By Mark Landsbaum
FrontPageMagazine.com March 7, 2005
The convergence of terrorist threats, a nuclear weapon black-market, a porous national border and escalating illegal immigration is finally attracting the attention the growing crisis deserves. Unfortunately, the attention is being paid by terrorists, not by the U.S. government.
“Several al-Qaeda leaders believe operatives can pay their way into the country through Mexico and also believe illegal entry is more advantageous than legal entry for operational security reasons,” Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Admiral James Loy testified on February 16 before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “At home, we must prepare ourselves for any attack, from IEDs (improvised explosive devices) to Weapons of Mass Destruction…from soft targets like malls to national icons.” Loy is hardly a lone voice.
“Al-Qaeda is intent on finding ways to circumvent U.S. security enhancements to strike Americans and the homeland,” CIA director Porter Goss told the committee, adding “it may be only a matter of time before al-Qaeda or another group attempts to use chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons.”
FBI director Robert Mueller reinforced the ominous assessment, explaining that the FBI’s top concerns are covert operatives, who may already be in the country planning attacks. Additionally, there are increasing reports that al-Qaeda seeks Weapons of Mass Destruction, and concerns terrorists will recruit radical Americans to their cause.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who testified to the House Armed Services Committee last week, warned of “troubling” evidence pointing to terrorists seeking non-conventional weaponry. In Rumsfeld’s words, “We can reasonably predict that future foes might use cyberattack or Weapons of Mass Destruction.”
The continuing terrorist threat, coupled with fresh concerns about infiltration across the U.S.-Mexico border, is exacerbated by Russian nuclear stockpiles believed to be missing, perhaps sold to terrorists. “I can’t account for some of the material,” the CIA’s Goss conceded.
A National Intelligence Council report in November raised the specter of nuclear material diverted or stolen in Russian since the 1991 breakup of the USSR. Although Russian authorities twice frustrated terrorists’ attempted surveillance of weapon storage facilities in 2002, the whereabouts of suspected missing weapons-grade nuclear material remains a question. “We find it highly unlikely that Russian authorities would have been able to recover all the material reportedly stolen,” the report said.
“There is sufficient material unaccounted for so it would be possible for those with know-how to construct a nuclear weapon,” Goss testified. He also wouldn’t rule out the possibility terrorists may be supplied through the network of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan, who remains under house arrest for selling weapons expertise.
Such warnings of impending danger close to home increasingly raise concerns across the political spectrum.
“We really don’t know who comes into this country illegally over the Southwest border,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA. “This is a big problem.”
For months Solomon Ortiz, Democratic congressman from Corpus Christi, Texas, has voiced concerns about the release of non-Mexican immigrants awaiting deportation hearings for illegally entering the country. Ortiz spokeswoman Cathy Travis said some of those released are from “countries of interest,” such as Brazil. “It's a visa-waiver country with Mexico,” Travis said. “A bad guy who wants to go to the United States can first go to Brazil and then go to Mexico, and at that point it’s easy to go north and cross illegally and not be caught – or be caught” then released.
While there remain those on the Left like Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, who claim the allegations of terrorists entering the country by abusing the asylum process are exaggerated, there nevertheless seems to be growing concern about such potential dangers.
The 9/11 Commission warned in August that “the challenge for national security in an age of terrorism is to prevent the very few people who may pose overwhelming risks from entering or remaining in the United States undetected.”
Complicating the challenge is what the FBI believes may be cooperation between al-Qaeda terrorists and Central American gangs that already have infiltrated the United States. Central American and U.S. authorities are conferring on ways to keep the gang known as the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, from spreading.
In Mexico, gangs have taken over some migrant smuggling routes, and the FBI and U.S. Homeland Security officials are interested in charges by Honduran Security Minister Oscar Alvarez, who has accused al-Qaeda of trying to recruit Central American gang members to sneak terrorists into the U.S.
This month a man considered a leader of MS-13, gang, who also is accused of masterminding a Christmas bus massacre in Honduras, was jailed after he was arrested 110 miles inside the U.S.-Mexico border. Ever Anibal Rivera Paz previously was deported four times from the U.S before his February 10 arrest in South Texas. Authorities said Rivera Paz, known as “El Culiche” (“The Tapeworm”) is being held in federal custody, facing up to 20 years for felony re-entry after deportation.
Mexico’s state-run National Migration Institute estimates there are 100 migrant-smuggling rings operating in Mexico. But it is not just the criminal element making terrorists’ entry to the U.S. easier. The Mexican government has printed a guide for those seeking to illegally enter the United States. Arizona congressman J.D. Hayworth says the guidebook could be termed, “how to enter the United States illegally.”
Many in the U.S. in and out of government appear to be losing patience with floods of job-seeking illegal immigrants that mask potential terrorists intent on murderous missions, aided by the Mexican government and criminal networks alike.
A bill has been introduced in Texas legislature to allow fingerprinting at hospitals in an effort to stop terrorism. The legislation’s intent is to prevent terrorists from entering the United States untracked, said State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, the bill’s author. Not surprisingly, self-declared “civil rights groups” opposed the bill on the grounds it violates the illegals’ “freedoms” and may discourage people from seeking medical care.
Martinez argues, however, that a recent explosion in Mexico illustrated how terrorists might fake injury as a guise to enter the U.S, because customs officers don’t ask questions of someone crossing the border to seek medical care. Martinez asked, “What is to prevent a terrorist from staging a possible bombing or explosion, acting like they’re injured...and once they’re in a room and everybody walks out, and they can just get up and walk out AMA (against medical advice)?”
Homeland Security officials have warned that bankrolled terrorists can traverse the border by paying professional smugglers. A Juarez television station recently reported a suspected terrorist paid a taxi driver $400 to take him to Juarez, and that the driver left the man at the Santa Fe, New Mexico, bridge.
“We know that terrorists in our hemisphere are increasingly engaged in narcotics and weapons smuggling, and money laundering, as a means to fund their criminal agendas,”
Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson said recently. “What we have to do in the future is to continue to adjust to new tactics of the terrorists,” said Hutchinson, making a case for international information sharing and intelligence sharing:
And whenever there is one vulnerability in one country, with the interconnectedness of our transportation industry – whether it is cargo containers or whether it is aviation – that becomes a vulnerability to all of us…whether it is Brazil, whether it is Ecuador, whether it is a Caribbean nation – all of those can be avenues of access that will ultimately lead to the southern border between the United States and Mexico.
U.S. Border Patrol has arrested tens of thousands of illegal immigrants with criminal records, ranging from suspected murderers to child molesters, since installing a fingerprinting system last year. About 30,000 of the 680,000 illegal migrants arrested from May through December were shown to have criminal records, compared to only 2,600 identified with criminal records during the same period in 2002.
Despite stepped-up Border Patrol efforts, increasingly the U.S. citizenry appears less willing to sit idly by as the threat mounts. There has been reaction in Arizona state government, where new legislation requires proof of citizenship or of legal immigration status for voting and receiving some public benefits, to several other states, where similar legislation is under consideration.
Private citizens, too, are getting into the act. The “Minutemen Project” seeks to secure the Arizona border against illegal immigrant crossings, despite U.S. officials’ warnings against taking the law into their own hands. About 500 volunteers promising to stay within legal limits have vowed to patrol a 40-mile stretch of the southeast Arizona border throughout Apri, the month when illegal immigration peaks. “I felt the only way to get something done was to do it yourself,” said Jim Gilchrist, a retired accountant and decorated Vietnam War veteran who is recruiting Minutemen.
The grassroots movements and voter pressure on state legislatures appears to reflect growing opinion that despite new technology and increasing crackdowns, the Border Patrol remains overwhelmed by the flood of illegal immigration. Even though armed with underground sensors and cameras to pan the desert, agents catch only about one-third of the three million illegal immigrants crossing the border yearly.
Moreover, increasing numbers of the illegal immigrants originate from Asia, Central and South America and the Middle East. In 2003, the Border Patrol apprehended 39,215 illegal immigrants described as “other-than-Mexicans,” along the Southwest border. The next year the amount increased 68 percent to 65,814.
The federal government reacted to the imminent peril posed by foreigners streaming across the Mexican-U.S. border when the House of Representatives last week overwhelmingly approved a strong measure to combat the illegal alien influx, and its terrorism component.
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-WI, sponsored the Real ID Act, which passed 216-161. The bill gives immigration authorities and judges the ability to expeditiously deport illegal aliens and prevent foreigners from taking advantage of asylum rules. The bill also speeds construction of a security fence along the U.S.-Mexico border authorized nearly a decade ago, but delayed by challenges from open-borders advocates and environmentalists. The bill creates minimum standards for Driver’s Licenses and identification cards to prevent illegal aliens from obtaining the forms of identification needed to board planes, access federal buildings or use federal services. The legislation has been sent to the Senate.
“[T]he House of Representatives took a small step toward keeping faith with the families of victims of September 11th by acting to implement what are perhaps the most important recommendations that the 9/11 Commission made,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-CO, chairman of the House Immigration Reform Caucus. He described the legislation as, “possibly the most significant improvement of border security and immigration law in nearly a decade.”
But stronger action is needed and soon. Our enemies are aware of our porous border, but our political leaders still seem blissfully unaware.
Mark Landsbaum is a freelance writer, author and former award-winning Los Angeles Times reporter in Diamond Bar, California.