Ted Bell, author of best-selling thrillers and a favorite of Glenn Beck, is written off by some people as a paranoid nutcase -- usually by the same left-leaning types who consider Glenn Beck a paranoid nutcase. So when you find even the leftist MSNBC agreeing with Bell's (and Beck's) assertions on a matter of national security... well, Houston, we have a problem.
I read Bell's novel Spy a few months ago. While a few plot twists and some technological details struck me as over-the-top, Bell's descriptions of Hezbollah training camps in the South American jungle sounded vaguely familiar. My curiosity was piqued: How much of this wild story reflected reality? As it turns out, quite a bit. A Google search turned up a surprising amount of information on the topic, including a couple of very good -- hence, very frightening -- articles on MSNBC's website, of all places, showing that Bell's basic premise was not far-fetched at all.
Hezbollah has bases all over Latin America, but especially in the ultra-remote area where the borders of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay meet. The Tri-Border Area, or TBA, is one of the most lawless regions in the world; frequent comparisons to "the Wild West" are gross understatement. It is the Latin American "headquarters" of Hezbollah -- the center of its fundraising operations as well as its terrorist training camps. The illegal arms trade flourishes in the TBA, assisted by over 100 illegal airstrips. The TBA has been Hezbollah's launching pad for terror cells all over the Americas, including the one that destroyed the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1992, and a Buenos Aires Jewish community center in 1994. [See photo below.] In 1999, a joint Hezbollah/al-Qaeda plot was disrupted that involved simultaneous attacks -- again, on Jewish targets -- in Buenos Aires, Ciudad del Este (Paraguay) and Ottawa (Canada).
The Tri-Border Area could also be the launching pad for terror attacks on the U.S.; the scenario in Ted Bell's page-turner is all too great a possibility in real life, according to U.S. officials.
From the largely lawless region, it is easy for potential terrorists, without detection, to book passage to the United States through Brazil and then Mexico simply by posing as tourists....
Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Hezbollah militiamen would raise no suspicions because they have Latin American passports [with assumed Spanish names], speak Spanish and look like Hispanic tourists.
Hezbollah not only sends people from the Middle East to train in the TBA and go on to start new terror cells, but also finds recruits among the tens of thousands of people of Arab descent who have lived in South America for a generation or more -- many immigrated from Lebanon after 1982, or even before that, after the Israeli/Arab war of 1948. And then, there are some number of recruits who are Hispanic converts to radical Islam. All the native-born recruits, whatever their ancestry, are already fluent in Spanish, of course, and new arrivals work to become fluent.
The CIA singles out the Mexican border as an especially inviting target for Hezbollah operatives. “Many alien-smuggling networks that facilitate the movement of non-Mexicans have established links to Muslim communities in Mexico,” its Counter Terrorism Center said in a 2004 threat paper.
“Non-Mexicans often are more difficult to intercept because they typically pay high-end smugglers a large sum of money to efficiently assist them across the border, rather than haphazardly traverse it on their own.”
It doesn't help matters that Mexico has been virtually taken over by half a dozen warring drug cartels, whose internecine violence is beginning to spill over into the U.S. The larger threat from the cartels, however, may turn out to be their associations with Hezbollah. Hezbollah is now intertwined with drug-trafficking organizations, or DTOs, all over Latin America. Commerce in illicit drugs is a cash cow that funds the founding of new terror cells and the training and armament of existing ones. Because South American Communist groups such as the Colombian guerrillas of the FARC also deal in drugs and weapons, Hezbollah has become allied with them as well. The terrorist network allegedly receives training from Cuban military advisors, in camps located in Venezuela, with the approval of Hugo Chavez. Indeed, the U.S. has intercepted shipments of explosives and unmanned aerial vehicles from Iran en route to Venezuela.
The working partnerships amongst the Islamist terrorists of Hezbollah, the thugs who run the drug cartels, and Communist revolutionaries combine to form a huge national-security threat, right in our backyard, that most Americans are unaware of. The author of a very thorough article in the Small Wars Journal about Hezbollah's South American operations wrote, "This is a little examined topic with no academic experts. There are a couple of scholars who are Hezbollah experts, but none specialize in Hezbollah's actions in South America."
A 2006 congressional report on border threats, titled "A Line in the Sand: Confronting the Threat at the Southwest Border" and prepared by the House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Investigations, indicated that 1.2 million illegal aliens were apprehended in 2005 alone, and 165,000 of those were from countries other than Mexico.
A population breakdown from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement staging facility in Florence, Arizona, dated April 15, 2010, includes detainees from Afghanistan, Egypt, Ghana, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Pakistan, Sudan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Yemen and many other countries. According to the Department of Homeland Security, federal law enforcement agencies detained 791,568 deportable aliens in fiscal year 2008 – and 5,506 of them were from 14 "special-interest countries" -- i.e., "countries that could export individuals that could bring harm to our country in the way of terrorism."
In May 2001, just months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a former Mexican national security adviser and U.N. ambassador, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, warned, "Spanish and Islamic terrorist groups are using Mexico as a refuge."
The 39-page [Congressional] report notes members of Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based terrorist organization, have already entered the U.S. by way of the Southwest border. In 2002, authorities arrested Salim Boughader Mucharrafille, a café owner in Tijuana, Mexico, for smuggling more than 200 Lebanese people into the U.S., including several believed to have ties to Hezbollah. Also, in March 2005, Mahmoud Youssef Kourani, an illegal alien who had been smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border after bribing a Mexican consular official in Beirut for a visa, pleaded guilty to providing material support to Hezbollah....
Hezbollah relies on "the same criminal weapons smugglers, document traffickers and transportation experts as the drug cartels," Michael Braun, retired assistant administrator and chief of operations at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, told the Washington Times last year. "They work together. They rely on the same shadow facilitators. One way or another, they are all connected."
We'll need a multi-pronged strategy to deal with this multi-headed monster. It includes, at a minimum, starving Hezbollah of funds, and cleaning up the corruption in some countries that works to Hezbollah's advantage. As noted in Small Wars Journal, Hezbollah depends on a lawless environment to operate freely, and "will be rejected in environments with a rule of law and a monopoly of force, and go broke."
Cross-posted at West to the West Wing 2012