Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Narco-Terrorism’s Latin American Nexus

“Terrorism and drugs,” former Attorney General John Ashcroft once said, “go together like rats and the bubonic plague” – a plague that is increasingly spreading across our southern border and empowering the networks of both terrorists and drug traffickers.

For over twenty years Rachel Ehrenfeld, Director of the American Center for Democracy and the Economic Warfare Institute, and author of the important book Funding Evil, among others, has been hard at work exposing this toxic partnership. Currently writing a book about the Muslim Brotherhood and its financial network, Ehrenfeld is also the inspiration for “Rachel’s Law,” a key victory for free speech over the intimidating threat of “libel tourism,” and a fascinating story on in its own right. The law stemmed from an attempt by Khalid bin Mahfouz’s attempt to silence her accusation in Funding Evil that the Saudi billionaire had helped fund al Qaeda. The New York law (versions of which have spread now to seven other states) limits the enforcement of foreign libel judgments against American writers and publishers, in print and on the internet.

In a CNN opinion piece this May, Ehrenfeld explained that

the illegal drug business, mostly Afghan heroin, has been a bountiful financial resource for the Taliban, al Qaeda and its affiliates in Pakistan, Central Asia, Africa and Latin America… Al Qaeda involvement with drug trafficking organizations in South America has been documented since the early 1990s. More recently, terrorist group operatives have been linked to Mexican drug cartels, providing the terrorists easy access to the U.S.

Proving her point, earlier this year journalist Patrick Poole listed known examples of jihadists who have successfully crossed our southern border. “Terrorist operatives,” he wrote, “are already inside the U.S. and are prepared to go operational at the command of their leadership.” Roger Noriega of the American Enterprise Institute testified to Homeland Security in a hearing just last week that there are eighty known such terrorists in a dozen countries in Latin America, and that “Hezbollah operatives have provided weapons and explosives training to drug trafficking organizations that operate along the U.S. border with Mexico and have sought to radicalize Muslim populations in several Mexican cities.”

Ehrenfeld spoke recently at a private presentation in Southern California about the threat of “narco-terrorism,” a term which she coined: the funding of terrorism through the illegal drug trade. Her speech was particularly focused on its impact on our national security. Via e-mail prior to the event, I asked her about the under-acknowledged problem of narco-terrorism which she had addressed in Funding Evil: how has that problem developed since the book’s publication in 2003 (revised and updated in 2005), and how have we fared at tackling it? Her response was that

In Afghanistan alone, opium and heroin production skyrocketed after the “liberation” of Afghanistan, and continue to grow. Hizballah's activities in Latin America, with [the Colombian Marxist insurgency] FARC and the Mexican drug cartels – all assisted by [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez, expanded their heroin and cocaine trafficking to the U.S., the Arabian peninsula, Africa and Europe. The U.S. has the means to dramatically curtail opium, cocaine and hashish productions. But nothing happens.

At Ehrenfeld’s presentation itself, a woman in the audience asked about Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s astonishing comment earlier this year that our embattled southern border, a virtual war zone, has never been safer or more secure. Pointing to her own eyeglasses, Ehrenfeld quipped “She is using a different optometrist than I am.”

I commented that tunnels under our Mexican border have been found that resemble the ones used to funnel weapons into Gaza, and asked if terrorist entities like Hezbollah, al Qaeda and Hamas are actually helping to develop the Mexican drug cartels' existing drug-trafficking infrastructures. Yes, was her concise reply. And why are the Islamists collaborating with the cartels? “For money – lots of it – and to defeat the ‘Big Satan’ and other infidels.”

That’s not to say that a Hezbollah attack in the United States is necessarily imminent. Other witnesses at last week’s Homeland Security hearing noted that it would take a significant provocation, like an attack on Iran by the U.S. or Israel, to prompt Hezbollah operatives to interrupt their lucrative trade and begin waging attacks in the U.S. But even so, the estimated $20 million per year raised by the group in Latin America is funneled home to Iran, likely strengthening our enemy’s weapons buildup and military activities.

Hugo Chavez hosted leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in a secret summit in Caracas last year. I asked Ehrenfeld if the rabidly anti-American Venezuelan strongman is organizing a drug/terror network of his own. “Chavez,” she replied,

has been actively supporting drug cartels and terrorist organizations, assuming the role of Fidel and Cuba in “the good old days.” While he is not running their operations, his cut is substantial. Moreover, terrorists and criminal gangs offer good deniability and efficient ways to forge documents, launder money, and smuggle everything. An excellent tool in the arsenal of any dictator.

In her CNN piece, Ehrenfeld set forth the basics for a crucial strategy to combat the narco-terrorism nexus:

To stop the funding of al Qaeda, the Taliban, radical Islamic organizations and other terrorist groups, it's time for the U.S. government to publicly identify and list everyone -- individuals, organizations and states -- engaged in funding terrorism directly and indirectly, including those who finance the spread of radical Islam. They should also be designated as terrorists, prosecuted whenever possible, and their assets should be frozen.

Asked at her presentation to comment on President Obama and our national security, Ehrenfeld reluctantly replied that she didn’t want to get too political. She merely stressed that many Americans often take their freedom for granted, and suggested that we must take the necessary and perhaps unpleasant steps to protect that freedom against a plague of terrorists and drug traffickers.
(This article originally appeared here at FrontPage Mag, 7/14/11)