartels To Infiltrate America’s Southern Border
Justin Elliott | June 25, 2010, 4:18PM
Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC), who we last encountered exposing Muslim intern spies on Capitol Hill and terrorists in the nation’s convenience stores, has issued her most startling warning yet: Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, she has come to believe, is partnering with Mexican drug cartels in the U.S. borderlands and may be planning “Israel-like car bombings of Mexican/USA border personnel or National Guard units.”
In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Myrick calls for a task force “to engage US and Mexican law enforcement and border patrol officials about Hezbollah’s presence, activities, and connections to gangs and drug cartels.”
Myrick says she has to come believe that Hezbollah is operating on the border because of evidence well, wouldn’t that be crazy? She writes:
“The connection between Hezbollah and the drug cartels has seemed to grow over the past few years. This may be especially true on the US Southern border.Across states in the Southwest, well trained officials are beginning to notice the tattoos of gang members in prisons are being written in Farsi. We have typically seen tattoos in Arabic, but Farsi implies a Persian influence that can likely be traced back to Iran and its proxy army, Hezbollah. These tattoos in Farsi are almost always seen in combination with gang or drug cartel tattoos. These combinations have been increasing in number and point to the fact that these criminals are tied to both Hezbollah and gangs and drug cartels.”
Myrick also points to the similarity between the U.S. border terrain and Israel as a reason why Hezbollah is there:
“Former intelligence officials have pointed to the terrain that makes up our border, especially in the San Diego border sector, as a reason why drug cartels have been partnering with Hezbollah. This terrain is very much like the areas around Israel’s borders. As we well know, Hezbollah is extremely skilled in the construction of tunnels. Israel has time and again found Hezbollah tunnels leading into Israel, some of which are large enough to accommodate trucks. Likewise, these intelligence officials say that the drug cartels, in an effort to dig larger and more effective tunnels, are employing the expertise of Hezbollah. For their expertise, Hezbollah could be receiving a cut of the drug money or even be helping put cash up front to assist in the overall drug operations.”
We’ve asked Myrick’s office for the names of the former intelligence officials and any evidence to back up what she’s saying, and we’ll let you know if we hear back.
FILE — In a Feb. 11, 2008 file photo Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaks during a rally to celebrate the 29th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution at Azadi Square, Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian/file)
WASHINGTON – Iran Air 744 is a bimonthly flight that originates in Tehran and flies directly to Caracas with periodic stops in Beirut and Damascus. The maiden flight was Feb. 2, 2007.
The mere existence of the flight was a significant concern for U.S. intelligence officials, but now a broader concern is who and what are aboard the flights.
“If you [a member of the public] tried to book yourself a seat on this flight and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a week before, a month before, six months before — you’ll never find a place to sit there,” says Offer Baruch, a former Israeli Shin Bet agent.
Baruch, now vice president of operations for International Shield, a security firm in Texas, says the plane is reserved for Iranian agents, including “Hezbollah, the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and other intelligence personnel.”
Current and former U.S. intelligence official fear the flight is a shadowy way to move people and weapons to locations in Latin America that can be used as staging points for retaliatory attacks against the U.S. or its interests in the event Iranian nuclear sites are struck by U.S. or Israeli military forces.
“My understanding is that this flight not only goes from Caracas to Damascus to Tehran perhaps twice a month, but it also occasionally makes stops in Lebanon as well, and the passengers on that flight are not processed through normal Venezuelan immigrations or customs. They are processed separately when they come into the country,” says Peter Brookes, senior fellow for National Security Affairs at the Heritage Foundation.
The 16-hour flight typically leaves Tehran and stops at Damascus International Airport (DAM), which is Syria’s busiest. In 2009, almost 4.5 million passengers used the airport.
After a 90-minute layover, the flight continues the remaining 14 hours to Venezuela’s Caracas Maiquetía International Airport (CCS). Upon arrival, the plane is met by special Venezuelan forces and sequestered from other arrivals.
“It says that something secretive or clandestine is going on that they don’t want the international community to know about,” says Brookes, a former deputy assistant defense secretary for Asian and Pacific Affairs and CIA employee.
“The fact that there is a flight is of course of interest, but the fact that not anybody can gain access to this flight or buy a ticket for that flight is of particular curiosity and should be of concern to the United States.”
In addition to speculation about who is aboard, there are significant concerns that the Boeing 747SP airplane might be transporting uranium to Tehran on the return flight. The U.S. government has enacted strong sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear program and there are worries the flight might provide an opportunity to skirt the embargo against materials that might be used for the program.
“Clearly, Iran has been a sponsor of Hezbollah, and clearly Hezbollah profits from this relationship,” former CIA Director Michael J. Hayden says.
“It would be too much to say that Hezbollah is a puppet of the Iranian state, but one way of looking at this relationship is that the Iranian state might rely on Hezbollah as a strategic weapon — its weapon for global reach.”
Hayden, now a principle in the Chertoff Group, says the CIA has been aware of the activities for several years.
“Fundamentally, the thing that first and very solidly caught our attention at the Agency was the inauguration of direct air flight between the two capitals. Here was a conduit that people could travel from Iran into the Western Hemisphere, into Latin America in a way that would be very difficult for American intelligence services to detect and to understand.
“Right there at that very simple level, just the direct flight is something that we would be and should be concerned about.”
Brookes says the passengers “may not even need visas because they are special passengers. That obviously is of concern because there is no transparency about who the people are coming in and going out of the country. Of course there is concern that these folks may be Iranian special agents.”
Beyond concerns about Iranian intelligence flooding the west, Brookes and others worry that Iranian special advisers are schooling the Venezuelan military and may be involved in plans to move Iranian agents inside the U.S.
“It’s certainly a possibility. Would the agents that come into Venezuela be able to find their way to the United States? That’s certainly possible. You see the drug smugglers today using submersibles to move drugs to the U.S. and other parts of the Caribbean which is a real challenge. So why wouldn’t they be able to do the same with persons?”
A U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity says there are concerns about the relationships between Iran and Venezuela, but you have to keep it in perspective.
“The problems both countries face internally, and their own regional priorities closer to home, limit the amount of trouble they can cause together. But it’s something you have to watch, whether it’s the potential for government-to-government mischief or the possibility of something involving Iran’s friends like Hezbollah.
“You can ask what a self-proclaimed Bolivarian socialist has in common with a bunch of theocratic thugs in Iran. The answer is ‘not much,’ beyond a taste for repression and a shared desire to make life difficult for the United States and its allies.”
On Friday, the next flight is expected to take off. While U.S. intelligence may be able to track the flight, there appears to be little more they can legally do to determine what or who is on board.
“American intelligence services have a lot of things on their plate. The fact that I can tell you that we’re really interested in that direct flight tells you that it was on our scope — something that we are sensitive to,” Hayden says. “Are we doing enough about it? I would have to say ‘no,’ because it’s a very challenging menu that American intelligence has to deal with.”
In a statement, the State Department says, “Nations have the right to enter into cooperative relationships with other nations.”
Neither the Iranian nor the Venezuelan governments responded to request for reaction before this article was published.
You can follow WTOP’s J.J. Green on Twitter.
Brittany Zickfoose contributed to this report.
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